aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Foes of Sex Trade Stung by Spitzer’s Crash
One advocate said of Spitzer, “he was our hero.” NYTimes:
As New York’s attorney general, Eliot Spitzer had broken up prostitution rings before, but this 2004 case took on a special urgency for him. Prosecuting an international sex tourism business based in Queens, he listened to the entreaties of women’s advocates long frustrated by state laws that fell short of dealing with a sex trade expanding rapidly across borders.
And with his typical zeal, he embraced their push for new legislation, including a novel idea at its heart: Go after the men who seek out prostitutes.
It was a question of supply and demand, they all agreed. And one effective way to suppress the demand was to raise the penalties for patronizing a prostitute. In his first months as governor last year, Mr. Spitzer signed the bill into law.
Speaking of crashes, Spitzer traffic crashed the Times website beginning at 2 p.m. yesterday:
We asked the NYT if the website trouble was the result of the Spitzer scoop, and spokesperson Diane McNulty confirmed that it was, saying that traffic had spiked shortly after the Spitzer article was posted. McNulty said that the hourly Web site traffic between 2-4 pm was a whopping 60% higher that during the same time frame last Monday; meanwhile, NYT mobile almost doubled its traffic for the same time period. Wow — those are pretty big numbers, especially given that eveything is spiking lately due to the election (recall that last Monday was the day before the Ohio-Texas primaries, and there was tons of interest across the board). [...]
These stories are huge traffic drivers across the board, and here’s another example: The Drudge Report linked to the NY Observer story on its top at around 3 p.m. this afternoon, and the traffic spike temporarily disabled the link and, presumably, has been responsible for site slowness since then (since the piece is still linked in the headlines on Drudge).
Update II: McNulty kindly answered our follow-up question asking if this had ever happened before. Her response: Yes, twice: Once on September 11, 2001 ("we were overwhelmed by the amount of traffic and some people had trouble getting through") and then again on Nov. 12, 2001 when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Queens (McNulty said they had “load issues” but it wasn’t as bad as 9/11). Said McNulty: “It’s hard to tell how either one compares to today’s event given that we have almost 10 times the bandwidth now.”
RELATED: Talk Left has Jeff Toobin thinking he’s holding out for a misdemeanor with a resignation possible tomorrow.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Pay to keep the carbon sponge!
We tend to emphasize the need to cut back on carbon emissions, while the flip side of the problem—deforestation, the depletion of one of the earth’s two essential carbon sponges (the other is the ocean)—proceeds unnoticed:
Just two countries-Indonesia and Brazil-account for about ten per cent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Neither possesses the type of heavy industry that can be found in the West, or for that matter in Russia or India. Still, only the United States and China are responsible for greater levels of emissions. That is because tropical forests in Indonesia and Brazil are disappearing with incredible speed. “It’s really very simple,” John O. Niles told me. Niles, the chief science and policy officer for the environmental group Carbon Conservation, argues that spending five billion dollars a year to prevent deforestation in countries like Indonesia would be one of the best investments the world could ever make. “The value of that land is seen as consisting only of the value of its lumber,” he said. “A logging company comes along and offers to strip the forest to make some trivial wooden product, or a palm-oil plantation. The governments in these places have no cash. They are sitting on this resource that is doing nothing for their economy. So when a guy says, â€˜I will give you a few hundred dollars if you let me cut down these trees,’ it’s not easy to turn your nose up at that. Those are dollars people can spend on schools and hospitals.” [...]
“This is the greatest remaining opportunity we have to help address global warming,” Niles told me. “It’s a no-brainer. People are paying money to go in and destroy those forests. We just have to pay more to prevent that from happening.” Niles’s group has proposed a trade: “If you save your forest and we can independently audit and verify it, we will calculate the emissions you have saved and pay you for that.” The easiest way to finance such a plan, he is convinced, would be to use carbon-trading allowances. Anything that prevents carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere would have value that could be quantified and traded. Since undisturbed farmland has the same effect as not emitting carbon dioxide at all, people could create allowances by leaving their forests untouched or by planting new trees. [...]
From both a political and an economic perspective, it would be easier and cheaper to reduce the rate of deforestation than to cut back significantly on air travel. It would also have a far greater impact on climate change and on social welfare in the developing world. Possessing rights to carbon would grant new power to farmers who, for the first time, would be paid to preserve their forests rather than destroy them. Unfortunately, such plans are seen by many people as morally unattractive. “The whole issue is tied up with the misconceived notion of â€˜carbon colonialism,’ “ Niles told me. “Some activists do not want the Third World to have to alter their behavior, because the problem was largely caused by us in the West.”
Monday, February 25, 2008
Don’t confuse morality and science
If you missed Michael Specter’s BIG FOOT: In measuring carbon emissions, it’s easy to confuse morality and science in last weeks New Yorker, you really, really ought to go read it!
I won’t begin to capture it here, so I won’t even try. This isn’t where he starts, but it’s a very important point:
How do we alter human behavior significantly enough to limit global warming? Personal choices, no matter how virtuous, cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.
How about labels?
In order to develop the label for Walkers [potato chips], researchers had to calculate the amount of energy required to plant seeds for the ingredients (sunflower oil and potatoes), as well as to make the fertilizers and pesticides used on those potatoes. Next, they factored in the energy required for diesel tractors to collect the potatoes, then the effects of chopping, cleaning, storing, and bagging them. The packaging and printing processes also emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as does the petroleum used to deliver those crisps to stores. Finally, the research team assessed the impact of throwing the empty bags in the trash, collecting the garbage in a truck, driving to a landfill, and burying them. In the end, the researchers-from the Carbon Trust-found that seventy-five grams of greenhouse gases are expended in the production of every individual-size bag of potato chips.
“Crisps are easy,” Murlis had told me. “They have only one important ingredient, and the potatoes are often harvested near the factory.” We were sitting in a deserted hotel lounge in Central London, and Murlis stirred his tea slowly, then frowned. “Let’s just assume every mother cares about the environment-what then?” he asked. “Should the carbon content matter more to her than the fat content or the calories in the products she buys?”
Should I be a locavore?
Many factors influence the carbon footprint of a product: water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quantity and type of fertilizer, even the type of fuel used to make the package. Sea-freight emissions are less than a sixtieth of those associated with airplanes, and you don’t have to build highways to berth a ship. Last year, a study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that it is actually more “green” for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeaux, which is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck. That is largely because shipping wine is mostly shipping glass. The study found that “the efficiencies of shipping drive a â€˜green line’ all the way to Columbus, Ohio, the point where a wine from Bordeaux and Napa has the same carbon intensity.”
The environmental burden imposed by importing apples from New Zealand to Northern Europe or New York can be lower than if the apples were raised fifty miles away. “In New Zealand, they have more sunshine than in the U.K., which helps productivity,” Williams explained. That means the yield of New Zealand apples far exceeds the yield of those grown in northern climates, so the energy required for farmers to grow the crop is correspondingly lower. It also helps that the electricity in New Zealand is mostly generated by renewable sources, none of which emit large amounts of CO2. Researchers at Lincoln University, in Christchurch, found that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped eleven thousand miles by boat to England produced six hundred and eighty-eight kilograms of carbon-dioxide emissions per ton, about a fourth the amount produced by British lamb. In part, that is because pastures in New Zealand need far less fertilizer than most grazing land in Britain (or in many parts of the United States). Similarly, importing beans from Uganda or Kenya-where the farms are small, tractor use is limited, and the fertilizer is almost always manure-tends to be more efficient than growing beans in Europe, with its reliance on energy-dependent irrigation systems.
Plasma or LCD?
Watching a plasma television for three hours every day contributes two hundred and fifty kilograms of carbon to the atmosphere each year; an LCD television is responsible for less than half that number.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Battling hospital-acquired infections. With checklists
Two million patients get bacterial infections from health-care workers each year. Nearly 100,000 of them die as a result.
Dr. Richard Shannon, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, believes these infections are preventable. He says medicine can learn from industry.
Shannon was interviewed on Fresh Air last week:
I spent time at Alcoa, where I learned the Alcoa business model as to how they went about identifying any unsafe condition that might pose a risk to a worker. And then Paul O’Neill exposed me to the Toyota production system model, where I went to Georgetown, Kentucky, and I watched them make automobiles. And Toyota is the world’s greatest manufacturer of automobiles because their processes are defect free. And I watched how they relentlessly pursued excellence by doing processes the same way every time. And that said to me, if we went back to hospitals and we took the same approach...we might be able to achieve similar sorts of very impressive results. [...]
I think that doctors and nurses are engaging in regular hand hygiene much more commonly. But are they doing it a hundred percent of the time? No. And what my point would be is they must do it a hundred percent of the time. In order to do that, we have to make that process simply a part of their work.
The interview with Shannon reminded me of a an outstanding New Yorker article from last December, THE CHECKLIST, If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do? by Atul Gawande:
In 2001, though, a critical-care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital named Peter Pronovost decided to give it a try. He didn’t attempt to make the checklist cover everything; he designed it to tackle just one problem, the one that nearly killed Anthony DeFilippo: line infections. On a sheet of plain paper, he plotted out the steps to take in order to avoid infections when putting a line in. Doctors are supposed to (1) wash their hands with soap, (2) clean the patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic, (3) put sterile drapes over the entire patient, (4) wear a sterile mask, hat, gown, and gloves, and (5) put a sterile dressing over the catheter site once the line is in. Check, check, check, check, check. These steps are no-brainers; they have been known and taught for years. So it seemed silly to make a checklist just for them. Still, Pronovost asked the nurses in his I.C.U. to observe the doctors for a month as they put lines into patients, and record how often they completed each step. In more than a third of patients, they skipped at least one.
The next month, he and his team persuaded the hospital administration to authorize nurses to stop doctors if they saw them skipping a step on the checklist; nurses were also to ask them each day whether any lines ought to be removed, so as not to leave them in longer than necessary. This was revolutionaryâ€¦ The new rule made it clear: if doctors didn’t follow every step on the checklist, the nurses would have backup from the administration to intervene.
Pronovost and his colleagues monitored what happened for a year afterward. The results were so dramatic that they weren’t sure whether to believe them: the ten-day line-infection rate went from eleven per cent to zeroâ€¦ They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs. [...]
The checklists provided two main benefits, Pronovost observed. First, they helped with memory recall, especially with mundane matters that are easily overlooked in patients undergoing more drastic eventsâ€¦ A second effect was to make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes. Pronovost was surprised to discover how often even experienced personnel failed to grasp the importance of certain precautionsâ€¦ Checklists established a higher standard of baseline performance.
So if checklists are so good, why haven’t we heard more about them?
Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” tells the story of our first astronauts, and charts the demise of the maverick, Chuck Yeager test-pilot culture of the nineteen-fifties. It was a culture defined by how unbelievably dangerous the job was. Test pilots strapped themselves into machines of barely controlled power and complexity, and a quarter of them were killed on the job. The pilots had to have focus, daring, wits, and an ability to improvise-the right stuff. But as knowledge of how to control the risks of flying accumulated-as checklists and flight simulators became more prevalent and sophisticated-the danger diminished, values of safety and conscientiousness prevailed, and the rock-star status of the test pilots was gone.
Something like this is going on in medicine. We have the means to make some of the most complex and dangerous work we do-in surgery, emergency care, and I.C.U. medicine-more effective than we ever thought possible. But the prospect pushes against the traditional culture of medicine, with its central belief that in situations of high risk and complexity what you want is a kind of expert audacity-the right stuff, again. Checklists and standard operating procedures feel like exactly the opposite, and that’s what rankles many people.
The still limited response to Pronovost’s work may be easy to explain, but it is hard to justify. If someone found a new drug that could wipe out infections with anything remotely like the effectiveness of Pronovost’s lists, there would be television ads with Robert Jarvik extolling its virtues, detail men offering free lunches to get doctors to make it part of their practice, government programs to research it, and competitors jumping in to make a newer, better versionâ€¦ But, with the checklist, what we have is Peter Pronovost trying to see if maybe, in the next year or two, hospitals in Rhode Island and New Jersey will give his idea a try.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Transplanted Media Reality
Over the weekend I read in passing of the Dutch Big Organ Donor Show reality series. The ratings grabbing gimmick was that the winner would get a life-saving kidney; the shock turned out to be that the show was a purposeful hoax. The purpose? To get the policy changed in Holland from an opt-in organ donor program to an opt-out program (which is something of the norm in Europe).
I didn’t see it so I can’t say. But listening to the Chairman of BNN Networks, Laurens Drillrich, describe his idea and how they did it to commemorate a colleague who died of a kidney-related disease, I was persuaded of the legitimacy of the tactic. If you still have any doubt, consider this observation:
We had a very clear message, which was about organ donorship. Our message was not let’s try and see how far reality television has gone, because to a large extent we as BNN also contributed to that. We’re not hypocrites. We’re not going to complain about that.
It does say something about ways that you have to find to try to attract attention. It’s very clear that if we would have done a documentary about the three contestants - the three contestants were real kidney patients and they are on the waiting list - if we would have made a documentary with these three people to show their lives and to show their suffering, we would have had an audience of maybe 60,000 or 70,000 people and we would have had one or two small articles in a newspaper.
Now people talked about this show and about organ donorship constantly for a full week, and we had a 1.7 million rating, which is extremely high in Holland. So in that way, it does say something - that if you want to get your message across, very traditional things do not work any more.
Does anyone doubt that’s true? Thus, given the media landscape we all must live in, the idea was brilliantly effective.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
When Kids Get Life
America needs to watch this devastatingly powerful Frontline documentary:
The United States is one of the only countries in the world that allows children under 18 to be sentenced to life without parole. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that more than 2,000 inmates are currently serving life without parole in the United States for crimes committed when they were juveniles; in the rest of the world, there are only 12 juveniles serving the same sentence, according to figures reported to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
A doctor redefined as a non-doctor by a jury
Dr. William Hurwitz, the pain management physician originally convicted in 2004 of over 50 counts of distributing narcotics, was found guilty in his retrial Friday on sixteen counts of drug-dealing. John Tierney on the compromise federal jury verdict:
I asked the three jurors what they made of the distinction made by Dr. Hurwitz’s lawyers and by the judge: that this trial was not a malpractice case. In legalese, the jurors were to decide not whether Dr. Hurwitz had provided the proper “standard of care,” but whether he had violated the Controlled Substances Act by prescribing drugs “outside the bounds of medical practice.” The jurors said they were all aware of the distinction, but none of them claimed to understand it.
“I don’t know that I know enough to be clear about that gray area between malpractice and out of bounds,” Juror 1 said.
“We just had to go with our gut,” Juror 2 said.
“That was definitely a struggle,” Juror 3 said. “That was a gray area.”
Again, I can’t blame the jurors for being confused, because lawyers can’t agree on this distinction either. And that’s why, in the end, I think Dr. Hurwitz’s problem was not so much with the jurors as with the law. The Controlled Substances Act is a ass - or at least it’s been turned into one by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice.
A doctor is obviously acting outside the bounds of medical practice when he’s intentionally prescribing OxyContin not as medicine but as inventory to drug dealers. But as the law has come to be applied by narcotics agents and federal prosecutors, a doctor who is genuinely trying to treat pain can still be sent to prison. Lapses in medical judgment - or even just differences in medical judgment - have been criminalized. A doctor can be suddenly redefined as a non-doctor. All it takes is a second opinion from a jury.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and debt dismay
The national pastime has gotten costly for a family these days. $80 tickets for the dugout; $23 for the Pavilion Right Field Bleachers in Wednesday’s Atlanta Braves game with the Philadelphia Phillies. Credit Slips:
The Atlanta Braves recently became the first sports franchise to offer a finance plan for their tickets. Articles here and here give some details. Essentially,if you are spending $200 or more, GE Money will offer so-called "90 days same-as-cash" financing. If you don’t pay before 90 days, then the APR is between 20 and 25 percent. The Braves management says that they have lots of fans who "want the ticket package" but "don’t have that amount of cash on hand." Is this what we mean when we say that the democratization of credit improves consumers’ quality of life? Maybe the answer depends on whether you are a Braves fan, or even a baseball fan?
No word on whether you can finance the hot dogs.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I’ve been meaning to post this since I heard it last fall in a podcast of the 5-part Food, Ethics and the Environment Conference at Princeton. Events this week make it more timely than ever. I will be quoting it often.
In his keynote speech, “The True Cost of Cheapness,” journalist and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser articulates the limits of personal responsibility and how it plays into the interests of our corporate food system:
[from the podcast at 01:02:13] For the last 25 years we have been preached a gospel of personal responsibility and personal freedom. That is what has been drummed into our head for the past twenty-five years. Personal responsibility. And I believe in that. I believe in personal responsibility and personal freedom.
But I’m now worried that my own work has stressed that element too much. And this whole idea that every purchase that you make is a vote, and that every purchase that you make has a ripple effect, and that we all must be responsible and ethical consumers. Well, I agree with that, but at the same time there is a pressure on all of us to be pure, to be morally pure, to think that we’re really going to change the world by what we buy and...it gets really hard to be pure. It’s complicated. Well, should I be buying organic or local or should IÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ What should I do?
The pressure is on us and I think that what we buy can make a difference and that we are responsible and that we do have an obligation. But I think that changing the world by what you buy is only going to go so far. And it only works to a point. And after that point I think it is delusion that as consumers we are going to change that system fundamentally or we are going to change the world.
Missing from the discourse, missing from the dialog over the last twenty-five years have been a couple of other phrases. One of them is “corporate responsibility” and the other one is “collective responsibility.” And I stand here honestly saying that I’m not pure, my purchases are not ideal, and maybe some of you in this room are pure but it’s hard to be pure in this country in the year 2006. But ultimately the problems that...I’ve tried to outline are not due to individual faults. They’re really not. They have been caused by big systems. Systems of belief, systems of production, systems of making a profit. And without looking at them from a systemic approach there is no possibility of meaningful change...what we do as consumers isn’t going to make a profound difference. And I think we cannot allow this movement surrounding ethical eating to focus only on our personal responsibility and on consumer power.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
NBC & the video
Siva’s right, material from the killer should not have aired, releasing the video was disrespectful to the victims and their families. And… from the moment I heard there was a video there was no question it would be shown. There’s no stopping it these days - I’m not sure I want to; time, place and manner is another question - but I was shocked to see it the very next day. On another network.
Which puts the lie to NBC’s claim of agonized sensitivity: the NBC News logo, in color, was on every frame. If there was even the slightest notion of some serving of the public interest by showing that video, it was undone by that logo’s branding of the video. It underscored the craven nature of the showing.
In an ideal world I’d hand the material over to officials. Wait for the story to cool. Release without logos (and not with the intention of keeping the story going). Maybe put it on the web, but then every other network would put it on the air anyway.
RELATED LISTENING: Radio Open Source, “what, exactly, is new here? Besides the zeros and the ones, and the ease of dissemination and reconfiguration, is there a difference between a 19th-century suicide note and a 21st-century QuickTime movie?”
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Lying and Lax Lending Aided Real Estate Fraud
The real estate analogue to resume padding:
Mortgage lenders in theory have a right to compare loan documents to a buyer’s tax returns, but they rarely do. In the few cases where it has been done, results were startling. In a study published by the Mortgage Asset Research Institute, one lender sampled 100 stated-income loan applicants and found that 90 had exaggerated take-home pay by 5 percent or more and that nearly 60 inflated their pay by more than 50 percent.
That from a WaPo story looking at rampant fraud in the mortgage industry. Atlanta was among those cities hardest hit. The fraud hurt honest home buyers first by artificially inflating prices and later by putting several thousand homes into foreclosure, driving down values. The suggestion is that fraud played a role in fueling the real estate bubble; the point in the excerpt above is that lenders didn’t bother checking.
By the way, lying about your income on a mortgage application is a federal crime.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Those of you who read me regularly will know that I am a Google fan; I’ve even waxed on about the appeal of Google ruling the world. I hate to be fickle but yesterday I got this email from the AdSense Team and now I’m having second thoughts about a Google ruler:
While reviewing your account, we noticed that you are currently displaying Google ads in a manner that is not compliant with our policies. For instance, we found violations of AdSense policies on pages such as http://atypicaljoe.com/index.php? /site/comments/support_for_gays_in_the_nba/.
Publishers are not permitted to encourage users to click on Google ads or bring excessive attention to ad units. For example, your site cannot contain phrases such as “click the ads,” “support our sponsors,” “visit these recommended links,” or other similar language that could apply to the Google ads on your site. Publishers may not use arrows or other symbols to direct attention to the ads on their sites, and publishers may not label the Google ads with text other than “sponsored links” or “advertisements.”
Please make any necessary changes to your web pages in the next 3 business days. We also suggest that you take the time to review our program policies (https://www.google.com/adsense/policies) to ensure that all of your other pages are in compliance.
Once you update your site, we will automatically detect the changes and ad serving will not be affected. If you choose not to make the changes to your account within the next three days, your account will remain active but you will no longer be able to display ads on the site. Please note, however, that we may disable your account if further violations are found in the future.
Thank you for your cooperation.
The Google AdSense Team
I have to say I am taken aback. Click through to the offending post and you’ll find that it simply quotes another blog with very little commentary of my own. I have no idea what the Googlebot found but I have NOT edited the page and there’s certainly nothing that violates the Google policy.
I’m hardly going to bother urging my humble hundred-plus readers to click an ad. What am I stupid? Like I’d think that would make me some money?
Their ads run on this site but they sit there ignored by me. Google owes me one hundred thirty something dollars for a year’s worth of ads; I’ve never bothered doing the tax form necessary in order for them to send a check. I don’t care about their piddly few bucks (if I did I’d want to know something about their payout formula).
UPDATE: Two business days later, I heard back. Indeed I had violated the policy:
Thanks for following up with us. For clarification, the following language is found on your site in the “Joe’s AdBar” section of your pages that we feel may encourage users to click on the Google ads that you’re displaying on your site:
“Please support my sponsors”
We kindly ask that you remove either the ads from pages with the previously mentioned language or remove the language from your site.
The Google AdSense Team
I’ve removed the offending language. While I see now that it clearly was a violation, I thought of it as such benign boilerplate that I really didn’t remember it was there even after rereading their policies to see what I’d done wrong. The request couldn’t have been more polite. I am chastened and contrite.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Many of his patients, he explained, must pay for their drugs out-of-pocket, and yet even the generic drugs at pharmacy chains like Walgreens, Eckerd, and CVS could cost them dearly.
So Wolf began snooping around and found that two chains, Costco and Sam’s Club, sold generics at prices far, far below the other chains. Even once you factor in the cost of buying a membership at Costco and Sam’s Club, the price differences were astounding. Here are the prices he found at Houston stores for 90 tablets of generic Prozac:
Sam’s Club: $15
Those aren’t typos. Walgreens charges $117 for a bottle of the same pills for which Costco charges $12.
I was skeptical at first. Why on earth, I asked Wolf, would anyone in his right mind fill his generic prescription at Walgreen’s instead of Costco?
His answer: if a retiree is used to filling his prescriptions at Walgreens, that’s where he fills his prescriptions — and he assumes that the price of a generic drug (or, perhaps, any drug) is pretty much the same at any pharmacy.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Remember, Newt Gingrich is a crybaby & a hypocrite
I think I followed the impeachment saga about as closely as an average citizen could. I was so shocked and appalled I made some personal enemies with my vehement opposition to what was obviously an undemocratic usurpation of the constitution against the will of the people. You didn’t have to be clairvoyant to know that it was a partisan feeding frenzy that portended the illegal abuse of power that we are seeing today.
And I knew all about Newtie, or at least I thought I did. His immature peevishness was obvious, as that famous Daily News cover shows. But even though I am pretty well informed about this period, I was unaware of this piece that I came across this morning, written in 1998 by a very well-connected journalist for whom I have the utmost respect, Elizabeth Drew… READ ON
A new word for the lexicon:
typocrite (’tip-uh-krit noun): A typical Republican hypocrite.
1 : a typical Republican who fakes good by putting on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2 : a typical Republican who fakes good but acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings
3 : a typical Republican whose need for self-gratificaton extends to the public sphere
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
A call for glass walls
There’s a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig-an animal easily as intelligent as a dog-that becomes the Christmas ham.
We tolerate this disconnect because the life of the pig has moved out of view. When’s the last time you saw a pig? (Babe doesn’t count.) Except for our pets, real animals-animals living and dying-no longer figure in our everyday lives. Meat comes from the grocery store, where it is cut and packaged to look as little like parts of animals as possible. The disappearance of animals from our lives has opened a space in which there’s no reality check, either on the sentiment or the brutality. Several years ago, the English critic John Berger wrote an essay, ‘’Why Look at Animals?’’ in which he suggested that the loss of everyday contact between ourselves and animals-and specifically the loss of eye contact-has left us deeply confused about the terms of our relationship to other species. That eye contact, always slightly uncanny, had provided a vivid daily reminder that animals were at once crucially like and unlike us; in their eyes we glimpsed something unmistakably familiar (pain, fear, tenderness) and something irretrievably alien. Upon this paradox people built a relationship in which they felt they could both honor and eat animals without looking away.
Since reading that, I look animals in the eye. In his most recent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, there’s another passage that calls on us to honor the animals we eat by not looking away - from slaughterhouses (p.332):
Sometimes I think that all it would take to clarify our feelings about eating meat, and in the process begin to redeem animal agriculture, would be to simply pass a law requiring all the sheet-metal walls of all the CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operation], and even the concrete walls of the slaughterhouses, to be replaced with glass. If there’s any new right we need to establish, maybe this is the one: The right, I mean, to look. No doubt the sight of some of these places would turn many people into vegetarians. Many others would look elsewhere for their meat, to farmers willing to raise and kill their animals transparently. Such farms exist; so do a handful of small processing plants willing to let customers onto the kill floor, including one-Lorentz Meats, in Cannon Falls, Minnesota-that is so confident of their treatment of animals that they have walled their abattoir in glass.
The industrialization-and brutalization-of animals in America is a relatively new, evitable, and local phenomenon: No other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do. No other people in history has lived at quite so great a remove from the animals they eat. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do. Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering four hundred head of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end-for who could stand the sight? Yes, meat would get more expensive. We’d probably eat a lot less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals we’d eat them with the consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve.
Video: A Peta primer. If you’re willing to watch.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
A philosophically interesting question
We are always ready to find dignity in human beings, including those whose mental age will never exceed that of an infant, but we don’t attribute dignity to dogs or cats, though they clearly operate at a more advanced mental level than human infants. Just making that comparison provokes outrage in some quarters. But why should dignity always go together with species membership, no matter what the characteristics of the individual may be?
Friday, January 26, 2007
Peter Singer on Ashley’s Treatment
The Food, Ethics and the Environment conference I’ve been talking about lately was put together by Peter Singer. As it happens, today Singer has an OpEd in the Times about The “Ashley Treatment.” Ashely is a little girl born with static encephalopathy, a condition that means she may never walk, talk, eat or sit up on her own, and her mental abilities will never develop past that of a six-month-old baby. The controversial treatment will surgically limit her growth so she will never grow larger than a six-year-old child.
Singer addresses the three argument against such treatment - that it’s unnatural, that it sets us on a slippery slope and that it robs Ashley of her dignity. While I find myself in complete agreement with Singer, I can’t do justice to those arguments here. I urge you to read the piece. To better entice you, I quote his conclusion:
What matters in Ashley’s life is that she should not suffer, and that she should be able to enjoy whatever she is capable of enjoying. Beyond that, she is precious not so much for what she is, but because her parents and siblings love her and care about her. Lofty talk about human dignity should not stand in the way of children like her getting the treatment that is best both for them and their families.