Month: March 2005

Holidays for All 

I’m not one to celebrate the Judeo-Christian assortment of holidays. We go through the motions at the Barnes household-dyeing a few eggs for Easter, gifts at Christmas, etc. We do celebrate the nationalistic holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day with a beer and enjoy blowing stuff up for the Fourth of July. Yep, at the Barnes house, we give equal honor to holidays that are lesser in their commercialized nature. I’m talking about Groundhog Day, the solstices and equinoxes (equinoxi?), Daylight Savings and, most importantly, April Fool’s Day.

In my youth, each year my parents would mess with our minds on April 1. They had such an impact that for years we’d believe the tales. Once I realized what was going on (by interpreting their shit-eating grins), I, too, participated. My most lasting accomplishment was convincing my brother that the rails in handicapped bathroom stalls were earthquake bars, used just in case one was caught “thinking” during a natural disaster. He was in high school before he realized he’d been had.

Downward Spiral 

Growth doesn’t always mean more revenue

This study shatters the common misperception that any sort of growth creates revenue,” says Christopher Cullinan of Tischler and Associates. “Communities often talk about development in terms of the new revenue it will bring, but they rarely give serious considerations to the on-going costs of servicing that development.”

Plasticized 

Cash. Cold hard cash. Greenbacks. Dead presidents. These are things I am becoming less and less familiar with. They are fewer and fewer in numbers in my wallet-an endangered species. It’s not that I am poor. But neither am I rich. I exist in that Goldilocks region where I can usually buy what I want, but my wants are fairly bourgeois. The reason I usually don’t have any dollar bills is because I am becoming more and more plasticized. I use credit cards for everything.

Whether I need gas, food, clothing, fishing tackle or gum, I have a card for every situation. But despite my plasticization, I have been rationed to using a few select cards by my bookkeeper, who manages the numerous accounts. She prefers it that way. It allows her to track my purchases and get “points” for each one. It also keeps me out of trouble. You can’t tip a stripper with a MasterCard.

On the other hand, it is still a man’s world. For any new credit card we receive, despite the fact that both myself and my spouse are on the account, I (the male) am usually the only one allowed to make changes to the account. This pisses off my bookkeeper to no end. I, too, get aggravated, because my Saturday morning video games are interrupted with talking to someone in South Dakota to give permission to my spouse to make changes I am woefully unqualified to attempt. I even tell them to permanently change the account for her to be the primary decision maker. All to no avail. The process gets repeated over and over like some bad sci-fi time loop.

The comedy reached new heights last week when we received no less than a dozen new Discover cards in the mail. Inquiry into the matter led to the discovery that we had three separate accounts. When attempting to merge them all together into one, we had spoken with four separate people. Each needed confirmation by myself, allocating permission to the spouse to make changes, then passing the phone back to her because I had no earthly idea what was going on. Apparently they’ll mail out new cards willy-nilly, but it still takes an act of Congress to close an account.

I read recently about using a thumbprint to draw money out of an account. This sounded like a cool option until I envisioned someone using my severed thumb at Toys-R-Us. I long for the day when a chip in my head allows me to pay for things. It’s much harder to carry around a severed head than a thumb. Trust me on this one.

What religion are you? 

A look at your own beliefs may surprise you

I’ve always considered myself in the broad category of being non-religious. I was raised in what one would call a fairweather Christian family-only visiting church for weddings, deaths, Easter or when visiting the much more Christian grandparents on a Sunday. Throughout my formative years, I sought elightenment through newly discovered religions, meditation, and even the mind-enhancing effects of substances like beer. My journey educated me to the philisophical ways of many religions, but none appealed to me. I have come to believe in my own ways, my own ideas about the world, my own supreme being, if one exists.

When I found a web site that determines what religion best fits my own personal philosophy of the world, I was intrigued. How could it hurt? My own personal belief system wouldn’t send me to hell for questioning the all-powerful Oz. Would it? It was worth a try. So I went towww.speakout.com/ActivismTools/selectors/religion/ and took their quiz.

Expecting to be told I was a devout agnostic, I was surprised to discover my beliefs had something else in store for me. Religions and beliefs I had little experience with.

The site recommended I become (in order of importance) a Theravada Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist, Neo-Pagan, Humanist, Mahayana Buddhist, Liberal Quaker, New Age practitioner, Taoist, Atheist/Agnostic or an Orthodox Quaker. One it didn’t recommend that I think I’ll continue being a follower of is a beer in one hand and a fishing pole in the other.

-Bingo Barnes

The World’s top 10 Religions

Christianity33%

Islam20%

Non-religious15%

Hinduism13%

Buddhism6%

Athiests4%

Chinese Folk Religions4%

New Asian Religions2%

Tribal, Animism2%

Source: U.S. Center for World Mission

The top 10 religions in the U.S.

Christianity76.5%

Nonreligious/Secular13.2%

Judaism1.3%

Islam.05%

Buddhism.05%

Agnostic.05%

Atheist.04%

Hinduism.04%

Unitarian Universalist.03%

Wiccan/Pagan/Druid.01%

Spiritualist<.01%

American Religious Identification Survey, 2001 study.

Top 10 Christian

denominations in U.S.

Catholic24.5%

Baptist16.3%

Methodist/Wesleyan6.8%

Lutheran4.6%

Presbyterian2.7%

Pentecostal/Charismatic2.1%

Episcopalian/Anglican1.7%

Latter-day Saints/Mormon1.3%

Churches of Christ1.2%

Congregational/

United Church of Christ0.7%

American Religious Identification Survey, 2001 study.

Idaho’s Religious Makeup

Protestant39%

(Methodist6%)

(Lutheran4%)

(Baptists4%)

LDS30%

Non-Religious*13%

Roman Catholic12%

Other Christian2%

Other Religions1%

Andrade’s Mexican Restaurant 

If there’s one thing I can eat every day it is food from south of the border. Weaned on Tex-Mex and New Mexican, two slightly north-of-the-border cuisines, I have learned to appreciate the variances from all Central and South American fares. When done right, it can be exquisite. When done poorly, it can still be delicious.

I had been to Andrade’s on Broadway Avenue and when assigned to try their new location in Meridian I knew could expect greatness, if we could find it. The sign is clearly visible eastbound on Fairview, but one might miss it going west. But after a U-turn, we pulled in and readied our palates.

A quick seat and a basket of warmed chips were followed by a couple of beers, a chori queso, fish tacos, a small dinner salad (which turned out to be much bigger than expected) and the Especial de Javier.

Their queso isn’t made with your typical runny cheese. That sounds bad, but it’s hard to find the right adjective … liquid, watery-heck, you know what I mean. But Andrade’s queso is from real, hard cheese, melted and mixed with chorizo and is all good. It is more of a meat dip­-like melted brie, a welcome change from what you normally get in Americanized Mexican restaurants. The Especial was three skirt steak tacos with melted cheese and an assortment of goodies, rolled up like a taco and eaten with your hands … how else?

If that was all there was, I would have been happy. But Andrade’s goes one step further and offers an assortment of varying sauces of varying heats, colors and consistencies to spice up your meal. I piled on an indiscrete-looking orange puree sauce and before you could shout, “Aye Chihuahua!” my scalp was sweating. The curse of the habanero struck again! It would have been nice to have little signs or descriptions on the sauces for the curious. I could have asked the waiter but I was too busy dealing with a mouth full of fire-not that I minded drinking another beer.

While out of my normal driving pattern, as the Broadway Andrade’s is for Meridian residents, I found little difference between the two. Meridian residents now have my stamp of approval and an exquisite Mexican restaurant of their own.

-Bingo Barnes appreciates good food at a fair price.

Junkstore Robots 

Woe be the moviegoer who must endure this potboiler

As a father of two, I consider myself an expert on children’s movies. Over the last seven years, I have endured and occasionally enjoyed the evolution of computer animated feature-length films, most of which are made for kids. From Toy Story to Monsters, Inc., Shrek toFinding Nemo, Ice Age to The Incredibles, I have seen these films not once, but many times, thanks to the wonder of modern DVD technology. While some are a joy to view over and over, others tire after a few showings. By and large, the big animation studios Pixar, Dreamworks, Fox (Blue Sky Studios), Warner Bros. and Disney (who is now doing animated movies on their own, separate from Pixar), do a good job.

So how can I start out nice about Robots? I was amazed. I was astonished. I was overawed … with the utter crap I was viewing on the screen. The plot was a piece of recycled rat meat-a repackaged story straight out of A Bug’s Life and every other animated epic from the last 10 years. The studio describes Robots as, “In a world populated entirely by robots, this is the story of a young genius, Rodney, who wants to make robots capable of making the world a better place, but he finds his dream challenged by a corporate tyrant and a master inventor …” Blah, blah, blah.

While many animated features throw in references to other older movies to have little gems for adult viewers (usually going over the head of the children), there are those films that do it well and there are those that do it poorly. In the case of Robots, they do it quite badly, if not the worst I’ve ever seen.

Scenes stolen directly from other movies were sometimes referenced, most of the time not. Jaw-dropping bad scenes included a robot (Robin Williams) singing “Singin’ in the Oil” as ripped-off from Singing in the Rain, the light saber scene in Star Wars Episode 2 between Yoda and the evil Count Dooku, a complete spoof of Braveheart, stealing of the original city plans and look from the first science fiction movie ever, Metropolis, a WWF ring in the final fight scene (the idea stolen either from WWF or Shrek), a spoofing of Britney Spears (which I’ll let slide), to blocking direct from the factory scene in Monsters, Inc. What is the point of including all this in a children’s film that goes so far over the heads of the intended audience? Not only that, but doing it poorly?

Even the formula for the soundtrack was stolen from other movies. You can just imagine the music director saying, “Hmmm, lets get a dash of a popular young pop band, Fountains of Wayne. Get those funky Blue Man Group guys because they’re hip and robot-like, and some hip-hop artists to pull in the ghetto kids, and a couple of oldie-but-goodies like James Brown and “Low Rider” and throw in a Tom Waits tune, too, ’cause he was, like, in Shrek also, wasn’t he?”

Arrrghhhhhhh! I wanted to scratch my eyes and ears out.

Another warning sign was from the extensive celebrity voice list. Characters voiced by Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Greg Kinnear, Drew Carey, Dan Hedaya, Jennifer Coolidge, Jim Broadbent, D.L. Hughley, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci and the worst of the lot, Robin Williams. There was only one movie where Robin Williams did a good character voice and that was Aladdin. Since then he’s been doing the same manic coked-out schtick. I have a theory, which we’ll call Bingo’s Law, that the more celebrities an animated movie has to have voicing the characters, the worse it will be. By such measurement, Robots should not even be worthy of going directly to video.

And I had such high hopes. The creators of Robots, Blue Sky Studios working for FOX, also produced Ice Age, which wasn’t too bad. It suffered a little from a weak plot, too, but it was a promising first movie for Blue Sky. Robots sets Blue Sky back to the ice age as far as movies go. You would have to recreate the scene out of A Clockwork Orange, complete with eyelid stretchers and restraints, to make me sit through Robots again.

On the other hand, while I didn’t like the movie at all, the spawn wanted to go out and buy the DVD immediately before the credits even ended. They also wanted to buy the toys, action figures, trading cards, video games, posters, books and happy meals (Burger King got the bid for toys in kids meals this go round). Essentially they wanted to buy anything associated with the movie, easy to do since merchandising magically appeared everywhere like Christmas items after Halloween. Moviegoers nationwide seemed to like it too. Robots garnered the top movie spot last week with its opening weekend revenue of $36.5 million on 3,776 screens, a little below the average $42 million for an animated feature opening, but still impressive.

Reports say it has already grossed $150 million in promotional tie-ins alone, twice what the film cost to produce. Everyone wants a piece of Robots. Even Cold Stone Creamery is sporting a new flavor called “Rodney Copperbottom’s Crazy Crackling Cotton Candy Concoction” and the U.S. Postal Service plans to theme its cancellation stamps with Robots characters on three billion envelopes.

So, we must ask, what is the point of studios putting out movies that are already a financial success before they’re even shown in one theater? Ultimately, for a nation sedated by chemical prozac sprayed from military planes in the sky, it doesn’t matter what kind of crap is put in front of the consuming public, we’ll eat it up anyway. Ironically, the moral presented in Robots provides the alternative solution to seeing this horribly bad movie: Don’t go out and get the new new thing, enjoy old things in new ways instead.

Freedom of Religion 

If it seems there is a confluence of religious celebrations this time of year, that’s because there is. Spring is the season of rebirth and many religions have ceremonies, rituals and holidays associated with it. Christians celebrate a series of days surrounding the death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection. Jews celebrate Passover, an eight-day celebration honoring their exodus from Egypt. Pagans and Wiccans celebrate the spring equinox and the rebirth of nature.

While 85 percent of North Americans claim to practice Christianity, the religion represents only 34 percent of the world’s population. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects every American’s right to worship the diety of their choice, even if that choice is no diety at all. Yet we still are witness to prejudice and discrimination toward those who hold different beliefs than our own. In an effort to bring awareness of some of the diversity even in our own homogenous Christian community, we bring you a look into a variety of different area religions. While the following religions represent some of those present in our community, they do not represent all. We have not written about pagans, Wicca, Eckankar, Zoroastarianism, Scientology, Baha’i, Confucianism, Islam, Jainism, Taoism, Shamanism, Shinto, native or tribal religions, or Sikhs although all may have practitioners residing in Southern Idaho. Our hope is that by becoming more aware of the practices and problems of those living among us, you will embrace tolerance for our neighbors.

Three wins for the ACLU 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho is on a roll afterrecent victories in three local court cases. First, on February 25, the ACLU won an open records case forcing the Idaho Department of Agriculture to hand over plans with a full account of pollution information to the Idaho Conservation League. The information regarded pollution released from massive feedlots and where it is being dumped. TheIdaho Cattlemen’s Association sought to prevent the information from becoming public, citing “trade secrets.” Lauren McLean with the ICL replied, “The Department of Agriculture and polluters themselves tried to keep the truth about pollution from these facilities secret from the public.”

The second victory came six days later on March 2, when Federal Judge Lynn Winmill signed a consent judgment to allow First Amendment activity in selected locations around the Idaho Center. Last year union activists were denied access to the Idaho Center’s facilities to gather signatures for a petitions to repeal Idaho’s right to work law. Finally, also on March 2, Magistrate Judge Jerry Meyers ruled in support of an Idaho Falls area woman who, according to the ACLU, washeld without due process for being late in returning her juror questionnaire. Judge Meyers announced he would not seek to pursue criminal contempt proceedings and ordered the sheriff to expunge the woman’s arrest record.

How Radiation Can Hurt You 

Plutonium existing in the environment is mostly in the form of microscopic dust particles of plutonium-239, mainly from the remnants of nuclear weapons testing and nuclear reactor accidents. Plutonium-238 however-the kind used in batteries to power satellites-is much more radioactive. Radioactive decay is usually in the form of alpha particles, but plutonium decay does release gamma radiation as well. Alpha particles lose energy very quickly so ingesting radioactive atoms through breathing or from cuts are the primary way this type of radiation affects the body. Gamma radiation can travel longer distances and are typically deflected or reduced with thick concrete walls, water or lead.

So what would happen if you ingest radioactive atoms in the most dangerous way, by inhaling them? Plutonium particles lodge in the lungs (diagram 1), killing the cells causing scarring and an increased potential for lung disease and cancer. But it doesn’t stop there. It can enter the bloodstream (diagram 2) and travel to the kidneys (diagram 2) doing even more damage and increased cancer risk. Once in the body, it tends to settle in the bones (diagram 3), liver (diagram 3) and spleen (diagram 3) continuing to increase the opportunities for cancer. Since plutonium-238’s half-life is a little more than the average human lifespan, 87.7 years, it stays around a while. On the other hand, because the half life is low (as compared to plutonium-239 with a half life of 24,110 years), it is more radioactive and dangerous. Plutonium that is eaten via contaminated food or water is not absorbed as easily by the digestive system and tends to pass through the body.

Radiation, measured in units called a rem (Roentgen Equivalent in Man), affects people in different ways. Most people receive about three-tenths of a rem per year due to naturally produced radiation, mostly from radon. In a group of 10,000 people, if each person were exposed to one rem of radiation, the increased deaths as a result of the exposure would be five or six individuals. An exposure of 50 rems would typically result in nausea, while 400 rems typically results in death. For comparison, people in the city of Chernobyl, Russia, were exposed to about 45 rems from the nuclear reactor accident in 1986.

The Wide, Wide World of Blogs 

And the agony of new media

We are living in a new world of journalism. It is the dawn of the new independent journalist and while many have hopes for the new medium of blogging, it is going through its own unique growing pains. Blogging has become one of the fastest-growing Internet fads, but until last fall’s presidential election most people had no idea of their existence, much less their power and widespread use.

An estimated eight million Americans currently operate their own blogs, and even more read them. But just who is plugging into these blogs might surprise you. Blogads.com conducted a survey of over 30,000 blog readers from the most popular blog Web sites and found that 75 percent of their readers are over 30 years old, 43 percent earn more than $90,000 per year and 75 percent were men. On the other hand, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported in January that 62 percent of people who use the Internet are unable to tell you what a blog is.

If you are part of that 62 percent, then “blog” is short for Web log. It is an online journal, usually updated quite frequently. It is a grandmother posting her daily recipe; a libertarian with his daily rant about the Federal government eating away at his rights; a humorist poking fun at Hollywood; a small town gossip column; and it is an investigative journalist who works for the mainstream media by day and then blogs by night. In other words, blogs are anything the blogger wants them to be.

While some bloggers are journalists exploring and using a new, nearly instantaneous medium, there are also those who have entered the mainstream journalism world through their blogs. Bloggers have broken major news stories and some have become media pundits. Ana Marie Cox, whose popular blog “Wonkette” comments on Washington, D.C. politics, is now seeing her byline in major newspapers and in magazines like Wired. Dan Rather’s downfall can be attributed to blogger’s almost immediate analysis and eventual proving of the faked documents in the Bush National Guard story (overshadowing the original valid story in the first place). James Guckert, who recently made headlines by getting issued press-passes to the White House under the name Jeff Gannon, was exposed through blogs as working for a conservative organization and being a male prostitute.

Blogs are grassroots journalism at its best. And while the instantaneous nature of the blog world has broken stories extremely quickly, individual blogs leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to accuracy. Bloggers don’t have the resources that media organizations do to investigate stories. They don’t have editors, fact checkers, libel lawyers nor travel budgets. As a result, they rely more on rumor, tend to editorialize and contain looser ethical reporting standards. Most bloggers aren’t trained journalists so they don’t follow the general reporting rules that professional journalists are required to follow.

But that doesn’t answer the question of whether bloggers are journalists. Paul Grabowicz, director of the New Media program at the UC Berkley Graduate School of Journalism was recently quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, “Under the First Amendment of the Constitution, I would be hard-pressed to find any distinction between bloggers and journalists.”

Yet that is exactly what courts and federal agencies are questioning. Are bloggers journalists? Recently, a Santa Clara County, California, court ruled that three blogs that published leaked information about Apple Computer’s as yet unreleased products do not enjoy the California shield law which protects journalists from revealing their sources. A reporter publishing the same information in a traditional newspaper would not have to reveal a sources. Ironically, one of the Apple bloggers, who must now expose his sources, is a student journalist by day for the Harvard Crimson.

To non-journalists this may seem like an open and shut case. However, if journalists cannot protect whistle-blowers from employee confidentiality rules-as happened in the Enron scandal-then it sends a chilling effect across America that you had better not talk to a journalist, even if you know something is wrong or illegal.

It’s not just whistle-blowing that is in danger. It is freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is considering whether campaign rules apply to the Internet and whether to fine bloggers who improperly link to political campaign sites and forward campaign press releases to mailing lists of supporters. The FEC is arguing that the bloggers are acting on behalf of political campaigns. Critics of the proposed policies say blogging is no different than putting a bumper sticker for a politician on your car.

Dave Winer, a blogger since 1997 and one of the Blogosphere’s pioneers, sees no difference between bloggers and journalists. “We can’t have two classes,” he recently told the Chronicle. “To the extent that may have worked in the past, it won’t work in the future. Basically everyone is a journalist or nobody is.”

But federal, state and city governments are discriminating against individual journalists and reconsidering who give issues press passes to these days. The White House, for instance, only issued its first ever day pass to a blogger recently.

Dick Rogers, writing for the Chronicle, recently said, “Asking whether bloggers are journalists is also the wrong question because it confuses the medium with the messengers.” His recommendation: “Let’s see blogs with conflict of interest and ethics policies, rules that quotes have to reflect what someone actually said, standards for correcting mistakes,” all standards that are typically established at newspapers, radio and television news departments. Rogers said that ultimately, “Consumers will decide which bloggers are journalists based on what they’re willing to read and what they’re willing to trust.”