Thursday, September 29, 2005

Family Business Magazine compiled a list of the World’s 100 Oldest Continuously Family-owned Companies.

"All of the listed companies are at least 225 years old; four have lasted in the same family for more than a millennium. The very oldest remains Japanese temple-builder Kongo Gumi, founded in 578."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

E. J. Dionne explains the problems facing the Democratic Party in this Washington Post column:

"The core difficulty for Democrats is that they must solve two problems simultaneously -- and solving one problem can get in the way of solving the other. Over time Democrats need to reduce the conservative advantage over liberals in the electorate, which means the party needs to take clear stands that could detach voters from their allegiance to conservatism. For some in the party this means becoming more moderate on cultural issues such as abortion. For others it means full-throated populism to attract lower-income social conservatives. Some favor a combination of the two, while still others worry that too much populism would drive away moderate voters in the upper middle class. The debate often leads to intellectual gridlock."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

According to this National Geographic article, scientists have taken the first photographs of a living giant squid. You can view some of the pictures of the squid here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

This Los Angeles Times article describes how a pitch for a new TV series led to an arrest for fraud:

"In May 2003, a dapper self-described financial strategist from Century City embarked on what he promised investors would be a riveting television series based on the newly created U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Saying his drama had the blessing of President Bush and others in Washington, D.C., Joseph M. Medawar quickly found plenty of backers for the show — one that he promised would be followed by a reality-based series titled "Fighting Terrorism Together."

But on Friday, in an ending that might have been foretold by anyone with a healthy skepticism of the Hollywood pitch, Medawar was arrested by FBI and IRS agents on charges that he bilked at least 70 investors — many of them from local churches — out of more than $5.5 million. Virtually all of the money, according to authorities, went to a lavish lifestyle that included luxury cars, shopping sprees, fancy dinners and $40,000-a-month in rent for a Beverly Hills mansion."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In this Harper's Magazine article, Bill McKibben discusses the paradox that, "America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior."

"Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation’s educational decline, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

Asking Christians what Christ taught isn’t a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation—and, overwhelmingly, we do—it means something. People who go to church absorb lessons there and make real decisions based on those lessons; increasingly, these lessons inform their politics. (One poll found that 11 percent of U.S. churchgoers were urged by their clergy to vote in a particular way in the 2004 election, up from 6 percent in 2000.) When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher, he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans.

And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox—more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese—illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

In this Popular Science article Dan Koeppel explains the history of the banana and why Panama disease may destroy the fruit.

"After 15,000 years of human cultivation, the banana is too perfect, lacking the genetic diversity that is key to species health. What can ail one banana can ail all. A fungus or bacterial disease that infects one plantation could march around the globe and destroy millions of bunches, leaving supermarket shelves empty.

A wild scenario? Not when you consider that there’s already been one banana apocalypse. Until the early 1960s, American cereal bowls and ice cream dishes were filled with the Gros Michel, a banana that was larger and, by all accounts, tastier than the fruit we now eat. Like the Cavendish, the Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” accounted for nearly all the sales of sweet bananas in the Americas and Europe. But starting in the early part of the last century, a fungus called Panama disease began infecting the Big Mike harvest."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Find-a-Human database lists shortcuts to bypass the automated phone systems of several large companies and take you directly to a human operator.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Students for an Orwellian Society promotes the vision of a society based upon the principles of Ingsoc, first articulated by George Orwell in his prophetic novel, 1984. Those principles are "War Is Peace," "Freedom Is Slavery," and "Ignorance Is Strength." Since 9/11, they have been very successful.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

In this Los Angeles Times column David Mamet uses a poker analogy to give some advice to the Democratic Party:

"Control of the initiative is control of the battle. In the alley, at the poker table or in politics. One must raise. The American public chose Bush over Kerry in 2004. How, the undecided electorate rightly wondered, could one believe that Kerry would stand up for America when he could not stand up to Bush? A possible response to the Swift boat veterans would have been: "I served. He didn't. I didn't bring up the subject, but, if all George Bush has to show for his time in the Guard is a scrap of paper with some doodling on it, I say the man was a deserter."

This would have been a raise. Here the initiative has been seized, and the opponent must now fume and bluster and scream unfair. In combat, in politics, in poker, there is no certainty; there is only likelihood, and the likelihood is that aggression will prevail."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

As this essay explains, in 1984 Michael Larsen figured out a way to beat the system, and won over $100,000 on the television game show Press Your Luck.

"Having watched Press Your Luck since it premiered, Michael Larsen, then an unemployed ice cream truck driver from Ohio, came to the conclusion that the swift, seemingly random flashing lights that bounced around the Press Your Luck board were hardly random at all. By taping the show religiously and pausing the tapes, Larsen discovered that there were just six light patterns on the board. With this bit of knowledge, he practiced at home while watching the show and realized that he could stop the board wherever and whenever he wanted, if he just had patience."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In this Reuters photo, President Bush writes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a note about taking a bathroom break during a U.N. Security Council meeting. (Seriously)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

In this American Prospect article Matthew Yglesias explains that former FEMA Director Michael Brown is far from the only unqualified member of the Bush Administration.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Evan Thomas explains why the Bush administration was slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina in this Newsweek article.

"The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Orleans Flood in Your City lets you compare the area of New Orleans that was flooded by Hurricane Katrina with similar areas in 49 cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

In this post from the blog Political Animal, Kevin Drum explains how Hurricane Katrina exposes "the storyline — buried until now — that truly defines the nature of the Bush administration."

"The lesson of Katrina, after all, is not that the White House is bad at handling hurricanes. The lesson is that the Bush White House doesn't care much about whether things actually work. This is why they screwed up Iraq: they had an idea of what they wanted to accomplish, but figured that with energy and proper principles good results would take care of themselves. It's why the Medicare prescription bill turned out to be such a Frankenstein's monster: they knew they wanted to give seniors their pills, but they didn't really care much about actually implementing a sound policy."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sidney Blumenthal explains how the Bush administration's "limited government" agenda is responsible for the disastrous federal response to Hurricane Katrina in this Salon article.

"Bush met with congressional leaders of both parties, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Bush to fire [FEMA director Michael] Brown. "Why would I do that?" the president replied. "Because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week," she explained. To which he answered, "What didn't go right?"

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Emergent-disease expert Laurie Garrett warns of the health and political consequences of Hurricane Katrina in this analysis.

"1.) The Mississippi Delta region is the natural ecological home of a long list of infectious microbial diseases. It is America’s tropical region, more akin ecologically to Haiti or parts of Africa than to Boston or Los Angeles. The most massive Yellow Fever epidemics in the Americas all swept, in the 19th Century, up the Mississippi from the delta region. Malaria was not eradicated from the area until after World War II. Isolated cases of dengue fever,another mosquito-borne disease, have been spotted in the region over the last ten years. Not only are all the mosquitoes that traditionally carry these microbes still thriving in the area, but the Aedes albopictus mosquito – a large, aggressive monster, was introduced to the Americas from Asia about 15 years ago, and now thrives in the Gulf area. Most of these troublesome mosquito species reproduce rapidly in precisely the conditions now present, post-hurricane."

Monday, September 05, 2005

This Stratfor article explains the geopolitical importance of New Orleans and why it must be rebuilt:

"The United States historically has depended on the Mississippi and its tributaries for transport. Barges navigate the river. Ships go on the ocean. The barges must offload to the ships and vice versa. There must be a facility to empower this exchange. It is also the facility where goods are stored in transit. Without this port, the river can't be used. Protecting that port has been, from the time of the Louisiana Purchase, a fundamental national security issue for the United States.

Katrina has taken out the port -- not by destroying the facilities, but by rendering the area uninhabited and potentially uninhabitable. That means that even if the Mississippi remains navigable, the absence of a port near the mouth of the river makes the Mississippi enormously less useful than it was. For these reasons, the United States has lost not only its biggest port complex, but also the utility of its river transport system -- the foundation of the entire American transport system. There are some substitutes, but none with sufficient capacity to solve the problem.

It follows from this that the port will have to be revived and, one would assume, the city as well. The ports around New Orleans are located as far north as they can be and still be accessed by ocean-going vessels. The need for ships to be able to pass each other in the waterways, which narrow to the north, adds to the problem. Besides, the Highway 190 bridge in Baton Rouge blocks the river going north. New Orleans is where it is for a reason: The United States needs a city right there.

New Orleans is not optional for the United States' commercial infrastructure. It is a terrible place for a city to be located, but exactly the place where a city must exist. With that as a given, a city will return there because the alternatives are too devastating. The harvest is coming, and that means that the port will have to be opened soon."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that, "House Speaker Dennis Hastert dropped a bombshell on flood-ravaged New Orleans on Thursday by suggesting that it isn’t sensible to rebuild the city."