Archive for 2009 April

Torture Shocker: Evangelicals Support It Most of All

Rod Dreher is shocked, shocked to discover that of all groups polled by the highly reputable Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, evangelicals are the most likely to be pro-torture, and the more often you go to church, the more likely you are to support torture.

Dreher wonders what evangelicals are hearing from the pulpit. I wonder why he thinks it matters what evangelicals hear from the pulpit. Aren't they the folks most certain of "the truth" and most likely to impose it on others? Doesn't it make perfect sense that they would support torture?


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Swine Flu Exposes Media Weakness

As has been reported on Grist last week and in more detail today considerable evidence points to the possibility of a link between a ginormous Smithfield factory pig farm in the Vera Cruz area and the outbreak of the swine flu in Mexico. A couple of examples from Tom Philpott's post today in Grist:

On Monday, Mexican authorities revealed that at least one victim of
the original outbreak definitely had the same strain of swine flu now
wreaking havoc in Mexico City—and his is the earliest known case of the
disease. The Associated Press reported Monday that:

Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said tests now show that
a 4-year-old boy contracted swine flu in Veracruz state, where a
community has been protesting pollution from a large pig farm, at least
two weeks before the first death confirmed by the Mexican government.
The farm is run by Granjas Carroll de Mexico.

The question now becomes: Did the outbreak that started in February
and killed three kids involve swine flu—or was the 4-year-old boy’s
infection an isolated case? If not—if the La Gloria epidemic turns out
to be ground zero of the infection—could the swine-flu outbreak have
originated literally in the shadows of Granjas Carroll’s hog

Philpott also links to a public health paper that shows how flies — vast swarms of which were reported in the area of the factory farm in Mexico — could be a vector for the disease.

[R]esearch conducted during an HPAI outbreak in Kyoto,
Japan, in 2004 found that flies caught in proximity to broiler
facilities where the outbreak took place carried the same strains of
H5N1 influenza virus as found in chickens of an infected poultry farm.

The public-health scientific community has been sounding the alarm
for years about the potential for bio-catastrophe brewing on industrial
animal farms. The Graham/Sibergeld paper crystallizes those concerns.
I’ll tease out a few key themes.

Untreated manure in lagoons, pointed to by La Gloria residents as a health hazard, can indeed contain flu strains.

Animal biosolids contain a range of pathogens that may
include influenza viruses, which can persist for extended periods of
time in the absence of specific treatment.

Yet conventional news outlets, from first-rate newspapers to right-wing
tabloid sites such as Drudge, despite spending thousands upon thousands
of column inches on warnings, face masks, travel restrictions, and
such, have only begun to even mention the possible cause of the pandemic.

To be fair, the Associated Press did bring up the possible link (above), the NYTimes mentioned the possibility, and apocalypse maven Mike Davis discussed the possible link to factory farms in a backgrounder for The Guardian:

Last year a commission convened by the Pew Research Center issued a
report on "industrial farm animal production" that underscored the
acute danger that "the continual cycling of viruses … in large herds or
flocks [will] increase opportunities for the generation of novel virus
through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more
efficient human to human transmission." The commission also warned that
promiscuous antibiotic use in hog factories (cheaper than humane
environments) was sponsoring the rise of resistant staph infections,
while sewage spills were producing outbreaks of E coli and pfiesteria
(the protozoan that has killed 1bn fish in Carolina estuaries and made
ill dozens of fishermen).

Any amelioration of this new pathogen
ecology would have to confront the monstrous power of livestock
conglomerates such as Smithfield Farms (pork and beef) and Tyson
(chickens). The commission reported systemic obstruction of their
investigation by corporations, including blatant threats to withhold
funding from cooperative researchers.

Yet the plodding nature of conventional news coverage seems to allow discussion of cause only on the editorial pages, as in an excellent op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times by Wendy Orent, who has written books on the subject of pandemics:

So why are some of the Mexico strains so lethal? The answer may lie in
the virus' possible origin: a giant Veracruz pig farm that raises
almost a million pigs a year. According to Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN, an
environmental organization, reports have been coming in for months of
the appalling conditions in the Perote Valley where the farm is
located. Locals report a fearful stench, hosts of flies and, since
December 2008, serious respiratory disease that sickened 60% of the
community. One of those cases, a 5-year-old boy who has since
recovered, had the H1N1 swine flu virus. Other samples have
disappeared, Kuyek says, and most people were never tested.

Influenzas that have their origins in huge, crowded animal farms are
often more virulent than other flu strains. Germs that kill their hosts
quickly tend not to thrive; their hosts die before there is time to
pass the virus on. But on crowded farms, the next snout is an inch
away, and even virulent strains can gain a foothold. It is the same
type of conditions that produced deadly avian influenza in giant
poultry farms in Asia over the last 10 years.

Can't we open our minds to the possibility of such a link without leaping to a conclusion?

Apparently not. But it is a good reason to revisit The Meatrix: Revolting (the sequel):


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Big Chicken Equals Chesapeake Pollution

A memorable totem pole from the great Steve Brodner:

ChesapeakeChickenPollutionBased on a Frontline documentary called Poisoned Waters. At a panel in the Festival of Books in Los Angeles over the weekend, Sharon Waxman, a NYTimes reporter now with The Wrap, made the interesting point that a lot of the best investigative reporting these days is being done in documentaries…this looks to be a good example.

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The Geography of Hope

Speaking of quotable enviros….from Wallace Stegner's famous "wilderness letter" of l961.

Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forest to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarettes cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinctions; if we pollute the last clean air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free from noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. And so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it… For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, part of the geography of hope.

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Why People Hate Conservatives

Devout Rod Dreher, a thoughtful man who posts from considerably to the right of the Catholic Church, hates it when the right sneers at environmentalists for caring about the planet. Interesting to hear this kind of disdain coming from one inclined to dislike environmentalists:

This flopped over the transom this morning [he writes]:

"The Young Conservatives Coalition (YCC),
an advocacy organization dedicated to leading the next generation of
the conservative movement, will hold a rally on Earth Day at the US
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to offer alternative solutions
for environmental problems. The YCC's aim is to promote the use of
market-based solutions and utilizing alternative energy resources,
instead of the Obama administration proposed "cap & trade"

"For far too long there has been a one-sided debate in this country
in regards to environmental policy," stated Christopher Malagisi,
president of the YCC. "It's about time the public learned about
alternative environmental solutions that truly work instead of
injurious proposed policies from the Obama administration."

The event will take place on Wednesday, April 22nd from
11:45am-12:45pm. The two feature speakers will be Chris Horner, author
of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming &
Environmentalism, and Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for
Liberty. A proposed legislative resolution will be offered along with a
free lunch and complimentary granola bars."

Granola bars? Oh, you wits.

See, this is why people hate conservatives on the environment. Understand, I'm not
talking about conservatives who object to anthropogenic global warming
theory, or people on the right who generally criticize environmentalist
sanctimony and alarmism. I'm talking about the frat-boy sneering at a
topic of great moral seriousness. Does anybody really think that stunts
like this serve to convert anybody to climate skepticism? Well, imagine
a feminist group showing up outside a Catholic parish on Respect Life
Sunday to mock pro-life concerns by handing out rosaries with a "Pray
for Choice" label on them, or some similar gimmick making fun of the
seriousness with which pro-life Catholics take the abortion issue. Do
you think pro-choice feminists would win more converts that way, or
would they be more likely to confirm pre-existing stereotypes of
feminists as heartless jerks who don't deserve to be taken seriously?

Likewise with the anti-green jokesters, who bring to mind former
National Review senior editor Jeffrey Hart's observation: "It is
depressing to hear cigar-smoking young conservatives wearing red
suspenders take a reductive view of, well, everything. They seem to
contemplate with equanimity a world without lions, tigers, elephants,
whales. I am appalled at the philistinism that seems to smile at a
future consisting of a global Hong Kong."

Nothing conservative about trashing the planet. Why is that so hard for the National Review to get?

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Link Between Factory Hog Farm and Swine Flu Outbreak?

Tom Philpott, Grist's agriculture writer, writes that media in Mexico has linked the outbreak of a new form of swine flu to a huge hog factory. He writes:

Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog
producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive
hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where
the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield
subsidiary called Granjas Carrol, raise 950,000 hogs per year,
according to the company Web site—a level nearly equal to Smithfield’s total U.S. hog production.

According to the disease-tracking Biosurveillance blog:

Residents [of Perote] believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from
pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms,
operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water
bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to
residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and
attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official
stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease
vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the
outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health
officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this

From what I can tell, [writes Philpott] the possible link to Smithfield has not been
reported in the U.S. press. Searches of Google News and the websites of
the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal all came up empty. The link is being made in the Mexican media, however. “Granjas Carroll, causa de epidemia en La Gloria,” declared a headline in the Vera Cruz-based paper La Marcha.
No need to translate that, except to point out that La Gloria is the
village where the outbreak seems to have started. Judging from the
article, Mexican authorities treat hog CAFOs with just
as much if not more indulgence than their peers north of the border, to
the detriment of surrounding communities and the general public health.

Photos of hog farms and their vast waste lagoons are readily available. I'll spare you because the story is still speculative and not proven.

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All-Time Great Greens Recipe

Some recipes come along that are so great they must never get misfiled, lost, or generally overlooked…until they become embedded in the memory by sheer repetition.

This is one that came via a friend, originally from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters, but like all her best work, it's the essence of simplicity. It's especially great when you have all sorts of miscellaneous veggies in the bottom of the lettuce drawer that you don't know what to do with.


This recipe can be used with kale…or any other leafy green. Really. No kidding, it's amazing that way. It comes out as an excellent side dish, but can also be used as a pasta sauce. Make sure to add a bit more olive oil if needed. It's very easy to cook, but I suggest following the recipe to the letter.

2 bunches of kale (or other greens)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves or garlic greens
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Strip the kale leaves off their stems and cut away the tough midribs of any large leaves. Chop coarsely and wash in water. Drain, but do not spin dry. Heat a large saute pan and add the olive oil and enough kale to cover the bottom of the pan. Allow these greens to wilt down before adding more. When all the kale has been added, season with salt, stir in the garlic, and cover the pan. The greens will take anywhere between a few minutes and 15 minutes to cook. When they are tender, remove the lid and allow any excess water to cook away. turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar.

And here's a picture of the seedlings of this amazingly nutritious, attractive, and vigorous plant, from redmudball, via Flickr.


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Charting Republican Denial

The Rush Limbaugh effect?

From Kevin Drum. As he says…"just kill me now."


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Recession Turns Post-Modern, Takes Brandi Chastain’s Bra

Okay, now it's getting crazy. One of the world's most famous bras has landed in bankruptcy court. A sports museum to which Brandi Chastain entrusted the immortal undergarment has failed, and the bra has ended up in the hands of a court. Maybe it could even could be sold, along with countless other items of sports memorabilia, to pay off the musuem's debts. For more, see the Wall Street Journal.

The recession has gone post-modern; it's trying to put a value on pure famousness, not the game itself.


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Happy Birthday, John

Back in 1838 on this day, John Muir was born. He remains the most quotable of all environmentalists,  and as the years go by, it's fascinating to see how his quotes take on new dimensions.

One of the most important of all his thoughts, sez me, is a simple question with no answer, about the Sierra and nature and death and immortality, from his journals in August of 1875:

We read our Bibles and remain fearful and uncomfortable amid Nature's loving destructions, her beautiful deaths. Talk of immortality! After a whole day in the woods, we are already immortal. When is the end of such a day!

As is so often the case with Muir, this is not a thoroughly worked-out essay, but a jotting in his notebook while in the mountains. Maybe it's not a coincidence that because he was inspired directly by the Sierra, the way a painter is inspired by a landscape, that his thoughts continues to set the imagination of other people afire, and inspire yet more trips to the Sierra, in search of the same inspiration.

Muir's belief in the "good practical immortality" of the Sierra, in other words, led to a good practical immortality for Muir himself. His selflessness helped make him part of the Sierra, forever…and he would, I have no doubt, rather I honor his inspiration than the man, even on his birthday.

In that spirit, he's a pic from one of the great Sierra photographers of today, Buck Forester, who shoots on film, and does not manipulate his image except with lens filters…and also selflessly encourages sharing. Thanks Buck! Here's the Pioneer Basin in the John Muir Wilderness…


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