Thursday, November 30, 2006

Should the Majority Choose the Rights of the Minority?

The Boston Globe has posted an online poll asking whether Governor Romney is right to ask the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to force the Legislature to vote on the anti gay marriage constitutional amendment.

It is not generally the luxury of the majority to vote on the rights of the minority. If the majority has been left to decide the fate of the minority, then a democratic process might take place, but neither the ideals of liberty nor the ideas of civilization would ever have been advanced.

Would slaves ever have been freed if it was put to a vote? Would blacks ever have been given the right to vote if it had been put to a vote of whites only? Of course not!

America is great because we the people (our government) work to advance the civilized rights of all citizens, not just the priviliges of the majority.

Please consider voting "No" in the Globe poll by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mission Accomplished . . . Eventually

On May 1, 2003, the then (and now current) president of the United States stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln At Sea Off the Coast of San Diego, California and offered this:
Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.) And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.
See the full transcript here.

He went on to insist that the war in Iraq was in response to events in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. And he stood before a banner that expressed the Administration's conclusion about that day:
Mission Accomplished

That's right: Mission Accomplished! Job well done. Wrap it up, we are done here. But wait . . . It's three years later and we are still sacrificing our youth to the cause.

On November 28, 2006, in a speech at the University of Latvia, with ever more American soldiers and innocent Iraqis dead. The President offers this:
"There is one thing I'm not going to do. I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

So, is the mission accomplished or not? Was the president lying in 2003, or is he lying now in 2006?


How can anyone continue to support this president? It is unconsceinable, irrespective of your personal beliefs.

Impeachment cannot come soon enough.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Joy of Christmas Cards

A woman walks into the Post Office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards.

"What denomination?" asks the clerk.

"Oh, good heavens! Have we come to this?" said the woman. "Well, give me 50 Baptist and 50 Catholic and one Methodist."

Friday, November 24, 2006

"Ashes To Ashes" The Secret Of Nothing Is Killing . . .

Before music videos became the music videos industry, David Bowie released a rather wonderful little film for his song "Ashes To Ashes" (lyrics printed without permission below).

"Ashes To Ashes" appeared on Bowie's "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" album, one of the milestones in his career, which followed the so-called (poorly-referenced) Berlin trilogy.

Tony Visconti's production, together with a remarkable band of musicians and very strong lyrical content, make "Scary Monsters" a must-have for any collection.

The weakest track, "Fashion" is actually a wonderful pop song loaded with cultural and political references, done only as Bowie can do it. His cover of Tom Verlaine's "Kingdom Come" is sung with all the verve and elan one would expect from Bowie.

"Teenage Wildlife" (one of my all-time favorite Bowie songs) lifts guitar treatments directly from Bowie's own "Heroes" (executed brilliantly by Robert Fripp and seemingly a direct copy of his guitar work on Blondie's live version of "Heroes"). Teenage Wildlife's complicated lyrics are a return to Bowie's pre-Berlin songwriting skills that are not seen on another Bowie release for many years to come afterwards. Bowie is a master lyric-smith, and though some of his most wonderful songs show an economy of lyrics, his catalog is filled with long, story-telling lyrical treats that for many years were a staple of his releases.

I had not planned a blow-by-blow (or cut-by-cut) article of this album's songs, so I will leave you to the "Ashes To Ashes" video, which is an example of why Bowie is not just the godfather of punk, but also the godfather of the music video:

"Ashes To Ashes" by Daivd Bowie, 1980.

Do you remember a guy that's been
In such an early song
I've heard a rumour from Ground Control
Oh no, don't say it's true

They got a message from the Action Man
"I'm happy, hope you're happy too
I've loved all I've needed to love
Sordid details following"

The shrieking of nothing is killing
Just pictures of Jap girls in synthesis and I
Ain't got no money and I ain't got no hair
But I'm hoping to kick but the planet it's glowing

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom's a junkie
Strung out in heaven's high
Hitting an all-time low

Time and again I tell myself
I'll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh no, not again
I'm stuck with a valuable friend
"I'm happy, hope you're happy too"
One flash of light but no smoking pistol

I never done good things
I never done bad things
I never did anything out of the blue, woh-o-oh
Want an axe to break the ice
Wanna come down right now


My mother said to get things done
You'd better not mess with Major Tom

Produced by Tony Visconti
David Bowie: vocals and guitar
Michi Hirota: vocals (on It's No Game)
Carlos Alomar: guitar
Robert Fripp: guitar
George Murray: bass
Tony Visconti: guitar
Dennis Davis: drums
Pete Townshend: guitar
Roy Bittan: piano
Andy Clarke: synthesizer

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

Lookin' at the devil
Grinnin' at his gun
Fingers start shakin'
I begin to run
Bullets start chasin'
I begin to stop
We begin to wrestle
I was on the top

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Stiff all in the collar
Fluffy in the face
Chit chat chatter tryin'
Stuffy in the place
Thank you for the party
But I could never stay
Many thangs is on my mind
Words in the way

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Dance to the music
All nite long
Everyday people
Sing a simple song
Mama's so happy
Mama start to cry
Papa still singin'
You can make it if you try

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
(Different strokes for different folks, yeah)
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Flamin' eyes of people fear
Burnin' into you
Many men are missin' much
Hatin' what they do
Youth and truth are makin' love
Dig it for a starter, now
Dyin' young is hard to take
Sellin' out is harder

Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Starbucks, Again

Though I do not shop at Starbucks, I do not find them as loathsome as some other global chains. Starbucks does provide a benefits package to its employees that includes health care and profit-sharing. Even large "reputable" corporations do less and less of that. I work for a law firm with upwards of half-a-billion dollars in receipts and the health care plan is an embarrassment to America.

Globalization has not proven to be the panacea for wealth redistribution and economic access we were promised. It has become a method for fewer people to get more money.

I have nothing against profits, and nothing against the open market, but globalization is actually a method for closing the markets. Just look who owns the majority of the world's fresh drinking water, even in the USA: Nestle and Coke. Do they buy it with cash? No, they buy it with credit, then bribe, cajole, or threaten governments (including the USA) to change the water ownership laws so the loans can be easily paid off (or bankrupted), profits will flow, and the resource (water in this example) can be market-controlled by the owner. NOT an open market!

Ethiopia is one of the poorest places on Earth. It is also the birthplace of coffee.

Ethiopia needs money. So, Ethiopia is trademarking its coffees. It is believed the trademark registrations will generate about $88 million a year for this impoverished nation. Probably about the same amount as the directors and/or officers of Starbucks earn.

In the global picture, not a lot of money.

Starbucks has decided to fight this. The six BILLION dollar corporation, thinks that Ethiopia should be denied the right to trademark its coffees.

I find this offensive.

If Starbucks can steal its name from Herman Melville, it should really get out of the way of others trying to protect what is theirs. Or, is Starbucks planning to trademark the name Ethiopia?

Please consider contacting Starbucks about this. Oxfam has set-up a page that provides contact to Starbucks: Click here to fax Jim Donald, Starbucks CEO

Starbucks opposes Ethiopia's coffee plan - Oxfam Press Release October 26, 2006

Starbucks opposes Ethiopia's plan to trademark specialty coffee names that could bring farmers an estimated $88 million annually

Oxfam urges company to review strategy and sign licensing agreement

Global coffee giant Starbucks has opposed a plan by Ethiopia to gain more control over its coffee trade and a larger share of the earnings for millions of coffee farmers living in poverty, international agency Oxfam revealed today.

Last year the Ethiopian government filed applications to trademark its most famous coffee names, Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe. Securing the rights to these names would enable Ethiopia to capture more value from the trade, by controlling their use in the market and thereby enabling farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price. Ethiopia's coffee industry and farmers could earn an estimated $88 million (USD) extra per year.

$6 billion company Starbucks prompted protests against the applications to be filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO has denied Ethiopia's applications for Sidamo and Harar, creating serious obstacles for its project.

Seth Petchers, Oxfam International's Make Trade Fair campaign coffee lead said: "Starbucks' behavior is indefensible. The company must change tactics and set an example for others by supporting Ethiopia's plan to help millions of struggling farmers earn a greater share of the profits."

"Intellectual property ownership now makes up a huge proportion of the total value of world trade but rich countries and businesses capture most of this. Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, and one of the poorest countries in the world, is trying to assert its rights and capture more value from its product. It should be helped, not hindered," said Ron Layton, chief executive of Light Years IP, a Washington DC-based intellectual property rights organization that is helping to advise the Ethiopian government.

"Struggling Ethiopian coffee farmers should be able to realize a greater portion of the value our coffee commands on the international market," said Fitsum Hailu, of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC. "This project is innovative – and a unique opportunity for our farmers to be empowered in the arena of international trade."

If Ethiopia successfully trademarks the names of its specialty coffees, farmers could earn more from them, making a vast difference in the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. In contrast, the few extra cents per pound would hardly make a dent in Starbucks' profits, which reached over $3.7 billion last year.

"Coffee shops can sell Sidamo and Harar coffees for up to $26 a pound because of the beans' specialty status," explained Tadesse Meskela, head of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in Ethiopia. "But Ethiopian coffee farmers only earn between 60 cents to $1.10 for their crop, barely enough to cover the cost of production. I think most people would see that as an injustice."

Starbucks intervened in the USPTO decision by prompting the National Coffee Association of USA, Inc. (NCA), of which it is a leading member, to oppose the approval of the trademarks.

At a meeting held this past July at the Ethiopian Embassy, Embassy staff and advisers met with the NCA president to discuss a letter of protest filed against Ethiopia's trademark applications. Ethiopia had submitted its applications about one year earlier. According to staffers, when asked why after a year of doing nothing the NCA had decided to take action, the president of the NCA told them Starbucks had just brought it to the NCA's attention.

Ethiopia is continuing to pursue its trademark applications in the US. At the same time, it is asking Starbucks and other companies to sign voluntary licensing agreements that immediately acknowledge the country's ownership of the coffee names, regardless of whether they have been issued a trademark. The licensing agreements will allow Ethiopia to pursue its strategy of enhancing its trading power and earning an expected additional $88 million per year for its coffee sector, including millions of poor coffee farmers.

The Ethiopian government presented an agreement for Starbucks to sign in September, recognizing the country's rights to the names Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe and stating that additional benefits generated would go to small-scale coffee farmers who are currently living on the brink of survival. However, Starbucks has yet to respond affirmatively.

Oxfam is calling on Starbucks to show leadership for other coffee companies by immediately recognizing Ethiopia's rights in this case and signing the licensing agreement.

"Starbucks works to protect and promote its own name and brand vigorously throughout the world, so how can it justify denying Ethiopia the right to do the same?" asked Seth Petchers.

Thanks to Iana for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Real Secret Santa

I had a dream one night earlier in 2006 that I won $356,000,000 in a lottery! It was fun to awake and think of the ways to spend it: get out of debt, buy an apartment and a summer home, pay-off all my siblings' mortgages, travel, and set up a charity.

That was my favorite part of the fantasty: how to give away a bunch of money and make the world a better place (a place that George Bush and Hillary Clinton would hate).

Then I read an AP article about Secret Santa.

Secret Santa reveals his identity By MARIA SUDEKUM FISHER, Associated Press Writer
Sat Nov 18, 6:10 AM ET

For 26 years, a man known only as Secret Santa has roamed the streets every December quietly giving people money. He started with $5 and $10 bills. As his fortune grew, so did the gifts. In recent years, Secret Santa has been handing out $100 bills, sometimes two or three at a time, to people in thrift stores, diners and parking lots. So far, he's anonymously given out about $1.3 million. It's been a long-held holiday mystery: Who is Secret Santa?

But now, weak from chemotherapy and armed with a desire to pass on his belief in random kindness, Secret Santa has decided it's time to reveal his identity.

He is Larry Stewart, a 58-year-old businessman from the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, Mo., who made his millions in cable television and long-distance telephone service.

His holiday giving started in December 1979 when he was nursing his wounds at a drive-in restaurant after getting fired. It was the second year in a row he had been fired the week before Christmas.

"It was cold and this car hop didn't have on a very big jacket, and I thought to myself, 'I think I got it bad. She's out there in this cold making nickels and dimes,'" he said.

He gave her $20 and told her to keep the change.

"And suddenly I saw her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks. She said, 'Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.'"

Stewart went to the bank that day and took out $200, then drove around looking for people who could use a lift. That was his "Christmas present to himself." He's hit the streets each December since.

While Stewart has also given money to other community causes in Kansas City and his hometown of Bruce, Miss., he offers the simple gifts of cash because it's something people don't have to "beg for, get in line for, or apply for."

That was a feeling he came to know in the early '70s when he was living out of his yellow Datsun 510. Hungry and tired, Stewart mustered the nerve to approach a woman at a church and ask for help.

The woman told him the person who could help was gone for the day, and Stewart would have to come back the next day.

"As I turned around, I knew I would never do that again," Stewart said.

Over the years, Stewart's giving as Secret Santa grew. He started a Web site. He allowed the news media to tag along, mostly because he wanted to hear about the people who received the money. Reporters had to agree to guard his identity and not name his company, which he still does not want revealed.

His entourage grew over the years, and he began traveling with special elves. People like the late Negro Leagues icon Buck O'Neil, who handed out hugs while Stewart doled out $100s. NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus will join Stewart this year in Chicago when Stewart hands out $100s in honor of O'Neil, the first African-American coach in the Major Leagues.

They'll give out $100,000 between Chicago and Kansas City. Four Secret Santas who Stewart "trained" will hand out an additional $65,000.

Doctors told Stewart in April that he had cancer of the esophagus and it had spread to his liver. He has been lucky, he says, to get into a clinical trial at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. But the aggressive chemotherapy has stripped away his appetite and energy. He's lost about 100 pounds, but has held onto his white hair.

The treatment costs more than $16,000 a month, not including the cost of traveling to Houston every two weeks and staying there for five or six days. He now has two months off, but returns to treatment in February.

His insurance company won't cover the cost of the treatment, which has left him concerned about his finances and his family.

Now, his mission is bigger than handing out $100 bills. Stewart wants to speak to community groups about his devotion to kindness and to inspire others to donate their time and money.

"That's what we're here for," Stewart says, "to help other people out."

Even a millionaire has fears of health care expenses. The lawyers running the health cre industry plan to rape even Santa!

Secret Santa has a website

On the publishing front: News Corporation, parent company of Harper Collins, has scrapped the latest OJ Simpson book, TV event and roadshow. Hooray!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Is There High Fructose Corn Syrup In Your Soda?

Sugar is not bad. Sweet things are not bad. Some sugars are better for us than others, and any diet that is enhanced by regular exercise, is a good diet.

My mother used corn syrup in baking and cooking during my childhood. We were very poor and corn syrup was cheaper than refined sugar. I've even had tea with milk and corn syrup. It's not so bad.

I sort of liked the corn syrup bottle. The drips would crystallize into a sugar that resembled refined cane sugar and I remember scraping it off and eating little bits of it.

My friend cavebat writes about her childhood:

My small town was ringed by farms, most of them growing corn. Corn was supposed to grow "knee high by the 4th of July" but any farmer worth his salt knew it had better be TWICE that big to have a good crop.

The corn plant is a bright green color. It's linear, it grows over your head, and it's topped with a soft tuft of silky hair. I always thought it was such a happy plant, growing in its straight rows of bright, shiny green. Corn is nature, laughing in the sunshine.

And I used to wonder where all that corn WENT. I wasn't simple-minded enough to think it all ended up on people's plates as corn-on-the-cob. Although let me tell you that eating corn-on-the-cob that's been cooked MINUTES after it's picked is one of life's culinary JOYS.

The farmers used to pick it, sell it to you right from the plant, and muse that it tasted so good because when you picked it and ate it immediately - not like city folks who *snicker* let it sit around for days *snicker* - you were eating it before "the corn sugar turned into starch."
from Chubby Children of the Corn by Cavebat

Now, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has invaded the American diet in the most insidious manner. Cavebat's blog linked above discusses how HFCS has invaded not just our Coke and Ring-Dings, but every processed food on the market.

And HFCS cannot crystallize, because it is genetically altered to not crystallize. Sugar, whether it's dripped from a peach or settled at the bottom of my cup of tea, should be hard and crunchy.

HFCS does not crystallize. That's gross. Sugar that does not crystallize cannot be good for anyone!

Kim Severson, of the San Frnaciso Chrinicle writes:
Loading high fructose corn syrup into increasingly larger portions of soda and processed food has packed more calories into us and more money into food processing companies, say nutritionists and food activists. But some health experts argue that the issue is bigger than mere calories. The theory goes like this: The body processes the fructose in high fructose corn syrup differently than it does old-fashioned cane or beet sugar, which in turn alters the way metabolic-regulating hormones function. It also forces the liver to kick more fat out into the bloodstream.

The end result is that our bodies are essentially tricked into wanting to eat more and at the same time, we are storing more fat.
from "Sugar coated - We're drowning in high fructose corn syrup. Do the risks go beyond our waistline?" Kim Severson, Chronicle Staff Writer

There is evidence that HFCS is linked to diabetes, not just obesity.

Mike Adams wrote, in 2004:
. . . I've been contacted by a couple of people from the Corn Refiners Association in Washington, D.C., who don't seem to appreciate the fact that I'm pointing out high-fructose corn syrup promotes diabetes. This CRA group, of course, represents corn growers, and corn growers depend on the revenues from high-fructose corn syrup so they can grow and sell their corn.

One of their reps has informed me that high-fructose corn syrup is a "wholesome natural ingredient" that does not promote diabetes and is produced by hard working farmers throughout the Midwest.

In other words, people who work for the Corn Refiners Association are insisting that high-fructose corn syrup doesn't promote diabetes. And yet, here we have research that followed 50,000 nurses showing an 80% increased risk of type 2 diabetes when people consumed either sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. And not in huge doses, by the way, all it took was one soft drink or one fruit drink a day to boost this risk of diabetes.
from Consumption of soft drinks and high-fructose corn syrup linked to obesity and diabetes

"The bodies of the children I see today are mush," observed a concerned chiropractor recently. The culprit is the modern diet, high in fructose and low in copper-containing foods, resulting in inadequate formation of elastin and collagen--the sinews that hold the body together.
from The Double Danger of High Fructose Corn Syrup, by Bill Sanda, BS, MBA

I have heard that HFCS may be harder on the human liver than alcohol! Then I found this:
Fructose is not metabolized the same as other sugars. Instead of being converted to glucose which the body uses, it is removed by the liver.

Because it is metabolized by the liver, fructose does not cause the pancreas to release insulin the way it normally does. Fructose converts to fat more than any other sugar. This may be one of the reasons Americans continue to get fatter.

Fructose raises serum triglycerides significantly. As a left-handed sugar, fructose digestion is very low. For complete internal conversion of fructose into glucose and acetates, it must rob ATP energy stores from the liver.
- The Double Danger of HFCS, By Bill Sanda, BS, MBA, Director of Public Affairs, The Weston A. Price Foundation

There is a Wikipedia entry on the health effects of HFCS, and even in an impartial forum, discussion always makes it way to obesity and diabetes.

You can always find news about HFCS at Google. It is widely discussed and the discussions are ignored by our agri-government.

Soda pop is probably the product that provides most of us with bad sugars, whether HFCS or artificial sugars. Here are two sodas that use cane sugar:

Boylan's (My favorite)

Virgil's Rootbeer

We can avoid HFCS, but it isn't easy. Your salad dressing, ketchup, breakfast cereals, snack cakes, and candy bars are just as loaded as your soda. But, knowledge is power! If people talk about the dangers of HFCS, then maybe its consumption will decrease.

Here are some more articles:

Fructose is No Answer For a Sweetener

The Murky World Of HFCS

The Double Danger of HFCS

Sweet but Not So Innocent? High-Fructose Corn Syrup May Act More Like Fat Than Sugar in the Body By Sally Squires - Washington Post Staff Writer

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Just tell me what to take