Sunday, May 30, 2004
Hospital Tried to Secretly Gain Guardianship of Child to Force Mom's C-Section 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The childbirth rights debate has bubbled under the radar for many years now, and this case illustrates that dangers to individual rights to make medical decisions sometimes lurk in the most unexpected places. Here's a story to watch, which appeared on CNN.com:
Amber Marlowe was a seasoned pro at delivering big babies -- her first six each weighed close to 12 pounds. So when she went into labor with her seventh last winter, she brushed off doctors who told her the 11-pound, 9-ounce girl could be delivered only by Caesarean section.

But the medical staff at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital wouldn't budge, not even with her track record. "All my others, I've done naturally," Marlowe recalled telling her physicians. "I know I can do it." So Marlowe checked herself out and went looking for a new doctor.

While she was on her search, Wilkes-Barre General's lawyers rushed to court to get legal guardianship of her unborn child, giving the hospital the ability to force Marlowe into surgery if she returned.
Does this constitute a disturbing new trend?
"My impression is that we have a political culture right now that falsely pits fetal rights against women's rights, and that you are seeing a kind of snowballing effect," said Lynn Paltrow, of the New York-based group National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "We're at the point now where we're talking about arresting pregnant women for making choices about their own bodies, and that's not right."

Legal experts and medical ethicists said attempts to prosecute women for pregnancy choices, or force them to undergo certain procedures for the benefit of their children, may be on shaky ground. "There are 50 years of case law and bioethical writings that say that competent people can refuse care, and that includes pregnant women as well," said Art Caplan, chairman of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

In one influential case, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled in 1990 that a judge was wrong to have granted a hospital permission to force a pregnant cancer patient to undergo a Caesarean in an attempt to save the life of her child. The mother and baby died within two days of the operation.
"But what about the child?" some will undoubtedly argue, "what about their right to have all medical options available to them?"
A 2002 survey by researchers at the University of Chicago found only 4 percent of directors of maternal-fetal medicine fellowship programs believed pregnant women should be required to undergo potentially lifesaving treatment for the sake of their fetuses, down from 47 percent in 1987.

Dr. Michael Grodin, director of Medical Ethics at the Boston University School of Medicine, said doctors should seek court intervention when a mother refuses care only if the patient is mentally ill.

Friday, May 28, 2004
Happy Memorial Day Weekend, Everyone 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I'll leave you with this image I took from a moving Metra Electric Line train, a few weeks ago, approaching Roosevelt Street station: it's probably Chicago's most Escheresque train stop.

Thursday, May 27, 2004
Does the Left Give Islam a "Pass" on Human Rights Abuses Against Gays? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
From JohannHari, a disturbing quote:
Sheikh Sharkhawy, a cleric at the prestigious London Central Mosque in Regent's Park, compares homosexuality to a 'cancer tumour.' He argues 'we must burn all gays to prevent paedophilia and the spread of AIDS,' and says gay people 'have no hope of a spiritual life.' The Muslim Educational Trust hands out educational material to Muslim teachers -- intended for children -- advocating the death penalty for gay people, and advising Muslim pupils to stay away from gay classmates and teachers."
Greengrl has a very thought-provoking post on this extreme homophobia espoused and condoned by many Islamic nations, and she asks why it is that Islam seems to "get a pass" from the Left regarding these human rights abuses. She also points to two very good articles, one from JohannHari.com entitled "Outcast Heroes: the Story of Gay Muslims", and the other from Andrew Sullivan. Greengrl says:
Why isn't this on the global gay rights agenda? Why is it that the Left here in the US is willing to yell at the top of their lungs at the Christian Right about homophobia and anti-gay sentiment, but won't say a word about Islamist bigotry? What makes one different from the other? Why does Islam constantly get a "pass" from the Left? Anyone? Bueller?
It makes me wonder, too, and I think she's absolutely right. There are many other human rights violations the Left generally condemns without the look-the-other-way silence of "cultural relativity," such as FGM, sati (or setee), "honor killings," and the infanticide and abandonment of female children in countries like China.

I think perhaps two factors are in play: I think the American Left (and certainly the Right) often soft-pedals condemnation of objectionable social practices when they are committed by an "economically important" nation (such as China), to avoid offending or alienating a trade partner. Certainly, many Islamic (read: oil-producing) nations qualify as "economically important" to the U.S. The other reason is that members of the mainstream may have more difficulty relating to the oppression of an "outside" minority if the oppressor is also an "outsider."

What I mean by that is, on the scale of "difference," I think many - if not most - Americans view Islam as a rather 'foreign' (non Judeo-Christian) religion. In addition, many Americans still see gays and lesbians as "outsiders" foreign to their own experience, often with some ambivalence or disapproval themselves. While it is not considered politically correct to vilify (even privately) demographic groups such as women or ethnic minorities, many people still are neutral or negative in their own opinions of homosexuality, so it may be easier to overlook or forgive human rights abuses against LGBT folk.

Not that it's any excuse, of course.

We Interrupt This Blog For a Brief Message: Now, Better Searching! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
If you'll forgive the egregious syntax of this post's title, believe us when we say "Change is Good": if you look at the "Archives" section of farkleberries, you may notice that we've changed the archive frequency from "weekly" to "monthly". That's because after nearly 18 months of bloggery, linking each weekly archive page becomes a bit unwieldy. The reason I had kept archives separated by week was to allow relatively easy searching using the FreeFind search box (which you'll find directly under the "recent posts") - trying to locate a specific post on a page containing a month's worth of blather can be pretty hard on the eyes and temper.

However, with Blogger's new "post pages" option, that allows you to create a separate html page for each post (delightful!), using the FreeFind search became much easier and more accurate. Now, when you enter a search term, you'll find not only the main archive page your target post(s) appear, but the specific post will appear as a search result. Very handy, indeed - this is one of my favorite new features wheeled out for the "Great Blogger Relaunch."

By the way, this is farkleberries' 400th post!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Scootergeeks and Bambi in Chicago 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Remember those "razor scooters" that were all the rage about 2 years ago? Everybody and their kid wanted one. Nowadays, I rarely ever see a child [or adult] riding those cool-but-emergency-room-filling contraptions. Rarely had there been a wheeled human-powered vehicle that looks quite as contrived as this. The device is just hazardous enough that a rider should be wearing a helmet, but unlike bicyclists or skateboarders, a helmeted razor scooter operator looks hopelessly gauche.

Today, however, being a blissfully sunny late spring day in Chicago, wheeled devices are in full force: skateboards, Rollerblades™, what have you. Sometimes, eccentric sorts like college professors enjoy riding razor scooters while dressed in bike helmets to coordinate with their finest tattered Harvard tweeds. But the scootergeek look doesn't suit everyone. I also spotted one business-suited guy who appeared to be in his 20's or early 30's riding a red-wheeled chrome razor scooter down Sheridan near Loyola University, and it confirmed my longstanding opinion that most adults look utterly foolish stupid riding razor scooters.

"But, wait - " as Ron Popeil would say, "there's more!"

Last night at around 6:00pm, I was sitting in my car parked on Maple Street in Evanston near the YMCA, when I saw a truly odd city sight. On the cross-street sidewalk, I spotted what looked like a very large brown dog (sort of like a skinny Great Dane) sans owner or leash bounding in a westerly direction. A few people were also on the sidewalk, and their faces registered a look of disbelief when the creature bounced closer. No dog bounces quite like that, at least not one I've ever seen.

It was a young deer, obviously terrified of the cars and city noise. Yes, it was Bambi in Chicago, or Evanston at least. It's not unheard of, however, deer do live around here. Last winter, we actually saw a family of deer grazing amongst the headstones at Calvary Cemetery, between Sheridan Road and Clark Street on the southern boundary of Evanston and Rogers Park. Amd one summer midnight last year, a big old opossum took up temporary residence on our back porch steps, crouching perfectly still as his big moon-white eyes reflected our kitchen lights. Talk about the "Urban Jungle."

Facial Transplants and Cybernoses 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
For years, we've had technology that can simulate the sensory mechanisms of the eye and the ear, but now science has developed a functional electronic nose: the Cyranose can be programmed to detect odors too faint for the human schnozzle, even the minute amounts of chemicals that can signal diseases like cancer. [via FuturePundit]

Doctors at the University of Louisville [Kentucky] are reviewing the ethical implications of the proposed first-ever face transplant that would graft skin, subcutaneous tissue and blood vessels from a cadaver onto a severely disfigured person.
Doctors currently are limited to grafting skin and muscles from other parts of the body in patients who have suffered catastrophic damage to their faces, but the result is typically cosmetically unsatisfactory. Still, some bioethicists have urged caution: The face recipients would need to undergo life-long immunosuppression, which carries increased long-term risks of cancer. The Louisville team includes three bioethicists, Barker said.
But what of the implications, such as the donor family's knowledge that a person wearing a loved one's former face walks the world?
[Barker] noted that the underlying skeletal structure of a recipient would differ from that of a donor, meaning that the recipient's face would look much different from that of the donor's. Because of the lengthy approval process required before any such attempt of the procedure, patient recruitment has not begun, Keadle said.
Hopefully the onerous burden of immunosuppression regimens would discourage anyone from undertaking such a procedure for purely cosmetic reasons, but you never know. But a really frightening thought? The consequences of tissue rejection...I think I saw that in a science fiction movie once. But then, life seems to edge a bit closer to science fiction every day...

Tuesday, May 25, 2004
NZ to Lower Age of Sexual Consent to 12 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
While reading an interesting post on Diotima discussing the controversy surrounding a Little Miss Hooters contest [via Sekimori] for girls 5 and under [not officially sponsored by the restaurant chain], I found this link to a news story on some disturbing news of legislation from New Zealand:
The Crimes Amendment (No 2) Bill is designed to repeal [New Zealand's] outdated sex laws but critics are furious at a new section that would allow sex between [sub-]teenage couples.

The new law would decriminalise consensual sex for children as young as 12, provided their partner is no more than two years older than them. It would allow a girl as young as 12, and a boy aged 12-14, to have sex with impunity. Parents and police would be powerless to act if the relationship was not condoned. The change would give New Zealand the dubious reputation of having the most liberal stance on sex in the developed world. Most western countries set the age of consent at 16, except France where it is 15.

Critics say the new law would send the wrong message to children, with New Zealand already ranked third in the world for teenage pregnancies. They don't accept 12-year-olds are capable of understanding the consequences of sexual experimentation. The bill, which passed its first reading in March and is now before the law and order select committee, updates laws regarding sex crimes that were passed in 1961.
A site, Ageofconsent.com, details New Zealand's sex laws and their associated legal penalties. Not that I think that 12-to-14 years olds should be having sex, but I don't believe imposing criminal penalties on children for sexual activity or experimentation is the right course of action. It's important to note that the new law fortunately would not decriminalize sexual contact between adults or older teens and children down to age 12. Widespread medical evidence shows that girls (and some boys) are reaching puberty at increasingly earlier ages, but it does not follow that children's emotional and social readiness for sexual activity with others is in step with their physical maturation.

But the crux of the problematic language of the new law is this:
Parents and police would be powerless to act if the relationship was not condoned.
While I don't generally see why police would need to be called in to prosecute kanoodling "tweeners," I do find it hard to justify a law that takes away parents' ability to raise, discipline and control their children as young as age 12. This runs counter to the concept that children are unable to fully understand right from wrong - and to thereby be fully responsible for criminal acts, or to entering contracts - at such a young age.

Parents guide their 12-year-old children's life choices in a variety of domains. Why should control over the appropriate expression of sexuality in a child's life be exempt from this normal parenting role? There are many activities, while not codified as "illegal," that are certainly not appropriate for 12-year olds' participation without adult supervision and consent: handling hazardous substances, using power or farming tools, or operating a firearm, for example.

Certainly some 12-year-olds perform these tasks without coming to harm, but they do so at considerable risk; and the risks involved with sexuality can be very high indeed for children or the emotionally unprepared. Are 12-year-olds capable of fully comprehending and negotiating the intricacies of preventing sexually transmitted infections, contraception, and pregnancy and parenting? I think not. These revisions of New Zealand's laws, outdated though they may be, seem ill-advised in the extreme.

Rumsfeld Camera Ban: Mysterious Business 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Numerous stories are circulating on the Web regarding reports that US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has banned the use of cameraphones by soldiers in Iraq - but, is it really true? From Tuesday's The Register:
Peter Rojas points out in Engadget, it was not actually a mainstream news source which first reported Rumsfeld as saying: "To protect the Iraqi prisoners from any future abuses; any digital cameras, camcorders, or cell phones with cameras are strictly prohibited anywhere in any military compound in Iraq." That statement was actually a satirical story from The Daily Farce.

Now, a series of other reports and comments have followed, suggesting that reality may have imitated comedy. Over the weekend, several news items appeared, which seem to quote Rumsfeld, but actually use the phrase from The Daily Farce word for word. The report on iAfrica quoted Australian newspaper The Business - as did News.com in Australia, and The Washington Times.
Interestingly, while the cameraphone ban story appears on many news outlets [via Google News], the individual stories mainly cite the earlier reports cited in the above Register article. So, where is this story coming from? A May 12th op-ed piece by Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page, detailing some comments by Rumsfeld about the ready availability of digital photography is telling:
Take, for example, the contempt that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld showed for the cameras during recent hearings on Capitol Hill. His response to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) turned into a bit of a rant: "We're functioning in a--with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a wartime situation, in the Information Age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon."
The rather unattractive timing of the still-questionable story has prompted snide commentary and extrapolated speculation, such as DMEurope's "Rummy Bans Camera Phones, Not Torture":
According to a report in UK newspaper The Business, camera phones have been banned from all American forces installations in Iraq on orders from the secretary. The paper quotes a source at the Pentagon who said that all digital cameras, camcorders and camera phones have been prohibited in military compounds in Iraq, and that a complete ban on such devices throughout the US military is under consideration.
The $64,000 Question is: who is the Pentagon source quoted in The Business? I have been unable to actually find The Business, cited as a UK or Australian paper, anywhere online. Why are several media outlets quoting this elusive accounting? If anyone knows a link to the original camera ban story in The Business, we'd be most interested. On a related note, there are various proposed non-military bans on cameraphone use in the works. From MSNBC.com:
[Reuters] May. 12 - The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill...that would outlaw "upskirt" photos and other forms of video voyeurism made possible by cell-phone cameras and other miniaturized technology.

The bill, which passed the Senate last September, would prohibit taking covert pictures in locker rooms, bedrooms and other places where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Violators would face fines and up to a year in prison under the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, which passed the committee by voice vote. Lawmakers say cell-phone cameras and tiny surveillance devices allow peeping toms to secretly take pictures in compromising situations. Pornographic Web sites advertise "upskirt" pictures of unsuspecting women on escalators or other public places.
Is this entire story conflated from a combination of satire and truth? BoingBoing has some useful continuing updates.

UPDATE: BoingBoing reports that The Business is also known by the name Sunday Business, and I did find a link at http://www.sundaybusiness.co.uk/. Unfortunately, the link is presently having some timeout problems.

Monday, May 24, 2004
Fog of War? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
  Spc. Sabrina Harman, also of the 372nd Military Police Company, gives a thumbs-up sign by the body of Iraqi detainee Manadel al-Jamadi. [Reuters/ABCNEWS]China's Xinhuanet News featured these photos of soldiers [released by other news agencies] posing with the body of an Iraqi prisoner who reportedly died while in custody at Abu Ghraib:
Spc. Sabrina Harman, also of the 372nd Military Police Company, gives a thumbs-up sign by the body of Iraqi detainee Manadel al-Jamadi. [Reuters/ABCNEWS]

According to testimony from Spc. Jason Kenner, obtained by ABCNEWS, the man was brought to the prison by U.S. Navy Seals in good health. Kenner said he saw extensive bruising on the detainee's body when he was brought out of the showers, dead. Kenner says the body was packed in ice during a "battle" between CIA and military interrogators over who should dispose of the body. The Justice Department opened an investigation into this death and four others today following a referral from the CIA. The photos were taken by Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick , who in e-mails to his family has asked why the people responsible for the prisoner's death were not being prosecuted in the same manner that he is.
There is just something very, very wrong with images like these, on so many levels. Committing these abuses is one matter...but, photographing them for posterity - on digital media no less? From the Washington Post on May 21:
Spec. Joseph M. Darby told investigators that he returned to Abu Ghraib from leave in November and heard about a shooting at the prison's "hard site," which contains Tier 1A. He said that he asked the MP in charge of the tier's night shift, Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., if he had any photographs of the cell where the shooting took place.

Darby said Graner handed him two CDs of photographs. "I thought the discs just had pictures of Iraq, the cell where the shooting occurred," Darby told investigators. Instead, Darby viewed hundreds of photographs showing naked detainees being abused by U.S. soldiers. "It was just wrong," Darby said. "I knew I had to do something."

He said that he asked Graner, a Pennsylvania prison guard in civilian life, about the photographs. Graner replied: "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.' "
Unfortunately, seeing these cheerful, smiling members of the military posing with prisoners (dead or alive) reminds me of nothing more than those stories on News of the Weird's "Least Competent Criminals" feature, where burglars sometimes take instant photos of themselves at the scene of a crime as "souvenirs," only to have the photos used as evidence against them. This how these soldiers want their children, grandchildren, or their country to remember them? History never takes kindly to these types of acts, "winner writes the history" or not. [crossposted on farkleberriesUSA]

Friday, May 21, 2004
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

This is very cool: Musicplasma is a graphical search engine that lets you enter the name of a band or artist, and returns a network display of artists that have similarities in style, history and genre. This sample screenshot shows the relational mapping results returned when I entered "Ultravox" into the search box. Musicplasma uses Amazon.com's XML data to generate the maps, and there is an interesting observation I made after a few searches: there are fewer than "three degrees" removed between The Beatles, Radiohead, or Neil Young and virtually every artist I've searched for using the site. Even the KLF is one step removed from Neil Young, via the Timelords. What gives? [via Airbag]

[Traffic] Jammin' on My Mind 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Assuming you live in an area where they tend to occur, what do you think about when you're stuck in a traffic jam? According to an Auto Club Europa German survey, traffic is the last thing on driver's minds when they're in a jam. [via GoFish]:
...only 10 percent think of finding an alternate route, according to a motor club survey published Thursday. Eight percent think about how much petrol they have, seven percent about their next meal, and seven percent about going to a toilet. Six percent think about their careers.

One in ten caught focus on their families, seven percent on shopping lists and another seven percent worry about the damage the traffic jam might do to their clutch. Only six percent said they don't think about anything in traffic jams.
However, fully one-third of the motorists said what they really thought about during traffic jams was...suprahz, suprahz....s-e-x. And - as GoFish posits - if one-third of people admit to thinking about sex, the real number is probably one-half or more.

What do I think of in traffic jams? I'm usually looking at the temperature gauge, and smelling for strange car smells. I listen to the brakes, the motor, and NPR. Really, I do. ;)

Cook It Again, Sam 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
narutomaki fish cakeIf you've see the film Amadeus, you may recall the scene where the tormented Salieri is visited by Mrs. Mozart, and he offers her a sophisticated aphrodisiacal Italian confection called the Nipples of Venus. Well, Suzette of Traveling in Style remembers the scene well, and has had a fascination with the unusual sweets "since the movie was released."

Today I was intrigued and entertained by a savory variation of that dish Suzette talks about on her site: the Nipples of Warsaw.
There's no real chance that I would ever spend the time and effort to recreate that sweet confection, so I did the next best thing: a rendering in brussel sprouts, deviled ham and capers...Picture it - wee little brussel sprouts -cooked and scooped out - stuffed with deviled ham and topped off with a single caper. Nipples of Warsaw.

I found the recipe in the 1964 version of The Joy of Cooking ( the good version - not that crappy one that came out in 2001) and thought then as I do now that they were the height of canape elegance. So I made them from memory for that night in Texas.
I know precisely the phenomenon of which she speaks: in films, I often seen a intriguing (most likely foreign) dish that I pine over and hope to recreate in my kitchen.

One striking example was the exquisite Japanese soups featured in the delightfully off-the wall spaghetti-western-meets-noodle-shop-sex-comedy Tampopo. I so wanted to recreate the perfect steaming bowls of udon shown in the film, complete with those pink-and-white spiral-shaped kamaboko fishcakes called naruto (which could easily be called the Nipples of Tokyo). I'm embarassed to admit I have twice bought sticks of brightly-hued kamaboko fishcake at Asian groceries, only to to be disappointed by my soup, the flavor of the fishcake or both. Alas, in this case, my reality did not measure up to the warm, brothy, celluloid fantasy. Kamaboko is odd food for obsession, as this Japanese website unwittingly shows:
Though you'd hardly know it from its flavor or odor, kamaboko is made from fish. Texture is the main criterion for quality, but this is particularly difficult to describe in words. "Rubbery" is close. Perhaps "chewy" is better. In any case, the usual translation of kamaboko as "fish paste" is totally misleading, not to mention unappetizing.

But technically it is a "paste," made from pureed fish meat, mixed with a binder such as arrowroot or various kinds of potato flour. The fish is steamed until it is uniformly soft. Before it is mixed with the starch, salt and sometimes sugar, all the pesky bones are removed, too. This produces an easy-to-eat source of protein, and it means practically any fish can be used—even the very bony varieties that other fishing cultures consider "trash."

In ancient times, it was wrapped around sticks of bamboo, resulting in a "cat tail" look from which its name is derived. But today it usually is formed into small loaves, weighing roughly a pound each. Supporting each loaf is a thin plank of untreated wood, usually pine, which serves as a self-contained cutting board. This is useful because whether kamaboko is served by itself as an appetizer with a little soy sauce, or added as a garnish to soups, noodles or stir-fries, it is normally presented in slices about three to four millimeters thick.

Typically, the outer few centimeters of a loaf of kamaboko are colored with vegetable dye, usually pink. Perhaps this is because its "real" color—most kindly described as "off-gray"—is rather bland.
Hungry yet? Actually, the type of kamaboko described next is my favorite kind, at least for its visual appeal.
Sometimes it comes in a tube-like shape, often with lateral ridges. When sliced, the tube reveals a spiral of pink coloring into its center, and what were the ridges now form a kind of gear-tooth effect around the disc. Kids love it...kamaboko, believe it or not, is really delicious. Acquire some if you can, and taste it yourself.
If you'd like to learn more about the technology and terminology assocaited with fish processing, try OneFish's glossary of fish terms [PDF file]. Ah, yes. Rubbery, chewy, but delicious. Not quite. But that doesn't mean I won't try again - perhaps with something nattily English from Fawlty Towers.

Who Died? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
With the Blog of Death, you'll never have to ask again. [via Anil Dash] Speaking of dead, I enjoyed this Deep Thought from Mr. Poon:
If you're an archeologist, I bet it's real embarrassing to put together a skull from a bunch of ancient bone fragments, but then it turns out it's not a skull but just an old dried-out potato.

Thursday, May 20, 2004
Censorship Watch: H.B. 4239 and A New American Political Map 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
And now, a message from Mutinous Winds:

Andrew Cline reports on the new geopolitical mapping of America, including Beyond Red and Blue, a study featured on the Massachusetts online political 'zine Commonwealth that divides our nation into 10 surprising political regions.

Your truly has a story on disturbing new censorship legislation before the House Judiciary Committee: H.B. 4239, also called the "Parents' Empowerment Act," [which] would allow the parent or guardian of a minor to sue in federal court anyone who knowingly disseminates any media containing "material that is harmful to minors" if the material is distributed in a way that "a reasonable person can expect a substantial number of minors to be exposed to the material." Yet, the name of the bill, the "Parents' Empowerment Act" is almost oxymoronic: the bill appears to place responsibility of keeping objectionable materials out of the hands of minors in everyone's hands - except the parents.

Georgia Man Fired for Not Urinating On Time 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Imagine this: you've worked for a major company for the past three years, when you're asked to provide a random urine sample for routine drug screening. You're given three hours to produce a testable plastic cup of urine, but because you suffer from paruresis, or "shy bladder," despite the fact you've consumed over a quart of water to help the process along, you're unable to deliver the goods within the allotted time frame.

You'd probably expect your employer to let you try again, or at least give you a bit more time to...ahem...drain the lizard. The last thing you'd expect is to get fired. That's what Tom Smith, a Georgia employee of Caterpillar Corporation, says happened to him last December.
From OnlineAthens [GA]: Smith says he suffers from paruresis, more commonly known as shy bladder syndrome, and he should be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. He was dismissed Dec. 5, 2003, by Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment.

"This is supposed to be a country where losing a job for a disorder like that shouldn't be a problem," said Smith, a 55-year-old assembly line worker who worked at the plant more than three years. "It's just a matter of simple justice."

Smith's lawsuit alleges he was pulled aside for a drug test and given three hours to urinate in a plastic urine specimen cup. Despite having drunk 40 ounces of water, Smith could not relieve himself under pressure.

He later paid $110 for an independent hair drug test, which he passed, but Caterpillar required he pass the urine test. Hair tests are generally considered to be more accurate than urine tests and detect drug use over a few months rather than a few weeks.
If that is truly all that's at stake - that Smith didn't urinate on cue - I can't see how Caterpillar has much of a case. While the suit's contention is that paruresis should be considered a disability, and therefore Smith should be reinstated, I think the real issue at hand is that a company should not be able to fire an employee for violating "drug-free workplace" regulations if he or she has not actually tested positive for drug use. It's the stereotypical "guilty until proven innocent" charge.

It would have been in the company's probative best interest to actually wait for the sample (which he eventually produced, but after the arbitrary three-hour limit) and have valid proof of drug use. No doubt the reason the company has a three-hour limit for urine samples is to prevent the "test-ee" from trying to dilute their urine, and to ensure that substances like alcohol aren't metabolized over time. However, the fact that Smith afterwards passed a drug test with a longer "testing window" doesn't help their case.

Caterpillar's policy should have allowed the more accurate blood or hair tests (which are in fact less susceptible to errors or adulteration) as an alternative to the urine test. By dismissing Smith solely for not producing a testable urine sample within a specific time frame, Caterpillar has no real evidence "in hand" that he used drugs, and are leaving themselves wide open to a wrongful termination lawsuit. They literally "pissed away" their case.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Meet Your New Neighbor, A[u]nt Killjoy! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Volokh Conspiracy has captured this lovely Amazon.com product review (written by 'a toy enthusiast from Sandy Springs, GA') for the world to enjoy:
Uncle Milton's Giant Ant Farm is a fun, interactive way to teach children ages 5 and up about unceasing, backbreaking toil and the cold, inescapable reality of death. My little ones had a front-row seat as worker ants labored, day in and day out, until they inevitably died of exhaustion, their futile efforts all for naught. The ant farm, complete with stackable tiny ant barns, see-through 'Antway' travel tubes, and connecting 'Antports,' is a child's window into the years of thankless, grueling labor that await them as worker drones in our post-industrial society. It's the fun way to teach your kids to accept their miserable fate stoically. [read more...]
Isn't that sweet? It reads like the musings of some bastard child of James Lileks and August Strindberg. But wait, there's more! I visited the Amazon page featuring Uncle Milton's Giant Ant Farm, and discovered that plastic-boxed hormigas are one controversial toy.
Boy you Liberals need to take it easy and have some fun. Warning, your child will also become a LIBERAL if: 1]You don't buy him a BB gun 2]you don't get him a mini bike 3]you don't buy him a hatchet and chop a tree down (a tree is a renewable resorce) and 4]Make sure he has been spanked when disciplined, this will make him aggressive, last thing you need is an uncompetitive whimpy, whiny, LIBERAL as a son. OH, and buy him an ant farm, even let him kill the ants himself.
And lastly, a reviewer from Rochester, Minnesota had this to say:
Dear readers,
I do not understand one thing. Why are some of you so shalow. I do not own an ant farm, yet. However, I will buy one soon and enjoy it, whether the ants die in two weeks or not. After reviewing some of the comments concerning the ant farms, it seems to me as though you help the ants die. You either overfeed them, or knock the farm down, etc. Stop complaining and cheer up.

Do you really expect the ants to live as long as you do. Just imagine yourselves traveling across US in a dark box. Ofcourse they will die sooner than you expect. When they do, just go to the woods and find some. Don't complain about them biting. Would not you try to protect yourselves if someone would chase you around trying to capture you.

And parents, please be more responsible. If your children are too energetic, do not buy them an ant farm. Go out with them into the woods and show them ant's natural habitat. Your kids will love it, I know. Please do not be angry with me. I just think that some of you negative comments make you look bad.

Transsexual Athletes to Compete at 2004 Athens Games 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
It's official.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland - Transsexuals were cleared Monday to compete in the Olympics for the first time. Under a proposal approved by the IOC executive board, athletes who have undergone sex-change surgery will be eligible for the Olympics if their new gender has been legally recognized and they have gone through a minimum two-year period of postoperative hormone therapy. The decision, which covers both male-to-female and female-to-male cases, goes into effect starting with the Athens Olympics in August.
I frankly hadn't been following the subject much, but it caught my attention after seeing some high-spirited discussion on the topic over at Dog Snot Diaries, if you wish to check it out.

Realistically, I wonder how many athletes at the Olympics will actually be transsexual? Will we be able to tell who is just by looking? If we see a tall woman with a prominent "Adam's apple" beating her second place finisher by a long stretch, will it be obvious who was competing? It probably won't be that visible to the naked camera eye. Hopefully the publicity won't engender (excuse the pun) a "Scarlet Letter" aspect: transsexual athletes having a special logo or designation, or commentators making a casual mention of..."back when Jane Doe was in college, her name was John."?

What I hear a lot of people saying between the lines is that they're worried that male-to-female TS will have the advantage because of athletically superior male physiology, not the other way around (female-to-male transsexuals gaining advantage by taking male hormones to enhance biologically female anatomy).

It can be argued that female-to-male transsexual athletes "break the rules" the most, because they require endogenous androgens (testosterone) to maintain their male appearance and secondary sex characteristics like facial hair and muscle mass. By that logic if we don't allow biologically XY athletes to take testosterone, then it would seem unfair to allow a biological XX competing as a male to do so, even if he needs the hormones to function as a male. But would the hormones give a female-to-male transsexual an unfair edge over men? Somehow I don't think really think so.

To me, this is sounding like the usual "do we allows those freaks to play on our team" objection, but the real issue isn't about gay/straight, or even male/female in my eyes. What this really is, is the first time we are having true biologically altered athletes competing in the Olympics - something we haven't done to this point. It's a test case for an extreme situation some other readers have talked about, the "clones coming out to play".

Transsexual people are of course not "clones", but they have modified their bodies surgically and hormonally to an extent we're not sure how to deal with yet in closely-scrutinized Olympic competition. It gives us an idea of public opinion if athletes with new, as-yet-undeveloped modifications like muscle grafting, gene therapy or even "designer babies" are allowed to compete in the Olympics with unmodified individuals, with the added psyche-snaggers of sexual and gender identity.

It's a more potent and far-reaching milestone than it appears at first glance.

What solution is there? Should we force transsexual athletes to compete according to their sex of birth, rather than sex of assignment? What if a gender-neutral individual wanted to compete? It's a complicated issue, but still, it seems fundamentally unfair to ban transsexual athletes from Olympic competition outright. The ideal of the Games has always been about pushing the limits of human body within the constraints of fair competition, but does fair competition mean that transsexual athletes must "come out" as such, so their fellow athletes and the world know?

The Olympic Games are an international event - and this issue clearly shows that some nations have a more liberal outlook than we do, some a more conservative view, while we here in the USA - thankfully - we still have the opportunity to hash it out somewhere in between.

(P.S.) You're Fired! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
A good friend of ours (and my B-movie buddy) is an aspiring screenwriter, and I'm proud to announce he's having his stage debut here at Second City in Chicago! Here's the unofficial press release:
Our very own Matt Simonette is having his debut as a comedy writer this Friday at the Second City. The show is called "PS, You're Fired" and is running on Fridays from May 21st until June 18th at 10:00 PM at Donny's Skybox Theater, at Pipers Alley. I hope that a lot of us go see it, he's quite a funny writer, and by all accounts the show is good (and likely to sell out quickly, so phone ahead).

P.S. You're Fired
Fridays, May 21-June 18
Donny's Skybox Theatre
Pipers Alley
1608 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL
(312) 337-3992

Tickets are $8.00 at the door, or pre-order online or at above number.
Congratulations, Matt!!! You probably know the names that emerged from SCTV (Second City television) over the years, like John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Harold Ramis and Martin Short.

There's Nothing Quite Like Geology Humor  
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I love geeky humor, and I found this page painfully funny: from the Church of the Subgenius, Phoenix Clench #1: The Mystical Powers of Rocks (Geosolipsism). Samples?
SCHWARTZITE (Ground SCHWARTZ)-When swallowed, causes severe gastrointestinal upset similar to an ulcer. Very useful before business meetings, public speaking and in divorce court.

SHITZT - Helps to channel the creative energies of dead people who, in their previous lives, had none. They still don't. And nothing is quite like the inane and mindless small talk of some peasant who lived 400 years ago. Very practical when responding to USENET messages.

PONTIUS PILITES - Gives one hemorrhoids that hang like grapes.

IRIQUOISE - Strips away fear of heights. Promotes loathing of French people and guides one in the smuggling of cigarettes. (A Quebec/New York inside joke/ethnic slur)
Coincidentally, I'm reading Carl Sagan's 1996 work on the history of science and pseudoscience, The Demon-Haunted World; it's very, very good so far, and were he alive today he'd suffer no guff from the Church of Sub-Genius. He'd also probably find it quite funny, too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pump 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Photo copyright Associated PressHaving experienced a few "gas crises" over the years, I no longer devote much time or energy to worrying about skyrocketing prices at the pump. History endlessly repeats: whenever gasoline prices rise, news outlets jump on interviews with seething, red-faced drivers cussing at pump price displays that seem to flip faster that one-armed bandit wheels.

Well, not me. Not any more.

Maybe it's naive or disingenuous, but I think it's a realistic adaptive response to a circumstance I (like virtually every other consumer) have absolutely no control over. It's the same story I remember from the mid-70's "gas crises" and rationing days, when New Jersey motorists were forced to queue in endless lines on odd or even-numbered dates - depending on the last number on your license plate. Gasoline threatened to shoot up to a phenomenal $1.00 a gallon - a sure sign of the Apocalypse - and you can be certain plenty of folks practiced license-plate swapping to make pump visits on verboten days.

What could a driver do, besides siphoning a few gallons from your neighbor's jalopy in the dead of night? Aftermarket locking gas caps made their big entrance then, and no sensible car owner would leave their liquid gold unguarded without the modern automotive version of the chastity belt. In the days of cheap gas, only a desperate fool would have risked a buttful of buckshot for a few pennies worth of petrol.

I clearly recall when gas theft became the Next Big Thing to Worry About. Popular wisdom had it that the moment you turned your head, Those Damned (choose one) a) Teenagers b) Ethnic group of your choice c) Hippies would pop a hose in your tank to steal your hard-earned commuting fuel, so they could go on a joyride. Probably to drive out to some barn in the next county for an all-night pot party.

"What's the world coming to?" was the populist moan. "Next thing you know, you'll have 5-dollar loaves of bread and gallons of milk." I don't buy much milk-by-the-gallon these days, but can vouch that on a recent trip to a "gourmet bakery" here in Chicagoland, $5 bread is pretty much the norm unless you're buying a spongy white sandwich loaf. The sad truth is, higher prices at the pump are responsible, at least in part, for those $5 loaves and jugs of milk, and no change (or no change) in the White House will magically bring those good 'ol days back. Even duct-taping Howard Stern's mouth shut won't return us to the days of penny candy and quarter gas, as some conservative folks would have us believe.

Gas prices now are about twice as high as they were when we thought the sky was falling - and the big problem with fossil fuel is that you can't make more of it, nor can you grow your own. To this day, out in the American West, Sinclair Fuel's sea-foam-green saurian mascot makes no bones about where his company's product comes from.

The Real Gas Crisis will come soon enough some year in the future. Taking individual steps to preserve our internally combustible way of life for a few more decades can include using public transportation, walking, biking, carpooling, buying smaller cars (hello, Hummers!) or going 'Hybrid'. Our precious heat-compressed dinosaur corpse stew won't last forever.

But contrary to what our leaders frequently told us, our economy always ends up suffering more the tighter we cinch our belts...I've concluded that the world going around is precisely what makes the world go around. It may be wartime, and gas prices may be the highest we've seen yet - but I'll be damned if I'll let an extra few dollars on gas get in the way of enjoying a nice long road trip this summer.

Cicada-Eating Casualty in Bloomington, Indiana 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Apparently, dining on 17-year locusts (or "Brood X Cicadas") isn't for everyone. My friend Walt tipped me to this article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about a Bloomington, IN man who suffered a serious allergic reaction after dining on "Cicadas Scampi":
A man who cooked and ate nearly 30 cicadas sought medical treatment after suffering a strong allergic reaction to the sauteed insects. The man showed up at a Bloomington clinic Thursday covered from head-to-toe in hives, and sheepishly told a doctor he'd caught and ate the cicadas after sauteing them in butter with crushed garlic and basil.

"He said they didn't taste too bad, but his wife didn't care for the aroma," said Dr. Al Ripani, the doctor who treated the man at Promptcare East. The man, who has a history of asthma and shellfish allergies, suffered a "significant allergic reaction," after eating the cicadas, Ripani said. "Severe food allergies such as this can be fatal," he said.
The University of Maryland Cicada-Licious Cookbook [PDF file] does, in fact, have a disclaimer that states "We ask that you please take special caution if you have other food allergies, such as soy, nuts or shellfish, or if you know of any contact allergies that you may have to other insects." In fact, the cookbook's preface includes this frightening blurb:
An Introduction to Entomophagy; or, How I Learned to Love the Bug

Eating bugs sounds disgusting? If you have ever eaten a crawfish, lobster, crab, or shrimp then you have already eaten members of the class Arthropoda, of which insects are a part. So popping a big juicy beetle, cricket, or cicada into your mouth is only a step away. You have, in fact, probably already eaten many pounds of insects in your lifetime.

Most Americans don't realize that they are eating a pound or two of insects each year. This is because insects are a part of all processed foods from bread to tomato ketchup - it's impossible to keep mass-produced food 100% insect-free. There are regulations stating the maximum amount of bug bits that food can contain and still be fit for human consumption.

These bits, unseen, have been ground up into tiny pieces in such items as strawberry jams, peanut butter, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, frozen chopped broccoli, etc. For example, the "Food Defect Action Levels", as currently defined by the Food and Drug Administration state that macaroni and noodle products can have 225 or more insect parts per 225 grams of product (4). This may sound disgusting, but these insect parts actually make some food products more nutritious.
Think of it this way: low carb protein. Bon appetit, mes amis.

Monday, May 17, 2004
Conspiracy Theory Surrounding Nick Berg's Death 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Kuro5hin has compiled a list of 50 anomalies surrounding the execution of Nick Berg, many of which seem to suggest the videotaped killing was fake, or at least not what it appears to be at face value. I won't go into whether I think these discrepancies are valid or not, because many of the items seem to be vague or unproveable; in any case, I really don't want to watch the footage again. I'll let the reader decide, and see how this all shakes out.

A Revolutionary Day 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Galois has a superb post countering Yahoo! News op-ed columnist Maggie Gallagher's recent comments stating that same-sex marriage is "the triumph of the most radical ideas of the sexual revolution: that gender doesn't matter, children are secondary, [and] expressing your authentic sexual self is more important than, well, practically anything else." From Galois:
"I want to note how surprised I was that somebody would consider gay marriage a triumph of the sexual revolution. When I think sexual revolution I think sex outside of marriage, casual sex with multiple partners, in short sex without responsibility. Gay marriage seems to me to be the opposite of that. It is about getting married, being monogamous, and putting sex within a larger framework of obligations and responsibility. I'm amazed that someone would call people seeking to marry sexual revolutionaries."
The post then powerfully debunks Gallagher's other "points" as well, with this central clear note:
"I do not see gay marriage as a triumph for the ideas of the sexual revolution, or even for the ideas Gallagher associates with the sexual revolution. Rather I see it as a triumph for the ideas of the American Revolution: that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Bravo. And to the couples making history today in Massachusetts, felicitations - and let freedom ring!

It's a Tall Order - But Someone's Gotta Stretch To It 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
At 5' 3", I generally don't worry about fitting into showers or having my legs dangling off hotel beds - but for that segment of the population classifed as "tall" (women over 5' 9" and men over 6' 2"), ordinary tasks like flying on a plane, renting a car or getting a hotel room can be a longstanding problem. Six-foot-nine publisher Everard Strong decided to do something about it - he founded a magazine called TALL. From CNN:
"[TALL] is something that's been on my mind for four or five years. I've been involved in magazine publishing for eight or nine years. I love the industry and was always wondering and hoping some publication would come to serve the tall community," he said. "So I decided to combine my interests," Strong said. "There are a lot of products and services. We're not short on any material in the immediate future." [Ha, ha, ha. - Ed.]

Nor does there appear to be a shortage of potential readers. [What's with the "short" puns, CNN? - Ed.] Average U.S. heights have been gradually creeping up for decades, a trend seen in many parts of the world. There are now 8.8 million men over 6-feet 2-inches and 5.5 million women over 5-feet 9-inches in the United States.
The May issue features 6' 5" cover man Ron Perlman, the star of The Name of the Rose, TV's Beauty and the Beast, and most recently, Hellboy. According to the TALL media kit [PDF file], of the magazine's typical reader:
He’s one of the over 12.3 million* American men 6’2” or taller. He is college educated, single, with income above $48,000. His average shoe size is 12.5. He is looking for longer beds, taller bicycles, cars that he can fit in, tools that fit his hands, office chairs, solutions to his back aches, and quality clothing.

She’s one of the 7.5 million* American women who are 5’9” or taller. She is college educated, single, with income above $40,000. She wants clothes that fit her and are in style. She likes to shop by catalog. She wants to be made to feel good.
Did you notice that both the tall men and women are listed as being "single"? Maybe height isn't the automatic path to marital bliss, but tall people earning more money just because they're tall? A widely-circulated article came out about two years ago that showed (other factors considered) tall people earned considerably more throughout their lifetimes than short or average-height people, but there was an interesting twist. From Slate:
So, what's the deal? Why do the tall tower over the short in more than just physical stature? Does height breed respect, so that tall people get showered with riches? Or does height breed self-esteem, so that tall people are more likely to assert themselves? In other words, do tall people succeed because of how others see them, or do tall people succeed because of how they see themselves? That sounds like the kind of question you could argue for years and never settle, but three clever economists have gone ahead and settled it. Their names are Nicola Persico, Andy Postlewaite (formerly a professor here at Northwestern University) and Dan Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania, and they've uncovered a key bit of evidence: Tall men who were short in high school earn like short men, while short men who were tall in high school earn like tall men.
"Short men who were tall in high school"? Did they shrink? I know that some men (like some women) lose height with age because of spinal changes or osteoporosis, but I wonder if the authors are also referring to men whose height was considered "tall" back when they were in high school, but which is now considered "average" in light of the past few generations' "height inflation." The March 2004 full text of the paper, "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height" is linked here as a PDF file.

Friday, May 14, 2004
The Awful Death of Nick Berg: The Worst Kind of "Must-See TV" 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Most blogs posting about the Nick Berg execution video have gotten their share of hits from people searching for the grisly footage, and farkleberries is no exception. Frankly, it's a startling number: a look through my stats showed that over three-fourths of the hits since Wednesday afternoon have come through some permutation of the search terms "Nick+Berg+execution+beheading+live+video." These visitors don't stay long, because I don't actually have the Nick Berg execution video for their perusal. C'est la vie.

A Daily Kos May 11th posting (mysteriously fallen off the radar) included a link to a website offering the full online video of Nick Berg's execution and had a similar effect – the author mentions that the average number of hits at Daily Kos skyrocketed from 6,000 a day to 15,000. One person (of dozens) commenting on that post stated something to the effect of - and this is not an exact quote, because I can't find the page today - "I won't dignify this kind of pornography [the execution video] that's out there for the pleasure of the sickos in our society."

Before clicking the fated link, I thought for a long while. I will not post the address of the link here - because, sadly, the site it was hosted on is – literally - pornographic. It's one of those hardcore fetish sites, and it disturbs me that whoever owns this site felt compelled to include Nick Berg's excruciating last moments along with video of "extreme kink," which while abhorrent to many, is still for the most part made by willing partcipants, and intended to provide pleasure in its own way. Alongside the scatological videos the abovementioned site offers, the Berg footage is an anomaly - or an acid test. Anyone who actually finds pleasure in seeing real footage of a manacled man having his head cut off with a knife isn't a mere S&M fan - they're a psychopath, in my book.

The decision to watch, or not to watch reminded me of Morpheus' proffering of the "blue pill" and the "red pill" to Neo in The Matrix – you make a choice, and your awareness of reality will change from that point onward. "What will it be? Blue? Or Red?" An awareness one gains with time is that sights can not be un-seen, sounds never un-heard; the luxury of casual forgetfulness doesn't apply when seeing the world’s first globally-distributed snuff film. Clicking the link would be a pill I couldn't un-swallow.

I wouldn’t call myself a sicko, and probably neither would most people seeking to watch the video. Although this is the worst kind of 'must-see TV,' human nature and curiosity compels us to watch it. Biblical scripture says doubting Thomas had to touch Christ's bleeding side to see if the spear wound was real. In the end, I decided to click.

The video is no work of art. Jumping and lurching wildly like a leering fanatic at times, the camera's video stream froze fortuitously as it zoomed in on Nick's face, just as his throat was about to be cut. The worst part was Nick's screaming.

I didn't click again to restart the video stream.

For several hours afterward, I felt a lingering sense of sadness I couldn't quite place my finger on. Later, it dawned on me that I had just witnessed one of those ugly history-making moments that define an era. Some nations did actually air every bloody moment of Nick Berg's slaughter on their news programming, but this event marks the first time that easy access to high-speed Internet transmission of digitized video has allowed this type of content to transcend borders and spread across the globe like a virus in a matter of hours.

Revolution often comes unbidden and bloody, and almost always from outside official channels.

It also occurred to me that on September 11th, 2001, millions had watched a snuff film over and over again on television screens…we just didn't think of it as such at the time. What else can we call footage of thousands of human beings crushed to death in thundering twin cascades of concrete and steel? I suppose if the death is filmed by an uninvolved party, it’s "news footage" – however, if the party that records the event is involved in its execution, it's "snuff."

Clearly, I'm not looking forward to the next step in this "revolutionary" brinksmanship. Answering outrage with outrage, and atrocity with atrocity isn't a path, it's a trap - because a spiral only goes 'round and round, and further down. This horror will be likely be 2004's standout event, but unfortunately the year is still young.

I've written more on the media implications of this incident at Mutinous Winds.

Devouring Synapses with Tim 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This fellow, Tim Mendelsohn, sounds like he'd have a blast at the University of Chicago. He's an Oxford student with an interesting viewpoint on the rarefied world of world-class academic socializing:
University is meant to be the best time of one's life. If this truly is as good as it will ever get, it's time to eviscerate those arteries, kiddies. Foetid, synapse-devouring drinks line tables, decanted into plastic cups by the entz reps, glowing all the while like Chernobyl overspill. Ever wonder why you seem to espy so many misshapen and ghoulish human things lurking and gibbering in gloomy corners of the room? Years of exposure to this Oxford home brew and not enough sunlight are the problem. Yes, it's the scientists coming out to play.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Dystopia Now! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
A great post from Positive Liberty, a blog by: "Jason Kuznicki...a history grad student in a same-sex marriage. He blogs on culture, religion, and politics from a classical liberal perspective. Interests include pluralism, gay issues, history, food, and the war on drugs. Short fiction breaks the monotony--or perhaps increases it.", "A Dystopian Definiton" [via Alas, A Blog].

Caveat: do read the whole post before you make up your mind about it. Update: Jason's getting plenty of traffic from this one, and good for him - PL is a very good read, and I hope he gets more widely linked.

UC Scav Hunt: And You Thought Eating Cicadas Was Bad 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The University of Chicago may be known for some spectacular academic achievements, like the first atomic reaction, armloads of Nobel Prizes and more gargoyles than any other American campus (well, at least it seems like there are). However, all this brainpower comes with a price: a few folks around here are pretty much certifiable. Brilliant - but nuts. Case in point? The legendary annual Scavenger Hunt:
Last Sunday, an awed crowd of students and cameramen from NBC5 [NOTE: Not Plattsburgh, NY's NBC5. Chicago's NBC5.] in Ida Noyes watched in anticipation as Phil Caruso, a first-year in the College and Rickert House resident, completed item #8 on the Scav Hunt list for the Max Palevsky team.

Caruso took out from a package his umbilical cord, which his mother had sent to him, stuffed it into a Twinkie, and without hesitation ate it.

"Nobody ever had to persuade him; it was all volunteer," said Alan Mardingly, a second-year in the College and Co-Captain of the Max Palevsky team (Phoenix, Bitch). "My hat is off to him." [Scav Hunt team] Phoenix, Bitch gained 96 points with Caruso's stunt.
I suppose it's telling that Caruso's mom actually saved his umbilical cord for the past two decades, and having done so, willingly sent it to him...to eat. I can picture the conversation:
Caruso: "Hi, mom. Remember that umbilical cord of mine you were saving?"
Mama Caruso (misty-eyed from recollection): "Of course, honey...I was in labor for 2 whole days with you, and I wanted to remember that moment for all eternity. It's even got that cute little clamp still on it."
Caruso: "Would you mind sending me the cord here at college?"
Mama Caruso: "Well...okay, honey. But why?"
Caruso: "I need to eat it for the annual Scavenger Hunt."
Mama Caruso: "Oh, all right...but it may be a little stale after these past 18 years. Might need some seasoning."
Whatta mom! Crescat Scientia, Vita Excolatur indeed. As SillyLibra would say..."and now, off to lunch."

The New Blogger™ 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I have to say I like the changes Blogger™ has made with the unveiling of their new interface and templates - it's a little more MT-ish in appearance and function, although not quite as manipulable (is that a word? Manipulatable? Save a syllable when you can.). The new built-in templates are quite attractive, as are the newly-added "Recent Posts" and commenting functions...hmm...remember I had posted a code for Blogger Recent Posts a few months back? Feh.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Read All About It: Nukes n' Gags 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Can't get enough farkleberries (ha, ha)? Read more at Mutinous Winds, discussing a recent RAND Corporation report that shows the US administration's post-9/11 shutdown of over 600 databases and websites was a useless measure of censorship, and on RadioActive! - where I talk about some of the controversy surrounding mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel for nuclear reactors in the light of Japan's announcement of their proposed launch of the country's third MOX-burning power plant.

by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
From the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, and now the reported Al-Qaeda revenge execution of an American contractor, I'm speechless. All I can say is...WAFM.

Today's Guardian UK [via Daily Kos] reports a video has been released on a militant Islamic website that appears to show the beheading execution of an American. These are the chilling last words of a doomed man:
"My name is Nick Berg, my father's name is Michael, my mother's name is Susan...I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in...Philadelphia."

After reading a statement, the [captors] were seen pulling the man to his side and putting a large knife to his neck. A scream sounded as the men cut his head off, shouting "Allahu Akbar!" - "God is great." They then held the head out before the camera.

[A captor speaks] "So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins...slaughtered in this way."
Is it real, or is it computer doctored? I doubt it's the latter. And the circle goes 'round and 'round...and it's painfully obvious we're not the civilized world we often like to think we are.

* What A F__king Mess. I think I may be saying that a few more times before this is all over.

Monday, May 03, 2004
It's Cicada-Licious! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Wow. Someone actually came to farkleberries by performing a search for "University of Maryland Cicada Cookbook" on Yahoo™. Cool.

Lost Teeth? Grow Your Own 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Will dentures become obsolete? The BBC reports (via SlashDot) that UK scientists are discovering a way to grow replacement teeth using human stem cells:
Scientists at King's College London have been awarded £500,000 to help them develop human teeth from stem cells.

The company Odontis, set up by the college, hopes to develop its research for tests on humans within two years after successful research on mice. Stem cells, the so-called master cells, would be programmed to develop into teeth and then transplanted into the patient's jaw where the gap is. It is thought it would then take two months for the tooth to fully develop. [...] The cost [of the procedure] should not be more than the price of synthetic implants of between £1,500 - £2,000.
If you read some of the SlashDot-posted comments, you'll get a feeling for the mixed emotions surrounding this type of technology, since current stem-cell research focuses mainly on fetal stem cells. I have the feeling that people opposed to abortion and fetal stem cell research aren't likely to cotton the idea of adults employing fetal cells to regrow teeth they should have taken better care of in the first place...but that's a different discussion altogether. I'll save it for another time.

Anyhow, I have this funny feeling that the procedure would eventually cost a lot more here in the U.S. - the BBC article doesn't mention whether the quoted cost would be per tooth, or for a full set of replacements.

Blog Spotlight: Gay Mormon Dad 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
You just never know what gems you'll find by browsing Blogger's "recently updated" links. Today, I found this one: Gay Mormon Dad's author David cogently and compassionately publishes his thoughts on life, law, faith and fatherhood from what must surely be a difficult place to stand; a position between integrity to one's paths of love and faith that forces many people to choose between one or the other. GMD follows the media closely, and his thoughts on topics ranging from Log Cabin Republicans to same-sex marriage and parenting are first-person eye-openers.

Saturday, May 01, 2004
The Fallen: The Banned 4/30/04 Nightline 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Last night's edition of ABC Nightline, banned from several Sinclair Broadcasting Group stations, I thought was in the end as neutral a memorial recitation of the war dead as anchor Ted Koppel promised. As advertised, the entirely score-free half hour show consisted of Koppel reading over 700 names over a static backdrop, with two alternating photos showing the deceased (mainly pictures in uniform, some in mufti, some had no photos - an image of flag-draped caskets was substituted) with the serviceperson's rank and age superimposed below.

Was it political? Perhaps. But if it was, the political intent was overshadowed by the unspoken realization that each man or woman killed in the line of duty left behind a hole in many others' lives: they left behind spouses, lovers, children, siblings, relatives, friends and neighbors. The value judgement of war each viewer takes away is personal and conscience-driven - is the war too expensive, or is it worth the cost? That's not an answer any television program - or corporate position statement - can provide.

If nothing else, the Nightline photos reminded us that the cost of war is not a blank check, not a credit tab, but rather a bill payable immediately in liquid human currency. As parents teach their children the value of a dollar and wise spending, we need to know the value of a human soldier's life, and not spend it in vain.

The Locusts are Coming! Get Your Frying Pans! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The 17-Year Cicadas - locusts - are set to burst out of the ground by the millions in many US states, which will no doubt convince some folks that the Apocalypse is nigh. However, as NPR reports, the cicadas are not only loud and frightening...they're also pretty darn tasty:
Soft-Shelled Cicadas

1 cup Worcestershire sauce
60 freshly emerged 17-year cicadas
4 eggs, beaten
3 cups flour
Salt and pepper to season the flour
1 cup corn oil or slightly salted butter


Marinate cicadas alive in a sealed container in Worcestershire sauce for several hours. (Note: You can skip this step and go directly to the egg step instead.) Dip them in the beaten egg, roll them in the seasoned flour and then gently sauté until they are golden brown.
Mmm. Maybe I'll try the El Chirper Tacos. Want a wealth of bug dishes? Check out the University of Maryland's "Cicada-licious Cookbook" [PDF file].

And to think I Dreamt of Bugwiches only a few short months ago.