Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Big Turkey: Bush disses local, county-run, historic Frying Pan Park/Kidwell Farm in favor of advertising for Disneyland

Traditionally, the Presidentially-pardoned Thanksgiving gobblers retire to Frying Pan Park, which is just down the road from us (a half-hour's drive from the White House). This year, the turkeys are being flown, first-class, to Disneyland in California instead!

A reasonably thorough version of the story is here:

Baltimore Sun: National turkey will fly, by plane, to Disneyland (PETA criticized Va. educational farm, usual fate of White House bird)

This move from a local retirement to an "all-expenses-paid" first-class flight to Disneyland in CA is supposedly is happening because of a PETA write-in campaign maligning FPP as being inadequate to care for the turkeys. PETA claims these "special" turkeys (which were raised in Minnesota and were almost dinner, please remind yourselves!) tend to die within six months at FPP and deserve the Disney treatment and the California climate. Disney jumped at the chance and begged to have the birds, to lead their Thanksgiving parade and then hang out with Santa.

The "farm" being complained about by PETA and the President is Frying Pan Park. It's a historical property run by the Fairfax County Park Authority, with the working farm portion being Kidwell Farm (see the FPP website in previous link for a virtual tour). The site is run mostly by Park Authority personnel and by 4H and other volunteers. We have been there dozens of times, and the visiting kids (and sometimes the visiting adults) love checking out the animals - Presidential turkeys and others.

Sounds like some moolah and/or favors at work. FPP has nothing to bargain with compared to the huge Disney corporation. It just happens to be Disneyland's 50th anniversary - just a coincidence, of course. And what a waste of money, to fly two turkeys from DC to California first class!

Is PETA so sure that Disneyland is more deserving of these turkeys than Frying Pan Park/Kidwell Farm? Last I checked, Disney served a lot of meat in their cafe meals. They aren't exactly a vegan company. Frying Pan Park needs the publicity of the presidential turkeys a heck of a lot more than Disney does. Again: no money, no contest.

A source close to the Mistress of this Blog suggests another motive for the change of venue: yanking the "Presidential turkey goes to Virginia" bragging rights away from Jerry Kilgore, who just lost the election to become Virginia's next governor. Far-fetched? Let's wait and see.

In any case, to those who made this decision: Jerks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I hope the turkeys don't make it any longer at Disneyland than they tend to at FPP, just to prove PETA (and anyone else who helped to make this stupid decision) wrong.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Teflon too?

Teflon. Slippery chemical of ex-Presidents. What was supposed to "make cleanup a snap" is in need of cleaning up itself.

DuPont, maker of Teflon, has claimed that Teflon is safe for lining food wrappers. Teflon is used to make milkshakes more viscous. But it seems that Teflon leaches into the food and then stays in our bodies, and it also seems that DuPont knew this but has tried to keep the information under wraps, as it were.

See the Yahoo posting about DuPont hiding the risks of Teflon

Artificial Sweeteners: Sucralose (and Aspartame and Acesulfame-K) not so great either

Several artificial sweeteners are on the market, all of which claim to be totally safe, at least when used moderately. But are they really safe? Online searches turn up many sites which claim so, yet there is much anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Where are the scientific studies to put us at ease?

Short answer: there aren't many.

Personal anecdote: circa summer 2004, there were a whole bunch of "Sparkling Ice" flavored spring water drinks from Canada that became very popular around here (Northern Virginia). The package described them thus: "Sparkling Spring Water with Juice and Vitamins C&E. No sodium or caffeine. Lightly carbonated." Sounded healthy, and I was trying to lose weight. I bought several and brought them home.

Thought they were pretty tasty but had an odd aftertaste - but I liked them enough to keep drinking them. My husband (who can't have aspartame since a childhood ulcer and can ID most spices in cooked dishes) and our older child (who is a very picky eater and something of a canary when it comes to odd ingredients) immediately hated their aftertaste and would not drink them.

Curious, I re-read the labels. They contained sucralose, a word with which we were not familiar. We did some research but found little hard research. What we did find was disturbing enough that we immediately stopped buying and drinking "Sparkling Ice" and we now read labels very carefully to avoid further sucralose (we were already avoiding aspartame and saccharin)...

What little scientific study had been done on sucralose before its FDA approval as a food additive/sweetener was primarily short-term. Under a year. Sometimes just a few months. It takes much longer than that to see long-term retention and/or damage. And yes, these products and/or their by-products do stay in your body after ingestion.

Aspartame (aka. Nutrasweet(R) or Equal(R)), Acesulfame-K (aka. Ace K or Acesulfame potassium - the "K" is for potassium), and Sucralose (aka. Splenda(r)) are household words nowadays - or should be. They're in all sorts of products, from sodas to yogurts to medicines to toothpaste! It's nearly impossible to avoid them. But you should try. First thing to look for is "light" or "fat free" or "sugar-free" or "reduced sugar" on the label. Could be that the company really just used less sugar than previously, which would be fantastic, but that is often not the case. Only *very* careful label-reading will tell you what's really in there.

The next time you're in the medicine aisle at your grocery or drug store, check out the cough syrup labels. The kids' medicines. The kids' toothpastes. Try the dairy aisle in your grocery store. Nearly all "0% fat" yogurts contain an artificial sweetener. Try the cereal aisle. These sweeteners are now in many breakfast cereals, including those marketed primarily to kids - so the companies can claim they have "less sugar" than before.

Why not just cut the sugar, let kids and the rest of us taste the actual ingredients, and cut down on everyone's cavities and worries in the process? Unless you are diabetic and must do so for dietary reasons, do you really want to be ingesting these sweet but untested products? Do you really want your kids to be the companies' test subjects?

For information on artificial sweeteners, try these links for starters. Please note that there are many, many others out there.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Corn syrup: too much of it, especially in kids' food!

Corn syrup. An inexpensive sweetener. But start checking those labels! It's in regular products marketed as healthy for kids, even applesauce! And it isn't helping anyone lose weight.

Applesauce is plenty sweet on its own. Apples are naturally loaded with sugar - the kind our bodies ought to be able to handle. There is *no* reason to add corn syrup to applesauce in those single-packs for kids, and there shouldn't be corn syrup in jars of baby food.

"Natural" applesauce - apples, maybe some water, probably some ascorbic acid (vitamin C) - should be the norm. Add cinnamon, sure. Make applesauce flavored with other fruits, why not. But add sugar to it? Makes no sense.

Check those labels before you buy! The next time you go to a takeout place and they offer applesauce for the kids, take a close look! The innocuously "regular" applesauce most likely has corn syrup in it - or some other sweetener. If you find this at a restaurant you frequent, contact the management or fill out a comment card saying the sweetener is unnecessary!

Market pressures should get manufacturers to return to naturally-sweet applesauce and leave the corn syrup as a dessert additive. If not, then let's make those manufacturers tell the whole truth and require them to put "with corn syrup!" or "with sucralose!" on the label rather than "unsweetened!" or "natural!"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Time for Dvorak? (Industry-standard keyboards should be more intuitive!)

Enough already with the 100-year-old keyboard layout. It was designed to keep the first manual typewriters from jamming as fast touch-typists drilled away. Yes, all of us who've learned touch-typing have memorized it. Yes, computers are all programmed to use it. But the layout is non-sensical these days.

It's nearly impossible to find the letters you need in any/all of these cases:
* you haven't taken a touch-typing class
* you aren't a native English speaker (especially if you were used to a keyboard that utilized another language
* you're a kid who barely even knows the alphabet
* you can barely spell in English, especially if you're a kid and can't spell in another language either (go ahead - try to poke-type words like "cat", "dog", "and", "hello", and "name")

If we can learn touch-typing once, we can do it again! This needs to be *standardized* across the industry, so the keyboard is basically a transparent interface to all English-speaking users.

No, I don't have a Dvorak keyboard. No, I haven't gone and reprogrammed my keys and changed my key-caps around s.t. they're ABCDEFG across the top or ABC DEF GHI in columns... Am sticking with the basic no-frills industry standard model for the time being. Reason? Compatibility.

But I'd love to see an alphabetic key layout! Watching kids try to type their names is frustrating - a new generation stuck on the obsolete past :-< Make it standard, make it the only choice, and we'll manage.

Linking here to a page about the alternative Dvorak keyboard, which makes more sense than the current industry default - vowels and common consonants are across the middle row - although it still isn't alphabetic.

Suburban streetlights - and suggested (though not necessarily implementable) alternatives

Our neighborhood may or may not be getting streetlights. It has become a divisive issue, like the get-a-tot-lot attempt that preceded it.

Several years ago, a petition went around the neighborhood asking people to support the idea of streetlights. Apparently more than half of the homeowners signed (though we declined, for the reasons outlined later in this post). Nothing happened. Suddenly this summer, a notice went up on our neighborhood web site announcing that our County had decided to install the lights in our neighborhood soon. Aerial photos were posted which had dots added in the locations of the proposed lights.

Our neighborhood, I must point out, is in an area where little has happened worse than some broken bottles left on the bike path and the occasional slashed tire (usually by a teen's jealous boyfriend/girlfriend/other acquaintance), dented mailbox, or a stolen car radio or item taken from a garage left open.

One small street in our neighborhood opted out of the lights almost immediately, by signing a petition. Another opt-out petition went around our street very civilly, followed shortly thereafter by two anonymous mailbox flyers opposing the opt-out petition but with a be-scared slant. I pointed out that it was fine to come down on either side of the lights, but not anonymously, and they were considerate enough of the neighborhood to put out a third no-opt-out petition on which they all signed their names. I don't know what the other streets are doing - whether or not they're sending opt-out petitions around. That's where we stand as of now.

Pros and cons:

Most of the neighbors want the lights for "safety" (meaning to keep crime down/away). Our neighborhood has been *very* safe for the several years we've lived there and for as long back as we've heard about it, so we aren't too swayed by that argument. A more persuasive reason (paraphrased) is so night joggers won't trip over their own feet in the dark. Now that there are opt-out petitions, some of our neighbors don't want to end up being a dark street among lit streets, for fear of attracting crime.

The rest of this post is more or less quoted from messages I sent to another neighbor recently...

We don't feel that there have been any safety issues to date, we like the dark skies at night (there's too much light pollution already!), we don't want lights shining into our windows, and we feel that streetlights create pools of darkness around them which give MORE places for unsavory types to hide (should there be any such folks around) - if you're walking around at night under streetlights, your eyes are NOT dark-adjusted and reaction time would be down, should anyone or any animal jump out from the shadows. And all that extra lighting, unless they find some way to use solar-powered lights, is a lot of extra energy being used.

...we really like our stars at night and being able to see front yards and not just illuminated sidewalks. Every year, the skies get hazier :-< [A third neighbor] had an interesting idea - try to get gaslight-style posts in each front yard, by each path, instead of huge street lights. [Our family hasn't] talked that over, and it would still be a lot of extra energy and light pollution although not as much as the big lights (I don't think), and at least it would be something we could partially control. If we wanted lights everywhere, we'd live in the city.

My suggested alternatives to always-on streetlights:

Some solutions that aren't possible (or at least aren't cost-effective) now but which would be much preferable to always-on lights:

* low-level solar-powered curb lighting, aimed at the street; similar edge lighting along sidewalks that JUST illuminated the sidewalks (ie. directional - a special fluorescing cement or gel-edge along the sidewalks & curbs) - minimal light pollution; would outline the sidewalks; in heavy snow, would not be visible (but would glow very prettily through light snow coverage)

* down-ONLY streetlights with a wide enough hood and/or polarized lighting that would somehow illuminate the sidewalks w/o bleeding up to upper stories/the sky - something that could be absorbed after time by the pavement/grass???

* motion-detecting streetlights for streets & similar, but SEPARATE, ones aimed at sidewalks (much lower to the ground) - wires embedded along/under the pavement/sidewalks would detect motion; would illuminate lights just ahead of the direction of the motion; would turn themselves off as the motion passed. How far ahead would depend on the speed - maybe one light per 10mph or fraction thereof. Examples: current & next light on for walkers; joggers/runners might get current + 2 more lights; cars would get at least 2-3 lights, more if speeding, so it would be easy to see drag-racers in our neighborhood! ;-> The intermittent on-off would be distracting for those of us looking up, but would catch people's attention & should help with both the not-tripping sort of safety and the bad-guy/dangerous-animal/too-fast car sort of safety; hopefully the safety issues would outweigh any vision problems. Kind of like [nearby town name] turning its traffic lights red if you're over a certain speed coming up to the light.

As long as it's not those horrible cobra lights...

Where do you fall on this issue? Have you heard of locales which have implemented (successfully or not) the above or other streetlight alternatives? How did it work out?

First post...

Introducing... "I'm Stumped: the blog!"

I've been online since - yes, really - fall of 1988. Did some blog-type online entries on my own site a few years back, but this is my first real blog.

Purpose: political discussions (mostly progressive), practical ideas for everyday life, inefficiencies that just shouldn't be (and ideas for fixing them - see previous topic), animal advocacy, rants, random thoughs. The usual.

Nope, no more - just an overview.