Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Holy Rat Snackers
When KFC launched its new Catholic Snacker Lenten fish sandwich recently, its PR team audaciously asked Pope Benedict XVI for his endorsement. The company had the chutzpah to ask the pontiff for a papal blessing, claiming, "the new sandwich could make it easier and more affordable for Catholics to observe the tenets of their faith." Never mind that the point of avoiding meat during Lent is to sacrifice in order to identify with Jesus' suffering, not to cram little fried squares of processed pollock down one's piehole. Meanwhile, KFC probably hopes the Vatican's Internet connection was down last week because YouTube was busting at the seams with video clips of a rat-infested KFC/Taco Bell store in New York City. The video showed morbidly obese trans-rats crawling all over the closed store's furniture, counters, and floors, snacking on extra crispy droppings left behind by customers and employees, to the delight of NYC TV news anchors. Shocked! Those anchors were shocked! Perhaps they shouldn't be too quick to judge, though. After all, KFC was using a slow-acting poison on those rats: its menu items.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Damn that traffic jam
A new study shows that children who live near a major highway are more likely to develop asthma and other respiratory diseases than kids who don't. No big shocker there. Anyone who's ever had to change a tire on the interstate can tell you that trying to breathe there is like trying to inhale inside one of Tommy Chong's lungs. But the University of Southern California study also showed that living within a third of a mile of a freeway substantially stunted the actual lung development of children. And proximity is a huge factor: Children 18 years old who'd lived near the freeway since age 10 had substantially reduced lung capacity compared to children who lived only a few hundred meters farther away. Because kids' lungs are typically finished growing by age 18, the reduced capacity is probably lifelong and increases the likelihood for heart disease, emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, and the chances that they'll break into a wet, hacking cough trying to yell over the highway noise. USC found similar results in 2004 when a study showed that teenagers growing up in smoggy areas are five times more likely to have clinically low lung function compared to teens in low-pollution areas. And that's before they even hit their prime smoking years.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Putting the one in every 1
Last week, the James Graham Brown Foundation got out its fat wallet and ponied up a sweet $1 million to support the local literacy program "Every 1 Reads." Every 1 Reads trains volunteer tutors from the community to spend a half hour per week reading with Jefferson County Public Schools students. The program hopes to train 10,000 volunteers to tutor kids who read below their grade level, plus 2000 more volunteers to work with high school students, in the hopes that all of the district's 97,000 students will read at grade level and, one hopes, stop that annoying instant-messaging trend of spelling words with numerals. You know, like in "Every 1 Reads."

Do you know how to read? (Hint: if you're reading this, the answer is "yes.") If so, you can help by visiting Every 1 Reads and signing up to volunteer. Training sessions are going on all the time, all around Louisville. Not only is it a rewarding and enjoyable way to volunteer, but you might help some kid grow up and explain to JCPS and local officials how to spell "everyone."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dam the bad luck
Each January, it's a local tradition to spill a massive amount of some harmful substance into the Ohio river from a barge. Last year's pièce de résistance was 800,000 gallons of liquid asphalt. This year's spill was a more-subtle 3000 tons of liquid fertilizer (perhaps to encourage something to grow through a crack in the asphalt). On January 16, this year's barge not only dumped its cargo but got stuck in a gate of the McAlpine Dam, where it has been toying with Army Corps of Engineers salvage crews ever since. When acetylene torches wouldn't cut the barge free, the Corps decided to be a little less "Engineer" and a little more "Army" and blast the vessel free. KABLAMMY! The Corps blasted several 15-pound explosives, finally breaking the barge into two pieces. In a triumph of near-Iraq-war proportions, the Corps can boast that it no longer has a barge stuck in the McAlpine Dam. It has two.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Wage against the machine
The United States Senate – new and improved, with 2% fewer stingy, rich, white pricks - passed a bill to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. But unlike the House bill, which was as pure and simple as the smile on a part-time Wal-Mart greeter's face, the Senate bill came with an unsightly blemish: $8.3 billion in tax cuts for business. Because hey, we couldn't give the workers a boost without greasing the palms of those who funds the campaigns, right?

Now, the House and Senate must reconcile the two bills, in what is sure to be an arm-twisting negotiation of near-Aaron Sorkin proportions. Complicating matters is a constitutional precedent that mandates that all American legislation be so convoluted that robber barons come out with the biggest piece of the pie. By the time it's done, the measure might well include new seat warmers for all corporate jets.

Whatever the outcome, both chambers agree on the basics of the wage increase, and President Bush has said he'll sign it. Assuming Congress doesn't completely blow it, minimum wage workers will see their pay rise, starting 60 days after the president signs the bill into law. But if you're a minimum-wage worker, don't rush out and buy that new Lexus yet. The wage will increase in 70-cent increments over the next two years.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Surge suppressor
Three and a half years after President Bush's infamous Mission Accomplished declaration, the world got a true sign of the imminent end of the Iraq war when Senator Mitch McConnell set a timeline for stopping the madness within the next nine months. Naturally, McConnell is one of the last Bush bootlicks to come to terms with what the American people have known for a couple of years: the war is lost.

McConnell said Bush's urge to surge has "six to nine months to succeed" or "we'll have to go in a new direction." The McConnell awakening is significant because the Senate Minority Leader has supported Bush consistently since time immemorial. And because when Mitch McConnell hints the war should end, Cindy Sheehan's work is pretty much done. Why the sudden turnaround? '08, baby. That's when McConnell will have to defend his performance to voters, many of whom are tired of seeing such a powerful senator squander his leadership position supporting failed Bush policies and taking dancing orders from his corporate puppeteers.

It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Anne Northup. McConnell's flip-flop on setting a timeline sounded an awful lot like Northup's heat-of-the-moment diss of Donald Rumsfeld last year. Northup was slammed for being hypocritical, whereas McConnell was widely praised for being "politically shrewd" for standing up to Bush. Can McConnell have his yellowcake and eat it too? Only '08 voters know for sure. Meanwhile, with the dead in Iraq piling up, the Senate took decisive action: It spent the week arguing about how to word a nonbinding resolution declaring that President Bush is a doody-head and that his surge plan is yucky.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

More evolution proof?
Of all people, state republican senators are proposing - of all things - more money for education in - of all subjects - science and math. The conservative Christian republicans in Kentucky are not known for either funding education or holding much truck with science, but there they were, touting bills that would boost science education in Kentucky public high schools. The bills would create $10,000 grants for schools that start advanced placement classes in calculus, physics and chemistry and reward teachers as much as $10,000 per year if their students do well on tests in those subjects. The goal is to create some new nerds for the information age, as opposed to the current program of preparing kids to sell information-age nerds their Sobe Adrenaline Rush and their Axe Body Spray. Combined with President Bush's straight-faced State-of-the-Union acknowledgement of global warming and call for Americans to conserve gasoline, the Frankfort science bills might indicate that evolution is happening even faster than the Intelligent Designer planned. It's all enough to make dyspeptic Baptist Al Mohler – who's called for Christians to abandon public schools - pop a lung vein.