aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Bravo Georgia Democrat David Scott!
Tonight the US House of Representatives defeated an Amendment to the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act of 2007 by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, that would have required 20 hours a week of approved “work activitiesÃ¢â‚¬Â� to receive housing aid.
Think Progress quotes Georgia Democrat David Scott‘s impassioned response to Hensarling:
This amendment is cruel, it is cold, it is calculating, and it is pandering to the schizophrenic dichotomy that has plagued this nation since they first brought Africans on these shores from Africa. And that is the issue of race and poverty. Let me tell you something, gentleman. Where were you, where was your amendment when the Twin Towers were hit and the people in New york suffered that catastrophe? There was no cry before we gave them help. “They got to go get a job.” Everybody was there and poured in help, as they should, the American way. Where was your amendment down in Florida when the hurricanes hit down there? Nobody said, “Make ‘em work before we help them.”
In honor of Ken Starr: a hookah’s not a bong. Re-hashed.
But it does give me reason to recall that I only learned a month or so ago how hookahs work. From an article in Slate on medicinal marijuana:
Marijuana need not be burned to release its medicinal components. When the plant is heated to a degree short of combustion, its active ingredients become vapor and are released without the accompanying smoke.
That’s the secret of the hookah - vaprization! No nasty tar and nicotine. So does that mean when you use a hookah you are not really “smoking?”
No tolerance for gay-tolerant teacher
WOODBURN, Ind. School district officials have suspended the journalism teacher at a Fort Wayne-area high school two months after the student newspaper published a sophomore’s editorial advocating tolerance for homosexuals.
Woodlan Junior-Senior High School teacher Amy Sorrell says she was told yesterday that she had been placed on paid leave while East Allen County School officials review whether her contract should be terminated.
After the editorial ran in the Woodlan Tomahawk’s January 19 issue, school district officials told Sorrell and the newspaper’s staff that Principal Ed Yoder would need to approve all content before future issues were printed. Yoder also gave Sorrell a written warning for insubordination and failing to carry out her responsibilities as a teacher.
In recent weeks, the school corporation has tweaked its student newspaper policy to clarify that the principal of a building is to serve as the publisher of the newspaper and should be familiar with its content before distribution.
The change was primarily in the wording of the policy and does not change the intent, Melin said.
“The principal has the ultimate obligation to know what the content is,” he said. “We’re holding everyone accountable for what’s occurring with student publications. We’re not saying it’s all on the adviser or the students. The principal has the ultimate responsibility, but it’s a shared responsibility of the adviser and principal. That’s why it’s critical that they work together.”
Advance Indians says, “The problem here is the students are actually better informed, more mature and apparently more educated than the people trying to run the school. How sad.”
Pam has the full text of the student editorial.
Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America
Last week a panel of Georgia lawmakers signed off on a plan to create a Confederate heritage month here in the peach state. This week our Senate put off its resolution apologizing for slavery. Initially expected Monday, now they say maybe later in the week.
In that context I note two posts this week from Andrew Sullivan. One points to a Thinkery post about an art exhibit in Tallahassee depicting the lynching of the confederate flag. The other to the website Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America.
For some background on the Without Sanctuary photo exhibit - and the book and Emory University conference that was organized around it - see Peter Rachleff’s Lynching And Racial Violence: Histories & Legacies Report From A Conference:
In the 1980s, James Allen, a white southerner sympathetic to the struggle against racism, began to collect these photographs and postcards while making his rounds of antique and junk shops, flea markets, and private dealers across the South. The images captured the horrible history of lynchings in trees, bridges, and towers, and atop bonfires.
He also purchased posed shots of the mobs, their members staring unabashedly into the camera’s lens. As Allen’s collection grew, the idea of exhibiting the images publicly occurred to him, and, in 1999, they made their first appearance in a small museum in New York City--thirty-odd worn snapshots and postcards, collectively titled “Without Sanctuary.”
Viewers had to get close to see the images, and they had to stand close to each other. Waiting lines circled the block, even in cold, wintry weather. The exhibit eventually transferred to the New York Historical Society, where a collection of anti-lynching movement tracts, posters, and materials from the 1890s through the 1930s were added, with notebooks provided for viewers to record their thoughts and emotions.
I’m with those who are ambivalent about an apology. Who needs it; way too little, way too late. I particularly oppose it if it turns out to be nothing but cover - or “balance” - for a Confederate heritage month.
Back in 2005 as the United States Senate was considering its resolution apologizing for slavery - passed that June, not unanimously - Nightline did an excellent piece on lynching. In it Ted Koppel said:
Records can be found for about 5,000 lynchings between 1882 and 1968. The actual number is almost certainly much greater. And the dragging death of a black man, James Byrd jr., by a southern white man in 1998 should serve at least to keep an awareness of lynching alive into the lifetime of every American Adult alive today. For whatever reasons, racial sensitivity, National shame, lack of curiosity, lynching has never received the historical attention it deserves.
An apology is lip service; a national monument better; but still only the least we can do.
Animal Rights v. Animal Welfare
I’ll use the story of the Berlin animal rights activist calling for the death of the zoo-born polar bear to quote again from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Pollan believes “animal rights” is a parochial, urban, ideological and anthropocentric construct (page 325):
It could only thrive in a world where people have lost contact with the natural world, where animals no longer pose any threat to us (a fairly recent development), and our mastery of nature seems unchallenged. “In our normal life,” [Princeton bioethics professor and Animal Liberation author Peter] Singer writes, “there is no serious clash of interests between human and nonhuman animals.” Such a statement assumes a decidedly citified version of “normal life,” certainly one no farmer-indeed, no gardener-would recognize.
The farmer would point out to the vegan that even she has a “serious clash of interests” with other animals. The grain that the vegan eats is harvested with a combine that shreds field mice, while the farmer’s tractor wheel crushes woodchucks in their burrows and his pesticides drop songbirds from the sky; after harvest whatever animals that would eat our crops we exterminate. Killing animals is probably unavoidable no matter what we choose to eat. If America were suddenly to adopt a strictly vegetarian diet, it isn’t at all clear that the total number of animals killed each year would necessarily decline, since to feed everyone animal pasture and rangeland would have to give way to more intensively cultivated row crops. If our goal is to kill as few animals as possible people should probably try to eat the largest possible animal that can live on the least cultivated land: grass-finished steaks for everyone.
The vegan utopia would also condemn people in many parts of the country to importing all their food from distant places. In New England, for example, the hilliness of the land and rockiness of the soil has dictated an agriculture based on grass and animals since the time of the Puritans. Indeed, the New England landscape, with its rolling patchwork of forest and fields outlined by fieldstone walls, is in some sense a creation of the domestic animals that have lived there (and so in turn of their eaters). The world is full of places where the best, if not the only, way to obtain food from the land is by grazing (and hunting) animals on it - especially ruminants, which alone can transform grass into protein.
To give up eating animals is to give up on these places as human habitat, unless of course we are willing to make complete our dependence on a highly industrialized national food chain. That food chain would be in turn even more dependent than it already is on fossil fuels and chemical fertilizer, since food would need to travel even farther and fertility - in the form of manures - would be in short supply. Indeed, it is doubtful you can build a genuinely sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production. If our concern is for the health of nature - rather than, say, the internal consistency of our moral code or the condition of our souls - then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do.
More, better, best
Bill McKibben’s Reversal of Fortune in Mother Jones observes that, “Up to a certain point, more really does equal better.”
Apparently that point is $10,000 per capita; money really does buy happiness up to that point - “it’s like the freezing point of water, one of those random figures that just happens to define a crucial phenomenon on our planet.” We in the U.S. passed that point long ago. McKibben’s conclusion, economic growth no longer makes us happier:
If happiness was our goal, then the unbelievable amount of effort and resources expended in its pursuit since 1950 has been largely a waste. One study of life satisfaction and mental health by Emory University professor Corey Keyes found just 17 percent of Americans “flourishing,” in mental health terms, and 26 percent either “languishing” or out-and-out depressed.
The article makes many good points, then concludes with a call for “re-localizing economies” and, for its concluding example, looks at sustainable agriculture:
We assume, because it makes a certain kind of intuitive sense, that industrialized farming is the most productive farming. A vast Midwestern field filled with high-tech equipment ought to produce more food than someone with a hoe in a small garden. Yet the opposite is true. If you are after getting the greatest yield from the land, then smaller farms in fact produce more food.
If you are one guy on a tractor responsible for thousands of acres, you grow your corn and that’s all you can do-make pass after pass with the gargantuan machine across a sea of crop. But if you’re working 10 acres, then you have time to really know the land, and to make it work harder… According to the government’s most recent agricultural census, smaller farms produce far more food per acre, whether you measure in tons, calories, or dollars. In the process, they use land, water, and oil much more efficiently; if they have animals, the manure is a gift, not a threat to public health. To feed the world, we may actually need lots more small farms.
But if this is true, then why do we have large farms? Why the relentless consolidation? There are many reasons, including the way farm subsidies have been structured, the easier access to bank loans (and politicians) for the big guys, and the convenience for food-processing companies of dealing with a few big suppliers. But the basic reason is this: We substituted oil for people. Tractors and synthetic fertilizer instead of farmers and animals. Could we take away the fossil fuel, put people back on the land in larger numbers, and have enough to eat?
The best data to answer that question comes from an English agronomist named Jules Pretty, who has studied nearly 300 sustainable agriculture projects in 57 countries around the world. They might not pass the U.S. standards for organic certification, but they’re all what he calls “low-input.” Pretty found that over the past decade, almost 12 million farmers had begun using sustainable practices on about 90 million acres. Even more remarkably, sustainable agriculture increased food production by 79 percent per acre. These were not tiny isolated demonstration farms-Pretty studied 14 projects where 146,000 farmers across a broad swath of the developing world were raising potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cassava, and he found that practices such as cover-cropping and fighting pests with natural adversaries had increased production 150 percent-17 tons per household. With 4.5 million small Asian grain farmers, average yields rose 73 percent. When Indonesian rice farmers got rid of pesticides, their yields stayed the same but their costs fell sharply.
“I acknowledge,” says Pretty, “that all this may sound too good to be true for those who would disbelieve these advances. Many still believe that food production and nature must be separated, that ‘agroecological’ approaches offer only marginal opportunities to increase food production, and that industrialized approaches represent the best, and perhaps only, way forward. However, prevailing views have changed substantially in just the last decade.”
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
William Saletan on the arrival of mind-reading machines:
To get a clear snapshot of free will, [John-Dylan Haynes, a brilliant researcher at Germany’s Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience] designed an experiment that would isolate it from other mental functions. No objects to interpret; no physical movements to anticipate or execute; no reasoning to perform. Participants were put in an fMRI machine and were told they would soon be shown the word “select,” followed a few seconds later by two numbers. Their job was to covertly decide, when they saw the “select” cue, whether to add or subtract the unseen numbers. Then, they were to perform the chosen calculation and punch a button corresponding to the correct answer. The snapshot was taken right after the “select” cue, when they had nothing to do but choose addition or subtraction. [...]
The computer got it right 71 percent of the time.
I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone want a machine to read his mind? But imagine being paralyzed, unable to walk, type, or speak. Imagine a helmet full of electrodes, or a chip implanted in your head, that lets your brain tell your computer which key to press. Those technologies are already here. And why endure the agony of mental hunt-and-peck? Why not design computers that, like a smart secretary, can discern and execute even abstract intentions? That’s what Haynes has in mind. You want to open a folder or an e-mail, and your computer does it. Your wish is its command.