Monday, April 30, 2007

Weird "science"

Via Digby: This website absolutely blew my mind, especially since it was just about the first thing I saw rolling out of bed this afternoon.

I had heard that such people continued to exist in a few isolated Appallachian mountain hollers, but I had no idea that any of them had mastered the technical ability necessary to run a web page.

Friday, April 27, 2007

"Save Bernie's Farm" - Update

The "Save Bernie's Farm" benefit sponsored by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws raised $10,000 to help Bernie Ellis in his fight to keep his farm from being confiscated by federal authorities. Read more about the benefit at Chronic Discontent. The article also mentions some folks I'm acquainted with from around and about: Greg and Ginny Welsch, who did much of the groundwork to establish Radio Free Nashville and remain active in its operation; and Dan Sweeton, longtime activist, journalist, and labor leader who I met back in my Green Party days.

The closest thing we have to an alternative newspaper here, the Nashville Scene, also has a fine story on Bernie in this week's edition. Writer Jeff Woods hints at the government's possible motivations for wanting his farm:

Ellis bought his first piece of the property in 1973 for $6,500, and he’s been adding on to it every since. He figures the place is worth close to $1 million now.

Which may have been why the federal government went after Ellis in the first place, instead of leaving the case to state prosecutors. It takes a lot of money to fund the war on drugs. Ellis’ farm must have made a tempting target. The Drug Enforcement Administration denies this. Harry Sommers, special DEA field agent in Tennessee, says, “It’s not about wanting the money. We enforce the law. That’s what we do. If you grow marijuana on your land, then your land is forfeitable under the law.”

Ellis’ lawyers contend the government doesn’t enjoy carte blanche power to seize the farm. In court papers, they argue that it would violate the Constitution’s prohibition against excessive fines because it would be “grossly disproportional” to Ellis’ crime: “Not only did the underlying criminal case involve a nonviolent crime, but it also involved no victims and, in fact, demonstrated that Mr. Ellis acted to actually benefit other individuals, hoping to alleviate needless suffering at the end of those individuals’ lives.”

All Bernie Ellis was trying to do was help ease the pain of some sick friends and acquaintances. He never accepted a dime's payment for what he grew. In fact, the law may have treated him better had he been a dealer. Four years probation is more than sufficient payment for whatever harm Ellis supposedly did to society, and at this point the authorities need to leave Bernie and his farm in peace.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Thinking Blogger

Recently Christie of Cosmic Cat fame bestowed upon me the designation of Thinking Blogger. It's always nice to know that folks out there appreciate what you're doing, especially someone who runs a top-notch blog like Christie does. Not quite being sure what a Thinking Blogger is, though, I thought it appropriate to think about it for a few days...

Here is how Christie describes The Hill, since I've often wondered just what it is I do here:

One of my favorite things about this blog is that I never know what I'm going to find, but it is always something good. Current events and politics are frequent topics, with plenty of supporting links. Then there are the humorous posts, and lots of biographical entries. Great stuff!

The secret of my randomness is a simple one - I never know what I'm going to do myself until I sit down and start writing. One thing about focusing on current events/popular culture is that you have to dig deep if you want people to be interested. There's no point in blogging politics if you're going over the same old ground - most likely Kos and his stable of writers have already written about it ten times better for a million times more readers than you're ever going to get. So part of my approach lies in investigating the various nooks and crannies of the Internet that I've stumbled upon in years of surfing. So I spend a lot of my time poking around until I find something interesting to write about - which may sometimes take three or four days. Once I find something, my goal is to make it interesting for people who ordinarily might not give much thought to those issues, while keeping the attention of those who are regular readers of the more popular political and cultural blogs.

Then there are the days I see something interesting or unusual and just try to have fun with it.

Another way in which I've been fortunate is in making contacts with people who run blogs with a substantial readership. Thanks to the folks at Watching Those We Chose and Corrente for giving me a place to peddle my stuff if I think it deserves to be seen by more people than are likely to visit here.

So, what constitutes a Thinking Blogger? Some of my regular visitors have already earned designation as Thinking Bloggers. Congratulations to:

Christie (Cosmic Cat),
Beth (Perfect Neurotic),
Sonia (...and the pursuit of happiness),
and Gina (Just Another Day).

Ladies, be proud. Everybody else, go visit their blogs when you get a chance.

Or head over to the blogroll and pick out one at random. To paraphrase the Second Epistle to Timothy, all of these blogs are inspired and are useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living. You may not agree with all the writers, but they'll definitely make you think.

Before handing out props, the originator of this meme has laid down some ground rules:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme, and
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative gold version if silver doesn't fit your blog).

Here, then, are five fine folk who qualify as Thinking Bloggers. Recipients of this honor may do with it as they will:

Mixter's Mix. When considering Thinking Bloggers, Mixter came to mind right away. What I've been trying to do here - provide politics and culture with a personal touch and a sense of humor - Mixter has been doing for quite a while now. You could say that Mixter is a model for what I want to do. She's been a committed political activist for years, and once considered a run for the Wisconsin State Legislature. Mixter knows politics well, but some of her most poignant posts have been about her family and friends, and her own struggles with lupus.

Recently, Mixter has taken on a co-blogger named Yankee, Transferred. From what I've seen of her writing so far, she adds another quality voice to the Mix.

Welcome To The Revolution. Strannix is currently doing some remodeling at his place. When he gets everything put back together, check him out for some wicked analysis of Missouri and national politics, and sharp observations on popular culture. Strannix has the rare distinction of knowing more about rock'n'roll than I do. He's also the only rabbitblogger that I can think of. One of the Watching Those We Chose gang.

Blue Girl, Red State. Blue Girl is rapidly ascending the ranks of the big-time bloggers - her stuff has been noticed by Salon and Kevin Drum. While her political blogging skills get major-league recognition, some of her best stuff has been about her experiences as a military wife, medical researcher and teacher. The founder of Watching Those We Chose, this is my way of saying thanks for making me part of the team. When she makes the A-list, I can say that I knew her when.

The Mind of IrishWalsh. Walsh's blog seems to be in a permanent state of remodeling these days. He's not blogging so much at the moment, as he's spending most of his time pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities. If he doesn't start writing again soon, he's going to be best known as Sonia's brother-in-law. When he's on, he dishes up solid conservative observation with a healthy dose of humor. If you can't consider the viewpoints of those you don't often agree with, you're not really thinking.

Blue.Coffee. Naomi doesn't tickle your intellect, she hits you square between the eyes. Naomi has been deeply involved in electoral politics over the years, once mounting a challenge to Congressman Lincoln Davis of Tennessee in the Democratic primary. An uncompromising feminist and atheist, Naomi isn't for the faint of heart, but her posts are always worthwhile. She also blogs regularly at Martian Anthropologist and also on occasion at Corrente.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Yesterday's obits

Boris Yeltsin, 76, first post-Soviet leader of Russia. Admired for his attempt to bring order out of chaos after the Soviet Union's fall, and for standing firm in the face of a later Communist resurgence, Yeltsin's ham-fisted, autocratic style of leadership arguably did the Russian people more harm than good.

David Halberstam, 73, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, of injuries sustained in an auto accident. Nashville figured prominently in Halberstam's early career. He wrote for the Tennessean in the late 50's, gaining an understanding of the civil rights movement and race relations that would be a theme of his later writing. His The Best And The Brightest is one of the best books written about the Vietnam War, and other books such as The Powers That Be, The Breaks Of The Game, The Fifties, and Firehouse are useful reading for those interested in post-World War II American events and culture.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bernie Ellis

Bernie Ellis is a public health researcher and political activist who happens to own a 187 acre farm in the hills southwest of Nashville. I've seen his name around on a few political blog comment threads, and also for his efforts in organizing the National Conference on the 2004 Election that was held here a while back, the goal of which was to mobilize citizens to push for electoral reform.

Ellis also gained local notoriety in 2002 when his farm was raided and law enforcement officials seized approximately seven pounds of marijuana plants. Ellis plead guilty to growing pot - he's never tried to hide what he was doing from anyone - and was sentenced to four years probation, including an 18 month stay in a halfway house. Ellis is about to be released from the halfway house, but may not have his farm to go home to. The Tennessean reports that his farm may be seized under federal asset confiscation laws.

Robert Koehler describes the raid in a recent Chicago Tribune column (available at Huffington Post):

For reasons that will probably forever remain murky, Ellis' farm was raided in August 2002. A few days earlier, a local dealer had tried to buy some pot from him and was told to shove off, so the suspicion lingers that the dealer turned him in. Two helicopters swooped overhead and eight or nine officers of the Tennessee Marijuana Eradication Task Force entered his property -- a lot of hoo-hah, you might think, for seven pounds of weed, worth about $7,000.

Ellis was interrogated for two hours and freely "confessed" to his activities. Indeed, at the very moment of the raid he'd been crafting recommendations, at the request of New Mexico's then-Gov. Gary Johnson, on how that state could establish a program making cannabis available immediately to patients in need. He gave the officers a printout of his proposal. How guilty can you get?

"I said this from the beginning," Ellis told me. "I'm not ashamed of what I'm doing."

And he wasn't arrested. The Task Force officers did some checking around and learned that Ellis was not only well known but highly respected among county officials. His troubles didn't begin till the federal government became interested in his case -- and this gets at the core outrage of the whole matter. The zeal to keep marijuana criminalized in the face of so much evidence -- it has 50 to 100 therapeutically beneficial subcomponents and has been studied in connection with the treatment and control of Alzheimer's, brain tumors, epilepsy, MS and even schizophrenia, among much else -- emanates from the federal level.

Ellis never accepted payment for the marijuana he grew. He gave it away to people in need, as well as smoking some himself in order to relieve pain from fibromyalgia and a degenerative joint disease. From the Tennessean article:

For many years, Ellis gave marijuana to numbers of very sick and dying people. "I gave it away. I never sold it," he said.

One of the sick people he gave marijuana was Dottie, in 1995. That year the Middle Tennessee woman, who asked that her last name not be used, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"I had radical surgery and was in great pain. The marijuana would help me on certain days when I didn't want narcotics. I asked my doctors about it and they said it wouldn't hurt," she said.

"Bernie's a good-hearted person. He loves to help people. I was a lucky girl."

Another Middle Tennessee woman, Carolyn, said the marijuana Ellis gave her dying husband improved her husband's quality of life.

"It helped a whole lot. My husband could eat. He could go about his day like a normal day," said Carolyn, who also asked that her last name not be used.

"I think it's a terrible thing they're doing to Bernie. He's paid a pretty high price already so I don't see no use in them taking his home and farm."

The Belcourt Theatre in Nashville is hosting a "Save Bernie's Farm" benefit Wednesday in order to help Ellis raise money for his fight. All can check out the Save Bernie's Farm website, which tells Ellis' story in further detail and also contains lots of pictures and video of some of the most gorgeous scenery you'll see anywhere.

(Crossposted at Watching Those We Chose.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Diagram of a comment thread

Found this at a place called, originally printed in the New York Times:

Apologies for the light blogging during the past week, especially since there are some unfinished matters I've been dragging my feet on. Much of that time was spent at Ye Olde Water Treatment Plant; I definitely needed the overtime, though. Throw in the latest round of doctors' appointments with Mrs. S. and some great weather for yardwork, and that all pushed the blog well down the list of priorities.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tragedy at Blacksburg

Our thoughts and prayers tonight are with the students, faculty, staff and alumni of Virginia Tech University.

My first instinct whenever I hear of yet another mass killing is to ask, "Why?" No doubt we will be subjected to innumerable psychological profiles of the gunman in days to come, but there's always something unsatisfying about hearing those stories. Whatever demons were chasing this person, whatever psychological traumas the shooter undoubtedly endured, simply do not justify taking the lives of 33 college students.

Prowling the internets tonight, I inevitably encountered comments in the vein of "If somebody had a gun, they could have shot the gunman and prevented further carnage". Right now, all I have to say on gun control is that I think it would work about as well as marijuana control or prostitution control currently do. But there's a deadly cynicism in suggesting that everybody should go around armed. The first purpose of civilization is mutual protection, and to suggest that we must all defend ourselves implies that civilization is broken, and we are nothing but animals forever bound to the law of the jungle.

Homosapien has been given the gifts of intellect and reason, and I long for the day that we finally take full advantage of those gifts.

ADDENDUM: What Blue Girl, Red State said at my bloghome-away-from-home:

Let me make a deal with my brethren on the right – you stop talking about arming every Tom, Dick and Harry in the country so we can have contagious gunfire erupt on a regular basis because we have encouraged a vigilante culture, and I will try to keep my side from going nuts and trying to ban all guns.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Livin' large

An interesting tidbit: A recent study suggests that there may be some correlation between the size of a CEO's home and stock performance:

A new study makes the case that there is a strong correlation between executives' home-buying behavior and stock performance. The bigger the CEO home, the worse the company's stock fares, according to two academic researchers. They also found that companies with CEOs living in more modest abodes often see their shares outperform.

Arizona State University's Crocker Liu and New York University's David Yermack, who teach finance at their respective schools, contend that a super-sized home purchase shows entrenchment. A CEO might feel secure in his job, and therefore isn't concerned that he is going to have to leave any time soon.

Hmmm... get that big mansion adjoining the country club, life is good, the heck with how the company does. On the other hand, the CEO living in the 'hood with a little more ordinary folk may have the incentive to drive the company harder to get that mansion on the hill.

This ain't exactly the slums we're talkin' about:

Their findings certainly show a privileged class: The median home was valued at $2.7 million — more than 10 times the median sales price for all U.S. homes in 2004. It included 11 rooms plus 4.5 bathrooms, with a floor area of more than 5,600 square feet and a median land area of one and a quarter acre.

Twelve percent of CEOs' homes are on waterfronts, and 8.5 percent are next to or on golf courses. The median CEO lives 12.5 miles away from corporate headquarters, though 6 percent of those in the study lived more than 250 miles or more away — meaning it takes a plane ride to get to the office.

The researchers suggest that before buying stock, it might be a good idea to check out where the CEO lives:

Those living really large are the 12 percent of S&P 500 CEOs with homes topping 10,000 square feet, or on a minimum of 10 acres.

But occupying the biggest house on the block doesn't make you a winner on Wall Street. Their companies' stocks lagged the S&P 500 by about 25 percent over the three years after the CEOs' home purchases.

In contrast, those buying more modestly saw their companies' stocks beat the market benchmark by about the same amount.

Coincidence, or might there be something to a CEO scraping by on 5000 square feet driving the company hard so he can have his 10,000 square feet on the water with the big boys?

Meanwhile, over at Corrente, Chicago Dyke wants to burn them out of their houses. I think she's halfway serious...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Don Ho

Note to Don Imus: This is what a ho looks like.

Don Ho, noted Hawaiian lounge lizard best known for his hit "Tiny Bubbles", passed away today at age 76.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

The Hill pays its respects to Kurt Vonnegut, who passed away yesterday at age 84.

Vonnegut was one of the finest authors of the 20th Century, winning worldwide acclaim for works including Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. Most of his writing could best be classified as science fiction, but his humanist worldview was frequently suffused throughout his work.

Vonnegut was also one of the good guys. Outspoken in his humanist beliefs, his political viewpoint was also influenced by socialist leaders such as Eugene Debs. In recent years, he was a frequent critic of George W. Bush and the Middle East war.

I admit to not having read much of Vonnegut's work. I attempted to read Slaughterhouse-Five during my high school days, but couldn't finish it - that book requires an adult viewpoint to understand it fully. Nevertheless, I found the experience intimidating enough that I never attempted any of his other novels, although I enjoyed some of the magazine pieces he wrote in later years. Perhaps this would be a good time to reacquaint myself with Vonnegut's writing, maybe the next time I see one of his books at the thrift shop or used bookstore.

In his later years, Vonnegut was a frequent contributor to In These Times. That magazine currently has online a compilation of his work for them - a must for any Vonnegut fan. They plan a further memorial to Vonnegut's life and career in future days.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter

This is getting frustrating. Every time I'm ready to get things cranked up again, the computer at home goes on the fritz, which means I can't keep up with anything except during whatever time I can cobble together at work. This time, I can't even get on the internet from home, and the computer guy says that whatever it is in Windows that recognizes protocols with outside servers is corrupted, and he would have to reinstall Windows to fix the problem. It would cost less to buy a new hard drive than what he would charge me for that job. Money is tight right now with the medical bills, and it might be several weeks before I can buy a new machine. So I've spent most of my online time tonight trying to find a fix for my problem; perhaps I can find something that the computer guy overlooked, and fix the thing myself.

With The Hill once again in a semi-dormant state, we once again turn to others making useful contributions to the many internets:

What would Easter be without an anti-theocracy blogswarm? Lots of interesting stuff there for folks to check out. Especially good are Tristero's contributions on Christian political theory that can be read by scrolling through Digby's place.

Check out this article written by Thomas Sheehan a few years back on how some Jesus scholars view the origins of Easter. Or if the crucified Christ isn't your thing, you might be interested in Five Alternatives To Christianity.

No cool music videos to pass along, but Jurassicpork at Welcome To Pottersville has once again arranged a photoessay to another great Who song, "Won't Get Fooled Again". Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

If you've passed by all the links thus far, don't skip this one. Our friend Sonia Sunshine at Pursuit Of Happiness is blogging on autism awareness. When you go over to her place, be sure to say hello; Sonia is donating a dollar to the Autism Research Institute for each comment left with her post.

Have patience, my dwindling readership. I'll come around the neighborhood as I get a chance.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"It's cool, mate - it's just my ol' man"

Although Keith Richards is reckoned to have ingested just about every substance known to man, he still can come up with a good surprise from time to time - Keef claims to have snorted his deceased father's ashes:

"The strangest thing I've tried to snort? My father. I snorted my father," Richards was quoted as saying by British music magazine NME.

"He was cremated and I couldn't resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn't have cared," he said. "... It went down pretty well, and I'm still alive."

Well, that's the important thing, I suppose...

Since Richards is almost as well known for slinging BS at gullible reporters as he is for his drug use, I'm a bit skeptical of this one. Though it could be that his brain is getting so muddled he's having trouble keeping the stories straight these days.

Keef has created some of the most memorable guitar licks in the entire rock pantheon, but there's another achievement he's been proud of:

"I was No. 1 on the `who's likely to die' list for 10 years. I mean, I was really disappointed when I fell off the list," Richards said.

That picture was taken recently, but he's looked like that for about 40 years now. One consolation of prematurely aging is that you get to spend the rest of your life watching everybody else catch up to you...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A day in the life

I found this over at the Progressive Magazine website. I may have seen something similar to this before. I have no idea who John Gray is.

Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican

by John Gray

Joe gets up at 6:00am to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot full of good clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to insure their safety and work as advertised.

All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employers medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance, now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs this day. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

Joe takes his morning shower reaching for his shampoo; His bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount of its contents because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day; he has a good job with excellent pay, medicals benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe’s employer pays these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some liberal didn’t think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

Its noon time, Joe needs to make a Bank Deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae underwritten Mortgage and his below market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his life-time.

Joe is home from work, he plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dads; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electric until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification. (Those rural Republican’s would still be sitting in the dark)

He is happy to see his dad who is now retired. His dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to. After his visit with dad he gets back in his car for the ride home.

He turns on a radio talk show, the host’s keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. (He doesn’t tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day) Joe agrees, “We don’t need those big government liberals ruining our lives; after all, I’m a self made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have”.

My grandpa said, "People are Democrats as long as they're hungry, but once their bellies are full, they turn into Republicans."