msLaura: Modern Mama Laura Hamilton + Dan Baker = Julian Hamilton Baker & Adrian Hamilton Baker "When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her."
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recent posts
Google? What's that? Bill speaks...

Newsflash: Most new moms are exhausted!

Wake up and smell the freaking holy war, breeders!

The value of everyday, ordinary work

What should I do, Bill?

Wedding Portrait

Pooper Scooper Jr.

The Meat Purse

Miscarriage

Playdough is fun!

Family dance party...baby's on fire!

Crazy Hiker Mom

Barack Obama is the MAN

Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don't throw them at me!

It's SNOWING

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« February 2006 | Main | April 2006 »

March 30, 2006

Google? What's that? Bill speaks...

If you've been keeping up with things, you know that South Dakota has outlawed abortion with no exception for rape or incest, and you may have even read Stephanie McMillan's cartoon, suggesting that women call South Dakota Senator Bill Napoli at home to have him make other decisions in our lives as well. SInce, ahem, we're obviously not capable of making even the most basic decisions for ourselves.

Well, Nancy Goldstein has actually taken up this challenge. She called up Bill Napoli to ask him whether to put bacon or chorizo in her paella (Neither, duh Nancy!)

See the shocking results here! Not only does Senator Napoli not even know what paella is, he has never heard of Google either. And it was news to him that contraceptives sometimes (gasp) fail!

"What I find interesting is this–because Napoli didn’t know jack about paella or Google, he declined to make Nancy’s choice for her. He probably also correctly assessed he doesn’t know anything else about Nancy’s life that would influence the decision–does she like bacon or chorizo better? Does she have both at hand, or would one require a trip to the store? No doubt this was a wise decision on his part. It’s generally accepted that if you don’t know shit, you shut the fuck up. So there’s no doubt that Napoli can comprehend this idea, that private decisions are best made by the individual who knows the most about the situation.

So if Napoli can grasp that he’s not one to tell Nancy what to make for dinner, then why the hell does he think he can assess the private decisions of more than a million women a year without knowing much about women and definitely not knowing jack shit about their individual lives?"

Right? Whoooooaaaaaaa. Scaaaaaaary that someone so unbelievably clueless holds a position of power over so many lives. And what's even scarier is that South Dakota voters actually elected this clown to office. What gives, South Dakotans?

Then again, the good people of nearby Tracy elected Dick Pombo to office. Good ol' Dick, who is trying to kill the Endangered Species Act, and sell off 15 of our National Parks to industry in order to reduce the deficit. No joke! Even moderate Republicans have their panties in a bunch over that one.

March 29, 2006

Newsflash: Most new moms are exhausted!

Stop the presses, this just in!

Most new moms are exhausted!, according to an article in Forbes magazine.

No shit, and I can't believe this is news.

At five weeks postpartum, a majority of new moms were fatigued, had breast discomfort and a decreased desire for sex, the study found.

"This study highlights the need for ongoing rest and recovery beyond four to six weeks postpartum, and the need for more support for women," said study author Pat McGovern, an associate professor in the division of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.

"Moms that have just delivered have a great need for support. In other parts of the world, help for new moms and maternity leave is more generous than in this country," said Dr. Nicholas Klein, director of obstetrics and gynecology at Nyack Hospital in Nyack, N.Y.

Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), women who work for companies with more than 50 employees can take 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave for the birth of a child, explained McGovern.

However, she pointed out that many women can't afford to take unpaid leave, and the law only covers employees of relatively large companies. That means a lot of women may end up going back to work sooner than they'd like.

According to the study, 76 percent of working mothers return to work within a year after the birth of their child. Forty-one percent of working mothers are back within three months, and nearly one in six is back within the first month after delivery.

McGovern and her colleagues suspected that many of these women were still experiencing delivery-related symptoms or symptoms associated with the demands of caring for a newborn.

To see if this was the case, they interviewed more than 700 women five weeks after they had given birth. Most of the women were white and married. About half had a college education. The average age was nearly 30.

Not surprisingly, about two out of three women reported feeling fatigued. Sixty percent said they had breast discomfort, and 52 percent said they had a decreased interest in sex. Fifty percent of the women said they had sore or irritated nipples, and almost as many women said they were experiencing headaches. Forty-three percent said they had back or neck pain.

OK, so my question is..who are the 1 in 3 women who are NOT fatigued five weeks after giving birth? Are they pathological liars? Are they masochists? Do they have night nurses or live-in help? What gives? Two years into this I'm STILL exhausted most of the time.

And if most of these pooped-out moms are white and married and college educated and still in such bad shape, can you imagine how the poor, non-white, single moms without college educations are doing? Ugh.

March 25, 2006

Wake up and smell the freaking holy war, breeders!

I'm still laughing (in a funny-because-it's-true-oh-shit-we're-doomed kind of way) at Dan Savage's post-advice-column addendum in the Village Voice:

Straight Rights Update

Earlier this month Republicans in South Dakota successfully banned abortion in that state. Last week the GOP-controlled state house of representatives in Missouri voted to ban state-funded family-planning clinics from dispensing birth control. "If you hand out contraception to single women," one Republican state rep told The Kansas City Star, "we're saying promiscuity is OK." On the federal level, Republicans are blocking the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception and keeping a 100 percent effective HPV vaccine, a vaccine that will save the lives of thousands of women every year, from being made available.

The GOP's message to straight Americans: If you have sex, we want it to fuck up your lives as much as possible. No birth control, no emergency contraception, no abortion services, no life-saving vaccines. If you get pregnant, tough shit. You're having those babies, ladies, and you're making those child-support payments, gentlemen. If you get HPV and it leads to cervical cancer, well, that's too bad. Have a nice funeral, slut.

What's it going to take to get a straight rights movement off the ground? The GOP in Kansas wants to criminalize hetero heavy petting, for God's sake! Wake up and smell the freaking holy war, breeders! The religious right hates heterosexuality just as much as it hates homosexuality. Fight back!

Will it take a righteous gay man to wake up straight America to what is at stake here?

The value of everyday, ordinary work

Love this. I found it in Barbara Coloroso's fantastic book Kids are Worth It!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Fritjof Capra, a renowned physicist and philosopher, explained in his book The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture the dilemma faced by adults in our culture as they try to impart to children the value of everyday, ordinary chores.

As far as the status of different kinds of work is concerned, there is an interesting hierarchy in our culture. Work with the lowest status tends to be that work which is most "entropic", i.e., where the tangible evidence of the effort is most easily destroyed. This is work that has to be done over and over again without leaving a lasting impact -- cooking meals which are immediately eaten, sweeping factory floors which will soon be dirty again, cutting hedges and lawns which keep growing.

In our society, as in all industrial cultures, jobs that involve highly entropic work -- housework, services, agriculture -- are given the lowest value and receive the lowest pay, although they are essential to our daily existence. These jobs are generally delegated to minorities and to women.

High-status jobs involve work that creates something lasting -- skyscrapers, supersonic planes, space rockets, nuclear warheads, and all of the other products of high technology. High status is also granted to all administrative work connected with high technology, however dull it may be.

This hierarchy of work is exactly the opposite in spiritual traditions. There, high-entropy work is highly valued and plays a significant role in the daily ritual of spiritual practice. Buddhist monks consider cooking, gardening, or housecleaning part of their meditative activities, and Christian monks and nuns have a long tradition of agriculture, nursing, and other services.

It seems that the high spiritual value accorded to entropic work in those traditions comes from a profound ecological awareness. Doing work that has to be done over and over again helps us recognize the nautral cycles of growth and decay, of birth and death, and thus become aware of the dynamic order of the universe. "Ordinary" work, as the root meaning of the term indicates, is work that is in harmony with the order we perceive in the natural environment.

Not only can ordinary chores help children recognize the natural cycles, they can help kids:

* Develop the ability to organize their own resources
* Experience closure on tasks
* Organize themselves
* Set goals and build skills necessary to work through more complex physical and mental tasks.

As well, chores are a great way to say to kids, "You are important members of our family; we need you, and we are counting on you to help out." Children need to believe that they can make a contribution, can make a difference in their families.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Julian helps pick up his toys and put them in the basket. He also feeds the dog (with help and supervision), keeps his water dish filled, and generally helps me with whatever task *I'm* doing.

Sometimes this is a pain for me and slows me down, but he learns something each time. He wants to be part of the action, so I try to find some little aspect of my task that he can do, or at least mimic.

If I'm chopping vegetables, he has little Velcro fake veggies and fruits that he "cuts" with a wooden knife. He stands up on a stool at the counter next to me.

He also helps clean up any spills around the house with a cloth, and he empties his own potty in the toilet when he's done. I also will hand him a well-squeezed sponge and have him "clean" or "wipe" if I'm cleaning the kitchen. He loves it!

I treat it as an honor and a privilege for him. He is a helper, and has proven himself capable of handing a certain task, etc. It's not a punitive thing, but a privilege, whereby he takes part in the household activities. There's nothing that I *make* him do, I offer these little tasks to him like a special little treat. He's so proud of himself afterwards, and cheers "Hooray!" Adorable.

Yeah, I'm sure THAT won't last forever. LOL. The cheering that is, not the adorableness.

March 24, 2006

What should I do, Bill?

From http://minimumsecurity.net/toons2006/6034.htm


If you need to catch up on what's happening in South Dakota, you can read about it here.

March 20, 2006

Wedding Portrait


Wedding Portrait, originally uploaded by mslaura.

My good friend (and photographer) Brad Noble took the photos at our wedding on St. Martin in 2003.

They were casual snapshots for the most part, but this one he really did a pro job on, polished it up and made it perfect. I recently found the CD in my desk drawer and figured I should upload it. It really is a lovely photo, and captures the moment.

March 19, 2006

Pooper Scooper Jr.

Today was a sunny, if not entirely warm day. Still chilly, but at least it wasn't raining, cloudy or windy.

Julian and I took advantage of the strange glowing fireball in the sky to get some backyard time. I got him dressed, put his shoes on, and sent him outside, while I put on my shoes and sunblock.

When I got outside a few minutes later he was proudly using the end of his little shovel to shuttle a medium-sized Bugs turd from the middle of the yard over to the bushes, and then elegantly tossed it in like a pro.

I asked him, "Oh, are you helping to clean up the doggie poop?"

"Yes!" he said, bursting with pride. "Poo-poo doggie in THERE!"

Then he ran back to the spot to gather the final turd for removal. I helped him scoop it up and land it in the bushes, then thanked him for his kind assistance. What a good helper! What a poop-scooping pro! He had obviously been paying close attention all this time, and was just waiting for his opportunity to shine.

Sweet! Something tells me that this kid is going to be really good at doing chores if we play our cards right and make it an honorary "now you have earned the prvilege of contributing to our household" type thing and not a "you screwed up and now you have to scoop poop" type thing.

The Meat Purse

Attention:
Squeamish people (and men), stop reading right now. This entry is not for you.

I hesitated writing this, but one of my goals here is to talk about the stuff that normally people *don"t* ever talk about, but which is part of normal human experience.

Miscarriage is definitely one of those things. Once you've had one, people start whispering to you about theirs, but otherwise you never hear about it. It's taboo for some reason until you have one, then you join a secret club that CAN talk about it. But not too much.

I didn't find any details whatsoever about this on any medical sites, they are annoyingly vague. I guess they are afraid of grossing people out or offending them, whereas I could care less about that. Medical details are medical details. Don't read about them if they offend you. But if you want to know, I'll tell you.

So here goes. Don't say I didn't warn you.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Yesterday evening I had a bout of cramping, went to the bathroom, and passed the "products of conception", as they are known medically.

I was rather astounded. I don't know what impulse made me reach down to check myself while sitting on the toilet, but I was shocked when I pulled my hand back, opened it, and found a little meat purse in it. I'm not sure how to describe it. I knew right away that it wasn't just a clot or a lump of random tissue, it was some kind of clearly purposeful fleshy *structure*, for lack of a better term.

I got a very clear image in my head of a shark's egg case, which is sometimes known as a "Mermaid's Purse". It didn't look anything like that really, but that was the impression I got. I'm obviously a biology nerd.

It was a little pouchy thing made of liver-like tissue, about an inch and a half long. I was able to open the pouch with a fingernail, and found another layer, like an onion made of liver. When I opened that, there was a little white balloon inside. I opened *that*, and there was just clear liquid inside with some small white dots floating around. Nothing even remotely embryo-like, by any stretch of the imagination.

I examined it for a while, simultaneously repulsed and fascinated. Then I put it in the toilet and flushed it, and went to go clean myself up.

Today I read online that I should have saved the meat purse to show to my doctor instead of flushing it down the toilet. Of course, they don't say "meat purse" on the medical sites. They use vague terms like "save any tissue passed to show to your doctor". Couldn't they be more specific? Like my doctor wants me to bring in a Ziploc bag full of every clot I've passed in the last three days? I don't think so. Can we not be more descriptive and up front?

Seems like the taboo on media discussion of abortion extends to miscarriage as well. Doesn't matter whether it happened spontaneously or not. We still can't talk about the realities of reproduction. It's bad and wrong and scary and off-limits.

You know, I'm a geek and all, but I'd just rather have the facts of being a woman straight up, please. What should I expect? I mean REALLY. Because before the meat purse appeared last night to clarify things, I didn't know what would happen. I knew I was bleeding with clots, and it was heavier than normal, but how long was it supposed to last? Did I *have* a miscarriage, or was I *having* a miscarriage? What's the deal here? Naturally, this happened on the weekend, so I couldn't call the doctor's office or anything.

Oh well. I think the important thing is that I passed the "products of conception". If I didn't, I would have to go in for a D&C, and that doesn't sound like any fun at all. Scrape my uterus...scraping *anything* sounds painful, but scraping the inside of an internal organ is not on my top ten list of fun activities, that's for damn sure.

I read today that the chances of miscarriage for a woman over 35 are one in FOUR. Since I fall in that category now, I'm a little freaked out. Great, thanks. Now that IS one piece of information I would prefer not knowing. I hate all that crap about women over 35 anyways. Like once you turn 35 you are suddenly and magically prone to all kinds of nasty stuff. Before your 35th birthday, you're golden! Statistically, that just doesn't make sense.

Well anyways, that's my personal account of miscarriage. It hasn't been fun, but it's not the end of the world either. I hope that was my first and last experience with it. Wish Dan and me luck with trying for a baby in May...another Spring baby would be great.


March 17, 2006

Miscarriage

I'm pretty sure I'm having a miscarriage.

Yesterday I felt a twang go through my belly, went ot the bathroom, and found blood. I thought maybe it was just spotting, but it continued with major cramping all day yesterday, and still going today.

I have a doctor's appointment next Friday, so I guess I'll find out for sure then, but this certainly doesn't seem like "spotting". It seems like the end of a pregnancy.

I'm sad. Plus it hurts! But I suppose it wasn't meant to be. At least it happened soon enough that we can try again fairly soon, and maybe end up with a Spring baby after all.

Still, no fun. I was so tired and feeling so crappy yesterday, I took a three-hour nap with Julian. Dan came with me to Trader Joe's to do some grocery shopping, and we came home and unloaded. I was starving all day yesterday, so I made big hamburgers with baked potatoes for dinner, drank half a glass of wine (one upside to not being pregnant anymore), and had a big helping of tiramisu gelato for dessert. Then I went to bed early. Just dead, bone-tired. Exhausted. Completely wiped out.

I've been working way too hard lately, so this was kind of a wake-up call to take it easy.

Playdough is fun!


Playdough is fun!, originally uploaded by mslaura.

I made playdough the other day, and we've been playing with it ever since.

Homemade playdough is the best. It doesn't have that nasty smell that store-bought playdough has, and it doesn't dry up quickly at all. You can even leave it out overnight and it's still OK the next day. Store bought playdough would be a rock by then.

March 12, 2006

Family dance party...baby's on fire!


Just got a great new Nikon Coolpix P1 digital camera that also takes Quick Time movies, a long-overdue replacement for my broken crappy old Sony.

We tested it out tonight during our family dance party and got some great footage of Julian breaking it down, dance moves being passed down from father to son, and meanwhile Bugs never stops chewing his bone. Oh, and Julian shows his mother's proclivity for getting up on the nearest platform to dance once he starts getting his groove on. Most excellent!

Click on the movie screen at left to view the video. Be patient, it's a big file. It will open in a new window, so at least you can keep surfing while it's loading.

And if this video doesn't provide enough outstanding dance footage for you, there's more of it here, including what looks like Julian's first attempt at break dancing...dude, he's doing the Caterpillar!

If you're wondering why he is facing the fireplace, it's because he can see himself in the reflection. 'Cause real dancers check themselves in the mirror, natch. ;-)

Crazy Hiker Mom

I took Julian and Bugs on a hike at Fremont Older Open Space two weeks ago during one of our rare sunny AND warm mornings.

I was kind of frazzled that morning trying to get everyone out the door, and I ended up forgetting Bugs' leash on the kitchen counter, which I didn't realize until I was already at the trailhead and both Boy and his Dog were losing their minds with excitement at the prospect of a Hike Right Now.

Being the Resourceful Woman that I am (or maybe just because I fortuitously had a lot of excess crap in the trunk of my car), I used a roll of kite string as a leash.

With boy on my back, daypack on my front, dog on a string, and two very large sun hats...we set out.

I had to take this photo to capture the moment. Apparently I am not at all afraid of looking ridiculous. But it was a great hike...clear blue skies, bright green new grass, fluffy clouds, sparkling clear views.

March 11, 2006

Barack Obama is the MAN

Justifying my dream presidential ticket for 2008...who said all politicians suck?

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama, Dem-IL
Governor's Ethanol Coalition
Washington, DC
Feb. 28, 2006

In this year's State of the Union address, President Bush told us that it was time to get serious about America's addiction to foreign oil. The next day, we found out that his idea didn't sit too well with the Saudi Royal Family. A few hours later, Energy Secretary Bodman backtracked and assured the world that even though the President said he planned to reduce the amount of oil we import from the Middle East, he actually didn't mean that literally.

If there's a single example out there that encapsulates the ability of unstable, undemocratic governments to wield undue influence over America's national security just because of our dependence on oil, this is it.

Now, I could stand up here and give you all plenty of reasons why it's a good idea for this country to move away from an oil-based economy. I could cite studies from scientists and experts and even our own State Department detailing the dangers of global warming - how it can destroy our coastal areas and generate more deadly storms. I could talk forever about the economic consequences of dependence - how it's decimating our auto industry and costing us jobs and emptying our wallets at the pump. And I could talk about the millions of new jobs and entire new industries we could create by transitioning to an alternative-fuel economy.

But all we really need to know about the danger of our oil addiction comes directly from the mouths of our enemies:

"[Oil] is the umbilical cord and lifeline of the crusader community." These are the words of Al Qaeda.

"Focus your operations on oil, especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this will cause them to die off [on their own]." These are the words of Osama bin Laden.

More than anything else, these comments represent a realization of American weakness shared by the rest of the world. It's a realization that for all of our military might and economic dominance, the Achilles heel of the most powerful country on Earth is the oil we cannot live without.

Oil single-handedly fuels 96% of our transportation needs, and it's also critical to the manufacture of millions of goods and products in this country. As we saw during Hurricane Katrina, this kind of dependency means that the loss of even a small amount of oil and refining capacity for just a few days can cause economic panic and soaring prices. A serious embargo or permanent loss could cause untold disaster.

It would be nice if we could produce our way out of this problem, but it's just not possible. We only have 3% of the world's oil reserves. We could start drilling in ANWR today, and at its peak, which would be more than a decade from now, it would give us enough oil to take care of our transportation needs for about a month.

As a result, every single hour we spend $18 million on foreign oil. It doesn't matter if these countries are budding democracies, despotic regimes, or havens for the madrassas that plant the seeds of terror in young minds - they get our money because we need their oil.

One need only glance at headlines around the world to understand how dangerous this addictive arrangement truly is.

In Iran, Islamic fundamentalists are forging ahead with their nuclear program, knowing full well that the world's response to their actions will be influenced by our need for their oil. In fact, reports of a $100 billion oil deal between Iran and China were soon followed by China's refusal to press for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear intentions.

In Nigeria, militant rebels have been attacking the country's oil pipelines in recent weeks, sending prices soaring and calling into question the political stability of a country that represents America's fifth-largest source of oil imports.

In Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda has been attempting attacks on that country's poorly defended oil refineries for years. On Friday, they almost succeeded as a truck full of explosives was detonated by the shots of security guards just before it entered the refinery. Even this minor damage caused oil prices to jump $2 in a single day. But a former CIA agent tells us that if terrorists ever succeeded in destroying an entire oil complex, it could take enough oil off the market to cause economic catastrophe in the United States.

Our enemies are fully aware that they can use oil as a weapon against America. And if we don't take this threat as seriously as the bombs they build or the guns they buy, we will be fighting the War on Terror with one hand tied behind our back.

Now, the good news about the President's decision to finally focus on energy independence after five years is that it helps build bipartisan consensus that our reliance on foreign oil is a problem and shows that he understands the potential of renewable fuels to make a difference.

The bad news is that the President's energy policy treats our dependence on oil as more of a nuisance than a serious threat.

Just one day after he told us in the State of the Union that renewable fuels were the key to an energy independent future, we learned that the President's budget cuts would force layoffs at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Last week, this made for a rather awkward situation when the President wanted to use the lab for a photo-op - so awkward that the White House actually re-hired the laid-off researchers just to avoid the embarrassment.

This is only one example, but it tells the story of a larger weakness in the President's energy policy: it's simply not commensurate to the challenge.

There's a reason that some have compared the quest for energy independence to the Manhattan Project or the Apollo moon landing. Like those historic efforts, moving away from an oil economy is a major challenge that will require a sustained national commitment.

During World War II, we had an entire country working around the clock to produce enough planes and tanks to beat the Axis powers. In the middle of the Cold War, we built a national highway system so we had a quick way to transport military equipment across the country. When we wanted to beat the Russians into space, we poured millions into a national education initiative that graduated thousands of new scientists and engineers.

If we hope to strengthen our security and control our own foreign policy, we can offer no less of a commitment to energy independence.

But so far, President Bush seems like he is offering less - much less.

His funding for renewable fuels is at the same level it was the day he took office.

He refuses to call for even a modest increase in fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

His latest budget funds less then half of the energy bill he himself signed into law - leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in under-funded energy proposals.

And while he cannot seem to find the funding for any of these energy proposals, he has no problem allowing the oil companies to stiff taxpayers $7 billion in royalties that they owe us for drilling on public lands. These are the same oil companies that are currently enjoying the highest profits on record.

Again, this is just not a serious commitment to energy independence. The solutions are too timid - the reforms too small. America's dependence on oil is a major threat to our national security, and the American people deserve a bold commitment that has the full force of their government behind it.

This isn't to lay the blame for our energy problems entirely at the feet of our President. This is an issue that politicians from both parties clamor about when gas prices are the headline of the month, only to fall back into a trance of inaction once things calm down. And so we all need to get serious here. Automakers need to get serious about shifting their technology to greater fuel-efficiency, consumers need to get serious about buying hybrid cars, and Washington needs to get serious about working together to find a real solution to our energy crisis.

Such a solution is not only possible, it's already being implemented in other places around the world. Countries like Japan are creating jobs and slowing oil consumption by churning out and buying millions of fuel-efficient cars. Brazil, a nation that once relied on foreign countries to import 80% of its crude oil, will now be entirely self-sufficient in a few years thanks to its investment in biofuels.

So why can't we do this? Why can't we make energy security one of the great American projects of the 21st century?

The answer is, we can. The President's energy proposal would reduce our oil imports by 4.5 million barrels per day by 2025. Not only can we do better than that, we must do better than that if we hope to make a real dent in our oil dependency. With technology we have on the shelves right now and fuels we can grow right here in America, by 2025 we can reduce our oil imports by over 7.5. million barrels per day - an amount greater than all the oil we are expected to import from the entire Middle East.

We can do this by focusing on two things: the cars we drive and the fuels we use.

First, the cars. For years, we've hesitated to raise fuel economy standards as a nation in part because of a very legitimate concern - the impact it would have on Detroit. The auto industry is right when they argue that transitioning to more hybrid and fuel-efficient cars would require massive investment at a time when they're struggling under the weight of rising health care costs, sagging profits, and stiff competition.

But it's precisely because of that competition that they don't have a choice. China now has a higher fuel economy standard than we do, and Japan's Toyota is doubling production of the popular Prius to sell 100,000 in the U.S. this year.

There is now no doubt that fuel-efficient cars represent the future of the auto industry. If American car companies hope to be a part of that future - if they hope to survive - they must start building more of these cars.

But that's not to say we should leave the industry to face these costs on its own. Yes, we should raise fuel economy standards by 3% a year over the next fifteen years, starting in 2008. With the technology they already have, this should be an achievable goal for automakers. But we can help them get there.

Right now, one of the biggest costs facing auto manufacturers isn't the cars they make, it's the health care they provide. Health care costs make up $1,500 of the price of every GM car that's made - more than the cost of steel. Retiree health care alone cost the Big 3 automakers nearly $6.7 billion just last year.

So here's the deal we can make with the auto companies. It's a piece of legislation I introduced called "Health Care for Hybrids," and it would allow the federal government to pick up part of the tab for the auto companies' retiree health care costs. In exchange, the auto companies would then use some of that savings to build and invest in more fuel-efficient cars. It's a win-win proposal for the industry - their retirees will be taken care of, they'll save money on health care, and they'll be free to invest in the kind of fuel-efficient cars that are the key to their competitive future.

Now, building cars that use less oil is only one side of the equation. The other involves replacing the oil we use with home-grown biofuels. The Governors in this room have long known about this potential, and all of you have been leading the way on ethanol in your own states.

This coalition also knows that corn-based ethanol is only the beginning. If we truly want to harness the power of these fuels and the promise of this market, we can and must generate more cellulosic ethanol from agricultural products like corn stocks, switch grass and other crops our farmers grow.

Already, there are hundreds of fueling stations that use a blend of ethanol and gasoline known as E85, and there are millions of cars on the road with the flexible-fuel tanks necessary to use this fuel - including my own.

But the challenge we face with these biofuels is getting them out of the labs, out of the farms, and onto the wider commercial market. Every scientific study in the world could sing the praises of biofuels, but you might still be hard-pressed to find an investor willing to take the risk on a cellulosic ethanol plant or a brand-name petroleum company willing to build an E85 fueling station.

The federal government can help in two ways here. First, we can reduce the risk of investing. We already do this in a number of ways by funding projects critical to our national security. Energy independence should be no different. By developing an Energy Technology Program at the Defense Department, we can provide loan guarantees and venture capital to those with the best plans to develop and sell biofuels on a commercial market. The Defense Department will also hold a competition where private corporations get funding to see who can build the best new alternative-fuel plant. The Department can then use these new technologies to improve the energy security of our own military.

Once we take the risk out of investing, the second thing the government can do is to let the private sector know that there will always be a market for renewable fuels. We can do this in a few ways.

First, we should ramp up the renewable fuel standard and create an alternative diesel standard in this country so that by 2025, 65 billion gallons of alternative fuels per year will be blended into the petroleum supply.

Second, Washington should lead the way on energy independency by making sure that every single automobile the government purchases is a flexible-fuel vehicle - starting today. When it becomes possible in the coming years, we should make sure that every government car is a plug-in hybrid as well.

Third, I'm supporting legislation that would make sure every single new car in America is a flexible-fuel vehicle within a decade. Currently it costs manufacturers just $100 to add these tanks to each car. But we can do them one better. If they install flexible-fuel tanks in their cars before the decade's up, the government should provide them a $100 tax credit to do it - so there's no excuse for delay.

Fourth, there are already millions of people driving flexible-fuel vehicles who don't know it. The auto companies shouldn't get CAF'E credit for making these cars if they don't let buyers know about them, so I'd like to ask the industry to follow GM's lead and put a yellow gas cap on all flexible fuel vehicles starting today. Also, they should send a letter to those people who already have flexible-fuel vehicles so they can start filling up their tank at the closest E85 station.

Finally, since there are only around 500 fueling stations that pump E85 in the country, we recently passed legislation that would provide tax credits of up to $30,000 for those who want to install E85 pumps at their station. But we should do even more - we should make sure that in the coming years, E85 stations are as easy to find as your gas station is now.

Make no mistake - none of these reforms will come easy, and they won't happen overnight. But we can't continue to settle for piecemeal, bite-sized solutions to our energy crisis. We need a national commitment to energy security, and to emphasize that commitment, we should install a Director of Energy Security to oversee all of our efforts. Like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the National Intelligence Director, this person would be an advisor to the National Security Council and have the full authority to coordinate America's energy policy across all levels of government. He or she would approve all major budget decisions and provide a full report to Congress and the country every year detailing the progress we're making toward our 2025 goal.

In the days and months after September 11th, Americans were waiting to be called to something bigger than themselves. Just like their parents and grandparents of the Greatest Generation, they were willing to serve and defend their country - not only on the fields of war, but on the homefront too.

This is our chance to step up and serve. The war against international terrorism has pitted us against a new kind of enemy that wages terror in new and unconventional ways. At home, fighting that enemy won't require us to build the massive war machine that Franklin Roosevelt called for so many years ago, but it will require us to harness our own renewable forms of energy so that oil can never be used as a weapon against America. From farmers and scientists to entrepreneurs and governors, everyone has a role to play in this effort. In fact, this afternoon I'm sitting down with business and military leaders to discuss this very topic.

Now is the time for serious leadership to get us started down the path of energy independence. Now is the time for this call to arms. I hope some of the ideas I've laid out today can serve as a basis for this call, but I also hope that members of both parties and all levels of government can come together in the near future to launch this serious quest for energy independence. Thank you.

Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don't throw them at me!

Oh SNAP! You GO Dr. Wafa Sultan!

An interview with Arab-American psychologist Dr. Wafa Sultan, badass take-no-guff-from-mullahs powerhouse! The interview was aired on Al-Jazeera TV on February 21, 2006. See the video above for the real flavor of her diatribe...transcript is below. You can find out more about Dr. Sultan by reading a recent NYT article about her.
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Wafa Sultan: The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete.

[...]

Host: I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West, and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?

Wafa Sultan: Yes, that is what I mean.

[...]

Host: Who came up with the concept of a clash of civilizations? Was it not Samuel Huntington? It was not Bin Laden. I would like to discuss this issue, if you don't mind...

Wafa Sultan: The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: "I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger." When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash, and began this war. In order to start this war, they must reexamine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels.

My colleague has said that he never offends other people's beliefs. What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names that they did not choose for themselves? Once, he calls them Ahl Al-Dhimma, another time he calls them the "People of the Book," and yet another time he compares them to apes and pigs, or he calls the Christians "those who incur Allah's wrath." Who told you that they are "People of the Book"? They are not the People of the Book, they are people of many books. All the useful scientific books that you have today are theirs, the fruit of their free and creative thinking. What gives you the right to call them "those who incur Allah's wrath," or "those who have gone astray," and then come here and say that your religion commands you to refrain from offending the beliefs of others?

I am not a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others' right to believe in it.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: Are you a heretic?

Wafa Sultan: You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural...

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran...

Wafa Sultan: These are personal matters that do not concern you.

[...]

Wafa Sultan: Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don't throw them at me. You are free to worship whoever you want, but other people's beliefs are not your concern, whether they believe that the Messiah is God, son of Mary, or that Satan is God, son of Mary. Let people have their beliefs.

[...]

Wafa Sultan: The Jews have come from the tragedy (of the Holocaust), and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. Humanity owes most of the discoveries and science of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. 15 million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge. We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people. The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a Mosque, kill a Muslim, or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people, and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.

March 10, 2006

It's SNOWING

It's snowing here today. Gasp!

First of all, this is Northern California. We rarely even get a hard freeze at night, and now there is snow falling during the day. All the hillsides around us here in the Valley of Heart's Delight (the name of this region before it became known as Silicon Valley) are covered in snow, and quite picturesque.

But still....SNOW! Because second of all, it's March, and it's supposed to be warming up by now. I think the East Coast is getting temps in the 80's today. Crazy.

Last year it didn't start getting warm until July. Is this what global warming is going to be like in California? Cold and rainy? Are we slowly morphing into Oregon?

All my tender plants are dying. I have a lovely Brugmansia tree that was doing beautifully, growing by leaps and bounds, covered in huge hanging yellow trumpet flowers. Now it's a brown stick, covered in dead brown leaves. So sad.

We have vines with scarlet trumpet flowers growing up the side supports of our bocce ball court arbor. I had babied them and fertilized them and they were finally spreading over the top of the arbor to perfectly shade the court in summertime, and protect it from rain in the wintertime. Now they are brown and withered. All the new growth is dead, and a lot of the old growth is dead too. Ugh.

Dan just called me from his car. Hwy 280 is covered in ice and snow, as are the hillsides on either side of the freeway. I thought that his cell phone was breaking up, but the staticky noise was actually the sound of giant hail pounding his car. Good grief. What next?


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