Friday, December 10, 2010

Eff Blogspot

I'm heading to Tumblr. Here's the new digs:

"The Year of the Transsexual"

I highly doubt it will be remembered that way.

I'm going to put aside the subtle offensiveness of describing people's gender identity in terms of a fashion trend and just say that even if transgender people are edging into the mainstream, we will have to deal with the same problems of stereotypical representations that most other minorities do.

I think pretty much everything the article mentions, aside from maybe the James Franco magazine cover, is just part of a general trend toward androgyny in a lot of fashion, and this is especially true for the urban "hipster" fashion which the NYT seems to idolize. Skinny jeans for skinny guys, baggy sweaters and flannel shirts for even skinnier girls, and American Apparel's insistence on selling "unisex" clothing all kinda contribute to an androgynous aesthetic.

But the year of the transsexual? I don't think so. You could pick out pretty much any year from the past decade and find the "zany" news stories about trans people that this article does, and there doesn't seem to be anything particularly positive happening on any large scale. It seems like the fashion world just kinda sorta loves the outrageousness of Lady Gaga and having a transsexual model, so they talk about it! And that's fine, but to 99% of America and trans people, the change is much more gradual.

As for James Franco, he's just awesomely weird.

Hey Maybe We Should Cut Taxes for Rich People

Because that has worked out so well for the past decade.

Now, Here's the Thing About This

You're all fucking losers.

Seriously, if a writer for the Style section for the New York Times casts you as pretentious, then you need to take more than one step back.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Mustache of Understanding

In light of Ireland's near complete financial collapse, please see this article from 2005 from our Most Admired Pundits in America.

The fact that this man is employed by the Newspaper of Record is a shame. He's never even studied economics in any professional manner that I know of. He seems to have married a wealthy economist and somehow that means that he should talk about monetary policy and the next country that America should invade.

The issue here is that this is not an isolated problem. Thomas Friedman was one of the most vocal supporters of the Iraq War, and he's been wrong about countless other things as well. Most of his columns consist of some inane variation on the theme "I went to country X in my travels, and I have seen the way of the future". All of his columns contain vague predictions about the future because he doesn't know a fucking thing about anything and everyone will forget what he said before "the future" gets here.

Except that now that we have the internet, no is going to forget, and the NYT's credibility will deteriorate every time Thomas Friedman start mashing the keys on his keyboard.

Everything is flat!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Election Postmortem

After watching the election, I'm convinced that two things mattered, and they both worked in the Republican's favor:

1) The economy. Aside from all of the things that Obama and Democrats could and should have done while they had the upper hand, the economy is the most difficult thing to spin, and the Democrats have not done it well. These charts have appeared on a lot of political blogs, but I doubt they have been seen on television news. I think Press Secretary Gibbs showed them at one press conference, but every Democrat should have carried around copies of this every fucking day or else gotten it tattoed on their forehead.

But they didn't. So the shitty economy, which was going to be shitty even before Obama took office, has become Obama's and the Democrats' problem. And they haven't done what they could to fix it. They tried to be "bipartisan" and include $350 million of tax cuts in the stimulus bill, but every person who doesn't read read progressive blogs for at least an hour a day is going to see the stimulus as a Democratic program that was spearheaded by Obama, which brings us to problem number

2), which is messaging. There was a poll a few days before the election that said more people thought Obama had increased taxes than lowered them, and most people thought they just stayed the same. This is flat out contrary to reality, but for some reason Democrats are unable to fight it. Yes, there is Glenn Beck screaming every day on Fox News, but Obama is the fucking President of the United States. People listen when he talks. People listen to the Democratic leadership in Congress when they have enormous fucking majorities. But none of them try to counter this perception. These polls are taken as a reality that Democrats have to deal with, and therefore Democrats have to compromise progressive principles even further to "compromise" with Republicans, and on and on it goes.

And no, I don't make the mistake of thinking that all, or even most, Democratic politicians actually believe in those progressive principles. It's much easier for an elected official to make money by siding with the rich guys and corporations. The thing is, they're Democrats. The people that vote them into office aren't generally the rich guys, or the white guys, or whoever. It's the poor people, the minorities, and the young voters that put them there. And despite how much the politicians undoubtedly want to make money, I suspect that their urge to actually win elections is even stronger, and more Democrats will win more elections when more Democrats provide a clear progressive view.

But as it stands now, Democrats seem to want both. Some Democrats want to please the corporations and lobbyists so they can raise huge amounts of campaign cash, but they can't get re-elected when the Democratic base doesn't give a shit about the elections. And as mentioned above, when Democrats have tried to get the message out about the legitimate progressive accomplishments of the past two years, they simply can't do it like the Republicans.

Supreme Irony

He was the only Senator who voted against the Patriot Act. He voted against the bailouts, against further fighting in Afghanistan, and he has always voted to protect civil liberties.

But the Tea Party elects a Republican businessman because...they love freedom and liberty. Or something.

To be fair, it's not like it was only tea partiers who elected Johnson. There was a lot of gullible Wisconsinites that bought it as well. Enjoy that sweet freedom Wisconsin.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In Reference to the Below Post

Here is the video of Dan and his partner Terry

And here is the post that I found incredibly frustrating.

For those of you who don't what to read my whole post in response to Femmephane, I'll just say this: In general, Femmephane seems to think that Dan Savage's project gives false hope to youth, that it somehow undermines and overwrites the suffering of youth, and that it is a misguided exercise in general.

I couldn't disagree more. As I said below, activism is not a zero sum game. Femmephane seems to think that because Dan started a successful project that some other project necessarily loses or that queer youth are losing their voice. The whole point of the project is not to undermine the suffering of youth, but to establish a community of those that have been discriminated against and their allies. It's true that Dan's project does not actively encourage some sort of intervention in schools, but he has supported the other projects that do exactly that. He is just creating one more opportunity to reach the youth that have so far been unreachable. Maybe YouTube can help.

Side note, this kind of "more radical than thou" bullshit in the queer community really turns me off. Fuck you for being condescending to people who want to live more "normal" or conventional lives than you. That is intolerance.

Why I Disagree with Everything Femmephane Wrote

This post has been circulating amongst a lot of GLBTQ blogs for some reason. I disagree with nearly everything in it.

I’ll take the points one by one to avoid righteous ranting here:

1) Neither Dan nor Terry explicitly links religion or a small town mentality with “being more bigoted”. They only use their own stories as examples. Shockingly, they experienced discrimination and bullying in religious communities and small towns. If I may offer a quote from the website The Catholic Church opposes gay marriage and the social acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex relationships”.

It is outright denying reality to believe that the majority of American Christian denominations are accepting of homosexuality, and the same goes for the majority of non-urban communities. A 1970s study in The Journal of Homosexuality found that “Respondents in the US who were willing to grant such rights to homosexuals as teaching in college, speaking in a local community, and taking out a book from a local library written by a homosexual and favorable to homosexuality, tended to be well educated, young, Jewish or nonreligious, from urban areas, raised in the Northeast or Pacific states”. You can argue that somehow this pattern has reversed, but it, ya know, hasn’t.

2) I have no idea why this is an issue for the writer. Maybe it doesn’t get better for some people. Maybe Femmephane thinks it would be better to tell kids that the rest of their lives may be miserable. I disagree.

3) He’s not assigning guilt here. Femmephane is taking one short phrase out of seven minute video and using it construct some sort of strange worldview in which Dan blames gay children for being bullied into suicide. Does the writer really believe that was his intention? Also, above I thought he was blaming religious people and small towns…

4) Ummm no. Did the writer not see the first two minutes where Dan and Terry talk about how unaccepting their families were? They aren’t overwriting anything.

5) They never encourage anyone to come out. They tell their story in which their seemingly unaccepting families managed to love both them and their partners. Also, consider once again Dan’s intended audience here. His audience is youth who are already miserable and considering killing themselves. I think it’s likely that people call them gay whether or not they have officially come out.

6) I’m going to refrain from an ad-hominem attack and suggest that perhaps Femmephane needs to examine why the fact that a happy gay couple met in a bar by using cheesy pick up line makes them want to vomit. It should not.

7) How is telling your own story overwriting youth experience? I honestly would like an explanation for this. It’s not as if story telling is a zero sum game. Is the writer suggesting that because Dan and Terry told their story one less gay youth gets to tell their story? The idiocy of this is self evident.

8) Again with the overwriting and undermining. These stories do not belittle lived pain. That is the whole point of these videos. They are supposed to be posted precisely because others understand the pain that a youth is going through and how difficult it may be to not just end it all. This seems to be a fundamental difference in the way that the writer and I understand the video. The fact that Dan and Terry are happy now does not imply that a happy ending is inevitable. The writer is making an inference with little basis. They state that it can get better. There is no inference to be made here.

9) This is one particular project of Dan’s that is intended to reach youth who are considering taking their lives because of discrimination. In his column, he has plugged the Trevor Project, suicide hotlines, etc. This is one other means of possibly reaching those youth that haven’t been reached by other means. Anecdotally, I think this project has also been raising awareness about bullying, which is the exact opposite of encouraging “privileged folks” to sit around and ignore it.

10) The writer says that “telling folks that their suffering is normal homogenizes their experience”. Dan and Terry don’t say suffering is “normal”, which implies that it is some acceptable, unchangeable, or inevitable period in a GLBTQ person’s life. They actually don’t say anything even remotely close to this. Perhaps Femmephane is saying that the project itself does this, but I disagree entirely. The videos help further a fucking community of people that have been discriminated against. If one transgender meets another transgendered person, do they feel as if their experience and identity have been “homogenized”? Do ethnic minorities feel this every time they see someone of their own background walking down the street? Pure idiocy.

As for the last three points, I think they have mostly been covered above. Treating a campaign like this as “revolutionary” does undermine anything. Femmephane is again thinking of the attempt to help queer youth as a zero sum game. It’s not a competition. Just because Dan and Terry decided to start a web project that is, just keep this in mind, targeted at youth who are considering killing themselves, does not mean that queer youth are losing their voice (or something). I covered the “lumping everyone together” in #10.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What the Hell is Going on Here?

I really thought that most of America, especially the urban areas of the Northeast, was over this shit.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

She was really asking for it.

Replace the "harassment" with "rape" in this article and you pretty much have the old idea of women bringing it upon themselves. This is my favorite sentence:

"If you want to be treated like a girl at a bar, dress like a girl at a bar. If you want to be treated professionally and without incident, cover up."

That's true ya know. If she wore a burqa, then they definitely wouldn't harass her. But if she wear something that may tempt the manimals, then there may be an "incident" and she's the one to blame.

Also, the writer puts scare quotes around calling Ms. Sainz a reporter because...she's from Mexico? And yes, she is quite gorgeous, and yes, it is likely that it helped her career on television. How many unattractive female "reporters" do you see on U.S. network television?

It's beside the point, but the writer also has Ines Sainz the sports reporter confused with a different Ines Sainz who was a former Ms. Spain. The sports reporter is not a beauty queen. She actually has a Master's in Tax Law.

The Worldwide Leader in News

Be thankful you have someone keeping you updated on all the important stories.

Meanwhile, this doesn't seem to be getting much attention. This is the first mention I've seen in the North Texas media, and the Barnett Shale drilling has been going on for years.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

This is What Collapsing Empire Looks Like

Glenn Greenwald, as always, says it best.

Atrios pointed out other cheery news from one of America's most impoverished cities. Camden will "selling, donating or destroying" over 187,000 books. Meanwhile, all those wars are going swimmingly.

I'm sure someone will explain how illegal immigration and welfare queens are somehow the cause of all this.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pretty Much Perfect

Adam Serwer takes apart NYT columnist Ross Douthat's column on "The Roots of White Anxiety"
I think this quote sums it up quite perfectly:

"The "roots of white anxiety" aren't in fairly minimal black advancement; they're in the constantly reinforced notion that when minorities gain, they lose."

Word. The frustrating thing for me is that this is such a recurring problem. In the immigration debate, any policy option that doesn't involve deporting all of the illegals or putting them in jail is regarded as a concession that Whites are making to Mexicans, and presumably that concession involves Whites losing some sort of economic, cultural, or social advantage that they had before.

I really don't know how many times things like this can be said. Whatever advantages or opportunities White people think they are losing to Black or Mexican or Canadians or whomever doesn't matter! There is an economic elite in this country that continues to grow more and more powerful at the expense of the bottom 80%-90%. It's absurd to watch people fight over the comparatively minuscule gains made by large groups of Blacks and Latinos.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Prestige Factor

I think there's three big reasons that interest in Teach for America is so high: ease of entrance, salary, and prestige are probably the biggest. There are few jobs that will pay you $45,000 with just a bachelor's degree in anything but the hard sciences. I doubt that there is any overwhelming interest in education specifically, but there is always the idealistic urge to give back to the community.

I think prestige accounts for the interest in TFA over say, the various teaching fellows programs. I can say for myself the thing that attracted me were the first two reasons listed above.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Re: Video Size Below

Fuck you Blogspot.

Friday Night MeYousic

If nothing else, I should at least keep up this tradition.

Wealthy Waiters

Apparently the Republican candidate for Governor of Minnesota thought doing away with the minimum wage for waiters would be a good bone to throw at the Tea Party crowd. It turns out there's thousands of waiters and other service industry workers in Minnesota (who knew?), and they're not really fans of the idea.

Now as far as the merits of the idea, it's true that any sort of minimum wage is going to reduce employment slightly. However, the approach that conservative politicians seem to be taking toward the economy at the moment basically seems to be to tell the poor to suck it up. They are proposing things like raising the retirement age for Social Security.

The real objective of all this deficit scaremongering and hand wringing is destroy the welfare state. There is absolutely no question about that. Where was all fear about the deficit during the Bush years? Nowhere to be found. Alan Greenspan actually warned during the Clinton years that running excessive budget surpluses could be bad for the economy. Presumably that was somehow related to cutting Medicare.

I really want to read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine.

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

The Ask tells the story of Milo, a failed painter working in the fundraising office of a university in Manhattan (cleverly called "Mediocre University" throughout). He has a son that he has difficulty relating to, a wife who is not attracted to him anymore, and job that he doesn't like and isn't good at. A fellow blogger who is reading the book right now said she found it kind of depressing, which I hadn't really thought about, but it's true. Milo is not a winner in this book under almost any circumstances mentioned above. In fact, one could argue that his life doesn't actually change all that much from the beginning of the book to the end. The Ask is like a more troubled version of Seinfeld, although it's just as funny.

And that's what saved the book for me. I didn't find it depressing because, despite all of his own fuckups and bad circumstances, Milo maintains his sarcastic and selfish persona throughout. He's not the only funny character, either. His big "ask" for Mediocre University is his rich friend from college, and he turns out to be just as manipulative and clever as Milo. The first few pages had me laughing so hard I had to share them with friends because I was impressed a book could make me laugh so quickly starting from scratch. The humor was also hyper-modern. An example would be when Milo goes on a short tirade about people who use terms like "interwebs and googletubes".

The hyper-modernity also shows itself in the plot. Milo and his wife struggle financially, Mediocre University is struggling financially, and the rich people who fund the University are struggling (relatively). I found this aspect of the plot brilliantly American and very close to reality. The disgruntled, over-educated creative stuck in one of a series of quotidian jobs with no opportunity for advancement. There is such authenticity in Milo's inner feeling of superiority over the world he continually fails in that I was led to believe in him myself.

I suppose the plot then, is about this conflict. Milo's (perhaps justified) inner feeling of being too clever for his job, his house, his neighborhood, and maybe even his wife, and his continual failure to even maintain what he has. But remember: it's funny.

This is absurd.

How many times to people have to get killed by tasers before people demand that we don't use them?

This woman was 87 years old and had a gun. Back in the good ole days, the cops would have to get creative and either force her to put down the gun, or accept the responsibility of putting a bullet into a crazy old woman. Now they have the easier option of killing her with electricity and calling it an accident.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I Have a Mental Disorder

As the movement to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell moves forward, transgender people are often conveniently omitted.

According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, transgender people are discharged under the same pretext as pedophiles.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And one more thing about immigration.

It's a sideshow. Like much of conservative politics, the only point of raising the issue by politicians is to stir up the base. Even though I concede that having millions of people working on a black market is an economic problem, the amount of money that illegals manage to get from taxpayers is minuscule compared to the corporate, and especially defense industry, welfare that occurs out in the open every day.

A Side Note

Just to further undermine the idea that those savage Mexicans are coming here and ruining our country just like they did theirs, 90% of the traceable guns confiscated in Mexico come from the United States.

All the victims of drug violence in Mexico thank you, National Rifle Association.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Arizona = Baghdad with Better Tacos

The amount of illegal immigrants in our country is a problem. That I do not disagree with. I'm always wary of supporting the government's ability to monitor citizens, but illegal immigrants work in an essentially black economy, which is a bad thing. They do not pay taxes, but they are able to use various government services (although these would probably be free to them anyway through welfare).

However, the solution to the economic issue is precluded by animosity and xenophobia that underlies most of the economic arguments that people make. Immigration reform was never successful in Congress because it turns out many people (mostly conservative white guys) don't actually want the Mexicans to be here at all. If illegals were offered permanent and temporary worker programs, and perhaps a path to citizenship, there would be no reason to be illegal.

The common arguments seem to be that illegals "don't pay taxes", although the person making that claim often doesn't actually want illegals to pay taxes. The argument then becomes that illegals are "stealing our jobs" or coming here to commit crimes or, my personal favorite, coming here to "take advantage of our generous welfare state".

Except our welfare state is not really that generous, especially for the very poor. And it turns out that illegal immigrants don't cause crime to increase, either. It actually turns out that El Paso, presumably one of the most illegal-filled cities in the country, is also one of the safest in the country. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her supporters seems to think that Arizona is some sort of war zone, but violent crime has actually been decreasing steadily there for years. Apparently the mere presence of Mexicans can turn a whole region into a chaos resembling Baghdad.

So the only arguments that you're really left with is pointless traditionalism, such as making people speak English, or the argument that they should have to pay taxes because they and their families go to our schools, our hospitals, etc.

And this is true. They should be legalized as either temporary or permanent workers, and then they can pay taxes and move out of the black economy, but this is never going to happen with laws like Arizona's. That law entrenches the black economy by making people even less likely to attempt to gain legal status after being here illegally.

There is absolutely no fucking logic to the immigration debate in our country and it's about time that people stop humoring what is fairly evidently racism. Why else would the Governor of Arizona refer to "illegal immigrant terrorist attacks" when her state is undergoing a steady decline in violent crime?

There is no excuse, and the media needs to call out this bullshit.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Different Types of Freedom

This post from Bruce Bartlett (who is no liberal himself. He worked for Reagan, Bush, and even Ron Paul back in the day) perhaps makes my point about institutions a little more clearly. At the end of his post, he says that Paul believes "that freedom consists of one thing and one thing only - freedom from governmental constraint".

This is why Paul would use the term "institutional racism" to describe governmental discrimination, when in fact "institutional racism" encompasses a lot more than just the government.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Here's an argument showing that Rand Paul is completely wrong even in legal terms!

More Thoughts on Rand Paul

To paraphrase Atrios, government regulates and provides for the existence of private business in all kinds of ways, so why choose the Civil Rights Act to rail against?

This kind of thing sure doesn't help anyone believe that your motives are pure.

Easy For You to Say

Adam Serwer at the American Prospect has a typically insightful post on the Rand Paul debate. I think a key paragraph is this one:

Paul would never face the actual "hard part" of his vision of freedom, because it would never interfere with his own life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. Rand Paul would not have been turned away from a lunch counter, be refused a home, a job, or denied a loan, or told to sit in the black car of a train because of his skin color, or because of the skin color of his spouse. Paul thinks there is something "hard" about defending the kind of discrimination he would have never, ever faced. Paul's free market fundamentalism is being expressed after decades of social transformation that the Civil Rights Act helped create, and so the hell of segregation is but a mere abstraction, difficult to remember and easy to dismiss as belonging only to its time. It's much easier now to say that "the market would handle it." But it didn't, and it wouldn't.

Exactly. Also, as Serwer notes, Rand Paul kept referring to "institutional racism" in his interview with Rachel Maddow, and I think he's misunderstanding or misstating what "institution" means. As Wikipedia says, it is the "structures and mechanisms of social order" that govern a collectivity. By no means does this only describe government. Whatever channels the dominant individuals in a society communicate through are institutions as well, be it the Elks Lodge or the KKK or the guys who sit at Woolworth's lunch counter.

The point of this distinction is that Rand Paul's exclusion of businesses from the definition of "institutions" allows him to imply that they do not need to governed by things like the Civil Rights Act because they do not have the control over people's lives that the government does. But in the real world, these non-governmental institutions have an enormous amount of power in the daily lives of individuals, and they are quite resistant to change. Presumably free market fairies will fix everything in the long run, but the thing is, that never happened with institutionalized racism.

Meanwhile, Bill O'Reilly unintentionally illustrates pretty well why we need ENDA to pass.

Friday, April 30, 2010

I Didn't Even Comment on the Accents

Arizona can now fire teachers because they have accents. I presume this is targeted at the dreaded southern drawl.

Keep digging, Arizona. I'm sure driving away all of your cheap labor will help you get out of that housing crash hole. Fucking idiots.

More Nuggets from 'Murrikin History!

Page 6 Item 8 (b). Did you know that "the release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of Communist government"? I didn't think so. Well, it turns out that Joseph McCarthy guy was right all along. You might know that if you weren't educated at the StalinHitler University of Moral Corruption.

Ethnocentric Education

Apparently it's a bad thing. Unless, of course, the culture that you are centered on is a ficticious Judeo-Christian White Utopia.

Some of these people think the same thing about African-American Studies departments at universities. Who needs black history when you have the Founding Fathers? I mean, you know black people had to have loved the Constitution. How could you not? Oh, right.

And who needs Women's Studies? You know there weren't any bitches at the Constitutional Convention. They were probably back in the kitchen making Benjamin Franklin a big ole steak because women didn't create freedom.

All hyperbole aside, you can go read the amended Texas Education Boards guidelines on their website. The best part? They used tracking changes! So you can see all the great new educational innovations that they inserted. My personal favorite comes on page 3 of the new high school Social Studies standards, where a new weeklong mandatory celebration called "Freedom Week" is described. It will probably be like spring break, except with more recitations of the Constitution.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

I think it’s inevitable to compare this book to The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. They are the two most widely known books (as far as I can tell) about the subject of our food systems and the ethics of eating animals, and both writers seem to have received a lot of media attention for their work.

Foer’s book is a much quicker and more engaging read. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that Foer’s view on the subject of meat is very black and white. He makes this clear several times when he describes humanities’ current situation as a “choice between cruelty and ecological destruction, and ceasing to eat animals” (p. 229). Foer’s language is much more opinionated, and he is not afraid to call something cruel when he sees it. I think his condemnation is more powerful than Pollan’s, and Foer even mentions that many people he knows who have read Pollan continue to eat factory farmed meat, although they often make attempts to eat “moral” meat. This stuck with me because that is pretty much the category that I would put myself under since reading Pollan’s book. I still eat meat that involves cruelty, but I eat much, much less of it, and I make attempts to buy non-factory meat. Foer’s book is likely to have just as much, if not more, of an impact on how I eat because it serves as a particularly effective call to action. On page 173 he says if this book means something to you, “then perhaps the drama of the growth of the factory farm in that Iowa kitchen will help produce the resistance that will end it”.

And I think he’s right. For people who consider themselves principled, there really is no way to excuse eating factory farmed meat. It is bad in every way, and Foer’s book is much more focused on enumerating the specific cruelty and destruction that factory farms cause than is Pollan’s. Pollan certainly did not offer such a broad condemnation of eating meat, and he offered an eloquent defense of meat eating at the end of his book that left the door open for people to continue eating meat.

However, I do think that some of Foer’s criticisms of Pollan fall a bit short. When he is discussing the “myth of animal consent”, Foer quotes a long passage from The Omnivore’s Dilemma in which Pollan describes how it has been evolutionarily beneficial for domesticated species to become reliant on humans because their species have become more widespread. But Foer uses this as a modern example of the various myths throughout history that have described animals as wishing to be slaughtered by humans in some sort of supernatural balancing of scales, and that is not what Pollan is saying. Foer leads off his next section with the sentence “But species don’t make choices, individuals do”. He’s exactly right, but individuals do not make the choices of evolution. In fact, it’s the individuals that are being selected by evolution, not the other way around. Whether something is detrimental to the individual or not, natural selection will choose the traits and individuals most likely to survive and propagate, and those happened to be domestic animals once human agriculture came along.

Another bone that I would pick with Foer is his definition of cruelty. Nearly all of the practices he describes as cruel are unarguably so, but he includes two “humane” farmers under the term because one of them brands the animal and the other castrates them. First, castration is practiced on dogs and cats everyday. I actually don’t know if anesthetic is usually given, but if it’s done early in life, I think it can be seen as an acceptable practice. Controlling the domestic animal populations is a task that humans are going to have to face regardless of whether we eat meat or not. And second, while I think there are surely alternatives to branding, it just struck me as another example of Foer’s black and white view on the subject of cruelty. There is no wiggle room for performing procedures to modify animals into something they would not be in nature, even if something arguably as painful, circumcision, occurs to millions of humans at birth.

However, despite his own black and white viewpoint, a highlight of Foer’s book for me is other opinions that he includes. There are several essays from figures in the food industry such as a PETA activist, a factory farmer, and “humane” farmers. The diversity of strong opinions allows the book to be a self contained debate, and the debate participants are surprisingly good writers. The juxtaposition of the essays is also clever. I especially enjoyed the two accounts, one by Foer and one by unnamed animal rights activist, of an undercover mission to a factory chicken farm which were titled “I’m not the type of person who finds himself on a stranger’s farm in the middle of the night”, and “I am the type of person who….”. His discussion of shit at factory farms made me laugh out loud, partly because he is a funny, witty writer, and partly at the simple fact that he used shit so many times in three pages. Towards the end of the book, Foer even gets a little Marxist when he talks about the workers’ alienation from the product that they are producing. I think alienation describes a large part of why consumers and the factory farm workers aren’t bothered by the cruelty. The consumers never see it, and the workers are dull from seeing it too much. I also think the distance and alienation answers what I thought was a profound question posed by the activist mentioned above, which is “Why is taste excluded from the moral constrictions that we place on our other senses?”

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Want a House of Solid Gold!

Rush Limbaugh has always been a caricature, and I really don't pay attention to his bullshit because his listeners aren't the type that will respond well to my arguments anyway, but his conservative credentials surely must be burnished by the photos of his working man's domicile.

It's like the character from the Simpson's.