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A dude, a camcorder and Earth Day in St. Louis

April 28, 2009 | By | Reply More
A dude, a camcorder and Earth Day in St. Louis

I wandered around at this year’s St. Louis Earth Day celebration with a camcorder to capture some of the many images and sounds. I boiled my raw video down into two short videos, each of them lasting about five minutes.

The first one is the “fun” video–you’ll see what I mean. I’m assuming that some of the scenes at Forest Park will give you a smile or leave you shaking your head. Free hugs, anyone? Or how about some sound therapy? And do consider the computerized body analysis administered to me by a chiropractic group working really (really) hard to sell me their long-term services. BTW, I took their test assuming that any legit test would pick up on a rather serious condition I’m dealing with–half of my left hand has gone numb and my left arm is at 1/2 strength due to a pinched nerve; it’s so bad that I’m almost certain to have neck surgery in a few weeks. But the elaborate computerized scan didn’t pick up on that major issue. I did learn that my gall bladder is in great shape, however.

Editing down these videos, I was surprised at how much music one can hear at the festival. Musician Leslie Sanazaro, who has often promoted “green” issues, is featured at the end of this first video (a few months ago, I produced a three-part interview with Leslie). Enjoy!

Now for the “serious” interview. Among all the people attending the fair were a few contractors who sell products and services that can really make a dent in the amount of energy used by your home. The first half of this short video features a firm (Home Green Home) that does elaborate energy audits for about $400. According to Marc Bluestone, up-front cost would be a bargain based on the amount of energy you can save (more than 20% of your energy bills). The second firm, Missouri Solar Living, installs solar equipment for water heating and electricity. You’ll hear some compelling facts and figures, especially about solar hot water. Note: I don’t know any more about these two firms than you’ll see on this videotape, but I did enjoy meeting these guys at Earth Day and I appreciated hearing energy-saving information from two companies who are actually doing substantial work out in the field.

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Atheism, Humanism, or Other

April 27, 2009 | By | 14 Replies More
Atheism, Humanism, or Other

There was a time in this country that an open admission of atheism could get a person severely hurt in any given community. Ostracism, mainly, which over time can be very damaging. But like so many other “out of the mainstream” life choices, this too is no longer the case.

According to this article in the New York Times, “No Religion” has more than doubled on surveys in the past ten to twenty years. Now, that does not mean all these folks are atheists or agnostics. It means, quite specifically, that they align themselves with no organized religion.

Some folks might wonder at the difference. What is having faith if not in the context of a religious umbrella?

When I was fifteen I left the church. I’d been educated in a Lutheran school and received a healthy indocrination in that faith. After entering public high school, I found myself growing less and less involved or interested. There was in this no profound personal insight or revelation. It was adolescent laziness. I’d never been a consistent Sunday church-goer, and although there had been a year or two when I actually practiced Testifying, born out of a powerful belief in Christianity, other factors managed to draw my interest away.

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I don’t understand high volume text messaging

April 23, 2009 | By | 9 Replies More
I don’t understand high volume text messaging

I know this is a dramatic example from Yahoo News. I’m not trying to paint with a brush that’s too wide:

Their thumbs sure must be sore. Two central Pennsylvania friends spent most of March in a text-messaging record attempt, exchanging a thumbs-flying total of 217,000. For one of the two, that meant an inches-thick itemized bill for $26,000.

I understand email. I understand a text message here and there. I don’t understand the allure of volume texting personal updates to friends (any more than a dozen per day). And, yes, I don’t understand the allure of Twitter (and see here).

Not everyone is like these record-setters, but our society is now filled with people who are truly obsessed with communicating in micro-messages. Many parents are concerned that their children aren’t developing traditional conversational skills. It really seems like quantity over quality. Or is it insecurity: the need to be reassured that someone exists on the other end and cares enough about your almost-mindless phrase that they reciprocate with their own almost-mindless phrase? If you care about someone, why not join them for a face-to-face conversation, or call them on a phone and have a real conversation, or video-Skype them (a truly remarkable and free service which I recently discovered)?

Are people becoming afraid that they won’t be able to string more than a few sentences together? That they won’t be able to conversationally perform under the pressure of the moment? Why the rampant preference for conversationus interruptus?

In my experience, most of the important things in life cannot be said in a short burst of words, and quantity cannot make up for quality. But maybe I’m just old fashioned.

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Isn’t it NEWS when the daily newspaper fires one of its prominent columnists?

April 19, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More
Isn’t it NEWS when the daily newspaper fires one of its prominent columnists?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently fired one of its prominent columnists, Sylvester Brown. Why? Here’s all you’ll find even if you carefully scour the Post-Dispatch: A one-paragraph “Note” that Sylvester Brown acted unethically and that he deserved to be gone.

But isn’t it a big news story whenever the only daily newspaper serving a major metropolitan area fires one of its columnists for a purported isolated ethics infraction? Doesn’t it deserve more coverage than a one-paragraph “Note to Readers”? Isn’t this story news?

What about when the columnist (who wrote three full columns per week) disputes the Post-Dispatch version of the facts? Isn’t that news? You won’t read about both sides of this dispute in the Post-Dispatch (though you can read about it here).

What about the fact that Brown often criticized the Mayor of St. Louis coupled with the fact that the Mayor is on the paper’s “Advisory Board?” Isn’t that news? Should a newspaper ever have politicians on its “Advisory Board”? Isn’t that issue big news?

I decided to put out my own “edition” of the St. Louis Daily newspaper. I called it the St. Louis Post-Disgrace. Click on it to see the “paper” full screen.” It contains the headlines that illustrate various aspects of the Sylvester Brown story that the Post-Dispatch failed to cover. I’ll be waiting and watching to see whether the Post-Dispatch ever advises its readers any of these issues.

sylvester-brown-mockup-b-and-w

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Refusing to shuffle quietly out the door, one local journalist stands tall –

April 15, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More
Refusing to shuffle quietly out the door, one local journalist stands tall –

Post-2008-election, I felt as though our country was finally regaining consciousness. I felt hope and optimism rise and my cynicism roll back ever-so-slightly, breezes of fresh thought dispersing the haze. As my vision returned, I could once again engage in conversations that did not fizzle into frustrated non-verbal noise.

I began to see glimpses of a cultural evolution of thought through the wider population. Just glimpses, but they were there, I know it. I felt the whoosh of tired air as egos fat with imaginary power based on non-existent wealth were deflated by the reality of financial correction. I smiled as the facade of organized evangelical religion cracked under self-made storms of condescending hypocrisy. I grinned with sincere joy every time I heard new dialogue about race and culture in the wake of electing our first minority president.

All in all, I saw daily reminders that people, all of us, are truly equal underneath all the cultural trappings. Eye contact became pleasant again. The obvious human connections we share – that we all love and laugh and hurt and seethe and wonder and sigh and ache and even hate – I could see those commonalities beginning to connect us again. We argue and bicker, we debate and discuss, we learn, we teach, we manage, we create, we err and we try. We help, we care, sometimes we dismiss. We each react to information and situations from our own perspectives, wrought upon our own personalities by our own life stories. But we seemed to be listening to each other again.

I hoped anew that as a culture, we were learning that all of those life stories matter. That each one of us brings a unique self to the cultural table and that even when we strenuously disagree, we do not dismiss each other simply because of it.

Silly me.

Last week, a friend of mine was fired. Not a big deal, you might think, as people have been laid off in record numbers (including myself) over the past months of economic strife. Sure, a big deal for him, maybe. But, well, welcome to the masses. Except that this friend represented something we cannot afford to lose, and his firing rips further into the frayed fiber of our local democracy. Sadly, too many will dismiss the loss as no big deal – for the exact reason we so desperately needed Sylvester Brown to stay.

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It’s that time of year…

April 13, 2009 | By | 14 Replies More
It’s that time of year…

Spring on a large university campus means but one thing: crazy evangelicals. Since I attend (arguably) the largest university in the country, I get my fair share of kookery. Most evangelical preachers simply stand on a grassy area and preach, for hours, about the damnation that sinful, depraved college students face. Some gather crowds and screaming voices of dissent, but many are as easily ignored.

But every spring, the evangelical season is rung in by a group so passionate they cannot be ignored: the abortion protesters. They cover the campus in the blight of propaganda- their commitment is clear. This year, I decided to take a few photos of the madness, and string them into a quick youtube slideshow. Check it out, and note the response of the pro-choice counter protesters:

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Amazon.com Now Censors As Policy

April 12, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Amazon.com Now Censors As Policy

Amazon.com has just initiated a new marketing policy. They are stripping away the sales ranking of any book with so-called Adult Content. Here’s their little explanation:

“In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services
Amazon.com Advantage

What this mean in effect, however, is that books primarily with gay and lesbian content are being singled out for exclusion from database searches. It is being applied in a bigoted and surprisingly hamfisted manner to conform to someone’s standard of what constitutes Offensive Material.

Adult Content generally means anything with more than coyly suggested sex in it. However, as a sample of the books not having their sales ranking stripped away, consider these:

–Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds by Chronicle Books (pictures of over 600 naked women)
–Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love” (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Wolf and the Dove (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Bertrice Smal’s Skye o’Malley which are all explicit heterosexual romances
–and Alan Moore’s Lost Girls (which is a very explicit sexual graphic novel)

These book sell very well, generally, so it’s obvious that there’s a dollar connection to this new policy. Midlist—the vast majority of books—will be targeted.

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What if every scientist (and every author) had a unique identification number?

April 10, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More
What if every scientist (and every author) had a unique identification number?

The March 27, 2009 edition of Science explores the issue of personal identification numbers for scientists. Why? Because it’s getting difficult to tell authors apart.

A universal numbering system could aid scientists trying to stay on top of the literature, help universities more readily track staff productivity, and enable funding agencies to better monitor the bang they’re getting for their buck. An effective identification number might also make it easier to find information about an author’s affiliations, collaborators, interests, or simply their current whereabouts.

This article indicates that published scientific papers are growing in quantity by 3% annually. Many authors are getting married or divorced and therefore changing their names. Some journals have varying style rules for noting first names and initials. Chinese authors often transliterate their names using opinion. “At least 20 different Chinese names, many of them common, are transliterated as “Wang Hong.” And, of course, there are many scientists not of Chinese descent who have common names who don’t want to be confused with others.

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Iowa becomes the third state to allow gay marriage

April 3, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Iowa becomes the third state to allow gay marriage

Based on a unanimous ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, Iowa has become the third state in the nation to allow gay marriage (joining Connecticut and Massachusetts). The following excerpt is from the Desmoine Register:

Iowa’s gay marriage ban “is unconstitutional, because the county has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage,” Cady wrote in the 69-page opinion that seemed to dismiss the concept of civil unions as an option for gay couples.

“A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution,” Cady wrote.

The ruling, however, also addressed what it called the “religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate,” and said judges must remain outside the fray. . .

“Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring that government avoids them,” the opinion says.

The ruling explicitly does not affect “the freedom of a religious organization to define marriage it solemnizes as unions between a man and a woman,” the justices stressed.

Although I haven’t yet read the opinion, it sounds like the Justices are pointing to a common-sense compromise to the gay marriage dispute: The civil ceremony applies to any two people and the state must not discriminate as to sex by requiring those two people to be of the opposite sex. The state-sanctioned marriage will endow all couples equally with all of the legal benefits of marriage. On the other hand, religions are free to define marriage as they would like. A conservative church would be free to reject an application to marry same sex couples. I think that this is the best way to approach the national divide. If your religion is really important to you, go ahead and let your religion (not your government) define marriage. In the meantime, don’t try to deny government benefits to others based upon sex differences.

When I read the opinion, I’m interested in knowing how the Court found discrimination. After all, the traditional government definition is not anti-woman or anti-man. In a sense, it’s even-handed. From the perspective of any gay person seeking to be married, though, that definition trods on what I would agree to be fundamental liberties such as the right to associate. After I review the opinion, I’ll add a comment.

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