Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mmm, pass the N-acylphosphatidylethanolamines!

Researchers have found a mechanism by which the brain responds to dietary fat. A certain type of lipids called N-acylphosphatidylethanolamines (NAPEs) are secreted by the smal intestine when you eat fatty foods; they go straight to the brain and concentrate in a center that regulates appetite. Rats dosed with NAPEs reduced their caloric intake without losing interest in food altogether. In other words, the chemicals appear to satisfy the brain's craving for fat.

What's more, chronic fat consumption seems to shut down the production of NAPEs by the intestine, not their effectiveness in the brain:
Animals fed a high-fat diet for 35 days lose the normal increases in circulating NAPE after a fatty meal. That suggest that derangements in NAPE secretion associated with chronic high-fat feeding may contribute to diet-induced obesity precipitated by overexposure to triglyceride-rich foods. However, those animals still responded to NAPE treatment.
So treatment with NAPEs may be useful in treating obesity by breaking the cycle of fat consumption.

I could use some of this stuff. Preferably with gravy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Are we really this dumb?

Q: What's worse than Americans averaging a score of 49% on a simple civics test?

A: Their elected officials averaging a score of 44%.

I managed a score of 84.85% (28 correct out of 33). See how you fare.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Obama appoints shaman to overhaul net regulation

Short Sharp Science reports, in case you missed it in the blogroll, that President-elect Obama has named a wigwam-dwelling shaman to lead a team in charge of overhauling Internet regulation.

Oh, and he's a minotaur, too.

The man known as Kevin Werbach in the real world is also known in World of Warcraft as Supernovan Jenkins, a 70th-level Taurean Shaman. Werbach is obviously a gamer, a participant in virtual worlds. I prefer Second Life myself, as does Werbach's co-team lead Susan Crawford; they're both also proponents of net neutrality. I take this as a very good sign.

I just wonder how they feel about online poker.

A double-barreled addition to the Random Blogroll: DMI and DMIBlog

"If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Drum Major Institute bills itself as "a non-partisan, non-profit think tank providing ideas that fuel the progressive movement." Founded by Harry Wachtel, lawyer and advisor to MLK, and relaunched in 1999 by their sons, William Wachtel and Martin Luther King III, and Ambassador Andrew Young, the institute conducts research into social and economic issues, and advocates for progressive policies to benefit the middle class.

I'm just discovering this site, but it looks very promising and I've added feeds for both their main page, featuring daily (more or less) articles from a handful of contributors, and their blog, which has more frequent posts from a broader range of sources. Enjoy reading them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Borowitz: Obama’s Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy

Here's the latest addition to the Random Blogroll. Andy Borowitz is a comedian and writer whose work appears in The New Yorker and The New York Times, and at his award-winning humor site,

In his latest post, he writes:
In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS' "Sixty Minutes" on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tick, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.

But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring.

Waxman takes over Energy Committee; change is coming!

Henry Waxman has ousted John Dingell as chair or the House Energy Committee in a secret vote of the Democratic caucus.

Dingell, who represents Michigan and is married to a GM exec, has battled the more liberal Waxman on fuel efficiency standards. The move is seen as good news for environmentalists, and is a sign that the House understands the mandate for change that the 2008 elections represent. Waxman defeated Dingell by 15 votes (137-122) in the caucus vote. According to a report at, Representative-elect Gerry Connolly of Virginia said 18 of the 26 freshman legislators had committed to Waxman before the vote. However, unless at least 21 of the 26 actually voted for him, it means Waxman also got a majority of the returning members of the caucus - and thus would have won the chair even with an even split among the newcomers.

Progressives have been stewing over the number of familiar faces from the Clinton era among President-elect Obama's high-profile appointees, but author David Corn, speaking on today's Democracy Now! program, said that there are "a bunch of people who have been progressive public policy advocates, academics and other experts, who have spent their whole adult careers devoted to policy making, not necessarily to going between government and private sector and making a bunch of money."

It makes sense that as a relative newcomer to Washington, Obama would want some people with experience around him. I think it's encouraging that he has also brought some people who are passionate about the change we need. Yes, some of Obama's appointees have checkered pasts when it comes to AIPAC and PNAC and Gitmo; but he strikes me as a strong leader and a passionate advocate for change, and these people are going to know there's a new boss. They're going to have a chance to make a case to him for what they believe in, but ultimately he is the man who will make the decisions; and they, if they are faithful employees, will implement what he decides regardless of their personal views. I think we on the left should continue to pressure Obama for liberal and progressive changes, but I don't think we need to panic over his appointments. He said from the start that he planned to forge a team of rivals, and I think he deserves to be judged more by what he does than by whom he chooses to do it through.

Tim Robbins: an open letter to the NYC Board of Elections

This is priceless. I assume Mr. Robbins won't mind my reproducing it in toto, since the implicit intent of writing an open letter is to have it read as widely as possible.
Mr. Gregory C. Soumas
Board of Elections in the City of New York
Executive Office
32 Broadway
New York, NY 10004-1609

November 17, 2008

Dear Mr. Soumas:

I would like to publicly apologize for being such a dim-witted dilettante on Election Day. I was under the naïve assumption that I could vote where I voted in the last two elections. Your thoughtful letter pointed out that if I had voted in the recent primary election in September I would have discovered that I was no longer registered in the polling place I have voted in since 2004. Considering your position at the Board of Elections and your deep respect for the democratic process I must assume that my local 14th St. poll worker, Betty J. Williamson's assertion that my name was on the active voter rolls for the primary in September of this year was erroneous and that she must be as confused and wrongheaded as I am. If Ms. Williamson saw my name in the book in September that would mean that you are lying. Certainly you wouldn't lie about a thing like that. That is unbecoming of a man of your bureaucratic stature. And why would anyone in the Board of Elections be eliminating legitimate voters from the rolls in late September and October of 2008? That's just crazy and un-democratic.

I should also apologize for the misguided actions of Justice Paul G. Feinman in issuing a court order on Election Day allowing me to vote on 14th St. He apparently thought that a printed out record from your own Board of Elections computer verifying my polling place as 14th St was justification for issuing the court order. If he had only thought to contact you, you could have helped him understand the logic and wisdom of eliminating my name from the book on 14th St. where I have always voted and leaving my name registered at a place I have never voted.

I must also thank you for sending your letter not to me but to all the major newspapers in the New York area and across the internet. I understand it was your way of clearing up this matter and for that I am grateful. I am particularly appreciative of your sending a copy of my voter registration card with my home address and driver's license number to all the newspapers and, by extension, to millions across the internet. What celebrity dilettante wouldn't want his private information made public? What kind of snob gets angry that his family's safety might be compromised? It comes with the territory, right? I was thinking of returning that favor by publishing your home address in this letter but then I thought that maybe one of the thousands of New Yorkers that were taken off the voter rolls in the last two months might not understand what a patriotic upstanding man you are and might show up at your doorstep with the misguided assumption that you are a petty vindictive corrupt scumbag.

Tim Robbins
New Yorker since 1961
Voter since 1976

P.S. If anyone reading this letter had a similar experience on Election Day it can and should be reported at

Commissioners of Elections
Marcus Cederqvist, Executive Director
George Gonzalez, Deputy Executive Director
Pamela Perkins, Administrative Manager
Beth Fossella, Coordinator, Voter Registration
Steven H. Richman, General Counsel
Troy Johnson, Chief Clerk
Timothy Gay, Deputy Chief Clerk

[updated to correct the spelling of Mr. Robbins' name in the headline]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Collapse and survival

Last week, futurist Gerald Celente - a man with a stellar reputation for getting his economic forecasts right - told Fox News that by 2012, the US will be wracked by tax revolts, unemployment, homelessness, and food riots; that at Christmas, we'll be more concerned with putting food on the table than buying gifts; in short, that the United States will become the world's first "undeveloped country" in an economic crisis that will far exceed anything that happened in the Great Depression. (Fox, in typical fashion, spins this as the upshot of an Obama presidency - just as Rush Limbaugh blames the current economic crisis on the man who won't become president for two months yet - but Celente blames it on "the takeover of Washington, D. C., in broad daylight by Wall Street.")

Others have predicted devastating economic (and other) consequences of global water shortage, peak oil, and the race to the bottom of the world labor market.

Oil wars. Water wars. Riots and revolts. Economic catastrophe.

As bleak as these predictions sound, a worldwide economic collapse may be the only thing that can save humanity from itself. The modern American economy is built on consumption at a level that is unsustainable in the long run, is contributing immensely to global warming, and left unchecked, could render the planet incapable of supporting life as we know it. And as China and India adopt the same economic model, the situation only threatens to get worse. A global economic collapse on the scale envisioned by Celente would force us back to simpler times, when business was conducted on a personal level, goods and services were produced and used locally, and simply getting by was a more realistic goal than the perpetual growth that modern capitalism requires. It may be the only thing that could bring about the drastic reductions in consumption and fossil fuel usage needed to forestall the impending climate crisis.

It's been argued that the Black Plague that swept the world in the 14th century, and the attendant death of somewhere between a quarter and half of the population, led to times of relative plenty and ultimately to the Renaissance. Could the fall of modern civilization, and another massive die-off, turn out to be the key to survival of the species?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Separated at birth?

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unity poem

A friend sent me this today (Thanks, Glenn!) and I just can't resist.

The election is over, the results are now known;
The will of the people has been clearly shown.
We should show by our thoughts and our words and our deeds
That unity's just what our country now needs.

Let's all get together - let bitterness pass:
I'll hug your elephant; you kiss my ass.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Added to Random Blogroll: Robert Reich's Blog

Robert Reich, my favorite economist, is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book is "Supercapitalism." He used to host "Marketplace" on public radio. He describes his blog as his personal journal. I look forward to seeing his posts pop up in the blogroll.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My to-do list for President Obama

This is the period every four or eight years when everyone weighs in with their ideas of what the incoming president should set as his priorities. It's a tough call. There are a whole lot of issues out there to be addressed. There's the increasing popular resentment of corporate greed, the downturn in the economy, the threat of global warming and other environmental concerns, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, the so-called "Global War On Terror," civil liberties, energy independence, free trade, fair trade, media reform, gay rights, tax reform, abortion, universal health care, and myriad other issues. But I'll take a whack at it. Here's my list of the top five things the new administration should do.

1. Declare a new policy of openness and accountability in government.
The abuses of the Bush-Cheney era have been conceived, planned, and largely executed behind an unprecedented veil of secrecy. From the clandestine meetings with oil company executives to define the administration's energy policy, to the secret and unwarranted snooping on citizens' email, phone conversations, and reading habits, to the secret prisons at Guantanamo and elsewhere, the government has been sneaking around behind our backs far too much for far too long. The Obama administration should make transparency and disclosure the default. Policy discussions, cabinet meetings, and inner workings of all government agencies should be open to public inspection, except when there is a certified national security reason for secrecy. And by certified, I mean there should be a governing body, to include representation from the judicial branch, from both major parties in Congress, and properly vetted members of the general public, which has the power to review and either approve or overturn any claim of a requirement for secrecy. FOIA requests should be granted as a matter of course, unless the requested information has been explicitly designated as classified.

2. Make survivability of life on the planet priority number one.
Of course the economy is important. So is health. And war is abominable. But if the economy is humming, and everyone has free access to all the health care imaginable, and the world is at peace, it's all for naught if the planet cannot sustain life. We can argue over whether global warming is man-made, and whether it threatens our survival, but let's at least agree that if anything does threaten the long-term survival of the species, that trumps all other considerations. Peace, freedom, and prosperity are secondary considerations next to survival. Explicitly saying so helps to set the stage for serious discussions about the environment.

3. Initiate a 10-year program to achieve 100% clean electricity, and work to eliminate dependence on foreign oil.
Obama has said he wants to create jobs that can't be outsourced, rebuilding America's energy infrastructure. An effort similar to that which followed JFK's pledge to go to the moon in 10 years could get us to an electric grid with a zero carbon footprint within 10 years; it would have a huge impact on carbon dioxide emissions, while helping the economy by creating those millions of jobs. At the same time, improvements in our transportation system - modernizing and promoting mass transit, development of more efficient cars, and other measures could reduce our dependence on petroleum to the point that we could satisfy our own needs without having to import a drop - this latter goal may not be met in ten years, but we can make signifcant progress in any event.

4. Begin building a bottom-up economy.
With the mortgage industry already on life support and the automobile industry begging for transfusions, the time has come to recognize that "too big to fail" is simply too big. The solution to this problem is not consolidation of the survivors into bigger and bigger entities, it is to rebuild our economy around the small businesses that have always been the backbone of the American economy. Rather than bailouts of megacorportations, the economic recovery should concentrate on revitalizing small businesses. A condition of bailing out any too-big-to-fail corporation should be its breakup into smaller units that can be allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits.

5. Take steps to restore America's moral leadership in the world.
This is a long-term project; we cannot reclaim our honor overnight. It starts at home with restoration of habeas corpus, due process for all defendants, and enforcement of the Posse Comitatus Act, and with moral treatment of the less fortunate among us (including universal health care and social programs such as Project Head Start). It continues with the closing of Guatnánamo and termination of the indefensible practice known as extraordinary rendition, and with holding both our military and the mercenaries we hire to supplement our military accountable for war crimes and for abuses committed in occupied countries. And it culminates with predicating our support of foreign governments as much on their legitimacy and their human rights records as on their willingness to do our bidding or their ability to turn a profit for well-connected American corporations.

There's much more to be done. Get the money out of politics. Break up the media monopolies. Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Bring back the separation of church and state. Guarantee a woman's right to choose. Allow adults who love each other to marry. Allow responsible adults to gamble online if they so choose, and use the intoxicants of their choice in the privacy of their own homes. Correct the mistaken notion that corporations, which do not suffer from human limitations, deserve the same rights and privileges as flesh and blood human beings. And on and on. But with transparency in government and a guarantee of free speech, many of these things will take care of themselves.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So THAT'S where I felt that before!

I just read "Taking Our Country Back," an essay at worth reading in its own right; it sums up rather well what the election of Barack Obama means to me. But its opening sentences evoked the sense of deja vu that I'd had last night as I watched Obama's acceptance speech. At the time, I couldn't put my finger on it. These words crystallized it in my mind:
Only rarely does one know that one is experiencing history while it happens. Barack Obama's victory is one of those occasions.

There have been two or three other occasions when I have had that feeling. A couple of them were tragic, and their dates are forever seared into my memory: November 22, 1963, and September 11, 2001. But the third - one whose exact date I can't even name - is the one those words recalled, and which in retrospect is the one that most closely resembled last night. It was the night Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

Then, as now, I was aware that I was witnessing the unfolding of events that changed the world. Then, as now, the realm of the possible was profoundly and forever expanded by the completion of a difficult journey undertaken amid doubt that it could be completed. Then, a man had called on a nation to undertake such a journey; now, it seems, a nation has called forth a man.

I originally supported Barack Obama because of what he was not. He was not a neocon, he was not a religious fundamentalist, he was not a fearmonger. But over the course of a summer and an early autumn, I came to see in him the promise of a true statesman, a leader who has the potential to unite us again as Americans, to unite us again with our allies around the world, to awaken us again to what is possible, and hopefully, to inspire us again to rise to the challenges of our time and accomplish greater things that we have dared to aspire to. And last night, as on that night in 1969, I had the same thought: if we can do this, we can do whatever we need to do.

Yes, we can.

What Palin hath wrought

Newsweek reports:
The Obama campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied. Michelle Obama was shaken by the vituperative crowds and the hot rhetoric from the GOP candidates. "Why would they try to make people hate us?" Michelle asked a top campaign aide.

Because, Michelle, they're scum.

Yes We Did


Today the politics of divisiveness and fear has been repudiated, and we have in some small part fulfilled the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., as this one man has been judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

Last night in his acceptance speech, President-elect Obama thanked "the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics" - and I was proud to know I was part of that team.

Tomorrow I will be just as proud to poke and prod and try to pressure the president-to-be into doing the right things for the American people, the people of the world, and the very future of life on earth. The hard work is just beginning. For today, I'm just going to enjoy what we have accomplished.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dixville Notch: the landslide is on

In the wee small hours of this election day morning, Dixville Notch broke with tradition in a big way.

1972: Ford 13, Carter 11
1980: Reagan 17, Carter 3
1984: Reagan 29, Mondale 1
1988: GHW Bush 34, Dukakis 3
1992: GHW Bush 15, Clinton 2
1996: Dole 18, Clinton 8
2000: GW Bush 21, Gore 5
2004: GW Bush 19, Kerry 7

So in the past eight presidential elections, from 36 years ago to the present time, Dixville Notch has gone Republican - and usually by a landslide. So it's no surprise that their results today were lopsided too. Know what's a surprise?

Obama 15, McCain 6.

Nuff said.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Let's Be Careful Out There

It's getting real ugly in some parts.

Sign wars

Speaking of pettiness, one tactic that seems quite common from the McCain camp is stealing or defacing Obama signs.

At the Obama campaign office where I was waiting for my canvassing assignment Saturday afternoon, I saw this sign:



Then there's this approach:

Canvassing experience

My wife sent me this link to an essay by a "pretty conservative" guy whose wife made him go canvassing for Obama ("I did... what most middle-aged married men do: what I was told") and who learned something in the process.
It's not about taxes. I'm pretty sure mine are going to go up no matter who is elected.

It's not about foreign policy. I think we'll figure out a way to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan no matter which party controls the White House, mostly because the people who live there don't want us there anymore....

I've learned that this election is about the heart of America. It's about the young people who are losing hope and the old people who have been forgotten. It's about those who have worked all their lives and never fully realized the promise of America, but see that promise for their grandchildren in Barack Obama. The poor see a chance, when they often have few. I saw hope in the eyes and faces in those doorways.

I went canvassing on Saturday myself, and I had a couple of memorable encounters. One was with a twenty-something Latino voter who recently got his citizenship and is thrilled to be taking part in the most important ritual of democracy. "I've been here six years," he beamed, "and this is my first time to vote." He went on for several minutes about how much Obama's message resonates with him; he would have gone on longer if I hadn't excused myself to continue my rounds.

Another experience was not as pleasant. Our marching orders were to speak to individuals on our lists who had been identified as potential Obama supporters, even if McCain paraphernalia were in evidence - after all, a given household may be split in its loyalties or leanings. So as I approached one house with a stern-looking middle-aged man raking leaves in the yard, I didn't let the McCain sign by the driveway deter me. I was looking for a 20-year-old, evidently this guy's son.

He seemed friendly enough, despite the Obama hat and button I was wearing. No, he said, his son wasn't home, but was there something I'd like to leave for him?

"Yes, if you don't mind, I have some literature for him from the Obama campaign that I'd like to -"

"I don't want it." His expression, his posture, his whole attitude changed at the mention of Obama's name.

"He doesn't want it?" I had to ask.

"He might. I don't. If you want him to have that," he said, looking at the packet in my hand as if he feared catching a disease from it, "you'll have to give it to him yourself." I think he may have had a slight pang of conscience, as he added in a somewhat less assertive tone, "he gets off work about 4."

I hope that if some McCain canvasser showed up at my door and asked me to give his literature to my daughter, I would take it and faithfully deliver it even though I disagree with just about everything I think the GOP stands for. Of course I can't say what I would do in ay hypothetical situation - I'll find out when and if such a scenario arises - but I think I'd do the right thing, especially if I had explicitly offered to take a message for her.

This seems somehow typical of the pettiness I see from way too many McCain supporters. At least he wasn't like the schoolteacher and Republican delegate in Michigan who refused Halloween candy to children whose parents support Obama:

Hey lady, it's pretty bad when even Fox is calling you on your outrageous behavior.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday comics

I love this collage from DailyKos' Photobucket album. I hope this trio wears the same expression Tuesday night.

Is it just me, or is McCain doing a Bob Dole impersonation?