Saturday, May 24, 2003

Mental Floss

I have a new favorite magazine, which may be a bad thing considering my tendency to become addicted to the purchasing and squirreling away of all manner of periodicals. But nevertheless, this particular publication is clever and cheap enough to warrant my attention.

The name of the magazine is Mental Floss, and its slogan is "Feel Smart Again." It appears to be written by a bunch of witty, sharp people who live in the Midwest (as these types of people often do), and who are keen on acquiring and writing about all sorts of interesting trivia about all manner of topics both of a highbrow nature (Edgar Degas, James Joyce, the historical and scientific significance of malaria) to the not-so-highbrow (feet). Their website is a bit sparse, but they have super-fun (i.e. "dorky") quizzes and facts that are updated daily. For example, did you know that a mondegreen is the technical word for a misheard lyric? I didn't, and thanks be that there was such a site to enlighten me.

In summation: Read Mental Floss, or go to the site. Kill time. Annoy folks with mundane trivia. Feel smart. Enjoy.


Monday, May 19, 2003

One Last Thing

I conducted my last official business as an undergraduate at NYU last week when I went to commencement. It was something that I wasn't sure I wanted to do, because there's roughly a kajillion people there and very slim chance that your loved ones will see you and you already have your diploma etc.

But I did go, and wore the funny hat and somehow managed to sit next to a friend and have my mother see me and get close enough to the stage to see the Mayor up close and shake Joe Torre's hand. And if I were talking about Giuliani or if I cared one whit about baseball, that would be truly thrilling. As it was, it was merely cool.

It was also interesting to see that NYU, which is generally lacking in the school spirit department, actually showing something resembling camaraderie. Even if it was more for the city than the university, it was still nice to see.

So that's it for NYU. At least until the alumni association finds out my Maryland phone number.


Monday, May 5, 2003

Hooray for Congress (No, Seriously)

Last week the House passed a bill that gives me a bit of a renewed sense of faith in this administration. I'm not completely ready to drop the banner of cynicism, but this is still a nice development.

In his State of the Union address, Bush said that he'd work to get $15 billion in aid to AIDS-ravaged Africa. Pretty words, I thought at the time, but it'll never happen.

Last week the House passed the bill promising all $15 billion to Africa, with only 41 votes against it. Color me surprised.

Curious? Here are some websites that explain the problem:
Global AIDS Alliance
AIDS Channel

If you have the time to check these out, maybe you have two minutes (six minutes with dial-up) to write your senator to pass the bill in the Senate. What follows is a NY Times article that was published the day before the bill passed.

This has been a public service announcement. Thanks for your time.


Bush Pushes AIDS Plan Criticized by Some Conservatives By ELISABETH BUMILLER

ASHINGTON, April 29 — In rare defiance of the social conservatives within his own party, President Bush today urged Congress to fight AIDS internationally with a $15 billion plan that advocates condom use and in effect permits money to go to groups that promote abortion.
Mr. Bush made clear that AIDS and his credentials as a "compassionate conservative" were of greater concern in this instance than fear of aggravating part of his conservative base. Nonetheless, he was careful to make one of his central arguments in the biblical language of Christian conservatives, many of whom have taken on fighting AIDS as a moral cause.

"When we see a plague leaving graves and orphans across a continent, we must act," Mr. Bush said. "When we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not — America will not — pass to the other side of the road."

The president spoke at the White House in support of a bill sponsored by Representative Henry J. Hyde, Republican of Illinois, that has become the subject of intense political wrangling. The bill, which grew out of an initiative Mr. Bush announced in his State of the Union speech in January, would triple American spending on global AIDS, to $15 billion over the next five years. The money would go to prevention and treatment programs in 12 African nations, as well as Haiti and Guyana.

Although Democrats and Republicans have embraced the broad goals of a plan to fight an African AIDS epidemic that has infected 30 million, they have argued over the details.

Conservatives in particular have complained that the plan does not focus enough on the promotion of abstinence and that AIDS money should not go to international groups that promote abortion. Conservatives note that the federal government's so-called Mexico City policy — named for the place that Ronald Reagan announced it — bars foreign aid to international family planning groups that promote abortion.

The White House has tried to accommodate conservatives as it presses forward on the plan, which the president is insistent that he have in hand for a trip to Africa this year. Administration officials are also eager to promote the humanitarian side of a Bush foreign policy that has centered on two wars in two years.

"We can turn our eyes away in resignation or despair," Mr. Bush said, "or we can take decisive, historic action to turn the tide against this disease and give the hope of life to millions who need our help now."

The president's words were aimed at promoting Mr. Hyde's bill, which is expected to be voted on in the House on Thursday. To help ensure that the bill passes, administration officials have promised they would permit AIDS money to go only to organizations that keep their AIDS and family planning programs, including abortion, separate. Nonetheless, that provision is not specifically written into the bill, because it was thought it would poison too many Democrats against it.

Administration officials also said today that the president strongly supported what is known as the Ugandan A.B.C. campaign, which says: First, abstain. If you can't abstain, be faithful. And if you can't be faithful, use a condom.

Mr. Hyde's bill also endorses the A.B.C. policy, which has been effective in Uganda. Even so, some conservatives in Congress said today that the A.B.C. policy did not sufficiently endorse abstinence.

As a remedy, Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, said he would offer an amendment to direct a third of the money for AIDS prevention to abstinence programs. Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, is to offer an additional amendment to exempt religious groups overseas from having to hand out condoms.
Congressional aides who have visited humanitarian groups in Africa said today that the amendments — and the administration's commitment to make sure that AIDS money does not mingle with money for family planning — had little to do with how the groups actually operated. They acknowledged that the last-minute haggling was entirely driven by American domestic politics.