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Undernews For July 17, 2008

Undernews For July 17, 2008

FROM THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
Washington's Most Unofficial Source
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Editor: Sam Smith

17 JULY 2008

WORD

If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies - Moshe Dayan

t is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others. - John Andrew Holmes

SWAMPOODLE REPORT: THE BLACK IVIES

Sam Smith

Michael Niebauer of the DC Examiner called the other day with a question that had been wandering aimlessly around in my head for some time: what did Barack Obama and DC Mayor Adrian Fenty have in common?

I suggested that he expand the question to include Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, NJ.

They all share two big things. First, they are of the first generation of modern black leaders who have gotten where they were by passing exams rather than crossing police lines and, second, they are of the first generation of black leaders to have been both educated and vetted by the white establishment.

Or, to put it another way, they are the first generation of modern black leaders who are not agents of change, but primarily beneficiaries of change.

There are, to be sure, some major differences between them, such as the extent of dues paid by Cory Booker, son of civil rights activists, who makes Barack Obama's community organizing gig seem like that of a dilettante. True, Booker won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford and graduated from Yale Law School, but for eight years, Booker lived in a public housing project and organized its tenants. In 2006, he moved on - to a rental on Newark's south side, which has been described as a "drug and gang-plagued neighborhood of boarded-up houses and empty lots." He went on to take over the city from the notorious Sharpe James, one of the last of the fulltime old style corrupt big town mayors.

That's a bit different from Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who has been under the wing of the white elite throughout much of his life, including going to Milton Academy, majoring in English and American literature and joining the exclusive Fly Club at Harvard, followed by Harvard Law School (like his pal Obama, who even lifted some of his rhetoric). After a tour with the NAACP and a private law firm, Patrick ended up as an Assistant Attorney General in the Clinton administration.

DC mayor Fenty is the only one who didn't go to the Ivy League. Rather he attended a mini-mart version, Oberlin, and then went to Howard Law school. Fenty is the son of a small business couple who run a popular and respected sportswear and shoe store.

All four are young and have had a remarkably short drive to heaven. Three benefited directly from the decay of older black leadership but they also happened along at a time when even cynical white political operatives and godfathers of the white business community were out looking for black brands to put on their operations.

In one of the telling moments of his mayoral campaign, then councilmember Fenty - who had previously sided regularly with tenants - supported a rent-control bill favored by the Apartment and Office Building Association. As local journalist James Jones put it, "At some point, the word went out to the big landlord community that Fenty was OK, despite his tenant-advocate past." One apartment management outfit managed to round up $24,000 for his campaign.

Obama had the right sort of friends as well, evidenced by the fact that you don't make it from state senator to major presidential candidate in less than four years without some significant non-black participation in the discovery.

The politics of the Black Ivies reflects their mentors, contributors and passers of the good word. We are now familiar with Obama's sharp post-primary shift to the right, but it didn't really surprise me because I had already lived through it with Fenty, whom I supported - with perhaps the most rapid subsequent regret I have ever experienced with a politician.

I had fallen, I admit, for Fenty's Obama-like talk of hope and change and I figured the son of small business folk would be a welcome change in town where politicians traditionally serve the corporate Board of Trade first and the people as an after thought.

It was soon apparent that the change was designed to make someone else happy, namely those on the editorial board of the conservative Washington Post and the Federal City Council, an unelected shadow government that then publisher Phil Graham had established years ago. High on the council's agenda was a mayoral takeover in the public school system, including the hiring of a stunningly dictatorial superintendent, the evisceration of what remained of an elected board of education, and the closing (and possible sale for development) of numerous schools.

In Fenty's first year we also were greeted by a police chief who had been involved in the torture of demonstrators and was trained by the Israelis on how to handle such rabble; the fining of anti-war demonstrators for just putting up protest notices; the ending of a taxicab zone system which had given the city the largest per capita cab service in the country, not to mention thousands of jobs; a plan (later dropped) to destroy all official e-mails after six months; the denial of the right of car owners to make personal appearances on parking tickets; the tripling of the number of staffers earning over $175k a year; the firing of highly experienced librarians; and the illegal removal of city officials based on age discrimination.

More recently, the NAACP police review committee, on which I sit, found itself battling this hip, thirty something black mayor because he had established police checkpoints for entering one neighborhood cruelly reminiscent of the practices of South African apartheid. Fenty even personally fired a social worker, one of whose clients had died, on the grounds the child had not been visited. Which sounds reasonable until you learn that the social worker's client list had grown from four to 50 in recent weeks because of Fenty's previous grandstanding - the firing of other workers for not adequately handling a case. The national standard for social workers is 12 clients, but after the first controversial case the numbers soared.

In sum, it sounds not unlike what you might expect if some older, white Republican had taken over the place. Worse, it has been carried out with remarkable and disturbing arrogance. One of Fenty's former deputy chiefs of staff told reporter Mark Segraves, "I think a lot of people are apprehensive and anxious -- you know, have a lot of anxiety about how their voice is being heard and incorporated in the changes that are happening. We do live in a democracy and it's not a dictatorship between the election and the next election.". . .

"I think as I listen to the folks in the neighborhoods and I talk to people in the Wilson Building and other government buildings, I think there is a growing frustration that there's one single voice making all the decisions in the city. I don't think that's what people had in mind when they elected Mayor Fenty.

"I think there were a lot of folks who were expecting this populist young mayor to work very closely with public to make decisions, very close with his former colleagues on the Council and closely with his senior staff, some of whom like myself who had served with him on the campaign. Unfortunately over time I saw less and less interest in hearing new ideas and different ideas."

When a local black radio host made similar criticisms of Fenty and asked for my response, I said that I didn't think Fenty saw himself as king so much as he perceived himself as CEO of Washington and that we were just his employees, not citizens. This narcissistic aura of entitlement and superiority has been noted of other Black Ivies, including Obama, about whom Democrats on the Hill are starting to complain. Its roots are unclear but one senses that everyone - from parents to grade school teachers to employers to media - has blessed these politicians with a pride in their excellence and in their magnificence as ground breakers. They have been happy to accept the notion without further inquiry.

But beyond this has been a disappearance of successful non-business styles of leadership. It's not just George Bush who says "I'm the decider" these days; it has become a dominant philosophy of running things. Thus, when Nelson Mandela points out that you can't lead cattle from the front, it sounds quaint and archaic and even if, as with Obama, you have been trained in Alinsky style community organizing, it takes not much of a twist to turn those skills towards one personal purpose: getting yourself where you want to be.

Thus, if some find me unduly skeptical about Obama, it is in part because I have already seen his shadow in Adrian Fenty. And with Obama, as with Fenty, there is a sense of hubris not to mention the difficulties, as they say in elementary school, in learning to play well with others.

Thus it didn't surprise me to learn that Patrick early in his administration, spent almost $11,000 on drapery for his suite, moved up from a Crown Victoria to a Cadillac and hired a $75,000 personal aide for his wife. Nor of conservative aspects of Cory Booker's approach to some issues or the tale of him ordering his escort to pull over a car that had just jettisoned some trash out of a window. Said Booker later, "I told them that what they did was an act of violence."

Recently, there has been much talk about the generational clash between the new black leadership and the Jesse Jacksons of an earlier time. The underlying assumption on the part of many commentators is that the things that concerned the Jacksons and Sharpton have become irrelevant and that we in a new era. And since the young have been offered not Martin Luther King or Fannie Lou Hammer, but Jackson and Sharpton, it's not surprising they're seeking something different.

Unanswered in this argument, however, is what we are really getting out of the shift. Yes, Booker, Fenty, Patrick and Obama are younger than Jackson, but aside from that what are we gaining? The record is mixed. Patrick has been more progressive on a number of issues than either Obama or Fenty. On the other hand his popularity has plummeted Booker is perhaps the most interesting and conflicted of the lot; Fenty the most boring. Obama the most successful.

But if there is one thing we can learn from the Black Ivies, it is that it's not the color of the politicians leading us that matters, but where they're going. It's not your roots but what you do with them.

For example, put the Black Ivies up against earlier urban ethnic politicians, such as the Irish, and what immediately jumps out is not their ethnicity but their lack of political empathy for those who share it. Try, for example, to imagine James Michael Curley lecturing the poor Irish on how to raise their kids or a Tammany Hall politics based on dismantling public schools, increasing police powers and taking away a taxi system that favors lower class strivers. As late as Marion Barry, blacks made such notable progress in DC that it became fondly known as Chocolate City. Under Fenty no one would even think of it.

Part of the pride some express for the new leaders is that it is a sign that we are moving beyond race. Perhaps, but race was always a convenient stereotype for something that we're not moving beyond nor even wishing to discuss: class. Even in the old South, segregation was a way for the white elite to keep poor whites and blacks from discovering what they had in common.

The rise of leaders like Fenty and Obama allow us to continue not to exclude class issues in our politics. The poor, as John Edwards discovered, can't make it far even on the white liberal agenda. Having a black or woman president provides comfort without the need to change things much.

This doesn't make the Black Ivies any worse than any other politicians; it just makes them decidedly typical in important ways. Which is why we have a black Democratic candidate for president to the right of the US Conference of Mayors on healthcare and whose major economic planks include telling young blacks to work harder. And a black mayor who doesn't want people entering their own neighborhood without police approval.

In the end, it may not be a national conversation about race we need so much as one about all the things we use talk of race to cover up.

PAGE ONE MUST

THE DEMOCRATS LOST THE PLOT

We recently noted that the presidential campaign was becalmed. Lionel Shriver of the Guardian seems to agree

Lionel Shriver, Guardian, UK The more imminent an election, the more the tension ratchets up, right? Yet since my arrival in the US six weeks ago, media coverage of the American presidential campaign has felt lackluster. Political conversations with friends and neighbors have been marked by lassitude. Even formerly frenetic Obama supporters display a shrugging quality, as if with nearly three months to go, the election is already old hat, as if it is over.

America's Democratic Party is experiencing a crisis of narrative. It has literally lost the plot. Having successfully enflamed the public's fictional imagination from January to June, Democrats effectively replaced the ultimate contest in November with the penultimate one. The cliffhanger primaries became the story. Now that Obama is the presumptive nominee, the story is over. Take it from a novelist: you never want to plant your climax in chapter three, in the naive expectation that your reader will dutifully plough through another 250 pages. . .

This sudden slackening of dramatic tension is proving deadly. This week's controversial New Yorker cover has generated a frisson of excitement, but has nothing to do with rivalry between the candidates. Otherwise, the only palpable energy left in the story - or what's mistaken for the story - is denouement: will Hillary and her sulking supporters successfully blackmail Obama into choosing Hillary as his running mate? . . .

Nobody seems especially interested in the McCain-Obama contest. I never hear friends or family talk about McCain. He's a little doughy, and stiff, and old, and sure he's lurching to the right, but he inspires neither driving passion in his supporters nor driving antipathy in his opponents. Obama is busy illustrating that a hero can only stay a hero by triumphing in the final few pages. In literature, all that awaits a hero who is already perceived to have won is failure. He can grow too arrogant, or expose his messianic aura as a cheap lighting trick. Sure enough, in taking more centrist positions that disillusion his leftwing fans, Obama is starting to look like what he is: one more presidential candidate who wants to win. If this were a novel, and we had those 250 pages to go, the only plot development that would make narrative sense would be for our hero to suffer a tragic, vertiginous downfall.

But this isn't a novel. Among a democracy's many systemic weaknesses is an electorate's susceptibility to the devices of fiction - to "likeable characters", clear-cut villains, suspense, and the satisfying arc of traditional narrative, including conflict, crisis, and resolution. In having peaked too early - in having so involved the public in the riveting thriller of the first serious black presidential candidate running against the first serious female one - the Democratic party has exhausted the amount of emotion that its constituency will invest in any given election. The punters want to read something else now.

HOW SUBPRIME POLITICIANS, LOBBYISTS AND BANKERS CAUSED CRISIS

Robert L. Borosage, Huffington Post Created by the government in the 1930s to help lubricate the US mortgage market by buying mortgages from the banks so they would have the cash to make more mortgages, Fanny and Freddy were able to borrow money at a discount because of a widely shared assumption that the government would stand behind their debts if push came to shove. Their operations were regulated, limited by laws detailing what mortgages they could assume (They were essentially prohibited from diving directly into the subprime muck). But as they grew and profited, their executives pocketed lavish salaries and bonuses -- giving them an incentive to grow even more (and as we discovered earlier this decade, to cook the books). Last year, for example, the Chair of Freddie Mac took home a cool $18,289,575. Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd reaped a 7 percent rise in pay to $13.4 million in 2007 while the company lost $2 billion and its shared fell 33%. Nice work if you can get i. . .

If the guarantees work, private speculators, having driven the stock down, will clean up on the upside. And the bank's CEO's will continue to pocket the multi-million dollar salaries that are de rigueur on Wall Street. Call it Wall Street socialism. Their losses are socialized; their profits are pocketed. You and I will pay for their failures. . .

Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac are only the most recent and extreme version of Wall Street socialism. The Bush administration has done essentially the same for private providers of college loans. The Federal Reserve has made taxpayers the guarantor not simply of the banks that it regulates, but the shadow banking system of hedge funds and investment houses that it doesn't regulate. After the bailout of Bear Sterns, they basically are gambling with our money. The Federal Reserve has now traded more than $500 billion in federal bonds for the toxic paper of private banks and investment houses, some $200 billion of it in mortgage backed securities, worth dimes on the dollar. This massive subsidy -- justified as necessary to keep the banking system afloat -- is not accompanied by limits on what gambles the speculators can make, how much debt they can take on, what rewards they can pocket. They are playing with house money -- not exactly an incentive for prudence.

Dean Baker, Prospect I hate to make a whipping boy out of Ben Bernanke, he came into an impossible situation, but this is someone who has minimized the problems of the housing market at every turn. Before he took his post as Fed chairman he told the Washington Post that there was no housing bubble. In March of last year he told Congress that the problems in the subprime mortgage market were "likely to be contained" and not spread to the larger economy. After missing the last Bear Stearns, Bernanke told Congress that he doesn't anticipate another Bear Stearns. And now that we seem to be seeing something that looks a lot like Bear Stearns at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Bernanke tells us not to worry.

Jonathan Weisman Washington Post When Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's stock prices plunged and rumors of their insolvency swirled, the presidential campaigns of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama released terse statements about the mortgage giants, then went nearly silent. . .

"You see a consensus developing that the current system is unsustainable," said David C. John, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "But actually saying what has to happen next is a little bit scary if you're in a campaign, especially if some of your most prominent supporters have such deep ties to these entities."

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, was president of the Homeownership Alliance, which advocates the expansion of homeownership through low-interest mortgages funded by Fannie and Freddie. Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., who is heading McCain's vice presidential vetting panel, was a lobbyist for Fannie Mae. Mark Buse, a longtime McCain aide, lobbied for Freddie Mac before returning to McCain's Senate staff.

And the list of Republican Fannie and Freddie lobbyists includes some of its most notable rogues -- including Tony Rudy, Edwin Buckham, Kevin Ring and David H. Safavian, all of whom were linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal -- as well as some of its leading power brokers, from Reagan White House chief of staff Kenneth M. Duberstein to uberlobbyists Vin Weber and Tom Korologos. Alberto R. Cardenas, one of McCain's top fundraisers, has lobbied for Fannie Mae, as have former Montana governor Marc Racicot and tax-cut advocate Grover Norquist.

Obama also has ties to the firms. James A. Johnson, the former head of his vice presidential vetting panel, was a chief executive of Fannie Mae, as was Franklin D. Raines, who said this week that he has been consulting with the campaign on housing issues. Maria Echaveste, a top Clinton White House official whose husband, Christopher Edley Jr., is a close Obama friend and adviser, has lobbied for Freddie Mac, and former commerce secretary William M. Daley, a top Obama backer, was an in-house lobbyist.

Other Democratic luminaries who have advocated for the mortgage giants include strategist Steven Elmendorf, Rep. Doris Matsui (Calif.), former Al Gore aide Ronald A. Klain, former Clinton aide Steve Ricchetti and former congressman Harold E. Ford Jr. (Tenn.), now the head of the Democratic Leadership Council. Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, was also vice chairman of Fannie Mae.

That payroll has cost Fannie and Freddie nearly $200 million in lobbying and campaign contributions over the past decade, according to lobbying reports and Federal Election Commission disclosures. It has also won them plenty of protection from calls for greater regulation, less federal protection, and even nationalization.

With the current housing meltdown, that protection may be ending, Washington economists say, but any real changes will almost certainly happen after the election.

Robert Novak As financial storm signals appeared the past 18 months, some Bush officials urged drastic reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But, according to internal government sources, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson objected because it would look "too political." The Republican administration kept its hands off the government-backed mortgage companies that are closely connected to the Democratic establishment.

Paulson is a Republican, but as head of the Goldman Sachs investment bank he had close ties with Democratic-dominated Fannie Mae.

After prominent Democrat James A. Johnson's departure from Fannie following eight years as chairman and chief executive, and after Johnson joined the ZymoGenetics biopharmaceutical firm, he was named head of Goldman Sachs's compensation committee, helping to set Paulson's abundant salary there.

That connection was not enough for Paulson to recuse himself from dealing with the crisis threatening Fannie, Freddie and the whole American economy. He structured the bailout and was on the phone last weekend encouraging leading investment bankers to buy Freddie Mac bonds. Financial consultant Lawrence Lindsey, President Bush's former national economic director, told clients on Sunday, "Surely things are somewhat amiss when a country's finance minister plays bond salesman for a supposedly privately owned company."

Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Paulson stressed that there would be a federal purchase of assets only if necessary. But relying on investment bankers could be awkward for Paulson because of indiscreet jubilation from his old company. "This is our bailout," a senior Goldman Sachs official told a Wall Street colleague this week, suggesting that the firm will be cherry-picking for mortgage bargains.

Paulson is not unique in paying tardy attention to the mortgage companies. The only senior executive branch officials who expressed alarm about overextended Fannie and Freddie were former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, and their warnings were shrugged off.

It was worse on Capitol Hill. When Republican Richard Baker represented Louisiana's 6th District, he could not find a single House co-sponsor for his reform bill. He lost his bid to become ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, though he had seniority, and then retired from Congress to become a lobbyist.

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel had trouble finding other Senate supporters for Baker's bill.

Baker, Hagel and Richard Shelby, ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, were rare members of committees with jurisdiction who took the issue seriously. The powerhouse Democratic overseers of the banking committees -- Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Christopher Dodd and Sen. Chuck Schumer -- protected Fannie and Freddie.

THE FINANCIAL FALLOUT

Politico Americans are deeply worried about their economic prospects and they want government to invest in expanding economic opportunity and assisting those in need, according to a new poll. The Rockefeller Foundation/Time magazine poll . . . found significant increases in economic anxiety, especially among young people and minorities, and dissatisfaction with the federal government’s response. The percentage of Americans concerned with their own economic situation, at 47 percent, has nearly doubled from 24 percent in January 2007 when the Rockefeller Foundation conducted a similar study. . . Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they are facing greater financial risk than in the past and 55 percent say that Congress is hindering them from achieving economic security. Generation Y, defined as 18 to 29 year olds in this survey, was the most pessimistic age cohort, with the bleakest view of the future. Forty-nine percent say America was a better place to live in the 1990s and will continue to decline, compared to 40 percent or less for every other age cohort.

She noted that half reported having gone without health insurance in the last year. Sixty-two percent said that they have failed to pay a bill on time because they could not afford to. They are more likely than older people to have not gone to a doctor because of cost, to worry that they are not saving enough for retirement and to have borrowed money from a friend.

And young Americans seem readier than older Americans to turn to government for the solution. Eighty-six percent say more government programs should help those struggling under the current economic conditions.

African-Americans and Latinos feel especially hard hit by recent economic turmoil, according to the survey. Ninety-six percent of African-Americans and 88 percent of Latinos believe the economy is on the wrong track. Congress is not the only political institution that gets a share of the blame:. Almost 80 percent of African-Americans say the president is hindering their pursuit of economic security.

LA Times Home prices plunged 29% last month from a year earlier, to a median of $355,000 in six Southern California counties, a real estate information service reported. That's about where prices were in 2004. The number of homes sold in June was down 14% from a year earlier. . . Price declines in Los Angeles and Orange counties have been less severe than in the Inland Empire, but they are falling just the same. Home values were down 24% in Los Angeles County in June from one year earlier. . .

One World
The United States' current record-breaking rates of mortgage foreclosure will directly impact 2 million children this year and next, according to a recent report from First Focus, a bipartisan child advocacy organization. "Our homeless education liaisons are noticing increases in the number of students who are homeless, not just in high-poverty families but also those who have typically been middle class and facing this for the first time," says Patricia Popp, state coordinator for homeless education in Virginia.

Under federal law, school districts are required to have homeless education liaisons to identify and assist homeless students. Kathy Kropf has served as the homeless liaison in Macomb Intermediate School District in suburban Michigan for 14 years. "Our numbers are the highest they've ever been this year," she says. This school year, the county served 514 homeless students, a 33-percent increase over last year. At least 50 of those students were made homeless by recent foreclosures, according to Kropf. . .

The districts reporting the highest increases in homeless students appear to match those currently leading in foreclosures -- namely, areas in California, Florida, Texas, Michigan, and Ohio, says Barbara Duffield, the organization's policy director.

Bloomberg Misery hasn't had this much company in more than 15 years. The jump in consumer prices reported today by the Labor Department means the so-called Misery Index, the sum of the unemployment and inflation rates, is the highest since President Bill Clinton took office in January 1993. The measure, created by Arthur Okun, an economics adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, rose to 10.5 in June from 9.7 in the prior month. Surging costs and falling payrolls will cause consumers to slow spending growth to the weakest pace since 1991 by the fourth quarter, according to a monthly survey of economists by Bloomberg News. . The year-over-year inflation rate accelerated to 5 percent, the fastest since May 1991, the Labor Department said. A separate report July 3 showed a 5.5 percent unemployment rate for June. Today's consumer price index data also showed wages fell 2.4 percent over the last 12 months, after adjusting for inflation.

Peter Larson, Washington Humane Society - According to county figures, Fairfax County saw five times the number of foreclosures in the first six months of 2007 as it had during the first six months of 2006. The hidden statistic in all of this is the number of companion animals also being affected! Other parts of the country are reporting a rise in the number of animals surrendered at their animal shelters because the family home had been lost to foreclosure. The family dog or cat, often considered more than a pet, is also finding themselves forced from their homes because of foreclosures. These poor animals are also sadly being separated from their families, who are forced to move into apartments that don’t accept pets, or move in with friends or family members who don’t have the room for

NO PLANS FOR ANTI-WAR PUBLIC SERVICE ADS ON DVDs BUT. . . .

New American Media When Sony releases the DVD of "21," a film about MIT math whizzes who take on the smoke-filled world of Las Vegas casinos, this July 22, it will be the first-ever film to feature an anti-smoking public service ad in its opening minutes. The commercial will contrast glamorous tobacco industry images of smokers-a cowboy, a hip-hop DJ and a twenties-era flapper-with the bleak image of a dying man in a wheelchair who warns, "The reality is, you can end up looking like this."

DVD releases of movies rated G, PG or PG-13 that feature tobacco use will all soon open with anti-smoking public service announcements because of a new agreement between the State of California, the Entertainment Industry Foundation and several major Hollywood studios

TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR TALKING ABOUT RACE

Although the concept of race was originally a racist idea - a means of defining another culture as inferior - some scientists are still having a hard time giving it up. This story describes an effort to find common ground amongst different viewsw:

New Scientist Even with the human genome in hand, geneticists are split about how to deal with issues of race, genetics and medicine. Some favor using genetic markers to sort humans into groups based on ancestral origin - groups that may show meaningful health differences. Others argue that genetic variations across the human species are too gradual to support such divisions and that any categorization based on genetic differences is arbitrary.

These issues have been discussed in depth by a multidisciplinary group - ranging from geneticists and psychologists to historians and philosophers - led by Sandra Soo-Jin Lee of Stanford University, California.

Now the group has released a set of 10 guiding principles for the scientific community, published as an open letter in this week's Genome Biology.

1. All races are created equal

No genetic data has ever shown that one group of people is inherently superior to another. Equality is a moral value central to the idea of human rights; discrimination against any group should never be tolerated.

2. An Argentinian and an Australian are more likely to have differences in their DNA than two Argentinians

Groups of human beings have moved around throughout history. Those that share the same culture, language or location tend to have different genetic variations than other groups. This is becoming less true, though, as populations mix.

3. A person's history isn't written only in his or her genes

Everyone's genetic material carries a useful, though incomplete, map of his or her ancestors' travels. Studies looking for health disparities between individuals shouldn't rely solely on this identity. They should also consider a person's cultural background.

4: Members of the same race may have different underlying genetics

Social definitions of what it means to be "Hispanic" or "black" have changed over time. People who claim the same race may actually have very different genetic histories.

5. Both nature and nurture play important parts in our behaviors and abilities

Trying to use genetic differences between groups to show differences in intelligence, violent behaviors or the ability to throw a ball is an oversimplification of much more complicated interactions between genetics and environment.

6. Researchers should be careful about using racial groups when designing experiments

When scientists decide to divide their subjects into groups based on ethnicity, they need to be clear about why and how these divisions are made to avoid contributing to stereotypes.

7. Medicine should focus on the individual, not the race

Although some diseases are connected to genetic markers, these markers tend to be found in many different racial groups. Overemphasising genetics may promote racist views or focus attention on a group when it should be on the individual.

8. The study of genetics requires cooperation between experts in many different fields

Human disease is the product of a mishmash of factors: genetic, cultural, economic and behavioral. Interdisciplinary efforts that involve the social sciences are more likely to be successful.

9. Oversimplified science feeds popular misconceptions

Policy makers should be careful about simplifying and politicising scientific data. When presenting science to the public, the media should address the limitations of race-related research.

10. Genetics 101 should include a history of racism

Any high school or college student learning about genetics should also learn about misguided attempts in the past to use science to justify racism. New textbooks should be developed for this purpose.

The Stanford group didn't always agree when coming up with these ideas. Predictably enough, the biomedical scientists tended to think of race in neutral, clinical terms; the social scientists and scholars of the humanities argued that concepts of race cannot be washed clean of their cultural and historical legacies.

But both groups, according to the letter, recognize the power of the gene in the public imagination and the historical dangers of its misrepresentation as deterministic and immutable.

Sam Smith, Great American Political Repair Manual 1997 The most important fact about race: It doesn't really exist. At least not the way many Americans think it does. There is simply no undisputed scientific definition of race. What are considered genetic characteristics are often the result of cultural habit and environmental adaptation. As far back as 1785, a German philosopher noted that "complexions run into each other." Julian Huxley suggested in 1941 that "it would be highly desirable if we could banish the question-begging term 'race' from all discussions of human affairs and substitute the noncommittal phrase 'ethnic group.' That would be a first step toward rational consideration of the problem at hand." Anthropologist Ashley Montagu in 1942 called race our "most dangerous myth."

Yet in our conversations and arguments, in our media, and even in our laws, the illusion of race is given great credibility. As a result, that which is transmitted culturally is considered genetically fixed, that which is an environmental adaptation is regarded as innate and that which is fluid is declared immutable.

Many still hang on to a notion similar to that of Carolus Linnaeus, who declared in 1758 that there were four races: white, red, dark and black. Others make up their own races, applying the term to religions (Jewish), language groups (Aryan) or nationalities (Irish). Modern science has little impact on our views. Our concept of race comes largely from religion, literature, politics, and the oral tradition. It comes creaking with all the prejudices of the ages. It reeks of territoriality, of jingoism, of subjugation, and of the abuse of power.

DNA research has revealed just how great is our misconception of race. In The History and Geography of Human Genes, Luca Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford and his colleagues describe how many of the variations between humans are really adaptations to different environmental conditions (such as the relative density of sweat glands or lean bodies to dissipate heat and fat ones to retain it). But that's not the sort of thing you can easily build a system of apartheid around. As Thomas S. Martin has written:

"The widest genetic divergence in human groups separates the Africans from the Australian aborigines, though ironically these two 'races' have the same skin color. . . . There is no clearly distinguishable 'white race.' What Cavalli-Sforza calls the Caucasoids are a hybrid, about two-thirds Mongoloid and one-third African. Finns and Hungarians are slightly more Mongoloid, while Italians and Spaniards are more African, but the deviation is vanishingly slight."

Regardless of what science says, however, myth can kill and cause pain just as easily as scientific truth. And regardless of what science says, there are no Japanese players in the NBA or, as anthropologist Alice Brues told Newsweek, "If I parachute into Nairobi, I know I'm not in Oslo."

In fact, give or take a few thousand years, it's unlikely that those of a Nordic skin complexion would stay that way living under the African sun. Similarly, the effects of a US diet are strong enough that the first generations of both European and Asian Americans have found themselves looking up at their grandchildren.

In such ways adaptation mimics what many think of as race. But who needs science when we have our own eyes? If it looks like race, that's good enough for us.

Further, we are obsessed with the subject even as we say we wish to ignore it. A few years back, a study of urban elections coverage found five times as many stories about race as about taxes.

We can't even agree on what race is. In the 1990 census, Americans said they belonged to some 300 different races or ethnic groups. American Indians divided themselves into 600 tribes and Latinos into 70 categories.

Even as we talk endlessly of race and ethnicity, we simultaneously go to great lengths to prove that we are all the same. Why this contradiction? The answer can be partly found in the tacit assumption of many that human equity must be based primarily on competitive equality. Listen to talk about race (or sex) and notice how often the talk is also about competition. The cultural differences (real or presumed) that really disturb us are ones of competitive significance: thigh circumference, height, math ability and so forth. We accept more easily other differences -- varieties of hair, degree of subcutaneous fat, prevalence of sickle cell anemia -- because they don't affect (or affect far less) who gets to the top.

Once having decided which traits are important, we assign causes to them on the basis of convenience rather than fact. Our inability to sort out the relative genetic, cultural, and environmental provenance of our differences doesn't impede our judgment at all. It is enough that a difference is observed. Thus we tend to deal neither with understanding what the facts about our differences and similarities really mean -- or, more importantly, with their ultimate irrelevance to developing a world where we can live harmoniously and happily with each other. We don't spend the effort to separate facts from fiction because both cut too close to our inability to appreciate and celebrate our human differences. It is far easier to pretend either that these differences are immutable or that they don't exist at all.

WHAT JOHN MCCAIN THINKS IS FUNNY

Wonkette John McCain’s always had a hearty arsenal of "cocktail party jokes," including several about killing Iranian civilians with either bombs or exported American cancer, and another about Chelsea Clinton being ugly because her father is Janet Reno’s penis. These jokes, however, can’t shake a stick at the latest gem someone has unearthed from a 1986 copy of the Tucson Citizen, one that got him in a tit-bit of trouble at the time"

"Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, 'Where is that marvelous ape?'"

FLOATING WIND TURBINES COULD GIVE ALTERNATIVE ENERGY A BOOST

Guardian, UK A British company is poised to construct the world's first floating wind turbine, in a move that could herald a new generation of cheaper, less problematic wind energy. Blue H, a firm registered in the UK but based in Holland, aims to anchor its prototype device 12 miles off the coast of southern Italy later this month.

The company is one of several racing to build commercial-scale floating wind turbines that sit in deep water far from land. These turbines benefit from more powerful winds and avoid many of the issues that afflict existing wind farms.

Neal Bastick, head of Blue H, said the Italian prototype would be "virtually invisible" from the shore, and that the company plans to build a full scale floating 90 megawatt wind farm in the region. Blue H also wants to build them off Scotland and the northeast US.

Bastick said the floating windmills would be more economic to install than existing offshore turbines, which sit on fixed foundations in the seabed. They could minimize problems with planning, as well as having less impact on shipping, military radar and coastal seabird populations. Electricity would be sent ashore using undersea cables.

WHAT IF BUSH OR CLINTON WERE RUNNING?

Rasmussen Barack Obama says a vote for John McCain is a vote for George W. Bush’s third term, but a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that the Democratic hopeful would have a much easier time of it if he were actually running against the incumbent president this year. At a time when Obama and McCain are locked in a tight race, the poll shows that Obama would rout President Bush 54% to 34%. Looking at the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll, McCain is outperforming Bush by more than 15 percentage points.

The poll results also show that Obama would have an easier go of it against two of McCain’s chief rivals for the Republican nomination. The presumptive Democratic nominee leads former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by eight points 49% to 41% and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee 50% to 39%.

However, McCain fares better against Obama than he does against two other prominent Democrats. New York Senator Hillary Clinton leads McCain by eight points, 50% to 42%. Former Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, leads McCain 50% to 43%.


CONGRESS CREATES OVER 500 NEW FEDERAL CRIMES A DECADE

John S. Baker, Jr, Heritage The most complete count of federal crimes, done by the U.S. Department of Justice in the early 1980s, put the number at 3,000. . . [A later] report estimates that there were 4,000 federal crimes at the start of 2000 This report updates that total through 2007, finding 452 additional crimes created since 2007, for a total of at least 4,450 federal crimes.

The growth of federal crimes continues unabated. The increase of 452 over the eight-year period between 2000 and 2007 averages 56.5 crimes per year-roughly the same rate at which Congress created new crimes in the 1980s and 1990s. So for the past twenty-five years, a period over which the growth of the federal criminal law has come under increasing scrutiny, Congress has been creating over 500 new crimes per decade. That pace is not steady from year to year, however; the data indicate that Congress creates more criminal offenses in election years.

Although [a 1998] ABA Report did not actually count the number of crimes, it drew the following dramatic conclusion from the available data: "The Task Force's research reveals a startling fact about the explosive growth of federal criminal law: More than 40% of the federal provisions enacted since the Civil War have been enacted since 1970."

FACING THE HOUSING CRISIS

William Greider, Nation If Washington wants real results, it has to abandon the wishful posture that is simply helping the private firms get over their fright. The government must instead act decisively to take charge in more convincing ways. That means acknowledging to the general public the depth of the national crisis and the need for more dramatic interventions.

Instead of propping up Fannie Mae or others, the threatened firm should be formally nationalized as a nonprofit federal agency performing valuable services for the housing market. That is the real consequence anyway if the taxpayers have to buy up $300 billion in stock.

The private shareholders "are walking dead men, muerto," Institutional Risk Analytics, a private banking monitor, observed. Make them eat their losses, the sooner the better. The real national concern should be focused on the major creditors who lend to Fannie Mae and other US agencies as well as private financial firms. They include China, Japan and other foreign central banks. Foreign investors hold about 21 percent of the long-term debt paper issued by US government agencies--$376 billion in China, $229 billion in Japan.

It is not in our national interest to burn these nations with heavy losses. On the contrary, we need to sustain their good regard because they can help us recover by bailing out the US economy with more lending. If these foreign creditors turn away and stop their lending now, the US economy is toast and won't soon recover.

Americans should forget about whining; it's too late for that. People need to get angry--really, really angry--and take it out on both parties. What the country needs right now is a few more politicians in Washington with the guts to stand up and tell us the hard truth about out situation. It will be painful to hear. They will be denounced as "whiners." But truth might be our only way out.

SCHOOL SYSTEM CONSIDERS FOUR DAY WEEK

Tree Hugger - There’s a school district in Virginia committed to studying the idea of a 4 day school week as energy costs climb. A practice which would mean less time on the road for school buses along with lower heating bills and CO2 emissions because the schools heat supply could be shut down for a three day weekend. Not to mention the need for one less set of school lunches to be shipped and prepared, along with one less daily commute for school personnel. All of which would most certainly cut both energy usage and CO2 as well. . . And there are plenty of reasons why the savings might not add up as well, particularly as the cost of day care for most parents would increase significantly as schools often serve a dual role for working parents in an age when two incomes is usually a necessity. And what may be a saving to the school district on energy bills and CO2 emissions may simply be transferred to those same parents as well. With the costs of running a school system currently spread over the entire population, it’s more than possible that those same costs will simply be redistributed to those with young children who often least can afford the increase.


CYNTHIA MCKINNEY KICKS OFF HER CAMPAIGN

CYNTHIA MCKINNEY, GREEN PARTY ACCEPTANCE SPEECH - In 1851, in Akron, Ohio a former slave woman, abolitionist, and woman's rights activist by the name of Sojourner Truth gave a speech now known as "Ain't I a Woman." Sojourner Truth began her remarks, "Well children, where there is so much racket, there must be something out of kilter." She then went on to say that even though she was a woman, no one had ever helped her out of carriages or lifted her over ditches or given her a seat of honor in any place. Instead, she acknowledged, that as a former slave and as a black woman, she had had to bear the lash as well as any man; and that she had borne "thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And Ain't I a woman?" Finally, Sojourner Truth says, "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!"

As it was in 1851, so too it is in 2008. There is so much racket that we, too, know something is out of kilter. In 1851, the racket was about a woman's right to vote. In 1848, just a few years before Sojourner uttered those now famous words, "Ain't I a Woman?" suffragists met in Seneca Falls, New York and issued a declaration.

That declaration began: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government . . But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled."

Two hundred sixty women and forty men gathered in Seneca Falls, NY and declared their independence from the politics of their present and embarked upon a struggle to create a politics for the future. That bold move by a handful of people in one relatively small room laid the groundwork and is the precedent for what we do today. . .

The Green Party is making history today. According to one source, 45 women have run for President in primary elections in the United States in the 20th Century; 22 have made it on the ballot in at least one state in November. Thank you, Green Party, for pulling this history train from the station.

But we make history today only because we must. In 2008, after two stolen Presidential elections and eight years of George W. Bush, and at least two years of Democratic Party complicity, the racket is about war crimes, torture, crimes against the peace; the racket is about crimes against the Constitution, crimes against the American people, and crimes against the global community. The racket is even about values that we thought were long settled as reasonable to pursue, like liberty and justice, and economic opportunity, for all. Yes, Sojourner, there's a lot out of kilter now. . .

And just like the women and men at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 who declared their independence from the Old Order, I celebrated my birthday last year by doing something I had done a dozen times in my head, but had never done publicly: I declared my independence from every bomb dropped, every threat leveled, every civil liberties rollback, every child killed, every veteran maimed, every man tortured, and the national leadership that let this happen. . .

There is no doubt that the people of this country and in the global community are suffering from Washington, D.C.'s policies today. . .

Had the Green Party's values been reflected in public policy since the beginnings of the Green Party in this country, the United States would have long ago implemented a livable wage; there would be no civil liberties erosion; diversity would be respected, appreciated and welcomed; education would be interesting and relevant to students' lives and no student would graduate from college $100,000 in debt in a Green Party USA because education, not incarceration and militarization, would be subsidized by the state. In a Green Party USA, health care would be provided for everyone here through a single payer, Medicare-for-all type health care system. We would have no homeless men and women sleeping on our streets and everyone who could work would have work. Rebuilding our infrastructure, manufacturing green technology, retooling our economy so that those who protect us, train us, heal us and prepare us for tomorrow are compensated in what is their true value to our culture and our society, based on their contribution to our civilization. Vietnam War-era veterans would be our last war veterans because we would never have been engaged in war and occupation against Afghanistan and Iraq. We would forego imperial designs on our neighbors to the north and south, never building any wall of division, not ever encroaching on their geographic or cultural sovereignty. In fact, if Green Party values were now reflected in U.S. public policy, our country not only would not be engaged in war and occupation, there would be peace in the Middle East based on self-determination, respect for human rights, and justice. We would strive to perfect our democracy at home through election integrity and no one would be denied their rightful place in our Union due to discrimination. Our neighbors in the global community would look up to us for our cultural and technological accomplishments. We would have apologized for genocide against the indigenous peoples of this land and the abomination of chattel slavery. Our country would have dignity on the world stage and in every international forum, and no one in this country would be made to live in fear.

Oh, if it could be true: that the values of the Green Party were reflected in the Federal Government's public policy. Let me wake up and snap out of my reverie. Yes, today's reality is harsh. Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition, lying, spying, war, stolen elections, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, New Orleans, poverty, racial profiling, Sean Bell, the San Francisco 8, Benton Harbor's Reverend Pinkney, the Holy Land Foundation, 9/11/01.

Embargo, blockade, friendly fire, depleted uranium, white phosphorus, cluster bombs, bunker busters, shock and awe.

Predatory lending, mortgage crisis, foreclosures, a country $53 trillion in debt. And while Bear Stearns gets a bailout, you and I sink or swim.

Harsh? Today's reality is harsh. But what's even harder for many to accept and admit is that our quality of life today is the making of the Democratic and Republican Parties. . .

When my father first started out in the world of politics in Georgia, he began as a Republican, because Georgia Democrats would not allow blacks to vote in their primaries. Some of my father's closest friends today are still Republicans because of that history.

My father served 30 years in the Georgia Legislature as a Democrat. Because of him, I served 4 years in the Georgia Legislature, where we were the country's only father daughter legislative team. And then I went to Congress and served 12 years working with the Democratic Party and its current leadership representing the State of Georgia. . .

My father and I stumped for candidates, and helped keep Georgia in the Democratic Party fold, until on my election night in 2002, I was forced to admit that the Republicans wanted to beat me more than the Democrats wanted to keep me. Both my father and I were put out of office after being targeted by a convergence of special interests operating in both the Democratic and Republican parties. In November of 2002, after the primary election losses of my father and me, Georgia went Republican: the first time since Reconstruction. With all kinds of certainty, I can say that my father and I - we McKinneys - we know too well how both the Republican and Demmocratic Parties operate. . .

Don't expect me to keep a count of the major party flip flops from now to November. I'm sure there will be many. But, in the end, that's not the important issue to understand. What is more fundamental to understand is this: the other political parties find themselves in this flip-flop predicament because they have to appear to share our values while they serve someone else's.

The Green Party doesn't have to engage in shape shifting because the Green Party is funded by and belongs to you.

All over the world, Green Party members are working as elected leaders in government to make public policy reflect our Green values. Wangari Mathai, former Parliamentarian from Kenya, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Green Party member. Ingrid Betancourt, recently released hostage in Colombia, former Senator and Presidential candidate. Green Party members make public policy at the national level on every Continent, but not yet in our country. . .

Every one of you in this room today and each of the individuals I've met and communicated with online across our country has made a difference in my life. And moreover, the 5% who will vote for us, will help us make a positive difference in the lives of people around the world. Who we are makes a difference. What we do makes a difference.

We are in this to build a movement. We are willing to struggle for as long as it takes to have our values prevail in public policy. A vote for the Green Party is a vote for the movement that will turn this country right side up again.

OTHER NEWS

GREAT MOMENTS IN PUBLIC RELATIONS

Zach Patton, Governing Here at Governing, we get random promotional stuff sent to the office all the time. (If you need a copy of a new book about the Helen Boosalis, the mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska, from 1975-1983, I'm your guy.) But we just got something that takes the cake.

It's this package of stuff from an event planning company. It's all about how the company has gone green by banning Styrofoam from its events. (Which is great, of course, but what is this, 1997? Shouldn't they have quit using Styrofoam before now?) Anyway, this press release all about how green this company is contained the following:

--a thick, glossy portfolio
--a full-color promotional booklet describing the company
-a CD in its own glossy, full-color case
--a 3-page press release on heavy paper
--6 separate, full-color posters describing the company's services and "food philosophy"
--6 small cards on topics like "A Guide to Sustainable Seafood Choices" and "10 Easy Steps to Make Your Facility Greener"
--a canvas bag with a plastic bottom insert, printed with the company's logo

The real kicker? We got seven of these packets delivered -- each in its own cardboard mailing box -- from the post office.

The irony is positively suffocating.

NOTES FROM ORWELLAND

Telegraph, UK Jayne Jones had been escorting 14-year-old severely epileptic Alex each day by taxi, taking specialist equipment with her in case he had a fit. But the mother-of-two was told she would not be allowed to continue doing so until her details had been run through a Criminal Record Bureau check.

The case came to light only days after it emerged that hundreds of innocent people were branded criminals by the CRB, which was set up to vet people working with children. Figures seen by The Daily Telegraph showed that in the year to February 2008, 680 people were issued with incorrect information on their background checks by the CRB.

Last week a woman who was wrongly labeled a violent alcoholic and drug addict by the CRB was told she would have to allow police to take her fingerprints if she wanted to clear her name.

Amanda Hodgson, 36, a law-abiding mother-of-three, learned of her "criminal past'' when applying for a post as a welfare assistant at her local primary school.

She was told she had a criminal record stretching back 18 years, including three convictions for assaulting police officers, and the only way to clear her name was to get her fingerprints checked against every unsolved crime in the country.

Mrs Jones, from Aberfan in south Wales, said stopping her taking her son - who has cerebral palsy - to school was "political correctness gone mad".

"It's crazy that I have to be CRB checked before I can ride in a taxi with my own son," she said.

"I have to be checked to go in a taxi with him, but if I was able to drive him myself they wouldn't care and even offered to pay me expenses.

"The taxi company is great and they carry Alex's medication but they won't use it and they wouldn't know how to put him in the recovery position if needs be."

GREAT MOMENTS IN RUNNING AN INTERNET LIST

J Myers, Newhilleast, DC - Almost every day, as we approach 1,500 members, we get requests to join newhilleast, unusually accompanied by a rationale for joining like, "I just moved to 17th Street SE." Most of the time, we just push the "accept" button -- perhaps too carelessly on occasion. But when we see an odd screen name with anything suggestive in it, we pause, hoping not to welcome a rush of spam from porn sites, etc. "Sexy" is not usually a troubling word in my world, but it becomes one in this context. And what if the would-be "sexy" member claims to be from the Mayor's office? Yesterday the following request arrived:

Hello,

The following person would like to join the newhilleast group: Email address: sexy_toyaboo

Comment from user: i am the ward 6 administrative assistant in the mayo'rs office and would like to keep updates about what i am missing in the ward. . .

Are we ready to welcome sexy_toyaboo?

NEW WAYS OF DEATH

Dan Neil, LA Times For anyone looking into death, I recommend Mark Harris' recent book, "Grave Matters." Harris gives readers a slab-level view of embalming and traces the rise in so-called green burial. As he says, the typical cemetery is less an Elysian field than a toxic waste dump, the ground so tainted with mortuary chemicals that it is like a modern salting of the Earth.

In increasing numbers, baby boomers are choosing vastly simpler, cleaner and cheaper funerals, in which the deceased's body is put in a plain wooden box or wicker basket or even the evocative winding sheet and buried unembalmed in special cemeteries that serve as natural conservancies, perpetually preserved spaces that push back against development. Worms and microbes do the rest. . .

According to the Cremation Assn. of North America, about one-third of all Americans opt for the flame. We are, after all, a restless lot. Cremation allows the deceased loved one to be easily moved: ash and carry.

But there's a problem. Placing a body in an oven at 1,800 degrees for two hours spews vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, as well as heavy metals and mercury (vaporized from the amalgam in people's teeth). . . .

A whole market is springing up to satisfy the last wishes of the carbon-conscious. Take alkaline hydrolysis, which uses lye, heat and pressure to reduce the remains to an ashy pulp. Commonly used in veterinary schools, the process stirred controversy this year when a New Hampshire funeral director--hoping to pitch it to the eco-minded--applied for a variance to use it under the state's cremation laws. The problem is the oily, coffee-colored slurry of fluids that goes down the drain. It tends to freak people out. . .

A Tulsa, Okla., firm called Compacted Dignity offers a "tasteful and attractive alternative" to cremation. The company uses a 400-ton hydraulic press--formerly a stamping machine at a mining company--to squeeze the remains into a block small enough to put on your mantle. The company calls its process "the clear choice for body compression, reduction and liquifactious-deminution [sic]." Who am I to argue?

But the mortuary option most in keeping with our times is thermal depolymerization. Theoretically, at least, it is possible, using steam and pressure, to "crack" organic solids such as human remains and, by manipulating pressure and temperature, assemble useful hydrocarbon chains. Translation: You can cook people into a pile of chemicals and a few quarts of oil. One day it may be possible to drive to grandma's funeral with the dear old gal in the tank.

Sounds funny now. Wait until gas is $10 a gallon.

CROSSING BORDERS BY CHANGING TABLES



Bldg Blog
Baarle-Hertog borders the Netherlands - but, because of its unique history of political division, the town is sort of marbled with competing national loyalties. In other words, pockets of the town are Dutch; most of the town is Belgian. You can thus wander from country to country on an afternoon stroll. . .

Wikipedia Apart from the main piece (called Zondereigen) located north of the Belgian town of Merksplas, there are twenty Belgian exclaves in the Netherlands and three other pieces on the Dutch-Belgian border. There are also seven Dutch exclaves within the Belgian exclaves.

The border is so complicated that there are some houses that are divided between the two countries. There was a time when according to Dutch laws restaurants had to close earlier. For some restaurants on the border it meant that the clients simply had to change their tables to the Belgian side.

Sarah Laitner, at the Financial Times, adds that "women are able to choose the nationality of their child depending on the location of the room in which they give birth." Another website, apparently drawing from the Michelin Guide to the Netherlands, explains the origins of Baarle-Hertog's bizarre geography: it can all be traced back to the 12th century, it seems, when the town was first divided. The northern half of the town became part of the Barony of Breda (later home to the Nassau family), and the southern half went to the Duke of Brabant (Hertog means Duke in Dutch). But that same website also mentions this:

"The municipality limits are very complicated. Nowadays, each municipality has its city hall, church, police, school and post office. The houses of the two nationalities are totally mixed. They are identified by the shield bearing their number: the national flag is included on it.". . .

While we're on the subject of micro-sovereignties, though, be sure to check out Neutral Moresnet, a tiny, politically independent non-state formed around a zinc mining operation in eastern Belgium. There's also Cospaia, "a small former republic in Italy" which "unexpectedly gained independence in 1440" after Pope Eugene IV sold the land it stood on. "By error," we read, "a small strip of land went unmentioned in the sale treaty, and its inhabitants promptly declared themselves independent." The Free State Bottleneck, Åland Islands, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are all also worth checking out.

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