Archive for 2009 October

The Rendering of the Dogs vs. Raising Cattle Well

In a bold Swiftian essay from a non-fiction book soon to be published called Eating Animals, New York novelist Jonathan Safer Foer brings up an unpleasant fact:

Rendering—the conversion of animal protein unfit for human consumption
into food for livestock and pets—allows processing plants to transform
useless dead dogs into productive members of the food chain. In
America, millions of dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters every
year become the food for our food.

Guess I should have known. After all, as Foer points out:

Few people sufficiently appreciate the colossal task of feeding a world
of billions of omnivores who demand meat with their potatoes.

But at the same time, there are folks out there in the world raising cattle, working to do the job right, for the herd, for meat-eaters, and "in conjunction with [Federal and state] agencies," as rancher Gareth Plank explains in a video report for the Redding Searchlight (below).

That means working to make sure the operation is improving the clarity of local streams, to encourage salmon to spawn. It means irrigating thoughtfully, to avoid waste (though Plank complains about restrictions on his water use). And it clearly means a lot of plain hard work.

Take a look:

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Gifts of Uncertainty: Joanna Macy Sees Our Present Moment

The Ojai Foundation, a beautiful place for spiritual seekers, this week inaugurated a "great teacher series" by bringing deep ecologist and Buddhist Joanna Macy in to lead a workshop and give a talk.

A truly inspiring talk it was, and I don't write such words often, being a bit of a skeptic about gurus and leaders of all sorts.

It's so easy, so enjoyable really, to turn our problems over to some one else to solve.

For example: Barack Obama. I love the guy, I really do, but he can't possibly be expected to answer all the global questions he's been asked. The more we expect of him, in fact, the less likely he is to succeed.

Macy didn't address that aspect of our woes, but she did make a fundamental point, which cannot be repeated too often to people concerned about the fate of our world. 

"It is natural for us to be distressed over the state of the world. We are integral components of it, like cells in a larger body. When that body is traumatized, we feel it," she pointed out. "Our culture conditions us to view pain as dysfunction. A successful person, as we conclude from commercials and electoral campaigns, brims with optimism… "Be sociable." "Keep smiling." "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." 

She sees our plight as a conflict between two stories. In the first story, which is variously called Business as Usual, Late Capitalism, or the Industrial Growth Society, all the focus is on the growth of the economy — money. "In order for us to be comfortable and safe, this system is ready and willing to do anything."

In the second story, which she calls The Great Unraveling, we see the bill for decades of extraction, exploitation, extinction, and ruin come due. "Just to speak of this, to transform it into words, seems inadequate," she said. "It takes moral imagination to see what is happening now, this moment is so huge."

But her focus is on the third story, which she dubs The Great Turning, and what's fascinating is that unlike most of our leaders — even great ones, such as Obama — she admits uncertainty as to our fate. We really don't know how it's all going to come out. She sees this uncertainty as a gift. As in love, as in childbirth, as in raising a garden, our success is not foretold.

"We have this notion in America that we ought to be sure [of our success in an endeavor] before we start," she said. "We are addicted to hope in this culture. But hope takes you out of the present moment. You have a chance to be alive at this moment. Isn't that what you want?"

Thank you, Joanna Macy, for articulating this thought, for helping me and countless others transform our fear for our world into a desire to act for it…out of love.

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The Loneliness of the Last Flat-Earther

Funny story from Dana Milbank's Washington Post sketchbook on Sen. Inhofe, whose rants against global warming now seem so utterly dated and Bushian:


"It must be very lonely being the last flat-earther.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, committed climate-change denier, found
himself in just such a position Tuesday morning as the Senate
environment committee, on which he is the ranking Republican, took up
legislation on global warming. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was in
talks with Democrats over a compromise bill — the traitor! And as
Inhofe listened, fellow Republicans on the committee — turncoats! —
made it clear that they no longer share, if they ever did, Inhofe's
view that man-made global warming is the "greatest hoax ever
perpetrated on the American people."

"Eleven academies in industrialized countries say that climate
change is real; humans have caused most of the recent warming,"
admitted Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). "If fire chiefs of the same
reputation told me my house was about to burn down, I'd buy some fire


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Bears and Minivans in Yosemite (the beta)

Fascinating study in the Journal of Mammology sent to me by a reader.

The opening of the study and the headline in the Los Angeles Times agree: Minivans in Yosemite are targets for bears, maybe because they're usually inhabited by messy young children.

As reporter Carla Hall put it:

It's official. Those discerning car critics, the black bears of
Yosemite, have voted the minivan their most sought-after vehicle.

Not to drive, of course, just to break into.

Year after year, foraging bears have made minivans their first or
second choice among tens of thousands of SUVs, sedans, sports cars and
other vehicles in Yosemite National Park.

At least that's the conclusion of an article in this month's issue of
the Journal of Mammalogy, which details a study of 908 bear-on-vehicle
break-ins from 2001 to 2007.

It's a reasonable "interp," one might say. ScienceFair reported it in similar fashion, but found a picture as well for the story, showing a couple of bears defying the study results and attacking a sedan.


But it's not the only possible interpretation offered by the study. Without getting too definite as to its reasoning, the study also hints that the breaks could be the work of just a few bad apple bears.

That's what this paragraph at the top of 1044 seems to say, although it's difficult to believe:

Finally, selection of minivans could reflect the foraging decisions of a few individuals that developed a learned behavior for breaking into minivans. Anecdotal evidence supports this idea and indicates that most of the break-ins resulted from a maximum of 5 bears and possibly as few as 2 individuals. Furthermore, the pattern of selecting minivans likely spanned 2001–2007 (Table 1) and known individuals suspected of breaking into vehicles were alive and in the area during this period.

Which is a shocking suggestion, given that the table 1 they referred to includes hundreds of incidents. Take a look (click to enlarge):

So is it then a handful of ursine villains ripping into dozens of minivans parked in Yosemite Valley? Maybe all this smashing of windows, ripping open back doors, tossing out of seats — said to have "appeared effortless" for the perpetrators — was the two bad bears?


May need to contact Stewart Breck or one of his coauthors to find out.

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Imaginative Reporter Shreds “Global Cooling” Fallacy

With newspaper revenues cratering, most reporters are too busy covering their ever-expanding beats to think imaginatively about ways to cover a story. But Seth Borenstein, who has been reporting on science issues for the Associated Press for years, doesn't need to fear for his next paycheck, and has consistently brought imagination to his work. Confronted with a "zombie" (that is, brain dead) argument that the global climate is cooling, because the warmest year on record is 1998, a canard foolishly repeated in the Superfreakonomics book, Borenstein cleverly sent the climate numbers to four different statisticians, without revealing the source, and asked them to talk about the trends they found.

The results? Not one of the four statisticians found a cooling trend. As Borenstein writes:

The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a
bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect," said John Grego,
a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

Brilliant. But one suspects the zombie argument will somehow stagger on…followed by the deniers.


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The Worst Sexual Double Standard in Politics Today

Meghan McCain speaks out against the Puritanism of the GOP today, in a post for The Daily Beast called The GOP Is Clueless About Sex:

Perhaps the worst sexual double standard in politics right now is that
too many subconsciously believe Republican women are void of sexual
desire altogether.

Good point, Meghan.

One wonders: How can a party opposed to sex (consciously or not) hope to succeed in life?

Seriously! John McCain's daughter makes a sensible plea for sexual education, health, and contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies, but admits that her chances of being taken seriously in today's uptight  GOP are slim and none.

No wonder Republican identification among American voters has fallen to 20%, a twenty-six-year low. Even male GOP politicians do have sex organs, as we've noticed as of late, at least in South Carolina, and even most Republican women, being human, probably like sex.

That's just a guess.

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Shocker! NBA Drops Unenforceable Rule On Traveling

During the new season beginning today, National Basketball Association refs will now allow players two steps after "the gather" before they must shoot, pass, or be charged with a violation.

This has been the unofficial practice for approximately ever.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson had a typically acerbic response to the change:

"Well, I guess if you can't call it, you just regulate it as a rule,"
Jackson quipped about something players had been doing for years. "But,
it's really hard to digest that as a person that's been in basketball
for as long as I've been in basketball, that we're just going to give
in to this new rule of doing it."

Never give a ref an inch, is Phil's attitude, I guess, but the truth is that at the speed these pros play, figuring out where "the gather" occurs is not nearly as easy as casual fans like to think. More power to the NBA for recognizing the unenforceable reality staring it in the face on national television.

And after all, what does the game have to fear? We now have a president with hops! Amazing.


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As Unemployment Rises, Workaholism Declines

Why is it that in the depths of the Great Recession, with editorial cartoonists hit just as hard as other newspaperpeople, the only one who seems to draw on the subject from the point of view of the unemployed, is Ted Rall? I don't get it. Too much identification with the oppressor? Puzzling. 

But whatever, as the kids say, he's still great…


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Ansel Adams in Color

Hard to believe, but the great Ansel Adams had no confidence in his color photography, and so in his life published only a handful of the thousands of pictures he took in color. Even the one below (featured in a brief selection of his color work this week in The New Yorker) didn't make the grade.

So often artists aren't the best judges of their own work…


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If It Looks like an El Nino, and Feels Like an El Nino…

,,,maybe it is an El Nino. After an unexpected and totally welcome 6.59 inches a couple of weeks ago, the air has been clear, soft, windless and warm…we hit a 97 a week ago, and yesterday 84.

The data also look convincing:

Here's a graph of warmth spreading along the equator across the Pacific, from a NOAA site:


And here's a suite of models, all of which show an El Nino/Southern Oscillation developing:


Okay, I'm convinced. Time to fix the roof and clear out the streambed…

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