Thursday, August 31, 2006

"The Scream" Found by Norwegian Police

As a recovering Art History major I have been monitoring this story. Last year Edvard Munch's "The Scream" was stolen in broad daylight. One massive Henrik Ibsen book burning and Norway was pretty much up the creek as far as cultural contributions go.

For Your Reading Pleasure

An interesting piece from the Democratic Stratagist that isn't just Lakoff Wankery: http://www.thedemocraticstrategist.org/0609/kima.php

DOUCH BAG

I believe you meant Douche Bag.

Here is the definition from Dictionary.com

douche  /duʃ/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[doosh] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation noun, verb, douched, douch‧ing.
–noun
1.a jet or current of water, sometimes with a dissolved medicating or cleansing agent, applied to a body part, organ, or cavity for medicinal or hygienic purposes.
2.the application of such a jet.
3.an instrument, as a syringe, for administering it.
4.a bath administered by such a jet. –verb (used with object)
5.to apply a douche to. –verb (used without object)
6.to use a douche or douches; undergo douching.

Cavity, hmmmm. Anyhow, I can't get terribly excited about Rep. Wiener's comments. You are correct in that the State Department does not consider the PLO a terrorist organization. I suppose I am more likely to get excited by such an omission than Rep. Wiener's misstatements of the facts.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Why Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) Has That Last Name

Recently Amy Goodman interviewed New York Democratic Congress member Anthony Weiner. Back in May Wiener successfully added an amendment to a House bill banning aid to the Palestinian Authority. The amendment would outlaw the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations and kick them out of the United States. Here is a transcript of part of the interview:

AMY GOODMAN: You called for the Palestinian delegation to the UN to pack their bags, or more specifically, to pack their “little Palestinian terrorist bags.”

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Right, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Well, for the longest time, the Palestinian -- the PLO Mission -- PLO hasn’t been an accepted voice of the Palestinians for the longest time. Congress has said very clearly back in the 1980s, as recently as the middle of the 1990s, that they were not welcome here in the United States. And frankly, the PLO is an organization that, frankly, no longer seems to represent anyone, but they're still considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

AMY GOODMAN: So would you call the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a terrorist?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: No.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the people who are at the UN --

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Not the Mission of the Palestinian Authority. This is the PLO Mission. Mahmoud Abbas does not represent -- I hope he doesn't represent the PLO. He certainly doesn't say he does. He represents the Palestinian Authority. The PLO is a terrorist organization. It’s acknowledged it’s a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. And the only reason that they're still there is because a court ruled that they were an adjunct of the United Nations, and thus there were two conflicting laws that are in place about -- one that says the PLO has to leave the United States and the other that says that missions to the United Nations may stay. And so, frankly, I think that what I tried to do with the amendment you're referring to is just clarify the PLO is not welcome in the United States, nor should they be.

AMY GOODMAN: They represent the Palestinian government. The Palestinian government is led -- the president is Mahmoud Abbas.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER: Not true. The PLO Mission, the PLO Mission. The Palestinian Liberation Organization is a terrorist organization and is acknowledged that by the United States government. The Palestinian Authority, which is headed by Mahmoud Abbas -- arguably that doesn't represent the Palestinian people anymore since the election either, but that’s a whole different story. But the PLO is a terrorist organization, and I believe that they should lose their quasi-diplomatic status, as they no longer represent anyone -- any of the Palestinians, and they are considered a terrorist organization.

Unfortunately Weiner has no idea what he is talking about since Mahmoud Abbas was the successor to Yasser Arafat, when Arafat passed away and he became the chairman of the PLO Executive. So he's clearly a member of the PLO.

Secondly the PLO is not on the State Department’s list of terrorist organization. They were on the list in the 1980’s but have not appeared on it since 1988. Here is a link to the State Department if you want to check it out.

So Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY) since you have no idea what the hell you are talking about, although you do so with much passion, I am officially labeling you a DOUCHE BAG.

Rumsfeld Called Me a Nazi…kind of

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (pictured above) yesterday likened critics of the war in Iraq to those who tried to appease Nazi Germany during the 1930's. In a speech to the American Legion veterans group in Salt Lake City, Rumsfeld referred to the period before World War II and said that "some seem not to have learned history's lessons...I recount that history because, once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism."

So apparently I and 60% of the people who live in the United States are now the modern day equivalent of Nazi appeasers because we have the audacity to actually question and criticize our president and his policies. Does anyone else see the irony of that?

I hope that Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration are very comfortable in the unicorn filled bubble they are currently living in.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Houses will begat jobs"

President Bush, trying to win some credit with the victims of hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, stated, “There will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses.” Houses will begat jobs??? Even Google was confused when I typed that in, suggesting instead that perhaps I meant to type "Homes will beget jobs."

I can understand how jobs may beget houses, but I'm a little confused as to how houses beget jobs. Maybe President Bush wanted to convey the message that there are a lot of homes to build in the wake of Katrina, and therefore many people will be employed to build them. But to a person who lost his home, being told that "houses will begat jobs" or that "jobs will begat houses" is not a very hopeful message, to say the least.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pied, Dingo (ManGina) BE WARNED

Best lead in a Craigslist ad:
each of these bikes has one flat tire, just needs a new tube, both were purchased by my husband with plans to fix them up/modernize them into our new and spiffy commuter bikes, but i kicked his cheating ass out of the house and now i need to get rid of everything he left behind.

Friday, August 25, 2006

About Our "little blog"

The PeP, now harboring more than 500 posts (many of questionable credibility, to be sure), is many things, but it is not a "little blog." The Pie-Eyed Picayune has appeared on the websites of the City Pages and the Pioneer Press, both of the Twin Cities, and even, briefly, on the website of the Washington Post (via Technorati). We like to think - or at least I like to think - that nothing can be said about our blog that Nietzsche hasn't already said about man himself: "man is, relatively speaking, the most unsuccessful animal, the sickliest, the one most dangerously strayed from its instincts - with all that, to be sure, the most interesting!"

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Forbes Study Seriously Flawed

Speaking anecdotally, no one who has visited America's largest cities—i.e., Chicago, Portland, Austin, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, etc.—would rank the Twin Cities as the nation's second drunkest city. So when Anti-Everything advertised that Forbes's special report on "America's Drunkest Cities" offers Minneapolis-St. Paul as second only to Milwaukee, something is certainly mistaken. Sure enough, a quick look at the methodology behind David M. Ewalt's (pictured) report reveals a seriously flawed method of ranking.

The chief problem with Ewalt's rankings is that they are significantly more precise than his database allows. His data on "Drinkers," "Heavy Drinkers," and "Binge Drinkers" comes from the 2004 "Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey." The results for Minnesota can be found here. The results are state-level estimates often based on a small number of respondents. In 2004, the survey says, "almost 6 percent of Minnesota adults reported heavy drinking in the past 30 days. Minnesota adults are similar to adults nationally in reporting heavy drinking." Minnesota hovers right around the national median. Nothing new, nothing to write home about.

But in the hands of David M. Ewalt, author of "The Best-Selling Videogame Franchises," and " How To Become A Superhero," such data magically becomes a quasi-scientific way to rank the drunkest metros in America. What he doesn't say is that the difference between number 2 and number 10 is probably .1 percent, which is also probably well within the huge margin of error, if he bothered to calculate that. Forbes.com should not be trafficking in such bogus reports that don't withstand even the slightest scrutiny.

Here's To You...Drunkards

Forbes magazine just announced thier list of the top 35 drunkest cities in the country and Minneapolis/St. Paul ranked a very impressive second, getting beaten out by none other then Milwaukee.

I was just in Milwaukee last weekend and judging from the hundreds of people that showed up at 1 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon to throw back numerous beers on a local brewery tour I can't really argue with the second place finish.

But I am challenging everyone out there to take up the cause of getting the twin cities into the top spot next year, so when last call comes around and you know that you shouldn't have another I say go ahead, its not about you, your liver or how you are going to feel the next morning, it is about the greater good of the community.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mangina: From Rags to Riches

One of the PeP's contributors has arrived. Why, it was only a few weeks ago that Mandingo, with barely a cent to his name, U-Hauled all of his worldly possessions and, with his new wife, started a new life in D.C. And now he's got something to write to the world about: a salary. It has allowed him to join a gym and clean his ass with plush, three-ply toilet paper, which is one of those luxuries of the rich and famous that is more trouble than functional, as it fails to prevent after-shower "rust stains." But no matter, he'll just buy a new towel when he finds that his is just rust (better not buy a red one).

But more importantly, he's found that a salary has given him time to reflect on the symbolism of his hair, which is thinning as fast as his youth is (symbolically) fading, leaving only a faint semblance, a dried husk, of his former, thick-haired, toilet-paper stealing self. For some people, their hair seems to thin in proportion to the profundity of their thinking, growing grey as they ponder an ageing world. Not Mandingo. He finds that the thickness of his hair is directly proportional to the "symbol of" the fecundity of his male generative powers. He laments that his hair may no longer signal that he is potent and generative.

What will people think? I don't know what people think of Mandingo's hair. But if they read his postings, from his first to his latest, they might think that he, to quote Xtra, "has managed to unwittingly emasculate himself before our eyes with his recent spate of pathetic, wimpering posts. Thus...[the] more fitting [name]: manGINA!"

Yuppie

Let it be known that I have now created a new term and it should be added to the urbandictionary for widespread edification. The following represents a short list of reasons why I think I'm now ensconced in a psychologically fragile state that I will term "Yuppie":
  • I'm over 25
  • I have a salary
  • I hallucinate regularly that my hair, my symbol of youth and fecundity, is thinning
  • I go to the Washington Sports Club with wife and share side-by-side elliptical machines after work
  • I have ethical misgivings about the proportionality of income to actual work produced
  • This sometimes keeps me up at night
  • I wipe my ass casually with three-ply toilet paper because my wife and I both feel we've moved beyond the less-comfortable but more effective one-ply. That is, I no longer steal bulk rolls of toilet paper from the bathroom closets at Starbucks because it once felt good to steal the cheap and quotidian.
  • As a result, I now leave rust stains on my Egyptian cotton bathroom towel everytime I floss my ass because the three-ply leaves clods of dingleberries clumped in bunches along my crack. Because I am 26, married, and now have a modicum of confidence and self-worth I feel the urge to turn the towel inside out so that if, and when, visitors do pop into our bathroom they don't see the patchwork of browns on my expensive drying mechanism. I want to save the embarrasment I willfully create. I enjoy dirtying my towels. It keeps me young.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Conservation: nuts and bolts

I have picked up a variety of jobs this summer to make ends meet; currently I am live-trapping black-footed ferrets in central Wyoming, as part of the recovery plan for this species, the rarest mammal in North America. Closely related to weasels, black-footed ferrets are small carnivores that feed almost exclusively on prairie dogs.

This species was declared extinct in 1979 after the last known individual died. In 1981, a pet dog on a private ranch in western Wyoming brought home a dead ferret, and the hunt was on for an extant population. Researchers found a small population near the town of Meeteetse. They brought several into captivity and began a successful breeding program, and re-introduction efforts have been underway since.

All the money involved, all the agencies, all the meetings - but how are ferrets, or any species for that matter, actually studied?

The field season, in which the wild populations are actually trapped, examined, tagged, and released, starts at dusk in a desolate Wyoming basin at 7PM.

At 6500 ft, August nights drop into the 40s. A crew of 13 people sort out spotlights, batteries, radios, GPS units, backpacks, and burrow traps. I spend the next 12 hours alone on foot, criss-crossing prairie dog towns, swinging my spotlight, looking for a pair of tiny green ferret eyes to peek out from a burrow. On the way, I see ferruginous hawks, mountain plovers, mice, long-tailed weasels, cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, swift foxes, coyotes, and pronghorn (during the day, this area looks like a rocky wasteland, littered with ankle-high sagebrush; hard to believe it sustains so much wildlife).

When I see a ferret, I set a trap and start hoping. If I catch one, I put it into a transfer tube and gingerly carry it back to the pickup, and drive it across the basin to the processing trailer. There, it will be anesthetized, examined, and tagged with an implanted microchip. After it recovers, I release it back at the trap site. Then I pick up my pack and return to walking. At 1AM I return to the truck for coffee and granola bars. I pull my traps and finish up as the sun rises.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mandingo, ney, Henceforth: MANGINA

Mandingo has managed to unwittingly emasculate himself before our eyes with his recent spate of pathetic, wimpering posts. Thus, I call on Pied' to strip Mandingo of the Dingo in his title and change his handle to something more fitting: manGINA!

The MACACA Award Goes To: Andrew Young

In the tradition of my Senator, George Allen, this little blurb via The Plank from a since resigned Wal-Mart spokesperson, Andrew Young, on the virtues of Wal-Mart:

'In the [Los Angeles] Sentinel interview, Young was asked about whether he was concerned Wal-Mart causes smaller, mom-and-pop stores to close.
"Well, I think they should; they ran the 'mom and pop' stores out of my neighborhood," the paper quoted Young as saying. "But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores."'

Mandingo. Back in Fold after Brief Hiatus!

Don't worry, people, Mr. and Mrs. Mandingo are doing just fine in Washington. Sorry if we've been slow to respond, but starting a new job, moving into a new apartment, and desperately trying to save an unraveling marriage is taxing.

Bikes vs. Cars

With the news of the death of a young woman on a bicycle near the U of M, we're going to get an earful of advice about bicycle safety, most of which we've already heard before. The main point is always that bike riders should wear a helmet. True enough. Nonetheless, it seems absurd to me that our first reaction is to blame the person on the bike for not being a "safe" enough driver. If a motor vehicle hits a bike, the vehicle always wins, period. Blaming bikers for getting entangled among cars is like blaming cows for mad cow disease -- it's not their fault.

Moreover, the idea - who knows where this comes from and why it is still circulated - that riding on sidewalks makes bikers more invisible to cars is absurd. It's safer on the sidewalk, if only because there are no cars there. Truth be told, alert drivers see bikes and pedestrians on sidewalks all the time. And to those who think that sidewalk biking is dangerous for pedestrians, I have one thing to say: show me the evidence. Show me the headline: "Bicyclist mows down pedestrians, one dead."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"War on Terror": More than a Metaphor

Whereas a good metaphor brings us closer to an otherwise abstract reality, bad metaphors obscure and thus impede our ability to deal with reality. America's war on terror, as George Soros explains in a recent essay, is a war misguided by the metaphor "war on terror," which is unsuited to the phenomena to which it is applied. His fourth point bears repeating:
The war on terror drives a wedge between "us" and "them." We are innocent victims. They are perpetrators. But we fail to notice that we also become perpetrators in the process; the rest of the world, however, does notice. That is how such a wide gap has arisen between America and much of the world.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Quotables

From A DEFENSE OF ANN COULTER: Weenie Roastby Elspeth Reeve in the The New Republic:

'Or take Coulter's most infamous line: Writing about her friend's death on September 11, she finished her essay with, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." Wow, that's pretty indefensible. The United States could never--would never--do such a thing. Instead, we've invaded their countries, killed their leaders, and are desperately trying to convert them to secularism. (It's not like mullahs appreciate the difference.)'

Professor Ahmadinejad

“Thus you will see how from a silly question many wise answers can be produced, and such is probably the cultural function of naive interviews.” —Umberto Eco

If you caught Mike Wallace's interview with President Ahmadinejad on 60 Minutes last Sunday, it was obvious that Wallace underestimated the sangfroid (GRE word!) of the Iranian president. Wallace confessed that he expected Ahmadinejad to be a "firebrand," rather than a smart professor (he still teaches a graduate level course), and acted accordingly. Wallace tried to badger the President into giving more "concise" answers, cutting him off, and asking him at one point to "just answer...yes or no." It was painful to watch Wallace attempt to get the President to speak more candidly.

Ahmadinejad handled Wallace masterfully. According to CBS's own transcript, the interview didn't even start with a question; Ahmadinejad started with an unequivocal proclamation: "I fully oppose the behavior of the British and the Americans." When Wallace tried to to ask him about Hezbollah, the tables were already turned. Ahmadinejad took control of the interview: "'Are you the representative of the Zionist regime? Or a journalist?' Ahmadinejad asked Wallace." Knowing that Wallace was in retirement and that this was probably his last interview, Ahmadinejad probably knew that this would make Wallace livid. "'I'm a journalist. I am a journalist,' Wallace replied"--pleaded, would be more accurate.

The interview did not get better for Wallace. "I think that you're getting angry," Ahmadinejad remarked. He was right. Wallace acted like a freshman frustrated at a professor's prolix way of answering questions. Ahmadinejad saw right through Wallace's attempt to appear tough and courageous: "'Do you, perhaps want me to say what you want me to say?' Ahmadinejad said to Wallace." Again, in these words, spoken in a very relaxed manner, Ahmadinejad displayed his control of the situation.

For his part, Ahmadinejad was rather successful in justifying his opinions and policies in terms of self-defense, independence, and international law. To justify his support of Hezbollah's actions, he appealed to the charter of the United Nations, which in his words affords every person "the right to defend his house." And to justify his words and actions against the U.S. occupation of Iraq—"I ask you, sir, what is the American army doing inside Iraq? Iraq has a government, a parliament"—he appealed to "international law" which on his account assigns the responsibility for providing security to "the occupying...army." "So," Ahmadinejad reasons, "I ask them...why are they not providing security?"

Moreover, Ahmadinejad deftly cast himself in the role of a great liberator and friend of oppressed people everywhere who desire peace. "I despise heinous action," he claimed, actions including Israel's recent invasion and occupation of Palestine, as well as America's invasion and occupation of Iraq, both of which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, including innocent women and children. America, he says, wants to build "an empire," but Iran isn't going to "sit idly by and watch them with our hands...tied." From this interview it is evident that Professor Ahmadinejad has learned all too well, from his experience and his studies, that in the face of empire, if you rest on your laurals, you'll lose them.

The Meek

"Jesus said the meek would inherit the earth, but so far all we've gotten is Minnesota and North Dakota."
---Garrison Keillor, "The Old Scout," published 8/13/2006

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hypocrisy

Ilya's post brings to mind an important, albeit pernicious, undercurrent in political discourse today: hypocrisy or the other side of the coin, authenticity. Al Gore is proven to be a hypocrite, he comes nowhere close to approaching the carbon neutral lifestyle that he advocates for others. So he is a typical limousine liberal. That said, what of his views. This is ultimately the important point, what are the merits of the argument. Liberal commentators have for years bludgeoned Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich or other advocates of "family values" for their hypocrisy. Newt Gingrich for one left his wife while on her death bed for one of his staffers, thus constantly referred to as a "first rate political intellect and fifth rate personal character". It is quite easy in these instances to resort to ad hominem attacks, literally taking it to the man. But what of the merits of their arguments? Do we take it to the man because we find that easier than challenging the premise of their arguments or the resulting conclusion? I suspect the answer is yes.

Friday, August 11, 2006

More on the Al Gore Predicament

John Tierney is not the only columnist opining on what I've now deemed the Al Gore Predicament (the discussion on this blog begins here and continues here), which arises from simultaneously preaching carbon-conscious lifestyle choices yet continuing to live day by day in a way that can be accounted as rather carbon intensive. Yesterday, Peter Schweizer of USA Today remarked that "if Al Gore is the world's role model for ecology, the planet is doomed." He went on to detail what many people see as Gore's excessive lifestyle, out of step with his concern to curtail Global Warming:
Public records reveal that as Gore lectures Americans on excessive consumption, he and his wife Tipper live in two properties: a 10,000-square-foot, 20-room, eight-bathroom home in Nashville, and a 4,000-square-foot home in Arlington, Va. (He also has a third home in Carthage, Tenn.) For someone rallying the planet to pursue a path of extreme personal sacrifice, Gore requires little from himself.
I think it is true that Gore created this type of response himself, by virtue of the success of his own movie. As I predicted, "it will be Gore's moral achievement if the audience of his movie should come to accustom themselves with the facts, and demand real action from politicians." That's what they are doing, only "they" are more or less a number of right-wing pundits who want to paint Gore as your typical liberal hypocrite, and Global Warming as a red-herring. Schweizer concludes: "The issue here is not simply Gore's hypocrisy; it's a question of credibility. If he genuinely believes the apocalyptic vision he has put forth and calls for radical changes in the way other people live, why hasn't he made any radical change in his life? Giving up the zinc mine or one of his homes is not asking much, given that he wants the rest of us to radically change our lives."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week: Joe Lieberman


Candidate Lieberman: you got bounced! Politics is not a nursery, either go home or plot a big comeback.

Overpopulation

For background, see the post and ensuing conversation on the possible folly of attempting to live a modern lifestyle that is quote-unquote sustainable. The map above is supposed to show population density - concentration of red - around the world. I can't verify it, but it seems reasonable to me.

Overpopulation and environmental issues: how intertwined are they? And how different is the relationship between these issues in different parts of the world?

I ask because I often hear the subject of overpopulation come up in environmental discussions; but aren't the environmental issues related to overpopulation vastly differently in sub-Saharan Africa than in a suburb of Cincinnati? In what locales/situations is overpopulation enough of an issue (in terms of both impact and tractability) to warrant problem-solving action?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

An Inconvenient Spoof

To go along with our question of the week a new video has appeared online mocking Al Gore’s fight against global warming and his film “Inconvenient Truth". In the short video Gore appears as a sinister figure who brainwashes penguins and bores movie audiences by blaming the Mideast crisis and Lindsay Lohan's shrinking waist size on global warming. The video is purportedly the work of a 29-year-old video-maker in Beverly Hills. But ABC News reports that the video appears to actually be the work of the public relations and lobbying company DCI Group. The company’s clients include Exxon Mobil. I personally prefer this cartoon version of Captain Planet, I mean Al Gore, better.

Pie-Eyed Party: Celebrate Mandingo's Imminent Demise TONIGHT!

As a result of Mandingo and His Queen's impending Trail of Tears out to our nation's capitol, the Pie-Eyed Network is cordially invited to a celebration in their honor tonight at the one, the only Sweeney's Saloon and the Dale Street Wine Bar. (Because of Mandingo's creeping middle age, and thus his maturing taste, he will be drowning in Zinfandel at the wine bar while the rest of us who remain young and fun will be enjoying pitchers with Her Queenship in the bar.)

Good times assured; better times optional.

Also, let's hear three Pie-Eyed cheers to Mandingo and His Queen as they embark on this Fantastic Voyage...Coolio-style.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sustainable Living: The Predicament of the Environmental Movement

In response to my post belittling the idea of sustainable living from the point of view of one man who lives off the grid of modern life, Xtra, true to form, remarked that "The clearest way towards sustainable living is for all of us to pull our lips over our heads and swallow." Indeed, the quickest way to save the planet and stop global warming would be for everyone to kill themselves - but this of course would defeat the purpose, which is above all to live on earth, and to live here in a way that does not make the world increasingly polluted and uninhabitable for present and future generations. As A Green Cowboy, true to form, insisted, the best way forward is for everyone to do whatever they can, however minor, to live a more sustainable lifestyle. In principle, again, this sounds good. But it tends to fail in practice, or to fail to inspire practices consistent with the principles.

Let me explain. Rarely do I find myself, as I do today, agreeing with John Tierney's op-ed, in which he writes that "environmentalist preachers like Gore [should be held] to higher standards." Those who preach the need to live in an environmentally sustainable way lose their authority, their ability to influence the actions of others, when their own actions so obviously fail to embody their own values. As Tierney writes, while Gore's movie offers fine advice about cutting back on traveling and doing so in energy-efficient ways, "it would be even better if he journeyed to his lectures exclusively on Greyhound. But he seems to prefer cars and planes. When you tally up his international travel to inspect melting glaciers and the domestic trips between his homes—one in Washington and another in Nashville, not to mention the family farm in rural Tennessee featured in the movie—you're looking at a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint." Further, Tierney states that if Gore really wanted to save energy, he would also sell his second (third? fourth?) home. "If you're going to own a second home while ordering everyone else to carpool," Tierney writes, "you must atone for your excesses, and it's not enough just to offset the carbon."

One could object that Tierney could multiply such examples forever, until the absurd conclusion is reached that we must live like this guy, or just kill ourselves, in order to live in the name of a better society and environment. But this objection misses Tierney's point. The point is that the principles behind the idea of reducing carbon emissions or what have you are in practice ineffective, or at the very least need to be thought-out in greater detail. In other words, the principle of energy-efficiency currently functions no differently than the concept of recycling, which allows people to claim that they are being responsible consumers - and to hiss at people who do not recycle - while they are consuming more and more. Likewise, the idea of, say, public transportation allows people to claim that they are helping the environment while at the same time they are contributing to its pollution by riding the bus. Such things are falsely called a step in the right direction. Instead, the right direction consists in an absolute reduction of waste and an absolute reduction in carbon emissions. As far as the environment is concerned, anything less is still relatively more. That is to say, what counts as a relative reduction in pollution on the part of humans, still counts as an absolute increase in the pollution of the environment. This is the predicament of the environmental movement.

St. Paul Riverfront

MNObserved commented in my previous post on cycling in St. Paul that I must be crazed to suggest industrial vacancies along the riverfront in Minnesota's fairer city. Respectfully, I dissent.

If you were to venture past the High Bridge, down around the Randolph Avenue area, you will notice a landscape utterly devoid of forward-thinking urban planning. The argument here is not whether there are industrial vacancies or not (though I beg you to witness a brand-new "light industrial" complex sitting completely empty, having no particular reason to exist other than to take up space), it's why the riverfront continues to exist in the state that it is.

You are correct that there's a new Science Museum, Eagle Street park, etc. etc. There's even the new condo/apartment buildings (Soviet-style, as you mentioned) that have cropped up. St. Paul has done a fine job reconstructing about three blocks of the riverfront. But the city has the wonderful advantage of having miles of riverfront that it has for decades squandered. Yes, there are logistical reasons for some of that development. But there are no reasons (that I can see) why that sort of development (heavy industrial) has to exist side-by-side with high-density residential around the city's greatest natural resource. The river would be better left as a nature sanctuary than to continue to delapidate in the state that it's in.

And, yes, there are train tracks. But there are myriad places that have train tracks without detracting substantially from the beauty of a natural landscape.

Now, there are (and have been) stirrings of turning this around. On the West St. Paul side of the river there is the somewhat-maligned Bridges of St. Paul project. The city has also had a long-range plan in play for greater integration between the river, residential, and commercial planning. I'm confident and optimistic that eventually St. Paul will have a vibrant riverfront that both protects the natural wonder and environmental sanctity of the river while capitalizing on it through "smart growth." None of this, however, changes the sad fact that the St. Paul portion of the Mississippi River has largely been wasted - both by being sold out for industrial purposes and as a result polluted - for years and years.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cycling the Twin Cities

I've taken the opportunity of My Lovely being on a business trip this weekend to explore the city I love - St. Paul - and part of that other city - Minneapolis - on my 1986 Diamondback Momentum bicycle. My routes:
  • Friday - Starting at Dale Street, I went down Summit Avenue to the Cathedral, where it turns into John Ireland Blvd. I then wrapped around the lawns in front of the Capitol, and entered downtown St. Paul on Cedar Street. After crossing over I-35E, I scooted down 11th Street to Robert Street where I was going to go to Aroma's Art House, which turned out to be closed. I then decided to maneuver down 9th Street to Temperance to 7th Street, where I took a right on Wacouta. This took me down past Mears Park to 4th Street, where I took a left, passed the Farmer's Market and stopped in at the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar. After a couple hours at Black Dog, I rode back up 4th Street, then Kellogg Blvd. to West 7th. I took 7th to Grand Avenue, crossed I-35E again, and then tackled the Grand Avenue hill (not to be confused with the suicidal Ramsey Hill).
  • Saturday - Fellow PePper Ilya and I decided to meet at the Cliquot Club, so I ventured over to South Minneapolis. I took summit Avenue, past St. Thomas, to the Mississippi River Blvd. pathways. I followed that to 27th Street, crossed the bridge (that offers a spectacular view) and then down Franklin. I met Ilya and we rode through the Seward neighborhood to Cliquot. After a chocolate chip cookie, some green mango tea, and incredibly high-minded conversation, I rode back to the Minneapolis side of Mississippi River Blvd. up to Lake Street. I crossed the Lake Street Bridge, where on the St. Paul side I carried my bike down the steps. I then retraced my route back home.
  • Sunday - After a three-egg omelet with cottage bacon, mushrooms, and pepper jack, I decided to further explore St. Paul. I rode through my neighborhood to St. Clair, and took that down across West 7th near the river. I followed the bike route to the High Bridge, and briefly toyed with the idea of going into West St. Paul. Deciding I probably didn't have the energy for that today, I kept going along 7th to the old Ramsey House, then down to the paths below the bluffs along the river. I took that to Randolph, crossed 7th again, then turned right on Victoria, where I thought I might be able to go through the Linwood Recreation Center area. Unfortunately, I never found Linwood from that route. Instead I had to turn on Jefferson (where I suffered the indignity of having to walk my bike halfway up a hill), followed by a left on Lexington, and finally a right on Grand Avenue to home.

During these journeys, while not incredibly long or extensive, I made some observations. And I'm sure you want to read them. So here you go:

  • It almost always takes a shorter time to get from point A to point B than I originally anticipated. My trip to Minneapolis took 29 minutes exactly, while I thought it would take 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Each trip left my legs less sore than I thought I would be. For example, when I biked to downtown St. Paul and then climbed the hill back up Grand Avenue on Friday, I figured I'd be finished for a day or two. The next day, however, I was reenergized and ready to go.
  • Both cities are great places to bike through, although I much prefer St. Paul. Summit Avenue makes an easy thoroughfare and because there is less traffic downtown (and more residential zoning) its less pressure. Of course, I didn't spend a lot of time cycling in Minneapolis, so my opinion may be biased.
  • The St. Paul riverfront represents decades of what must be some of the absolute worst city planning in the country. The city's greatest natural resources has been marred by heavy industrial zoning, and is now littered with anonymous vacant factories and plants. When driving down it you notice it, but when you bike down there you become appalled at the utter lack of forward-thinking.

Related Link: Map of St. Paul bicycle paths

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Relearning the Lessons of Military History

Some things change, only because some things never change. History, upon careful examination, shows us many important truths about human life. There is one truth that Israel and the U.S. has clearly failed to learn, and that is that war should be treated as an extension of politics, and hence the most important thing is to build defenses in the people.

When cavalry and artillery were gaining popularity in early modern Europe, Machiavelli in his Art of War continued to emphasize the importance of infantry, which was regarded as comparatively worthless. Nobody believed that foot soldiers, who we now refer to as "boots on the ground," could withstand the charge of cavalry. This was thought impossible until the mountaineers of Switzerland proved everyone wrong.

Once again, we are witnessing the remarkable ability of foot soldiers - "insurgents" - to withstand shock and awe campaigns carried out through aerial assaults. This feat is only underscored by the history of America's "Green Zone" in Iraq - a highly fortified fortress of steel and concrete - which has proven to be an embarrasingly weak outpost of security. If our army generals were actually trained in the art of war, they would know that the best fortress is built out of people, not out of steel.

One needs to look no further than Hezbollah to see the military folly of relying on heavy artillery to win battles against skilled foot soldiers. As Sabrina Tavernise writes in this excellent analysis of Hezbollah's roots in the people of Lebanon,

They cover medical bills, offer health insurance, pay school fees and make seed money available for small businesses. They are invisible but omnipresent, providing essential services that the Lebanese government through years of war was incapable of offering. Their work engenders a deep loyalty among Shiites, who for years were the country's underclass and whose sense of pride and identity are closely intertwined with Hezbollah. Their presence in southern Lebanon is so widespread that any Israeli military advance will do little to extricate the group, which is as much a part of society as its Shiite faith. "The trees in the south say, 'We are Hezbollah.' The stones say, 'We are Hezbollah,' " said Issam Jouhair, a car mechanic. "If the people cannot talk, the stones will say it."


Hezbollah is the people. If there is no better fortress than the people, the battle for Baghdad has long been lost.

Scientist to global-warming skeptics: Quit calling me your friend


Did anybody else see the op-ed piece in the NYTimes on 28 July entitled "Cold, hard facts?"

It was written by Peter Doran, whose 2002 paper in Nature caused quite a stir: he and his colleagues concluded that more of Antarctica had actually cooled, rather than warmed, from 1966 to 2000. So much for global warming, right?

Well, yes, if you are an armchair scientist looking for any title to possibly support your point of view. Doran says "Our results have been misused as 'evidence' against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel 'State of Fear' and by Ann Coulter in her latest book 'Godless: The Church of Liberalism.'"

Doran argues emphatically that his research has been misinterpreted. First, a large part of the continent was indeed warming during that period. Second, subsequent modelling has indicated that the lack of warming he and his colleagues found is related to the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica; as the hole heals, the continent will likely begin to warm. Third, other research has contradicted his results; while he stands by his paper, the conclusions are being debated.

Thus, he states: "I would like to remove my name from the list of scientists who dispute global warming."

P.S. - Michael Crichton is a tool, by the way. His book "State of Fear" includes an "author's message" at the end where he claims to lay out some truth concerning environmentalism, after penning a work of fiction.

Basically, he slams environmentalism for being narrow-minded and chauvinist, says environmentalism is working to build and sustain a modern imperialism of developed nations, and slams most environmental science for being biased.

Specifically, two of his messages included are:

"I believe people are well intentioned. But I have great respect for the corrosive influence of bias, systematic distortions of thought, the power of rationalization, the guises of self-interest, and the inevitability of unintended consequences."

"Everybody has an agenda. Except me."

Right. No agenda. Michael Crichton, alone, is able to stand strong against the corrosive influence of bias and avoid the guise of self-interest.

Tool.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Week in Review: Pie-Eyed Self-Pity Edition

Well, this was the week that was. (?) Drink up to another seven days of mediocrity at the Pie-Eyed Picayune. And, really, Mandingo...we know that you're sooo busy, but what happened to "Phraseology"? Another piece of refuse in the recylcing bin of history?

Pie-Eyed Poll: Captain Planet Edition

Another week, another Pie-Eyed Poll. I was particularly interested in the result of our last poll, "What's your favorite international crisis?" "Other" garnered nearly as many votes as the top choice "Iraqi quagmire," and almost twice as many votes as "Global warming." (Sorry, GC.) I'm very curious what "Other" international crises folks had in mind. And what about the Kashmiri separatists! The results:
  • Israel-Hezbollah conflict - 9%
  • Iraqi quagmire - 30%
  • Iran's nascent nuclear weapons program - 3%
  • North Korea's saber-rattling - 3%
  • Russia's slide toward authoritarianism - 9%
  • Kashmiri separatists in India - 3%
  • Global warming - 15%
  • Other - 27%

In honor of the showing by global warming, we have an all-environmental poll this week. Remember: vote early, vote often!

Pragmatism

Pragmatism is a word that has been sticking out in my mind for quite a while now. Progressive pragmatism, to be more specific. I don't know if that phrase has been coined yet; if not, I hereby copyright it before the political jackals steal it.

What I mean by progressive pragmatism is recognizing societal problems, outside the context of the bipolar American political model, and working towards pragmatic solutions. It involves bringing numerous voices together and striking a path of sensical compromise. The players need to enter negotiations knowing that their self-interests may not be fulfilled, but also knowing that the other players won't take advantage of that fact, and in reality that all players are willing to give up some parts of their self-interests.

An example of where this concept worked is welfare reform, which Robert Samuelson discussed in his Newsweek column this week. (Yes, I just linked to Newsweek...again!) Despite calls for elimination on the right, and calls for no change on the left, a solution was achieved. Granted, the solution wasn't foolproof, and there are holes that ought to be filled. But overall, welfare reform has been a success in striking a middle ground to win a pragmatic answer.

That reform, however, came in very different times. A Democrat in the White House, a Republican majority in the House (and maybe the Senate...I don't remember). No large-scale conflict. A booming economy. Today, we find ourselves in quite a different situation. We have a poisonous political climate, with lawmakers feelings forced to huddle in their corners. Meeting in the middle and working out compromise is seen as a betrayal.

The primary problem with this is that it causes people to lock up their viewpoints in the relative safety of their political perspectives. If Republicans can make themselves believe that there is a "debate" over global warming, then they don't have to make concessions for progressive pragmatic environmental reform. If Democrats can make themselves believe that Social Security is a sustainable program, they don't have to make concessions to make the program better and stronger. (Although I also don't believe Republicans are willing to seek other or additional solutions beside the one that failed miserably last year.)

The most recent example, of course, is the minimum wage increase/estate tax elimination bill that just failed in the Senate. This is a case of bipolar politics gone awry. Rather than working to achieve their aims, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle failed to win any of their objectives. If Democrats had been more willing to work with ideas like Xtra's, and Republicans had been more willing to concede on estate taxes, perhaps a solution could have been reached that would have fulfilled (partially) the self-interests of both sides.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Let's Put Things In Perspective

In the light of this guy, don't tell me so-and-so lives a simple, sustainable life because he rides a bike, carpools, grows his own and eats natural foods, recycles and reduces waste, and makes environmentally friendly "alternative" lifestyle choices. This guy is the alternative. Otherwise, you're pretty much like everyone else: hooked into this modern life with your reliance not on your own self, but on cars, phones, running water, and things that run on electricity to bring you all that you expect and enjoy. It goes with the territory, so to speak. That is, unless you live on this guy's territory - but you don't. None of us do.

Random Thought

I was reading a transcript of a Panel held at the Brookings Institute on Welfare Reform and beyond and a notion put forth by Eloise Anderson of the Claremont Institute particularly struck me:

Our social policies for men, at least those of age, boil down to incarceration.

Minimum Wage Thoughts: Transition Away From the Welfare State

I just thought I would chime in on the minimum wage debate that is currently not raging in d.c. because congress is in recess (which is the best thing for democracy). My disclaimer: I believe the minimum wage should be $0. Helping the working poor is a compelling end but ultimately I question how effectively minimum wage achieves this end. I think from both a politicial and policy standpoint we could much more effectively help the working poor through expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or through a negative income tax.

We value work as a society. There is a certain dignity achieved through working that manifests itself in a number of areas. People respect those that work, and those that work have an elevated self-worth. I would also argue that employment has positive implications for the family structure which itself has ramifications but that is an argument for another time. As a country we are much more supportive of public assistance that is conditioned on work. A minimum wage that really provides ample subsistence will have significant negative employment effects while diluting the benefits by dispersing them over a broader population than intended. I think a more effective means of finessing this tension lies with either increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or instituting a negative income tax.

XTRA's "Facts":

I think there are certain elements that we can all agree on in terms of discussing a minimum wage hike (or maybe not and thus we'll call these Xtra's "facts"):

1. The proposed minimum wage hike (about $1.50 per hour), which is modest, is unlikely to have a significant impact on the employment of those currently earning the minimum wage.

2. That said, it is clear that minimum wage does have a negative employment effect as the imposed marginal cost on the employer may exceed the value of a given employee's labor. We call this the law of demand, for evidence of this phenomena look at Europe. Points 1 and 2 appear to be in competition but in fact this tension speaks to the economic concept of elasticity.

3. The minimum wage is intended to help the working poor and does so (though, in my view not without adverse effects, see point five).

4. A significant portion of those earning minimum wage are either retirees supplementing their retirement income, spouses supplementing a household income, or students (high school and above) that are not part of impoverished families (looking at a DHHS study during the Clinton administration I would say this non-working poor population approaches half, that 75% of minimum wage workers work under 20 hours per week is a particularly telling statistic). I expect this point will be subject to quibbles, thus my "Xtra's Facts" qualifier.

5. Over the long term, the less one works the fewer skills/experience one will acquire thus reducing their lifetime earnings. This is acutely problematic for those with less education as a job is their only avenue to attain marketable skills.

Xtra's "facts", should you choose to entertain them at least, present several problems with the minimum wage and its effectiveness. A vast pool of people, who we don't necessarily define as the working poor are affected by minimum wage. So it is not an effective transfer as far as precision is concerned. The minimum wage imposes greater costs than intended as it benefits others than the working poor. We are effectively asking consumer and employer alike to subsidize the wages of a population that doesn't necessarily need or warrant this form of assistance.

And it is a transfer. When we advocate a minimum wage hike what we are doing is forcing employers to pay more for an employees labor than the employer would have otherwise. The essential difference between this and any other transfer is that the benefit is transfered from the employer as opposed to the general taxpayer. Proponents would argue that cost of the minimum wage is borne by the employer. I think proponents of the minimum wage are hard-headed to a fault on this point. A large part of support for minimum wage emanates from romantic notions of the social contract or corporate social responsibility or plainly to stick it to big business. I think sticking it to employers for the sake of itself is idiotic. Regardless of the motivation, the employer will do everything possible to avoid absorbing the costs of a minimum wage hike. Employers will either try to pass the cost on to consumers or do without the employee. How this is progressive escapes me unless progressivism is measured in proportion to its antagonism towards businesses. On a broader level, this is reflective of a tendency amongst "progressives" to conflate in their own minds how things ought to work and how they do work.

The earned income tax credit or a negative income tax is essentially the opposite of taxes. If your paycheck is below a certain level, your pay is supplemented by the taxpayer. It's like getting your tax refund without having to pay taxes in the first place (though, you do have to work, thus the earned part). The EITC enjoys bipartisan political support, does not have the negative employment effects, and could be precisely targeted to those that most need assistance. At a broader social policy level, we have been moving away from the notion of the welfare state to something along the lines of a "Work Ethic" state (I am stealing this phrase from Mickey Kaus) and I think such a step would accelerate this movement.

Helping the working poor is a compelling end. The minimum wage simply isn't an effective means towards that end. Our transition from a welfare state to a "work ethic" state (which may be merely a figment of my imagination), is a positive trend and should be continued. It impacts not only the level of poverty but the pathologies associated with poverty. Removing the minimum wage and offsetting the difference with the Earned Income Tax Credit would be a good first step to that end.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mandingo Bares Soul, Beats Breast

Pick yourself up out of the gutter, 'Dingo. Ask yourself this question: Am I a man, or am I a mouse? Write the damn paper. Move to the East Coast. And get with the program. I trust you will find no sympathy within the Pie-Eyed Network.

That being said, we all deal with both procrastination and writers' block. They suck. Surefire cure: Just start typing. Type anything that remotely deals with the topic at hand. Eventually, things will start aligning and coming into focus. Pretty soon you'll be humming along.

My guess, however, is that you know what you need to do. Your self-importance and self-loathing just got the better of you.

Mandingo Diagnoses Himself Certifiable. Looks for Straight Jacket on eBay

I have a problem with procrastination, with laziness, with systematically inventing ways to prevent success. I diagnosed myself last night while enduring a muggy bike ride over to St. Paul to drink beer and play Mario Kart.

My problem: I am consumed with worry...so much so that it has become a natural part of my life. Since I can remember I have always had some problem or unfinished task that roiled in the back of my mind, but paradoxically it became comfortable to worry and to leave things unfinished. Thus, procrastination, and its genesis sloth, became not only a method to leave things unfinished, but it became a problem so commonplace that I forgot I was even procrastinating. For example: This summer I had two tasks--get a job, and finish my final paper for graduate school (no I'm not even technically graduated yet!). Well, I got a job shortly after I returned from our honeymoon, but the paper wasn't done. Why, you might ask, didn't I just write the paper soon after I got back? Hell, it might take a week to write fifteen pages, but after it's turned in not only will I have graduated, but there won't be any pressing worries for the rest of the summer. But nooooooo. I believe I subconsciously put the paper off throughout the summer so that I could worry and also feel guilty for not having it finished. See what I mean? This is but one in an innumberable line of similar situations, most of which don't pertain to school. I've put this paper off until now with about a week to go before I embark on a semi-permanent road trip.

Now I'm stricken with a certifiable case of severe mental block that courses through my veins like that new-age Avian flu that I most likely picked up while eating some Grade-A American birdshit. Birdshit no doubt that looked like butterscotch behind the cluttered, no-win madness inside my head. Just an hour ago I considered myself two days away from doing a cannonball off the Marshall Ave. bridge.

What's worse, rather than telling myself that I can do it, that I can finish this paper (which is really just a convenient proxy for my general condition) I beat myself up with a defeatist attitude. It is cringeworthy what I say to myself on a daily basis. I am filled with dramatic, self-loathing as this post will attest. And what if this post is neither cathartic nor instructional but rather just a written manifestation of the ongoing problem? Then where does this end?

At the moment I'm improvising an arm-chair solution to this defeatist attitude. Get ready for some unsubstantiated self-help.

Feel free to roll your eyes now and remove any editorial privileges. Thank you.