Thursday, September 30, 2004
Sex-Ed Southern Style: Hush, Puppies 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
FORT MILL, South Carolina (AP) -- Administrators at Fort Mill High School decided to remove gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research from the agenda of a planned student debate out of concern that they might clash with a state law on sex education.

Two of the three topics originally were on a list of eight approved by Principal David Damm for use in a student-run debate scheduled for October 19. The debate is intended to mirror the debates between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

A debate announcement said issues such as education, taxes, jobs, the war in Iraq and faith-based initiatives would be discussed, but "because of South Carolina laws, we cannot discuss such controversial issues as stem cell research, abortion or homosexual marriages." Both Damm and Superintendent Thomas Dowling said the restriction referred to the state's health education act, which prohibits health class discussion on abortion and homosexual sex.
[The State, South Carolina] The National Association of School Boards of Education site has the text of South Carolina's policy, which mandates that
...[t]he program of instruction provided for in this section may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.

The Act further states, 'to assist in the selection of components and curriculum materials, each local school board shall appoint a thirteen-member local advisory committee consisting of two parents, three clergy, two health professionals, two teachers, two students, one being the president of the student body of a high school, and two other persons not employed by the local school district.'
Isn't it interesting that each category on the committee is represented by only two people, except for the clergy - represented by three individuals? Priorities, priorities.

farkleberries Links du Jour 19 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Well, better late than never, I suppose...what a bunch of news stories to return to after a week-long trip!Indeed: truth is far stranger than fiction these days. Anyhoo, more on the trip soon as soon as I re-acclimate myself to the swing of the blogosphere...surprisingly, no withdrawal symptoms yet. So where did we go? Hint: great coffee and pasta; rotten traffic and mayonnaise. ;)

Monday, September 20, 2004
Imam Bayildi 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Just a note that blogging will be light this week, so I will leave you with this recipe for a tasty, exotic Turkish dish I prepared over the weekend, imam bayildi, "the imam fainted.*" If, like me, you can't visit the local greengrocer without buying a big, shiny black eggplant - but then don't know what to do with it - you'll love this.
1 large eggplant
1 T sea salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 green pepper diced
3 roma tomatoes diced
1 large onion diced
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
dash turmeric, oregano and crushed red pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

First, cut off the stem, and slice the eggplant in half lengthwise. Make several deep slashes in the cut surfaces of both halves, but be careful not to cut through the skin on the other side. Sprinkle sea salt on both cut halves and place the eggplant pieces face down in a colander in the sink for one hour; this will drain out the bitter juices. Rinse in water throughly to remove excess salt, and pat dry with a paper towel. Then, fry the eggplant halves face-down in a heavy pan for about five minutes in the olive oil, until the surfaces turn slightly brown. Remove the eggplant, and place face-up in an ovenproof shallow baking dish.

Next, saute the onions, green pepper, tomatoes and garlic in the same pan in the remaining olive oil for 5-10 minutes until softened. Add the remaining spices and sugar, cook for 5 minutes longer. Adjust salt and seasonings to taste. Place one half of this mixture on each eggplant half, and bake for 30 minutes at 400°F. Remove from oven, and allow to cool to room temperature. Scoop the imam bayildi directly out of the eggplant shells at the table, and serve with pita wedges or French baguettes.
* The origins of the name are shrouded in history, but legend says that long ago a Muslim holy man, the imam, tasted this dish and fainted to the ground from sheer delight. Either that was some eggplant, or delights must have been in short supply back then. Anyhow, this stuff is very tasty, and the quantities here serve 2 as dinner, 4 as an appetizer - feel free to double or triple amounts as needed. If you want to know what else we cook around our place, visit My God, It's Full of Squirrels!

farkleberries Links du Jour 18 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Sunday, September 19, 2004
Were Voters Represented Fairly in Louisiana's Anti-SSM Amendment Vote? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Considering its conservative Bible-belt roots, it's not a major surprise that Louisiana passed a state constitutional amendment yesterday banning same-sex marriages, civil unions and the recognition of such unions made elsewhere. However, there is something seriously fishy about the circumstances of yesterday's vote: many precincts throughout the state, especially in New Orleans - the part of the state with the largest number of LGBT and liberal voters - had no voting booths available until late in the afternoon.

365Gay.com offers a disturbing account of the mass confusion during Saturday's vote, due in part to the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan and resulting logistics lapses:
There was mass confusion throughout Louisiana today as voters went to the polls to decide whether to put a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution. In more than a third of the state's precincts there were no voting machines. In other areas people displaced by hurricane Ivan did not know where they were supposed to vote. And, elections officials in local areas were confused about what to tell people.

More than 35 precincts reported they did not have machines when the polls opened. Drivers hired to deliver the machines apparently failed to show up for work. State workers, many who had never driven a truck before, were called in to replace the truckers, but even then several got lost trying to find out where the polling stations were located. Dozens of precincts, mainly in low lying areas that remain underwater, were moved, but no one told the drivers where they had been relocated.
From the Associated Press:
...[T]here [are] many possible grounds for challenging the results in state and federal court. One appeared Saturday, when voting machines were delivered late to some New Orleans precincts, keeping some from casting ballots for hours.

State director of elections Frances Sims said at least 59 precincts did not have voting machines when polls opened because officials with New Orleans' clerk of court's office failed to meet drivers who tried to deliver the machines earlier that morning. The problem was solved by midday.

Julius Green, 58, said he went to his polling place in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood about 10 a.m. and found no voting machines - just a crowd. "This is ridiculous," Green said. "It makes people feel that their vote don't count."
It doesn't take a great leap to speculate that many New Orleans voters who opposed the amendment were unable to cast their ballots. Considering this, wouldn't there be ample justification to declare Saturday's voting results null and void, and hold another amendment vote when conditions are more organized? It's ridiculous to claim the results of this fiasco legitimately represents the will of all Louisianans. If a new vote were held, this discriminatory amendment might still pass, but at least there might be some semblance of electoral fairness.

UPDATE: Alas, A Blog has some very interesting info in the comment section on this developing story - from someone who was there in New Orleans.

Friday, September 17, 2004
On Religion and Tolerance 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
What a great quote:
"In every age, the urge to intolerance presents itself anew. We must not become complacent about the freedom of conscience any more than we would take for granted the other rights that we now enjoy."
How true. And for that matter, how can we assume (as we often do) that our conceptions of personal and societal liberty are permanent, given its frighteningly fragile nature throughout recorded history? The quote's from Jason Kuznicki over at Positive Liberty, and you can read the rest in this superbly thought-provoking post, "Religious Tolerance: Reformation and Enlightenment."

"Who's Your Mama?" and Boycotting Virginia 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
My friend Cindy has an excellent article the the latest issue of Out In Mountains detailing the interstate child custody battle between Janet and Lisa Miller-Jenkins, a former Vermont couple. Their case could set an important legal precedent regarding the parental rights of same-sex couples, when one or both members of the couple lives in - or moves to - a state with strongly codified anti-gay statutes, such as Virginia:
Who's Your Mama?
Vermont Custody Case Tests Virginia's Anti-Gay Law

by Cynthia Potts

"We'd met through mutual friends," said Janet Miller-Jenkins, of her former partner, Lisa. "We started dating. Fell in love.""Even at the beginning, we both had a great love for children. Lisa was working as a nanny, while I was an accountant. We talked about opening a preschool, something that had been a dream for both of us."

A preschool wasn't the only dream the couple shared. "We both wanted children," Janet asserted. "We had a five year plan." Initially, the couple explored adoption. Living in Virginia made this difficult. "They wanted us to lie about our orientations," Janet explained. "And Lisa wanted to go through the pregnancy experience."

The couple moved to Vermont, and entered into a civil union. "It was a conscious decision that we were going to have a family, and that we were going to have our family in a committed relationship." After consultations with several doctors, it was decided that Lisa would be the birth mother of an artificially inseminated child. "She is five years younger than me, which was a major consideration." Several expensive procedures later, Lisa was pregnant. Baby Isabella was born in 2002.

"We'd had a very hard pregnancy. Lisa was on bed rest for a while, which was very difficult for her." Nevertheless, the couple desired another child, and went through another round of insemination. Lisa became pregnant upon the first try. "We were elated!" Janet explained. "No one gets pregnant by artificial insemination quickly, and here we were on the first try." Two weeks later, tragedy struck, and Lisa miscarried the baby.

Sorrows never travel alone. "She froze up after that," Janet explained. "She wouldn't talk to me, nothing." Janet suggested professional help, but Lisa had another idea. She took Isabella, and moved back to Virginia. [continue reading "Who's Your Mama?"]
Remember those old dark green "Virginia is for L♥vers*" bumperstickers? Someone should resurrect them, with an asterisk and footnote that reads: "*heterosexual." Come to think of it, someone's already done better than that: check out "Virginia is for Haters," a site that details the state's pervasive anti-gay laws, and calls for a tourism boycott:
On April 21, 2004, The Virginia General Assembly passed the nation's most restrictive anti-gay law--a law banning all contracts between same-sex couples. Not just marriage, all contracts. At the center of HB 751 is this language (emphasis ours):
A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.
Virginia outlawed civil marriage between same-sex partners in 1997. The so-called "affirmation of marriage act" goes recklessly far beyond that and seeks to invalidate any and all legal contracts between these individuals. All of the private contracts entered into by couples looking to attain any measure of stability and protection under the rule of law are at risk--including durable powers of attorney, health care directives, even wills and property contracts.
[read the Washington Post editorial review] While it is a personal family tragedy for this couple, it also spotlights the underlying issue of an individual's use of discriminatory state laws as legal refuge and court leverage.

Boycotting Virginia is another matter...a tough call personally because the in-laws live there (and it is a nice place to visit, especially in the fall). Maybe my partner and I just won't spend any money while we're there. We'll tell Mom we're boycotting, perhaps... ;)

I support the concept of boycotting, in spite of some people's arguments saying it economically hurts uninvolved parties and workers more than the companies involved; however, to be effective, boycotts must be applied in an educated and judicious manner. The targets sometimes call them a form of "economic terrorism," but I disagree. Consumers in a free-market system shouldn't be constrained in how they allocate their spending, regardless of whether their choices are dictated by brand preference, price, product features, or other factors such as company politics, employment policies (sweatshop labor, for example) or ideology. It's interesting how buying decisions based on the former are hailed as "free market choice" while the latter are often disparaged as activist propaganda; I see no essential difference between the two. Shunning a product or service because it is morally objectionable or undesirable in some way, as well as choosing one because it is desirable are both legitimate consumer choices.

Here's an example of something being called a boycott that isn't. I've had people say I should buy and consume cow's milk, which I don't enjoy, because it's "good for dairy farmers and the American economy." Sorry...that's a little too un-libertarian for me. I prefer soy milk, so what's wrong with my supporting soybean farmers and their contribution to the American economy instead? That's not a boycott: that's freedom of choice. Some might say that boycotts are inherently un-libertarian, but that's only if one boycotts because of peer pressure or external motivation - ideally, one should always choose to boycott based on personal conscience.

That said, boycotts based on falsehoods or misconceptions are not true organized consumer choices - many well-known boycotts have been based on "urban legends" or hoaxes. We've all heard preposterous word-of-mouth calls to boycott along the lines of "don't buy KFC - it's not really chicken, but genetically-engineered beakless flesh chunks!" or "don't buy Bubble Yum - it's got spider eggs in it!" Those aren't bonafide boycotts, either - they're childish scare tactics.

Like most U.S. states, Virginia depends on tourism for a large chunk of annual income, but even if all gays and lesbians and their supporters opted to not visit Virginia until oppressive laws are overturned, their market choice might not make enough of an impact to make a difference. Then again, it might.

The argument that "the only people you're hurting with a boycott are yourselves and the little workers" doesn't really wash. As a consumer, I have other choices of where to spend my tourism dollars - Virginia is not my only option. If it were, I'd probably still forgo the trip there, visits to the MIL aside. On the other hand, while the workers at boycotted companies may be hurt in the short term by poor business, there are many other demand-side factors that could contribute to poor business besides a boycott.

That's why it's critical the boycott be publicized, so that the boycott-ees know the reason why they are the subject of the action. Also, a brief personal or group letter to the boycotted party is always nice: "Dear [name]; the reason we are not spending the $5,000 we would have spent on our vacation in Virginia is...."

But there's more at stake here than ideology. Why should my partner and I give our tourist dollars to a state that utterly negates our relationship and any efforts we make to give it legal protection? Say, for example, [heaven forbid] one of us was involved in an accident and taken to hospital while vacationing there, and the other was not permitted visitation or allowed to make lifesaving decisions - simply because Virginia does not recognize contracts [such as powers of attorney and healthcare proxies] because the parties are of the same sex? That's just plain wrong, and we'd be foolish to put ourselves in that situation.

Realistically, boycotts usually end up being more a statement of principle than a source of genuine financial hardship for the boycotted party. But sometimes they do work, and they occasionally effect serious change. To me, they're simply a way of "putting your money where your ♥ is." Remember - boycotts are a great American tradition.

Ethical Consumer.org: a UK list of companies being targeted by boycotts, and the stated reasons why.
Co-op America's Boycotts.org, a U.S. listing

Thursday, September 16, 2004
farkleberries Links du Jour 17 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Johnny Ramone, 1948-2004 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Rocker Johnny Ramone ca. 1982, image copyright unknownFeedback blasting out my ears
Makes me so high
I love all the monitor men
But why are they alive?
The van is make me crazy
It's just like being in the navy

Doomsday, doomsday's coming - 1981
But until things blow
I'm gonna have some fun
The bubble's going to explode
Probably never live to get old

But I just wanna have some fun
Probably won't see no money
I just wanna have some fun
Before they throw me in the sanitarium

Feedback blasting out my ears
Makes me so high
I love all the monitor men
But why are they alive ?
Well Monte's making me crazy
It's just like being in the navy
-- The Ramones, "All The Way"

The New York Times remembers Johnny, who died last night at age 55 after a long battle with prostate cancer.
Kurt Loder remembers Johnny Ramone [MTV.com]

Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Three Yellow Leaves 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
If I am asked which season of the year is my favorite, I will answer that there is no answer; how can one choose? There is only kisetsu, or "seasonal feeling." The year's seasons are not four discrete acts, but are rather like a cycling spectrum of giftwrap in which life daily reveals itself...and I just caught a glimpse of the new design.

fragrant lawn cuttings
rainbows in the sprinkler mist
three yellow leaves fall

farkleberries Links du Jour 16 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Sunday, September 12, 2004
farkleberries Links du Jour 15 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Saturday, September 11, 2004
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
"Dear New York,

I'm sorry I couldn't be there today. I feel guilty that I couldn't be present to observe. I had to look up the weather there to find out it was, again, a clear, beautiful day in September. I almost wish it weren't, because I know that it just acts as a reminder for so many in the city of the perfect indian summer day we were having three years ago.

Things are very different here, a continent away. They're clearly sympathetic and thoughtful about this date, but... it feels like an observance. Not that it's not sincere, but people are sincere on Memorial Day or in remembering Pearl Harbor, too. They just don't feel them at a visceral level..."
[Read full post at Anil Dash's]

Friday, September 10, 2004
Yes, Officer, That Is My Doorknob - and No, I'm Not Happy to See You 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Are doorknobs "public" or "private"? Either supposition has implications that limit their evidentiary value in secret search cases, and that's the thorny issue in the cases of three Salt Lake City men, who are challenging the legality of search warrants obtained after Utah police secretly used test swabs to collect drug and firearms residue samples from their homes' doorknobs. From the Salt Lake Tribune:
[F]ederal prosecutors insist no warrant is needed to swab a doorknob and run the test - called an Ionscan - to detect whether occupants and visitors have been in contact with drugs. The exterior of a home cannot be expected to remain untouched, they say, as friends, solicitors, proselytizers, campaign workers and delivery people come to the door.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leshia Lee-Dixon pointed out that visitors to [plaintiff Anthony Diviase] Mora's home were directed by a sign to go around to the back door. The invitation meant officers could touch the door, she wrote in a court filing. Mora did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the door handles to his screen or inside back doors, Lee-Dixon wrote.

In an Ionscan, a sample is taken by rubbing a sterile cloth over a surface to collect residue. The swab is placed in a machine that analyzes particles and gives an alert when certain substances are found, such as cocaine and methamphetamine. The technology is used at airports, including Salt Lake City's International Airport, to check suitcases for explosives.
TalkLeft quotes a ruling by Utah Judge Ted Stewart,
...cit[ing] a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that required Oregon police to get a warrant before using thermal imaging technology, which senses the use of heat lamps.....Taking the sample from Mora's door was similar, Stewart wrote. "The swab of the outside of the doorknob reveals something about the details of the interior of the home that is unknowable without physical intrusion - that persons who have handled drugs have entered," the judge said.
While I agree with the ruling because it limits a questionable stretching of the Fourth Amendment, I also see a fundamental problem with its logic: if traces of drugs [or firearm residue] are found on a doorknob, this fact alone does not prove that anyone possessing or handling these substances actually entered the premises, much less that the person[s] in question lives or spends time at that location. All it proves is that someone who came in contact with illegal substances touched the doorknob - which could be any of us considering that public surfaces are known to be contaminated with everything from nose candy to E. coli. Some studies have shown that up to 90% of U.S. paper currency in circulation contains traces of cocaine. ["Drug Contamination of U.S. Currency," Amanda J. Jenkins, Forensic Science International Oct. 1, 2001, pp. 189-93 (abstract)]

Drug WarRant puts it this way:
The legal question is quite interesting, academically. I lean to the notion that either the doorknob is private, in which case a warrant is needed to test it, or it's public, in which case there's no way to know who touched it and a positive test is not justification to search the house.
That's the crux of the problem. I live in a busy Chicago apartment complex, where dozens of people come and go from the premises every day. Delivery people, mailmen, movers, and visitors come and go, and they probably touch a lot of doorknobs. If someone's visitor who'd recently used drugs knocked on my door and tried the knob before realizing they had they wrong apartment, I'd have heaven-knows-what on my doorknob (I probably have heaven-knows-what on my doorknobs anyway, but I'd rather not think about that right now). Even if police tested the door on a single-family home in a remote location, the knob may have been touched by many people not connected to the residence in any meaningful way. That's why fingerprint samples taken from doorknobs are virtually useless as legal evidence.

What about the "garbage can" search loophole, that allows police to search using the argument that trash becomes public property once it is discarded by the owner? Orin at Volokh Conspiracy states,
On the other hand, the residue on a doorknob may be seen as analogous to the garbage bags left out on the street in California v. Greenwood.
I would hope that the court wouldn't give the two situations similar weight, for a few reasons. Garbage, even if not bagged or otherwise separated into containers easily linked to a given residence or business, is usually used by investigators to obtain documents, DNA samples, hair and fibers, and body fluids - mainly individual-characteristic evidence, primarily useful in linking a specific piece of evidence with a specific suspect. Class-characteristic evidence, under which drug and firearm residue would fall, is not generally useful in making these specific one-to-one matches, and its value depends chiefly on the circumstances of how and where the evidence was found. Garbage taken from a single-family home trash receptacle would be more useful than that found in a communal Dumpster - for example, if police found cocaine traces in my apartment building's common trash bin, there is no reasonable way they could link it with a particular occupant.

Last spring I took an introductory forensic science class, where we learned how easily evidence is transferred and spread around on publicly-handled objects. That's one of the reason why illnesses like pinkeye, colds and flu spread so quickly; when you grasp a door handle, you're not just leaving evidence (and viruses) - you're picking it up as well and subsequently transferring those particles onto the next object you come in contact with. If fingerprints and germs disseminate so widely with normal handling of doorknobs, on what basis can police claim that drugs and firearm residue are reasonably connected to the occupants of a home or apartment? Sounds to me that these Utah "soldiers in the war on drugs" are grasping at straws...er, doorknobs.

MORE: "The police want to rub your knobs." on Drug WarRant
"Swiping Doorknobs and the Fourth Amendment," on Volokh Conspiracy
"No Privacy Right in Doorknobs," TalkLeft
"Doorknob Swabs Challenged" on the Salt Lake Tribune
IonSCAN® Product details
"False Alarm," [AlterNet] an article on the civil rights implications of a competing chemical analysis product called Itemiser®
Free Republic thread on doorknob swabbing

farkleberries Links du Jour 14 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Thursday, September 09, 2004
Good Reasons to Dodge The Draft 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Tim at Freespace has a good post today discussing the reasons we shouldn't reinstate military conscription, as some lawmakers propose:
To me, the whole thing [current partisan bickering over Presidential candidates' Vietnam past] is evidence (if it were needed) of just what a bad idea the military draft is—how harmful the draft is to political society. Forcing hundreds of thousands of young men to go to their deaths created a situation where people sought desperately to escape, or to bend the rules to allow their friends and family to escape. Those who went, and their families, necessarily resent those who were able to manipulate the rules enough to stay in college or get in the National Guard or somehow escape the war. Others, like Kerry, cynically embraced the war at first as a political opportunity, which gains resentment on the other side—and then joined the war protestors. The protestors were able to attract much support for their position because of the draft. Those who saw the Vietnam war as a struggle for freedom had their argument seriously undermined by the fact that they were sending men to die without their consent. [continue reading "The Draft"]
I also found this May 2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer story that reports the U.S. Selective Service System was - or is - proposing some other frightening changes in light of potential personnel shortages, namely, expanding the eligibility age up to 34 (from 25), requiring mandatory reporting of [valuable to the military] computer and foreign language skills, and including women in the draft rolls.

In Search Of Smell-o-Vision 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Why is it that despite inventors' numerous enthusiastic marketing attempts, "Smell-O-Vision" remains a footnote curiosity? Could it be the olfactory sense is simply too intimate an intrusion for audiences to comfortably enjoy? No one has yet created a truly practical, easy-to-use (and thoroughly convincing) prototype, but the idea of a machine that can "play" scents the way a loudspeaker plays music has fascinated people for years. Ray Bradbury referred to "odorophonics" in "The Veldt," a short story from his 1951 book The Illustrated Man:
Now the hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind of odor at the two people in the middle of the baked veldtland. The hot straw smell of lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air...
The concept of odor-players has fascinated other futurists as well; Dune author Frank Herbert described an "odalarm" device in The Dosadi Experiment. Today's inventors are still trying to create a workable aroma player: Japanese firm K Opticom last July announced an Internet-based aroma delivery device called Kaori Web.
Trial units of the "Kaori Web" system will be placed at K Opticom's internet cafes in Japan until the end of September. But what is the "Kaori Web," you ask? See a picture of a flower, smell a flower. See a picture of waffles, smell waffles. The "Kaori Web" helps some realize their dream of having computers produce scents, to immerse them into a new environment finally covering all five senses. Or hackers will just use it to make some websites smell like a dog exploded.
Another company, Trisenx, has a series of sophisticated computerized odor-players, like the $369 Scent Dome™ which releases controlled blends of dozens of primary fragrances to generate a palette of virtual aromas - Technovelgy.com describes the Scent Dome™ as a kind of "printer for smells". It's an apt analogy, since unlike audio speakers and television screens that use transducers to convert electricity to sound or light, a smell-player, like a printer, would require reloadable cartidges of dispersable scents.

However, the main technical difficulty in creating a real odor-player comes from the fact that smell is likely the least-understood sensory modality. Various theories have tried to explain the mechanics of how the brain perceives and categorizes aromas. One of these, the "primary smells" concept, believes there are a small number of basic aromas that combine like primary colors to create the fragrance spectrum. Some recent research suggests that like sight and hearing, the vibrational frequency of molecules we sniff may be an important clue in unlocking the mysteries of smell.

The remote-identification value of one's personal aromas hasn't been lost on our government, either, as DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] claims to be developing a device that can identify individuals by their scents:
Researchers have shown that mice release a urinary odor that is genetically unique, DARPA says. It's based on the combination of acids found in varying concentrations. So if it's possible to detect an individual mouse, why not a human by the smell of his or her urine or sweat?

If scientists can prove that it works within two and a half years, DARPA wants to build a prototype within six years, spokeswoman Jan Walker said. Such a detector would essentially allow on-the-fly DNA identification, measuring and collecting yet another biometric, or identifying characteristic of the human body, Walker said.

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington group that circulated news of DARPA's proposal, warns that such a detector ? if it were ever built ? might be confused by myriad and changing odors that people exude.
Maybe Smell-o-Vision hasn't caught on because unlike sight and hearing, which rely on relatively "impersonal" electromagnetic radiation or air pressure waves impinging on the body's sense receptors, smell and taste require actual mucous membrane contact with molecules of the substance to be detected. Try not to think of that next time you're in a crowded public restroom.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004
The Stinkadelic Febreze™ Scent Stories Player 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
For the past week or so, I've had an amazing number of hits from people searching for information on the new Shania Twain-shilled Febreze™ Scent Stories® aroma-player - a device that 'plays' scent-impregnated discs that change smells every 30 minutes.

Granted, it's a slightly innovative take on home scent-delivery systems, but after I read the product homepage, the little white bug-shaped machine strikes me as nothing more than the olfactory analog to Willy Wonka's Everlasting Gobstoppers®, the multi-layered candy that changes flavors as you suck on it. After you've had one, you know that cherry comes after lemon, and grape comes after that. It this really so novel?

With the Scent Stories player, you apparently get a multi-sectioned disc that "plays" the perfume of Forest Mists or some such, followed by Summer Breezes, subsequently ushering in 30 minutes of Ocean Tsunamis, climaxing with a Wagnerian Eau de Ride of the Valkyries. (Actually, one of their smell-o-discs regales you with Five Variations on the Theme of Vanilla - go to the website, click on the circles respresenting the five scents, and marvel at how a different tune plays for each one! Talk about synesthesia.)

I was hoping this invention might be a real, honest to goodness 'Smell-O-Vision' that plugs into your DVD player, blasting you with a computer-generated puff of scent that corresponds to whatever appears on the screen, which could be dangerous if one watches Greco-Roman wrestling or Olympic beach volleyball. No such luck. It's only an automatic version of the Four Air Fresheners of the Apocalypse sitting ominously in our work bathroom, ready to slay serious stinks from the Four Corners of the Earth.

Just wait a few months, and you'll be able to snag a Febreze Scent Stories player at your local yard sale for next to nothing. They'll be nestled in with the beef jerky makers, the fruit dehydrators, and the rest of those forgotten gotta-have'em holiday gift gadgets. Give me Nippon Kodo Incense any day - now, that's wonderful stuff. If you want a kaleidoscope of smells, look no further than their NK Line's amazing chromatic range of bouquets, like 'Snow in Kyoto,' 'Bees In Love," or 'Rice Shower.' Totally, totally stinkadelic.

farkleberries Links du Jour 13 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Tuesday, September 07, 2004
farkleberries Links du Jour 12 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Sunday, September 05, 2004
Dr. Zavos Wants to Clone the Dead, Part 3 - ID's, Please 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
While some have pointed out there are more more pressing issues in blogdom, I must say the ongoing cloning conversation with Positive Liberty has been both stimulating and enlightening. I posted this comment on Jason's post responding to "Update on Cloning":
[Two commenters] bring up the very good point that parents who would choose to clone either a deceased family member - or themselves - may already be bringing a strong element of conformity and prior expecation to the parenting relationship, which would express itself regardless of their child's genetic provenance. True, and not in itself a reason to oppose cloning.

An interesting experiment - interesting, but likely not ethical - would be to raise a "single-blinded" cloned child - i.e. neither the family nor the child would know that they are cloned, but the genetic lab would know. I'm sure the child would be brought up as any other, and be as psychologically healthy (or unhealthy) as any other child that family would have raised. Medical issues aside, this would give researchers and bioethicists a control point to review the long-term effects separate from familial "cloning expectations."

From a legal and criminal justice perpective, cloning presents unique problems. Granted, there have been a few cases where an identical twin has been wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the other - or both. The Will/William West case cast widespread doubt on the infallibility of Alphonse Bertillon's anthropometric identification method when two identical-looking men (incarcerated separately) were discovered at the same US penitentiary, both having exactly the same biometric measurements. After the West case, fingerprinting gradually became accepted as the new legal identity standard. Will and William West were later discovered to be identical twins separated at birth.

This detail isn't intended as an indictment of cloning, per se, but I can see how the validity of today's DNA identification would gradually become legally useless (a la Bertillon's anthropometry) if cloning becomes widespread - for example, a defendant could always claim "the clone did it!" if the non-existence of one's clone somewhere in the world could be hard to rule out.
If you'd like a little break from the elections kerfuffle, why not pop over there and visit?

Friday, September 03, 2004
farkleberries Links du Jour 11 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

A Taste of Tonight's Kerry Speech 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Dave at Temperantia tips us to this advance excerpt from the text of tonight's John Kerry speech; as Dave says, it's about time Kerry stood up for himself.
We all saw the anger and distortion of the Republican Convention. For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief. Well, here's my answer... [continue reading "Kerry's Response"]
Not to mention there are only 8 more weeks to go...are we having fun yet?

Thursday, September 02, 2004
Dr. Zavos Wants to Clone the Dead, Part 2 - From The Other Side 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has posted his thoughts on the cloning issue, and I'd like to invite you to visit the discussion over at his place...it's very interesting to read his well-articulated views from the other side of the cloning argument. I've also posted my additional thoughts, in response, in the PL comments here and here.

While I do not agree with some of its findings and viewpoints, there is one passage from the July 2002 President's Council on Bioethics report, "Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry" (chaired by University of Chicago's Dr. Leon R. Kass) that sums up many of my feelings and reservations about human cloning:
"...our genetic makeup does not by itself determine our identities...[b]ut our genetic uniqueness is an important source of our sense of who we are and how we regard ourselves. It is an emblem of independence and individuality. It endows us with a sense of life as a never-before-enacted possibility. Knowing and feeling that nobody has previously possessed our particular gift of natural characteristics, we go forward as genetically unique individuals into relatively indeterminate futures.

These new and unique genetic identities are rooted in the natural procreative process. A cloned child, by contrast, is at risk of living out a life overshadowed in important ways by the life of the "original" – general appearance being only the most obvious. Indeed, one of the reasons some people are interested in cloning is that the technique promises to produce in each case a particular individual whose traits and characteristics are already known. And however much or little one's genotype actually shapes one's natural capacities, it could mean a great deal to an individual's experience of life and the expectations that those who cloned him or her might have.

The cloned child may be constantly compared to "the original," and may consciously or unconsciously hold himself or herself up to the genetic twin that came before. If the two individuals turned out to lead similar lives, the cloned person's achievements may be seen as derivative. If, as is perhaps more likely, the cloned person departed from the life of his or her progenitor, this very fact could be a source of constant scrutiny, especially in circumstances in which parents produced their cloned child to become something in particular.

Living up to parental hopes and expectations is frequently a burden for children; it could be a far greater burden for a cloned individual. The shadow of the cloned child's "original" might be hard for the child to escape, as would parental attitudes that sought in the child's very existence to replicate, imitate, or replace the "original."
My objections to human cloning aren't so much based on the idea that there is something "unnatural" about clones or the cloning process, any more than in vitro fertilization - or even general surgery - can be considered "unnatural." The part that troubles me is that cloning seems to be a technique for creating identical twins that will carry unacceptably steep personal and emotional costs for both cloned children and the society they will live in.

The Devil in the Details: Single Moms No Longer Qualify as Displaced Homemakers 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
While the eyes of the nation remain focused on the "big issues" like the war, the upcoming elections, and the economy, the real work of the conservative agenda often takes place with only a pen stroke, sans fanfare. From Feministing:
The U.S. Department of Labor has recently ruled that programs which fall under Displaced Homemaker Services cannot use federal funds help unwed single moms. How compassionate of them.

In New York, centers were notified that they can only help women who can prove their marital status by providing evidence of divorce, death of a spouse, or something that shows proof of a previous legal marriage. (Meaning gay unions are TOTALLY out of the question.)

From the Ithaca Journal: "Left out of the federal definition for displaced homemakers are those who do not meet the criteria for the word "family," including unwed single mothers, mothers and children from broken homes where a marriage certificate was never issued, mothers and children who can't afford the costs associated with obtaining a divorce certificate, and mothers from same-sex relationships."
The Ithaca Journal piece describes how drastically this change will affect a local program, the Women's Opportunity Center:
The [Ithaca WOC program] will no longer be allowed to use federal funds to assist unwed single mothers, according to a U.S. Department of Labor interpretation of the word "family" in the latest Displaced Homemaker Services eligibility guidelines. Dammi Herath, the executive director of the center, said on Thursday that the new regulations affect about 330 of the more than 500 women the center serves each year.

...According to a state Department of Labor document issued to program coordinators on Jan. 24, centers will now only be allowed to use federal funds for women who can produce a divorce certificate or death certificate proving they have previously been in a legally recognized marriage.

..."It's dumb, whatever it is," Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th Dist.) said Thursday from her Ithaca office. "I think it's a bad idea, not serving a wide range of people who could really use these resources. If you can't afford to go get a divorce, you're stuck."

Herath, who saw her center's funding drop from $212,000 to $162,000 last year, says she's still extremely grateful to the state for the money she does receive, and that her sole complaint is with the extremely limited definition of the word "family."
A full two thirds of the women currently in the WOC will be disqualified because of this ruling. Sadly, policy changes like these are almost always relegated to the back pages of the papers, and the way many people first learn of their existence is when they're told "sorry, we can't help you" at a government office.

If state funds are so tight, wouldn't it be more fair instead to raise financial qualification thresholds and still help the poorest homemakers, rather than using this moralistic standard of marital status - essentially, children's legitimacy - to determine a woman's aid eligibility? This isn't "supporting family values" - this is "Scarlet Letter Lite."

farkleberries Links du Jour 10 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Wednesday, September 01, 2004
Dr. Zavos Wants to Clone the Dead 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
News.com.au reports an American is attempting to create human clones from two deceased individuals:
...[M]averick American scientist Dr. Panos Zavos will announce that he has taken DNA from two corpses and used it to create embryonic clones of the dead people.

Zavos says he has taken DNA from an 11-year-old girl called Cady and a 33-year-old man, both of whom died in road accidents, and implanted it into living eggs that subsequently divided in the laboratory to form embryos. But an attempt to make a third clone, using DNA taken from a dummy and nasal extractor belonging to a baby who died, has so far failed to provide results.

The controversial experiment is certain to provoke a furious backlash from critics, who will accuse Zavos, from Lexington, Kentucky, of using gruesome Frankenstein science and of playing God.
There are so many ethical dilemmas surrounding human cloning, that I'll summarize my viewpoint right now by saying that I think it's a really, really bad idea, socially and psychologically, both for cloned individuals and for their families. The hubris of attempting human cloning will only prove we can duplicate bodies; we will never be able to duplicate personalities and souls, and this will be a never-ending source of disappointment and pain for all involved.

While many believe it wrong to make a clone - a sequential twin - of a living person, at least the families of the cloned and clon-ee should instinctively realize that the two individuals do not share the same psychology or "internal state" and are not the same individual occupying two (or more) bodies. On the other hand, cloning the dead involves more pitiful and heartrending motivations than cloning the living.

If Dr. Zavos succeeds, he will have made the identical embryos (and bodies) of 11-year old Cady, or of the unidentified 33-year old man whose DNA he has salvaged. The clones will not be those people. Yet, how will the families be able to extricate their hopes, fears, history and expectations of their deceased loved ones from these new bodies their DNA has generated? Clones will have none of their genetic forebears' memories, thoughts, or experiences, yet the families will see a familiar face and expect a stopped life to restart, and the past to reveal itself, like some bizarre living recording.

"But...[he/she] used to love playing chess and singing...don't you remember the time we all went to...oh, no. I guess you wouldn't remember."

That, to me, is one of the core tragedies of human cloning... what Dr. Zavos is trying to do is an affront to the living and a disservice to the memory of the dead.

The only positive gain I can see arising from successful human cloning is that it will throw a monkeywrench into the use of DNA identification technology, and perhaps reduce the temptations of establishing a future global DNA database...but that's a minor consolation, compared to what humankind would lose.

Down The Rabbit Hole In The Big Apple 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I thought the speech sounded vaguely familiar:
"Now, the other party says there are two Americas. Don't believe that ... We are one America, and President Bush is defending it with all his heart and soul..."
-- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), in his speech at the RNC last night.
"I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.

There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America...[w]e are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."
-- Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama (D), in his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. How short do they think Americans' memories are?

Yup, it's as down-the-rabbit-hole surreal as I expected. Speakers at the Republican National Convention are praising Richard Nixon, comparing supporters of gay marriage (and gay families) with Nazis, claiming the Republican party is the "Party of God," [perhaps they should rename themselves the POG?] the Guvernator calls Democrats "girly men" - and we get a Beavis and Butthead episode in drag, too!

Not to mention Dennis "Protesters are Anarchists!" Hastert or Alan "Too Busy for the RNC, But Not Too Busy To Slam Veep's Daughter" Keyes. Even many in the mainstream Illinois GOP are starting to treat him like the plague. [Thanks to Positive Liberty, Atrios, Dispatches From The Culture Wars, Gapers Block and The Chicago Tribune [reg. req.] for the posts, commentary, and sanity.]

Newly-Released Heemeyer Audiotapes: "It Was God's Plan" 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Could it be the groundwork for The Passion of the Bulldozer? Just when you thought the Granby bulldozer affair was dead and buried (pun intended), Colorado news outlets are releasing excerpts from a series of audiotapes Marvin Heemeyer recorded prior to his June 4th rampage.
"It came to Marvin Heemeyer while soaking in his hot tub in 2001 that God wanted him to turn a bulldozer into a fortified tank and use it to teach the town of Granby a lesson." -- Rocky Mountain News.com

"God built me for this job," Heemeyer said in an April 13 recording. He even said it was God's plan that he not be married or have family so that he could be in a position to carry out such an attack. The tapes, which Heemeyer mailed to his brother in South Dakota shortly before stepping into his bulldozer, were released by the Grand County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday. They are nearly three hours in length. The last recording was made 13 days before the rampage.

"I think God will bless me to get the machine done, to drive it, to do the stuff that I have to do" he said. "God blessed me in advance for the task that I am about to undertake. It is my duty. God has asked me to do this. It's a cross that I am going to carry and I'm carrying it in God's name," he said.
9News.com has streaming audio/video and a partial transcription:
The tape starts, "Hello, my name is Marvin Heemeyer. Today is - let's see here - April 13th, 2004. I am making this tape (thought I should make it a year ago). Made part of it, didn't like it. Really didn't think it would make a difference if I did make it, but a good friend of mine said I should make it. He said I should sit down in front of a videotape machine and do it. But you're just going to have to take my word that this is Marv Heemeyer. Serial number 503689471.... [read more]"
More: Denver Post story on the tapes

Damned With [Corny] Faint Praise 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I don't know what I find most hilarious about this article: the writing, the subject matter, the comments about Joan Jett's show at the annual DeKalb [IL] Corn Fest ["attractive performance"? Do corn cobs perform?] sandwiched jarringly between Corn Fest trivia, or the title:
Festival draws decent crowd
from: Metro News (www.star.niu.edu)

Rain keeps some away from Corn Fest; dedicated make it out.
Thousands of people crowded the streets of downtown DeKalb streets at this year's Corn Fest. Corn fans packed the streets of downtown DeKalb for their chance to eat butter-drenched ears at the city's 26th annual Corn Fest.

Last year, about 200,000 people attended the fest. Although the number was slightly smaller this year, at about 150,000, attendance was still large, said Corn Fest Board Chair David Emanuelson. Kim Kubiak, executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said there was more of everything this year.

"The fact that Corn Fest is the week after students move in is attracting more people - it's good for attendance," Kubiak said. 15 local organizations performed at the community stage, and more than 150 food and craft vendors set up booths.

"The most attractive performance was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts," Kubiak said. Joan Jett's single "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" hit the top of the Billboard Charts in March 1982 and stayed No. 1 for seven weeks, according to www.joanjett.com.

The DeKalb Chamber of Commerce became the sponsor of the fest in the 1960s, which was then called "Corn Boil." In 1977, it became known as Corn Fest. "At the 1977 festival is when Corn Fest rendered its largest expansion with the sound stage as a major attraction. And the carnival was added," Kubiak said. Don Merwin, Kishwaukee-DeKalb Kiwanis Club member, said he has been to the event the past 28 years.

"We sell corn and have a 50/50 raffle in which all of the money goes back into the community," Merwin said. "This is one of our major fundraising events for the year that helps us reach our goals," Merwin said. The Kiwanis Club recently put in bike paths throughout DeKalb that now connect the local parks and reach all the way to Sycamore.

The corn offered at the fest is a big attraction for people from outside the area, Merwin said. "Some people from Chicago make a habit of coming here just to get the corn," Merwin said.

NIU students also make Corn Fest part of their annual school return. Jake Lannert, a junior political science major, said this was the first year he ate the corn at Corn Fest. "Last year was my first time at Corn Fest, but I didn't eat the corn, and now I feel deprived," Lannert said.
Is, as Kubiak claims, "more of everything this year" a good thing? Alas, even city slickers need their fix of Butter Drenched Ears, consumed in the streets...sounds like a scene from a bad zombie movie. Note that "[s]ome people from Chicago make a habit of coming here just to get the corn," since there is likely no other reason they would leave the Glittering Metropolis-on-the-Prairie to visit DeKalb.

Sorry - I'm currently in "snark" mode after watching the RNC.