Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Craving Peace? Move to Norway, Avoid Iraq.

The first study of its kind ranks Norway the most peaceful country, and Iraq the least. (complete rankings.)

The Global Peace Index surveyed 121 countries, from Algeria to Zimbabwe. The Economist Intelligence Unit (the country intelligence division of The Economist Group that publishes The Economist newspaper) measured countries' peacefulness based on 24 indicators- including ease of access to "weapons of minor destruction" (guns, small explosives), military expenditure, local corruption, and the level of respect for human rights.

After compiling the Index, the researchers examined it for patterns in order to identify the "drivers" that make for peaceful societies. They found that peaceful countries often shared high levels of democracy and transparency of government, education and material well-being. (Source)

The Global Peace Index's main findings:

  • Peace is correlated to indicators such as income, schooling and the level of regional integration

  • Peaceful countries often shared high levels of transparency of government and low corruption

  • Small, stable countries which are part of regional blocs are most likely to get a higher ranking

And here now are the top ten most peaceful countries in the world:
  • 1: Norway

  • 2: New Zealand

  • 3: Denmark

  • 4: Ireland

  • 5: Japan

  • 6: Finland

  • 7: Sweden

  • 8: Canada

  • 9: Portugal

  • 10: Austria
The GPI states that in Norway "there is no internal conflict and involvement in external conflicts is limited to peacekeeping roles. Relations between Norway and its neighbouring Scandinavian countries, with which it shares a strong cultural and linguistic heritage, are very good; indeed, close co-operation with the other Nordic countries is a cornerstone of Norway's foreign policy. The rate of violent crime is very low, there is a strong level of respect for human rights, the political scene is stable and violent demonstrations are highly unlikely to occur, all of which indicate a harmonious society."

Moving on now to the bottom of the list:
  • 112: Angola

  • 113: Cote d'Ivoire

  • 114: Lebanon

  • 115: Pakistan

  • 116: Colombia

  • 117: Nigeria

  • 118: Russia

  • 119: Israel

  • 120: Sudan

  • 121: Iraq

And once again, here is the complete list of rankings.

It's worth noting that Afghanistan is not included in the list of 121.

Where do we stand in all this?

The United States is number 96, right behind Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and Yemen. The ranking was brought down by engagement in warfare and external conflict, as well as high levels of incarceration and homicide. The U.S.'s rank also suffered due to the large share of military expenditure from its GDP, attributed to its status as one of the world's military-diplomatic powers."

Our neighbors fared better: Canada is ranked eighth, Mexico is 79.

You can read more about the Global Peace Index in this BBC article.

Coincidentally (or not?) the BBC today also has an article that reports people in European and Muslim countries see US policy in Iraq as a bigger threat to world peace than Iran's nuclear programme. Read it here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Public Radio Visitor.

As I left work on Memorial Day, this is what I saw right outside our building, the Murrow Communications Center at WSU in Pullman.

(The brick building in the picture is Thompson Hall, directly across the street from Murrow.)

I've seen this little fellow occasionally when I arrive at work in the pre-dawn hours. Reason I think it's the same one is that he's somewhat unafraid of humans, and let me get quite close. He's not missing an ear - he'd dropped one and had been scratching it.

From now on, I shall address this little critter as Edward, for Mr. Murrow.

Battered by the Right, then the Left, Cindy Sheehan Quits.

After her son was killed in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan camped outside President Bush's home in Crawford for most of a long hot Texas summer, demanding he talk to her about son Casey's death.

Bush went out of his way to avoid her, but Sheehan's long wait in 2005 turned her one of the most prominent figures of the anti-war movement, and a frequent target for supporters of the war. Among the names they hurled at her: "attention whore."

CNN reports:

" a Web diary posted to the liberal online community Daily Kos on Monday, Sheehan said she was exhausted by the personal, financial and emotional toll of the past two years.

The 1,200-word letter is titled, Good Riddance Attention Whore.

Sheehan announced that her son "did indeed die for nothing."

"I have tried ever since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful," she wrote. "Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives."

Noting some numbers: 980 U.S. servicemen and women died in the last twelve months, the between Memorial Day observances of 2006 and 2007. (Source) As for American Idol, 29.5 MILLION people tuned in for the recent finale episode. (Source)

This has to be disheartening for the war's strongest opponents. Like Sheehan, many had placed their hopes in the new Democratic majority in Congress to rein in the Bush Administration. But after weeks of hot air and bluster and veto threats from Bush, the Dems obliged him and dropped a troop withdrawal timeline from the war spending bill.

Sheehan says she's not a partisan when it comes to opposing the war, and levels criticism at the left and Democrats:

"I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our "two-party" system?

"However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."

Sheehan's right about Americans distracted by things other than the continuing sacrifice of troops and the families who struggle and worry. I really expected a lot more attention to them on this Memorial Day, but it was strangely muted. Some have argued that it's because Americans were not asked to make personal sacrificies to the war effort that has them thus disengaged.

The personal toll on Sheehan was heavy. She says "her antiwar activism had cost her her marriage, that she had put the survivor's benefits paid for her son's death and all her speaking and book fees into the cause and that she now owed extensive medical bills.

"I am going to take whatever I have left and go home," she wrote. "I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost."

Read the CNN report here, and Sheehan's diary entry at Daily Kos here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Guest Commentary: Roger Lynn, Pastor, United Church of Moscow.

Roger Lynn has been pastor of the United Church of Moscow for the last 12 years. He lives about a mile north of the Latah County Courthouse. Like many of his neighbors, Roger was awakened on the night of Saturday, May 19th, by the sounds which we would come to know the next day, was gunfire issued by Jason Hamilton. More than 125 rounds discharged, and four people dead.

Roger sent in this commentary:

I came awake to what I thought was the sound of someone knocking on our door, desperate to be let in. The next morning I learned that the "knocking" had actually been the first burst of weapon fire at the Court House. And then the thought occurred to me that it had, in fact, been someone desperate to be let in.

He had chosen a particularly tragic and disastrous way of expressing his pain, but pain it most certainly was. And now we, as individuals, as a community, as a nation, as the human race, are left with the challenge of picking up the pieces of our broken world and moving on from here. We are left with the challenge of how to respond to the desperate knocking that persistently disturbs our living. And we have choices in how we will do that.

In his farewell address to the Hebrew people as they prepared to enter the "Promised Land," Moses says, "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live." (Deuteronomy 30:19)

As a person of faith it is my strong conviction that God's desire for all of us is full, rich, abundant living which is defined by qualities such as peace, compassion, health and connection.

The path which leads to such life can be difficult to find, particularly since we have frequently wandered so far afield. And, I believe, it is possible to find our way back to the path.

It is possible to remember who we truly are, way down deep in the core of our being. If we will pay attention to the deep longings of our hearts, if we will listen for the quiet whispers of the Sacred Presence, if we will open ourselves to the promptings of the Spirit, we will discover the path to healing and wholeness.

It is a journey that will require the very best of who we are. It will require all our energy and commitment. And it is a journey which we must make together, with no one left behind. We absolutely must begin and end with the firm conviction that every life is sacred, every person is of immeasurable worth, every soul is intrinsically linked to us.

We cannot meet these challenges alone. Together, with each other and with God, there is nothing we cannot do. I do not know all of what must be done to even begin moving us towards life and away from death, and I know that the challenge is overwhelming in its enormity.

I also know that we must begin.

We must begin to transform the personal, institutional, cultural, societal systems which perpetuate our brokenness -- the systems that keep people in poverty, deny them access to health care, devalue and dehumanize them, and so much more. We must begin to reclaim our humanity and the humanity of every person on the planet.

"Choose life," Moses said, "so that you and your descendants may live."

In the darkness of these days in which we find ourselves, as we have wrapped our arms around each other, wept together and reached out in love and support to those around us, we have, indeed, already begun to choose life.

May the ripples of that choice spread and help to heal the world.


Roger Lynn's commentary will air Friday afternoon on Northwest Public Radio.

You can also listen to it here.


Do Cops Really Need Your Help?

When the shots rang out at the Latah County Courthouse on Saturday night, some people tried to help.

One man packed a pistol and rifle into his car and drove to the scene. Officers didn't know if there was more than one shooter at the time, so they packed him in for questioning.

At a house nearby, 20-year old UI student Pete Husmann was watching "Die Hard." He got out his .45 caliber handgun and rode his bicycle to the scene, trying to help.

The UI Argonaut reports Husmann did not have time to draw his weapon before being wounded by gunman Jason Hamilton. The first bullet struck Husmann in the back, passing through his liver and a rib. While on the ground, he was hit twice more. The second bullet entered in the front of his neck and exited through his shoulder while a third bullet struck him in the thigh.

Latah County Sheriff Wayne Rausch characterized Husmann's action as vigilantism. In an interview with the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (subscription required), Rausch said of Husmann's involvement: "we appreciate the thought, but it was foolhardy." He said armed civilians who respond to a crime scene can create the perfect combination for disaster, as was the case in that scene outside the Latah County Courthouse. He pointed out that had Husmann managed to pull out his gun and start firing, police might have mistaken him for the shooter and taken him out.

Let's go back a month, to the days following the Virginia Tech shootings.

Gun advocates weighed in with comments such as:

"Whether or not you believe it's a good idea for the carrying of concealed firearms to be widespread, anywhere in the world, it's absolutely incontestable that less people would have died had a few students in that classroom been armed."(Source)

"An armed citizen could have stopped this guy [Cho Seung-hui] almost dead in his tracks with minimal loss of life. Assuming he wasn't one of the victims caught off-guard in the front of a room before the first shots rang out, an armed citizen would have had their weapon drawn and returning fire after the first few shots. People might have died but it would have been very few."(Source)

In Texas, governor Rick Perry and some Republicans in the Legislature say they are considering repealing a state law that prohibits the possession of firearms on college campuses. "It makes sense for Texans to be able to protect themselves from deranged individuals," Perry said. (Source

Here's a what the National Review's John Derbyshire wrote:

"As NRO's designated chickenhawk, let me be the one to ask: Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy [Cho Seung-hui]? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22.

"At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him."

Back now to Pete Husmann, who together with his family, appear to share the very same sentiments. The avid hunter took three bullets, and told his mother his initial thought was, "Now I know what a deer feels like." He also told his mother he prayed to God to let him live as he lay bleeding in the dark, bullets flying above him.

Bystander (and very brave soul) Alex Moore ran into the danger and pulled Husmann to safety. (Watch KREM's video) He also used his belt as a tourniquet on Husmann, slowed the bleeding and ulitmately saved his life.

Still, in an interview with KREM TV which aired last night, Husmann said he would definitely do it again, but maybe differently - this time he wouldn't get shot.

His mother Janice says she's very proud of him; father Sam said that if this happened again, he would definitely hope Pete would do the same thing.

I hope that family has good medical insurance.

More on Pete Husmann, from the Spokesman Review. A discussion celebrating his actions, is at

Is ANYTHING from China Safe These Days? (And how do we know what's from China, anyway?)

I've written some posts about the dangers of Chinese food products lately, being appalled by the callousness of some producers willing to compromise safety and even endanger lives, just to make a fast buck.

But how can consumers tell if a product comes from China or not?

A couple of days ago, my friend Jackie told me in an e-mail message that she'd bought a fruit snack mix from Costco, but didn't realize until closer scrutiny of the label that some of the components came from China, mixed in with ingredients from other countries.

A package of frozen wild mahi-mahi in my freezer shows the country of origin as China. But is that China as in Taiwan (Republic of China) - or is it the People's Republic of China, where all these horror stories originate?

Those are just two examples of how labeling is vague, and inadequate. Food producers in other countries including the U.S often purchase Chinese products to manufacture their goods - wheat gluten in pet food, as an example.

NPR explored this topic in-depth on Morning Edition today. Read or listen to Richard Knox's report: As Imports Increase, a Tense Dependence on China. It's a comprehensive page with lots of features: You can see some of the products China has cornered the market on it from
antibiotics to vitamins. And former FDA official William Hubbard explains why melamine got through the FDA's food safety inspection system, and whether consumers should worry about imports.

Here are links to my earlier blog entries on the subject:

Food Safety: So Much More Than E. coli

Another Tale of Food Safety Challenges in China

Deadly Industrial Chemicals from China Landing Up Cough Syrup and Other Products

Trail to Chinese Food Producers Turns Cold

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What You Can Do to Help (I Know You Want To.)

Reader Anna Enger wrote to me this morning about the widow of Officer Lee Newbill, Becky, who works at Washington State University's Children's Center:

"She is an invaluable teacher. The families that are fortunate enough to have their children attending the Center are thankful for her focused and affectionate care of their children. The WSUCC is accepting donations for the Becky Newbill Family, and this is an opportunity for all of us in our community to show our support for Becky. As you stated, Gillian, what happened is neither fair, nor right, but I hope we can open our hearts in generosity and begin to mend our hurt, while giving Becky the support she deserves to begin her own healing."

Anna, I can say this from the experience of being a recipient of much generosity, care and support myself following a difficult situation two years ago: people WANT to help, to do whatever they can to ease the burden, in whatever way they can. I remember some of those who came to my aid actually thanking me for giving an opportunity to help. Our wonderful Palousian community expresses so well that it really is more blessed to give than it is to receive.

This is what you can do for the Newbills: drop off your donation at the front desk of the WSU Children's Center on Olympia Avenue (in Pullman, of course), or make a contribution to the Lee Newbill Foundation Fund at US Bank in Moscow. The Latah County Sheriff's Office also told me donations can be made to Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) - and you can make a donation specifying Officer Newbill.

Other funds related to this incident:

Sgt. Brannon Jordan (wounded in going to Officer Newbill's assistance): donations to help with his medical expenses can be made to a fund set up at US Bank.

Crystal Hamilton: her family suggests making memorial donations to Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse. Here's her obituary


UPDATE: The celebration of Crystal's life is on Saturday May 26, 10AM at the Moscow Nazarene Church. This is a change of venue.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hamilton's Aryan Nations Ties Discovered.

The Spokesman-Review reports investigators found an Aryan Nations membership card and flag, as they searched the home of Moscow sniper Jason Hamilton. Invstigators doubt the materials they found belonged to Hamilton's murdered wife Crystal. (On the hate group's website is their motto, "Violence Solves Everything.")

Here's a link to the article.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grieving on the Palouse.

Some new information's been released about the victims of the weekend sniper ambush in my beloved town of Moscow, and I'm piecing together how their paths might have crossed mine.

After I saw a picture of Presbyterian Church sexton Paul Bauer on TV, I kept racking my brains trying to remember where I'd met him - and when someone told me he used to work at Tri-State, I immediately remembered him, patiently advising me on the right gauge of wire to get, or the right grade of sandpaper to use. Such a nice man.

Crystal Hamilton, wife of the gunman, had just started working at Washington State University, in the building where I work - the Murrow Communications Center. As I go to work before dawn and leave at lunchtime, I never met her - at work, or in the neighborhood where she lived, across the highway from me. Even though I didn't know her personally, it makes me think how closely our paths ran, yet didn't quite intersect.

Rebecca Newbill, wife of slain Sergeant Lee Newbill, also worked at Washington State University as an early childhood specialist in our Children's Center for almost ten years. Even though I didn't know Officer Newbill, I've heard from some people who did - and he sounded like the nicest, most giving soul.

I don't even know how to convey my deep sadness for the families of those lost. Can't imagine the emotions going through the family of shooter Jason Hamilton.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Moscow Shooter Revealed; Another Victim Found

Jason Hamilton was 36 years old and worked as a janitor for American Building Maintenance.

Law enforcement officials revealed today Hamilton killed his 30-year old wife Crystal in their home before going on a shooting rampage downtown.

Hamilton fired 125 shots at the Latah County Sheriff's office, using 2 semi-automatic weapons. Two law enforcement officers and a University of Idaho student were shot. Hamilton then ran into the Presbyterian Church across the street. He knew that church - it was part of his janitorial assignment.

Hamilton also knew the 62-year old sexton, Paul Bauer, who lived in an apartment in the church.

Hamilton killed Bauer before turning the gun on himself.

At a somber press conference this morning, it was revealed Hamilton killed his wife, 30-year old Crystal, at their home with a single gunshot to the head.

The FBI is investigating the scene at the Hamilton home, about four miles east of town. It's just across the highway from my house. I never knew the couple. I drove right by the house after 5AM on Sunday, just hours before Crystal's body was found there.

Law enforcement officials revealed more about Hamilton at this morning's press conference in the Moscow City Hall.

Hamilton's family moved to Moscow in the late 90s from the Kuna, Idaho area. Police listed a rap sheet on him involving many acts of violence committed here over the last two years, including a strangulation incident against a girlfriend with whom he was living during a separation from his wife. He was in court as recently as last week on a probation violation. Being a little hard of hearing, I missed what police chief Dan Weaver said but it was about a suicide attempt and the St. Joe Hospital mental facility. UPDATE Assistant police chief David Duke said Hamilton had attempted suicide through an overdose of prescription drugs, but told the psychologist that “if he wanted to commit suicide he wouldn’t do it this way, but he would take a whole bunch of people with him, either by shooting or by a bomb.“vvvvvvv

Are we looking at another disturbed person in the mold of Cho Seung-hui, or in cases closer to Idaho, and Moscow in particular, John Delling?

Police still don't know the motive for Hamilton's ambush-style shooting. They said no note has been found.

County Commissioner Tom Stroschein said Crystal, who worked as a janitor in the courthouse, was very well liked by everyone there, but kept to herself, so any troubles she may have had with her husband were not known. UPDATE I just heard today that Crystal had just started work right here at Washington State University, in the Murrow building at WSU which houses the Northwest Public Radio studios and offices. She'd been working for just a couple of weeks, and hadn't even picked up her first paycheck.vvvvvvv

Almost everyone I've spoken to is shaken by this seemingly random violence. This is Moscow, for goodness' sake, where people slow down their cars to give a friendly honk or wave to a friend on the sidewalk, where people don't lock their doors, where hugs are generously shared, where citizens of all ages will happily dance at public music performances without a hint of self-soncsiousness, where strangers will come to your assistance in a heartbeat.

We're especially troubled because of a string of recent deaths, beginning with the disappearance of well-liked City Councilman John Dickinson last winter; the murder of University of Idaho student David Boss by John Delling, and the recent death of a U of I student in a mountain climing accident.

UPDATE From a newspaper commentary this morning:

"Moscow is a small town with a big wound. And it will take a long time to mend.

"It would be easy to pick at that sore and never let it heal. To be afraid and watchful and suspicious. To fear the person who might be hiding. Or the person who is hiding their potential for brutality."

I seriously doubt it. My sense is that if anything, citizens of this community will become even more caring, more close-knit than ever, and mindful of one another.vvvvvvv

The weekend shooting took the life of Sergeant Lee Newbill, the first Moscow police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

Officer Newbill was a well-liked member of the community, with a lifelong devotion to public service, from military to law enforcement. He's been part of the Moscow police force in 2001.
Yesterday afternoon, several bouquets of flowers were laid at the roadblock near the Presbyterian Church where the carnage occurred.

As for those semi-automatic weapons, it appears Hamilton obtained them legally over the last few years.

Sunday was a strange day for me. I was scheduled to work the 6AM shift. While I was in the shower, my friend Tina in Florida called and told my family what was happening. She saw it on CNN, so I switched it on first, then Spokane station KXLY. A Moscow woman called in to the live broadcast and said she heard the gunshots from her home, about 2 miles away from the scene. They were so loud, at the time she thought they were explosions.

I watched in disbelief.

At the time, the news was confusing. First it sounded as if 4 people has been shot, then they said 3, and the shooter was cornered in the church.

I had to go through Moscow to get to work, but drove around the donwtown area to avoid the roadblocks between 3rd and 6th, Howard and Washington, but still saw police all over - with cars from Pullman, Washington State University, Lewiston and Clarkston; all these forces lending a hand to Moscow. I made it to Pullman in a bit of a daze. At 6AM it sounded as if police were still trying to get the suspect, but now we know they went into the church 10 minutes before 6AM, and found Paul Bauer's body. Jason Hamilton was in the sanctuary, with single self-inflicted gunshot to the head, weapons beside him.

For more on this tragedy, Officer Newbill, the Moscow community and more, read Joan Opyr's excellent piece.

UPDATE A memorial service for Officer Newbill will be held on Friday at 1PM at Kibbie Dome. Thousands, including law enforcement officials from many cities in several states, are expected to attend. More

A Spring Walk on the Latah Trail.

UPDATED with plant identification help from Gerry Queener, of Troy, ID - many thanks! See his information in the comments following the post.

I've been battling a nasty bug that's been making me cough and sound hoarse for days, with limited results. But on Monday, I decided a breath of fresh air and some good Palousian scenery was just the medicine to set me right - so I drove eight miles east from my house to Troy, Idaho, to walk on the stretch of the Latah Trail beginning at the city park, in the roughly northwesterly direction towards Moscow.

I couldn't have hoped for a better day. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and it was about 68 degrees. Woodpeckers, magpies and many other birds were all over. There were butterflies - blue, orange, yellow, white; and many dragonflies, which made me recall Gerard Manley Hopkins: As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame. (Forced reading way back in junior college.)

This wildflower really caught my eye. UPDATE: Thanks to the anonymous reader who helped me identify this as trillium (see the comment at the bottom of the post); also known as wakerobin. vvvvvvvvvvvADDED 5/25: Carol Gosseen of Pasco wrote: "Your picture of the trillium has a pink flower because it has been in bloom for a long time. When they first come out, it is the most pristine white, sitting on the brightest dark green. They knock your socks off. I transplanted mine from my sisters yard in Marysville, WA about 35 years ago and they mulitlplied some, and are still blooming. I was told that if you pick the bloom, it would not bloom again for years."vvvvvvvvvvvvvv

Gerry Queener identified this plant as Woolly Mullein (Verbasum thapsus), "an introduced "weed" from Europe, but now common over most of temperate N.A. In times past, the leaves of this plant were gathered for the skin softening chemicals used in lotions and medicines to sooth inflamed tissues. Small birds utilize the small seeds in winter."

Lichens, mosses, horsetails and more; and I also spotted little striped shoots in the soft spring grass, looking a little like skinny raccoon tails. UPDATE: I've been told that these are, indeed, young horsetail shoots. As they get older they develop their distinctive feathery green leaves (fronds? what are they called?)vvvvvvv

When I stopped a little after one mile, I looked out over a lush meadow and out toward a distant mountain.

On this walk I saw two chipmunks, and some little critters. This beetle is a common sight, but for some reason, this particular one impressed me with its shiny black surface and a stalwart scuttle along the pavement.

I was just thrilled to see this little woolly worm! My son and I were chatting just recently about how we hadn't seen any of these in quite a while. There's some folklore associated with this worm - the size of the orange band on its body, when observed in the fall, is supposed to be a weather predictor.

From the Green Line: "The woolly worms of winter weather forecasting fame are black at each end with a reddish brown band in the middle. The size of the brown band is said to be an indicator of winter's severity. The narrower the band, the harsher the winter. If woolly worms are more brown than black and the middle band tends toward orange, that indicates the winter will be mild. Well, that's a fun bit of folk wisdom, but it's simply not true."

So there!

On closer inspection, I see that my little specimen has a different order of colors than stated in the Green Line, so maybe it's something other than a woolly worm. Any entomologists care to share some information?

When I reached the two mile point up the Troy side of the trail (or 9 miles from Moscow, as the opposite side of the marker indicates, in the picture) and walked a little bit further before I decided to head back down. What a great way to clear my lungs, get some sun and recharge my batteries to start a new week.

If you've never walked, run, biked, scootered or roller bladed on the Latah Trail, you're really missing out on a wonderful resource. Get on the trail anywhere between Moscow and Troy, and celebrate the beauty of the Palouse.

Gerry Queener corrected me on the yellow flowers pictured below: NOT arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), but Heart-leaf Arnica(Arnica cordifolia).

They look very similar; I should've paid more attention to the leaves - in this picture you can clearly see they are heart-shaped. Gerry says, "you may find Arrowleaf Balsam-root along the trail. The latter grows in a clump and has wooly leaves. Arnica prefers shade. Another medicinal, but these two are native. The French sell Arnica based salves for muscle aches. They work well."

Many thanks, Gerry! I'll need some of that arnica for my muscle aches and pains soon, after working on my garden!

P.S. Still some plants and critters in this post need identification, so if you can help, please share! Meantime, here's are two very informative sites: one on Palousian flora, and another on wildflowers of north Idaho.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Million Bead Project

"I've told you a million times, no!!"

"I had a million and one things to do!”

"If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times!"

In times when hyperbole is standard in everyday speech, many of us use “million” carelessly.

But stop and think about a million…for a second. Or a million seconds. Counting at a rate of one number every second, it takes about 15 minutes to count to one thousand.

It would take a little over a month to count to one million!

And that brings me to Jeanne Leffingwell’s Million Bead Project.

Jeanne is an artist and teacher in Moscow, Idaho, and is nationally known for her architectural glass bead sculptures. She reveres and seeks to pass along the bead-working and craft techniques she has collected and learned all her life.

Jeanne worked with students from 22 schools in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to help them understand - firsthand - the full scope of a million, by assigning them projects involving glass beads. They had to track the number of beads used in each of their pieces.

The students range in age from elementary to college. Jeanne teaches them to weave on a simple loom made of recycled cardboard, using size 6/0 glass beads. They make a band to keep, then design and create one or more sections of bead weaving to be assembled into a group mosaic. Each student calculates his or her own total of beads woven, minus the piece s/he has kept. Classes then figure class totals, and from this the sum of beads used per group or school is calculated.

How long does it take to get 2400 students to use a million beads?

The project began two years ago, but on April 26th they reached the million mark!

The collective efforts of the project have been pieced together as one interconnected and fascinating mosaic, and goes on display today at the University of Idaho Prichard Art Gallery in downtown Moscow. It remains on exhibit through July 18th.

Jeanne tells me her next goal is to get to a billion!!

Good luck Jeanne, and a million thanks for your great work!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How to Win Arab Hearts and Minds....NOT!

The U.S.-based satellite TV network Al Hurra was created by the State Department in 2004, as part of the Bush Administration's public relations efforts in the Middle East.

But what's this? Al Hurra has been broadcasting the views of leaders of the militant Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah!

Toward the end of Wednesday's Congressional hearing on American efforts to win more popular support in the Arab world, New York Democrat Gary L. Ackerman scolded al-Hurra representatives, when one of them tried to defend the station by saying it broadcasts uncut, live versions of President Bush’s speeches.

“You carry President Bush live?” Ackerman asked. Then, incredulously, “Hopefully we find this helpful to the mission?”

There was laughter throughout the committee room, but the exchange highlighted the central quandary surrounding American public diplomacy efforts.

So reports Helene Cooper in the New York Times.

The State Department came up with a plan to promote America's image in the Middle East a few years ago. Besides creating al Hurra, it took Muslim students to the World Cup games in Germany, served as host for Arab journalists at training seminars in Washington, and dispatched Bush's very close aide Karen Hughes, under secretary of state for public diplomacy, to talk to Muslim women around the world.

Cooper writes: "Those efforts do little to counter the rising anger among Arabs over the American role in Iraq and the Bush administration’s refusal to shut down the military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba."

And here we have al Hurra, paid for with American money, broadcasting the views of Hamas and Hezbollah. No wonder Ackerman was steamed. Still, "there was also tacit acknowledgment, even from Republican critics of Al Hurra, that blaming the network might be a little like shooting the messenger."

Here's a link to the full article.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Does Mom REALLY want a card and roses?



And reposted ahead of Mother's Day 2008 in the U.S


Sunday, March 18th was Mothering Sunday in the UK, roughly two months before its equivalent in the US: Mother's Day, where it falls on the second Sunday in May. On this occasion, the BBC reports that the woman who invented the celebration spent 40 years of her life fighting the commercialism that sprang up around the day.

Anna Jarvis campaigned for over a decade before President Woodrow Wilson, in 1914, dedicated a day to mothers.

Within a few years, the occasion became commercialized, to Anna's horror.

"Along with her sister Ellsinore, Anna spent the entire family inheritance on trying to undo the damage done to Mother's Day. One of her protests even got her arrested for disturbing the peace. She died in 1948, in poverty and without success.

"In one respect what Ms Jarvis wanted from the day lives on - it has taken on huge significance and is a celebration of motherhood. However, how most people chose to celebrate it would make her turn in her grave."

"Consumers are pressured by advertising and businesses to measure goodwill in terms of presents, says branding expert Jonathan Gabay.

"Mother's Day has become a yearly windfall to business. It's an opportunity to market everything from cut flowers and greetings cards to nostalgic CDs, perfume and beauty products."

The commercialism that accompanies so many holidays in the U.S. truly sickens me. Christmas as it is celebrated today was created by Coca-Cola, Montgomery Ward, Hallmark and other corporations, who saw immense opportunities which I'm sure have far exceeded their early expectations. People have completely caved to advertising and corporate propaganda. How many times have you heard of people going into serious credit card debt over Christmas presents? Did Jesus ever say "be sure to go into debt in My Name"? And yet, here we are. Valentine's and Halloween? Wouldn't be surprised at all to hear Hershey's and other candy companies had a big hand in turning these days into what are now the two biggest sugar high days of the year.

Fortunately, Thanksgiving seems to have escaped most of that commercial frenzy. It's one thing for which I DO give thanks every November.

But back to Mother's Day. I hardly claim to speak for all mothers, but for me a Hallmark card and a dozen roses don't do a thing. Going out to brunch on usually involves a crowded restaurant and waiting, which isn't my cup of tea. As much as chocolate is a lovely gift, it gives me nowhere the pleasure of my children's handmade cards and notes, awkward as they may be. THAT'S a present! I had told the kids to stop buying me stuff, so the handmade cards started coming, along with "Mom's Day Off," and the occasional surprise. One year, my son handed me a little basket of morel mushrooms he'd picked in the woods. He'd heard me say I missed the taste of morels. Three years ago, my daughter gave me a jar with little strips of paper in it, on which she wrote things that she loved about me. She told me to remember to open the jar and read the strips whenever I had a bad day. Really made me tear up.

Hallmark and FTD can't top these.

What do I really want for Mother's Day?

Pretty much what I have with my children every day. Good conversation, honesty, humor and respect. I want what any Mom wants: happy, fulfilled children. I want to look at them and see gentle souls, loving hearts, humor, generosity and good judgement; to know they've been equipped properly to be independent and responsible adults. The best thing my kids could give to me on Mother's Day is to let me know how I'm doing in my efforts to bring them up to be all these things.

Anna Jarvis was right to be horrified at the commercialization of the holiday she championed. Showering Mom with gifts and some pampering one day a year is no compensation for taking her for granted the rest of the year.

More mothers are taking up Anna Jarvis' fight against the commercialization of Mother's Day. The BBC piece quotes Carrie Longton, a founder of Mumsnet (in the UK):

"There is a real movement among mothers at the moment to think about mothers who are less fortunate. We are encouraging people to make a donation to charities that help mothers worldwide rather than buy flowers.

"I will be working on a cake stall on Mother's Day to raise money for HIV mothers in Africa. It costs just £7 to buy the medicine to make sure they don't pass HIV onto their children."

It's this type of action that Ms Jarvis would approve of. Especially as she hated Mother's Day cards, calling them "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write".

Hear, hear!!

Read the whole BBC article here.


UPDATE 2: NPR had a piece on the marketing of Mother's Day, then and now. It aired on Friday, May 11. Listen to the Morning Edition piece here.


Trail to Chinese Food Producers Turns Cold

American inspectors who arrived in China last week to investigate the two companies that exported tainted pet food ingredients found that the suspect facilities had been hastily closed down and cleaned up, federal officials said yesterday.

"There is nothing to be found. They are essentially shut down and not operating," said Walter Batts, deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration's office of international programs.

The Washington Post article by Rick Weiss is here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

More ways industrial chemicals are landing up where they can kill.

In China at least 18 people, most of them in Guangdong Province, died in a month last year after they ingested contaminated medicine.

So reports the New York Times in the May 6 article, From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine .

Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker write:

"The kidneys fail first. Then the central nervous system begins to misfire. Paralysis spreads, making breathing difficult, then often impossible without assistance. In the end, most victims die.

"Many of them are children, poisoned at the hands of their unsuspecting parents.

"The syrupy poison, diethylene glycol, is an indispensable part of the modern world, an industrial solvent and prime ingredient in some antifreeze.

"It is also a killer. And the deaths, if not intentional, are often no accident.

"Over the years, the poison has been loaded into all varieties of medicine — cough syrup, fever medication, injectable drugs — a result of counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin, commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products.

"Toxic syrup has figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two decades. Researchers estimate that thousands have died. In many cases, the precise origin of the poison has never been determined. But records and interviews show that in three of the last four cases it was made in China, a major source of counterfeit drugs."

This is a picture of Ernesto Osorio of Panama. Poison cough syrup from China hospitalized him Panama last year and partly paralyzed his face. The story continues,

"Panama is the most recent victim. Last year, government officials there unwittingly mixed diethylene glycol into 260,000 bottles of cold medicine — with devastating results. Families have reported 365 deaths from the poison, 100 of which have been confirmed so far. With the onset of the rainy season, investigators are racing to exhume as many potential victims as possible before bodies decompose even more.

"Panama’s death toll leads directly to Chinese companies that made and exported the poison as 99.5 percent pure glycerin."

A pediatrician told the reporters the problem is vastly underreported.

"Beyond Panama and China, toxic syrup has caused mass poisonings in Haiti, Bangladesh, Argentina, Nigeria and twice in India."

And here's the most disheartening part of this unnecessary tragedy:

"In China, the government is vowing to clean up its pharmaceutical industry...but when Chinese officials investigated the role of Chinese companies in the Panama deaths, they found that no laws had been broken."

For the rest of the article, click here.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Another Tale of Food Safety Challenges in China

Lots of people are thinking about China's food production practices these days after the melamine and wheat gluten stories made headlines. (See my earlier post on this subject.)

Today's Los Angeles Times has a story on honey production there.

FUFENG, CHINA — For two years, Sun Baoli has been trying to clean up the dirty honey business here. He's been met with nasty stings from bees, but those are nothing compared with the curses and punches from their keepers.

The 52-year-old entrepreneur paid the local government about $5,000 to rent part of a nature preserve teeming with nectar-filled acacia trees. He's been recruiting beekeepers to harvest on the grounds, and all he asks is that they follow a few simple health rules. First, no using antibiotics in their colonies; the drugs can make people sick. Second, no storing honey in metal containers; those can taint the sweet goo with toxic iron and lead.

Some 45 keepers have signed up. But many others are hostile to his efforts, which they see as a threat to their decades-old way of doing business on the cheap and making easy profits.

On Saturday night, as the first acacia flowers were starting to bloom, a gang of 15 local beekeepers ambushed Sun as he got out of his red Isuzu truck, beating him and leaving him with a mild concussion.

"It's going to take some time," he said with obvious understatement.

Honey and thousands of other Chinese food products are showing up more and more on dining tables around the world. Last year, China said it exported $3.8 billion worth of food to the U.S., including vast quantities of apple juice, garlic, sausage casings, canned mushrooms and honey.

In any given month, though, U.S. customs inspectors block dozens of Chinese food shipments, including produce contaminated with banned additives and pesticides as well as seafood tainted with drugs. In the wake of the recall of pet foods that U.S. regulators say contained tainted Chinese ingredients, China's food-safety standards have become dinner table conversation across the United States.

To read the whole article, follow this link to the LA Times article.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Colbert Takes on NPR (coffee mugs, tote bags, macrame-hugging/lutefisk-eating Norwegians, et al)

Morning Edition issued a convoluted correction this week. The show had aired a clip from The Colbert Report, in which Stephen Colbert said something that didn't sit too well with former Undersecretary of Defense, Douglas Feith.

So, just as we've previously asked why some people feel the need to apologize for the actions of others, we now ask:

Why is Steve Insbleep apologizing for something said by a fake news pundit on a comedy show?

I'm not in the mood to chew on that right now, so over to Colbert himself for today's diversion:

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Food Safety: So Much More Than E. Coli

This is a picture of scrap melamine, a coal by-product used in the manufacture of plastic. In China, some feed manufacturers have been using it for years to boost the protein content of their products, commanding a higher price, reported the New York Times.

Melamine has a chemical content similar to protein, and cannot be easily distinguished when testing for protein content. However, melamine doesn't provide any nutritional benefits. It's receiving scrutiny in this country because it was recently found in some brands of pet food that sickened, and killed, some animals.

This sort of adulteration, however, is not new, and has a tragic history in China.

Three years ago babies in China’s Anhui province were afflicted by a strange condition. The infants were getting thinner and thinner, while their heads seemed abnormally large in comparison to the rest of their bodies. 170 of them were hospitalized, and 13 died.

The cause? Malnutrition arising from fake baby formula, with protein contents well below the Chinese standard of 12 percent: thirty-one of the products used by the families contained less than 5 per cent of protein. One of them had only 0.37 per cent!(Source: China Daily) Might as well have fed the babies with water.

This is really a major cause of concern. The Washington Post reports China is the world's biggest exporter of fruits and vegetables, and a major exporter of other food products. Some of those products land up in the U.S.

Former FDA officials revealed that last year, inspectors sampled less than 2 percent of 199,000 shipments of Chinese food products.

Among those shipment the FDA did inspect and reject were pesticide-laden pea pods, drug-laced catfish, filthy plums and crawfish contaminated with salmonella.

Other known Chinese food hazards: the cancer-causing industrial dye Sudan Red, used to boost the color and value of eggs. Asthma medication fed to pigs to produce leaner meat. (Associated Press, found on MSNBC.)

As you shudder, let's ask what lies behind these practices?

One source is China’s fractured farming sector, comprised of small landholdings which make regulation difficult.

The AP article goes on to say, "Small farms ship to market with little documentation. Testing of the safety and purity of farm products such as milk is often haphazard, hampered by fuzzy lines of authority among regulators. Only about 6 percent of agricultural products were considered pollution-free in 2005, while safer, better quality food officially stamped as “green” accounts for just 1 percent of the total, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Further, China's government "has found that companies have cut corners in virtually every aspect of food production and packaging, including improper use of fertilizer, unsanitary packing and poor refrigeration of dairy products," reports the Washington Post.

"William O'Brien, president of Hami Food of Beijing, which transports food for the McDonald's restaurant chain and other multinational companies in China, said in some of his competitors' operations, 'chilled and frozen products very often come in taxi cabs or in vans -- not under properly controlled conditions. That is something that people should worry about.'

"Not surprisingly, food-related poisonings are a common occurrence."

The U.S is a huge producer of food, so I'm wondering why it needs to import from countries with questionable food production practices in the first place.

I first sat up and took notice of China's food production practices in 2004, when the New York Times did a cover story about the staggering pollution on the Huai River in Henan province. In particular, the monosodium glutamate factory that flushed foul-smelling black liquid into the river - not only did fishermen find a severely reduced catch, many of the fish were deformed in some way. Villagers also noticed their skin burned when they washed with water from the river; the rate of cancer shot up, among peasants too poor to afford a basic subsistence, much less medical care for serious conditions. (Article: Rivers Run Black, and Chinese Die of Cancer)

It made me so angry. This was not long after the fake baby formula scandal broke.

Is China's enormous capitalist boom driving these entrepreneurs to have no moral regard for the consequences of their actions?

Are these entrepreneurs simply emulating what they've seen from some of their Western counterparts?


From the Post's article Pet Deaths Spur Call for Better FDA Screening:

"Several Chinese suppliers conceded over the weekend that adding melamine to pet food ingredients -- now blamed for the deaths of many animals in the United States and possible contamination of the human food supply -- is but the latest technique for fooling U.S. companies into thinking they are purchasing a high-quality product.

"Before melamine there was urea, Chinese traders said -- another nitrogen-rich chemical that was used to give false high scores on tests of protein content but was abandoned after it made animals ill.

"The task of guarding against contaminants in imports has become far more complicated because an increasing portion of the tens of billions of dollars in Chinese food and agricultural imports involves powders and concentrates for the processed-food industry -- including the wheat gluten and rice protein at the center of the pet food scandal. Animal feed imports alone grew sevenfold from 2001 to 2006, the Commerce Department says.

"Such products pose three problems: Their makeup is not obvious by mere visual inspection; they can be easily and invisibly contaminated or intentionally spiked with chemicals that are not on the FDA's standard battery of tests; and their origins are often vague, because they have been through several stages of processing and trade."

Now an increasing number of legislators, scientists and others are saying it is time to modernize FDA's authority to trace the sources of food imports and punish scofflaws -- legal powers that experts say have barely evolved over the past 70 years.

Mission Accomp....Say What?

That was May 1, 2003.

Here's what happened on that day four years ago, as reported on CNN:

ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CNN) -- President Bush made a landing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln Thursday, arriving in the co-pilot's seat of a Navy S-3B Viking after making two fly-bys of the carrier.

It was the first time a sitting president has arrived on the deck of an aircraft carrier by plane. The jet made what is known as a "tailhook" landing, with the plane, traveling about 150 mph, hooking onto the last of four steel wires across the flight deck and coming to a complete stop in less than 400 feet.

Moments after the landing, the president, wearing a green flight suit and holding a white helmet, got off the plane, saluted those on the flight deck and shook hands with them. Above him, the tower was adorned with a big sign that read, "Mission Accomplished."

(End quote. the rest of the article breathlessly describes the "picture-perfect landing" and the roar of approving sailors. Read it here.)

As we now know, that sign that generated lots of controversy, and the White House tried to minimize its role in putting it up. From Wikipedia:

"The administration and naval sources stated that the banner was the Navy's idea, White House staff members made the banner, and it was hung by the U.S. Navy personnel. White House spokesman Scott McClellan told CNN "We took care of the production of it. We have people to do those things. But the Navy actually put it up." According to John Dickerson of TIME magazine, the White House later conceded that they actually hung the banner but still insists it had been done at the request of the crewmembers."

It's worth reading the full article for more on how the administration subsequently dealt with the embarrassment of that premature declaration. It went so far as to revise history, at least on the White House website. Around Election Day 2006, observers noted the "Mission Accomplished" banner was cropped out of the official White House website picture of the event.

And here we are, four years later.

Democrats today present Bush with the Iraq spending bill, including a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

THIS JUST IN from the Washington Post:

BAGHDAD, April 30 -- The deaths of more than 100 American troops in April made it the deadliest month so far this year for U.S. forces in Iraq, underscoring the growing exposure of Americans as thousands of reinforcements arrive for an 11-week-old offensive to tame sectarian violence.

Stay tuned.