Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I Think I Must Be Missing Something Here.

Is there something I don't understand about this whole stem cell thing? Is this somehow not a no-brainer?

I'll take one second here to just say I LOVE when Congress squabbles...the Senate comes up with this whole smooth plan on how to give George W. Bush some political cover, and then the House is all Rowdy Little Brother about it and doesn't really follow the plan. Awesome. GO CONGRESS!

Okay, so the stem cell thing. I THINK I kind of agree with the whole no fetal farming thing. If nothing else it seems creepy - creating mini humans with the express intent to destroy them? Yeesh. If that was the only way scientists were proposing to get stem cells, then yeah, I'd want them to come up with another way. But the unused in vitro fetuses...that's where I'm missing something. Conservatives don't rail against in vitro fertilization in any meaningful and/or loud way on a regular basis, but the fetuses that aren't implanted and carried to term just get thrown away for the most part.

So...on the grand scales of morality and common sense, isn't it better to use the unused fetuses to help develop cures for people with debilitating diseases than to throw them away? Isn't curing diabetes a more noble end for these fetuses than a biohazard dumpster? I feel slightly insane over here, because people are in such a LATHER over this and it seems so simple to me - fetuses get "made," one fetus gets implanted and carried to term, other fetuses who would otherwise be thrown out are used for stem cell research. Either way, those fetuses are not going to see childhood or adulthood. Period the end. So why the outcry over their being used for something useful rather than just being thrown away?

I understand that this is a lot like organ donation...I think everyone's heard or had concern over whether or not emergency personnel or hospital doctors will work as hard to save your life if someone in Omaha REALLY needs a heart and shares your blood type. You kind of have to trust that they will, and that there are rules in place governing it, and that if in fact, they do lose you, your organs will be doing great things for someone else. An organ donor can save - SAVE - up to SEVEN lives. How many lives would one fetus save?

This is just mystifying to me. The benefit seems so enormous, all around.

Maybe I'm missing something.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain!"

A few years ago, a friend of mine had a visit from his grandfather. We all went out to dinner, along with said friend's apple of his eye and our roomie, at Chef Geoff's in DC. My friend and his family are Jewish, and his grandfather, being fairly large of income, donates a good amount of money and time to helping Israeli charities...for instance, I think he donated the funds to build a gym for schoolkids. Cool stuff like that where you're not arming militias, but rather helping make life somewhat more normal for kids who had the crap luck to be born in a perpetual war zone.

Anyway, one way or the other the Israeli-Palestinian debate came up (I think there was a ruckus going on once again), and I would have expected that both my friend and his grandfather would be solidly on the Israeli side of the debate. Instead, the grandfather sat at the end of the table and told us that really, both sides needed to be allowed to just duke it out until someone won, because it's been going on for thousands of years and diplomacy is not really working in any significant way. I found that really startling, but there's a certain amount of sense to it - how will you ever resolve this, when everyone now, Israeli and Palestinian alike, has a relative, or a friend, or a child who has been killed or wounded or discriminated against at the hands of the other side? How will you negotiate peace with Hamas? Because Hamas doesn't just not really like Israel, guys, they refuse to acknowledge them as an entity. If kindergarden kids ever get ahold of that technique, it is going to be ON in the schoolyard.

Kid 1: You took my swing!
Kid 2: That's 'cause you're ugly!
Kid 1: Well you're stupid!
Kid 2: Well I refuse to acknowledge your existence!
Kid 1: Um.

I have to say that I really do not like Bush's strict adherence to the Israel = good policy, which I think is misguided to begin with. I generally am more okay with Israel's behavior, but I think it's really a lesser of two evils scenario - it's a day by day determination of who is being a less violent terrorist. Both Israel and the Palestinians are dealing with disputes by killing or threatening to kill the other party, and if any other nation pulled that shit, it would be condemnation and finger pointing all over the damn place. In this situation, particularly, I think singing "Stand By Your Israeli" is a particularly bad idea, because this is a BAD situation. Maybe I don't have the whole picture, but from what I'm hearing and seeing, this is an excuse for Israel to do some shit-stirring. Can anyone explain to me why when Israel started moving troops and SHOOTING THINGS over the kidnap of a soldier, no one took them by the shoulders, shook them real hard, and said "guys, SERIOUSLY"? I mean, not to discard the soldier, because he is NOT in a good place right now and no one deserves this guerrilla-kidnap routine, soldier? To base an entire military action, and arguably an act of war, on? Shady.

My favorite line of this conflict, by the way? "Israel has stated that these are legitimate targets, blah blah blah." Okay, here's the thing...I would consider placing George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Donald Rumsfeld in a square, standing in the middle with a crowbar, and then spinning around gracefully, whomping each of them repeatedly in the head with said crowbar to be a completely legitimate action that was wholly deserved by all four. But my saying it does not make it so. Also? THE SAME RULE APPLIES FOR NATIONS! I'm sure Hitler thought that the Holocaust was a totally legitimate, great concept! But he was wrong! Like, couldn't BE more wrong! Same for Lenin and Stalin! Thought they had great ideas! Polar opposite of legitimate! WHY DOES IT TAKE VLADIMIR "LET'S BRING BACK THE GLORY DAYS OF THE KGB" PUTIN TO CALL BULLSHIT ON SELF-DECLARATION OF LEGITIMATE BEHAVIOR AND TARGETS?!

So, moronic statements aside, this thing has gotten even more exciting. While Israel was busy poking the beehive that is Gaza, Hezbollah got sad because they weren't invited to the party, so they ganked TWO Israeli soldiers. Naturally, Israel whipped around, snarled, and started whomping them back in response, and now you've got Israel and Hezbollah fighting, with the actual government of Lebanon kind of off to the side going "oh, shit" and Israel is demanding that the Lebanese army be deployed to deal with Hezbollah, but here's the thing...according to several dudes I have heard on NPR in the past few days? Hezbollah could take the Lebanese Army. (Confidential to Lebanon: Shoulda gotten Hezbollah the hell out of there before they got organized, armed and powerful enough to control your country. I'm just saying.) And of course, Bush & Co. are right in there with the "IRAN AND SYRIA ARE DOING THIS," which, yes, Iran and Syria are well known for being supporters of the Hamas/Hezbollah Dynamic Duo, but that doesn't mean that they are calling the shots. They should cut the shit and stop funding/arming these groups, but I will be ASTOUNDED if they do. Even if they stop doing it so overtly, they'll find a way.

We're only a week into this and already I'm ready to just see all the people who aren't Israeli or members of Hezbollah get evacuated and then have the two parties just beat the shit out of each other until there's no one left. Intelligently, I know that's not the solution, but I think this is one of those situations where LONG AGO, the international community, as one, should have said to ALL parties involved, "this is not an acceptable way to resolve your differences. Talk about it, write up an agreement, or just plain ignore each other, but as long as you're reacting to differences of thought by killing each other, you will not only receive no aid in ANY form from us, but we will also do everything in our power to make sure you have no assistance from non-nation groups. Doing business with you will become illegal in our countries, and we will stictly enforce it." And then - and this is the important part - sack up and do it. There would be a lot of anger and a lot of hurt feelings, but come on...there is no crying in baseball, girls. You don't get to reap the benefits due to a contributing and law-abiding nation while engaging in a variety of terrorist actions.

This whole thing is foolish and has been tolerated way too long.

So let me tell you about my night last night. Bogey of the Basement decided to call in to work and spend the time drinking. Fine. I watched Transporter 2 and Unleashed with him, along with an episode of a Batman cartoon that was neat. So after that, I went to bed, as did Speed, and we read for a while before it occurred to Speed to go out and make sure Bogey had in fact called in. Wakes him up - by clapping loudly, after regular speech fails to get the job done - and asks if he called in. Bogey exactly zero real English-language words. Great. Dude needs to call in, and he's babbling. Speed gets him to regain his formation of sentences powers, and he says he'll "call into work after he finishes [this thing on TV] [which in this case was the menu of the Batman DVD]." Speed goes back out to check and make sure he called in about an hour later and the situation basically replays itself. We assume that he just passed out again after Speed checked on him, because his mom called at like 5 am to ask if he was there - work called her looking for him. GOOD JOB, BOGEY. Bless his little heart, and he was probably just reveling in his car being fixed after his Deerslayer Experience and being able to just chill out, but what you gotta do, eh?

In other news, I received the most awesome shoes ever in the mail from Zappos the Awesome. They're called "Courtesan" from a shoe company called Irregular Choice and they are stunning...a short, pointed toe for a really funky look, and lots of cool detailing with ribbon roses and beads. The heel is REALLY comfy, too, which is unusual for such a tall - 4" - heel. Irregular Choice's shoes are SO fantastic...they definitely have some crazy shit, but the detail on so many of their shoes is AMAZING.

Also, I am learning candlepin bowling (invented in Worcester and really only played in New England!), and Speed's Mommy gave me her old bowling balls, so Speed's going to take them to use at his bowling league tonight so he can clean them and spiff 'em up since they've been sitting in a closet or something for a while. Yay! I totally, totally suck at candlepin right now, but I am showing improvement. We're going to go again this Friday. Last Friday we went together and stopped by Skylite afterwards, and then the Friday before that we went with Ma and Dad, then went to Sakura Tokyo.

We have found a new favorite Japanese place, though, Osaka, right in White City, over the Lake Quinsig bridge maybe a block up from Vinnie Testa's on the opposite side of the street. They have FANTASTIC sushi - perfectly seasoned rice, very fresh, very flavorful fish - and the charred flesh eater of our duo says that their filet mignon and chicken is very good. I order the sushi dinner, which arrives in this REALLY cool boat dish and has six California Rolls and an assortment of nigiri sushi. I have also had lunch there, which is a steal for something like nine bucks, which gets you a salad and 8 pieces of sushi. The presentation is great. Speed praises the variety of mix-and-match type dishes, i.e. chicken and steak, steak and lobster (not that a crustacean will ever pass through his ruby lips), etc. He liked the chicken and filet combo, in which all of the meat is cubed and cooked with great seasoning. We also prefer the salad dressing to Sakura Tokyo''s a little less bitter. It's a really cool little place, with a bunch of cooking tables, if that's your thing, but the rush gets HARDCORE around 9, so we recommend going earlier, around 6:30 or 7. Check it out, man!

Don't say I never gave you good advice.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Public Works

When I was in elementary school at Nelson Place, a dude came in and talked with us about Union Station. Now, I'm not 100% sure where the guy was from - presumably one Worcester public works department or the other - but we sat in the library and listened to him talk about how it had been a total mess, even talking frankly about how bums lived in it and other things people don't usually mention to elementary school kids. He told us about how they had the old blueprints for those fantastic towers and the interior, and that they were making enormous molds to recreate all of it...and he told us that "around the time you guys are getting your drivers licenses, it will be finished."

Well hell if he wasn't right. Union Station reopened in July of 2000, the same year I got my license.

Admittedly, I got my license late, but the fact remains that for a public works project to remain within two years of its planned completion date is not to damn bad. I've been thinking a lot about the Union Station guy, whoever he was, in recent days with the Big Dig accident.

The thing with public works is that lots of crap is going to go wrong. There's nothing you can do about it, there's no special technique to make everything go right. The thing you have to do is keep an eye on HOW things are going wrong and do what you can to divert the quota of screwups into small, inconsequential things, i.e. manage things so that the workers can't install the wrong cabling system, but they can screw up by having random backhoes arrive in the wrong locations. To do that you have to have someone - the bigger the project, the more someones - on the ground, constantly, whenever work is going on, just so they KNOW when something happens. When a huge piece of concrete falls off the machine carrying it, they'll know. When people are finishing installations way to quickly, they'll know. And from knowing, they can inspect the situation and remedy it, and that's what keeps public works from being public humiliations.

I was in my sophomore year of college when I met a chick from North Dakota who knew about the Big Dig. Her Dad was really into stuff like that - big machines, building bridges, digging giant holes, constructin' stuff, all that jazz. Right now, her dad is probably cracking up over the discovery that the 90 West connector is even worse than the 90 East one, from which a panel fell out and killed someone. He's probably laughing even harder because of the political maneuvering going on. This goes back to political machines, and pulls in unions. The reason machines failed was that they stopped being about doing something and became more about the raw BEING of being in power. Machines came to power because they did something solid for the citizens they more or less owned - kept an eye on them, took care of them, pulled them up when they needed it. It wasn't always legal, but the exception was allowed to stand because there was a benefit to everyone in some way. When that benefit decreased in the interest of increased luxury for the elite, the system broke down and stopped working. The same thing happens with unions - they are fantastic when they assure you that you have hired or partnered with a skilled, bonded group of people, but fail when the work is slow, unfinished, shoddily done. This is the issue here - the "shit happens" aspect of the Big Dig was allowed to cover too many screwups, and the work was crap.

Now, again in the interest of the whole story - I do not like Matt Amorello. This has nothing to do with his job in his current position, but instead with what I saw of him in his run against Jim McGovern in 1998. Even in middle school, early in my political lifetime, I could feel that Amorello was running not for the chance to make a difference, not to have his thoughts heard, not to help people in the 3rd District, but because he wanted to be amidst the fraternity of it all. It's fine to want that, but you have to balance it with wanting to do something with your position, for my respect at least. He seemed slimy to me, seemed less than caring, seemed not quite into it for the right reasons. It made me dislike him pretty quickly, especially in comparison to McGovern.

Le sigh.

At least it's the weekend. I am having dissatisfaction with my Amazon Wish List - not because it's not awesome, because I love Amazon - but because I am thinking about how I can't afford all the books I want, and then I think "well, I'll just go to the library," but if I do THAT, then I won't HAVE the book, and once I read a book I feel like the people and places and stories in it are mine and I want to have them so I can go back and hang out with them whenever I want. I wish I could buy all the books in the world so I could read them whenever I wanted.