Friday, September 28, 2007

Talking The Talk

But not walking the walk (and making it harder for other people to trudge the path, too.) The not-in-my-backyard brigade continues to put up obstacles to energy alternatives. Question--Do we want renewable energy, or not? Yes? Then stop making it so goll-darned difficult to implement!!

(via Instapundit)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

News Of The Weird And Freaky

Read in your best Rod Serling impersonation (or get someone else to read it for you):

Imagine this--you're sitting at your computer reading James Taranto's Best of the Web, blithely perusing the elegant and edgy editorial offerings and choice sampling of significant stories from across America and beyond, when you come across this headline: "Amputated leg found in second-hand smoker." At first you are taken aback, thinking that Joe Camel's wife has gone Hannibal Lecter, consuming the appendage in the appropriately moody tobacco haze of her husband's forty-second cigarette of the day--a grisly thought which is disturbing, but remote, since no such atrocity has ever entered your reality. Then you discover that the second-hand smoker in question is the kind used to cure meat, the tender ham you ate last Easter, or the delectable salmon you sampled last Saturday. Your stomach heaves as this horror hits closer to home. Could it be that you have entered The Twilight Zone?

Okay, that's about as far as I can take this without rather more caffeine than I am willing to consume. Here's the story in a nutshell: This guy goes to an auction where he bids on, and wins, a smoker which was left in a storage locker and sold along with other abandoned items. When the lucky new owner later looks inside, he discovers a human leg, chopped off just above the knee. Turns out somebody had to have his leg amputated and was saving it "for religious reasons." The smoker just happened to be the storage place of choice for his own personal religious relic. Don't ask me what religious reason anyone could have for keeping his amputated leg. I have no idea. I don't even think I want to know. I also haven't a clue why a leg that was important enough to keep wasn't important enough to keep track of (and yes, I do know that I ended that sentence with a preposition.) The real question that I would like to have answered is, "Does the guy who bought the smoker plan on actually using the thing now that he's found the Cracker Jack toy surprise inside?" Would you?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Health Insurance

Here's one for you to ponder. John Stossel has some interesting thoughts about health insurance, at What he has to say runs contrary to currently popular political speech on both sides of the aisle, which bemoans the under-insured state of many Americans. Stossel suggests instead that Americans have way too much insurance, rather than too little. That's something of a counter-intuitive statement, given the discussion that's going on in political circles these days about how to get more coverage for more people, but I tend to agree with him, based upon my own experience and that of my family.

I'll give you a few examples. Several of my close relatives have to provide their own insurance, for various reasons. Being farmers. my in-laws have no employer to provide it as a perk, so they have opted for the most cost-effective option available to them. They have very high deductible insurance. They pay for routine medical out-of-pocket, and save the insurance for the big-ticket medicine, saving them money on premiums, but still ensuring that they don't lose the farm (literally) over catastrophic illness or accident. They decide for themselves what doctor to see, and how often, and whether a given medical procedure is worth their hard-earned money. They may have to plan a bit to make sure they have the money available when it comes time to go to the eye doctor, but the big stuff is covered and they're not paying through the nose for the monthly premium.

My sister's family, on the other hand, pays for HMO-type insurance (Kaiser), which supposedly covers every scratch. When they can get in, that is. This costs them a staggering amount of money monthly, and also has the disadvantage of putting their medical choices in the hands of a very inefficient bureaucracy. Not only does the HMO chose for them which medical treatment is covered, but because the system is in many ways unaccountable, important decisions get lost in the system. My sister was once diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and didn't receive proper treatment for eight years. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing. I grant you that this is anecdotal, but it still influences my opinion of insurer-makes-the-decisions healthcare. I can only imagine how much worse it would be if that insurer was the federal government. Can anyone say DMV?

My husband and I have a different, and much better, situation than my sister. Our insurance, although employer-provided, shares some of the better aspects of his parent's self-insurance arrangement. Ked's office went the HSA (health savings account) route a couple of years ago, and we love how the whole thing works. Instead of low-deductible, high-cost insurance, we now have high-deductible, low-cost insurance. You may be asking, "What's to love about a high deductible? Doesn't that mean you have to pay for more of your medical expenses yourself?" Well, that's where the HSA comes in. Because the insurance company doesn't have to pay for the minor and routine medical stuff, Ked's boss saves money on insurance premiums. He passes those savings on to his employees. He deposits enough money to cover that high deductible into the HSAs, which are under employee control. We pay for routine medical out of that account, and--here's the good part--we get to keep what we don't spend, like it's in a retirement account. This gives us incentive not to run to the doctor for every sniffle, while still covering us for major health issues. We and our doctor decide what to spend the money on medically, and we get a retirement savings bump if we're frugal.

Stossel's article is quite interesting. He has some convincing things to say about how much is added to the cost of medicine in America simply because the insurance industry is so intimately involved with it. He also discusses how it came about that insurance got so interconnected with routine medical care in the first place, and whether the push for government intervention is a good idea. (Interestingly enough, he makes the case that government is responsible for the current state of affairs in the first place.) You may agree with his conclusions; you may not, but have a look.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Arrr, I Almost Fergot, Matey!

Avast!! A dear lass called me today to remind me that it's International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Well, blow me down--I feel like such a lubber that I almost let the day pass unheralded. Perhaps I should make meself walk the plank, or deny meself me ration o' grog. Maybe, though, I'll just let meself off with a few Hail Mateys, and a promise to be a smarter wench next TLAP Day. Aye, that sounds more likely.

While We're Talking Economics, Let's Throw Some Climate Science Into The Mix ...

A comment on my last little toss-out post, which listed a couple of articles on economics that I found interesting, pointed the way to this post by John Tierney, pitting economists against ecologists as predictors of climate change. Not a fair fight? Well, the match-up may surprise you. By Tierney's reckoning, economists have the shinier resume when it comes to examining potential global crises. He gives some track record comparisons that certainly lend credence to his point of view. The really good news there is that the economist crowd also seems to be a lot more optimistic:

The classic example is the “population crisis” of the 1960s and 1970s, when biologists like Paul Ehrlich were convinced humanity was about to suffer massive famines and devastating shortages of energy and other resources because the growing population would exceed the planet’s “carrying capacity.” This concept seemed obvious to biologists who study ecosystems, but economists realized there’s a big difference between animals and humans: Humans are remarkably adaptable and creative. When confronted with shortages and environmental problems, they have a long history of coming up with solutions — new methods of farming, new and cheaper sources of energy, cleaner technologies — that leave them better off in an environment that’s less polluted.

Of course, population sustainability and climate are clearly different animals, but the point remains the same. Humans adjust, and even manage to think about the rest of the ecosystem occasionally. Now, if you read the Meow at all, you probably know that while a thermometer (and common sense) can tell you that the climate has changed over time, and will continue to change, I'm a pretty big skeptic of the idea that human beings can be pegged as the source of that change. (Click on the climate science label below to get a Kat-centric view of the topic.) Nonetheless, since there are plenty of folks out there determined to blame humanity, and determined to find a solution to the weather, I'm glad to see some other disciplines chiming in on this debate. They may not have the scientific background of the "experts," but just might have a valuable word or two to contribute as the global powers mull our future. Have a look.

Note: Thanks for the link, Rich.

Update: Thought I'd throw this one out there for fun...

Thursday, September 13, 2007


We're heading to the coast now, so I shouldn't be blogging, but this is just cool. The X Prize Foundation is at it again, with $30 million in the kitty for whoever can put a robot on the moon. Note for the day: Incentives work, and they're especially positive things when there's no hint of government involvement about them.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gutter Rants

Rant to follow, but first a look at this week in Meowville. I'm working up the energy to start another day of manual labor. Ked and I have been hard at it for days, doing much needed home repairs in preparation for the rains to come. Last year, some of you will remember, we jumped through the hoops demanded by the City of Portland to pass inspection on our new garage. Well, now we're trying to catch up on all the work we neglected while doing the City's bidding. Ked's taken the week off, and we have been going like gangbusters. Sunday we jacked up both our front and side porches and replaced the rotting pillars. Monday and Tuesday we replaced the gutters.

You may be saying to yourself, "Wow, gutters aren't that hard. Why'd it take them two whole days to get them done? Ked and Kat must be incompetent!" Without arguing the finer points of the incompetence question, allow me to offer a small bit of self defense. Although we live in quite a small house--only about thirty feet square--it has a hip roof, which means that the gutters go all the way around, with twists and turns for the porches to boot. We have almost one hundred and sixty feet of gutters, and a dozen corners to turn!! We are quite thrilled that the project went so smoothly and that we will no longer have to put out buckets to catch the water pouring from the leaking gutters to prevent it from soaking our basement bedroom. (NEVER install plastic gutters. They are nearly worthless.) Anyway, today we're heading out to paint the chimney and trim that didn't get finished last year in the height of City appeasement season. The happy thing for us is that after all the work is done, once we can face the coming winter weather with equanimity, we're going to head to the coast for a couple of days of camping and resting. That thought will keep us going for today. That and caffeine. Praise God for caffeine.

Anyway, I'm sure you didn't check in here for an update on Meow home improvement, so I'll toss you a little something from the "Good Grief, Save Me From The Nanny State" files. Looks like Los Angeles lawmakers are looking for ways to keep other people from packing on the pounds. No, they're not sponsoring fitness walks and heart-health awareness lectures. They're not giving tax breaks to fitness centers, or even signing "good example" pledges, where they promise that they will forgo dessert in favor of an after-dinner walk in hopes that where they lead Los Angelenos will follow. No, they have a much more "we know better than you" approach, compounded with a little "do as I say, not as I do" for good measure. According to The Center for Consumer Freedom:

Yesterday, with that unique blend of condescension and stupidity all too common among nanny staters, Los Angeles lawmakers unveiled plans to “fight” obesity by prohibiting fast food restaurants from building new outlets in one of the city’s poorest districts. The bill’s sponsors claim that fast food restaurants are crowding out “healthier” outfits in low-income communities, leaving poor Los Angelenos with exclusively high-fat, high-calorie food options.

Wow, they're only planning to stop the building of fast food places in poor neighborhoods, so that "healthier" restaurants will stop being "crowded out." Like there's simply not room for them with all those fast food restaurants forcing people to patronize their establishments. Do these people not realize that stopping the installation of a McDonald's is not going to drive the poor hapless ignorant masses to Tofu Heaven? Do they think that, just by virtue of having less money, poor people somehow have less of an understanding than the well-to-do that a Whopper is going to have more calories than a side salad with fat-free dressing? People eat what they want to eat! McDonald's and Wendy's and Burger King all offer salads and fruit and milk and other "healthy" choices. If people don't order them, it's because they don't want to. Some of them want triple burger combo meals with fries and a milkshake, and no amount of salad options is going to distract them from their culinary goal. They don't want salad! Is the solution to make the choice for them, and deny them them options they do want? Maybe in "we know better than you do" world, but not in anyplace that I want to live, and not in anyplace realistic either.

Hint to legislators: People find ways to get what they want--even poor people. Some of them might even hop on the bus to head to the restaurant in your area that offers the food they actually want to eat. Worse, some of them might get in their cars to do it, burning fossil fuels and cash to get to the thing that is okay for you, but not for them! Take away the burger joints in their neighborhoods, and you're still going to have poor fat people running around offending your sensibilities, but they'll be doing it in your neighborhood. Now, who's going to legislate a solution for that one?

Okay, rant over. Have a lovely day!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Is Organic Healthier For Us And The Planet?

Here in Oregon, as in much of the rest of the affluent world, where many of us can afford to spend a little extra money on what goes in our cooking pots and on our dinner tables, lots of folks are keeping stores like Wild Oats hopping with the demand for organic edibles. Many people believe that organic is healthier, both for us and the environment. Cosmos (a magazine which examines "the science of everything") has a long, but very interesting article, by Elizabeth Finkel, on organic versus more conventional farming methods (which employ chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers), comparing their effects on both people and the planet. You might be surprised at how the two stack up against one another, and how many chemicals occur naturally in "natural" foods.

I don't have anything of significance to say about the topic myself, since I lack both knowledge and firm opinions, and haven't even indulged in much idle speculation about this particular subject matter, but I found this article very informative, and thought Finkel's analysis was worth your perusal. Here's my one-and-a-half cents before I send you on your way. Sounds to me like pressures from environmental groups and organic advocates have pushed and changed all farming for the better over the course of previous decades, but that their philosophies shouldn’t be allowed to limit future improvements from other philosophical and scientific ways of thinking. It's king of a "can't we all just get along?" reaction. That may be too bland and middle-of-the-road for some, especially here in "green" Oregon, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em. Anybody else have an opinion?

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Oregon State Fair--In All Its Glory

Okay, the title is enormously deceiving, since to represent the fair in all its glory would require a hundred photographs and a thousand descriptions, and I have no desire to strain your patience by wading through all of Ked's and my State Fair memories in laborious detail. I'll just skim the surface, and assure you that there was much, much more to see and experience than will be logged here. You really should experience it for yourself some year. It'll be worth the trip to Oregon, wherever you call home, and while you're here, maybe we can go for a hike or two!!

The reason we head back to the fair every year is that it never gets boring. Sometimes for us the focus is on photography exhibits and stage performances. Other years see us drawn to the show jumping and farm machinery, or maybe the demolition derby (which, as we went with friends who had kids, was last year's highlight.) If your penchant is for wine tasting and household gadgetry, the Oregon State Fair has you covered. If you're all about quilting, crocheting, or growing giant Anaheim peppers, you'll find plenty to keep you entertained. This year, even scuba divers and beach volleyball players could find their niche, since a new feature at the fair was a place for folks to try some popular Oregon activities. There was a tank for scuba wannabes to take a dip, a sand pit for volleyball, a rock wall for climbers, and even a "rink" set up for aspiring curlers to try their hand at "throwing" one of those forty pound stones that had us all so fascinated during the last winter Olympics. (They set the stones on wheels to approximate the ice effect.)

There's way too much to do and see to take it all in at once, so every time we go we have to pick and choose. This time around had us hanging out with the animals, and exploring the gardens and handcrafts. We learned a lot this year, talking to farmers and bee keepers and various and sundry other possessors of knowledge. For example, did you know that those notches in a pig's ears tell it's lineage and what number piglet it was in its litter? That's how they keep track of who's who for breeding purposes. Now, isn't that interesting? But wait, there's more. According to the friendly local farmers who gave us some pig lessons, when you're choosing a porker, you look for one that's long in the body, for lots of pork loin chops and yummy bacon. You want a pig with a nice round rump, because that's where the hams are stored, and you don't want to feed a pig rotten food, because "garbage in, garbage out." Our professors of farmology told us that inside a pig it's very much like it is inside a human, same heart, digestive system, and so on. (This explains why the scientific types are working on genetically engineering pigs for organ donation to humans.) The same things that will make us sick will make them sick, and rotten food will make for mushy, rotten meat. Eeeewww.

We didn't just stick to the farmyard. When we headed indoors there were lots of learning opportunities. We spent a really long time talking with a beekeeper who was an encyclopedia of fascinating bee knowledge. We talked a fair bit about Colony Collapse Disorder, and the social order of a hive. What really rocked my world, though, was when we got to talking about bee reproduction. Did you know that bee eggs that are not fertilized still become bees? Creating drones is a one woman show. Let me explain: The queen lays lots of eggs. Some of these are fertilized. These go on to become females, and are the worker bees of the colony. They gather all the nectar and make all the honey, and they live to be, say, six months old before they die. The unfertilized eggs go on to become the drones. These are the males. They don't do much of anything, except sit around and eat, and wait for their turn to mate with the Queen. (No smart remarks, now. I'm not making this up; I'm just passing along information from a higher source. If you want to make connections between these drones and males in general, I'm afraid you're on your own.) Drones have it cushy for a while, but they are short-lived little lay-abouts. Once they've had their "audience" with the queen they die. Their reproductive organs pull out, just like with a bee's stinger, and they are left bereft of all that's important to them, including their very lives. Most of them only live a few short weeks.

One of the most interesting little nuggets of bee lore we learned was that if the colony doesn't think the queen is doing enough to keep the colony going, they can boot her out and "grow" a new queen. Any female egg that's caught in the early stages of development can be turned into a queen candidate. The other bees feed her "royal jelly"--a kind of honey that has special nutrients--and that egg will develop into a different kind of critter, with totally different behavior and thought patterns. While the common bees all have a "the more the merrier" approach to life in the hive, if several of these queen candidates are grown at once, the one who hatches first will go around playing a deadly version of the game Marco Polo. The new queen will call out to the other queens, and the others will call back, trying to locate the competition. The one that's mobile will go catch the others while they're still in their sacks and see to it that they never emerge. This queen business ain't for the faint of heart. Of course, the survivor better start laying those eggs right quick, because if her loyal subjects don't think she's a producer, then, "Off with her head!" Amazing, huh? What do you think of this whole fair outing now? Isn't that news you can use? Aren't you just dying to go to the yourself fair next year so that you can find out new and exciting facts about the world around us? Come on, we'll plan a trip together. It'll be fun.

Well I'm sure you'd love it if I went on all day about bees and pigs and curling, but let's move on to the pictures now, okay? By the way, Blogger may be having spacing issues again, but this time around it'll let you click on each photo for a bigger image if you want to see more details. Weirdly, I reduced all of the image files in size before uploading them to the blog, but some of the photos are back up to being huge files, so the images are too big to fit the whole thing on the screen when they are opened individually. (I have no idea why sometimes Blogger allows the photos to be enlarged, and other times it doesn't, nor why some of these photos went huge on me. However, I don't want to make the program mad by questioning its methods, so I'll just be happy that it's in semi-cooperative mode, and leave it at that.)

We know that Sioux Lady has a special place in her heart for the Geico Gecko, so we took the opportunity to pester him for a photo.

Talk about a face that only a mother could love!! There were several kinds of guinea fowl, some "pearl," some "lavender." I think this one should be called "acid washed."

The farmer shaving this cow's udder said they shave them to show off their "positive attributes." For example, he said that the veins on her stomach made her look "feminine." Okaaay....

This horse cracked us up. He kept sticking his tongue out and slurping. We finally figured out that there was a fan just on the other side of the stall wall, and he was waving his tongue in the breeze to cool off. The picture can't do it justice.

Ked made a friend.

So did I, but mine required a little coaxing.

Once we broke the ice, though, we got along fine.

When we left the livestock pavilions, we headed over to where things smelled a little sweeter.

In the Artisans Village, various creations came into being before our eyes. There were jewelry makers and glass blowers, spinners and weavers. These two men are showing what you can do if you have a hunk of wood, a chain saw and a blowtorch.

Every year there are lovely garden displays.

Inside the Jackman-Long building are a plethora of handcrafts. Every needlecraft imaginable is on display, from embroidery to one-of-a-kind designer fashions. I liked the design of this one enough that I may have to copy it for my own wardrobe.

Here's what got Ked really excited, though!! His eyes lit up with all kinds of visions of sugarplums...and pears...and salsa...and...

This lovely floral piece was the best thing going at the cake decorating display. It's beautiful all on its own, but when you stop to realize that every leaf, bud and flower is made from sugar, it's truly amazing. I'm sure you can't see the detail well enough here on the blog, but those roses are just incredible. Every petal is wafer thin. I could have sworn they were real. (This is one of those times when clicking on the picture to enlarge it might be worth your time.)

We ended our day as the sun said goodnight and the fair was just starting its nighttime glow. We never actually ride the rides, but they sure are pretty when they're all lit up.

Well, there you have it--our annual trek complete, we came home for some leftover lasagna and a good night's sleep, satisfied with the things we'd seen and the knowledge we gained. Fair people are so friendly and so willing to share what they know. I wonder what we'll learn next year...