aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, February 29, 2008
Obama’s Chicago politics
My prediction that Clinton will get no knock-out Tuesday assumes no bombshell before. Let’s hope that’s a safe assumption.
I’ve given Obama credit for being a tough Chicago pol. That has its downside:
With the corruption trial of one of Sen. Barack Obama’s longtime friends and supporters set to begin Monday in Chicago, Ill., reform watchdogs say it will reveal the “cesspool” of Illinois politics in which Obama came of age and has said little about in his campaign for president.
“We have a sick political culture,” said Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, “and that’s the environment that Barack Obama came from.”
Stewart says he does not understand why Obama has lectured others about corruption in Washington and Kenya but “been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state, including at this point, mostly Democratic politicians.” [...]
While Obama is not considered a target of the Rezko investigation, Stewart says it will shed light on a man who was pivotal to Obama’s political career.
“This wasn’t just some guy who wrote a check once for Barack Obama, it’s someone who was an early supporter and had a personal relationship with Sen. Obama for quite some time,” Stewart said.
Indeed, even after he was elected to the United States Senate, Obama involved Rezko in a land deal that enabled the senator to buy his current home on Chicago’s South Side.
Obama has since called his decision to involve Rezko “a bone-headed mistake.”
A Tuesday TimesOnLine piece “raises the question of whether funds from Nadhmi Auchi, one of Britain’s wealthiest men, helped Mr Obama buy his mock Georgian mansion in Chicago.”
Fodder for Republicans in the general.
But for the moment I’m wondering what it will do to the election dynamic next week. The media loves a horse race. Saturday Night Live, the press narrative about the debate, and the truth of David Plotz’s comment—“he’s basically a journalist is why we’re so gaga over him”—has them bending over backward to make it a horse race this week.
Google expands Project Homeless phone numbers
I love GrandCentral!
Google is partnering with homeless shelters in San Francisco to distribute free phone numbers and voicemail accounts to those without homes, the company said Wednesday.
The Internet giant is expanding a service that was started by Grand Central, a San Francisco-based start-up that Google acquired last year. Grand Central’s technology allows calls to be routed to a home, business, or cell phone using a single phone number. The service offers people a way to organize and unify their communications, a Google spokesman said.
Grand Central had already been offering the free phone number and voicemail service to people in San Francisco through Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Project Homeless Connect, which brings together nonprofit organizations and other social-service providers in one location to provide on-the-spot services for homeless. The services include medical, mental health, substance abuse, housing, dental, and legal services, plus free eyeglasses, California ID, food, clothing, and wheelchair repair.
Since the acquisition of Grand Central last year, Google has been participating in periodic Project Homeless Connect events in which it has been providing the homeless with free phone numbers and voicemail accounts that they can access from any phone. More than 4,000 phone numbers and voicemail accounts have been distributed this way, Craig Walker, a senior product manager of voice products for Google, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
1 in 100 behind bars in “free” America
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars but that one in 100 black women are.
Either way, said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director, “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.”
But Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah and a former federal judge, said the Pew report considered only half of the cost-benefit equation and overlooked the “very tangible benefits - lower crime rates.”
You know, that last statement is just plain disputable. Correlation is not causation. More police on the streets means less crime. But locking more people up all by itself does not reduce the crime rate.
I’ve quoted Glenn C. Loury a number of times before for asking in The Boston Review last summer, why are so many Americans in prison?
Loury says that ”we have become progressively more punitive...because we have made a collective decision to increase the rate of punishment.”
From his 5,200 word piece:
One simple measure of punitiveness is the likelihood that a person who is arrested will be subsequently incarcerated. Between 1980 and 2001, there was no real change in the chances of being arrested in response to a complaint: the rate was just under 50 percent. But the likelihood that an arrest would result in imprisonment more than doubled, from 13 to 28 percent. And because the amount of time served and the rate of prison admission both increased, the incarceration rate for violent crime almost tripled, despite the decline in the level of violence. The incarceration rate for nonviolent and drug offenses increased at an even faster pace: between 1980 and 1997 the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses tripled, and the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses increased by a factor of 11. Indeed, the criminal-justice researcher Alfred Blumstein has argued that none of the growth in incarceration between 1980 and 1996 can be attributed to more crime:The growth was entirely attributable to a growth in punitiveness, about equally to growth in prison commitments per arrest (an indication of tougher prosecution or judicial sentencing) and to longer time served (an indication of longer sentences, elimination of parole or later parole release, or greater readiness to recommit parolees to prison for either technical violations or new crimes).
This growth in punitiveness was accompanied by a shift in thinking about the basic purpose of criminal justice. In the 1970s, the sociologist David Garland argues, the corrections system was commonly seen as a way to prepare offenders to rejoin society. Since then, the focus has shifted from rehabilitation to punishment and stayed there. Felons are no longer persons to be supported, but risks to be dealt with. And the way to deal with the risks is to keep them locked up. As of 2000, 33 states had abolished limited parole (up from 17 in 1980); 24 states had introduced three-strikes laws (up from zero); and 40 states had introduced truth-in-sentencing laws (up from three). The vast majority of these changes occurred in the 1990s, as crime rates fell.
We’re locking our citizens up at rates higher than anyplace else in the industrial world—our incarceration rate is 40% higher than Russia, for example. We can kid ourselves that we’re doing it to reduce crime if we like. But one day the truth will come out, if for no other reason than the raw expense of it!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
The Talk of the Green Iguana
The rumors about Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Green Iguana just wouldn’t go away.
The story goes that the Florida governor frequented the Green Iguana, a bar in Tampa, back in the early 1990s when he was just starting his political career. He was less careful back then, people say, and during his partying at the Green Iguana, he was openly gay.
When I got Rick Calderoni, the bar’s well-known owner, on the phone, I expected him to stonewall me about it.
Calderoni, who is gay, confirmed that Crist came into his bar quite often and that the two of them became friends.
Getting to the point, I asked him if he knew Crist to be gay.
“Yes,” he answered bluntly. “I just wish he would come out and admit it. That would be a great thing if he did.”
Via Wonkette, who has more:
- One rumored ex-boyfriend of Crist’s served as regional director for Kitty Harris’ delusional, delightful U.S. Senate campaign.
- Another rumored ex-boyfriend is also an ex-felon.
- Crist is linked to a “wealthy socialite from the Hamptons” named Jennifer Faga.
- If John McCain asks Charlie Crist to be his running mate, nobody will care about any of this completely pointless, stupid, sleazy, and wrongheaded speculation.
Jack is Back - with no flag
You may remember that last weekend Jack quoted an internet email hoax that Barack Obama refused to say the pledge of allegiance to the American flag.
Clearly he thinks this schtick is working for him. I don’t understand why. The guy’s got to be living in some safely Republican past. The way I read the numbers, I’d lay off of the gratuitous attacks.
Our reddest of the red red states cast a total of only 963,541 Republican votes on February 5. Democrats cast 1,060,851 with the lion’s share, 704,247, going to Obama. Jack’s District, Georgia’s 1st, is still Republican but if the primary is any indication, only barely so. It cast a measly 787 more Republican votes.
If I were Jack I wouldn’t go questioning Obama’s patriotism now. Barack’s shown an ability to push back and he’s got him some big mo’ on his side!
What is intelligence?
You’ll remember that in a brilliant piece in a December New Yorker, What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race, Malcolm Gladwell looks at the work of James R. Flynn, a social scientist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, to convincingly refute the arguments of the “I.Q. fundamentalists.”
James Flynn spoke at the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA) on December 18, 2007. That speech was posted to UChannel last week:
The ‘Flynn Effect’ refers to the massive increase in IQ test scores over the course of the twentieth century and the term was coined to recognize Professor Flynn’s central role in measuring and analysing these gains.
Flynn’s work addresses a fundamental question regarding the IQ gains observed. Do they suggest that that previous generations had serious learning difficulties and that the human race is becoming more intelligent? Flynn argues that this is the wrong interpretation, and that while these IQ scores are real, they should be attributed to the fact that the way we think has changed.
His new book investigates what it is about our minds that differ from those of our ancestors a century ago. He also discusses how we can enhance our knowledge of intelligence, how we can increase our intelligence, and what must be done to build on IQ gains, so as to develop the wisdom needed to deal with the problems of the 21st century.
The speech is amazing! I just finished and I highly recommend it.
Flynn believes the brain is a muscle and the way to improve it is to exercise it. There’s no tricking it; no fooling kids into loving ideas if we don’t love them ourselves; they’ll see through us.
Here’s one quick quote completely out of context:
The lesson is interventions are important but there’s no quick fix. If you want a more intelligent population you’ve got to improve the schools, improve the universities and encourage people to fall in love with ideas.
RELATED: Gladwell also discussed his article in an appearance on The Colbert Report.
On cellphones in schools
Around here yesteday there was lots’o’buzz about Abilene Christian University giving out iPhones/iPod Touches to all incoming freshmen.
May I be among the first to chime in and agree with virtually all the commenters on this promotional video that the “initiative” reeks of corporate welfare gussied up as as education.
Such thin gruel—“I can check my email, I can watch YouTube...Internet on my phone, I’m pumped!” says one student. “I already downloaded the new Wilco album,” says another—does a disservice to those real initiatives that are out there trying to effectively use technology as a means to motivate and enable learning.
As it happens, on the very same day up in New York City Dr. Roland G. Fryer, the Harvard economist who is working as chief equality officer for the Education Department, was launching the “Million” Motivation Campaign, an experimental program distributing cellphones to about 2,500 students in seven middle schools there.
Privately funded, the point is to motivate and reward students; they get the phone, called the “Million,” with opportunities to earn minutes and other rewards if they achieve academic goals set by their principals.
Giving Apple iPhones to middle class kids in Texas vs. generic anyphones to disadvantaged kids in NYC. Which side do I come down on? Well, the NYC phones are Samsung phones. So generic anyphones remain a Tim Wu Freedom Fighter future we should all work toward. Still, handing out phones not tied to specific educational goals reeks of corporate welfare and makes no educational sense to me. At least in New York the phone is a motivational device tied to ongoing rewards!
There’s been plenty of criticism of the New York program (not least that cellphones are banned in schools) but most of it echoes the same old argument around whether or not paying for grades really works.
It could be my liberal bias showing but I’m seeing some hidden bias myself: giving iPods to kids in Abilene Christian—GOOD! Giving cellphones to poor kids in NYC schools tied to motivational goals, BAD! I say Bloomberg should give Klein and Fryer all the support they need to see if their idea can work. As for Abilene Christian, it looks too much like Apple hype.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tougher than marching in Selma
I just wrote a friend that I believe Hillary will pull out after Tuesday. That friend, like many of my New York friends, tries to be kind and gentle and humor me but he thinks I’m nuts for supporting Hillary in the first place and can’t hardly hide his scornful skepticism.
He shot back his doubt. I protested that the results are obvious. She needs a knock-out Tuesday. She will not get it. If she keeps on after that she’s being as bad (well, not quite) as Ralph Nader. If she keeps on after that she will lose my admiration.
I say she gets out. It may not be on Tuesday, but waiting past the 11th is just embarrassing. I said last night that I would follow John Lewis as he moved today to endorse Obama. It’s with the greatest of empathy and sincere admiration that I do that now.
When I see this video I see something honest and rare and highly estimable, admirable and desirable in an elected official. I will be very, very interested to see how history looks back on this election…
LATER: Of course it was used by Lewis’ priary opponent against him.
Homosexual vs. Gay: choose gay!
I’m a guest in a couple classes this week on diversity in education (one undergraduate and one graduate) where students will be asking about my gay identity. You’ll recall that I like Richard Thompson Ford’s notion of moving away from “diversity” and towards “integration” and Wendy Brown’s notion of moving away from “tolerance” and back to “equality and justice” for all.
Those concepts will infuse what I have to say. But I will start by handing out this article from MSNBC, I married a gay man, How one woman recovered from a heartbreaking deception:
The movie “Brokeback Mountain” turned a spotlight on gay men who lead double lives, having sex with other men while they are married to women. But that film only scratched the surface of their wives’ miserable experience. When I saw the movie, I started to cry as I watched Ennis, the young cowboy played by Heath Ledger, wed his sweetheart even though he’d been involved with another man. I wanted to scream: “It is such a lie! Don’t do it!” My mind flashed back to my own wedding day, when I was the virgin bride standing before family, friends and a minister. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
This kind of union happens more often than people may think; research done by University of Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann, Ph.D., estimated that between 1.5 million and 2.9 million American women who have ever been married had a husband who had had sex with another man. That means there are a large number of women who have no idea what their husband does in secret.
When I saw the movie, I wrote, Being gay is a choice. A homosexual proclivity may not be:
Homosexual and gay are not synonymous; all homosexuals are not gay. Homosexual acts may be circumstantial - a man in prison, a drunken evening - or experimental and do not mean an individual is homosexual by nature. But experimentation can lead to the discovery of a homosexual inclination.
Once that inclination is realized, how it is addressed matters to all of us. Because then there is a choice to be made: to accept homosexuality or to resist and fight it. To embrace it is to become gay. To resist it leads to all kinds of trouble.
In Abraham Lincoln’s day, a more agrarian time when the family was the economic unit, gay was not a choice. Had it been, I’m persuaded beyond all reasonable doubt that Lincoln might have chosen it. And that he’d have been happier if he had.
Urbanization and mobilization - particularly World War II which brought women into the workforce and men together as it took them around the world - brought with it the beginnings of a gay identity. That identity is rooted in the collective experience of those who have gone through the difficult process of making the choice to embrace their homsexuality.
I saw Brokeback Mountain yesterday. Its peculiar achievement is to show straight America the cost to all of us when someone chooses not to be gay. For Ennis’s torment was not his alone; he shared it with Jack and Alma and their daughters and every woman he dated and every random person that fell victim to his wild outbursts of rage against the world.
Jack had a choice too, one that would not have made as tragic a movie.
Ennis was right when he said, “If you can’t fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it.” The heartbreak was in the way he chose to “stand it.” Ennis didn’t realize he had a choice. In the final shot, alone in his trailer, Ennis looks at a postcard of Brokeback Mountain tacked to a closet door. He closes the door.
What we must see, all of us gay and straight alike, is that it’s in our interest to help open the closet door. We must make the choice to come out of the closet and become gay an easier one; the obvious one. Because that’s the right choice, the good choice, the healthy choice, for our society and for all of us living in it.
I’m thinking I’ll use that as a hand-out for the class…
Online movement for autistics’ rights
Wired’s got a long feature on Amanda Baggs, a woman with autism who doesn’t speak, but who uses video and online forums and MMOs to make an eloquent case for autism as a different—but valid—style of cognition, and argues for the rights of people with autism to be recognized on their own terms. The article looks into the long-held belief that autism and retardation are tied together and concludes that this just isn’t true—rather, that people with autism have been incorrectly classed as retarded for generations.
Baggs is part of an increasingly visible and highly networked community of autistics. Over the past decade, this group has benefited enormously from the Internet as well as innovations like type-to-speech software. Baggs may never have considered herself trapped in her own world, but thanks to technology, she can communicate with the same speed and specificity as someone using spoken language.
Autistics like Baggs are now leading a nascent civil rights movement. “I remember in ‘99,” she says, “seeing a number of gay pride Web sites. I envied how many there were and wished there was something like that for autism. Now there is.” The message: We’re here. We’re weird. Get used to it.
This movement is being fueled by a small but growing cadre of neuropsychological researchers who are taking a fresh look at the nature of autism itself. The condition, they say, shouldn’t be thought of as a disease to be eradicated. It may be that the autistic brain is not defective but simply different - an example of the variety of human development. These researchers assert that the focus on finding a cure for autism - the disease model - has kept science from asking fundamental questions about how autistic brains function.
I, of course, love that she was inspired by gay pride web sites.
The Economics of Free
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The MacBook Refresh
So if I do stick with the Mac (yeah, we know I will) it knocks my price tag down a tad.
Aw snap. It finally, really happened… kind of. Apple has just dropped a nasty refresh on its MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, knocking the processor speeds up, and giving the Pros that tasty multi-touch the MacBook Air has been sporting. Still, they couldn’t break off an even slightly new form-factor for us? Both lines are sporting Intel’s downsized new Penryn chips, which should make your lap and / or battery quite happy. Right now we’re seeing updates to the GPU memory, an LED backlight (option!) for 17-inchers, as well as LEDs on all the rest of the Pros (sorry again MacBookers). New specs on the MBPs include a CPU boost to a base speed of 2.4GHz all the way up to 2.6GHz, that suspiciously new 3MB or 6MB L2 cache on the CPUs, added RAM to the graphics cards (up to 512MB for the higher-end 15-inch, and all 17-inch models), and of course the new trackpad. On the MacBook front, things look even more familiar, with only minor bumps to speed (2.1GHz up to 2.4GHz) and CPUs. Both new lines get hard drive increases, with the MBPs rocking 200GB or 250GB options, while the MBs range from 120GB all the way up to 250GB. Ports, weight, and size all appear to be just the same for both lines, undoubtedly to the chagrin of many readers, and Apple is skimping on the Apple Remote across the line; it’s now a $19 add-on.
Lowery: Lewis will back Obama
I was so moved by a conversation I had with young woman at lunch that if he does it I may soon have to follow suit:
The Rev. Joseph Lowery said Tuesday he expects John Lewis to formally declare his support for Barack Obama, perhaps today.
Lowery, like Lewis a veteran of the civil rights movement, said he spoke with Lewis in the past few days and said the Georgia congressman was set to make an announcement today. Lowery said he “assumes” Lewis will announce his support of Obama.
Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones did not respond to an email message early Tuesday.
Pollan & Mackey on The Future of Food
Why on earth would 2,000 people turn out on a rainy, blustery evening to hear a conversation between a reporter and a grocer? asked the former of the latter at a sold-out Zellerbach Hall Tuesday night (Feb. 27).
The answer has two parts. The speakers were not just any reporter or grocer, but Michael Pollan, best-selling science writer and UC Berkeley Knight Professor of Journalism, and John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural-foods grocery chain. And they have been carrying on a dialogue of sorts about the future of organic food ever since the publication last April of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Pollan’s investigation into the U.S. food chain.
In a chapter titled “Big Organic,” Pollan wrote “a few slightly unflattering things” about Whole Foods, he told the Berkeley audience - somewhat of an understatement.
Stung by Pollan’s criticism, Mackey replied with a 25-page, single-spaced letter, kicking off an exchange of messages posted online.
Pollan invited Mackey to come to Berkeley to continue the conversation in public. To which Mackey replied, in effect, “How crazy do you think I am?” recalled Pollan, alluding to Berkeley’s notoriously opinionated, anti-corporate contingent of “foodies.” But in the end Mackey agreed, which Pollan said showed a “willingness to engage with his critics [that] sets him apart from just about every other CEO.”
I started watching the two-hour webcast this morning. I’ll finish up tonight.
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
The future for Tuna is bleak
How ironic is that after waxing poetic about buying a cow and going on about confusing morality and science I go with our German visitors for their first ever experience with sushi right here in rural Georgia.
They came all the way from Germany to have sushi here? What about Bar-B-Q, collard greens and back-eyed-peas? We got that, too. But downtown these days we eat sushi.
From 60 Minutes last month:
[T]he Japanese have turned it into a multi-billion dollar international business. For them, tuna is an object of reverence, particularly when it comes to bluefin tuna, which they call the “king of sushi.” [...]
In the 1990’s a new vessel started fishing for tuna in the Mediterranean. It was called a “purse seiner” and it brought on a revolution in tuna fishing. Each of the vessels could encircle and trap some 3,000 bluefin in one go.
Before long, there were more 300 purse seiners working there and the new method proved so efficient that it made the mattanza look like some old relic left over from the Middle Ages.
It is high-tech fishing on an industrial scale. The purse seiners prowl the Mediterranean’s spawning grounds, waiting for word from spotter planes that are patrolling overhead. When schools of bluefin come to the surface, the planes relay the coordinates to the purse seiners, who then rush to encircle them.
The future for the poor Tuna is bleak:
These days, Roberto Mielgo spends his time tracking fishing boats and monitoring catches. And he’s found that the international quotas which limit tuna fishing are not being enforced. And those spotter planes? They’re officially banned, but are still hunting tuna. Illegal fishing is rampant.
“And if this trend continues?” Simon asks.
“All I can say, is that if we carry on like this, we are bound to catastrophe. I mean, it’s as simple as that. No more fish. No more industry. No more culture,” Mielgo predicts.
And no more mattanza. This may well be the last year that the weary fishermen of Carloforte raise their flag, telling their village that they’ve had a catch. The future of fishing in the Mediterranean is no longer in their hands - it’s in the hands of large fishing fleets, who are in a race to catch the last tuna.
I’ll get to farm-grown salmon in another post.
For a business school take (gag me with a spoon!) on this very same situation, here’s a fun excerpt from a Knowledge@Wharton review of Sasha Issenberg’s ode to globalization, The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy:
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.
Adam Walsh Act provisions ignore real harms
Sarah Tofte, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, has an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer today:
State lawmakers will need to decide whether to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act on sex offenders or lose federal money for law enforcement. The choice for states is to dramatically increase their registration and community-notification requirements for convicted sex offenders by 2009 or lose significant federal law enforcement grant money.
It doesn’t seem like a difficult choice. Who wouldn’t want to support laws targeting convicted sex offenders and be paid for it? Yet legislatures from Arizona to Illinois to Rhode Island are leaning against implementing the law. Because once you get past the painful emotions and look hard at the problem of child sexual abuse, it turns out that sex-offender registration and community-notification laws might not actually prevent sexual violence.
Sex-offender laws are based on two popular myths about child abuse: that children have most to fear from strangers, and that sex offenders will repeat their crimes. In fact, more than 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows. And authoritative studies show that three out of four sex offenders do not re-offend within 15 years of release from prison. In fact, 87 percent of sex crimes are committed by people with no previous sex-offense convictions.
The Adam Walsh Act doesn’t tackle the real dangers to children, and contains disturbing provisions. It requires states to register and identify online children 14 and older who commit sex offenses. Many states treat juvenile sex offenders differently from adults, exempting them from community notification. They understand that young sex offenders respond well to treatment and have an excellent chance of rehabilitation - and that crimes they committed as children should not haunt the rest of their lives. Thus the Illinois legislature, knowing it was acting in conflict with the Adam Walsh Act, recently overrode the governor’s veto of a law exempting child offenders from online registration.
RELATED: LA’s CityBeat had a piece last week worried that California’s registry for life may soon include promiscuous kids. You’ve got to wonder, are we really trying to protect the kids? Or just lock them up?
Political prosecution in Alabama
60 Minutes had a piece last night asserting that the former Democratic governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman, is in prison not but instead because he’s a member of the wrong political party. He was the most popular Democrat in that very Republican state.
Now 52 former state attorneys-general have asked Congress to investigate whether the prosecution of Siegelman was pursued not because of a crime but because of politics.
From the 60 Minutes piece:
[A] Republican lawyer from Alabama, Jill Simpson, has come forward to claim that the Siegelman prosecution was part of a five-year secret campaign to ruin the governor. Simpson told 60 Minutes she did what’s called “opposition research” for the Republican party. She says during a meeting in 2001, Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior political advisor, asked her to try to catch Siegelman cheating on his wife.
“Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman?” Pelley asks.
“Yes,” Simpson replies.
“In a compromising, sexual position with one of his aides,” Pelley clarifies.
“Yes, if I could,” Simpson says.
She says she spied on Siegelman for months but saw nothing. Even though she was working as a Republican campaign operative, Simpson says she wanted to talk to 60 Minutes because Siegelman’s prison sentence bothers her conscience.
Simpson says she wasn’t surprised that Rove made this request. Asked why not, she tells Pelley, “I had had other requests for intelligence before.”
“From Karl Rove?” Pelley asks.
“Yes,” Simpson says.
Siegelman was manacled and frog-marched from the courthouse to the paddy-wagon and taken directly to prison, highly unusual in a white collar case
[Grant Woods, the former Republican attorney general of Arizona says it’s politics, not bribery.] “You do a bribery when someone has a real personal benefit. Not, â€˜Hey, I would like for you to help out on this project which I think is good for my state.’ If you’re going to start indicting people and putting them in prison for that, then you might as well just build nine or ten new federal prisons because that happens everyday in every statehouse, in every city council, and in the Congress of the United States,” he says.
“What you seem to be saying here is that this is analogous to giving a great deal of money to a presidential campaign. And as a result, you become ambassador to Paris,” Pelley remarks.
“Exactly. That’s exactly right,” Woods says. [...]
“Help me understand something. You’re blaming the Republican administration for this prosecution. You’re saying it was a political prosecution. You are a Republican. How do I reconcile that?” Pelley asks.
“We’re Americans first. And you got to call it as you see it. And you got to stand up for what’s right in this country,” Woods says.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
“Solving” Global Climate Change
I’m reading Big Foot in The New Yorker. I’ll comment later. In the meantime, it reminded me I wanted to post this provocative Ted Talk from environmental scientist David Keith titled A Surprising Idea for “Solving” Global Climate Change…
Georgia’s Jack Kingston dishes dirt
Georgia’s Rep. Jack Kingston (R)—among the most conservative members of the House, he opposes embryonic stem cell research, wants the Ten Commandments displayed in Congressional Chambers, and thinks the 5 day work week is fine for you and me but not for he, his own patriotism does not extend so far as to permit him to vote for a House resolution praising the Georgia arch-rival Florida Gators (the vote was 414-1)— parroted the claim on Friday night’s Bill Maher show that Barack Obama refuses to say the pledge of allegiance to the American flag. [video]
This is one of a number of well-known email hoaxes circulating about Obama. Steve Benen:
Now, I’ve seen Kingston interviewed on several occasions, and one realizes that he’s either frighteningly dumb or he’s pretending to be frighteningly dumb. The difference may actually matter in a case like this - if one assumes the moronic things he says is part of an elaborate act, then one can safely assume he knows the truth but prefers to lie. If his imbecilic remarks are genuine, then Kingston is probably not a liar, but rather someone just barely sharp enough to tie his shoes in the morning.
Benen points to The Huffington Post’s Ryan Davis, who was in the studio for the Maher filming:
Let’s take a close look at Kingston’s nonsense.
-- Rambling on about Michelle Obama’s patriotism, Kingston either lied or is completely misinformed about her “pride” remark, “She could have jumped up and said ‘You know what, that’s not what I meant to say and I’m sorry if people are twisting it - this is politics,’ but she hasn’t said anything!” That’s totally untrue; both Sen.Obama and Michelle have responded to the comments. “I know I wouldn’t be here. Standing here. Barack and I, our stories wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for a fundamental belief in pride in this country and what it stands for,” she said on Feb 20th while campaigning in Rhode Island.
-- Kingston tells us that Obama refuses to say the Pledge Of Allegiance, citing the “famous picture” of Obama not saluting the flag. This rumor originated in an anonymous e-mail and has since been debunked repeatedly by the mainstream media. The truth is that the photo is actually of Obama singing the Star Spangled Banner. It’s sad to see any elected official still parroting the lies in that now-notorious chain e-mail.
-- The Congressman says Obama wants to “Bomb Pakistan” - which is a broad oversimplification of the truth. “Barack Obama has never said he would “attack Pakistan.” According to Obama’s website, he has said that he would attack “high-level terrorist targets” even within Pakistan, a policy which has been endorsed in the Washington Post by the Co-Chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton.
-- Attacking Obama’s legislative record, Kingston tells quite a few lies. “There is nothing out there that he’s done,” is an old lazy favorite. “Obama hasn’t reached across party lines” is a canard Republican Senators like Bond, Coburn, Hagel, and Lugar would disagree with since each of them have worked closely on bills with Senator Obama. Kingston says Obama didn’t oppose the Military Commissions Act, but he did oppose it. (Kingston talks lots about experience for a guy who spent his non-political life as an insurance salesman.)
Does Obama have a patriotism problem?
The AP’s Nedra Pickler asks disgraced Republican dirty-trickster Roger Stone for his opinion. Stone you’ll remember is the guy who got caught making threatening phone calls to New York Gov. Spitzer’s (D-NY) elderly father and last month set up an anti-Hillary group with the acronym C-U-N-T.
Surprisingly enough, Stone thinks the answer is yes.
Personal responsibility just can’t do it!
I’m comfortable with my decision to continue eating meat. But I don’t honestly think it makes one whit of difference in changing the industrial food system. Nor do I think it would change the industrial food system if I chose, instead, to become a vegetarian.
I would encourage you and my friends and my neighbors and my countrymen to also make ethical personal decisions regarding food. But even if you all do I’m still pessimistic about our ability to make a difference. That’s because the problem I see is an entrenched systemic problem. It’s not an individual choice problem.
The system is big and it is powerful and it’s broken. But we can’t hardly see that because we’re so busy taking on the blame for all the bad choices we make.
Of course, we can only choose among the options presented. And of course our choices are influenced by the billions spent on advertising and proximity and placement and policy and the myriad of other factors over which we have so little power as to be virtually powerless.
It’s the system that must be changed. So good for each and every one of us who acts ethically. But let’s not forget that with each and every one of those ethical choices, the fight has just begun.
On issues of our industrial food system I am informed by Michael Pollan. I am also informed by Eric Schlosser.
In his keynote speech, “The True Cost of Cheapness,” to the Fall 2006 Food, Ethics and the Environment Conference at Princeton, Schlosser concisely addressed the limits of personal responsibility and how it plays into the interests of our corporate food system.
I have quoted it often:
[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 I… 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"Â� 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.
Emphasis mine. What was true in 2006 is still true in 2008 and will still be true in 2010 unless we do something.
I fully expect a Democrat in the White House. Then it will be our time to put up or shut up. That system is not going to want to give. But we’re going to have to give it all we got!
How to avoid meat from factory farms
As you may have already read, yesterday I brought home half a cow (or, what has become, at this point, a side of beef).
I was lucky in that I got to meet and know the farmer, pick out the calf when he was young, then visit and watch him grow. This is grainy cellphone video of Doug hand-feeding him grass, and here are photos of our Italian Greyhounds who, oddly enough, enjoyed frolicking with the cattle.
We weren’t precisely inspired to do this by Michael Pollan—a set of fortuitous circumstances has it that in this small town I work with both the neighbor of the farmer and the live-in girlfriend of the owner of the abattoir—but Pollan’s writing has informed us all along the way.
I’ve written a lot on industrial meat production, and it’s very interesting to see how people react. Some people react by saying, “That’s it, I can’t eat meat anymore.” Other people look at this and they put it in a box. They don’t make the emotional connection between their 99-cent double cheeseburger and this process that we’ve seen in [last week’s Humane Society video depicting needless machine-like cruelty at slaughterhouses]. Still other people decide they want to still eat meat, but they want to eat meat they feel good about. They want alternatives. Luckily for us, there are some really good ones. There is meat produced in small batches, from ranchers that keep their animals not in feedlots standing in their own manure but in pastureland. They are slaughtered in small plants, just a few head a day.
He says even at farmers’ markets the only way to know for sure is to visit or to ask:
I think if you find meat at the farmers’ market, and it’s grass-fed meat, you are going to meet the rancher there and ask him. Ultimately, that’s the only real assurance: talk to the person who has raised the meat. I don’t know that natural or organic meat necessarily offers you any assurance that the slaughterhouse is humane. I think you really have to look at smaller slaughterhouses. It does tend to be more expensive, but you get what you pay for… Another thing people who are buying hamburger can do is buy hamburger from places that are grinding it themselves. You can go to your butcher or your supermarket and ask whether they are grinding the meat or buying it ground. If you are buying hamburger from someone who is grinding it themselves, it will [probably] come from just one animal, and that will lower the risk considerably.
SEE ALSO: A call for glass walls.
Racism as pond scum reprised in the Dallas Morning News
It might settle to the bottom if left alone, but it can also be whipped up into a froth. And that’s what [Hillary Clinton’s Hispanic pollster Sergio] Bendixen was really doing.
The column, titled Race card: Play it at your peril, is in The Dallas Morning News today. So, again this Sunday, I’m back at it.
Ford says Bendixen was pond scum playing the race card when he told a reporter last month that Latino voters haven’t generally “shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.”
...by insisting that Hispanics are anti-black bigots and insinuating that black politicians won’t serve the interests of Hispanic constituents, Bendixen may well have helped inspire the racial tensions he purported to describe. African Americans have had their worst fears of anti-black racism confirmed by a supposed expert on Latino opinion; Latinos, told that their community rejects black candidates, may well assume that this must be so for a good reason—such as African American prejudice against them.
Now, I have to tell you, I have not yet read the book but I have been looking forward to it since I learned of it back in September. I appreciated Ford’s view of the Jena 6 complexities and its very provocative title, The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, promised a fresh perspective.
Unfortunately, I’m thinking I’m seeing the same old tired argument. And Ford is the one trotting it out in this column. His example, Bendixen the player whose bluffing, made a benign statement into which Ford has definitively interpreted Bendixen’s insistence “that Hispanics are anti-black bigots”???
I guess I need to be African American to pick that up. Or have a Harvard Law degree. (Or is that just my bias talking? There is, of course, bias everywhere isn’t there?)
This is now my third try and, still, what I see is too confident a conclusion based on too little evidence boosted with plenty of journalistic qualifiers.
I will be reading the book over spring break. In the meantime, I make due with reviews. But what I’m beginning to wonder is whether I’ll agree with its thesis.
As I understand it, I like Ford’s notion of a move away from an emphasis on “diversity” and towards “integration.” Among those areas where we may differ is how to get there.
I read, for example, that he cautions against comparing gay marriage to miscegenation. But miscegenation and same sex marriage simply do share attributes. Sure, there are differences. There are also similarities.
The question, then, is which to emphasize. I find a benefit, for all of us, in empathy. In finding the shared human experience and values, the common ground and understanding, that bring us closer together.
If the goal is integration, the way there is through our common humanity, not our unique pain.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Plotz on why the press is gaga for Obama
David Plotz, in “cocktail chatter” at the end of this week’s Slate Gabfest, tells us he’s figured out why so many of his peers are enraptured by Obama. It’s because…
He’s basically a journalist. You see it...all over the place… you see his ability to be living his own life and yet be making these very wry clever observations about it… which are sometimes just jokes or sometimes have true meaning… but it is a journalist’s way of thinking and I do think that that, even more than his ability to heighten the emotion of a crowd, is why journalists in particular are so gaga over him.