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.: 2002 --> december


:: Link and Think is an observance of World AIDS Day. Today hundreds of online personal publishers are sharing stories and resources about AIDS and HIV.

My message today is simple: AIDS is a preventable disease. For most of us, it's as simple as using a condom and not sharing needles. Take care of yourself, take care of others, and make sure that HIV stops with you. If you want to do more, there are hundreds of organizations fighting this disease around the world.
[ 12/01/02 ]

:: In An Animal's Place, Michael Pollan thoughtfully considers the ethical arguments against eating meat and comes to the conclusions I have, over time, reached much less systematically on my own. [NY Times: pockeet, password: pockeet] [warning: slithy popup!] (via boynton)

Several years ago, the English critic John Berger wrote an essay, 'Why Look at Animals?' in which he suggested that the loss of everyday contact between ourselves and animals -- and specifically the loss of eye contact -- has left us deeply confused about the terms of our relationship to other species. That eye contact, always slightly uncanny, had provided a vivid daily reminder that animals were at once crucially like and unlike us; in their eyes we glimpsed something unmistakably familiar (pain, fear, tenderness) and something irretrievably alien. Upon this paradox people built a relationship in which they felt they could both honor and eat animals without looking away. But that accommodation has pretty much broken down; nowadays, it seems, we either look away or become vegetarians. For my own part, neither option seemed especially appetizing.

Though I was a strict vegetarian for many years, and still eat meat only occasionally, I've never felt it was wrong to eat animals. I became a vegetarian for many of the reasons outlined in Diet for a Small Planet; those reasons still matter to me, compounded now by what I have learned about factory farming practices.

The more I learn about them, the more strongly I feel that the factory farming techniques widely practiced today are unconscionable--in fact, I would go so far as to call them immoral. I believe our descendants will look back on these practices in much the same way we now regard child labor practices of the early industrial age: the wrong will seem so obvious that it will be difficult to understand how the mass of society turned a blind eye to such appalling conditions.

The farm described in this article is inspiring to me. I would happily buy meat from Joel Salatin or any farmer who practices this kind of stewardship. The free farmed label is new to me. Though its requirements as described on the website are pretty ambiguous, it sounds like a good first step to providing consumers with ready access to the information they need to make purchasing decisions based on their values. If you're interested in finding responsible farmers in your area, here's a directory of pastured poultry producers and farmers that raise other grass-fed animals; or search the Sustainable Agriculture Directory of Expertise for experts on all facets of the field.

By the way, Salatin maintains that his way of farming produces 'twice per-acre of any other farm in this country' and costs less than conventional factory farming methods.

According to Joel, the cost/benefit ratio on the average farm is $4 of inputs for every $1 in profits. This reflects the growing trend of corporate agribusiness - replacing animal husbandry, land stewardship and wholesome, honest relationships with commodity production based on scale and volume. Joel bucks the trend, boasting a ratio of 50 cents to the dollar on his 550 acre farm, an 800% improvement. 'When you eliminate the things that rust and depreciate, the profit potential becomes size neutral. Instead of paying for machinery to run the farm, we let animals do the work.'

And it's profitable: in 2000, The Salatin farm cleared $200,000. Not bad for a guy who receives no federal farming subsidies.

This excerpt from Salatin's presentations goes into more specifics about his farming practices and his vision for the future of farming.

The beauty of this is, the animals per square foot are 150 percent higher than a conventional factory concentration camp farm. But there’s no disease, no smell, no pathogens. Why? Because the two species work in symbiosis. The pathogens don’t cross-speciate. We can have the population so that neither species is at a density that will kick in pathogens and problems. And yet we can produce 150 percent worth of animal material per square foot. The symbiosis is both sanitary and synergistic. Economical. This is a permaculture concept, of stacking or tiering for multiple benefits.

[ 12/02/02 ]

:: CSM: Big Money Is Not Free Speech (via ned blog)

In August, the CSM described the ways in which politicians were taking the teeth out of the campaign finance reform bill. Now they've taken it to the courts.

Except for a few principled individuals, Congress will never fully support a bill that is designed to decrease their profits. What we need is a Constitutional amendment, but I'm not sure how to get one passed under the circumstances. I would go so far as to say that most of the domestic problems facing this country--which in my world means the circumstances that deprive ordinary people from getting a fair shake--are derived from corporate control of the Congress. Get Congress out of the pocket of the fat cats, and I think you'll find that many politicians shift their focus from catering to special interests to addressing the needs of the citizenry.
[ 12/06/02 ]

:: It's a world turned upside down! Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met with industry leaders last month to pitch the Bush Administration's National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap, and asked them to jump-start a hydrogen-fueled world.

'Imagine,' he asked, 'a world running on hydrogen later in this century: Environmental pollution will no longer be a concern. Every nation will have all the energy it needs available within its borders. Personal transportation will be cheaper to operate and easier to maintain. Economic, financial, and intellectual resources devoted today to acquiring adequate energy resources and to handling environmental issues will be turned to other productive tasks for the benefit of the people. Life will get better.'

This may be the first initiative of this administration that I agree with. It's interesting that numerous car manufacturers have started to roll out green cars in the last few years. I don't believe this is altruism, but it might be a response to stricter governmental regulations.

It's just a matter of time, anyway. Whether we run out of (or lose access to) oil in the next 20 or 200 years, whoever is able to establish themselves as the producer of the most reliable alternative-fuel (or gas-sipping) vehicle is going to be the big winner in the marketplace. [ 12/06/02 ]

:: Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit (via the excellent dangerousmeta)
[ 12/06/02 ]

:: Breast News: California officials have called for a study that will monitor breast milk for chemical contaminants as a first step in accruing data to determine whether environmental contaminants play a role in rising rates of breast cancer.

Breast cancer rates across the country have increased steadily in recent years, with the risk of a woman contracting the disease at some point during her life now at 1-in-8, against 1-in-22 just 50 years ago. Northern California in particular has seen breast cancer diagnoses skyrocket. In the San Francisco Bay area, a woman's chance of contracting breast cancer is now 1-in-7. [...]
'The increasing risk of breast cancer and other cancers has paralleled the proliferation of synthetic chemicals since World War II,' Soto said, adding that only 7% of the estimated 85,000 synthetic chemicals registered for use in the United States had been subjected to toxicological screening.
Breast milk is regarded as a good 'biomarker' for exposure to toxins because chemicals can accumulate in the breast's fatty tissue for a number of years. 'When breast milk speaks, people listen,' said Jeanne Rizzo, executive director the Breast Cancer Fund, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.

Scary. I've always planned to breast-feed my babies, but this story gives me pause. The truth is, this is such an unknown field that even if you had your breast milk tested for contaminants, your doctor--having no reliable way to judge the results--would tell you to go ahead and breast feed anyway. That's not negligence, it would be the result of weighing the known benefits of breast feeding against the completely unknown consequences of contaminated breast milk.

I guess you could compare the levels with allowable levels of toxins in cow's milk. That's not necessarily a safe level, but it would at least give you a base to work from....
[ 12/06/02 ]

:: Archaeologists have found what they believe is the earliest writing in the Americas. They speculate it was used to gain and consolodate political power. (MSNBC story.)

'Since the Olmec were the first to put together a political state, and writing is closely connected with rulers in terms of publicizing their power, it makes sense that they would be the first to use a system of writing,' said Pohl.

Some scholars speculate that the Sumerians, at least, developed writing as a means of tracking commerce.

The preponderance of archeological evidence has shown that the urbanizing Sumerians were the first to develop writing, in 3200 or 3300 B.C. These are the dates for many clay tablets with a proto-cuneiform script found at the site of the ancient city of Uruk. The tablets bore pictorial symbols for the names of people, places and things for governing and commerce. The Sumerian script gradually evolved from the pictorial to the abstract, but it was probably at least five centuries before the writing came to represent recorded spoken language.

I wonder if this means that the Olmec likely developed proto-writing that would precede the writing that has been found?

The Olmec writing appeared some 2,900 years after what may be the world's oldest writing, discovered in Pakistan and dated to 3300-3200 BC.
[ 12/06/02 ]

:: The Cornerstone of Alternative Duvall If you've ever been through Duvall, you'll know what a hoot that title is. Even if you haven't, read about this low-tech bookstore which has thrived for 26 years without ever advertising or holding a sale. (via anita's list of links)
[ 12/09/02 ]

:: Matt bought a new car--and it's a doozy. I had no idea there were any mainstream vehicles available that get 50 miles per gallon, have nearly the room of an SUV, and that can optionally run on biodiesel.
[ 12/09/02 ]

:: Two Weeks on Mars is a weblog record of a two week rotation at the Mars Society's Desert Research Station in Utah, which is testing equipment and procedures for a future humans to Mars mission in full simulation (which means wearing space suits and stuff). Creator Adrian Hon is the editor of New Mars, the online magazine for the Mars Society.
[ 12/09/02 ]

:: Need help with your holiday cards? The USPS is here to help: USPS Holiday card service will print and mail your cards for you. [warning: slithy pop-up!] This is exactly the kind of thing the USPS ought to be doing. I think they ought to get into the email business, too, pre-screening email for viruses and pre-sorting probable spam. The Postal Service is a trusted brand name--I'll bet people would be willing to pay a slightly-higher-than-usual fee for virus-free, spam-identified email. (via Eatonweb)
[ 12/09/02 ]

:: According to Farm Progress Magazine, Climate Change Could Double Corn Costs.

'The climate record shows that both extreme precipitation events and total annual precipitation in the US have increased over the last 100 years, especially the last two decades,' says Evan Mills, a scientist in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. 'The further increase of precipitation expected in a changing climate regime could lead to increases in crop damage. The goal of our study was to estimate the potential magnitude of this damage.'
'The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation paid out $21 billion between 1981 and 2000,' says Mills. 'Increased damage to crops will probably result in an increase in payments from government insurance programs like these.'

(via dangerousmeta)
[ 12/09/02 ]

:: I love the university extension services! Case in point: Washing Fruits and Vegetables.

Dr. Peter Snyder, Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management, reports that Proctor and Gamble tried to get its new vegetable washing chemical written into the food protection code, but this did not happen. Proctor and Gamble has said that their product will give a 90 percent reduction of bacteria on fruits and vegetables in a sink filled with five gallons of water.
This is a 'nothing claim.' You get the same reduction by washing vegetables in plain water. If you wash twice in plain water, you get about a 100 to 1 reduction. The bacteria is simply removed from the produce and diluted within the water -- no matter which method you use.

[ 12/09/02 ]

:: Spanking: Culture, frustration...or economics?
[ 12/11/02 ]

:: We have always been at war with Iraq. When was the last time the US bombed Iraq? (via the memory hole)
[ 12/11/02 ]

:: Whatever Happened To The Electronic Cottage? from July 2001 is a tremendous article on the price of unthinkingly overlaying new technologies on existing social/cultural structures.

...there is need to reflect upon and discuss which social practices and relationships need to be sheltered from the pressure effects of global, commercial networking. At a time in which people are frantically trying to get connected, we would do well to ask: when and where does it make sense to remain unconnected? While leaving intact many of the burdens of the industrial/automobile era, we have come perilously close to achieving complete slavery to email, digital work, and the wired and wireless apparatus that surrounds us.

(via Smart Mobs)
[ 12/11/02 ]

:: Are workers innudated with email? Not so much.
[ 12/11/02 ]

:: Urban Exploration on the Web
[ 12/11/02 ]

:: Can we trust a story from the UPI?

The Bush administration has hired a former advertising executive to sell America's coming war with Iraq to the Arabs, in an effort to convince the Arabs that a war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not a war against Islam.

Has anyone else reported this? (via
[ 12/13/02 ]

:: Feeling a little under the weather? Beware! The internet exacerbates hypochondria. (Victorian Jerome K. Jerome commented on this exact phenomenon in Three Men in a Boat, one of the most hilarious novels I've ever read.)
[ 12/13/02 ]

:: Two new-to-me weblogs: Waterloo Homelessness Network and Social Design Notes.
[ 12/13/02 ]

:: Maybe I should move. It sounds much more affordable than the Bay area. (via eatonweb)
[ 12/13/02 ]

:: How to be a Philosopher. Change just a few particulars and you could easily re-title this 'How to be Blogger'--at least, of the pundit variety.

Begin by making a spurious distinction. Befuddle the reader with your analytic wizardry. The reader will enter a logical trance, from which she will be unable to recall the initial spurious distinction and will feel strangely compelled to accept your conclusions.

(via dangerousmeta)
[ 12/13/02 ]

:: The Selective Conscience is an outstanding examination of the moral dilemma facing people of conscience as they struggle to discern the right course of action in Iraq. Saddam is a monster--and yet, the US cannot wage war at will against any government it feels is not cooperating with its business interests. [NY Times: pockeet, password: pockeet]

The Bush administration's enthusiasm for human rights would be more believable if it were less selectively applied. That does not mean we should ostracize countries whose cooperation we need in the war on terror — Pakistan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and others — for their flagrant violations of basic human liberty. Despite what the purists say, engagement is sometimes a more effective weapon than sanctions. The critical thing is that fostering civilized behavior should be a priority up front in the design of our foreign policy, not an afterthought, a sop to bleeding hearts, or a pretext for something else.

(via dangerousmeta)
[ 12/16/02 ]

:: The always fascinating NY Times Year in Ideas is here. A sampling to get you started: Climate Jumping, Covert Couture, Do-it-yourself DVD Commentary, The Death of Small, Medium, and Large, Hybrid That Gets 239 M.P.G., Net Metering, Peace Through Embargo, The No-Nothing CEO, Patent Your Heritage, The Pedal-Powered Internet, Pop-aganda, and Slow-Motion Democratization. Now go read them all.
[ 12/16/02 ]

:: Drunk elephants kill six people. (Thanks, Jim!)
[ 12/18/02 ]

:: As part of its tax simplification initiative, the Bush administration would like to tax the poor, more.

The top 5 percent of the nation's taxpayers paid 41 percent of all federal taxes, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. But that same group paid from 56 to 59 percent of all income taxes.

Now, that statistic certainly leaves an impression of inequity, doesn't it? But I want to know what percentage of income that top 5% brings in: because if it's 56% of the income, I'd say that requiring 56% of the income tax would be perfectly fair by anyone's standard. (Does anyone know? I haven't had any luck finding it in a digestable form on either the US Treasury or Census Bureau sites.) We also need to know how the Joint Committee on Taxation is defining 'taxes' (and from the article, I guess there is some dispute). It's so hard to get the straight facts on these things.

Update: Alert reader Larry Wissig has found the information I requested! The US Census Bureau Historical Income Tables - Income Equality shows that in 2001 the top 5% made 22.4% of all US income (the top 20% made 50% of all US income). While you're there, scroll down to 'Changes in Shares' to see distribution trends for the 1967 to 1993. Now, why wasn't this information included in the news story?

By the way, I reject the argument that taxing the wealthy discourages them to 'create more wealth'. Capitalism is a brilliant system because it directs a potentially negative universal human trait, greed, in such a way that (theoretically) an entire society will benefit. If greed is such a powerful force that individuals are willing to think and work as hard as they can to make money--and so intractable that a system of distributed wealth, like socialism or communism is innately bound to fail--then it follows that taxing the wealthy, while it might irritate them, would be, if anything, a spur for them to make even more money, if that's what it takes for them to keep more. While their other strategies might include things like cheating on their taxes or doing business in another country, I feel quite comfortable saying that taxes will never result in any wealthy individual throwing up their hands and saying 'That's it! These taxes are so high, I'm just going to stop making money, it's not worth it!'
[ 12/18/02 ]

:: Nasa Engineers Rule from Orbit.

A damaged data recorder aboard NASA's Galileo space probe has finally been reactivated, allowing scientists to retrieve the secrets of the craft's final mission. [...]
Engineers traced the problem to light-emitting diode (LED) within the electronics that control the tape player's motor drive. They suspect that protons from Jupiter's radiation belt may have disrupted the crystalline lattice of the semiconductor material from which the diode is made.
To correct the problem, the Galileo engineers repeatedly directed an electrical current though the diode for an hour at a time. This prompted the atoms to shift back to their lattice positions. This annealing treatment lasted for a total of 83 hours.

Now, doesn't that sound exactly like Star Trek science? (thanks, kevin!)
[ 12/18/02 ]

:: Alert reader Dave Dobbs sent me a link to the following Summary of Federal Individual Income Tax Data, which shows income levels for the top 1%, 5%, etc. (Another way of looking at yesterday's data.) The historic tables are very interesting, and the numbers in that table yield a very interesting chart [large image!]. It seems that in the top 50%, everyone's income has been rising at about the same rate for the last 20 years--except for the top 1%, which broke out of the pack in 1986 and has continued to increase at a faster rate ever since.

Note that this is taxable income--not total income or total wealth. I don't know whether the rich are getting richer, but their income is rising at a faster rate than everyone else's.
[ 12/20/02 ]

:: Two US fighter pilots are facing court-martial as a result of a friendly-fire incident which occurred while they were under the influence of government-issued speed.

The Air Force calls the amphetamines it distributes to pilots 'go pills.' They were quietly reintroduced after being banned in 1992 by the then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak. [...] There were reports during the Gulf War of American pilots becoming psychologically addicted to the 'go pills' and their use now seriously concerns many leading drug addiction experts.

(thanks, sebastian!) [ 12/20/02 ]

:: God is Terrible with Names (via wood s lot)
[ 12/20/02 ]

:: Small Gains for Women in post-Taliban Afghanistan. [slithy popup!]

'Many people outside the country believe that Afghan women and girls have had their rights restored' after the collapse of the Taliban last year, said Zama Coursen-Neff, a researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch.
'It's just not true. Women and girls are still being abused, harassed and threatened all over Afghanistan, often by government troops and officials.'

[ 12/20/02 ]

:: Cornell University Library: America's Culinary History
[ 12/20/02 ]

:: Some Christmas time reading, from 1999: The New Politics of Consumption: Why Americans want so much more than they need.

To be sure, other social critics have noted some of these trends. But they often draw radically different conclusions. For example, there is now a conservative jeremiad that points to the recent tremendous increases in consumption and concludes that Americans just don't realize how good they have it, that they have become overly entitled and spoiled. Reduced expectations, they say, will cure our discontents. A second, related perspective suggests that the solution lies in an act of psychological independence-individuals can just ignore the upward shift in consumption norms, remaining perfectly content to descend in the social hierarchy.
These perspectives miss the essence of consumption dynamics. Americans did not suddenly become greedy. The aspirational gap has been created by structural changes-such as the decline of community and social connection, the intensification of inequality, the growing role of mass media, and heightened penalties for failing in the labor market. Upscaling is mainly defensive, and has both psychological and practical dimensions.
Similarly, the profoundly social nature of consumption ensures that these issues cannot be resolved by pure acts of will. Our notions of what is adequate, necessary, or luxurious are shaped by the larger social context. Most of us are deeply tied into our particular class and other group identities, and our spending patterns help reproduce them.

The author has written a book on the same subject, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need, which I'm interested in reading. If you are too, give yourself a practical context by first reading Why We Buy: the Science of Shopping by Paco Underwood, an empirical (and thoroughly entertaining) survey of American buying patterns.

Compare and contrast this view of American society and consumption with the view put forth in an article I recently linked, Superiority Complex. (first link via patrick)
[ 12/20/02 ]

:: The Secret Life of Non-Readers

We are educated, verbally able in other respects, interested in ideas and people and that thing old-fashioned writers called beauty. We live above the subsistence line, and are not so consumed with invading Iraq or adding to our sexual conquests that we can't set aside 30 minutes a day to monitor ancient Rome's decline.
And yet, against the hopes of our parents and teachers and spouses and friends and sons and lovers, we don't read. Not the real stuff anyway. We are, as the experts like to say with a horrified sense of wonder, aliterate -- able to read, and read well, but disinclined to do so. We can blame time and tiredness, changing technologies and altered priorities; still, a reluctance to read is not all that different from an inability. As Mark Twain observed, in that terribly trenchant way of his, 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.'

I had nearly stopped reading books, for two reasons, I think: most of my reading time was being spent reading on the Web; and the books I felt I should be reading consisted of non-fiction that seemed important or interesting, but that wasn't compelling enough to inspire me to sit down and read. One thing started me reading again, and I got through many more books this year than I had in the previous two: I started reading fiction again, in bed before I go to sleep.

I'm still not up to a book a week, I still enjoy the idea of reading many more books more than I enjoy actually sitting down to read, and I still have a long shelf of books that I 'should' read. But I believe I have re-discovered the secret, which is simply reading what you enjoy, not what you think you ought to be reading.

(via dangerousmeta)
[ 12/20/02 ]

:: Man sentenced for monkeys in pants

Customs officials opened his suitcase and a bird of paradise flew out but that was nothing compared to what they found in his pants--a pair of pygmy monkeys.

Real life = comedy gold. (thanks, loren!)
[ 12/20/02 ]

:: This is the last entry of 2002. It has been a truly extraordinary year. Thank you for your continued patronage, input, and support. I am grateful for this venue and I am honored by your presence here. A very Merry Christmas, and a peaceful and prosperous New Year to each one of you.
[ 12/20/02 ]

Rebecca Recommends: This isn't all the good stuff I read or saw during 2002, just the best of the best.


Data Smog, David Shenk
The Consumer's Guide To Effective Environmental Choices, Union Of Concerned Scientists
The Complete Encyclopedia Of Needlework, Th. De Dillmont
You Can't Eat GNP: Economics As If Ecology Mattered, Eric A. Davidson
Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Howard Rheingold
(full list)

Film and video

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
The Royal Tenenbaums
Gosford Park
Spider Man
Lawrence Of Arabia

Honorable Mention:

24 - Season One
(full list)

:: Top Ten Fuel Efficient Cars
[ 12/23/02 ]

:: Timothy Noah on redistributing a greater share of the tax burden to lower income brackets.

Since most people are liable to consider progressive taxation a good thing, not a bad thing, a Republican rallying cry of 'Tax the Poor!' seems likely to prove almost as much of a loser as 'Resegregate the Races!' Even if you think progressive taxation is evil, however, Chatterbox has already explained (here and here) that the federal income tax's progressivity is largely offset by other federal taxes, especially the notoriously regressive payroll tax, and that when you figure in state and local taxes the tax bite is probably higher for many poor people, percentagewise, than it is for the rich.

I'm fine with progressive taxation. Frankly, a tax that prevents someone from buying a third home or another collectable car doesn't bother me one bit--a tax that prevents a blue-collar worker from buying her first home or sending his child to university, does.

On the other hand, I'm also fine with the idea of a flat tax that applies to everyone, with only a few exemptions allowed. I have always reasoned that the current tax system must favor the very wealthy, or it would have been revamped ages ago. Think about it: every time anyone proposes a flat tax, everyone seems to argue against it. I have to assume that the upper tax brackets (read: politicians, pundits, and big campaign contributors) reckon they would pay more under a flat tax without the various tax shelters and exemptions they now enjoy.
[ 12/23/02 ]

comments? questions? email me