Saturday, April 03, 2004

Bye, bye Athena!

I just waved goodbye to her! She threw some kisses back and disappeared in a puff of dark cloud. Then I collapsed.

But it was a good visit: the only thing that suffered was my blogging career. I just didn't have enough time, and I get all crooked-eyed from sipping on the nectar nonstop. So I apologize for not being my usual scintillating self.

I bet you want to know what happened. Well, Athena was kind of stiff at the beginning. She didn't take to the snakes very much, and when Artful Asp drew a picture of her with an enormous bottom, Athena sulked for a few minutes. But things got better after a while. I plied her with made-up stories about how loved she still is and how famous she's becoming among the feminists, and she lapped it all up.

Then she told me several risque stories that I hadn't heard before. Some of them would make your hair (if you have any) stand up, and would be on the front pages of most newspapers in this world. But I have sworn to remain silent about them. At least for a time. Let me just say that Athena is a lot hawter than all that steel and marble would make you suspect.

We also spent some time laughing at the U.S. politics. She finds the neocons extremely funny, and she's planning to work some sort of a joke on the freepers. (She knew nothing about blogging, by the way, and I had to enlighten her there. She really took to Atrios, though of course she prefers me.) We'll see if the freepers think the joke is hilarious, too. Athena sometimes has a rough sense of humor.

And then we imbibed some more nectar, and she got all weepy and teary about the past glories and all that crap. I have no time for self-pity, especially as I don't need any, so I started tickling her and then we practised some new assassination techniques on each other and also worked a Wild West act of lariat throwing with the snakes as the rope. It was a little childish perhaps, especially as she kept changing my lariat snakes into strings of chewing-gum and the snakes found this disrespectful. Anyway, we then went shopping at a mall! I bought a Marilyn Monroe outfit (I can do the head on my own but the clothes are a bit trickier), and Athena bought a new helmet and a set of Wusthoff kitchen knives. It was a real girly bonding time! Just the two goddesses together.

Well, then I fell asleep. I'm not that used to the way gods and goddesses get drunk anymore, but falling asleep was a big mistake, because Athena had gone out boy-scouting in the meantime. I did save everybody, pretty much, and I do apologize for any damage she caused to the bar furniture and the cars parked outside. I'll pay for all of it.

But this morning she was really nice and repentant about everything. She taught me a goddess trick I didn't know before, and even invited me for a visit! And as she was taking off Artful Asp burst into tears. It looked so sweet, and Athena was quite touched. It's good she didn't know that Asp had poisoned all the nectar she drank and had waited with great excitement for the coming death contortions. I did tell the snakes that venom doesn't work against goddesses, but Asp is an optimistic little one, and she was bitterly disappointed when she realized that if Athena would die it wouldn't be in front of us.

But on the whole it was a very successful visit, don't you think so?

Fingerprints and Photos Required

Welcome to the United States of America!

A program requiring foreigners to be fingerprinted and photographed before entering the United States is being expanded to include millions of travelers from some of America's staunchest allies, officials said Friday.
The move affects citizens in 27 countries - including Britain, Japan and Australia - who had been allowed to travel within the United States without visas for up to 90 days. Officials said the change was prompted in part by concerns that terrorists might try to exploit those exemptions.

And will this help to find any potential terrorists among the flocks of tourists eager to spend their money here? I don't know. The answer obviously depends on the number of potential terrorists that have their photos and/or fingerprints on record somewhere. Without such prior records the process seems pretty pointless.

It will certainly reduce the number of visitor to the U.S.. Most vacationers don't like to be treated like crime suspects, and there are plenty of other interesting places to visit instead.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Republicans in Hell

While walking down the street one day, a Republican head of state is tragically hit by a truck and dies. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.
"Welcome to Heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."
"No problem, just let me in." says the Republican.
"Well, I'd like to but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in Hell and one in Heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."
"Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in Heaven," says the Republican head of state.
"I'm sorry but we have our rules." And with that, St. Peter escorts the Republican to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to Hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a club and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him, everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, hug him, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at expense of the people. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster and caviar. Also present is the Devil (a Republican, too), who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes.
They are having such a good time that, before he realizes it, it is time to go. Everyone gives him a big hug and waves while the elevator
rises. The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on Heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.
"Now it's time to visit Heaven." So 24 hours pass with the Republican head of state joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.
"Well then, you've spent a day in Hell and another in Heaven. Now choose your eternity."
He reflects for a minute, then the head of state answers: "Well, I would never have thought it, I mean Heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in Hell."
So Saint Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to Hell. Now the doors of the elevator open and he is in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags. The Devil comes over to the Republican and lays an arm on his neck.
"I don't understand," stammers the Republican head of state. Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and club and we ate lobster and caviar and danced and had a great time. Now all there is a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable.
The Devil looks at him, smiles and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning. Today you voted for us!"

The source of this joke is here.

One of those things you really should know

If Barbie were life-size, her measurements would be 39-23-33. She would stand seven feet, two inches tall.

But what about her feet? What shoe size would she take? Something very small I suspect. How would she walk on those tiny feet, given how front-weighted her body is? Lurch, totter, lurch, totter? Like some sort of a tiptoeing monster.

If she was actually to come alive in life-size, she'd also need surgery to let her heels come down once and a while. And as this is not a family blog I can reveal that she'd also need extensive surgery in her pelvic area.

No, Barbie is not a good role model for anybody.

Dear Charles

Sometimes it pays to rummage in old files: I found this pearl developed by an oyster also known as Charles Krauthammer. It was in a review of the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World":

Weir's restraint carries into a remarkable austerity regarding women. In the movie's version of a love interest, a Brazilian beauty in a small boat selling wares offshore to the sailors of Captain Aubrey's ship catches Aubrey's eye for a moment at a considerable distance. For about five seconds you see Aubrey (Crowe) returning her glance.
And that is it. Indeed, that scene marks the only appearance of women in the entire two hours of the film, setting a new record for sexual austerity in an epic, a record previously held by "Lawrence of Arabia."
(Bolds mine.)

It's so good it needs to be repeated: "Indeed, that scene marks the only appearance of women in the entire two hours of the film, setting a new record for sexual austerity in an epic". Hmmm. I wish someone told Charles that normal people don't necessarily think that women act in movies only when sexual titillation is called for.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

A Snake's Eye View on Some Recent News

I refuse to write about the 9/11 commission scandal, about what the Bush administration knew or did not know, about who lies and why. There are plenty of very good blogs about all this, and they show us very convincingly that the Brooklyn Bridge is still a very good buy. Which is sooo depressing.

Let's look at something more cheerful instead. First, there are very good news for the mice: they can be vaccinated against the SARS virus. This makes it much more comfortable for them to travel to the Far East. Humans are very kind to the mice; sometimes it seems that almost all medical research has to do with the well-being of our four-legged friends. Can mice take artificial sweeteners without harm to their health? Can we solve extreme obesity in mice? Will Prozac work to keep the mice positive while hunting for the cheese? Large libraries consist of all the crucial findings on Mouse Health.

Too bad that humans are rather different from mice, and that not that many of the mice findings generalize terribly well to other mammals. I'm old enough (very old as humans count!) to remember countless mouse health revelations that ultimately had nothing to do with the health of humans. Still, studying mice is a lot more harmless than some other human activities (except from the mouse point of view).

If all these people weren't studying mice, they might be making movies like Mel Gibson. What do I think about his latest take on the last days of Jesus? This is what Father Thomas Hopko, a Christian, thinks about it:

Whatever the cinematic and artistic merits of Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," and whatever the conversations it provokes, it hardly portrays the fullness and depth of Christ.

Gibson's passion is a monotonous and misleading exaggeration of one aspect of the scriptural Christ's suffering and death to a distorting degree. His Jesus is God's suffering servant whose passion is reduced to his being ridiculed and beaten with a sadistic brutality far beyond what the four Gospels record. The film's relentless emphasis on Christ's physical sufferings which, contrary to scripture, begin already in the Gethsemane garden, and the almost comic ugliness of the villains - the priests, the soldiers, Judas, Herod, Barabbas, the devil figure and its child, the faces in the crowds - capture the viewer's attention and serve more to conceal than to reveal the fullness and depth of the passion's multiple meanings.

The sacrifice of a grain god is of course common in many older religions, and sacrifices of all types have always been popular in human religions. It's an extension of commerce to the supernatural realm: If I give you my son, will you give me victory and power? There is also something about the suffering of others that appeals to the worse instincts of some, yet portraying this suffering as a just sacrifice makes watching it ok, not sadistic or anything. In fact, it makes watching a holy experience. This is nothing singular for Christians. All humans seem to do it.

I don't pretend to understand Christianity, but I'm sure that the story of Christ has more important lessons (the Sermon on the Mount?) for us than the one Gibson chose to portray: That it hurts to be crucified. A lot.

It also hurts some to be a victim of racism. The University of Notre Dame has a spokesman in Paul Hornung that the university would probably prefer not to have:

Football great Paul Hornung said in a radio interview that his alma mater, Notre Dame, needs to lower its academic standards to "get the black athlete."

Where is this "black athlete" with the low academic standards? Who is she or he? And how did Hornung find out about this person if Notre Dame is still oblivious?

It is racist to stereotype a whole class of people in the way Hornung did, though maybe he doesn't know any better. I guess he will learn soon.

But what are universities for, anyway? If they are for team sports, why not just dispense with all the fusty academia and make all college campuses into big training camps for football, basketball and ice hockey? We can still have the alumni come and picnic at the games, and we can still have media coverage for the institutions. Plus, we'd save a lot of money and get rid of the evil lefty-liberal professors at the same time.

Maybe this will happen in time for my next snake's eye review of news.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

A Totally Trivial Post (Well, Almost)

Can you lick your elbow? (It's not supposed to be possible. Thanks to heini for this tidbit of information.)

If you drive an old, rusty car you might wish to redecorate. Bumber stickers are excellent for covering small holes in the car and also for striking up interesting conversations with total strangers. Here are some good suggestions for the 2004 presidential campaign:

Bush/Cheney '04: Four More Wars
Bush/Cheney '04: Leave no billionaire behind
Bush/Cheney '04: Deja-voodoo all over again!
Bush/Cheney '04: Compassionate Colonialism
Bush/Cheney '04: Because the truth just isn't good enough.
Bush/Cheney '04: Making the world a better place, one country at a time.
Bush/Cheney '04: Over a billion Whoppers served.
Bush/Cheney '04: Putting the "con" in conservatism
Bush/Cheney '04: Thanks for not paying attention.
Bush/Cheney '04: The last vote you'll ever have to cast.
Bush/Cheney: Asses of Evil
Don't think. Vote Bush!
George W. Bush: A brainwave away from the presidency
George W. Bush: The buck stops Over There
Bush/Cheney '04: This time, elect us!


And finally the only nontrivial item in this post: I have looked into the reasons why some of my dear readers see my blog as a long, thin column on the right rather than the way it's meant to be seen. The problem only appears with older versions of Netscape (older than Netscape6), and so far at least I have found no solution except to recommend that those of you who have this problem download a more recent version of Netscape. Though my immortal words are equally immortal in a long, thin column so it's completely up to you!

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Exercise and Cancer in Women

You must have heard by now that abortion does not cause breast cancer. The debates surrounding this topic have taught me how political the field of women's health research can be. This makes it extra important to scan all new studies carefully for political motives. Sad but true: there are people in this world who are more interested in making political points than in improving the health of the general population or of any of its subgroups such as women. Also, researchers and media pundits are only human, and quite likely to have the same biases as the rest of the population.

So what does this have to do with exercise and its potential effects on cancer? A study has recently shown that women who exercise regularly after the diagnosis of breast cancer have a better survival record than those who don't exercise. The effect is larger the more the woman exercises, but even a leisurely half an hour spent walking each day appears to help the odds of survival.

Another study, which was carried out in China, looked at the relationship between lifelong exercise and the risk of endometrial cancer, the fourth most common cancer in U.S. women. The researchers found that:

...those who stayed active through exercise, housework and walking and cycling for errands had about a one-third lower risk of this form of cancer.

Here's where the politics comes in. Washington Times, the very conservative newspaper owned by the Reverend Moon, reported these findings in an article entitled "Housework Cuts Cancer Risk". It begins as follows:

U.S. and Chinese researchers said Tuesday that doing housework can reduce a woman's chance of getting cancer.

Only later does the reader find that the research findings apply to all ways of staying active. Someone just skimming the headlines and first paragraphs of stories might have gotten a very different idea of the message of the story, one perhaps more suited to Reverend Moon's political values.

Just to make my point very clear: you don't have to do housework to get any possible benign effects of exercise on cancer prevention; water-skiing, figure-skating or boxing will work just as well if not better. And it's a lot more fun. On the other hand, if you feel that you have to do housework, at least now you can feel happy that you are also working out at the same time. To strengthen the positive effects throw plates at the lazier family members.

But does exercise actually prevent cancer or its reoccurrence? The evidence looks pretty good. The only general reservation I have concerns the possibility that we might be measuring a reverse causality here: Breast cancer patients who feel poorly are less likely to exercise, and the reason that they feel poorly may lie in them having a more severe form of the illness. Likewise, people who never exercise very much may be that way because they are not in good health. Still, I think that there is enough overall evidence to support the role of exercise in the maintenance of good health. Doing it partly for cancer prevention can't hurt.

On Polls

A CNN/USA Today poll just published tells us weird and wonderful things about the group of Americans that pollsters call 'likely voters'. First, 51% would choose Bush as the president and 47% would choose Kerry if only these two men were offered for s/election. Second, if Nader is added to the menu, 49% would pick Bush, 45% Kerry and 4% Nader. Third, half of the respondents believed that the Iraq war is a valid part of the war on terrorism. Fourth, president Bush's job approval percentage rose after a week of negative media headlines about the way the Bush administration handled the terrorist threat before 9/11. Fifth, 80% of likely Kerry voters trust Clarke's testimony more than the administration's, while 81% of likely Bush voters trust the administration's testimony more than Clarke's.

Well, not all of this is so weird and wonderful. The first result, for example, has a margin of error of plus or minus four percent, so it's even possible that Bush and Kerry would get the same number of votes if the elections were today and if all voters resembled the likely voters in this poll. Unless Nader entered the race, of course. Though, surprisingly, Nader seems to take votes away from both of the main runners. The fifth result isn't that unexpected, either, as the decision to vote for a particular candidate is pretty highly correlated with the opinions one has of that candidate. Of course, we can't tell which of these is the egg and which the hen...

But the remaining two findings are indeed miraculous. Think about it: there is no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the terrorist attacks against the United States. Yet half of the respondents know something the world's elite intelligence professionals don't: the Iraqis had their fingers in the pie! Why aren't these people questioned by the 9/11 commission? Or better still, why aren't they hired to do the intelligence work for their country?

Even more awesome is the likely voters' reaction to Clarke's testimony: they now like Bush even better than before! I could understand Bush's job ratings not declining among those who are going to vote for him come whatever may, but for these ratings to rise? Once again, these likely voters are blessed with some extremely valuable inside information, and I want to know what it is.

Polls are silly things, on the whole. Imagine trying to make people answer a poll like this one: how many refusals do you think the pollster gets for each willing respondent? The answer is a lot. Then imagine trying to squeeze definite statements from people who often have but the fuzziest idea of the issues they are being quizzed about. The only scary thing about all this silliness is that it's rather reflected in the elections themselves: most stay away and those who participate often don't know what they are choosing.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Is NPR Ageist?

Not everybody listens to the National Public Radio's "Morning Edition", but those who do are familiar with the name Bob Edwards. Edwards has hosted the news program since it began twenty-five years ago. Last week he was forced to leave this post. Why? Linda Ellerbee believes that the reason is ageism. Edwards is 56 years old. Other than his age, what other reason could there be?

Were the ratings sinking, perhaps? They were not. "Morning Edition's" audience grew by 41% in the last five years; Edwards' is the most-listened-to morning radio program in the U.S.
A spokeswoman for NPR said only that the change was "part of a natural evolution." She said a new host would "bring new ideas and perspectives to the show." Uh-huh

According to Ellerbee, NPR's thinking might have gone something like this: We want to attract a younger group of listeners. Younger listeners don't want to listen to boring old ways of presenting news. Old fogies present news in the boring old way. Therefore, we have to get rid of Edwards: he is too old.

If this scenario is true, NPR is ageist. It associates concepts such as rigidity and inability to evolve with the concept of physical age, and it also assumes that younger listeners are uniformly ageist themselves. I sure hope that Ellerbee is mistaken and that NPR has some other reasonable explanation for this firing, especially as I have always liked Bob Edwards. He has a voice like whisky-flavored honey.