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January 2008

Environmentalists and gastronomists alike rejoiced at yesterday’s announcement that the Swedish government is going to spend six hundred large ones studying the greenhouse gases emitted by cows when they burp. Apparently, ninety-five percent of the methane that cows release comes out through their mouth.

The hope is, by better understanding how a cow’s diet affects its methane output, we can save the world from frying like an egg in a pizza oven. This source of global warming is almost completely ignored. In fact, the only other country even researching it is Canada.

In related news, Fred Thompson dropped out of the presidential race today. Anybody know who that guy is?

The technology has existed for years, so we’ve always known someone would get around to it. And now Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has proposed a net of state-wide photo radar devices. These machines will be built into the highways, photographing and ticketing every single speeder that passes by.

It’s true that these devices could improve safety, as there are less accidents when everyone is traveling the speed limit. They could also improve the environment, as driving faster burns more fuel. But what seems to intrigue Napolitano is that it could erase the state’s budget shortfall. She anticipates a $120 million dollar in revenue from the new system, with $90 million of it being pure profit. And that’s just the first year.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression of why speeding tickets are so expensive—and why the weigh so heavily on your auto insurance—is due to the assumption that for every time you get caught, there are a plenty of times when you don’t. So shouldn’t the installation of these auto-cops, ones that catch you every single time you speed, result in a lowering of fines? Isn’t anything else just putting the squeeze on people?

Apparently not if you’re trying to balance a state budget, especially one that includes sixteen million on tourism. So don’t speed in Arizona.

Hell, don’t even go there.

What could be more succulent than beef from a blue ribbon steer? What could be more tasty than bacon cut from the pig that won the State Fair? And what if you could get this meat at your local grocery store, without paying much more than you were paying now? You’d be tempted, right?

Well, what if it wasn’t exactly the pig that won the fair, but a clone of that pig. Would that change your mind?

Well, the FDA says they are completely the same. Not everyone agrees with them, though. A full third of people the FDA surveyed said they would never eat the flesh of a cloned animal. Well, perhaps I should say, “would never knowingly eat.” Because, despite this survey, the FDA went ahead and approved the sale of cloned meat without so much as a warning label.

“We found nothing in the food that could potentially be hazardous,” FDA food safety chief Dr. Stephen Sundlof said. “The food in every respect is indistinguishable from food from any other animal.”

Well, that’s good enough for me, Steve. I mean, Science has reached such an apex of learning that there’s nothing they could have missed. You checked it good, right?

The truth is, it’ll be a long time before we’ll be eating these animals. At least not directly. Cloned cows are ten to twenty times as expensive as regular cows, too expensive for anything but breeding purposes. But they are going to dominate that arena. What farmer could resist? Put it this way: You’ve spent your evening browsing Match.com, your tired eyes scanning over the same mediocre options you see every time you look. Then you notice a sidebar advertisement that says you can have your own Pierce Brosnan clone, delivered, for a mere forty-k.

It’s a no-brainer. Soon every piece of meat sold is going to have some relation to the cloned cousin of the uber-livestock. After all, cattle farmers already mail-order the frozen sperm from champion cows. This is just a natural progression.

The failure to get regulation in place here at the beginning is going to make it impossible to discern an animal’s history later. Of course, maybe I’m just worried for no good reason. The FDA surely took a fair and unbiased approach to their decision. They would have ignored any pressure from the corporate meat lobby. Heck, I bet them meat guys didn’t even try to influence the FDA’s decision. After all, they are a model of responsibility, right?


So the New Year meant a lot of parties. It meant a lot of talking to a bunch of fellow Americans and realizing at how they know about the world around us. They know know enough to complain, but that’s about their limit. I am, of course, talking about you.

Go ahead, name six important foreign leaders. And, no, Tony Blair doesn’t count.

Before you shut me out—I know this article already stinks of “unfun learning”—let me just plead with you: take a moment to read this. It’s so important to know who these people are. And there are less words in this simple article than any two Radiohead songs put together. Even the one where it’s just that computer talking. And this isn’t nearly as painful. Consider it your booster shot against the twenty-four hour stupid that’s going around this winter. Let’s get started:

Who’s on first? President Hu, that is. Know who he is? He’s the leader of the Chinese government and their local chapter of the Communist Party. This soft-faced, well-spoken man is noted for both his work to green up the country’s industrialization and his “China’s Peaceful Rise” policy, which, just as it sounds, is an attempt to convince the world that everyone benefits from China’s bulging military. Incidentally, Hu was the party chief in Tibet during 1989, when the big crackdown came there—including the killing of the Panchen Lama (the Dali’s number two man). This bit of political success began his rise to where he is today.

Contrary to popular opinion, Kim Jong-il is not the president of North Korea. That honor belongs to his father, Kim Il-sung. Fortunately for Jong-il, his father, the “Eternal President”, has been dead since 1994. This makes the old man perhaps the most perfect puppet government ever conceived. Equally convenient is the lack of elections required for Jong-il, because he isn’t the president. He’s just that crazy-haired, huge-glasses guy who controls all the nukes.

For the last year, South Korean minister Ban Ki-moon has been the General Secretary of the United Nations. Here in America, the U.N. is regularly downplayed as the so-called organization that is powerless to stop us from invading Iraq or doing whatever the hell else we want. But Secretary Ban has real potential to make the U.N. seem like it’s back in charge. He didn’t condemning Hussein’s controversial execution and he’s done less than nothing for either Taiwan or Iran. Instead, he’s focused on no-brainers like global warming and Darfur. So there’s little fear that the U.N.’s policies will come into conflict with the way the world is already moving. After all, the best leadership is when people don’t notice they are being led.

As the “Bush of the North”, Stephen Harper is the first conservative Prime Minister of Canada since 1993. Sporting the same sort of businessman’s power suits that Bush made famous, Harper has spent unprecedented time visiting troops in Afghanistan, made a strong anti-Lebanon stance, and announced his intention to defend Canada’s claim on the Arctic waters with military strength. In fact, about the only thing that distinguishes Harper from his southern counterpart is his economic policy seems to be working.

Thirty-six percent of Mexico’s citizens still believe that President Felipe Calderón stole his office. So controversial was his election that, for several days leading up to his inauguration, there was fist-fighting on the floor of congress. Felipe is yet another North American Powersuit President (NAPP). He’s most noted for his anti-drug campaign, which included ordering the army to march into Tijuana. There, under the assumption they were all corrupt, they demanded all police officers surrender their weapons.

As a 6th Dan Black Belt in Judo, there’s no question of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s success in the WWF Superpower Slam. Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, this former KGB Major is also happy to resume Russia’s traditional role as antagonizer of the United States—granted this time with a more diplomatic angle. Harsh criticisms of just about everything Bush has endeared him around the world. And he’s a hit back home, too, going after the corrupt and the wealthy with a vigor we could use here in the west.