Friday, January 14, 2011

New Designs for Your Cup of Joe

I'll have to ask for some patience from readers as I work on a variety of design changes for this blog.

Which means this site is under reconstructive efforts for the next few days and apologies for any inconvenience.

Some additions added already - some buttons added to each post to make it easier if you wish to email posts, put them on Facebook or Twitter, or just to share them with others on the InterWebs.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Inhalable Food and Disappearing Dogs

Winter's cold hands have been far too familiar this first month of 2011.

Attempts on my part to find something more light-hearted or at least less dire to share have been floundering against obstacles real and imagined.

But perhaps surreal information can lighten the load or at least distract us from the cold.

For instance - breathable food. Efforts to create a "food inhaler" for breathable chocolate have been underway for the last few years. While I had always thought "inhaling your food" to be a negative assessment of consumption habits, as usual, I was wrong.

Le Whif traversed the entire idea funnel. It started as a catalyst of education, soon became a catalyst of cultural exploration, and went on to be a catalyst of commercial sales revenue that helped keep our labs running. It also inspired new culinary art and science experiments, from whiffed coffee, which launched in the spring of 2010, to whiffed vitamins, scheduled to launch later within the year. And on the horizon was yet another design, Le Whaf, which I conceived with the French designer Marc Bretillot as a new way to "drink by breathing." This was a new form of food--a standing cloud of flavor that falls between a liquid and a gas, just as whiffed food fell somewhere between a solid and a gas."

What, no Bacon Whiffing?


Taking a picture of your black dog can be quite problematic. As evidence:

The image is one of a series of photos which is also part of a series of books on repeated photos of the same subject. I liked this one best, which chronicles a series of photos of a Dutch lady over the years (from age 16 to age 88!!) as she shoots targets in a fairground shooting gallery.


The quiz show Jeopardy is prepping for a giant IBM computer to compete against the show's human champions in February. IBM says their computer, dubbed Watson, operates at 80 teraflops. (If I knew what that meant, I could be impressed.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Palin Flailing and Gun-Totin' Beck

Hoo boy.

If, in your time of trouble, you consider it valuable to turn to the twittering celebrity Sarah Palin, then you'll be rewarded with ... well, let Steve Benen explain:

Palin has been unusually quiet since Saturday's massacre in Tucson, and as interest in the toxicity of political rhetoric has grown more intense, her role in cheapening and dragging down our discourse has generated a fair amount of attention.

Today, Palin broke her silence issuing a video, which is nearly eight minutes long. It's a standard tactic -- the right-wing media personality can't subject herself to questions or muster the confidence to deal with cross-examinations, so to communicate, Palin's forced to hide behind statements others write for her, and then upload them. It's not exactly the stuff Profiles in Courage are made of.

In any case, the statement/video is about what one might expect. Palin, speaking from Alaska with an American flag over her right shoulder, has no regrets and no apologies to offer. Instead, she's concerned about "blood libel."

"If you don't like a person's vision for the country, you're free to debate that vision. If you don't like their ideas, you're free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

I don't imagine Palin actually knows what "blood libel" means, but historically, it's referred to the ridiculous notion of Jews engaging in ritual killings of Christian children. More commonly, it's a phrase intended to convey the suffering of an oppressed minority.

In other words, Palin is apparently feeling sorry for herself, again, using a needlessly provocative metaphor that casts her as something of a martyr.

I was also struck in the same paragraph by the notion that media figures are "inciting" "hatred and violence." Palin didn't cite any examples, so I don't know what she's referring to, but there is something odd about the accusation. As she sees the events in Tucson, a "deranged, apparently apolitical criminal" committed a despicable act, but that's no reason to "claim political rhetoric is to blame." That's a defensible argument. But if that's the case, why is Palin concerned about criticisms from pundits "inciting the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn"?

Excessive political rhetoric is fine, but criticizing those who engage in excessive political rhetoric is fomenting violence? How does that work, exactly?

Palin went on to note that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) participated in the reading of the Constitution on the House floor last week, and happened to read the First Amendment.

"It was a beautiful moment and more than simply "symbolic," as some claim, to have the Constitution read by our Congress. I am confident she knew that reading our sacred charter of liberty was more than just 'symbolic.' But less than a week after Congresswoman Giffords reaffirmed our protected freedoms, another member of Congress announced that he would propose a law that would criminalize speech he found offensive."

I agree that responding to the tragedy by curtailing the First Amendment would be a mistake, but let's be clear about the context: what Palin chooses to overlook is that Giffords has taken a leading role in trying to lower the temperature of those who engage in rhetorical excesses, and specifically complained publicly about Palin's use of rifle crosshairs targeting Giffords' district just last year.

To suggest that Giffords and Palin are on the same page on this is at odds with reality.

And with that, the former half-term governor will probably go back into hiding for a while, content with the knowledge that the media will air her video over and over again, and that she need not have the courage to answer questions to get her message out.

Palin had an opportunity to step up, demonstrate some real leadership, and prove to everyone that she deserves a role on the national stage. That opportunity is now gone, and Palin has failed."

Maybe you prefer to await the Word from Glenn Beck - turns out he gives ya words and pictures, calling for condemnation of violence while playing with his handgun.

Hoo boy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Arizona Assassin - Fueled By Political Rage?

The grim and deadly attack on a member of Congress, a child, a Federal judge, and the public in general all gathered for a question and answer session with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is prompting much speculation and debate - especially on the notion that America's current political climate is a hothouse of hatred and blossoming violence.

Let's be honest about one thing - America, along with the most of the planet, is a world of political violence. People do horrifying things to one another while claiming to pursue higher purposes.

The assassin's motives and "reason" are largely unknown at this time. That may change, or the speculation may forever muddy the questions about his motives.

In the last few years, certainly, the language and ideas swirling together in the realm of politics has been vicious, violent and hateful. But, seeking blame and/or reason for the heinous attack makes a chilling error, according to some thoughts from Slate writer Jack Shafer, whose thoughts bear the headline "The awesome stupidity of calls to tamp down political speech in wake of the Gifford's shooting" -

The call by Sheriff Dupnik and others to take our political conversation down a few notches might make sense if anybody had been calling for the assassination in the first place, which they hadn't. And if they had, there are effective laws to prosecute those who move language outside of the metaphorical. I can't be overly critical of the sheriff. After all, he's the one who has spent his career witnessing how threats can turn into violence: gang wars, contract killings, neighborhood rows, domestic disputes, bar arguments, and all the rest.

The great miracle of American politics is that although it can tend toward the cutthroat and thuggish, it is almost devoid of genuine violence outside of a few scuffles and busted lips now and again. With the exception of Saturday's slaughter, I'd wager that in the last 30 years there have been more acts of physical violence in the stands at Philadelphia Eagles home games than in American politics.

Any call to cool "inflammatory" speech is a call to police all speech, and I can't think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power.

Shafer also adds sarcasm to his article (perhaps not the wisest decision given the deaths caused by the assassin) -

The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I'll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me."

In response, Alex Parene at Salon provides a host of speakers, videos and more to catalog the constant drumbeat in recent years for violence against those in government:

At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?

At some point soon, it will happen. It’ll be over an innocuous issue.

Parene's list is hardly complete, but it provides a good glimpse of those seeking power being willing to offer language which is meant to incite action, from /radio/TV/internet rants and from politicians too.

When this is the bed you make, you can't be too shocked when monsters hide under it."

And Arizona is certainly in the grip of political and unprecedented financial turmoil on almost every front, as this article from Harper's in 2010 clearly indicates - cutting out programs to aid the sick, the poor, those seeking public education and much, much more.

Just last week I wrote about how the cable "news" outlets present information as a battle between two forces locked forever in combat - but it's a "battle" created to gain ratings, not to report information for the public good. So these tactics too bring distorted realities forward. It's a game in which we all lose.

Will we continue to fall under the intoxicating spell of anger or will we begin instead to demand better of ourselves and of those who claim to speak for us?

SEE ALSO: Newcoma writes about the tragedy and the questions left in it's wake.