Wednesday, October 29, 2008

interweb shoutout: pious pets

I'm not a religious person, but after stumbling across a website that literally melds pets (or pictures of them, anyway) with the Christian faith, I just had to share. Known simply as Pious Pets, it's an online store where you can buy roughly index-card-sized likenesses of your cat, dog, or bird...on the head of a saint. Nothing is revealed about the artist(s), save for his/her/their belief that "a pet can be depicted as a saint due to their good natured attitute [sic]." But I guess that makes sense, considering that depending on your world view, you may see the cards as either hysterically cute or supremely sacrilegious! I personally fall into the former category, and I hope we will get to see more of these divine creatures soon. I mean, the Bombay Mother Teresa (get it?) and smooth collie "flying" nun are just priceless, but where are the Chartreux and Shiba Inu and keeshonden? Keep them coming, please!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

food matters

Over the past couple of years, I've been getting myself up to speed on how the United States produces food, how the process has evolved over the past century, and how food production affects not just our diets and our health, but our economy and our environment, too.

As the presidential election draws nearer, I've been both excited and dismayed to see food taking such a prominent position in the mainstream media. Excited because it suggests that average Americans are starting to look deeper into what they are eating—and that they are making new choices that are healthier for both themselves and for the natural world. But I'm also dismayed because this media attention can only mean that things have gotten really bad.

For instance, this week, a New York Times article explains that because of the ever-increasing prevalence of highly processed salt-heavy foods in children's diets, the incidence of kidney stones in children as young as five and six years old has been rising sharply. The numbers are increasing in young adults—especially women in their 20s and 30s—as well. And while a significant part of the early onset of kidney stones is related to not getting enough water in the diet, the trend is magnified by that of children and young adults relying more and more on quick meals that include things like sandwich meats, canned soups, sports drinks, and processed snacks—all of which contain alarming amounts of sodium.

But health concerns are just the top of the iceberg. If you're new to the food culture party, buckle up: there's a lot to learn. If you've got some time on your hands, I'd suggest starting with The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan; that'll get you going with some of the big-picture ideas behind the effects of agriculture and food production. If your time is more limited, try these recent articles on for size:

To echo what Pollan argues in his Times article, the culture and science of food—and the politics behind how it is made and distributed—are going to be central issues of the next president's term simply because the effects of these concerns are so wide-reaching. Here's hoping No. 44 will take the issue by the reins and begin to push back against the big corporations that would, I presume, just as soon see a continuation of our current destructive food policies.

Friday, October 24, 2008

meanwhile, in outer space...

In case you've forgotten how insignificant we all are in the grand scale of the universe, I offer you these stunning new images from Saturn, our gigantic planetary neighbor. These snapshots were all taken recently by the Cassini spacecraft. For details on the images, check out the official Ciclops imaging site. Gorgeous!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

separated at birth?

Hee hee. As soon as I saw this image from last night's debate, I thought of Hobbes - and sure enough, the likeness is striking! But seriously, that makes two out of three debates where McCain was dancing with the moderator!

Okay, debates are over . . . let's vote already!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

muxtape is dead; long live muxtape

Some sad news: The mix-sharing service Muxtape has officially gone the way of Napster. Muxtape's simple idea: to recreate the mixtape online. Users would upload mixes (up to 12 songs), which anyone with an Internet connection could listen to. Browsing through the mixes, you could discover new music! There were even links to buy the songs directly from Amazon! It was fantastic! Unfortunately, the RIAA decided to shut Muxtape down. If you visit Muxtape today, you can read the long saga of Justin Ouellette, the guy who started Muxtape and who ultimately bowed to the immense pressure from the recording industry.

What frustrates me most is that Muxtape is no different from file sharing through iTunes within a local network. If I have tons of music—including "playlist" mixes—on my office computer, anyone within my network can listen to any and all of it. They can't own it, but they can browse and listen, in the exact same manner as with Muxtape.

My brother, who has expertise in copyright law, tells me that the RIAA seems to have drawn an arbitrary line in overlooking streaming at the local network level. In other words, they decided this music sharing was okay as long as only a limited number of people could do the sharing. It seems unfair to allow people who work in cities (where the offices are concentrated) much more leeway to listen to shared music than a lone Web surfer in Nebraska whose nearest neighbor is 15 miles away. But, I guess it is what it is.

In any event, the Muxtape was a nice idea, and it was fun while it lasted. The site will actually still live on, but the focus moving forward will be on new bands only. Unfortunately, that kind of kills the whole idea behind mixes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

dark days of aught-eight

We're in a curious place in the race for the White House these days. Less than a month to go, and things are getting decidedly nasty. The Swift-boat style attacks on Barack Obama are in full swing. We knew the Republicans would bring it, but it's pretty disturbing how bad it's become.

Last night I heard political commentator David Gurgen describe what he saw at a recent rally: people actually calling for the murder of Barack Obama. Videos taken at GOP events have shown people in such furor that I can't help but think back to the film Mississippi Burning, which portrayed the racial hatred that permeated the Deep South in the 1960s. And McCain and Palin are doing nothing to stop it. In fact, they seem to be spurring on the spewing of hatred (and the dissemination of outright lies); Palin in particular has all but called Obama a terrorist! McCain may not have gone that far, but if his supporters want to think that way, he seems to be just fine with it.

So how did we get here? A friend of mine recently posted on his blog the idea that the Democrats are drawing on hope in this election, while the Republicans are drawing on fear. It's not the first time I've heard that equation, but especially with what we're seeing with the current financial crisis, the GOP certainly seems to be ratcheting the fear factor up a notch...and adding a certain amount of unfounded hatred to the mix.

The tax issue is just the tip of the iceberg. McCain and company harp so hard on the "Obama wants to raise your taxes" line, despite the fact that to his face, on two national debates, and on countless commercials, Obama has made it clear that almost everyone in the U.S. will pay FEWER taxes under him than under McCain. More disturbing are the rumors that Obama is a terrorist because of his middle name (Hussein) and/or because of his connection with a man with questionable ethics (Ayers). I mean, the hypocrisy of that, especially with Palin—who was recently found guilty of abusing her power as governor—is astounding.

But more intriguingly, I just wonder where all of this hate is getting the McCain camp. I can't help but think that some people in the Republican Party must be turned off by this level of fear-mongering. John McCain has, until this election, seemed like a sensible guy that Republicans, as well as some independents and even Democrats, could like. What is it saying about his leadership style if he and his people have to resort to the lowest of the low blows to get a win?

It's also just depressing, though, to know that this culture of fear, which has been promoted by Republicans for some time now, is propelled by a continually spiraling education system. It's no wonder that our schools are failing, that our country's collective math skills are going down the drain, and that many people consider the "intelligent elite" the scum of the earth when the Republican agenda has been to keep money out of public schools and to turn both teachers and students into zombies who can do nothing else but study for standardized tests.

I don't happen to agree that all's fair in politics. Regardless of what happens a few weeks from now, I think we're heading down a dangerous road. I only hope that we can reverse course before it's too late.

Update: Looks like I'm not alone in feeling this way; this spot-on op-ed appeared the day after my post.