16 February 2009

Politics in the News, Feb 16

I just told Joe goodbye for another month, it's pouring rain, it's cold outside, and I'm still sick, so I'm trying to keep myself busy but not much new content here. Some noteworthy things from the news:

1. Not one Republican House Vote on the Obama stimulus package. Not. One. Vote. From where I sit, they are working hard to ensure their irrelevancy for a generation. Typically great columns from the NYTimes include Frank Rich's "They Sure Showed that Obama," with this fun fact: "Republicans will also be judged by the voters. If they want to obstruct and filibuster while the economy is in free fall, the president should call their bluff and let them go at it. In the first four years after F.D.R. took over from Hoover, the already decimated ranks of Republicans in Congress fell from 36 to 16 in the Senate and from 117 to 88 in the House."

2. How bad is it? It's bad. Paul Krugman's piece "Decade at Bernie's," has this: "The bottom line is that there has been basically no wealth creation at all since the turn of the millennium: the net worth of the average American household, adjusted for inflation, is lower now than it was in 2001."

3. In Venezuela, voters gave Hugo Chavez the authority to run for President for life, voting in favor of a constitutional amendment to annul term limits. I don't believe in term limits, generally. Particularly in legislative bodies, as we've seen here in my beloved California, term limits have reduced the effectiveness of legislators, limiting their capacity to develop cross-partisan relationships and to apply the knowledge they gain in their first few terms (see #4). And, ultimately, if elections are free and fair, then the capacity of an elected official becomes his or her term limit - they get voted out if they screw up. That said, this doesn't seem like a good thing. The "Bolivarian Revolution" has been clearly and prodoundly redistributive, but a decade on deep gaps persist between the rich and the poor, and with falling crude prices Chavez may not be able to afford the largesse that has helped him remain popular with most of the country's working and poor classes. I worry for his safety, and what his removal from the scene would mean for that nation's peace and prosperity. It's still a work in progress, but so many dictators in other parts of the world started as the great left hope, too.

4. Excellent piece about the problems with our state leg and budget crisis today from George Skelton, with whom I don't always agree, about how the GOP legislators are shirking their duty in resisting any budget deal that includes raising taxes. The leg is one vote shy in the Senate of getting a new budget. Until then, we get IOUs from the state if we are owed a tax increase and qualified kids are getting turned down by the Cal State System because it can't afford to admit them.

5. To the next idiot who tells me "government is the problem, not the solution," I'm going to offer peanut butter. Seriously, it's not that tough - Canada and Japan have figured it out, there are models of success, we can keep our food safe. Of course those countries also have health care for their populations as well, and we know how dangerous that idea is.

6. Mrs. Clinton started her tenure with a trip to Asia, breaking protocol which had been the first trip for Sec'y of State to be to Europe or the Middle East. That she went to Japan first, our longest and closest ally in the region, might be some comfort there and might be a boost to Aso's tottering LDP government. The Japanese economy is in bad shape, suffering their sharpest downturn since 1974, and is now showing "an annualized double-digit percentage contraction in real terms." That is likely going to be devastating, and the yen continues to sink. In normal international monetary conditions the sinking yen could be good news, allowing Japan to export its way out of a contraction as they did in the 1960's and 80's, but no one else has capital to buy even much cheaper Japanese goods in this current market. Mrs. Clinton's visit might help burnish the rep of Mr. Aso and his government, or at least keep the focus off the shockingly bad economic news.

And that's all I've got. Hope everyone is warm and dry and safe.

12 February 2009

Got News? (part 2)

At many times in my life I've had two or more subscriptions to daily newspapers. I moved to Chicago in 1994 and despite the four addresses in two years I always kept my subscription to the Chicago Tribune. I loved the Trib - it seemed serious, it had heft, it was folded the right way, it had a great sports section, it had a challenging but reasonable crossword, and it had enough content to last on long commutes (though for the hour-forty-minute one-way from Buffalo Grove to Watertower I did bring a book for the trip home). Front page, Sports, Tempo, the rest, every day, in that order. Many nights after work or over lunches Kim and I would do the crossword together at Flapjaws, which sadly is no more, across from the Loyola Law School. (Chicago would be a great "you can't go back" column, but much of it would be, well, not family fare, let's say. Flapjaws - that's a loss. Cheap, good, adjacent to campus, not too smoky, and the waitstaff knew me and had my grilled cheese and fries order in when I'd walk in the door.)

Then, after a year in Chicago when I was thinking of where my next move was going to be, I subscribed to the Key West Citizen, looking at want ads, rental costs, and what local people were talking about. In part, reading the letters to the editor in the Citizen made me think that maybe the place wasn't the liberal, gay friendly, socially laissez-faire, libertarian paradise I'd thought it might be. I looked elsewhere, taking a subscription to the Eureka, California, Times-Standard. You can learn so much about other communities by reading their newspapers, particularly if those communities are smaller and the paper is any good at all. Yes, nearly all small town papers buy a bulk of their "news" stories from the wires (AP, Gannett, etc.), but the local stuff is the good stuff: what bond issues are proposed and which ones pass? What is the school board fighting about? What's the local perspective on zoning, land use, transit, and marijuana laws (it's Humboldt County, after all)? How vibrant is the civil society? Arcata/ Eureka would be a great place to live someday, I'd say, based on all of this. The paper sure was good, and the people who wrote for it and to it struck me as my people.

But I didn't move to Arcata then since I needed to make a little money; I moved to Nagoya, Japan. I subscribed on landing (well, on first full pay packet which was February 1st, 1997) to the business-friendly and bloodless Japan Times, and after a while I switched to the Daily Yomiuri, mostly for the better comics, the fantastic and tortured use of the passive, the easier (i.e., American) crosswords, and the reliably great front page stories on crimes committed by gai-jin.

It was then I was exposed to the Guardian Weekly, which was brilliant - my British mate Roy had a subscription and it would come once a week on onion-skin paper (which I had never seen before), and it carried news stories we wouldn't have heard any other way. (This was pre-internet, remember, or more accurately pre-wide-spread internet access, cafes, etc.) There were the football tables, of course, in which I learned to manufacture interest (after many questions Roy assigned me to follow Everton as their fan base was moderately Irish Catholic and working-class), but there was also robust reporting on European and U.S. issues. It would get passed from teacher to teacher, and we'd feel a little less removed from home.

I returned from Japan to Los Angeles and began my continuing affair with the LA Times, what I think of as one of the best papers in America. It really troubles me that the Times is now owned by the Tribune Company; however good the Trib might have been in the mid 90's when I lived in Chicago, the last decade has been really tough on it. In O'Hare on my way home from the Inauguration I picked up a Trib - print media is still unequalled at capturing historical moments - and I was shocked at just how bad it'd become. The writing was glib, callow and chatty, with no heft at all; I felt like I was reading a mid-level high school paper with far too much nosiness and too little newsiness. It's sad; Chicago certainly deserves better. I'm very hopeful that's not a template for their other publications. Otis Chandler wrested the Times from a Republican party mouthpiece without even a reporter in Sacramento into a respected news-gathering source with a global reach. Maybe some rich Angeleno will come to the rescue; Tribune Company ownership isn't the answer.

When I moved to Honolulu, a two newspaper town, I read copies of both dailies and took a subscription to the Honolulu Advertiser, what some at the University of Hawai`i sniffed was "the most accurately named newspaper in America." It didn't strike me as that bad, to be honest; the local reporting and columnists were very solid, and it held local elected officials' feet to the fire when they needed held there. I switched to the Star Bulletin for three months because it carried "Get Fuzzy" on it's comics page - yes, that's the real reason - but once that subscription expired I switched back to the Advertiser. The Star Bulletin was unreadable; even my roommates complained.

I didn't have the money while in grad school to keep a Guardian subscription, but I did keep up The New Yorker which Arnold had given me for Christmas in 2000 and which I've kept to this day. I look forward to every issue, and while some people to whom I in turn have given subscriptions complain that "it's like an assignment" given its density and frequency, the in-depth reporting on random topics (like the piece on Lynne Cox, the long distance swimmer, as one of many, many examples) really gives the reader a sense that he or she has learned something new. Due to the vagaries of mail delivery in Hawai`i I would go three weeks without one and then get three at the same time. It was maddening, but then there were enough long haul flights that I could get through them on my way to the West Coast.

I moved back to L.A. from Honolulu, renewed the Times, kept the New Yorker, and picked up the Guardian again. After Katrina I took a subscription to the New Orleans Times Picayune, a great American institution that was needed more than ever by the city it served. Did my one paper/one year subscription make up for the 30% drop in circulation the T-P had suffered? Nope, of course not. But I learned a lot about what was and wasn't happening in New Orleans, and I learned other ways that I could help, and maybe I contributed in a small way to that great city's recovery.

In addition to the Times I renewed my subscription to the Guardian Weekly , and I could now figuratively lay it side by side with U.S. papers. The gap between what was reported here in the U.S., even in sober, responsible news outlets, and what was covered in the international press was shocking, even for someone who had lived abroad for two years. It's asking a lot, but I think every American who has the means should take a subscription to an international source as well. There's so much we're not hearing.

In my favorites I've got the Bangkok Post, Japan Times, Le Monde (Paris), The Straits Times (Singapore), and the Johannesburg Star. I'm a news junkie, and I know that not everyone will have the time or inclination to read as much international press, but I learn so much about how America is viewed in the world and about what issues our media is not covering that I find it really worthwhile.

And now I have L'Actualité (if Time and People had a French-language love-child it would be L'Actualité), a lovely gift from Celeste (a BrensLeftCoast reader - thanks, Celeste!). I don't fully understand each article of each issue - I don't have the French chops for some topics and the music reviews are impenetrable - but I do my best to plow through them. It helps keep my French passable, teaches me about things happening in Québec, Canada, and France (and there's more coverage of all things France than that of anglophonic Canada), and shows me how intensely interested and informed other nations' citizens are about American politics and culture. They also talk about race in America in very direct terms that we as Americans eschew, and it was fascinating reading L'Actualite's coverage of the November elections.

And it's tremendously useful when I fly - noise reduction headphones and a foreign language magazine go a long way to preventing fellow travellers from talking to you.

Got news? (part 1)

I think everyone ought to have a subscription to at least one paper as a matter of principle. I'm quite a snob on this point; I don't understand people who only get their news online (for free, usually, while the newspapers are making huge outlays to collect it) or worse still from television sources. Part of supporting democracy means supporting independent news media sources, and the best way to do that is by subscribing.

Why subscribe when they are giving away all the content for free?

Short answer: beacuse it's the right thing to do. Without local news organizations - serious news outlets, not those doing one story on "sexting" in local high schools, flogging it all day and running it as the lead on every television news show - government is less likely to be held accountable to us. Newspapers still have the most resources to put on a story, and if someone is doing something malfeasantly it's usually the local newspaper to break it. Subscribing to your local paper is a way to support local democracy from a financial standpoint, and in my opinion it is part of our responsibility as engaged citizens who wish to remain informed. Yes, you can certainly argue that if print media are too stupid to have a working business model then you shouldn't be expected to support them. I'm sympathetic to that, but you'd be wrong. We, the public, need them, for transparent and effective government, and to be the watchdogs we need them to be they need us to subscribe. So pony up.

You're busy, right? You can't get through the paper every day, and you feel guilty about wasting the money on something you don't read?

I don't get through the LA Times everyday, but I subscribe because subscriptions are the lifeblood of a newspaper. Advertising budgets and most other revenue streams are determined by the daily subscriptions, so it's not only what we get out of the paper, it's also what we're putting in: our investments in subscriptions says we are supportive of and committed to independent democratic watchdogs. And you spend money on more wasteful things from a dollar standpoint, I bet. Always finish that bag of spinach you buy? How much does that cost you? Never throw out any coffee creamer from the fridge door? I'm just saying. Call or go online and get a subscription, and challenge yourself to get a smaller entree next time you go out.

It's bad for the environment, you're saying, why be so wasteful?

Well, you have a point. I don't even look at 40% of the Sunday paper, it goes straight into the recycle bin. But it's just more pleasant to sit on my balcony in the morning with my coffee and my L.A. Times newspaper print edition than to stare at a computer screen. I can open it up at the counter at Al's in the Village in Carlsbad while I flirt with the waitresses and they ask me to read bits out to them. Or on the train. And newspaper is recyclable. I would submit that there are many things we do that are bad for the earth with no return whatsoever (and this means you, plastic water bottle users!), so while I'm aware of the environmental impact of the daily paper, I also think the trade off is well worth it. Quit plastic water bottles for a week and get a newspaper subscription for six months; carry your own bag to the store and get a subscription for a year! At least none of your newspapers will end up in the Great Pacific Gyre.

My local paper is just awful, you're saying, so why should I get it?

Fine, then get one that's sort of local. Or not local at all. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not subscribe to the San Diego Union Tribune even though I now live in San Diego. If the LA Times were not at local rates here and didn't give the local weather and some local politics then I would subscribe, even though the U-T is an awful, awful paper. I don't think that a political slant inherently makes a paper bad - I read the Guardian - so I don't say this because it's "a bit to the right of Attila the Hun" as a friend in L.A. memorably put it. It's just not a serious, credible source, in my opinion; it's glib, banal, and brief, and I can't imagine anyone needing more than 45 minutes to read it, cover to cover, and that's during football season. So maybe don't subscribe to your local paper but subscribe!

But, you may be thinking, the economy is in the crapper and I can't afford it!

It may be cheaper than you think. The LA Times is $3/week for a daily subscription for six months (and think of all the coupons!). If you get a full year, it's a buck a week if you live in SoCal. Are you kidding? One dollar a week is nothing to support democracy. In Honolulu it's more, about $3.50 a week for the daily paper for O'ahu residents, but everything is more, and that's the highest subscription rate I found for daily delivery - Atlanta, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Portland, Denver, Chicago, Philly and Louisville are all less. So go subscribe.

Newspapers matter, and are still sources for more in depth news than other media, and I've been home sick for a week watching TV "news" so I feel confident saying that. No one is saying to rely on just one for all of your news, but they matter, so get one.

Maybe as a gift to democracy you could consider signing up for your local paper? Tell them BrensLeftCoast sent ya, and that'll get you... nothing at all, actually. Just save me the crossword.

11 February 2009

Obama Inaugural

In her recent column "A Place Called Hope," in The New Yorker (the Feb 2, 2009), Nancy Franklin, the TV critic, wrote a great piece on the Obama Inaugural. She covered the coverage of everything from the train ride in to the District, the volume (numbers and decibels) of the crowds that each network broadcast, the collective anxiety many Americans (and others) shared for the safety of Mr. Obama, the degrees to which talking heads talked (or didn't) about race, and the joy of so many Americans who watched in disbelief, in wonder and in pride. Ms. Franklin concluded her piece by saying:

The morning after the Inauguration, something felt wrong to me. I was sad and unsettled, as if I’d had a bad dream. Later in the day, I realized how far away I’d felt from the events of the previous days. I’d seen Obama become President, verified that—phew!—it had actually happened, but I hadn’t felt connected to it, except, oddly enough, when I watched scenes of other people watching it on TV, like elderly black men and women, who sat at home and wept as they saw something that they had never imagined would happen. I should have put the remote down and got myself to Washington and stood in the crowd, freezing and cheering, maybe even, for the first time, waving a flag. January 20th might have been the greatest day in my lifetime. By watching it on TV, I’d missed it. ♦
I was there. We were pretty far down the Mall, a mile or so from where President Obama stood to take the oath and deliver his address, but it didn't matter - we were there, in person, sharing a profoundly moving and important moment in fellowship and secular communion with relieved and proud and joyful like-minded Americans.

And I, "...for the first time, waving a flag," stood there among them, my fellow Americans, and felt so proud of my country and of us, my countrymen and women. We got it right.

I continued to shake my head in joy and disbelief, watching "Barack Hussein Obama" take the oath and deliver an address in which he recalled that 60 years ago his father may not have been served at a lunch counter near the spot where he stood now as our new President. What must it have been like for elderly Black folk, standing near me, watching with me, to hear those words? Maybe they were thinking that finally all those words we had told them all those years had truth. Maybe our nation, which had enshrined in our founding documents the notion that a slave was 3/5ths of a white person, could in the words of Dr. King finally keep its promissory note to all its citizens.

It made me think about the shoulders on which we, all Americans, were standing. Nearly viscerally I felt that I was reaping what a previous generation had sown; that the sacrifice of the brave men and women of the Civil Rights generation who had called us, all Americans, to be better people, to live up to what had been promised to all citizens, to be afraid no more and to do what was right, had finally borne fruit. Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks and John Lewis and James Groppi and Walter Reuther and that crowd who 45 years earlier had faced the other direction on the Mall, toward the Lincoln Memorial, to hear Dr. King, and all Americans of conscience who had worked in their own time, perhaps never daring to dream of this day coming in their own time, had made it happen in mine. Standing there I was so proud of them for not giving up on perfecting our Union. Proud, and humbled, and deeply, deeply grateful.

I felt and saw "We the People" all around me - the laughing and dancing high school and college-aged kids of every color of human skin, and the sweet elderly white lady with the thick, central casting Brooklyn accent who told Joe where to stand so he could get a better view, and the Sikh man in a dastar, smiling almost giddily as he waved his American flag, and Americans of every color and age and presumably every creed and no creed. And everywhere in the crowd I saw the dignity of older African American men and women, who, by their presence, with tears streaming down their faces, so generously shared the power of their collective courage and experience. It was an honor to be there with them. We the People.

How dare anyone say ever again that some of us are less than American just because we live in cities, because we don't go to their church or any church, because we have structured our families differently, because we are poor, or immigrants, or indigenous, or think differently?

We the People stood on America's front lawn on January 20th in the cold - and it was bitterly cold - and we waved our American flags, and we cried our tears, and we hugged our loved ones, and we gave witness to our fellow countrywomen and men and to the rest of the world by our collective presence; witness to something powerful: to commonweal, collective effort, rewarding merit, working together, and judging all children by the content of their character. E Pluribus Unum.

There was the official day - the dignity of a free people transferring a tremendous amount of power peacefully from one leader to the next - and the official day was unquestionably impressive. But Inauguration Day on the Mall wasn't about President Obama, it was about us. And I'm sorry Ms Franklin, but I'm afraid you're right; yup, you missed it.

08 February 2009

You can't go back: Honolulu

The Eastside Grill closed this past month.

When I first moved to Honolulu, for the fall semester, 2001, I was trying to adjust to a stunningly beautiful but fundamentally different place, and I was looking for what I learned was called a third space: someplace where I could hang out, get some grub, have a beer, watch football, and be a regular - where I could be at home.

I was talking about this before class one night when a guy sitting behind me overheard and asked, "Eh, you check out the Eastside Grill yet?" I hadn't - but I went that week and it became my living room for the four years that I lived in Honolulu (and that guy, Troy, became one of my best friends).

Some weeks I'd only be at the Eastside once: Sunday, 7:00 a.m., Miller Lites and football. If the Colts were on I'd get there at 6:55 and Robbie, the owner, would point me to the TV where the Colts would be shown. I'd talk crap with the Bills fans at the next table about how bad our teams were, I'd read the Honolulu Star Bulletin I'd brought with me during time outs and halftime, and generally I'd stop at two if I had reading or writing to do (which was almost always).

Some weeks I'd hit the Eastside for lunch and be one of only a handful of clients. I was ha'ole and the place is really local, but I always felt welcome.  I'd sit at the counter and talk with the bartender, usually Shari, who would comp my soda and I'd tip her extra. Occasionally Robbie would be there and we'd talk whatever sport was on. During basketball season I'd come in whenever MU was on and when Robbie saw me in a gold shirt he'd ask me for the channel or satellite coordinates and he'd get the game. During the NCAAs when MU was playing early, before the bar opened, Cuba, the cook, would let me in early while he was prepping, cleaning, whatevers, and let me watch.

When my friend Eva came from Australia to Hawai`i, her first time to the US and to the Islands, on our third night we were trying to figure out the evening's plan and she said "No offense mate, but maybe tonight we could go someplace other than the Eastside Grill?"

I got invited to their holiday parties; fed a little extra when I was a broke-ass grad student; and was always made to feel welcome. Troy and I would often go when he got off work or when I wrapped up a late class, and we'd fill the table with empties and solve the world's problems and make memories to sustain our friendship over future months and miles.

The Eastside Grill was a touchstone to my UH years, and I learned that it closed around my 40th birthday, the same time I was exploring a job opportunity in Honolulu. It made me realize that even were I to go back, I could never really go back, to Honolulu or to any one of the 21 addresses I've had in the 11 cities I've lived in since undergrad. I could write this entry for nearly every one of those addresses, to some degree, but the Eastside Grill and Honolulu still resonates the most.

So, the Eastside is closed. Diamond Head Video, a short ride from where I lived off Date Street - the place Arnold and I stalked around for an hour one night, baked and giggling, looking for a comedy when really anything that night would have been a comedy, and where I got French language movies and lube and advice on which of the new releases were worth it from people who were trustworthy guides - is closed, too. Their whole building, in fact, has been demolished and in its place is now a Super Safeway - bright and clean and sterile. Volcano Joe's, the coffee shop right across from campus, is closed too.  That's where I'd sit and watch the 6 bus discharge the slow moving neighborhood ojisans, and where the St Francis and Lutheran and University High kids would mill around and be so loud that my headphones couldn't drown them out, and where I'd write letters to try to get clarity about how conflicted I was living in Hawai`i and what my next steps might be. Caffe G down in Waikiki, that queer friendly coffee shop where I'd study and write for hours until they kicked me out, has closed, and the dude behind the counter who I hooked up with once has probably graduated and moved on.  And no, Les Murakami Stadium hasn't closed but it's been completely redone and it's selling out now, so Dietra and Jason and I would not be able to sit wherever we wanted (Would we even have time to go?) and the three older local bruddahs who sat on the 3rd baseline and kept up a smart-assed patter all through the games are likely gone as well.

People now would no longer think that I look familiar in Coffee Talk; Tracy, the baker at Town, no longer remembers my favorite scone. My Micronesian neighbors on Mahiai Street - if they are still there - probably don't remember that ha'ole guy they hanai'ed because he spoke four words of Chuukese.  The sweet kanaka lady next door who looked after me and the building, and who'd chat to me as she while she cut the hair of her clients while I'd sit on my back balcony, eyeing the paper and drinking coffee, may have moved on, too.  I even wonder how often Cameron and I would be able to carve out time to go to the gym - if it would be every day, or every other day, like it used to be - or if we'd have time to go get grinds afterword at Rainbow Drive-Inn or Diamond Head Grill. I wonder how often Troy and I would be able to have problem-solving conversations at the Eastside - or wherever our new third space would be.

It wasn't that I was perfectly happy in Hawai`i, or that I think I could only be happy in Honolulu.  But the intersection of people and places are what make up a life, and I guess as I've got 45 in my rear view mirror I'm learning that the trick is to live as much as possible with the people and the places I have now. No matter how much I may love them, once they are gone, that's it - I won't get them back. So, aloha Eastside, and Robby and Shari and Diamond Head Video and Caffe G and Town and all of the other places in Honolulu that made my time there mine - and that brought me the people who remain so important to me. And aloha kakou to the third space/ living rooms and staff holiday parties and sweet neighbor ladies and coffee shops suitable for letter writing to come in my future. Lots more of my life is to be made up, and I the goal is to value the present moments as much as those in the past.

Science in the news

Okay, so evidently Bren's Left Coast is going to take January off. And part of February. In my defense, I was travelling a lot, but I know they have internet in exotic places like Milwaukee and Brooklyn so really that's no excuse. In any event, I'd like to welcome back my readers (reader?) to a new year and a new administration.

1. This Thursday is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, one of the most influential thinkers of the last two centuries. From an article today in the LA Times, scientists are still grappling with the implications of the Theory of Evolution, including why it's speeding up: "In the 5,000 to 10,000 years since agriculture triggered the growth of large societies, the pace has accelerated to 100 times historical levels." There follows a discussion of lactose tolerance, skin tone, and blue eyes - "For nearly all of human history, everyone in the world had brown eyes. Then, between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, the first blue eyed baby was born somewhere near the Black Sea... today the number of people with blue eyes tops half a billion." Fascinating. (And why are we still having a "debate" about the theory of evolution?)

2. In an evolution-related story, Black wolves come from selective breeding in dogs. Color selection was bred into dogs by humans and then passed into wild populations. It turns out that it's much more prevalent in North America, where there was more cross-pollination between domestic and wild animals, than in Europe. How cool is that? But again, evolution is just a "theory."

3. The dominant strain of influenza in this country, H1N1, is now nearly 100% resistant to the retro-viral Tamilflu. Why does this matter? "Tamiflu and Relenza have been stockpiled by the federal government for treating the public in case of the emergence of a dangerous pandemic flu. Four times as many Tamiflu doses have been stockpiled as Relenza doses." Story reported here in the LA Times.

4. And speaking of flu, remember H5N1 (a/k/a "bird flu"?) It's baaaaack! According to Dr. Keiji Fukuda, head of the World Health Organization's global influenza program, "It's probably the most lethal virus that's ever been discovered." Maybe science has a place in public debate after all?

5. And Fowler, Indiana, my hometown, has one of the largest windfarms in the United States, or even the world. A Christmas letter from friends there told me "You wouldn't recognize the place" for all the wind turbines outside of town on "Fowler Ridge" which is a made up name for a barely perceptible wrinkle on the prairie northwest of town. More of the windmills' dimensions - and where to eat while going to check them out in Earl Park and Fowler - are at www.earlparkindiana.com. Go Benton County!