Friday, January 31, 2003
One motorist told BBC Breakfast News that he had only moved two miles in 10 hours and had had just two pasties to sustain him.

I have never been in a place that had such a terrible contingency plan for snow and ice. Maybe it's all due to the fact that there's very rarely any snow at all in England, but this is ridiculous. It took Dan 3 1/2 hours to walk home from work, as all the Tubes, buses, and taxis were either not running or wedged in tightly, bumper-to-bumper.

Thursday, January 30, 2003
Frankly, I'm not bothered by the thought that some people receiving public assistance might end up with a few extra boxes of cereal than they can consume in a month. That, in essence is the sticking point for Douglas Besharov, who sees food stamps as the cause of obesity among the US's poorest sector. He claims that people with food tickets will spend all the tickets to avoid wasting any.

Then, in the strangest, most deterministic argument I've heard in a long while, he claims that people always eat the extra food and therefore end up fat.

I think it's pretty obvious that having food around doesn't make people fat. There is, on the contrary, quite a bit of research (see, for example) that suggests that poorer people tend to be obese because the cheapest food tends to be sugary, fatty junk.

It is very easy to see how a woman trying to feed a four-person family on $88 worth of food stamps each month (the current pay-out in Maryland) would opt for products that provide the most volume, the most satiety, and the most caloric value, for the least amount of money. Hence the birth of the cheap packages of cookies, the economy-sized bags of potato chips, etc.

The WIC Program has been so successful because it only allows for certain food choices-- recipients can only purchase items that the USDA has deemed healthy. The benefits cannot be spent on cigarettes or cookies. It is, at its core, an education program embedded in a benefits program. Sadly, it is available only to pregnant women and new mothers.

What we need is not a 'cash out' plan that Besharov thinks would keep people from buying too much food (that they are, in his strange universe, compelled to consume in its entirety). Instead, we ought to focus on a food stamp/voucher program that assists people in making wise food choices. Vouchers doled out in amounts based on the USDA Food Pyramid are one option. This allows for a few sweet, fatty purchases-- hence avoiding stripping recipients of any agency in choosing what they can eat-- but guides food buying.

And, if at the end of the month, a family ends up with a few extra loaves of bread, I, unlike Besharov, won't assume that there will be an eleventh-hour binge to clear the pantry.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Now, I'm not anti-clerical, but this is just wrong. How could any thinking person actually believe that it's OK to use government funds to build churches?

One of the ethical pillars of the United States is that religion and government be clearly, cleanly set apart from one another-- discrete entities that inhabit maximally independent spheres.

We've seen some excellent examples of theocratic local and state governments coming to power (Northern Nigeria, for example), to disastrous results, and as far away as government-sponsored churches might seem to that, just imagine what new political webs get spun when Congress has paid for your pew.

What's next, an Office of Homeland Belief?

Monday, January 27, 2003
As a small indicator of how cosmically off-kilter watching the Superbowl while in England is, Channel 5 has, of all people, Seal commentating on the game.

Not to malign Seal-- I loved his first album-- but how exactly does a man with this biography come to be able to give NFL play-by-play?

Friday, January 24, 2003
I generally really dislike Andrew Sullivan. So much so, in fact, that an article he wrote for the New York Times a few years back got me so steamed that I developed a short-lived bout of Tourette's Syndrome on a day-trip with Dan to Annapolis, MD. You can just imagine how much fun I was.

But our own Uncle Tom/Aunt Mary has done something good in his most recent Salon article. Sticking to a factual analysis of an insane Rolling Stone story about new HIV infections, he manages to come off as intelligent and human. This is monumental progress.

Thursday, January 23, 2003
I may not know why the caged bird sings, but I do now understand why they call it a 'Dirt Devil'

It is not because it cleans like a 'little devil'. Nor is is because it gets rid of diabolic crumbs stuck into your rugs.

No, this wicked little machine gets its name because it flew straight out of Lucifer's ass, into my closet.

I'm not angry as much as exhausted after almost an hour of fighting with this soi-disant vacuum. It appears that the junctions between nozzles and hoses and bags are all very loose on these machines, so much so that I spent the first ten minutes of my endeavour watching this machine struggle to suck up a piece of toilet paper. Yes. Let me repeat that-- it was so inefficient that it couldn't grab a piece of toilet paper!

So I emptied the bag. Then I checked all the connections (which looked OK). Then tried scrubbing harder with the attachment brush (result: all the crap on the carpet becoming airborne, with none of it going into the vacuum). Then, in frustration, I tried pushing down on the hose connection to the main machine body. Eureka! [Had I been naked in the bathtub, I would have run screaming through the streets, but as it was, I was too exhausted from fighting with the Hoover from Hades...]

What followed was 45 more minutes of cardiovascular exercise that found me alternating between standing on, sitting on, kneeling on, and leaning on the Dirt Devil, all the while trying to reach far enough out into the rooms to clean the carpet with the long attachment. Dripping with sweat, I prepared for my dismount and then executed a full-turning, double cord-retracting Sukahara, to the great elation of the Czech judge. Sadly, the people downstairs weren't as delighted.

I really need a maid.

Monday, January 20, 2003
Feeling not unlike someone who has hooked his best friend on crack, I should probably let the world know that Dan (boyfriend & fellow mask-wearer) now has his own weblog, Spiel.

Must... post...

Thursday, January 16, 2003
Hmm... should I work on data analysis and writing my dissertation this summer or read this instead?

Monday, January 13, 2003
Herbal Refreshment

When I arrived in the Czech Republic, I expected to be struck by some strange sights, to be confronted of the foreignness of the country. But when I left the plane, the airport was just like every other decent airport I'd seen. It was clean and bright with lots of ads on the walls, and I quickly caught myself revising my expectations. Perhaps the Czechs weren't so different from Western Europeans after all.

This theory held exactly 10 minutes, until an experience in passport control changed all that. Perched behind the immigration officer was a large 2-liter bottle that my eyes and brain scanned as 'Cola'. When it became clear that my passport needed a quick page-through, I looked at the bottle again, only to discover that it actually read:



Then I saw Dan staring at me, having been through the same line himself, mouthing the word, "Fola?!" As Dan speaks Czech, I knew this must mean that the Czech word for 'cola' was not 'fola'. So what was this stuff? More to the point, what soft drink advertises itself with metaporical brown balloons? Come on now... a brown balloon? How festive and jolly is that?

A quick trip to Tesco led us to the source-- stacks and stacks of Fola bottles, alongside its rival product, Kofola.

But hang on here... the Kofola bottles looked suspiciously like those of an unctuous herbal soft drink we had encountered in Malta in August. 

That product, Kinnie (and Diet Kinnie) , prides itself on its blend of bitter orange and what tastes like some kind of kelp. If you can imagine a mixture of Campari, root beer, and cough medicine, that's Kinnie. Was Fola just Kinnie's Bohemian cousin?

Dan was brave enough to test it out, and indeed, the similarities were legion. Fola seems to be a local variant of Kinnie. Dan insists that Fola is much nicer than Kinnie, but I'm not convinced. I'll take an ice-cold Kinnie over a brown-balloon filled with Fola any old time.

Thursday, January 09, 2003
Well, in keeping with this term's new discussions on trompe l'oeil images, I thought I'd use this colour vision test with my online Biology 101 course this year... but now I'm not so sure.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Honestly, sometimes juvenile pranks (sound file, and it's pretty much safe for work) can be just the tonic to a bad day.

I got all excited about accidentally discovering, only to discover their ridiculous subscription fees for a library that is, essentially, just out-of-copyright books and expired journals.

This is a classic example of a service that would have been free in the heady, crazy days of the late 1990s. Sigh. I miss my dotcom boom.

Monday, January 06, 2003
Apologies for the lengthy pause in posting-- we spent a fantastic two weeks in Prague, covering both Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Yes, it was cold. Yes, it was grey sometimes. Yes, it was absolutely charming. I'd go back for another two weeks in a heartbeat.

We ushered in 2003 on the Karluv Most (the old bridge) and watched in horror as people exploded fireworks on the bridge and smashed champagne bottles with reckless abandon. But really, the strangest thing for me was that there wasn't an (official) clock in site. Nor was there a countdown, for that matter. Instead, we found out that it was midnight when all the boats on the Vltava sounded their foghorns.

I have a feeling that 2003 will be as unusual and surprising as its first chilly night. Here's hoping it's as magical, as well.

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