Friday, February 01, 2008
Factlet of the Day: Meat and the environment
... the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization ... estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases—more than transportation. —Mark Bittman reporting in "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler"
Some other tidbits—
- "Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius."
- "... a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days."
- "Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens."
- "Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency."
Thursday, January 31, 2008
On the electorate
It's amazing how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit. —"Charles Condomine," a character in Noel Cowart's play Blithe Spirit (1941)
I was searching for a video of an interview with George Soros in Davos when I happened upon another from August 2007 with Charlie Rose. I thought of Cowart's quip after watching it [at 18:15]—
ROSE: .... American values have not changed! The American people have not changed!
SOROS: We have betrayed the values that we —
ROSE: That's one thing. But that's the political leadership that you're talking about.1
SOROS: I'm afraid that there is something wrong with the followership. This is not just the leadership's fault.
ROSE: So you think we've changed?
SOROS: I think something has gone wrong in America. I don't that think we care so much about being lied to. We accept it. We expect it from politicians and actually we get it. We get it from both sides actually—it's only a matter of degree.
And so something has actually gone wrong. We need to recapture what America used to stand for....
Since the "followership" is currently engaged in the the primary elections, I thought it would be interesting to sort this out.
On the one hand we have Rose turning all red-white-and-blue and defending the good name of the American electorate. On the other, we have that "foreigner" George Soros casting aspersions on the integrity of the electorate and longing for the good ol' days when we presumably stood for something—"American values."
First we should note that the makeup of the electorate has changed since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act forcefully asserted the right of blacks and other minorities to vote.
I have no sociological data at hand but suspect these minorities were, and are, less trustful of the white political class than their majority counterparts. That has not, however, led them to greater sophistication or integrity at the polling station.
In black-dominated districts blacks seem as accepting of duplicitous politicians as the rest of us—they're just pleased the politician is black. For some the sentiment may be—quite reasonably—that so long as white leaders are free to pillage the country, there really is no reason—other than racism—to prefer the one over the other. Should blacks (or Hispanics or Native Americans or ...) expect themselves to be better than "the Man"?
It was an utter disappointment for many white liberals when minorities turned out to behave like the majority. But in lieu of putting the majority household in order, liberals downed a heavy draft of hypocrisy, pronounced themselves pleased with the gains made by minorities (though there is always "more work to do") and got on with making money. Conservatives took a double dose of the same medicine, declared that we are finally all equal and set about reducing minority access to the ballot, schools and jobs.
So I'm inclined to agree with Charlie Rose (in a way that he certainly didn't intend)—that American values haven't changed all that much, even if the makeup of the electorate has. But Rose's view of what those values are is quite sentimental.
Rose attempts to use in defense of the public the case of Richard Nixon—
But we had in our history, without comparing—without comparing the level of it, we had a President who lied to us before. We had Richard Nixon, who had to leave office!
But it was not the American people who forced Nixon from office but a powerful Congressional leadership in opposition to him.
Like the current President, Nixon oversaw great affronts to civil liberties, many of which were reported in the media (with much the same lack of enthusiasm we see today). If Nixon had confined his activities to the suppression of antiwar protesters and minorities, he would likely have lived out his days as a "revered elder statesman"—a role he almost managed to assume despite his forced resignation. In the end the Democrats brought him down because, through the break-in of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and other indicators, it became quite compelling that Nixon was a threat to them.
On the other hand, I agree with George Soros that the American people—the "followership"—are culpable, though his notion of returning to some sort of "Golden Age" is entirely romantic. We Americans live on myth—and prefer it that way. Telling the truth is a sure-fire way for politicians to find more time to spend with their families.
With the house afire the Democratic electorate is now divided between two coalitions who steadily ignore the blaze but are voting on what they take to be their self-interest.
On the Obama side we have the black voters, who are hopeful they've lived to see the day when a black man can be elected President, and young, moderate idealists who just want us to gather round the campfire and "come together."
On the Clinton side we have older women who fought for women's rights, now hopeful they've lived to see the day when a woman can be elected President, and poorer young white women who hope that Hillary will "feel their pain," and a mass of people who hope for a return to the "good ol' days" when the worst that ever seemed to happen was a Presidential blow-job.
Unfortunately, whichever of these two candidates represents the Democrats it's not out of the question that we will see yet another Republican elected President—especially if John McCain is picked, which seems likely.
John Edwards, who announced he was dropping out of the race yesterday, was easily the most electable of the three Democrats in the general election, and as importantly, also came the closest to telling the public that their house is on fire.
On the PBS NewsHour, where they gave Edwards' withdrawal more coverage than they ever gave his candidacy, analyst Mark Shields managed to say something with which I could
John Edwards was ill-served by the economy. If in fact the economic pains and torment we're about to head into and are now experiencing had happened six months ago, I think John Edwards' message would have had greater saliency.
And I think there's a greater chance that a similar message will be embraced if things do head further south for the economy. And I think the strength of his message was seen by the fact that he's the one that set the tone. On the national health he was the trendsetter, the pacesetter, and the others did follow suit—and on economic justice questions as well. So even though he didn't have the star quality, ... he did in fact have an influence on the debate and dialog of this campaign. [a Simply Appalling transcription]
So is the American electorate entirely culpable? Surely not. Through the efforts of the media, the political leadership and our educational system, Americans constitute the least informed electorate of any Western democracy. The "sheeple," as some have taken to referring to us, are easily led.
Is there any hope? Not much, but we must grasp at straws.
Economic collapse has a certain undeniable reality to it. There are very few left who can recall the Great Depression, and very few who study it today. But it was a time when the elites found themselves at considerable risk. There were socialists, communists and fascists roaming the streets. Something had to be done. What was done was to take a moderate turn to the left (though it looks quite radical from where we sit today).
In that regard I hear the name of Frank Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in the media and in the speech of politicians more than I've heard it for decades.2 If ever there's a time when we may hope to dismantle the "Reagan Revolution," this is it. After that all we'll need is another great war and the people should be pacified.
2A search of today's Google News yields some excellent examples—
- From the NY Times, "Bloomberg Embraces FDR’s New Deal"
- From the San Diego Tribune, "FDR's answer to loan mess would prove useful today"
- From the LA Times, "Gov. talks like FDR, but walks more like Scrooge"
And it's easy to sense a certain anxiety on the right!
- From the National Review, "World without Walls"
- From Minyanville, "How Democrats Failed to Learn From FDR's New Deal"
- And from the extremely right-wing actor Michael Moriarty of the Law and Order TV series (who's running for President, by the way), writing in Enter Stage Right, "The God of American progressives: Part two: FDR's third act" [back]
Which country has the highest currency reserves per person, almost no foreign debt and is considered the least vulnerable to a recession in the U.S. economy?
I'll leave the answer in the comments tomorrow if no one beats me to it.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Quote of the Day
Socialism is only a possibility, and it depends on the people’s willingness. —Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, as quoted in "Chávez charts course for socialist revolution"
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Snatches from the Pink Snapper — 4
Warning: There is some politically incorrect language in this post. It is, however, the way real people talk.
As I remarked the other day, I'm finding it extraordinarily difficult to write. There are so many matters of consequence and so little recognition of them in the media that it's hard to bring a single topic into focus. But after last night, after watching for a full three minutes George Bush in heavy makeup deliver his hoped-to-be-final State of the Union speech, I feel better somehow. Maybe it was the exercise I got from kicking the TV set.
The Democratic primaries are certainly interesting in the way Clinton and Obama are pitting the women's movement against the civil rights movement, whether by intention or not. The Pentagon is on a tear—to which no one is paying the slightest attention. And the only reason we haven't heard reports of bankers leaping from their office windows is that the windows have been sealed. It was a safety precaution taken after 1929.
Given this flurry of events, I thought I'd let the denizens of the Pink Snapper pick today's topic for me—and it turns out to be the elections. Or, as we say at the Snapper, the election.
Now don't get me wrong. This is not a matter weighing heavily on the collective Snapper consciousness. The topic may have come up only because there's gossip going round that I'm "political"—a "librul," or maybe something worse—but come up it does.
The Snapper focus group
Last night on the NewsHour Judy Woodruff interviewed a panel of New Jersey residents to get their views on health care, the economy, terrorism and the election. There was a doctor, a medical-supplies salesman, a sick man who'd lost his job, an Hispanic woman with a Jewish surname, a female defense contractor with an Arabic surname, and—well, you get the gist. This assemblage was represented to the television audience as a group with a "cross-section" of views.
Somehow the working and drinking classes never seem to be included in these panels, which is amazing when you consider what a large segment of the populace that excludes. (The Republicans and Bill Clinton know better.) So think of this post as a supplement to the NewsHour panel's opinions, based on a focus group assembled at the Pink Snapper.
Over a month ago Verl asked me which candidate I was planning to support, and I told him I thought John Edwards was about the best we could do under the circumstances. "Edwards?" He considered for a moment and shook his head. "Nope. I'm sorry but I don't think I can go that way." He said it as though I'd just made a sexual proposition. "What don't you like about him?" I asked. "I don't know—I just don't think much of him."
Verl was decidedly undecided and will probably remain that way until that moment in the voting booth when he's seized by either inspiration or exhaustion and colors in a circle with his machine-readable pencil—or just decides to leave it blank.
A few weeks later "Peanut" sidled up to me and attempted a jibe. "So, Handy. It looks like we've got a choice between a bitch and a nigger. Who're you gonna vote for?" I looked him steadily in the eye and said, "Well, if it comes to that I'll take the nigger. Are you planning to vote, Peanut?" "Probably not," he said, somewhat disconsolate.
And recently I had an interesting bit of conversation with Hill Williams.
HILL: Handy, did you hear what the Reverend Al Sharpton said about Barack Obama?
ME: No. What did he say?
HILL: Well, he says Obama's not nigger enough for him.1
Now if you're from the Nawth you might misunderstand this bit of dialog and take it as terribly racist. But it was meant to be quite the opposite. Hill views Al Sharpton as the racist and made the remark by way of approving Obama. He intends to vote for him.
So there you have it—a "cross-section" of views from the Pink Snapper, at least from the male angle. The ladies tend to be a bit more reticent—unless of course you ask them, in which case there's no dearth of opinion. I'll try to provide some coverage from the women's angle in the days ahead.
Can anything be concluded from this small sample? Probably not. But why should that stop us? It never seems to bother the pundits.
- Despite the ceaseless patter on television, the election hasn't quite come into focus for many in the Snapper. They may decide who they're supporting the week before, or the day before—or even at the polls.
- The Snapper is by and large a socially libertarian place but includes many who've voted Republican somewhere in their sordid pasts. So it's interesting that the comments have focused on the Democrats. To the extent the race is holding anyone's attention, it's the Democrats who are holding it. I haven't heard a word about Giuliani or Romney or McCain or even that Southern white boy Huckabee. Ron Paul's name came up once, by way of approving his position on drug legalization, but that's about it. This bodes well for the Democrats.
- If Obama wins the primaries there's no doubt that race will play a big role in the outcome of the general election—maybe a decisive one. The good news for Obama is that Southern whites don't like to think of themselves as racist and will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to prove they aren't. The bad news is that many of them in fact are. Which of those conflicting impulses would dominate in the general election I'm loath to say. But I do believe (speaking for the South) that if Obama wins the Democratic nomination, the best thing that could happen to him is for the Republicans to attempt to play the "race card." If Southerners are going to vote along racial lines, they certainly don't want it mentioned.
Well, there you have it—the ebb and flow of political opinion through a misty Southern lens. But, honestly, I don't know how anyone can claim to be on the left and not know what people in the Pink Snapper are saying.
In November 2004 I watched the election returns at the Snapper. It was an unforgettable moment. The jukebox was blaring, the beer was flowing, all the pool tables were taken and it looked as if Kerry was going to carry the election. Then a woman we hadn't seen before (or since) staggered in, hung over the end of the bar and began to yell "Lesbians for [bʊʃ]!"
I have to write it phonetically, because to this day no one knows for sure whether she was yelling "Lesbians for Bush!" or "Lesbians for bush!" Whatever she had on her mind, it seemed to turn the tide of the election.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Headline of the Day
Disabled Spy Satellite Threatens Earth —headline in the Washington Post
Will we be seeing photos of space aliens in the pages of the Post soon? Just when I thought I couldn't be shocked by anything the mainstream media might come up with they come up with this.
There are no known imminent threats to the planet. Is the Post trying to frighten the populace into voting Republican? Though there are a number of imminent threats to humankind, this spy satellite ain't among 'em. But, come to think of it, voting Republican is.
Pot-on-Kettle Attack of the Day (1/25/08)