Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for September, 2007

A food conversion George Costanza could endorse

Posted by metaphorical on 18 September 2007

GEORGE: …So, anyway, if you think about it, manure is not really that bad a word. I mean, it’s ‘newer’, which is good, and a ‘ma’ in front of it, which is also good. Ma-newer , right?

MARISA TOMEI: (laughing) You’re so right. I never thought of it like that. Manure. ‘Ma’ and the ‘newer’.

Marisa laughs and George is smiling happily.

MARISA: Did you just make that up?

GEORGE: What, you think I’m doing material here?

MARISA: (laughs) No, no. It’s hard to believe anyone could be so spontaneously funny.

Okay, for the purposes of this post, only the first piece of dialogue was needed, but don’t you just love this whole scene?

University researchers in Idaho may have figured out how to ameliorate one of the worst environmental problems of the meat industries — the vast stores of manure produced by cattle, hogs, and chickens. As the AP reported last week:

University of Idaho and Idaho State University scientists are working on a new maggot-based feed capable of fattening rainbows for the dinner table, while simultaneously helping slash growing mounds of manure and fish entrails.

Idaho is America’s largest commercial producer of trout, with the industry bringing in more than $35 million annually. And with 500,000 cows, it’s surpassed Pennsylvania as the nation’s fourth-biggest dairy state.

That got Sophie St. Hilaire, an aquatic species veterinarian, thinking: Why couldn’t dairies use a slurry of cow dung and trout intestines to grow maggots rich in fatty acids that make fish so good for humans?

“Animal waste management engineer Ron Sheffield, of the University of Idaho, gathers manure in buckets, then seeds it with fly eggs imported from a commercial insect grower.” Later, fish guts are added. The maggots are captured, washed, ground up and frozen, and then shipped to a rainbow trout run at a Snake river test station. “The fish seem to have developed a taste for them,” the AP article says.

“It makes sense to me that the black soldier flies are closer to their natural food than corn and soybean meal,” said Sheffield, an avid angler.

Meanwhile, the environmental benefits are potentially huge.

Black soldier flies, already used in Asia to eat restaurant waste, can reduce manure by 50 percent, turning it quickly to insect biomass. In fact, they’re being studied in southern states including North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, whose big poultry and hog industries hope to harness the flies’ voracious appetite for manure.

They’re also a tropical species that can’t survive Idaho’s harsh winters, St. Hilaire said, making it unlikely adult flies that might escape could establish themselves and become pests. And though adult flies resemble wasps, they don’t bite.

The article cites some hurdles along the way toward commercialization of the idea.

Dairy farms would have to erect sizable facilities to raise the maggots. A distribution system must be developed. And after harvest, the maggots must be stored for long periods, then mixed seamlessly with other fish food ingredients in existing feed mills.

Still, that’s no different from the various other convoluted tendrils of the cattle culture’s manufacturing and distribution chains. Which, in turn, are not that different from those in many other industries, such as the manufacturing of concrete, which depends on an ash produced in coal-based electricity power plants.

This isn’t going to solve the animal cruelty issues, nor the health consequences of overconsumption of meat and dairy. And hard-core animal-rights people are going to have separate problems with anything that promotes the raising and harvesting of fish. But it does seem like a worthwhile measure to pursue, while waiting for the world to wake up to the other disastrous problems of exploiting animals for food.

Posted in animal-rights, technology | 4 Comments »

The freedom to exclude some religions from the freedom of religion

Posted by metaphorical on 14 September 2007

“While the survey shows Americans highly value religious freedom, a significant number support privileging the religion of the majority, especially in public schools. Four decades after the Supreme Court declared state-sponsored religious practices unconstitutional in public schools, 58% of respondents support teacher-led prayers and 43% favor school holiday programs that are entirely Christian. Moreover, 50% would allow schools to teach the Bible as a factual text in a history class.

“The strong support for official recognition of the majority faith appears to be grounded in a belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, in spite of the fact that the Constitution nowhere mentions God or Christianity. Of course, people define “Christian nation” in various ways — ranging from a nation that reflects Christian values to a nation where the government favors the Christian faith. But almost one-third of respondents appear to believe that the religious views of the majority should rule: 28% would deny freedom to worship to any group that the majority considers ‘extreme or on the fringe.’”

  — Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center

The First Amendment Center periodically surveys Americans about their Constitutional rights, and a new survey was just released. It’s being widely reported by USA Today and others but some of the scariest numbers are ones that haven’t changed significantly over the past decade or more.

  • 34% think the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants
  • 24% think Americans have too little religious freedom
  • 39% strongly disagree with the assertion that the news media tries to report the news without bias, and 36% strongly agree with this: “The falsifying or making up of stories in the American news media is a widespread problem.”
  • 25% strongly disagree with the idea that newspapers should be allowed to freely criticize the U.S military about its strategy and performance.
  • 28% believe that the First Amendment’s freedom of worship “Was never meant to apply to religious groups that the majority of the people consider extreme or on the fringe.”
  • 46% strongly agree that “The nation?s founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation.”
  • 38% strongly agree that “The U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation.”
  • 33% strongly agree that “A public school teacher should be allowed to use the Bible as a factual text in a history or social studies class.” (Another 17% mildly agree.)
  • 42% strongly agree that “Teachers and other public school officials should be allowed to lead prayers in public school.” (Another 16% mildly agree.)

Unfortunately, there was no question asking whether citizens should have to take a test regarding their knowledge of the Constitution and have their citizenship revoked if they fail.

The full report is here.

Posted in language, Orwell, politics, pop culture, religion | 4 Comments »

Why can’t the invisible hand claim sets?

Posted by digglahhh on 8 September 2007

This is old news. I intended to address it last week, but did not get around to it.

From the AP:

NEW YORK — A lineup of team logo baseball caps denounced as tailor-made for gang members was ordered removed from store shelves by its manufacturer Friday after complaints from baseball officials.
“It has been brought to our attention that some combinations of icons and colors on a select number of our caps could be too closely perceived to be in association with gangs,” said Christopher H. Koch, CEO of New Era Cap. “In response, we, along with Major League Baseball, have pulled those caps.”
…Both MLB and the Yankees insisted they were unaware of the symbolism in the cap designs, with the New York team noting they were never given a chance to review the new hats until they were already for sale.
…New Era said it would increase its efforts to ensure it had a better working knowledge of gang symbols, names and locations.

The black and gold hat with the crown perched atop the NY is the real nail in the coffin here. The bandana print of the other two is relatively common, and if New Era produced that design in additional colors, beyond red and blue, they may have had a chance at pleading ignorance. But we are supposed to believe that by sheer chance the company selected a color combination that happens to be the colors of one of the most famous gangs in the world, and randomly decided to adorn an appropriate symbol that has no relation to baseball? Oh yeah, and they chose the team that plays in the city where the gang is most prominent. That’s an extraordinary set of coincidences that could only be possible if their Marketing Director was Larry David.

By consumer choice, New Era has a virtual monopoly on the fitted hat industry. Personally, I’m a hat junkie, owning probably upwards of forty New Eras (working for Major League Baseball was a blessing and curse there). For them to plead ignorance here is simply an insult to our intelligence. Are we to believe that they don’t do extensive market research targeting the urban teens and young adults? Really? So, New Era has done hat collaborations with, Wu Tang Clan, and Dip Set, they have put out hats inspired by a relatively obscure (but awesome) Jay-Z song, but they know nothing at all about gang colors or symbolism? Well, if Larry David is their Marketing Director, Dick Cheney must handle their public relations… By the way, the first hit when you search on “black gold gang colors” is to a sociology-style page describing the Latin Kings.

Scope: Primarily metropolitan areas throughout Connecticut, Chicago and New York

Gang Colors: Black and gold. Black represents death, gold represents life.

But here’s the thing, our consumer culture is hardly characterized by socially responsible marketing, so who cares if they did put out these products – even if they did so with the intent of cashing in on the glamourization of the gang lifestyle? We market radar detectors to speeders. Myriad companies use graffiti motifs to appeal to urban demographics. Our cosmetic, diet, fashion, and alcohol industries play on our insecurities to cash in at the detriment of our physical and emotional health. Let’s get real here, is selling gang-inspired fashion a uniquely irresponsible or distasteful offense? If so, why haven’t we gone after the freaking bandana manufacturers?… If the Yankees disapprove of their logo being used that way, so be it. But, let’s not pretend that a network that calls itself “Arts and Entertainment” didn’t air a reality show called “Growing up Gotti!” The Gotti boys were pretty fond of wearing Yankee hats, by the way.

I don’t necessarily endorse the products, but this is free market capitalism, no? Wouldn’t this be a pet case for the conservative libertarians who rage about political correctness neutering our country? Some people may be offended at the invisible hand throwing gang signs, but is that really a legitimate reason to stop the voluntary flow of consumer goods? When did we start giving a fuck about what our consumer actions say about our culture? Disapproving of this product is certainly rational, but it seems unfair to single New Era out for this.

Posted in digglahhh, pop culture, sports | 4 Comments »

Throwing Marbury to the dogs

Posted by digglahhh on 1 September 2007

I want to address two comments about the Michael Vick incident that provoked much controversy and discussion. In reaction to the public’s response to Vick’s participation in a dogfighting ring, New York Knicks pointguard, Stephon Marbury made news by making the following statement.

“I think it’s tough, I think, you know, we don’t say anything about people who shoot deer or shoot other animals. You know, from what I hear, dogfighting is a sport. It’s just behind closed doors.”

First of all, the context of this quote was manipulated and many outlets just ran the “dogfighting is a sport” part. As a result, Marbury was portrayed as a supporter of Vick, or worse, of dogfighting. Given the media’s troubled relationship with Marbury, that was hardly a surprise. Marbury may not be the most eloquent speaker, but if you unpack his comments, there’s something that merits serious consideration.

It is important to note that Marbury did not claim that he believed that dogfighting is a sport. At least that’s not the way I interpreted his comment. If his intent was to proclaim dogfighitng as a sport, there would be no need to preface that opinion with the qualifier, “from what I hear.” Marbury was basically claiming that those involved in dogfighting see it as a sport. Assuredly, it is not, and as a defense for the Vick’s actions, claiming the participants view it as a sport is entirely irrelevant. Perhaps, gang members view drive-by shooting as a sport… I address this part of the quote only to establish that Marbury is not, as the media seemed to portray, supporting dogfighting or claiming it to be a “sport.”

The first part of the quote is interesting. One could interpret it as an implicit defense of Vick, or just as a general comment regarding society, double standards, and the context of Vick’s actions. As a defense of Vick, it would be the classic example of two wrongs not equaling a right, but on its own terms the comment has merit. There are many sets of standards by which society judges the infringement upon animal rights. Marbury’s example of hunting is probably the closest parallel to dogfighting. For one, a substantial segment of the population, even beyond hunters themselves, consider hunting to be a sport, or at least a sports-like activity. Assuredly, hunting is no more of a sport than dogfighting… or drive-by shooting. Still, there are hundreds of professional athletes who are avowed hunters, yet that hasn’t been seen as anything of a moral issue for professional sports leagues at all, despite strong efforts of anti-hunting activists in our country. One simple and logically consistent argument holds that the slaughter of animals for sport is immoral, period.

As you progress further along the spectrum of animal rights activism more issues arise. It might be easier to count the number of professional athletes who don’t own mink coats than the ones who do. At the fringes of the animal rights spectrum we encounter those who feel that a vegan diet is a moral responsibility, specifically for animal cruelty reasons. For society at large, some of these opinions seem to fall squarely in the arena of personal choice, as opposed to moral responsibility. It would be absurd for the NFL to mandate vegan diets for its players, but would it be inconceivable to voice a disapproval of hunting? Of, course, the fallback position is that hunting is legal, while dogfighting is illegal. Most people skirt these difficult debates by using legality as a moral loophole – as if our society has never legalized clearly immoral behavior…

At the very least, the isolation of and disproportionate public response to the Michael Vick situation, as compared to other animal rights issues, is evidence of the obvious tunnel vision through which we perceive the underlying morality issues of this case. And in that sense, Marbury’s point is correct.

The second comment I’d like to address was made by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, Paul Zeise. It was made on a sports roundtable discussion show, aired on a CBS affiliate, about a month ago – Zeise was not invited back to the show.

“It’s really a sad day in this country when somehow … Michael Vick would have been better off raping a woman if you look at the outcry of what happened. Had he done that, he probably would have been suspended for four games and he’d be back on the field. But because this has become a political issue, all of a sudden the commissioner has lost his stomach for it.”

I’m not going to defend this guy anymore than to say that it seemed as if he was speaking solely in terms of Vick’s football career. He did not say that rape was a less disgusting act than dogfighting. The fact is that Vick would have had a greater likelihood of settling out of court, or beating the case altogether were he to be accused of rape. That seems like a pretty grounded assessment of the situation given the outcry against Vick, compared with the record of athletes accused of various levels of sexual misconduct who have either walked or simply cut a check.

Zeise isn’t the only person to make this type of comment; this argument has been used in many slightly different forms, they all revolve around the claim that we are making too much of this because there are other, worse, evils going on in the world. That argument is terribly problematic.

Its initial hypocrisy is that there are always news stories that dominate the headlines, despite their scope being undeserving of the coverage. If these people are truly crying out for responsible news coverage that reflects the importance of the event, they’d be kicking and screaming everyday. Britney Spears has received exponentially more news coverage than Darfur. The selective application of this argument leads me to believe that it is disingenuous. But, let’s even assume for a second that it is not – there are several other grounds on which it fails.

The fact that other, more profound, wrongs exist does not preclude people from taking action and judging the said behavior as wrong. One can’t beat a misdemeanor by citing the extent of felonies committed. The perspective endorsed by the above argument ultimately leads to having to arbitrarily choose a specific degree of wrong at which the public, the authorities, or whoever, should begin to give a shit. Individually, one can certainly feel as if too much has been made of the case, but invoking a subjective, slippery slope argument as a standard to measure responsible collective behavior doesn’t seem like a legitimate criticism. In fact, ironically, it was this perspective that caused authorities to let dogfighting continue, virtually unabated, all this time.

Additionally, this is an apples to oranges comparison. There are many reasons why this issue pulls at people’s heartstrings, and galvanizes them to protest, making the dynamic of this scandal more complicated than an immorality pissing contest.. First and foremost, this is a type of scandal and depravity that is unfamiliar to the public; the shock-factor is huge. More subtlety, the comparison of “rape” is something of a strawman in this context. When a reporter says that Vick would have been better off raping a woman, the image we get is of a seedy character huddled in an alley waiting to snatch a victim and force sex upon her at the explicit threat of violence. This is not the “rape” that we are used to seeing athletes accused of.

Most cases involving rape and other forms of sexual misconduct involve aggressive coercion or fuzzy consent. We are less likely to vilify a celebrity who is accused of rape than we are of dogfighting because of the relative ambiguity of the nature of the indiscretion. We have seen money-hungry groupies disingenuously file lawsuits; we have seen people throw themselves at celebrities. We’ve seen the interminable confusion of the Duke athletes case. We’ve seen tell-all books by individuals whose identities were based around sleeping with as many athletes as possible. Simply put, it is conceivable and precedented that rape allegations could be false, disingenuous, or even a matter of miscommunication; one can understand how a celebrity may find him/herself in such a situation. Zeise’s critics are thinking of rape in the police sketch on the local news sense of the word, when he in fact meant that Michael Vick may have been better off, in strictly pragmatic terms, if he was accused of date-rape by a cheerleader.

You can kill a man in cold blood, so long as it’s done in a boxing ring. Rape is a code word for completely unacceptable conduct, and yet day-to-day life is not nearly so black-and-white. Dogfighitng, on the other hand, is a sadistic and foreign behavior; it is not something we civilized people can understand or fathom an appreciation of, or desire to participate in, even in the theoretical, or abstract. Dogs are cute and innocent; people can be cruel and manipulative. It’s pretty simple really. Of course, the blanket statement that human emotion need not follow some sort of linear reaction pattern that mirrors some sort of “objective reality” about what is reacting to, is also relevant to this discussion.

I find it hard to believe that arguments like Zeise’s can be taken as anything more than rhetorical or quizzical. And, I find it all too convenient to simply twist and dismiss comments like Marbury’s.

Posted in animal-rights, digglahhh, journalism, language, pop culture, sports | 10 Comments »