October 29, 2010

Minneapolis 2010 Sample Ballot

As I usually do, I'm posting my choices for the upcoming elections and my reasoning behind them for those who trust me and may not have as much time to research their votes as I have. Find your balloting place and information on your ballot here plus candidate profiles and links here.

Note that I'm leaving off those judges and other officeholders who are running unopposed. I don't know of any write-in campaigns that are either necessary or viable.

If you do something similar, please feel free to link to it in the comments. My friend Naomi is working through her choices as well.

Governor: Mark Dayton

Attorney General: Lori Swanson

Secretary of State: Mark Ritchie

Auditor: Rebecca Otto

Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Seat 2: Helen Meyer

Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Seat 6: Alan C. Page

Minnesota Appeals Court Judge Seat 13: Randolph W. Peterson

Minnesota Appeals Court Judge Seat 14: Larry Stauber

U.S. House District 5: Keith Ellison

Minnesota Senate District 61: Linda Berglin

Minnesota House District 61A: Karen Clark

Hennepin County Soil and Water Supervisor Seat 2: Amber Collett

Hennepin County Soil and Water Supervisor Seat 4: David Rickert

Hennepin County Commissioner District 4: Peter McLaughlin

Three Rivers Parks Commissioner District 3: Mark Haggerty

Minneapolis proposal to make the Charter Commission responsible for redistricting: Yes

Minneapolis School Board Members (2): Richard Mammen and T. Williams

My Reasons
Governor: Minnesota has gone 20 years without a governor who understood the value of public investment in the state. While I'm sympathetic to the cry to do more with less, that's far too long to go with leadership that concentrates on the "less" part of that equation.

Attorney General: Has Swanson's tenure as AG been perfect? No. However, there are no other credible candidates running. Even the Republican candidate doesn't seem to know what the office does (or doesn't approve of its role as legal advocate for the citizens of the state) and wants to use it for things like fighting health care reform and requiring voter IDs.

Secretary of State: I wish it were enough to explain that the Independence Party candidate isn't actively running and the Republican candidate posts Fox News videos on his site, so Ritchie is the only real candidate. I'll go further, though, and note that the Republican is campaigning almost solely on the topic of voter IDs (the other issue he mentions is one where he agrees with Ritchie), while Ritchie is working to use technology to lower costs and offer more services outside of elections as well, making him actually quite business friendly.

Auditor: Otto has received awards from her peers for her work in office. Her major challenger is the previous officeholder, a strong partisan whom Otto replaced after finding errors in her work. This one is a no-brainer.

Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Seat 2: Meyer is the incumbent and endorsed by the Academy of Certified Trial Lawyers of Minnesota as well as the big names in Minnesota politics on both sides of aisle. Her opponent doesn't appear to be running for the position as much as using the election to campaign for judges continuing to face election. His endorsements come solely from parties that complain about "judicial activism."

Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Seat 6: Page's opponent has this to say as part of his official statement: "I believe that justice is served when judges fear God" and is a "Constitutional originalist". Aside from that, well, let's just note that Page's relevant accomplishments are such that his professional football career (including his admission to the Hall of Fame) are what have become the footnote to his life. He is exactly the person I want here.

Minnesota Appeals Court Judge Seat 13: The challenger in this race has put forth no information on her qualifications or reasons for running.

Minnesota Appeals Court Judge Seat 14: My reasoning on this is identical to that for Supreme Court Justice Seat 2, minus a couple big-name endorsements.

U.S. House District 5: Ellison is teh awesome. That is all. Well, except for the fact that his major opponent invokes the fear of God in his campaigning. Ew.

Minnesota Senate District 61: Berglin has served us well enough and long enough that her opponent is not bothering to campaign.

Minnesota House District 61A: Clark has served us well enough and long enough that her major-party opponent is not bothering to campaign. The Independence Party is fielding a conservative candidate without any government experience.

Hennepin County Soil and Water Supervisor Seat 2: This is the first time I can remember when there were actually multiple excellent choices for one of these seats. Tracy would also be an excellent choice; he has significant experience in this area. I went with Collett because she is already working to educate the public on the job she's asking them to hire her to do.

Hennepin County Soil and Water Supervisor Seat 4: Rickert has far and away more experience in this area than any of his opponents.

Hennepin County Commissioner District 4: Laughlin's opponent has not made any information available about his experience or positions on the issues that I can find.

Three Rivers Parks Commissioner District 3: Haggerty is an incumbent with a number of accomplishments under his belt. His opponent makes no case for replacing him in office.

Minneapolis proposal to make the Charter Commission responsible for redistricting: The people who are objecting to this proposal appear to be advocating for a means of redistricting that isn't an option this time around instead of choosing between the old way (which is handled by the political parties) and this proposal. The Star Tribune has a short summary of the situation. There's more discussion, including initial opposition that gave way to neutrality or endorsement, on the forums at E-Democracy.org. See here and here.

Minneapolis School Board Members: As I said on my primary ballot, school board elections in Minneapolis are interesting. Almost everybody is saying the right things about what needs to be done, so it comes down largely to demonstrated competence. My two choices have the most board experience directly related to schools.

October 28, 2010

The Beatings Will Continue

Well, it isn't really a beating. It's an arrest for "trespassing, resisting arrest and creating a public disturbance." Ask Jon Taylor how big a difference he sees, though.

This arrest happened outside an event for Eric Cantor, who hopes to be the new Republican House majority leader after the election. You'll never guess what Taylor, the desperate criminal who required three cops to wrestle him to the ground, was trying to do.

Taylor said Cantor had promoted the event on his website, so he assumed it was a public event.

"We RSVP'd," he said.

He and three other Democrats went inside the coffee shop with the intent of asking questions of Cantor, who has declined to debate Waugh.

That's right. He was trying to perform that terrifying act of asking a question. And what could possibly have him so dissatisfied, his morale so in need of improvement, that he has to risk a beating just to ask his questions?

Oh, I don't know. Might be the fact that Cantor won't debate his opponents and won't generally answer anything but softball questions. Might be that when he does answer questions, he tells lies that would be damagingly transparent if anyone were allowed to follow up on them. So Cantor, and those supporting him have plenty of reason to suppress those scary questions by whatever means necessary.

Except it's not just Cantor. The 2010 Republican campaign relies on voter dissatisfaction created by a web of lies about the events of Obama's presidency: lies about health care, lies about tax cuts, lies about the bank bailouts, lies about the economic stimulus package, lies about...well, you get the idea. That is their campaign strategy this year, which means that letting anyone close enough to ask embarrassing questions is a very bad idea.

Given all that, how long do you think the violence will go on?

October 27, 2010

A Movement of Cowards

Libertarians are generally characterized by (misplaced) arrogance. Liberals are generally characterized by...well, I don't actually know, but I'm sure I'll get suggestions. Conservatives are generally characterized by fear.

It informs all their policies. They need a big, swaggering military because we're otherwise at the mercy of...those little countries on the other side of the world whose governments have massive contracts with ours. They need to keep immigrants out of the country, because otherwise, their job skills and way of life aren't attractive enough to compete. They have to deny anthropogenic climate change, because otherwise, they have to find solutions that are beyond their ingenuity and willingness to sacrifice. They need guns, because otherwise, they're at the mercy of all and sundry who happen along.

They need to keep gays and lesbians shamed and marginalized, because otherwise, what incentive would they have to refrain from all the gay sex they want to have (instead of just some of it). They have to keep power out of women's hands, because otherwise, what woman would want them? They have to make abortion illegal, because otherwise, what woman would put up with raising their demon spawn without help? In the women's case, because otherwise, how can they make up for having their own abortions? And oh, how many things must they do because otherwise, they stand no chance of being good enough to be accepted by their gods?

Most of all, for the broad swath of people who vote movement conservative, they need to side with the bullies, because otherwise, the bullies will turn their attention to them. It's a somewhat effective strategy, and one the movement relies upon for support. It still isn't good for anyone.

I'm not saying anything new here. There's nothing about the politics of fear that should be a revelation to anyone reading this. So why am I talking about it now?

Three reasons. The first is that I simply think that no election should pass without people being reminded that the big, blustery candidates are really sniveling children. The second is that fear is a lousy basis for making complex decisions, which is the job we're electing people to do. The third is that it's rare to see this fear as well illustrated as it has been in recent days.

How scared did Joe Miller have to be to decide he wasn't going to answer any more questions about himself? How terrified did he have to be to have an illegal security detail? How badly did his knees have to knock for him to blame the school for using that security? And what kind of quivering mess did he have to be to set that security detail on a journalist who was asking questions and have him detained in handcuffs?

Then...then there's this:

Forget, for a moment, Paul's cowardly reaction on Fox, referring to the incident as "crowd control" (well, don't forget that at all; just set it aside briefly). Forget that the victim was already surrounded by several men much larger than she. Forget, even, that the stomping occurred well after Paul was out of the way.

No, in this case, let's just pay attention to what the right is correct about when they're describing this incident: the precipitating event. That would be this:

"Oh, noes!" they're saying, "She tried to present Rand Paul with a sign! She was asking for it!" No, really, that's what they're saying. Here's a really brief sampling:
  • so....she provoked a response. stepping on her head was uncalled for and uncivil, but this girl was not innocent in the confrontation either. Moveon.org is famous for their provocation.
  • We are living in the age of TERRORISM. If Lauren Valle had tried to pull this stunt on Obama, the same thing would have happened. The candidates must be protected from nuts and extremists. Given that Lauren Valle and MoveOn were there to make trouble, I think she is the one who owes the Rand people an apology.
  • Valle is a professional antagonist. She was just there to make people mad and she accomplished her goal. She is certainly not an innocent victim. I don't condone the actions that were taken by the men but, if you are going to play childish gottcha games you get what you deserve.
    Lauren Lizabeth Valle, 23, an activist with MoveOn.org, tried to get close to Paul to give him a fake award portraying him as a tool of big business, as the group has done elsewhere. ----------------------------------------------------- This alone is reason enough to stop this woman.
  • This is actually semi-funny to me personally. Yeah, this chick got ruffled a tad but that sort of thing should be recognized as simply "par-for-the-course" if you're going to attempt to inflame and antagonize a Senatorial candidate and supporters in such a hostile political climate as this chick did.
  • This sheds a different light on the matter. It seems there is plenty of blame to go around. She was a paid protester by MoveOn who hired her to go to KY for the last three weeks of the campaign.
  • Profitt blames Valle for initiating the incident—a claim that actually does have some merit.
  • A WELL DESERVED, but much too gentle, BEAT DOWN.
And then there's the criminal himself.

"She's a professional at what she does," Tim Profitt, who was fired Tuesday from Paul's Senate campaign, said in an interview with local television station WKYT. "When all the facts come out people will see that she's the one who initiated the whole thing."

Yes, this is what it takes to scare a movement conservative. A young woman with a sign who might make somebody look bad. That's the monster in the closet that they can't bear to look squarely in the eye, preferring instead to try to crush it underfoot.

The whole thing, incident and movement and all, would be laughably pathetic--except for one thing. These people are also scared of me. They're scared of you too, if you dare to talk back, or worse, laugh at them. They're terrified of us both. And now we're seeing what they do when they're scared.

You might want to remember that when the time comes to vote.

October 26, 2010

Civil Liberties Gone, Not Threatened

So you've heard about the Republican candidate for Senate whose "security detail" detained a reporter trying to ask the candidate some questions, yes? Well, actually, it hasn't gotten as much coverage as it should, so maybe you haven't.

Christine O'Donnell won national attention yet again last week when she ridiculed the notion that the Constitution protects the separation of church and state. But she was only raising doubts about the First Amendment; Miller actually defied it.

That happened just over a week ago, when Alaska Dispatch Editor Tony Hopfinger tried to follow Miller to get him to answer questions about his work in Fairbanks. That's when Miller's security detail handcuffed the journalist and put him under a "private person's arrest," detaining him until police came and freed him.

It's not clear why Miller thought he needed a paramilitary detail to protect him in the first place. He said the school that held the event required it, but the school said otherwise.

Then came word that two of the security guards were active-duty soldiers, apparently moonlighting at the political event without the knowledge of their commanders.

For context on why that last bit is so disturbing, see Glenn Greenwald's take on the incident (via Ed Brayton). I'd like to focus on another disturbing thing about the incident: the fact that people are treating this as a novel incident.

This absolutely sent chills down my spine. Private goons with blank looks on their faces, refusing to identify themselves, detaining a reporter who broke no laws - and getting away with it. How quickly our civil liberties could disappear!

To repeat here what I said there: This has nothing to do with how our civil liberties "could" disappear. They have disappeared. We did nothing about the Patriot Act except cheer it on. We did nothing about warrantless everything except reelect Bush. We did nothing about TSA security theater except look suspiciously at our seatmates. We did nothing about "Free Speech Zones" except frown at the people at conventions clambering for their voices to be heard. We did nothing about police abuses of power except suggest that anyone who was abused had something to hide or asked for it.

This is the world we've bought ourselves. The fact that most of us have yet to pay for it personally is beside the point.

Can we get the old world back? Yes, we can. The cost will be high, but only because we have to pay for the last decade of that world as well. We'll need to be those people we've refused to empathize with. We'll need to call down authority's displeasure on ourselves, and we'll need to tell it to get stuffed. We'll need to do it in large numbers and support each other as we go. Only then can we get back what we've lost.

Unfortunately, I see signs like this that tell me how much easier it is to get used to our loss than to take the risks and do the work we need to do.

October 25, 2010


She was about five weeks old. It was too young, but "Take her now, or we'll take care of her." They didn't mean letting her stay with her mother for a few more weeks. At least she was weaned.

She was the not-very-runty runt of the litter. Black, with the tiniest of white spots on her belly. Her mother was half Siamese, and her father was presumed to be the same Siamese that was her uncle. Being black earned her the name "Humor."

She wasn't happy about being taken away from her mother. She spent the first evening yowling at the top of her lungs. The first night, too. Putting her on my chest, where she could feel my heartbeat, helped for about five minutes. Eventually, she went back into the cat carrier, as far from the bedroom as she could be, with towels over it to muffle the noise and just a little bit of air space left. She was still loud.

Over time, she settled into a bedtime routine that involved lying across the back of my neck and getting her face scritched for a little while before prowling the house, yowling, of course. She'd settle down after a while, but she never did lose the tendency to wander into a corner and yowl like a lost soul. She'd come running out if you called her name, terribly happy to find people, but she spent more time lost in closets than any cat I've known.

Once she got bigger, the routine changed again: demand I go to bed, stand on me and knead in an ecstatic trance until she came to again, then lie down for petting with her face in mine until she got bored. I was Mom.

In fact, I was all her people, and anyone else was viewed with suspicion at best. Strange voices in the house meant she was nowhere to be found, although if people stuck around for long, they might be graced with a glimpse of her. Those who came by often enough might be allowed to pet her briefly. Eventually, she allowed my husband to pick her up and hold her.

She was never the bravest of cats. She ran away when I sneezed, which was sadly and funnily ironic in such a danderous cat. Trips to the vet involved the drawing of blood--my blood--for getting her into the cat carrier the first time. Once we were in the car, she had to be let out and snuggled up on my chest if we wanted any hope of hearing other traffic.

She was determined, though. Enough heat was worth lying across the vanes of the radiator. No matter how many times she was yelled at for playing monster under the bed, ankles were always fair game. When I sat in front of the computer, the back of my chair was her preferred spot, with just a bit of her draped over my shoulder. When I read in the big, comfy chair, she'd settle onto one arm for a little while after enough petting, then wander between me and the book when she decided I'd ignored her long enough. And people food...well, she'd generally stay at a polite distance as long as I was actually eating. After that, all bets were off.

It was the eating that tipped me off. Humor had always been good about telling me when she needed more food or water: meow, wander in the appropriate direction, look accusing until I followed and fixed her problems for her. It took a few days to notice that, while she was getting fussy about her water being dirty, she wasn't making much dent in her food. Last I saw her alive, she was busily tucking into some moist food that I'd given her to tempt her palate.

This morning, the moist food was mostly gone, and she was lying underneath the computer desk, where the warm air from the fan blows. She was racked out on her side , the way she usually slept. Usually, however, she would wake when I walked into the room. Not today, and not ever again.

I made my husband make sure she wasn't just ill. I'm making him move the body, as well. She was the softest cat I've ever met, a medium-hair made up of just the fluffy underfur. I want to remember that, and I want to remember her as warm and pliant, tucked under my chin or curled neatly into my lap. I have seventeen years of those memories, of her being very much my cat, and those are the memories I want to keep fresh.

Oh, sweetest little black cat, how I will miss you. How I miss you now.

October 19, 2010

The Right Kind

It was the kind of wedding where the bridesmaid's dresses were chosen, each for the individual woman, with an eye to appropriately displaying body ink. It was the kind of wedding where the little boys who participated were dressed as pirates, complete with plastic swords that formed an arch for the flower girls, and no one thought to suggest we weren't being solemn enough. It was the kind of wedding where the bride wore a fearsome fashion creation in dark gray--and daisies in her hair.

It was the kind of wedding that wasn't short but came without a wasted word. It was the kind of wedding where the bride and groom stood behind the officiant, whispering and giggling to each other whenever it occurred to them. It was the kind of wedding where the assembled made promises before any were asked of the couple. It was the kind of wedding where watching couples held hands and kissed--and smiled at each other over their marriages rather than their weddings. It was the kind of wedding where the wasp flying around became a memory shared between weddings rather than a mere pest.

It was the kind of wedding with readings like this:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

And this:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

It was the kind of wedding where the bride and the groom promised to plant their roots in each other's soil and grow into both the wind and the sun. It was the kind of wedding where the groom interrupted the officiant, being too impatient (and silly) to wait for the proper time to say, "I do."

It was the kind of wedding where the bride and groom didn't need to stand together to receive their guests, where guests who only knew one party introduced themselves to the other. It was the kind of wedding where, when asked how I knew the bride, only then realized that it was because she and I had spent some part of one weekend a year together for almost the last ten years, and that she is incredibly important to me for someone I hardly ever speak to.

It was the kind of wedding where the compliments on the kilt came, not from the people who were indulging in being mildly scandalized by it, but from the woman with the primary-colored hair and the guy who paired a dapper suit with big hoop earrings and the guy whose accent put him somewhere close to Scotland--and the catering manager, who stopped to give us pronunciation lessons. It was the kind of wedding where the hipster look-alike was almost certainly not being ironic.

It was the kind of wedding where guests were seated by their reading preferences. It was the kind of wedding where someone at the dinner table says, "I'm ashamed to have a vagina because Stephenie Meyer has one too." It was the kind of wedding where two open seats at your table result in the DJs inviting themselves to dinner and fitting right in, despite being a decade younger than everyone else there.

It was the kind of wedding where the Belgian-style ales were served in pint glasses. It was the kind of wedding where the catering staff made note of the brand of sparkling wine because it was both decadently delicious and cheap. It was the kind of wedding where drinks were poured by award-winning mixologists because they happen to be chummy with the bride and groom. It was the kind of wedding where you tot up everything you've had to drink, blink a few times, and still put your hand out when they say, "I've got an extra Aftermath. Who wants it?"

It was the kind of wedding where dancing skills are appreciated but not required. It was the kind of wedding where the tan kids were the ones lacking rhythm. It was the kind of wedding where a four- or five-year-old could steal the show, not by being a great dancer, but by being a showy, confident one. It was the kind of wedding where the DJs couldn't stop dancing themselves, and the one with the fauxhawk (film major with a bright future ahead of him unless I miss my guess) gave it all he had, which was not insignificant. It was the kind of wedding where the bride's now former PI got out there and shook her mad scientist hair just a little more mad.

It was the kind of wedding that could go on until all hours of the morning. It was the kind of wedding where people either left around their normal bedtimes or were prepared to stay forever. It was, in short, the right kind of wedding.

Many congratulations to my friend Tracy and her lovely husband John.

October 18, 2010

Needing to Think

If the rest of the online universe hasn't already directed you to John Scalzi's post "Things I Don’t Have to Think About Today," allow me:

Today I don’t have to think about managing pain that never goes away.
Today I don’t have to think about whether a stranger’s opinion of me would change if I showed them a picture of who I love.
Today I don’t have to think about the chance a store salesmen will ignore me to help someone else.
Today I don’t have to think about the people who’d consider torching my house of prayer a patriotic act.
Today I don’t have to think about a pharmacist telling me his conscience keeps him from filling my prescription.

It's an exercise in the kind of empathy we can all practice from time to time. Read the whole thing.

Those of you who are bloggers may also appreciate John's first comment on the post, particularly the reference to the Mallet of Loving Correction.

October 15, 2010

The Cynicism of the "Realist"

I posted this almost exactly two years ago, before another important election. It still seems important. The races have changed, but they're not the main point of this piece.

I ran into another one yesterday. You know them, the ones who say, "Obama isn't perfect, you know. He's just not that different from McCain. I mean, I'll vote for him, but really...."

The next one gets swatted. Hard.

Aside from the fact that anyone with a brain can tell that there are big differences between Obama and McCain--of policy, of personality, of integrity--this statement is totally wrong in one thing. It reeks of cynicism.

This last one didn't think so. He said, "Don't confuse realism with cynicism StephanieZ. I do think there's a legitimate case to be made for picking the lesser of two evils in swing states, but as Chomsky notes one should do so without any illusions."

The lesser of two evils? If that isn't cynicism, what is it? It's certainly not realism.

How is it evil to suggest that more people should have access to affordable health care? How is it evil to say we need to understand the racial divide as a first step to closing it? How is it evil to suggest that our policies abroad are hurtful to the world and need to be changed? How is it evil to say that those who have profited from the last eight years need to help pay for them?

"But he's not perfect," I hear. Excuse me, but duh. Of course he isn't perfect. Neither is the situation he'll step into in January. Far from it.

Obama isn't perfect. He's progress.

Obama and his policies are progress that we desperately need right now. Every moderate to liberal politician we send to D.C. with him is forward motion. Each step we take in pushing those politicians to enact his platform is one step out of the mire.

That's right. This doesn't end with the election. We all still have plenty of work to do after that happens. We have to demand the changes we've been promised. Some of us will have to suck it up and pay our share where we haven't been. We have to tell each other that hatred is unacceptable. We have to fight the lies that will be told.

We have to fight the cynicism.

This last piece is critical. We've been wandering deeper into the mire for far too long. It will take us years to get out. We'll get tired. We'll find it all too easy to say that another hard-fought step toward the edge still puts us in the muck, so what's the difference? We'll have all the realism we can handle.

It's even possible that we'll forget what the dry land beyond the edge looks like, but we can never dismiss it as an illusion. That way lies cynicism--and the realism of the mire.

October 14, 2010

Nobel Conference: Frances Moore Lappé

"Getting a Grip—Gaining Clarity, Creativity, and Courage for the World We Really Want"

Frances Moore Lappé, author and co-founder of the Small Planet Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The final lecture of the conference was delivered at the banquet. It was delivered, not by a scientist, but by an activist and writer who has spent decades understanding how various parts of the world make food work. As before, below is my summary of the lecture. Only a small amount of note-taking was delivered in tweets before my battery died, so I'm faking much of it below. The full lecture is available on YouTube.

  • "It is far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism." [Thanks to geofisch for finding the source: Dee Hock, founder of Visa International (re: Y2K)] We cannot afford despair.
  • We don't each actively choose a world in which starvation and climate change happen. Our feeling of powerlessness is our enemy.
  • We have solutions for most of the world's food problems or they're within our reach very soon.
  • The problem right now is confirmation bias: What we see, we believe.
  • If there are already cheaters, why not cheat? Current narratives are scarcity, lack, competition, selfishness.
  • Ironic but worth knowing that Monopoly was developed by a Quaker as an object lesson.
  • We have a privately held government. Skewed wealth negates even broad agreement when it comes to legislation.
  • Alienation leads to depression, which is the leading U.S. cause of disability. 50% more suicides than homicides.
  • Shock has the power to induce cognitive dissonance and clarity. One such moment led to the microcredit movement.
  • "There are no 'parts' in an ecological worldview. There are only participants."
  • If we stop looking through a lens of lack, we can instead examine the conditions that promote pro- and antisocial behavior.
  • Cooperation stimulates some of the same parts of the brain as chocolate.
  • Humans have a need to "make a dent" in their worlds. Leads to less depression and feeling more in control.
  • Supporting the Fair Elections Now Act can help remove some of the influence of wealth on our government.
  • Having power concentrated in the hands of a few brings out the worst in us. We fail to be responsible for ourselves. We blame instead of acting.
  • Travels for book research: "I knew how out of step I was and how much hunger there was. What I didn't know was how easy the solutions were."
  • Brazil declared access to food a right. It didn't lead to "big government" but to community involvement in fixing the problem, brainstorming solutions.
  • Diary cooperatives in India employ more people than the entire high-tech industry there.
  • We're good enough to solve these problems if we have the backbone to break from the pack.
  • Fear is just one more idea, without inherent meaning of its own.
  • We can model ourselves on those more courageous than we are.

October 13, 2010

Look Who's Voting

Yes, I know Obama isn't close to everything you wanted. He compromises too easily and isn't as visionary as he sounded standing next to John McCain. Whee.

The Democrats in Congress haven't exactly been all that, either. They've done their normal job of showing off internal disputes and demonstrating what the shifting Overton Window means for liberalism in the U.S. They may be up for reelection, and many of them may face plausible challenges for the first time in ages, but...blah.

I know. You're not excited. The problem is that there are other voters who are.

Oh, yes. They're voting. Know why? They've seen the progress that has been made in the last Congressional term, in Obama's first two years in office, and it terrifies them. And even if that terror has only a tangential connection to reality, there's a lesson there for all of us.

So the last two years haven't been anything like idyllic. Does your memory stretch back far enough to let you think about the eight years before that? Do you remember how powerless we felt? Do you remember the despair we faced when confronting the idea that our country might keep moving in that direction?

No, having Democrats in control of the White House and Congress hasn't given us everything we wanted in two years, but it's time to remember what the alternative is. Your district and state may not have candidates as colorful as Carl Paladino, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle or Michele Bachmann, but there are plenty of candidates who share their politics, if not their blatant craziness. There are plenty of candidates who want to make sure government does nothing but enforce their pet social sanctions.

And there are plenty of people who will turn out to vote for them.

So it's time. It's time to make sure your friends and neighbors know what's at stake in this election. It's time to make sure they know who will be on the ballot, what the oddly worded propositions mean, where to vote. It's time to make sure voters in your community are excited and ready to turn out, because the people in that video will, without your help or urging. And they're really hoping you won't.

Nobel Conference: Paul B. Thompson

"What Is Good Food? An Argument with My Wife"

Paul B. Thompson, Ph.D., W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics, Michigan State University, East Lansing

Paul Thompson is a philosopher who spoke on on the topic of food ethics. His talk was an examination of how the framework through which we view agriculture shapes the ethical questions we ask. Much of this lecture was highly visible (with some fairly unorthodox use of slide) or told through stories that are not captured well in tweets. As before, below is my summary of the lecture in tweets. The full lecture, including the Q&A afterward with all the invited speakers, is available on YouTube.

  • Title now "Conversation with My Wife." Said wife is a local food activist (and attending the lecture), practical experience rather than philosophy.
  • Breaking down what it means for food to be safe: pure, fresh, wholesome. These may conflict (e.g., wrt additives).
  • "Good" food may be safe, healthful, tasty, legal, respectful, just, fair, hospitable, sustainable. Interactions complicated.
  • Industrial philosophy of agriculture: approach ethical questions as in any other segment of industrial economy.
  • Values of industrial philosophy: efficiency and shouldering own costs. Utilitarian perspective.
  • Efficiency provides a benefit to poor, who spend more of income on food. Has social costs to be weighed against efficiency.
  • Lower costs due to pesticides are not more efficient until the (highly valued) rights of workers and consumers are met.
  • Consumers must demand justice (safety, fair wages) in order for it to be part of the efficiency equation.
  • Industrial philosophy useful, but agriculture has historically had its own philosophy and values.
  • Discussion of how Egyptian vs. Greek geography influenced forms of governance and agricultural philosophies.
  • Jefferson felt family farmers were the best citizens (as opposed to the owners of capital) because the land tied them in place.
  • Agrarian philosophy is one of creating an environment that elicits the behavior and moral identity desired.
  • Tradition and reciprocity, community identity highly valued in agrarian philosophy.
  • Agrarian philosophy may still be relevant in rural areas. Smaller farms produce more community investment.

October 12, 2010

Nobel Conference: Linda Bartoshuk

"Variation in sensation and affect: We live in 'different taste worlds'"

Linda Bartoshuk, Ph.D., Presidential Endowed Professor of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science, University of Florida, Gainesville

Linda Bartoshuk's lecture was all about supertasters, and it started with a short (optional) questionnaire and a test to find out whether we were supertasters, nontasters or somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I'm dull. As before, below is my summary of the lecture in tweets. The full lecture, including the Q&A afterward with all the invited speakers, is available on YouTube.
  • Five senses is an oversimplification based on collapsing many types of somatic sensation.
  • Traditional tongue map bogus. Based on a mistranslation of a thesis.
  • Flavor is a combination of retronasal olfaction (flavor forced up from the mouth) and taste.
  • Brain can sense difference from nasal odor sources and retronasal sources, sniff vs. chew. Treated differently.
  • Can't taste or smell fats, only impurities in the fat. Fat molecules too large.
  • Tongues of supertasters have 4-12 times as many fungiform papillae as normal tasters.
  • Supertasters match normals on relative ratings of sweetness but rate twice the sweetness on an external intensity scale.
  • Supertasters experience greater reaction to capsaicin, greater oral pain, more intense mouth feel from food.
  • Adding a taste sensation (sweet, salt) intensifies perception of flavor. Supertasters experience more flavor.
  • Supertasters experience less cardiovascular disease, have lower BMI. Fat becomes cloying.
  • Supertasters drink less; alcohol is bitter. They also eat fewer veggies; experience higher risk of colon cancer.
  • None of the differential health risks discussed are large, merely present.
  • Bitter is a poison-detection system. Taste nerve vulnerable to simple ear infection. "I wouldn't have designed it that way."
  • Ear infections can also damage fat sensation, leading to weight gain.
  • Among sample of male supertasters with a history of otitis media, two were not overweight or obese. Large effect.
  • Supertasters have extreme food likes and dislikes. Now testing to see whether they have more extreme preferences in general.
  • Currently a project going on to determine which volatiles make tomatoes the most palatable by inclusion or exclusion.
  • Umami originally a marketing campaign for MSG. Are glutamate receptors on the tongue, but not a basic taste.
  • Protein breaks down in digestive tract, binds to glutamate receptors in stomach & produces conditioned food preference.
  • Can use a novel food as a "scapegoat" to avoid conditioned food aversion to normal diet in kids receiving chemo.
  • About 25 genes for bitter taste. All are on a continuum, but a supertaster for bitter is for sweet, salt, sour as well.
  • Fake fat is foiled by our conditioned food responses. If it isn't real fat, we stop responding to it.

October 11, 2010

Coming Out

No, not me. I am, from what the data says, unusually heterosexual, and any queerness I might choose to share doesn't involve just my information. So, no, I'm not talking about me. It is National Coming Out Day, however, and a couple of people are doing it up right.

Jen is, at Blag Hag:

Oh, it was awkward, and it was heartbreaking - but mostly because that's how all crushes are to a 13 year old girl. I was just lucky that I never thought it was sinful or wrong. I wasn't religious, and I was delightfully oblivious to the people who thought my feelings were disgusting.

But it still wasn't easy. There was something overwhelmingly horrible knowing the odds are against you - that, if you're rounding up, maybe 10% of people would also be interested in the same sex. I couldn't get my friend out of my mind, but I knew the odds of her feeling the same way were slim to none. It's terrible liking someone without them liking you back, but it seems just a tad more terrible when you know there's literally nothing you can do about it. No amount of persuasion will change their biology.

Do read the comments at Blag Hag. I love the number of people who are saying they already knew, and only partly because I also thought Jen was already out. There have been plenty of offhand, light references on the blog and on Twitter to finding women attractive, and I'm tickled to see how many people never considered that Jen would somehow have to be "just joking" about it. Some days, I like people.

Elizabeth is reflecting on being out as well, over at Sex in the Public Square:

And this brings me to a reflection on another difficulty of being out. Outness is partly a matter of context. In what circumstances at work does it become appropriate for me to make reference to other lovers? Relatively infrequently. But just recently a colleage to whom I'm not especially out asked me about weekend plans. As it happens I had a date with a woman I care deeply about. I said "I have a date." She asked no further questions, and so the conversation died there. I was ready to explain further, but she did not inquire and quite probably assumed that I either was making reference to going out with a friend or that I was referring to a date with Will.

While coming out is a continual process, ceremonial days like National Coming Out Day are useful because they provide a context for self disclosure. They also provide a ritual moment for reminding others that our lives may not be as clear and simple as they appear on the surface.

For all those who are not at all out, it is important that the rest of us show ourselves openly to help dispel stereotypes and to strengthen the system of mutual support that outness can provide.

It also makes me quite happy that most of the people I know who fall under the broad heading of GLBTQ (where Q = queer of some sort) are already generally out. A friend of a friend referred to today as "Happy 'Yeah we know dude' day." Today was a day for affirmation for most of them, rather than a day of added risk or longing for what it would be unwise to actually do. One person I'm proud to call a friend used the day to come out as bisexual to her Catholic family.

All that is progress, but it isn't enough. I live in a very liberal city, with lots of artists and academics for friends. I hang out with people who make a point of trying to question received wisdom about the social order. Even here, I know of one situation in which two of my friends don't feel comfortable being out. The prominent heterosexuality of the place is such that even identifying the location would out those people.

Then we get outside the city and outside my generation. I see a teenager who can't understand why "so gay" is an insult but still uses it as one, all but guaranteeing that her friends will at least hesitate before coming out to her. I see a woman several years into her retirement, who moved across the country with her "roommate" and whose parents will likely die within the next year or two without ever having discussed her sexuality (if they allow themselves to know about it). Then there are all the people who are not safe or who don't feel safe, just because of their sexuality, practiced--or merely experienced--in private.

Kelley expresses how this feels better than I can at Watching the Wheels:

I do know that I will love this man and stand by him as long as I am able. And I know that whatever the future brings we will work through it together.

Today I’m not telling my parents any of this. I wish that I could. It feels so wrong to be so happy and to not share it with two of the people that mean the most to me in this world. One of my sisters is sure I will be disowned. I don’t know with any degree of confidence that she’s wrong. Today I’m not ready to find out.

But I think it’s worth the risk, to share this part of my life with them. Maybe next year I’ll be ready. And maybe next year my fears will be proven wrong. Maybe I’ll be accepted, my happiness will be accepted. Maybe, but maybe not today.

For them (and for you, because in hiding is a scary, toxic place to be), come out today, if you can. If you can afford to take those risks, for yourself and for others, tell the world who you are. Come on out.

Nobel Conference: Bina Agarwal

"Can We Make Food Good for All?"

Bina Agarwal, Ph.D., professor of economics and director, Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi, India

Bina Agarwal spoke to us about solving the problems of making food good for the world's poorest. If you only watch one lecture, I recommend you make it this one. It is the least easily captured in notes, and it contained the best use of slides of any of the talks. As before, below is my summary of the lecture in tweets. Note that Dr. Agarwal used "collectivities" in the place of "collectives" to differentiate them from the Soviet-style agricultural collectives. The full lecture, including the Q&A afterward with all the invited speakers, is available on YouTube.
  • Cooking in mother's kitchen was a sacred, meditative act. Required bathing and silence.
  • Hindu scriptures divide food into three categories. Satvik (pure and health promoting), Rajasik (over-stimulating), Tamasik (decaying).
  • What food is "good" varies by culture, but the poor cannot always afford nutritious food, much less "good" food.
  • About 1B people undernourished in 2009. Challenge will grow with population, even without climate change.
  • Nutrition/food security challenges: production (who), distribution, preparation, and consumption.
  • Biofeul production in food exporting countries, like U.S. have implications for security of importing regions.
  • Farming labor force is declining worldwide and becoming more female. Biases thus have a large impact on agriculture.
  • Forest lands declining. They are an important source of supplementary food items, particularly for the poorest.
  • Climate change expected to have the most dramatic (negative) impact on the cereal crops of Africa and South Asia.
  • Entitlement to food is not equally distributed either nationally or internationally. Much starvation due to entitlement issues.
  • Clean cooking fuel is a limited resource. Biofuels (firewood, crop waste, animal dung) are not clean.
  • Unclean fuels disproportionally affect cooks (women) and the children who play near them: r espiratory distress, cancer.
  • Even with clean, abundant food, the challenge of junk is ever present, particularly as the rich West is emulated.
  • Community-managed irrigation less sexy than big dams, but taking hold in India. May be more sustainable.
  • Small farmers (mostly women) don't have political or investment power. Autonomous collectives may be the solution.
  • Small collectives increase skill sets, knowledge bases and economic resources, decrease social isolation.
  • In de-collectivized post-Soviet areas, large percentages of farms voluntarily remained in collectives. Saw many benefits.
  • Collectives have methods to check free-riding. Show higher productivity than single-family farms.
  • Collectives have also made food available cheaply to poor in areas, enhancing community food security.
  • Collectives in India also increasing women's status. Some evidence for decreasing domestic violence.
  • Degraded forest land has been given to local Indian communities to protect. Forest land now increasing.
  • Clean stoves a good step toward clean fuel, but don't solve all problems (dependence on forests, etc.). Need to make processed biogasses.
  • Local solutions good, but don't alleviate international responsibilities: R&D, border issues, understanding interdependence.
  • Women and poor not just main victims of food crisis. Also essential part of the solution.
  • Not good data on utility of microloan programs. Pooled, rotating investment resources in collectives work well, however.
  • Title to land, even not enough land to support you, provides a fallback and bargaining power for more.

October 10, 2010

Nobel Conference: Jeffrey M. Friedman

"Leptin and the Biologic Basis of Obesity"

Jeffrey M. Friedman, M.D., Ph.D., Marilyn M. Simpson Professor and HHMI investigator, Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, and director, Starr Center for Human Genetics, The Rockefeller University, New York, N.Y.

Jeffrey Friedman provided the third lecture, which was essentially and introduction to why our cultural thinking on obesity is generally okay as far as it goes but doesn't go nearly far enough. It also addressed the idea that our emotional reaction to fat, as a culture, is completely out of line with the facts behind fat. As before, below is my summary of the lecture in tweets. The full lecture, including the Q&A afterward with all the invited speakers, is available on YouTube.

Yes, obese people eat more and exercise less, but why?
Everyone has a set of convictions about obesity. Very little interest in hearing science-based answers.
Willpower as an explanation of differences in weight is most often favored by the lean.
Maintenance of weight under a variety of conditions suggests an inherent mechanism for balancing food intake and usage.
Mechanism will impose a basic drive in opposition to higher cognitive functions, no matter our desires.
Natural selection can act very powerfully over the short term. Recent increases in obesity not necessarily environmental.
BMI distributions don't have to change much to see large *categorical* (overweight, obese) differences.
Obesity estimated to be as heritable as height.
Leptin a hormone that provides negative feedback between fat tissue and hypothalamus (my simplification).
Fat tissue is an endocrine organ. Lack of leptin causes a starvation response: extreme energy conservation.
Obesity appears to be a hormone-resistance syndrome, like Type II diabetes.
Adding much more leptin to the system can affect some patients, dosage required too high to be practical.
About 1/3 of obese sensitive to lower doses of added leptin.
May be use for leptin on conjunction with leptin sensitizers (short-term plus long-term agents). Still in trials. [Friedman noted potential conflict of interest in that he consults for the company developing the regimen.]
Studying signaling pathways in presence and absence of leptin to determine where weight is controlled.
10% of morbid obesity due to single-gene defects. More from multi-gene and gene-environment interactions.
We have a good grasp of the physiological cycle. Still working on neurological processing.
Metabolic, sensory, and cognitive factors affect likelihood of feeding behavior, but do not control directly.
Work on obesity has provided a framework for studying physiological/psychological systems.
Time to provide better advice to obese than "Eat less; exercise more," which is millennia old.
Still things to do to protect health in the presence of obesity: exercise, eat well, stay at the leaner end of you weight range.
Vilification of the obese seems to be largely due to the human need to feel in control--or more than animals.
Good food choices? You don't care what you eat when you think you're starving.
Scientific debate ongoing over whether all calories are created equal with respect to long-term hunger signaling.

October 09, 2010

Nobel Conference: Cary Fowler

"Food Security in a Frightening and Finite World."

Cary Fowler, Ph.D., executive director, Global Crop Diversity Trust, Rome, Italy

Cary Fowler offered the second lecture of the conference, speaking to us about sustaining genetic diversity in crop plants as a means of providing some security against the challenges of a growing population and changing climate on a local and global scale. He also gave us a nice introduction to the seed bank in Svalbard, Norway. As before, below is my summary of the lecture in tweets. The full lecture, including the Q&A afterward with all the invited speakers, is available on YouTube.
  • But first, a shout-out to the ASL interpreter. :)
  • Due to green revolution, we are the first generation to take abundance of food for granted.
  • Africa is an exception to production growth, just reaching 1960s levels.
  • Production increases have come due to much greater expenditure of resources: land, water, fertilizer, pesticides, etc.
  • Land use increases stopped being as important to agriculture growth in 80s. Water usage is unsustainable. Drawing on aquifers.
  • Water rights may lead to increased international conflict as food needs increase.
  • When Kuwait recognizes Peak Oil (as they do now), the impact on food production must be considered.
  • Natural gas is a requirement for current nitrogenous fertilizers.
  • Climate change will change growing seasons and patterns.
  • Hot summers have traditionally decreased production ~25%. Those will be the good years with projected climate change.
  • "We are living through less than 1/2 of 1% of the history of agriculture, but I can promise you it will be the most interesting."
  • Most people think of biodiversity as a Rousseau painting: exotics. More important is diversity within species.
  • Maintaining diversity determines whether we survive climate change, or just the next pest or disease.
  • Flooding in Philippines hit their seed bank, causing the extinction of several species. We will lose more seed banks.
  • Loss of more seed banks, with the additional diversity, is a completely predictable event.
  • Svalbard seed bank is far from human and weather dangers. Naturally frozen as well.
  • "Doctor, are you telling me the genetic diversity in this seed bank is the world's most important natural resource?" "I think so." "And that Svalbard is the best place for it?" "I believe it is." "Then how can we refuse?" [Norwegian government's response]
  • The most drought-resistant crop in Addis Ababa contains a neurotoxin. Starve or become paralyzed?
  • [From Ben's Twitter stream] "If you can't go down to the supermarket because you have no money and there is no supermarket..."
  • Collecting seeds allows the crop to be bred to reduce toxins without losing drought resistance.
  • "If you want to be bored and depressed [by the situation], you don't have to do anything. It will come naturally."
  • "But these problems can be solved. You can help solve them, and it's fun."
  • We also need to find and preserve the wild relatives of our crop plants.
  • Subsistence farmers maintain much of the world's crop diversity, but they are also the most vulnerable, and they're not curators.
  • Fruit diversity threatened by Russian law that may force development of land growing plants that don't grow well from seed.
  • Most national seed banks are of poor quality. "You wouldn't want to store your kid's lunch in them."

October 07, 2010

Nobel Conference: Marion Nestle

"Food Politics: Personal Responsibility vs. Social Responsibility."

Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, and professor of sociology, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University (blog: Food Politics, Twitter)

Marion Nestle (not Nestlé) provided the first lecture of the conference, focusing on the forces that shape our food choices, including the forces that shape the business of agriculture and food marketing. Below is my summary of the lecture in tweets. The full lecture, including the Q&A afterward with all the invited speakers, is available on YouTube.

  • "When I started in nutrition, it never occurred to me that agriculture had anything to do with what we eat."
  • The challenge is not how to feed 8-9 billion people, but to empower 8-9B people to feed themselves.
  • The solutions are social, not technological (empowering women, social and political stability.
  • You don't have to be a Nobel winner to figure out how to avoid obesity.
  • Food industry can no longer just blame consumer personal responsibility for obesity. People eating less is big problem for industry.
  • Junk food should be a special order. Healthful food should be easy to get--the default.
  • Data slim, but rates of physical activity have changed very little since early 80s. People eating more.
  • More calories available in the food system (not consumed) for every person.
  • Everyone lies about food intake, but data still show 200 calorie daily increase.
  • Farm subsidy program shifted from paying for not growing to paying for growing. Result: corn and food industry competition.
  • Food companies also affected by new Wall Street demands for continual growth of profits. Industry changed in response.
  • Eating out (higher calorie meals) got cheaper due to subsidies. Portion sizes in prepackaged food got bigger.
  • "If there were one thing I could teach everyone in this room, it's that larger portions have more calories."
  • It's been shown experimentally that larger portions = more calories is not intuitively obvious.
  • Larger portions cause people to underestimate calories consumed by a greater amount.
  • Ubiquity: "When did it become okay to eat and drink in bookstores?"
  • Fast food burger on a sweetened bun is highly subsidized ($1). Salad is not ($5).
  • "If you hear people talk about how expensive fruits and vegetables are, it's because they are."
  • Indexed price of fruit & vegetables up 40% since 80s. Grain products down 10-15%.
  • Food companies under tremendous pressure, but have generally not responded productively.
  • Ah, health claims. Chocolate cheerios may reduce the chance of heart disease?
  • FDA rolled on First Amendment arguments. Courts friendly to corporate speech claims.
  • American Heart Association only cares about fats, not sugars, in endorsements.
  • POM suing FDA over blocked antioxidant health claims. (First Amendment claim)
  • "Functional foods" the only big marketing category that's selling these days, despite lack of regulation of claims.
  • Companies will tell you they don't make health claims in their categories, only claims of "healthier" choices.
  • Health labeling "standards" set by companies. Vast majority of foods don't meet independent standards set by nutritionists.
  • Smart Choices = less than 25% calories from sugar.
  • A better-for-you product may still not be a *good* choice. Fruit Loops = Smart Choice product.
  • Marketing to children can instill brand loyalty for life.
  • Kids' marketing identifies "kid" foods, generally highly processed and not things a parent can produce on own.
  • Michelle Obama's good food campaign has a tiny fraction of the budget for marketing *one* breakfast cereal.
  • Recent Salmonella eggs came out of dirty facility producing 2.3M dozen eggs per week.
  • Food safety laws the legacy of Upton Sinclair in 1906. Still not substantially updated since then.
  • Recent recalls show systemic failure. We know how to produce safe food, but we don't enforce it.
  • We've had a good monitoring process (HACCP) that were developed for the first manned space mission. We don't use it.
  • Need a single food-safety agency. Not happening. Senate has held food safety bill for 16 months.
  • Schools are slowly experiencing the food revolution. Grassroots activism is making a difference.
  • Buried on page 1206 of the health care reform act is national calorie labeling. Should be entertaining. Food lobby spending has shot up.
  • Sustainability movement is producing return to the victory garden. Everyone votes with their fork for the food industry they want.
  • You could not always walk into a supermarket and find fresh vegetables. This is progress.
  • "The sugar previously known as high fructose corn syrup."
  • We don't need to lose 100% of our industrial farming, but industry can get much better & we need diversity.
  • There are no superfoods. Only food. The key is a diverse diet.
  • Credibility of Am. Diatetic Assoc. destroyed by endorsements/partnerships.
  • We still live in a democracy. If there is enough noise, legislators have to listen.

October 06, 2010

Tweeting the Nobel Conference

Life is still busy. Yesterday and today are the Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. This is an annual event, coinciding with the announcement of the winners of the year's Nobel Prizes, pulling together a number of scientists to talk about a particular topic. This year is "Making Food Good." Next year is "The Brain and Being Human."

Each scientist gives a lecture, but what follows may be the coolest part: All of the invited scientists then get together for a panel discussion of the lecture, asking questions outside their fields and trying to fit the information they're hearing into their framework of the topic. The presenting scientist also takes questions from the audience. That audience includes an internet audience, as the lectures are all streamed live.

What the lectures are not, despite the presence of lots of students from the college and from local high schools, is live Tweeted. At least, they weren't. After missing part of the first lecture due to an accumulation of delays yesterday morning, I checked the conference hashtag, #Nobel46. There was nothing. So I took over.

I'll blog the lectures later, with additional information, but if you want to follow along in the meantime, that hashtag is your place to be.