sphagnum moss, dark water, and politics
Friday, January 24, 2003
The big fat shape of things to come . . .
I spent a good part of the day buying and putting together bookcases from the new Ikea in Conshohocken, PA. It's enormous, and it got me thinking about the logical next step, which is drive though super big box stores. Think about it: folks get in their SUV, go to the store, and drive right in, navigating among extra-wide isles. No need to walk, let alone lug heavy boxes to the car! You can be safe, secure, and in complete control of your consumer experience. It would be simple to have relevent product information displayed on a PDA or something even fancier, while eager "coworkers" would be happy to load your purchases into your mighty (but check the manual - easily overloaded) vehicle . . .
posted by Dan S. on 1:53 AM | | link
Monsanto vs. the Red Queen*
It seems that several weeds have been evolving resistance to the herbicide Roundup (gylphosate). If you have no idea why this matters, here’s some background: Monsanto Co. invented Roundup back in the 70’s, but things really took off in the late 90’s, when Monsanto figured out how to genetically engineer crops to be Roundup-resistant (talk about synergy!). Weeds died, "Roundup Ready" crops thrived. Overall, it was a pretty good thing. Roundup is downright friendly as herbicides go. Farmers were able to cut costs and overall pesticide use; the herbicide’s effectiveness even allowed many to switch to environmentally-friendly no-till farming. Roundup ready crops quickly became associated with big numbers - not only profits, but also percentage of crops planted (75% of soybeans nationwide last year) and amounts used (33 million pounds in 2001 on said soybeans alone).
So, with tiresome predictability - given this vast uncontrolled experiment in natural selection - weeds have been popping up that are also Roundup Ready. At this point we’re only talking about a few weeds, some of which just need more Roundup to kill them (ie, ten times the recommended rate), but it promises to become a serious problem
If herbicide-tolerant weeds gain hold, land prices could slip and farmers would be forced to start using additional chemicals, adding to their costs and potentially increasing environmental risks.Ah, the all-knowing perfect market. Folks are scrambling to figure out ways to preserve Roundup’s effectiveness:
Monsanto . . . has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency to alter Roundup labels to add special instructions for farmers in areas with resistant weeds.The article even quotes a Monsanto spokesman insisting that this is really all about rival companies trying to bring them down . . .
The same thing’s been happening with Bt, a bacteria-made pesticide that’s been a mainstay of organic gardening for quite some time now, used mostly in small amounts and only when necessary. Bt use skyrocketed when crops like corn were engineered to produce it - all the time, throughout the entire plant. Guess what happened? Bt resistance started popping up among crop-eating insects. Monsanto & Co. started adding "special instructions" involving crop rotation and the planting of large non-Bt reserves next to Bt crops in order to dilute the buggies’ gene pool and stop the spread of Bt resistance - for a little while.
Ironically, the ag-biotech ‘Gene Revolution’ has been sold in part as a cure for the failures of previous agricultural practices, including the rise of pesticide resistance and suchlike. Now, I’m not disputing the great potential of biotechnology here, but read the article - and then this one, and this one, and this one, and this one (in case you’re curious as to what the FDA is doing, go here), and hey, you might as well read this one (all over the last month or so, from such hysterical, treehugging rags as the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Nature Biotechnology, and ok, The Guardian&Independent) - and then tell me if you think these are the guys to do it . . .
* The Red Queen - the idea that any advantage evolution cooks up for you will swiftly be countered by somebody else’s, and etc.; in other words, a sort of biological arms race. Named after Alice in Wonderland’s Red Queen, who had to run as fast as she could just to stay in the same place. See the recent news about how soon we really may have no bananas, ever.
posted by Dan S. on 1:21 AM | | link
Thursday, January 23, 2003
Mixed bag for inner city kids, too
Ready, Set . . . Fail
Bad news first: Disadvantaged kids attending publically funded preschools (incuding Head Start) in a New York study "are exposed to fewer books and have less opportunity to learn to read and write than other preschoolers." The three publically funded preschools in the study served "predominantly low-income, African-American families in racially segregated neighborhoods," while the two privately funded ones
were a Jewish nursery school that enrolled predominately middle-income children and a university day care center, in which the children were predominately low-income but whose parents were well educated, multicultural and multilingual. [associate professors?]These kids were exposed to a much greater range of literacy activities, in addition to everything they’re getting at home . . .
Getting the lead out
A study looked at cost-effective ways of reducing lead levels in inner city soil and found that muncipal biosolids compost lowered lead levels from 20-38%. Lead contamination in soil (from auto exhaust in the days of leaded gasoline) is a insidious problem for inner city kids, who "are exposed to the lead when they play outside, get dust on their hands, and track soil into their homes."
Of course, biosolids are basically wastewater sludge, and there have been concerns over heavy metal contamination . . .
But next time someone claims the way to improve the schools is to have more standardized tests, just think about the inadequate preschools, lead-contaminated soil, incinerator pollution and pesticide residue around schools and public housing causing smaller skulls and stunted babies . . .
posted by Dan S. on 8:32 PM | | link
Mixed bag in Senate
On one hand, strong opposition in the Senate has led Bush to rescind a policy letting states restrict coverage of emergency services for people on Medicaid. On the other hand, they crushed John Edwards’ attempt to delay Bush’s gutting of the Clean Air Act from going into effect. Well, that kinda works: when freak weather conditions caused by global warming create a giant temperature inversion over New England, trapping pollution and sending hundreds of thousands of folks to the hospital*, at least the ones on Medicaid can breathe easily knowing they’re covered. Well, breathe easily in a metaphorical sense . . .
*Ok, that’s surely impossible on a region-wide scale. However, it is all too realistic for a smaller area, and was almost common in the days before modern pollution controls. In 1948 an unusually long-lasting temperature inversion over the mill town of Donora, PA caused a five-day long "killer smog" that claimed 21 lives immediately and sickened or hospitalized about 6,000 people. Four years later came the Great Smog of London, which lasted four days, with a rough death toll of 4,000 people, not counting later deaths, which may have totaled 12,000 (more info from the UK here). You can visit NPR to hear a striking
posted by Dan S. on 10:34 AM | | link
Super Bowl roundup
The INS has rounded up a number of immigrants working at the Super Bowl, arresting at least 6, with more arrests expected. About 80 people were singled out and roughly half as many detained. The majority seem to be from the Middle East and Latin America. The Detroit Free Press has the slightly older but more informative Reuters account.
posted by Dan S. on 9:30 AM | | link
Wednesday, January 22, 2003
More things in heaven and earth . . .
It's not just any dinosaur, it's a four-winged dinosaur!
posted by Dan S. on 9:21 PM | | link
Roe v. Wade turns 30: compromise and consensus?
The Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting article from a few days ago on "Going Beyond the Politics of Abortion" to look at women’s real - often complicated and ambivalent - experiences and attitudes. There’s also a related reader essay by William LeFleur, the author of Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan. He looks at Japan:
where abortion has long been legal and will remain so, many women who have had abortions go to temples where they find a venue to express their troubled feelings before a Buddha-like image.and sees there a model for overcoming the political polarization and offering opportunities for healing.
There is an interesting piece at GeneSage which gives a little more background on Jizo and mizuko, including the odd suggestion that since mizuko> are seen as always seeking to return to life, especially to their families, preserving and cloning fetal tissue would "provide an ideal welcome for a mizuko seeking its family." That seems rather unnecessary to me . . .
But GeneSage does point out something LeFleur skips over in the Inquirer piece: the reason for the high rate of abortion in Japan, namely that the birth control pill was not approved until a few years ago.
Which leads us to an op-ed in today’s NY Times by two "activists on opposite sites of the abortion issue" who stress finding common ground and consensus between both sides, for example, a shared desire to reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion (among other things).
It’s a very hopeful piece (perhaps overly so?) that, like the first Inquirer article, reveals a world very far away from the current administration’s stance. . .
posted by Dan S. on 5:37 PM | | link
In the news today: drugs, the SEC, welfare, and the estate tax
This is your twin . . . on drugs
According to the NY Times, a twin study has supported the marijuana-as-a-gateway-drug argument
The lead researcher says it’s not clear why pot might have this effect; besides causing brain changes, he also lists having access to drugs and, essentially, being a bad boy as possible mechanisms. Meanwhile, other studies have come to different conclusions, and as another scientist pointed out, "[a]n argument can be made . . .that even identical twins do not share the same environment during adolescence."
Indeed, there was a guy studying the biological basis of humor who was astonished to find that twins - identical, I believe - found different Far Side cartoons funny. I wish I could dig up the reference - it was unintentionally hilarious . . .
Game called on account of lobbying
The SEC apparently has decided to give up and go home. Ok, I’m exaggerating; the staff wants to "soften proposed rules that would impose new obligations on lawyers and accountants."
The backhand of compassionate conservatism . . .
Also, a NY Times editorial on how Bush wants to raise work requirements for women with small children on welfare to 40 hours a week while freezing funding (for child care, transportation, etc.) at 1996 levels, amid a time of serious state deficits and rising unemployment.
Again, no comment. I mean, what do you say? I can’t even argue; I just keep thinking, "why is he so mean? . . ."
You mean we're not a hereditary aristocracy?!
Finally, two pieces about the new book "Wealth and Our Commonwealth," by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins, on why we should keep the estate tax: one by Sean Gonzales at Common Dreams, and another by E.J. Dione in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
From the forward by Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker:
"From the days of our founding fathers . . . the concept of equality of opportunity and dispersion of wealth and economic power has been part of the American psyche.Hmm, the SEC is watering down rules, Bush is making life unreasonably hard for mothers on welfare, and folks have to write books defending the estate tax. Must be Wednesday.
posted by Dan S. on 3:49 PM | | link
Every global warming has a silver lining
Raising temperatures are causing glaciers everywhere to melt, revealing a horde of ancient treasure* from over the last 10,000 years - giant piles of caribou dung, human tools, frozen seeds and animals in the Yukon, even frozen/mummified people like Otzi (the Iceman) in the Alps and some less-famous guy in British Columbia. Me, I’m hoping for a flash-frozen, clonable mammoth . . . is that really so much to ask?
The problem is of course that once unfrozen, things start deteriorating. We need a global salvage expedition . . .
*What? You think 10,000-year-old caribou dung isn’t treasure? Silly people.
With a name like that . . .
There’s a new website on folklore, mythology, cultural studies and suchlike. It’s called Foamy Custard. How can you not visit it?
(Thanks to Bob Trubshaw & the Folklore Discussion List)
Also, apropos of someblogies' argument that street protests are of limited usefulness compared to other forms of organizing (not to mention the media’s numerical illiteracy when it comes to protests), it has an article on the relevance of folk groups (defined as everything from people who work together to blog-visitors) in contesting hegemony:
In essence this means that 'folk groups' (as defined earlier in this article) which exist among readers of one or more 'counter-cultural' magazines and associated Web sites are potentially a more valuable way of developing 'anti-hegemonic' ideas than trying to get exposure in the mass media through street protests and other 'newsworthy' events [emphasis mine]. The 'powers that be' and the middle tier of media owners, business directors and politicians are too expert at semiotics (or at least use spin doctors and advertising agencies who are) for 'mass culture' to be capable of more than a diffuse and undirected contest to their hegemony.For developing ideas, perhaps - the article’s talking about the need to go beyond the merely "anti-," but in terms of "establishing clear channels of communication with the wider public," I’m somewhat dubious . . .
posted by Dan S. on 2:30 PM | | link
Rendell for President in 2012?
Yesterday Ed Rendell was sworn in as the governor of Pennsylvania. Rendell, a Democrat and former two-term Philadelphia mayor, is the first candidate from Philly to be elected governor in almost 90 years. His inaugural address discussed the looming state fiscal crisis and promised "bold new ideas." He is well suited in this area, as the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out:
During two terms as mayor of Philadelphia, Rendell was credited with rescuing a city on the brink of financial collapse by finding ways to dig out of debt without raising taxes, and by encouraging a Center City economic boom that helped reverse a decades-long trend of job losses.He also repeated his promise to reduce both property taxes and educational inequality by increasing state funding for schools. For people who like the environment as well as children, it’s worth noting that Rendell has nominated former Clinton advisor Kathleen McGinty to be Department of Environmental Protection secretary.
The fact that Brooklyn-born Rendell was actually elected governor is fairly impressive, even beyond the 90-year figure. Pennsylvania resembles New York State in having a staunchly Democratic city on the margin of a far more conservative, not overly supportive hinterland. Rendell's victory was based in part on unexpectedly strong support in the outlying suburbs, not to mention a somewhat lackluster challenger, but the man is an excellent politician, combining experience, intelligence and tremendous energy with a winningly rumpled, down-to-earth style. Keep an eye on him.
The Inquirer has another article about Rendell’s governing style - including the famous 1,290 calorie Rendelli . . .
posted by Dan S. on 12:13 PM | | link
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Sure, it sounds crazy . . .
Tucker Carlson, writing in the Sunday NY Times, advises Democrats to: 1) "[become] more Bush than Bush" and 2) get a sense of humor. Maybe, but apropos of Matthew Yglesias' post on Tatu, I have a better idea. The Democrats should become the party of Russian teenage lesbian popsingers! (Video available here)
Sure, it sounds crazy at first, but think: they're young, they exude a sense of possibility, their music is frighteningly catchy . .. it just might work! Think of the demographics . . .
posted by Dan S. on 1:19 PM | | link
Today in the New York Times:
Did you have a good Martin Luther King Jr. Day?
A Harvard study has found that schools are rapidly resegregating, and I mean rapidly:
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan. 20 — Sanetra Jant still wonders where all the white kids went. Only last spring, they made up a quarter of her class, not to mention her friends. And then, poof, they were gone.It seems, black-white contact in schools has dropped to pre-busing, pre-1970’s levels.
The study mentions all of the usual suspects - growing numbers of non-white children, intense residential segregation - but zeroes in the fact that lower courts have been terminating deseg plans left and right since the early 90’s (at which point, poof! the white kids vanish, to reappear in schools on average 80% white). Here's the funny part: the criteria for successful desegregation, according to the Supreme Court, is that any student racial imbalance has to be explained by demographic factors, "like where the children live."
That’s a good one! That’s right up there with funding schools primarily through local property taxes. Actually, they’re more of a team: one helps provide the "separate," the other brings the "unequal."
It’s a flat . . . tax
Turns out that dividend taxation isn’t the only game in town. Apparently there’s a wealth of cases of double, triple and even quadruple taxation. Turns out these taxes are generally highly regressive, falling disproportionately on those folks in the lower income brackets. According to the National Labor Bureau, "The total burden from nearly all forms of taxation . . . was strikingly similar across the entire spectrum of incomes in 2001." Of course, when you’re in the lowest fifth (average income $7,946), a cumulative tax rate of 18% hurts a bit more than one of 19% for the top fifth (average income $116,666). Or to put it another away, Mr. Bottom Fifth is walks away with $6,516, while poor, put-upon Mr. Top Fifth somehow has to make do with $94, 500. Oops! I’m talkin’ class warfare! Silly me, it just slipped out . . .
A liberal and a conservative were sitting in a bar . . .
Speaking of "class warfare," here is Paul Krugman on the absurdity of that charge. Read it.
"But for the record: When people like me stress how few Americans will gain from the Bush plan, we're not talking about envy; we're talking about priorities."
posted by Dan S. on 11:46 AM | | link
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