Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Blog Home

This blog is now located on JayAndrewAllen.net. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

NEW LOCATION: JayAndrewAllen.net

I'm shutting this space down and moving my writing activities to my Wiki. The Wiki allows me to spend more time crafting (and revising!) individual articles. I'm hoping that this approach to my craft adds up to a more thoughtful, lasting contribution to the world. Time will tell, no?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Union-Busting, Wal-Mart Style

At this crucial juncture in America's history, progressives are working to roll back some of the damage done to unions over the past several decades. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would make it easier for workers to unionize by replacing secret ballot elections with majority sign-up. If a majority of employees sign a declaration of their desire to form a union, their company must immediately recognize their chosen representative. The legislation aims to squash union-busting tactics by employers, who almost always use the interim period prior to the election to intimidate workers and fire organizers.

Who opposes this legislation? Just about every business interest and conservative think tank you can imagine. While the bill enjoys big support in the Democratic-controlled Congress, it obviously won't survive Bush's veto stamp. But what if Obama wins the White House? That nighmare has perennial union-buster Wal-Mart so worried that they're telling their employees not to vote for Barack Obama. They won't admit that's what they're doing - but their employees didn't just fall off the turnip truck:
"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.
Years ago, I would have agreed with this editorial by Harris Miller, who opposed the formation of Washington state technology union WashTech. High tech workers are well paid; if they don't like their job, they can vote with their feet. This Myth of Individual Negotiation is still prevalent in the high tech industry, where high salaries and rapid growth have shielded many of us from the worst effects of declining real wages.

What Miller won't tell you is that, even if employees do foot-vote, they'll find that the basic conditions of their former bosses reign at their new job too. Health care benefits will be compromised in the name of cost-cutting. Flexible work options will be limited in practice. Foreign workers will be exploited to pad the bottom line. Overtime without pay will be mandated. (Many high-tech companies I talked to in my last round of interviewing consider 45 to 50 hours to be a minimal work-week. And these are self-proclaimed "family-friendly" companies!)

Individual employees may be able to negotiate slightly better deals for themselves. But where does that leave their co-workers? Where does that leave other workers in the industry? I may have mine - but why shouldn't you have mine as well? Every working American deserves decent wages, humane treatment, quality health care, and time for family and leisure. These ought to be enshrined as basic rights, not treated as the victory spoils of the privileged. Historically, unions have been a driving force for such univeral change. (How do you think the eight-hour workday became standard?)

Miller's Horatio Alger "bootstrap" philosophy is the cultural cancer that is killing America. It's convinced us that we can "negotiate" with multi-billion-dollar multinational behemoths - a joke in theory, and an obscenity in practice. Business leaders have effectively bought our silence with real wages that decline year after year, and have silenced the rest of the country through union-busting. All this, while the value of their own indefensible bank accounts continues to bloat. The Employee Free Choice Act is a welcome first step in cutting the capitalists down to size, and restoring the power of the individual laborer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

When Is Choice Un-American? When It's Vegetarian

All Johanna McCloy wanted was a decent vegetarian hot dog at a San Francisco Giants game. What started as a simple request at one stadium soon became a crusade. As of this writing, McCloy has convinced half of all America's baseball parks to offer vegetarian alternatives to their standard burgers-and-hots lineup.

Not everyone views this as an achievement. McCloy has been accused of everything from snobbery to treason:

Last month, after an article about McCloy appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, reader Marc Kimberly of Concord wrote: "For goodness' sakes, is there no limit to which annoying vegetarians won't go in their efforts to try to convert people from enjoying meat in favor of the bland mishmash of unappetizing and virtually tasteless 'food' these elitist snobs choke down their gullets?"

McCloy says she was equally dumbfounded when, during an appearance on a Denver radio station, her efforts were labeled un-American.

Welcome to 21st century America - where veggie hot dogs are a threat to Pax Americana, and potatoes a mark of liberal elitism. Never mind that vegetarians comprise less than 8 percent of the adult population, and vegans a meager 1.4 percent. In Mr. Kimberly's nightmare, we vegetarians are the barbarians at the gate.

The material wealth of the United States, combined with industrial processing techniques, has made meat-eating as America as apple pie. Oppose beef, and you may as well defecate on the flag. In his paean to flesh consumption, The Shameless Carnivore, author Scott Gold laments that we're not more fanatical about eschewing herbivores:

I don't get it: where at one point in American history a vegetarian would have been branded as a godless communist and advised to returh forthwith to the CCCP, abstaining from the consumption of animal flesh these days is largely viewed as an enlightened life decision, even though it's not what most of us do.

Mssrs. Kimberly and Gold act as if a grain sausage were a revolver held to their heads. What's sad is that Ms. McCloy is attempting to give Americans more of a choice than the meat-eaters themselves give to animals. Even in this laudatory LA Times article, the unspoken assumption is that only the interests of human beings matter; the animals we eat have no right to exist independently of our hunger for them.

This is a sterling example of how patriotism is often little more than an excuse to justify aberrant behavior by draping it in a flag. Amongst other humans, it's considered immoral to kill unless there's an extenuating circumstance - usually self defense, or saving the life of an innocent. But when it comes to non-humans, the only required excuse is hedonism. One can imagine how quickly human society would have perished if "But he was TASTY!" was a valid moral defense for murder. Given that the major case for continued animal consumption rests on base pleasure, it's not shocking that people would defend the practice, not merely as an epicurean delight, but as some sort of patriotic duty.

In his discussion of meat consumption, Paul Roberts argued that the modern meat industry was based on the best intentions: to deliver nutritious food, inexpensively, to more people. A combination of unintended consequences and capitalist mismanagement, however, has allowed the meat processing industry to devolve into Frankenstein. We spend billions of dollars yearly on a petroleum-driven system that converts anywhere from eight to 17 pounds of grain and 250 gallons of water into a single pound of beef - and do it in the name of feeding hungry people! In the process, we generate tons of animal waste shot through with antibiotics. This by-product is so toxic that it must be lagooned, rather than used in crops. This says nothing of the real victims of this system: the animals themselves, who lead dramatically shortened lives - living beings who are born for the express purpose of dying.

If that's patriotism, then I'll opt for the veggie dog.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Neil Postman: "Voting...Is The Next to Last Refuge of The Politically Impotent"

I've been curtailing my blog and news reading for a few months now. I'm curtailing it even more as I read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. The thesis of Postman's brilliant book is simple: Orwell was wrong and Huxley was right. Orwell warned that we risked having our freedoms crushed by dictatorship; Huxley warned that we risked throwing our freedoms away in an orgy of distractions.

Postman wrote his book in 1985, 10 years before the New York Times heralded the Internet as a consumer tool. What he has to say is even more relevant in the age of the feed reader and the 24-hour news cycle than it was two decades ago. Information, says Postman, can be judged by how it impacts our lives. By this bill, most of the daily information we consume is sound and fury:
You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourself another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha'is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan
to do nothing about them.
But...but...but I can vote, right?! I need all of this information to be an informed citizen! Sorry, but Dr. Postman saw that one coming:
You may, of course, cast a ballot for someone who claims to have some plans, as well as the power to act. But this you can do only once every two or four years by giving one hour of your time, hardly a satisfying means of expressing the broad range of opinions you hold. Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a dessicated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into - what else? - another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing. (pp.68-9)
The Internet at least has the redeeming feature that it supports organizing around causes. But how much can we accomplish in these national causes? What can you do about, say, the war in Iraq on the level of the Internet, except sign a petition and bitch on your blog? Blogging and commenting provide every individual an international forum for spleen-venting, but do little in the way of affecting true change.

We can make greater, longer-lasting impacts in our local communities. Instead, we lose ourselves in the flood of information available online, believing that we're "educating" ourselves. As Dr. Postman notes, this is junk education. It's education as entertainment. Why did blogs become popular? Because Joe Schmoe Blogger scored mainstream press write-ups and six-figure book deals. Apply Dr. Postman's utility test to Joe Schmoe's literary output, and it's clear that Joe won the Internet equivalent of American Idol through a blend of 99 parts amusement to 1 part utility. That Joe dolled up his amusement in the guise of the day's headlines doesn't make it any more useful than a week's worth of LOLCat pictures. It's all sound and fury, signifying - and changing - nothing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vanity Gardens vs. Victory Gardens

Talk about missing the point. And a waste of resources to boot.
As a result of interest in local food and rising grocery bills, backyard gardens have been enjoying a renaissance across the U.S., but what might be called the remote-control backyard garden — no planting, no weeding, no dirt under the fingernails — is a twist. "They want to have a garden, they don't want to garden," said the cookbook author Deborah Madison, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Her neighbor Chase Ault, a business consultant, recently had a vegetable garden nstalled with a customized set of plants and a regular service agreement. "I am orking 24-7 these days, but I wanted to have something growing in front of me," Ault said.

For God sakes. If you want to garden, do it yourself. If you "don't have the time" - well, number one, that's part of the problem. We've become so pre-occupied with the artificial lives imposed upon us by corporate workaholism and mindless entertainment that we're compelled to outsource our sustenance. But beyond that, this money would be better spent supporting local CSAs, which can serve a community, rather than just serving your own needs.

These aren't "victory gardens"; they're vanity gardens. It's gardening as style, not substance.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Vegan in Seattle: Oh, The Options!

The Seattle P-I has a great story on the astounding number of options for vegans who live in Seattle. Reporter Kimberly Chou does a gangbuster job. The piece, unlike many others, doesn't devolve into a debate on vegan "health issues", or pepper the reader with silly doubts ("where DO vegans get their protein from, anyway?!"). The focus is on the businesses that make being vegan in Seattle not only easy, but fun.

Kudos to Chou for highlighting Market Street Shoes, where just last week I procured a pair of Blackspots. Other personal faves in the article are Sidecar for Pig's Peace and Sureshot Cafe. I'm happy to hear that Sureshot's vegan-enabled bakery (90% of the coffee house's pastries are vegan) will be selling to other coffee shops soon. Several shops in the area already sell vegan products from Julia's and Mighty-O Donuts. But no one in the area can beat Sureshot's vegan scones. Mmmmmm...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Low Carb" Diet Study Really a Vegetarian Lifestyle?

Atkins-type folks will hold up the latest study led by Iris Shai of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev as justification for continuing to devour defenseless animals.

Not so fast, Oh Meaty Ones.

First off, this was a limited comparison between three types of diets: low-fat, low-carb, and Mediterranean. In other words, the study can't say low-carb is best for lowering weight and cholesterol; it can only say that low-carb is the best of the three diets studied.

Second, look at the diets themselves:

The research was done in a controlled environment — an isolated nuclear research facility in Israel. The 322 participants got their main meal of the day, lunch, at a central cafeteria.

"The workers can't easily just go out to lunch at a nearby Subway or McDonald's," said Dr. Meir Stampfer, the study's senior author and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In the cafeteria, the appropriate foods for each diet were identified with colored dots, using red for low-fat, green for Mediterranean and blue for low-carb.

As for breakfast and dinner, the dieters were counseled on how to stick to their eating plans and were asked to fill out questionnaires on what they ate, Stampfer said.

The low-fat diet — no more than 30 percent of calories from fat — restricted calories and cholesterol and focused on low-fat grains, vegetables and fruits as options. The Mediterranean diet had similar calorie, fat and cholesterol restrictions, emphasizing poultry, fish, olive oil and nuts.

The low-carb diet set limits for carbohydrates, but none for calories or fat. It urged dieters to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein. [Emphasis added]

"So not a lot of butter and eggs and cream," said Madelyn Fernstrom, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center weight management expert who reviewed the study but was not involved in it.

The article goes on to say that "[t]he study is not the first to offer a favorable comparison of an Atkins-like diet." But that's not a typical Atkins diet. On Atkins, you're not discouraged from eating butter and eggs. A 3-egg cheese omelette cooked in a quarter-stick of butter is a valid option during the Induction phase of the Atkins diet. (Don't believe me? Check for yourself.) Strictly speaking, what researchers encouraged their low-carbers to eat was more a flexitarian version of The Zone. Dr. Dean Ornish lathers scorn on this "Veggie Atkins" in his own response to the study.

Personally, I doubt much of the anti-Atkins ranting. I do believe that carbs - refined carbs, not healthy whole grains - play a major role in modern American obesity. Let's call a spade a spade, though. If this study proves anything, it's the wisdom of eating fruits, veggies, and whole grains - and steering clear of animal products whenever possible.

If you can be healthy without eating meat, then why shouldn't you?

(Footnote: For those wondering, "Where do you get your protein from when you're a vegan?", see Kathy Freston's decisive article.)

Hey, Vegans - Stop Eating Crap!

Bodybuilding is a "sport" for which I have little if any affection. That said, Willamette Week has a praise-worthy write-up on Robert Cheeke, the guy behind VeganBodybuilding.com. WW gave Cheeke's diet a 10-point inspection. They went so far as to calculate how much his bodybuilding diet cost compared to an omnivorous diet. (Cheeke's diet is about 25% pricier - which doesn't mean much for the average vegan, who will consume far fewer calories than a vegan athlete.)

Kudos to Cheeke, who sounds more grounded than his meat-eating counterparts in the world of bodybuilding. The omivore bodybuilders interviewed for the article are getting the lion's share of their 200+ grams of faily protein from animal sources. One guy brags that he gulps down 60 eggs every week. Egads.

Anyway: the comments sport a single anti-vegan comment, talking trash about how vegan diets are "high in refined carbohydrates and refined sugars." I imagine this person knows a few vegans who eat largely packaged food, and is basing his or her conclusions based on this limited pool.

Notice to meat-eaters: the numbers are clear - we're in better shape than you are.

Notice to vegans: stop eating crap! I know most of you don't. It's you remaining handful who fuel nonsense observations like this. Yes, I'm lecturing you. Deal with it. If you publicly call yourself a vegan, then you're not a solitary eater: you're a representative of all vegans. Masticate accordingly. That is all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Talk, Talk, Blog, Blog

I was listening to Randi Rhodes on local progressive radio. I was into it...until she segued into reading a commercial for a PC remote desktop software company.

Sorry, but that's not change I can believe in.

Talk radio is a self-promoting commercial enterprise - whether it tacks to the right or the left. What's the democratic alternative? Blogs. Podcasting. Viral video. The blogosphere brought with it the promise of decentralizing communication. It enabled lateral conversations, as opposed to the top-down, vertical dissemination of information and opinion to which we've become accustomed.

But hegemonies die hard. Many of us treat the Internet and blogging as a top-down enterprise - discussing the same stories, linking to the same sites. We cavort along to the latest outrage over the bad words that came out of John McCain's mouth two decades ago, or the outrageous covers of upper-class liberal rags. As bloggers ourselves, we angle to score exclusives that will bring us personal fame and fortune. We allow mega-blogs and super-bloggers to determine the course of the national conversation. We replicate the top-down structure of Old Media.

It's not surprising that, just as blogging began to reach its peak, the mainstream media was polluted with stories about the horrors of blogging. Anyone can do it! You can't vouch for the authenticity of information! You NEEEED us! And yes - we do need good, solid, independent reporting. But that can come from both the professional journalist and the talented amateur. But the MSM's backlash wasn't about journalistic integrity; it was a bid to retain control of the story line.

Democracy doesn't need anyone's permission. And it doesn't need an ossified pool of liberal celebrities, either - whether they got their start as radio celebs or as "lonely bloggers". It needs citizens engaged in conversation.

Towards a New Socialism

The principal bases for a post-Soviet socialism must be radical democracy and efficient planning. The democratic element, it is now clear, is not a luxury, or something that can be postponed until conditions are especially favourable. Without democracy, as we have argued above, the leaders of a socialist society will be driven to coercion in order to ensure the production of a surplus product, and if coercion slackens the system will tend to stagnate. At the same time, the development of an efficient planning system will most likely be impossible in the absence of an open competition of ideas. [...] Under socialism, there can be no such separation of oppressive state from ‘free’ economy; and if criteria of ideological ‘correctness’ dominate in the promotion of managers and even in economic–theoretical debate, the long-run prospects for growth and efficiency are dim indeed.
W. Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell, Towards a New Socialism

MTV to Adbusters: Not Buying Things is "Controversial"

It's enough to gag you. A PR rep from MTV tells Adbusters that it can't accept its subvertisements for Buy Nothing Day and Turnoff TV Week because it doesn't air anything "controversial."

Yes, because MTV always shies away from controversy, right?

The PR woman is blunt: MTV can't air these ads because they tell people to (1) turn off their TVs and (2) not consume like mindless sheep. Now, (1) is a lie. MTV's parent, Viacom, owns Nickelodeon, which has told its young viewers to do exactly that. Different networks, of course; you can be a little more predatory with teens and grown-ups than you can with tweens and kids. (Why it's acceptable to push 24/7 television on anyone is beyond my reckoning.)

Just a further example of what happens when media is monopolized by corporate interests: the voices of ordinary citizens are shut out in the name of free enterprise. Oh, but don't worry - you can still rant on a blog. Aren't you glad that you're free?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Nation Throws a Cruise! (Poor People Not Invited)

Holy hell. It's getting expensive to defend the proletariat!

But hey, the ship is environmentally friendly. I guess that counts for something.

And people wonder why the left isn't taken seriously. We talk about the poor and the forgotten, then wave to them politely as our cruise ship departs the shore. This adventure will cost a minimum of $3,000 in lodging, airfare, and amenities. There are no scholarships offered, as far as I can tell, which excludes cash-strapped urban and rural activists from attending and taking what they've learned back to their communities. Not to mention the time off: how's your average working activist supposed to afford a full week off of work in a country with no federally mandated vacation time? Little wonder that three-quarters of those in attendance look like retirees.

This is upper-class liberal wankerism at its worst.

"Strange Bedfellows" vs. Third Party Support

Glenn Greenwald is helping spearhead an organization that will challenge "Bad Democrats". It seems strained. Greenwald provides an impressive list of the massive compromises the Congressional Democrats have made since coming ot power in 2006. He outlines how the Democratic National Convention itself is being underwritten by "corporate sponsors" - including two companies, AT&T and Comcast, who were beneficiaries of telecom immunity for warrantless wiretapping.

And yet, despite acknowledging all that, Greenwald can still thunder:
Nobody who finds the above-documented events objectionable can rationally embrace a course of action that directly or indirectly empowers those who are the prime forces behind these events: namely, the mainstream GOP in its current incarnation. [Emphasis added]
They're all hopelessly corrupt bastards - but dammit, they're our hopelessly corrupt bastards!

Greenwald seems fired up to barnstorm the Democratic Party and clear out the trash. More power to him. I can't find that passion within myself. I can't bring myself to spend another election championing candidates who erode our Constitutional rights and enable our corporatist plutocracy. I'm done with watching real change frittered away piece by piece in an orgy of compromise.

If you're still undecided this Presidential season, consider the words of one commentator over at The Nation, who spoke in reference to Cynthia McKinney's Green Party bid:
The "spoiler" argument is a myth perpetuated by the Democratic Party. There really is no such thing as a spoiler. For example, to call a Green a spoiler assumes that Democrats are entitled to those votes in the first place. They are not. Votes belong to the voter, and the only wasted vote is a vote for a candidate which you do not prefer. If Democrats want these votes, then let them work for the votes by taking positions on the issues that actually resonate with the people casting these votes. [Emphasis added]

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Quote of The Day: Marx on Third Parties

Even when there is no prospect whatsoever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces, and to bring before the public their revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by so doing they are splitting the democratic party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is indefinitely more important than the disadvantage that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body.
- Karl Marx, "Address to The Central Committee" (from Paul D'amato's "Marxists and elections".)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Minimizing FISA

While I see the need to elect Obama over McCain, I'm getting tired of toe-the-line Democrats who are deriding Glenn Greenwalk and others for making an issue of FISA. No, we're not children. yes, we understand that "politics is the art of the possible." Yes, we know that no candidate will ever 100% match our beliefs and ideals.

But we're not talking about a failure to declare Lucky Charms the national breakfast cereal. We're talking about the erosion of the Fourth Amendment. Obama's compromise on a pillar of the Bill of Rights speaks badly about the candidate's commitment to liberty. It makes progressives wonder: if he's willing to compromise on that, what else is he willing to compromise on?

That said, I recognize that Obama is more to the left than, say, Bill Clinton was. That's come about because progressive activists have helped mainstream leftist positions on marriage equality, health care, Iraq, social security, and a host of other issues. Think about that the next time you feel tempted to take a swing at the "ideological purists" on the left.

Revising The Rules of The Road for Cyclists

Ben Fried is talking sense over at Streetsblog. Drivers' #1 bitch about cyclists is that they "don't follow the rules". Cyclists' #1 bitch about drivers is that they bitch that we don't follow the rules. I'm not going to kill anyone (except perhaps myself) going through a red light, or treating a Stop sign as a Yield. In fact, I'm making the commute easier for everyone involved. Yielding instead of stopping means less time I spend going from 0 to top speed. It also makes it easier for cars behind me to pass or turn once the light does go green.

For drivers who think this is a matter of extending "privileges" to cyclists: chill, dudes. You're still going to reach your destination in half the time we are.

"Withholding" Money from Obama Is Fine By Me

As you can see from this thread on Yglesias, some Democrats are pissed that progressives are refusing to donate to Obama due to his tack to the center, and instead are giving their money to more consistently liberal Democrats. That seems like a perfectly good compromise position to me: vote for Obama as the best presidential candidate (well, the best one with an actual chance of winning), but put your money behind the people who will bring about the change you believe in. That's not "enforcing ideological purity"; it's using your money wisely.

The "anti-purists" may be right that a full-on progressive couldn't win the presidency. But unless we rally behind truly progressive candidates, that will never change. "Get Obama elected" and "shift America leftward" are not mutually exclusive goals. Some folks will be more attracted to the former mission than the latter, and vice versa. Citizens should engage in politics in the way that best engages their passions. Demanding obligatory donations isn't the best way to set the electorate on fire.

The larger, more disgraceful, problem is that we're no longer voting with votes, but with dollars. But mentioning such things has fallen out of fashion.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

RIP Alice Swanson: Cyclist Killed in DC's Dupont Circle

22-year-old Alice Swanson was killed yesterday after being run over by a garbage truck in Washington, DC's Dupont Circle.

According to the Washington Post, Alice was "riding in or next to a designated bike lane" when the driver made a right turn and struck her. WaPo fills us in a bit on Alice's life:
Swanson had an internship in Washington last year at the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. She graduated from Amherst College with a degree in Middle East history, according to the institute's Web site. The site says she studied Arabic at the institute.

She remained in the city after that and began work in January as a program associate at the International Research and Exchanges Board, an organization that promotes international education.

From the sounds of it, Alice was a careful cyclist. Her commute was a mere two miles. It could happen to any one of us.

Huge condolences to Alice's family.

"The only 'sustainable' thing to do with the Convention is to cancel it"

Commenter Rich on Matthew Yglesias' site is right on. The Democratic and Republican conventions are wasteful PR events. If they were meetings on my electronic calendar, I would Decline them. The only way to make them "sustainable" is to cancel them outright.

When It's Finally Time to Go Vegan

A wonderful question from the Vegan Forum, with many intriguing answers:

Why weren't you vegan before you were vegan?

I first felt a compunction to go vegan about nine years ago. Having spent most of my life as a fussy eater (broccoli? Bllleech!), I couldn't hack it. It was "too hard," too alien. I was also extremely consumerist in those days, and found the lack of "pre-fab" vegan solutions depressing. I wanted to have fun, and not worry like some religious ascetic whether what I crammed down my gullet was kosher or not.

The protein myth was another obstruction. I'd fallen under the sway of The Zone about 11 years ago in a bid to shed pounds. My weight has yo-yo'd ever since I was a kid. At my heaviest, I've tipped the scales at 250 lbs. Thanks to Barry Sears et. al., I convinced myself that the only way I could stay slim was to gorge on animal flesh.

Nearly a decade passed, during which my weight never dipped below 190 lbs. Then this year, I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which was a revelation. I learned more about the environmental degradation brought about by "producing" meat. I decided to eat meat only from organically fed, free range, humanely treated animals. I cut down meat to one meal a week, and increase my consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts. My body responded well. I didn't bloat up to the size of an endangered whale, like the pro-protein mythologists claimed I would.

One day, I found myself thinking: if I can live without killing animals, then that's how I should live. Many animals have no choice in whether or not they eat other living beings; I don't have that luxury. I reached a tipping point where I could no longer justify the slaughter of living creatures for the benefit of my taste buds.

I went vegetarian in February. In May, while my wife was out of the country on business, I abandoned all animal products. Once I acclimated myself to soy milk, abandoning dairy and eggs was no sweat.

The odd thing is, I don't miss meat, eggs or dairy. Not at all. I don't have any days where I salivate over cheeseburger mirages. I remain physically active, which allows me to eat until I'm well and full. I eat good food - delicious whole wheat bread I make myself, vegan pancakes, oatmeal and fruit, zesty Thai and Indian dishes, hearty pastas, "meaty" Mexican salads, sumptuous cakes and desserts. I have so much variety in my diet that I never feel deprived. To the contrary: I feel liberated. I weigh in at 160 lbs., and can slip into a size 30 jean for the first time since my teens. My energy is over the top; I feel light on my feet. And I sit down to every meal secure in the knowledge that I've adopted the least impact, most humane diet on the planet.

I had to overcome a lot of misinformation and personal limitations before I went vegan. When it was time, it was time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When Vegan Isn't Vegan at All

I just discovered by way of the Vegan Forum something called "Chill Veganism":
Chill Vegan’s [sic] are Vegetarians who aspire to be full fledged Vegans, but who don’t get bent out of shape if they fall short of the Strict Vegan code.
Now, I'm all for not being a child about promoting veganism. But if you "fall short of the Strict Vegan code," you're not a vegan. You're an ovo-lacto vegetarian. Words have meaning.

The Democracy Within The Democracy

The more I think about Barack Obama's "small donor revolution," the more disturbing it seems. It's a democracy within a democracy - a vote with dollar bills instead of votes. It doesn't equalize anything; those with more dollars get more votes.

What does it change? The millions of dollars collected are still being used for the same purpose: to wage a war of sound bites. It's a revolution within the system, not a revolution of the system. A heap of those advertising dollars will be spent on "gotcha" campaigns highlighting non-issues a.k.a. the Rev. Wright brouhaha. The end result will be an election decided, not on ideals or even issues, but on the psychological echoes of propaganda.

In other words, business as usual.

ALERT: People Doing Dangerous Shit Injured!

Why is it "news" that people were injured in the Running of the Bulls? That's like a headline blaring "NEWS FLASH: Man Burns Self Pressing Face Against Hot Stove".

Monday, July 7, 2008

One More Reason Not to Read HuffPo

This Alternet write-up is weak, but the author's pinpointing a sad phenomenon: the increased commercialization of HuffPo through the publication of titillating fluff pieces and gossip "journalism". Beh.

Why Aren't There More Conservatives in The Local Food Movement?

I just asked why conservative politicians don't climb aboard such obviously pro-family and pro-community initiatives as the 4-day work-week, telecommuting, and living closer to where you work. Rod Dreher (The Crunchy Conservative) and local food celeb Michael Pollan wonder the same thing:
POLLAN: There is this Joel Salatin, evangelical Christian, libertarian right-wing, but there are not a whole lot of them. Frankly, it baffles me that this growing food movement doesn’t have more support on the Right. It’s very consistent with libertarianism, and it is very consistent with family values. Nevertheless, it is often portrayed in the media as a white-wine-sipping, arugula-chopping, liberal politic.
Pollan notes that he gets the elitism charge from both the left and the right: the right reacts reflexively to critiques of the standard American diet, whereas the left says he wants to price the poor out of eating. Pollan objects:
...the fact is, eating healthy, carefully grown food in this country does cost more. But I think the focus has to be less on that than why the other food is so cheap. The reason is that it’s unfairly subsidized—from direct government subsidies in the form of crop subsidies to the kind of support of agribusiness that I was describing earlier to the fact that the companies growing this food are not required to pay the cost of the environmental damage they do. Did you know that if you’ve got a feedlot and you’re polluting local streams, the government will pay you to clean up your mess? That seems deeply unfair to someone trying to do it right.
It doesn't help that high-profile authors like David Korten wrap such basic human issues in leftist lingo that conservatives could never accept. These issues are too central to our physical and psychological well-being to remain the dominion of one-half of our political spectrum.

Growing your own food - a.k.a. farming - was once held in high esteem. The farmer took his rightful place alongside motherhood and apple pie. How far we have fallen, that calls for a renewed respect for farming are met with accusations of elitism.

Moving Closer to Your Job

The Seattle Times focuses on some folks who are abandoning the suburbs of Seattle for the city itself. My family has made the same choice, opting to be in the city rather than the 'burbs this time around. That's partly a lifestyle choice (we detest the barren 'burbs), and partly a choice mandated by environmental concern.

It's great to see people fleeing the suburbs. I want to see city neighborhoods become all-inclusive enclaves again. That said, there are other alternatives to the new reality of expensive oil, including 4-day work weeks and telecommuting. Moving is under the control of the individual employee; 4-day work weeks and telecommuting are options that businesses must be pressed to support.

In the end, all three strategies will do more than just save gas: by shaving time off of our commutes and giving us more time at home, they provide the opportunity for us to build community and strengthen our families. Aren't those goals that politicians on both sides of the political spectrum could support?

Jesse Helms and Playing the Robert Byrd Card

Ta-Nehisi Coates laid out why black people aren't down with the Republican party. A commenter attempted to reference the Democratic Party's own racist past. But Coates, in a comment, smacked her down:

Your premise is flawed. It compares the racist past of Democrats with the racist past AND present of Republicans. Obviously those two aren't the same thing. The point isn't that, in the past, Republicans have had racists among them--it's that they still have racists among them whom they venerate.

People don't begrudge Robert Byrd for being in the Klan, because he's repeatedly apologized for it. Helms, never once, apologized for being a segregationist. Jerry Falwell lauded apartheid in the 1980s--not in the 1960s. That Moseley-Braun episode happened in the 90s, not in the 60s. Trent Lott lauded the segregationist platform of Strom Thurmond this decade, not three decades ago.

Meanwhile George Wallace, not only recanted his segregationist views, but actually appointed a record number of blacks in his last term. Anyone can be a bigot, because bigotry is at its root, simply ignorance. But to revel in it, to make your bigotry just is dishonest and dishonorable.

Furthermore, the "Democrats are racist too" defense is weak, as it simply changes the subject. Either venerating Helms is wrong or it isn't. Saying the Dems have bigots among them is a dodge that doesn't answer the charge.

Why Call It "Meat"?

I've become more relaxed in my approach to "faux meats." I credit Cyber-Dogs, which makes some tasty fake dog concoctions.

Since then I've developed a love for Trader Joe's Meatless Meat Balls, a delicious concoction made from TVP; the meatballs tossed together with whole wheat penne and roasted garlic marinara makes a wonderful, high-protein and high-fiber meal. And while I'm not head over heels in love with Tofurkey's "Kielbasa" yet, I don't find them un-tasty.

For me, part of the problem with these meat substitutes is that they're marketed as meat substitutes. They set the psychological expectation that they will taste like meat, when in reality even the most delicious "faux meat" is a far cry from the real thing. Why not market these products as what they are: meat alternatives that provide the protein of meat, but have their own unique texture and taste?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Zimbabwe as Bad as Florida 2000? Come On.

Some overheated comments on liberal blog Crooks and Liars regarding Mugabe's stolen victory in Zimbabwe:
Straight from the Republican handbook.

Is Zimbabwe in Florida or Ohio- I forget.

Newly elected President of Zimbabwe, President Bush, heralds the election as fair and honest and cannot wait to implement the capital he has gained with such an overwhelming victory.

At least they’re honest enough to use old fashioned thuggery, instead of butterfly ballots and crooked Deibold voting machines.
I know the Internet is teeming with stupidity, but this is insane. Butterfly ballots? Yes, those are infinitely worse than supervised voting and death by genital mutilation.

Help! Help! Bob Avakian's Being Repressed!

While walking past Revolution Books in Capitol Hill, I saw a poster advertising a talk on "Bob Avakian's New Synthesis." The New Synthesis sounds intriguing, but in a tired way. It bills itself as Socialism without the tyranny - the Holy Grail of Socialist thinkers in the wake of the horrors of 20th century Communism.

I was taken aback when I got to the end of the ad and saw that "Bob Avakian will not be in attendance at this event." Well, why the hell not? I did some digging and discovered by way of The Boston Globe's Mark Oppenheimer that Avakian is not in attendance at any event. Avakian and his admirers continue to use the pretext of a 1979 arrest to perpetuate the notion that the Maoist thinker is a man on the run. In truth, all charges were dropped against Avakian in 1982. That doesn't stop his Revolutionary Communist Party from using his obscurity to groom an Avakian cult. In that respect, the "New Synthesis" seems little different than the failed states that precede it.

Oppenheimer sums up the subterfuge beautifully:
There is a fine line between paranoia and narcissism, and some people live on both sides of it.

Did Starbucks' Outsized Reach Help or Harm Small Shops?

Not exactly. But the coffee giant's woes leave aficionados grateful that their shrinking will mean more room for indie operations.

For a slightly alternative view, check out Taylor Clark's 2007 write-up in Slate, which documented how the presence of a neighborhood Starbucks actually meant better business for indie shops located close by. I say "slightly" alternative because, as Clark notes, Starbucks wanted to crush these smaller stores. But the indie stores' cheaper prices, locally produced pastries, and ability to handle the overflow from the nearby Starbucks meant that they thrived rather than died.

Ultimately, the smaller stores do a better job because they produce better coffee. Starbucks isn't known as "Charbucks" for nothing. Indie stores have the flexibility to pick and choose which distributor's beans and roasts produce the best flavored espresso. While shops like Vivace in Seattle buy their beans raw and do their own roasting, Starbucks relies on automatic machines to produce bland output with a button-press. Those machines made employees so coffee-dumb that the company had to close down for three hours recently for some good ol' fashioned Maoist "re-education".

Starbucks' problem now is that it can't improve its offerings or experience without walking back from the large-operation model that is the heart of its business. It can't go back to being a funky little hangout in Pike Place Market.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Video Shows Vote-Rigging in Zimbabwe

Kudos to the prison guard, Shepherd Yuda, who risked his life to obtain this footage. Yuda intended to document the conditions of political prisoners at the jail, but ended up with a front row seat to Mugabe's "election". He has since fled the country.

[NOTE: For their protection, people directly interviewed in this video have had their faces blurred, and their voices dubbed over by one of the British announcers.]

Meanwhile, in a move that is sure to mean death for a good number involved, Britain is demanding that 11,000 refugees from the country return home. Many Zimbabweans, understandably, are opting to live illegally in the UK rather than return to the violence.

Nation-Building You Can Trust

As a concession to the Iraqi government, the United States is poised to yank US contractor's immunity from Iraqi prosecution. This has some of the country's 180,000 (!) contractors fretting that they'll fall under Iraq's laws:
"Having worked for two years and two months in Iraq, I can tell you without a doubt, I would in no way work if I fell under Iraqi Law," a deputy sheriff who trains Iraqi police said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. "Are you kidding? You wouldn’t be able to get but the most desperate people to work if they fell under their ridiculous laws."

Like almost all contractors working in Iraq, he is not allowed to do media interviews without approval from his company, so he asked that his name not be used.

Other contractors expressed similar concerns about the Iraqi legal system.

"I would immediately have to consider my options concerning leaving this country," another Department of Defense contractor said. "They, the Iraqis, cannot rule themselves and now they want to try and rule contractors."
But The Surge is working, right? Free, democratic society and all that?

At the end of the day, though, the Iraq legal system is what it is. If contractors can't abide by that, they need to come home. It's not politically tenable to have 180,000 foreigners operating in Iraq with immunity from all local laws.

Department of Bad Headlines

Dad convicted for feeding kids vegan diet

You have to hit the end of the story for some semblance of fact:
Prosecutors said the diet the Parkers devised was not a good one. The children gained weight after being placed in foster care even though they were still on a vegan diet.
In other words, the vegan diet wasn't to blame. Dad had the kids on a fad diet that happened to be vegan. So why target veganism with this headline?

One Decent Action by Jesse Helms?

Given the fulmination against the late Jesse Helms' atrocious record, I thought I'd blow a contrarian note. It's in no way redeeming of the man; it stands out, not for being heroic, but for being insufficiently vile. Back in the late 1980s, Senators Helms and John Kerry were two of the loudest voices raising doubts about Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Indeed, Helms became an enormous thorn in Bush I's ass:

As the debate over Panama policy continues in the capital, President Bush and his aides still seem puzzled over how to manage their basic political problem: a fierce disagreement between the White House and Senator Jesse Helms. Mr. Helms, a North Carolina Republican, often finds himself alone in his crusades. But White House aides privately acknowledge that this time he has caused serious problems, setting the tone for many lawmakers who have foregone their usual impulse to close ranks behind the President at a time of foreign crisis.

''We find it perplexing,'' a White House official said. ''The President has campaigned for him. We work with Jesse. He still comes over to see Bush.''
If the charges of Noriega's consultant Jose I. Blandon are to be believed, the CIA may have passed intelligence on Sens. Kerry, Helms and Teddy Kennedy to the drug-trafficking dictator. What a wonderful way to run a democracy, huh?

Helms also pressured the administration to act during a pivotal episode of the Panama crisis. Panamanian Maj. Moises Giroldi appealed to the United States for assistance in overthrowing Noriega. The Bush Administration turned its back on Giroldi, whose forces subsequently launched a coup and seized Noriega for hours. Instead of killing Noriega, Giroldi offered to hand him over to the U.S. Armed Forces. They rebuffed him. Helms lashed out at the Bush White House for sitting on its hands.

Noriega's forces eventually came to his rescue; Giroldi and his compatriots were slaughtered. Referencing Buckley's Panama: The Whole Story, Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow details Giroldi's fate:
To emphasize his point, Noriega pulled out his pistol and shot one of the rebels in the face. Then he ordered a slow death for Giroldi. An autopsy later showed that before he was executed, Noriega's men shot off his elbows and kneecaps, broke one of his legs and one of his ribs, and cracked his skull open. (pp. 253-4)
At the time, the White House denied that it had even been contacted by the opposition forces. Helms called bullshit on that. History has subsequently proven Helms right.

Helms' motives on the Panama issue remain obscure. One plausible factor (included in the first WaPo story above) is that he was driven by his opposition to the Panama Canal treaties, which would sunder U.S. control of the passageway. Helms may also have been personally disgusted by the U.S. government's complicity with drug kingpin Noriega. Both factors may have been at play.

Again, not a redeeming incident. Helms gets kudos for opposing Noriega against his own government's dissuasion, even if his motives (perpetuating the War on Drugs, preserving American imperialism) were wanting. Still, it may be the closest that honest obit writers can get to an "attaboy".

"The small piece of paper cannot take the country"

Craig Timberg at The Washington Post details Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe military's campaign of intimidation against the Movement for Democratic Change:

During an April 8 military planning meeting, according to written notes and the accounts of participants, the plan was given a code name: CIBD. The acronym, which proved apt in the fevered campaign that unfolded over the following weeks, stood for: Coercion. Intimidation. Beating. Displacement.

In the three months between the March 29 vote and the June 27 runoff election, ruling-party militias under the guidance of 200 senior army officers battered the Movement for Democratic Change, bringing the opposition party's network of activists to the verge of oblivion. By election day, more than 80 opposition supporters were dead, hundreds were missing, thousands were injured and hundreds of thousands were homeless. Morgan Tsvangirai, the party's leader, dropped out of the contest and took refuge in the Dutch Embassy.

The Post obtained access to the CIBD meeting notes, and relied heavily on a Zimbabwean reporter "whose name is being withheld for security reasons." Thanks to his or her bravery, we have a small window into the violent mechanics of Mugabe's renewed grip on power.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Liberty and Justice for All

Ed Kilgore hits it:
But Beinart is definitely onto something, and I would argue that America today particularly needs the form of patriotism he identifies with liberals. To the extent that our country's past has been characterized by true greatness, it has been when we did take our founding ideals seriously, at the expense of blind obedience to tradition or the kind of sentimental self-praise that is natural to people everywhere. And if we want people everywhere, and future generations of Americans, to consider this country something unique in the annals of nations, it's a very good time to recommit ourselves to freedom, equality, justice, the rule of law, and the wise and generous use of the blessings we have been given by our forebears.
Precisely. When liberals point out our country's flaws and mistakes - its racist past, its overthrow of democratic regimes, its tolerance of radical economic inequality - it's not to denigrate America, but to point out how our actions contradict our ideals. That's why reflexive, uncritical "God Bless America" patriotism is so appalling. Abject patriotism is as dangerous as abject faith; it's driving blindfolded at 100 mph at night with the headlights off.

Some commentators have bitched that no one brings conservative intellectuals like William Bennett to task when they talk about what a filth pit and cesspool America has become. Why can conservatives trash-talk America with impunity, while liberals are regarded as suspect?

This points out another striking difference, I think, between conservative and liberal patriotism. Conservatives tend more to question the people, and to blame the majority for squandering their inheritance - people on welfare are lazy, gay people should stop being so gay, etc. Liberals are more apt to blame the system, and point up the ways that it's failed to support the people. Conservatives (ostensibly) want to decompose the system to allow for greater accumulation of wealth and the perceived freedom of cultural discrimination; liberals want to fortify the system to correct economic inequality and curb cultural prejudice.

And that's what lands liberals on the patriotism no-fly list. People who are especially patriotic take their patriotism personally. Liberal critiques of the very structure of the country become internalized as self-critiques. Conservatives twist that into arguing that liberals have never loved America, and want to re-shape it into a socialist state more to their liking. As Kilgore notes, liberals can do a better job of arguing that we seek to fulfill America's original promises - promises conservatism wants to squander in an orgy of monopolistic business, environmental degradation, antiquated prejudice, and perpetual warfare.

Fear and Loathing in Blogging

I was reading the review that my wife's colleague James Rocchi wrote of Gonzo, the new Hunter S. Thompson biopic from Alex Gibney. This part seemed particularly relevant to blogging:
Gonzo also tackles the essential quandary of Thompson's work -- how an angry young man becomes an irrelevant old one, how the writing that made him a celebrity was then unmade as his celebrity got in the way, how living up to your public persona can devour the private person underneath. Many at Sundance complained that the film was too reliant on clips from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Where the Buffalo Roam. But I'd suggest that a smart film about Thompson had to include moments from those films, and extensively, just as Gonzo interviews British illustrator Ralph Steadman and talks about Garry Trudeau's co-opting of Thompson's persona for the 'Uncle Duke' character in Doonesbury; any discussion of Thompson's life has to, by extension, include all the reflections and refractions and recreations of it. Thompson was larger than life, and then his life got so large it was no life at all, and then he took his own life.
I wonder if this is why blogging is such a short-lived preoccupation for most people. Blogging can be a slow, pitiful slog with few rewards. As easy as it is to get started, it's difficult to get noticed unless you craft some sort of wild persona.

Maintaining a persona is physically and emotionally exhausting. The persona is a temporary construct in time and space, a static representation of the way you're thinking and feeling at a given point in your life. The construct, however, is temporary. As your thinking evolves, and your interests shift, the differences between your persona and your current phenomenal self grow. You end up torn in twain. You feel the Internet wants the persona, they want your snark-filled opinions on celebrity gossip, or your bitching about your children - even if you're itching to discuss the election, or have grown wary of the hatred leeching into your online voice.

I don't think it has to be that way. If I did, I wouldn't be blogging again. But I think it's a trap any writer can sink into. Killing a blog isn't a bad thing; sometimes, it's the only way to go home again.

Jesse Helms Was a Racist, Homophobic Piece of Shit. And Now He's Dead.

Leave it to Dan Savage to speak the truth at a time of "decorum". Savage includes choice quotes from Aravosis which depict exactly what kind of politicians Helms was. Here's one he didn't highlight:
And the man ABC News now describes as a "conservative icon" (8/22/01) in 1993 sang "Dixie" in an elevator to Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, bragging, "I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing Dixie until she cries." (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/5/93)
Lovely. Yglesias gets it right:
I've never been 100 percent clear on why you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but suffice it to say that while there were many more vile politicians in the world than the now-dead Jesse Helms they were pretty much all brutal dictators and the like.

Seattleites Compare Sonics to George W. Bush. That's Gotta Hurt.

More on that Sonics story:
A pair of public polls and a 2006 election show that the percentage of Seattleites who adamantly wanted — and were willing to pay for — the Sonics to stay was roughly equal to the approval rating of George W. Bush.

Like an activist in the article, says, this isn't about the teams per se - it's about the ridiculous public subsidies handed to the NBA and team owners in the form of public underwriting of stadium renovations. I tend to believe, however, that in the case of Seattle, traffic was a factor. The Sonics had the misfortune of playing at Seattle Center, which means their games created a tentacle-like snarl of traffic from the Center on down and east.

Anyhow, good riddance all the same.

Bachelor's Fourth

This is my fourth week without my wife and kids (sniff), which means I have to keep myself amused for the holiday. That means some bike riding around Seattle, an afternoon showing of Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson at the Harvard Exit, and a nighttime party with my brother-in-law.

All the while, I'll be celebrating the Sonics' move to Oklahoma. (Oh, knock it off, Sonics fans - most of your fellow Seattleites don't give a shit anyway.)

Happy Fourth, all!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Praying for Dollar Gasoline

I know I'm a latte-sipping liberal elitist for saying it, but these people are just plain stupid.

When you folks are ready to get up off your knees and inconvenience yourselves by doing something useful about our energy crisis, give us a holler, eh?

Airlines to Shutter?

This story is somewhat-buried on the front page of Yahoo! News. You'd think this would be a headline-maker:
In a report released, appropriately, on Friday the 13th, the Business Travel Coalition flatly predicted several unnamed major U.S. carriers will be forced to liquidate late this year or early next.

When an airline liquidates - as ATA, Aloha and SkyBus have done this year - it stops flying and sells its assets to pay creditors. That can leave small, unsecured creditors such as the airline's passengers in the lurch.

Experts are sharply split on whether liquidation is going to happen to major U.S. carriers. But even airline optimists allow it's a good idea to prepare should your carrier be forced to fly into Chapter 7.

Airlines are drastically cutting services on flights. Three major airlines now charge for the first bag. With increased fuel costs, ticket prices are going up. Meanwhile, we've seen that American consumers are steadily cutting back their driving to compensate for the increased costs of gas. I don't doubt that we'll see Americans cut down drastically on their flying as gas continues to edge upward. Ordinary consumers will curtail their recreational flying, and businesses will rely more heavily on teleconferencing.

Point is, I think the airlines are in more trouble than the industry would like to believe.

You Can Cram Yer Broadband Where The Sun Don't Shine, Sport-o!

Don't feel sorry for dial-up users: they're content with living in the Internet Stone Age.

The more depressing news is that the poor and minorities lag behind in Internet access. But that's not necessarily a tragedy, depending on how solid public Internet access (mainly library access) is in these areas. In Seattle, you can get along perfectly well using library computers for occasional connectivity.

Our rampant individualist streak here in the States disinclines us toward shared, public resources, encouraging us instead to invest good money in household ownership. Rather than make household ownership of Net connectivity the Holy Grail, I'd prefer to see more community-based wi-fi projects and shared resources at that level. That, of course, assumes more of a co-housing approach to urban and suburban living - an idea that still hasn't gained mass traction in America. (C'mon, $5/gallon gasoline...)

Copenhagen Cycle Chic

Normal people in normal clothes on normal bikes. A photographic blog documenting how people get around in the bicycling capital of the world. I LOVE it.

For a steady stream of velocouture pics from America, check out the Flickr Velocouture pool.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

So How Do We Get Bike Boxes in Seattle?

Every time I think Seattle's doing fine with its support for bikers, I see some other punk-ass city is kicking our ass. This time it's New York City, which is installing bike boxes at critical intersections. The boxes make it easier - and safer! - for cyclists to turn out of bike lanes without cutting into traffic.

We could so use these on critical bike-enabled streets - particular Second, 12th, and Pine (Pike too).

When Alternet Goes Wrong

Alternet often has good, fact-filled, thoughtful pieces on a variety of issues. This ad hominem hit piece against the eloquent Christopher Hitchens isn't one of them. Disagree with Hitchens all you want (I do often) - but bring facts to the battle, not schoolyard taunts.

On the other hand, it does make me regret that I missed a local screening The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Alex Gibney's new doc based on the book by Hitch. Gibneys is the director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side, not to mention the upcoming flick Gonzo, about Hunter S. Thompson.

Obama Pushes Service Plan, Turns 9/11 Against Republicans

Some good ideas and leadership here. Especially inspiring when you contrast Obama's extensive plan to McCain's "plan" (included at the story's end):
In a section entitled "A Cause Greater Than Self," the presumptive GOP nominee asks Americans to donate their time to relief efforts -- including helping out in the flood-ravaged areas of Iowa. See more on McCain's plan

There is also a list of suggested sites where people can volunteer.
Obama, by contrast, advocates expanding AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, expanding the ability of non-profits to offer service opportunities, and extend more opportunities for serving to the working, the retired, and the disadvantaged, among other proposals.

Obama took the occasion to turn September 11th into a talking point against the Bush administration:

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee also touched on the "spirit" of service witnessed after the September 11, 2001, attacks and take aim at the Bush administration's failure to capitalize on this opportunity to call Americans to service.

"We were ready to step into the strong current of history and to answer a new call for our country. But the call never came," he said.

"Instead of a call to service, we were asked to shop. ... Instead of leadership that called us to come together, we got patriotism defined as the property of one party and used as a political wedge ... we ended up going into a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged." [Emphasis added]
Boom, baby. Between this and his opposition to the anti-family marriage equality ban in California, Obama has shown that he'll fight the good fight.

The Huge, Monumental, Startling Success of The War on Drugs

Yeah...not so much.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands has seen pot use drop, even though they're less criminally punitive than the US. So our drug czars will now encourage decriminalization, yes?


A Study of Assassination

...assassination can seldom be employed with a clear conscience. Persons who are morally squeamish should not attempt it.


A further type of division is caused by the need to conceal the fact that the subject was actually the victim of assassination, rather than an accident or natural causes. If such concealment is desirable the operation will be called "secret," if concealment is immaterial, the act will be called "open," while if the assassination requires publicity to be effective it will be termed "terroristic."

- From "A Study of Assassination," a document found in Job 79-01025A, the CIA's case collection relating to its overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman of Guatemala, 1954. Appended to the document was a five-page list of assassination targets in Guatemala. The list, naturally, was redacted in full prior to publication.

(Source: Cullather, Nick. Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Let Them Eat Golf Balls

I'm trying not to miss the point of Andrew Sullivan's post about Obama, Tiger Woods, and progressive taxation.

We're supposed to feel sorry that, under Obama's plan, Tiger Woods "only" gets to keep 43% of his paycheck? In the example given in the op-ed that Sullivan links, this results in Woods clearing closer to half a million dollars for a single win, as opposed to his usual three-quarter of a million haul. Given that Woods is worth an estimated $500 million, and that his wealth is supposed to surpass $1 billion by 2010, I find it hard to believe that Woods considers the increased tax a burden. What's his thought process supposed to be here - "Damn, there goes that luxury house in Tulsa"?

Meanwhile, Sullivan neglects the more compelling argument in the linked op-ed by Prof. Hank Adler, which is that increased taxes would prompt sports teams to raise their ticket prices by an average of $16 a pop. The rich, in other words, will simply pass their increased tax burden onto the hoi polloi. That's a meaningful argument.

But as Prof. Adler himself wrote, the economy doesn't exist in a vacuum. Baseball stadiums are already a vast money pit for the average American. It costs no less than $120 for a family of four to attend a game at the cheapest stadium in America. Baseball fans pay top dollar to subsidize the bloated salaries of pro athletes (which is their prerogative). Despite massive public funding, the "additional" costs of building new, modern stadiums are passed on to fans in the forms of higher ticket and concession costs. Your average Yankees diehard pays for stadiums designed with $2,500 big-spender seats, and their own private elevators and concourses for the well-to-do fan.

And yet the good professor believes most baseball-loving Americans will sit idly by while team owners pass the cost of their millionaire players' tax increases down to fans in the midst of an economic recession? I'd love to see our 24-45 (and counting) Mariners do that here in Seattle, and see how far it gets them.

Someone's out of touch here. And it isn't Barack Obama.

Andrew's a great writer and thinker, but he's at his worst when he falls back into the pit of the thoughtless conservatism of his youth. His assertion that Obama has it in for Tigers Woods because he's "too successful" is as profound as saying that Islamic fundamentalists hate us for our freedom.

Starbucks Closing 600 Stores (Updated)

Outside of the potential job loss, I'm hard-pressed to view this as bad news.

UPDATE: Well, I'm an asshole. Initial reports were that job loss would be minimal, with employees being re-shuffled to other stores within their district. Not so much: the company is cutting up to 12,000 positions. Ouch.

On the other hand, the company's aggressive growth was unsustainable. And store closures may provide opportunities for indie shops to thrive, breaking Starbucks' monopoly grasp on neighborhoods.

Frownland at Northwest Film Forum

I saw Frownland some months ago as a festival screener, and couldn't help myself from enjoying it. It's depressing. It's sad. But in the end, it's a fascinating portrait of a lonely man hemmed in both by his own deep anxieties and by the uncaring society around him.

The protagonist, Keith Sontag, is a loner, a stutterer, a soft-talker - the kind of "time-waster" you instinctively attempt to ignore at all costs. As you watch everyone in his life belittle and marginalize him, however, your judgment flips: Keith's own self-awareness stands in sharp contrast to the self-involvement of these others. Every one of them is lost, but Keith's the only one who knows it.

The final 20 minutes is a descent into near-madness that's hard to endure. If you want lighter fare, NWFF is also showing The Landlord, the first in their Hal Ashby series.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Heresy over The Gospel of Judas

The scholarly heresy, that is. In its desire to create a sensational story out of the discovery of The Gospel of Judas, National Geographic pushed a questionable interpretation of the text, which most scholars now agree flowed from a flawed (and since corrected) translation.

Iraqis Don't Sign Deal with Oil Companies

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani says that the companies wanted a cut of Iraqi oil, while the Iraqis want to pay them solely on a time and materials (consultancy) basis.

Expect the Iraqis to come under incredible pressure from the Bush administration to ink the existing agreement - or at least a "modified" version of the existing agreement that gives these five major players (Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total) what they want. British Petroleum (formerly the Anglo-American Oil Company) once toppled the Premier of Iran to get a share of that country's oil.

But, of course, we didn't go to war for the oil. To even imply that would be obscene!


One. Zero. Nine. Three. Five. Zero.

This MeFi post about number stations brought back some wonderful, creepy memories. I recall using my shortwave radio in my youth to comb the world for interesting stations. Often, I'd run across a "number station" - a station that consisted of nothing but a little music interspersed with a voice (often female) reading a series of digits, or an apparently random sequence of words. When I read William Poundstone's book Big Secrets, and confirmed what these were - transmissions used by spy agencies to send orders to field agents - I was even more freaked. And intrigued.

Having just finished Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow, which documents the history of American imperialism in the past century, I'm even more intrigued to revisit this subject. It'd be interesting (to say the least) to examine the ways that sound has been used both overtly and covertly in espionage and overthrow. Overt communication (propaganda) was a key tool utilized by the CIA with its Voice of Liberation broadcast in its war against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Political Rule of Thumb

"...as a general rule of thumb if you see a large, powerful, well-organized lobby citing the needs of the poor as the rationale for something or other they're almost certainly full of it." - Matthew Yglesias

But then comes this sentence, which raises one's liberal back-hair:

In the real world, poor people have extremely little political clout and
anything that's attracting a lot of political attention is almost certainly
doing so because it's of concern to the non-poor.

Which I believe is factually true under our current system. Money talks, poverty walks. That's the reason for opposing our current electoral system, which centers around massive ad campaigns and 30-second soundbites. It's why Barack Obama's "people-powered" Internet fundraising campaign is not as revolutionary as the Democrats fancy it to be. It's still fueling the cycle of Big Money elections, which biases results towards an upper-middle class that can afford to max out its General Election donations.

Friday, June 27, 2008


When I ranted about "biker-wear" the other day, I wasn't aware that there was a name for the trend of riding in stylish street clothes: Velocouture.

On another note, I'm sure I was riding next to the woman in the picture for a part of tonight's Critical Mass in Seattle. I'd recognize those shoes anywhere!

On yet another note, kudos to the guy riding the brand new fixie for CM. I was amazed by the variety both of the cycles and of the cyclists. One of the leaders was a guy who kept darting through the Mass with his recumbent. A biker next to me saw him scream by and declared, "Okay - that guy has totally reclaimed those bikes in my eyes." Amen, brother. It's the rider, not the ride.

Only The Hand of Moscow

In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer ponders why American Presidential administrations found it so easy to believe that the Soviets were behind nationalization programs in Iran, Guatemala and Chile, even though little evidence existed to back that up. (Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, in fact, was staunchly anti-Communist; he simply wanted to take control of Iran's oil back from foreign interests.)

The answer, says Kinzer, lies in these American administration's Eurocentric view of the world. He quotes Kissinger, who was accused by Chile's foreign minister, Gabriel Valdes, "of knowing nothing about the Souther Hemisphere."
"No, and I don't care," Kissinger replied. "Nothing important can come from the South. History has never been produced in the South. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the South is of no importance."

This attitude made it easy for powerful Americans to misunderstand why nationalist movements arose in Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, and Chile. Behind these movements, they saw only the hand of Moscow. That made intervention seem almost a form of self-defense. (p. 198)
These countries and their people, in the minds of our leaders, were merely puppets. This marginalization and dehumanization made it easier for people like United Fruit's William Merriam, vice president for Washington relations (whose company's Chilean assets were under threat of nationalization) to outline an 18-point plan for plunging Chile into "economic chaos." And plunge it they did - straight into the waiting arms of General Augusto Pinochet, who ultimately killed more people than died in the attacks of September 11th.

Is Zimbabwe a Distraction from Our Own Crimes?

We talk a lot about low voter turnout in America, and mourn the passing interest most Americans appear to take in politics at any level. But thanks (I guess) to Robert Mugabe for reminding us that the right not to vote is the flip side of that freedom. Many citizens in Zimbabwe can't exercise that choice today - they're being led to polls to cast their ballots in a sham single-candidate run-off.
Residents said they were forced to vote, threatened by violence, arson or roving bands of government supporters searching for those without an ink-stained finger.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew from the runoff citing a campaign of state-sponsored violence, said the results would "reflect only the fear of the people."

"What is happening today is not an election. It is an exercise in mass intimidation," he said at a news conference.

Unfortunately, it seems that the US and EU are talking "sanctions". The US State Department has had a policy of targeted sanctions towards key Zimbabwe businesses associated with or run by the Mugabe regime for the better part of the 21st century. The EU has such an extensive list of sanctions against the Mugabe regime that they can't enumerate what they would add.

History has shown that sanctions don't work. They're particularly impotent against "self-isolating dictators" of the Mugabe strike. Sanctions further isolate and impoverish populations, often turning their sentiment against their self-styled saviors. Franklin Foer cites of a study from the Institute of International Economics, which argues that sanctions have "worked" 23 percent of the time. Their criteria for "worked", however, does not take into account the suffering that sanctions inflict upon the population. Foer himself highlights the economic "collateral damage" done by sanctions levied against Yugoslavia and South Africa. Low estimates on the "side effects" of the economic sanctions against Iraq put the death toll at over 100,000, with high estimates pegging the death toll at over 2 million.

It's frustrating to Westerners to accept that perhaps we can't be The Great White Hope that saves Zimbabwe. But that's reality. It's heartbreaking to watch from afar. But the restoration of democracy is in the hands of Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC, who are straddling the line of rebellion in hopes of minimizing bloodshed against their supporters.

Meanwhile, as Professor Gerald Horne reminds us, our own country continues to wage a war that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Does anyone outside of wonkish circles know what a bloody week this has been in Iraq for both US soldiers and Iraqis? Odds are they don't, because the media isn't telling them.

I don't blame the media for reporting on Zimbabwe; they need to. The American press is notable in world journalism for its lack of attention to what happens outside of our borders. But is it merely coincidental that the press is reporting in depth on a tragedy we can't affect, while ignoring the tragedy we can?

A Shout-Out to Vegan Athletes

Jen Christensen at Illinois' WHOI wrote up this favorable ditty about veganism and vegan athletes. It's great to see such blurbs - however small - busting the myth of the "ill and pasty" vegan.

The athletes she highlights are:
Carl Lewis, an Olympic track star; Brendan Brazier, a professional triathlete (Ironman), Martina Navratilova, a world champion tennis player and Tony Gonzalez, tight-end for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Don't forget marathoner Scott Jurek, who won the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon on Tofu Power.

I've been at the best weight and in the best shape of my life since going vegan. Vegan eating combined with daily bike rides has me slipping in to a size 30, which I haven't done for years (leading my gay friend Michael to dagger-eye me and spit "Bitch!" - but hey, all progress comes at a cost). When I tell people I'm vegan, the universal first reaction is, "I could never do that!" They assume it's a bane. In truth, it's been nothing but a boon.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rochester Farmer's Market: Now Accepting Food Stamps

This is a wonderful development in my hometown. The Rochester (NY) Public Market now accepts food stamps via a machine that converts the paper vouchers into $1 wooden Market tokens. Now Rochester families living on assistance can get fresh, local produce, instead of spending it on packaged crud at a box chain.

Infinity MPG

My new favorite t-shirt. Sadly, all sold out.

Work Them All to Death - from The President on Down

It's a sign of our ongoing national sickness that we're supposed to be shocked (shocked!) to learn that John McCain "doesn't work on weekends."
McCain’s habit of weekends off is recognized by his small band of beat reporters, who are pleased by their good fortune but nevertheless find it puzzling.

Yet for insiders who follow the campaign closely, his streak has become increasingly tough to overlook.

As with so many issues surrounding his bid, McCain’s schedule is a sensitive topic because it is unavoidably suffused with the looming question of his age.
What? Resting, on your day off?! That's for old people, man!

For decades, most productivity gains made by Americans have gone, not into increased leisure time, but into increased consumption. We work longer than previous generations, and take little time off. We are one of the few countries in the world without mandated vacation time (and the time we do get from private employers is well below the world average).

Instead of finding remedies, we turn it back on one another. When someone asks us how we're doing, we launch into a diatribe about how "busy" we are - a self-pitying conversation meant to elicit sympathy, but also to show off what good people we are for putting in such long hours for a corporate employer who could fire us at any moment. Instead of demanding that our politicians pass mandatory vacation legislation, we mock them for failing to put in 80-hour work-weeks.

Thought of the Day

The problem with Internet porn is that you can't claim you were just looking at it for the articles.

Canadian Bicycling Heroine Claire Morissette Honored

Morissette's list of accomplishments shows that she didn't just talk cycling - she lived it:
For more than 30 years she tirelessly promoted bicycling in Canada and in the developing world. Morissette founded cycling lobby organization Le Monde à Bicyclette with Robert "Bicycle Bob" Silverman. As co-president from 1976 to 1997 she staged creative actions that included a "die-in" complete with ketchup "blood" and mangled bicycles and 100 people lying down playing dead at the corner of Ste-Catherine and University; to protest the ridiculousness of a metro no-bicycles rule, group members brought along skis, ladders and cardboard elephants - all allowed at a time when bicycles were barred from the metro. She fought for safer and better routes for cyclists and more bicycle paths, including the De Maisonneuve bike path.

To get people cutting their car use, she initiated the Montreal branch of car-sharing organization Communauto. In 1999, Morissette founded Cyclo Nord-Sud, a non-profit organization that has shipped more than 23,000 donated bicycles to the developing world, many of them to women who rely on the bicycles to get water or do the shopping for their families. In her book Deux roues, un avenir, published in 1994, Morissette not only reveals the state of bicycle facilities across the world but shares her passion for cycling and for cycling
The trail that Morissette fought for, the De Maisonneuve, will now be named after her.