Friday, July 31, 2009

Kennel Club Takes Action Against the Indefensible

I am not shy about beating The Kennel Club and the AKC around the head.

Nothing has been more destructive to the health of dogs than the Kennel Club promotion of bizarre breeds, fake histories, contrived standards, and extreme show ring exaggerations.

That said, following the showing of the BBC's Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the Kennel Club has taken some small steps forward, mostly of a remedial nature, and I applaud that.

Father-daughter and mother-son incest has finally been banned, and a few small changes were made to a few breeds standards, though the Kennel Club continues to allow breed judges to award top ribbons to dogs that are outside those breed standards.

So why this new round of applause?

Simple: The Kennel Club has taken an important step forward, this time to send a message to breeders of show-line German Shepherds that the animals they have been saluting in the ring -- canines best described as "half frog and half dog" -- will no longer cut the mustard.

German Shepherd at the Manchester Show, 2008

In a July 28th notice, the Kennel Club let it be known that it was no longer going to allocate Challenge Certificates to German Shepherd dogs until certain basic health matters were cleared up:

The Kennel Club has recently completed the overall allocation of Championship Status for 2012 (published in the August issue of the Kennel Gazette) but has declined for the time being to allocate Kennel Club Challenge Certificates for that year to German Shepherd Dogs (Alsatians) until it has resolved various matters with the GSD fraternity.

The Kennel Club has been in contact with representatives from the German Shepherd Dog Clubs and Council to discuss concerns raised by judges over the conformation of the breed as frequently seen in the show ring.

During the course of these discussions it has been stressed that the Kennel Club is aware of sensitivities within the breed, but is also acutely conscious that there is a clear need for the KC and breed clubs to work together to resolve health issues of all kinds and put an end to the practice of double handling.

The KC Breed Health and Welfare Strategy Group is particularly keen to ensure both the proper application of the Kennel Club Breed Standard – and the avoidance of exaggeration – by judges and breeders alike. The Kennel Club notes the level of valid criticism from all quarters; not only within the world of dogs, but also from the veterinary profession and from the general public. The KC is aware of similar concerns in other parts of Europe.

GSD breed representatives were asked, in the discussions that have taken place, to help enhance the reputation of this well recognised breed. There was agreement that there were problems with the hindquarters of some dogs, and that dogs with hocks touching or almost touching were most unsatisfactory. It was felt by some that the tendency for this stemmed from the length of the second thigh. Concern has also been expressed over the potential adverse effect on health both of exaggerated toplines which seem in some cases to be almost roached, and of toplines which fall away in an exaggerated manner.

Breed representatives agreed that during their training, judges must be made aware of the need for overall soundness and, in particular, strength in the hindquarters.

Well there's progress!

It is almost the one-year anniversary of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and still things are moving along.

Of course, things are only moving because of fear that unless The Kennel Club steps up and shows it is capable of implementing real change, that change will be imposed from without. As I have noted in the past, those who will not fence up for themselves, generally find themselves fenced in by others.

The real concern, I believe, is Patrick Bateson's report, which The Kennel Club itself has commissioned. That report is not expected before the end of the year, but if The Kennel Club is taking action now to deal with the poor movement and roached backs of German Shepherd's (not a new phenomenon!), it must mean they have real fear.

Meanwhile, the American Kennel Club continues along, with its fingers in it ears and its eyes shut, its own roached-back and nearly-lame showline German Shepherds the laughing stock of the dog world. The U.S. Secret Service will not even consider using an American German Shepherd. Look at the quality, and it's no wonder!

Happy Birthday to the Outdoor Pressroom

Happy Birthday to the Outdoor Pressroom which is celebrating 10 years online.

He's Supposed to Look Like That?

The ugliest dog in Britain is ... drum roll.... a Chinese Crested.

In short he's the same breed as just about every other "ugliest dog" winner in the world.

From The Daily Mail (which identifies the dog as a Mexican Hairless):

Dawn Fields, head kennel maid at the Hillside Kennels in Waltham Abbey, Essex, said: "When I first saw him I thought, 'Oh my God, what is that? What an ugly b****r'. I thought he had a flea allergy because it makes some dogs lose their fur. But then I found out he's suppose to look like that."

Despite being worth hundreds of pounds, [the dog named] ET has languished at the kennels for months and staff think his quirky looks - a fluffy white head and tail and a bald pink body with black spots - are putting people off.

Mrs Fields said: 'Normally it only takes a few weeks to find a dog a new home but no one wants ET. I think it's purely because of his looks - he's an ugly little fellow.
'We've put him in different kennels to see if that helps. We put him in the first one people see as they come in, but they hurry on past him. Then we put him in the last kennel, but nothing seems to help.

Anyone in the U.K. interesting in giving the dog a new home can contact Hillside Kennels on 01992 892881.

Frontline and Heartgard Maker Merial to Be Sold

Merck, which owns Merial, the maker of Frontline and Heartgard, says it is going to sell Merial to Sanofi-Aventis for $4 billion.

Merial, based in Duluth, Georgia., earned about $2.6 billion last year, and did $1 billion in sales of Frontline which protects dogs and cars against fleas and ticks.

Why did Merck sell Merial? Simple: Merck itself is being bought by Pfizer.

Want to know more about these companies? Here are a few headlines

Note, that these are frauds against Medicare and Medicaid alone. Additional recoveries have been made by private insurance companies trying to recover money stolen from them using similar schemes.

Think these big pharmaceutical companies are above defrauding U.S. consumers when it comes to veterinary medicines, where consumer laws are weak or non-existent, and where neither the U.S. Government nor private insurance companies limit kickbacks, price-gouging, billing for medically unnecessary services, and upcoding?

Don't be naive!

Can You Hear Me Now?

Jonathan sends this picture, above, from South Africa, where he notes, "We have cell phones, but not much sense of self preservation."

For those interested in the native genius of Africa (and there is quite a lot), I highly recommend the Afrigadget web site. For example, check out:

Or how about the terrific bicycle ambulance and general haul vehicle being built (and saving lives) in Zambia, below.

If America wants to change Africa and America, together, here's how you do it: Allow these bicycle creations to be imported into the U.S., duty-free.

Want to help Africa right now, and for very little money? Here's how: click and treat the folks who click and treat. The genius who will save the world is in Africa right now. Help Afrigadget find him.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coffee and Provocation

  • Scientists Discover The Most Obvious Thing About Dogs:
    Science Daily reports
    : "Dog breeds selected to work in visual contact with humans, such as sheep dogs and gun dogs, are better able to comprehend a pointing gesture than those breeds that usually work without direct supervision." Follow up research is expected to show that almost anyone can train a retriever.

  • Worst Veterinary Offer Not in a Godfather Movie:
    Back in February, Bayer was bribing gave out $20 "discount coupons" for "preventative" veterinary care to people who clicked on an online offer. Eh? A discount on what, you might wonder? Why, for whatever unnamed problem, test or disease the veterinarian could come up with on the spot. Oh, and don't worry: there would be no upcoding or price-gouging. Promise! It reminds me of the woman who spent $5 a day on lottery tickets. I would have told her she was a loser for only $3 a day.

  • NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg Try to Confiscate a Flintlock
    New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Police Department say a man needs to register his smoke-pole flintlock, despite a New York City law that says he most definitely does not have to register it. Terrierman wants to see Mayor Bloomberg's original birth certificate.

  • Idaho's Wide-Stance Consultant:
    Former Senator Larry Craig, of "dollar-tug-job" fame (allegedly) is back in business.

  • How the British See the Republican Party:
    From The Independent: "What leadership there is, so it seems to this ignorant observer across the ocean, comes from the grass roots ... the sort of God fearin', gun-totin', sister-shaggin' sweethearts who screeched 'terrorist' and 'kill him' when John McCain mentioned Obama on the stump."

  • The Continuing Crisis:
    Oral Sex Cause of Throat Cancer Rise.

  • The $64 Tomato:
    This looks like a book I might enjoy, but best of all, there's a
    free NPR summary with a nice audio interview of the author telling how he battled a groundhog which took 10,000 volts from an electric fence and kept on coming. Nice. Check it out.

  • Organic is Not Healthier for You:
    There is no evidence that organically-produced foods are nutritionally superior to conventionally produced foods, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
    Left unasked is whether dumping vast quantities of bug-damaged fruits and vegetables while employing large numbers of illegal alien to do the weeding, is better for the environment than pesticide and herbicides.

  • Got Farm Workers?
    Dairy farm jobs are as steady as a clock, but The Wall Street Journal reports that farms are hiring illegal aliens because most Americans find hard physical work in a rural setting for $11.38 an hour not all that appealing. Says dairy man Ray Souza: "I haven't had a non-Hispanic want to do this work in 10 years." Souza and his fellow dairy men are now lobbying Congress for more foreign workers. They claim year-round dairy work is "a job an American won't do." Meanwhile, agricultural economist Phil Martin at the University of California at Davis says if labor costs go up a little more (i.e. if we enforce our immigration laws a little better), higher wages might spur the kind of investments in dairy technology needed to attract American workers.

  • Hell Freezes Over at the U.S.-Mexico Border:
    The Center for Immigration Studies
    reports that "Our best estimate is that the illegal alien population declined 13.7 percent (1.7 million) from a peak of 12.5 million in the summer of 2007 to 10.8 million in the first quarter of 2009."

  • Small Signs of Hope:
    Nepal reports that they have 121 breeding tigers left -- more than many experts expected. In Cambodia, researchers have discovered that the extremely rare white-shouldered ibis does better with some human activity around, as these birds prefer to forage in open and accessible sites with low vegetation and bare soil.

Order your coffee mug with your breed.

Organic and Local Farming by the Numbers

About a weeks ago, I wrote a post noting that despite his essays and poems advocating non-mechanized, locally-grown, organically-grown food production, author Wendell Berry's might not be the best person to lead a sensible discussion about U.S. farm policy.

As I noted, Berry's own farm produces feed corn, small grains, and tobacco. No commercial fresh fruits and vegetables of any kind are grown.

As for tobacco, the nicotine that comes from that destructive plant is such a terrible insecticide it is banned from being sprayed on U.S. food crops.

The little "joker in the deck" with Wendell Berry is that if we were to try to "eat local and eat organic" from the commercial crops he grows, we would starve to death in short order.

What was amazing about the Wendell Berry post was how many responses it engendered from people who seemed to think America is full of farms growing organic fruits and vegetables. Just go down to your local road-side vegetable stand to pick up locally-grown produce.


What road-side stand?

Am I living in a different America from everyone else? I have been driving around this country for a long time, and outside of a few parts of California, I have not seen much land in fruit and vegetable production, nor have I seen too many road-side fruit and vegetable stands.

Am I missing something?

I didn't think so, but just to be sure, I decided to look at the numbers.

A quick glance at the CIA World Fact Book confirmed that American is still a very large country with approximately 2,427,000,000 acres of land.

Unfortunately, less than 19 percent of this land is arable, and only 0.21 percent is in permanent crops.

Of course, 0.21 percent of 2.4 billion acres is still a lot of land. In fact, it's about 500 million acres.

Of the approximately 500 million acres in permanent crop production in the U.S., we have about 72 million acres in corn, 72 million acres in soybeans, 60 million acres in hay, 53 million acres in wheat, 8 million acres in sorghum, and 3 million acres in rice.

In addition to these 367 millions acres of machine-harvested grains and feed, we also have machine-harvested barley, rye, peanuts, sugarcane, sugar beets, flax, and sunflowers to round things out.

Floating on top of all this, we have about 4 million acres in fruit and nut trees, and about 6.8 million acres in vegetables.

Of the 6.8 million acres in vegetables, only 1.7 million acres is grown for fresh vegetables -- the rest is cropped for machine-harvested potatoes (1.2 million acres), machine-harvested dried beans (2 million acres), or canned vegetables (1.3 million acres harvested by both machine and hand).

In addition, a significant portion of the fruit and nut acreage is also machine-harvested -- wine grapes are now picked by mechanical "fingers," while fruit and nut trees are routinely shake-harvested.

All in all, only about 0.0021 percent of all land in the U.S. is in fruit and vegetable production that is not being mechanically planted and harvested, and more than half of this is in California.

Why do I stress mechanical planting and harvesting?

Two reasons. The first, is that Wendell Berry and his adherents like to rail against "industrial agriculture" even as they say they respect farming.

Sorry, that doesn't work for me.

Farming is not some romantic and abstract notion. It's tractors, cultivators, electric fences, bailers, graders, post pounders, dryers, feed bunkers, and electronic monitors.

You cannot tell me you respect farmers while telling me you disrespect the tools and methods they use to make a living.

Second, there is the little matter of labor.

As I noted in an earlier post entitled The Problem Is Not in Our Fields,
If you have food crops that cannot be mechanized (and many crops cannot), then you need a massive labor force that will show up on call and without fail to work in the heat and bugs for 12 hour-days, and for as many days as it takes to bring in the crops.

And then, when the crops are in, you need those people to disappear until they are needed again at a moment's notice (i.e. during that magical three-day window when your fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest at maximum value).

If we get rid of all our corn and soy bean fields, and replace them with locally-grown truck gardens, who is going to pick the lettuce, cabbage, string beans, onions, tomatoes, pumpkins, and zucchini?

Of course, the traditional American answer has been slaves.

We tried indentured servants, but the ungrateful bastards ran away.

We brought in Africans who had a harder time escaping, but Lincoln freed them in 1863.

After that we had to go to the end of the earth to bring in the Chinese and Japanese, but that game ended with the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Asiatic Barred Zone, and the Gentleman's Agreement with Japan, so we brought in Mexicans until that flow was ended (at least for a time) by Edward R. Murrow's Harvest of Shame television documentary in 1964.

So now we have machines in our fields where we can, and illegal aliens where we can't.

There is not much in between: some recent legal immigrants, some refugees, a few college kids, and a few drunks. That about rounds it out.

Is there any wonder305 million to 500 million (and rising!) while we bring back peonage?

Harvest of shame: Foreign labor plants squash in North Carolina, 2005.

Of course, I have not even mentioned organic fruits and vegetables, have I?

Nor have I talked about buying locally-grown produce.

Let's look at the data there.

Across the U.S. we harvested less than 98,000 acres of certified organic fruits and nuts in 2005, the latest year for which there USDA-published data. Of these 98,000 certified organic acres, 57,000 acres were in California

You want to know how many acres of organic fruit were grown in Wendell Berry's home state of Kentucky?


Two acres in 2005! And that's for a state with a population of 4.1 million people.

Of course, much of the rest of the nation is doing too much better.

That same year, Ohio grew only 57 acres of organic fruit, Pennsylvania 42 acres, Louisiana 63 acres, Maryland 16 acres, Alabama 0 acres, New Jersey 50 acres, South Carolina 0 acres, West Virginia 0 acres, Illinois 5 acres, and Delaware 0 acres. Click here to see more state data (Excel spreadsheet).

How about organic vegetables?

Here too, we find rather paltry production, with just 98,000 acres across the U.S., of which 58,000 acres were grown in California.

You want to know how many acres of organic vegetables were grown in Kentucky?

Just 25 acres.

That same year, Ohio had only 581 acres in organic vegetables, Pennsylvania 869 acres, Louisiana 11 acres, Maryland 361 acres, Alabama 4 acres, New Jersey 237 acres, South Carolina 53 acres, West Virginia 63 acres, Illinois 357 acres, and Delaware just one 1 acre. Click here to see more state data (Excel File).

Bottom line: Anyone who thinks America can feed itself on locally-grown, non-mechanized, organically-grown fruits and vegetables is living a rich fantasy life.

To be clear: I am NOT against organic gardening.

As I noted in my very-positive review of Michael Pollan's book, Ominvore's Dilemma, I have been reading Organic Gardening since long before it was cool.

But gardening is not farming.

You do not farm with a trowel and bags of potting soil.

You do not farm by turning over a compost pile with a hoe, or by stirring coffee grounds and banana peels into "night soil" collected from the base of your composting toilet.

I am not against that, but it is not farming. It is gardening.

It is a question of scale.

In a world of 6.7 billion people, you do not put food on everyone's table by watering from a garden hose snaked from a tap.

In America, farming is done with machines, and there is no apology for doing so.

After all, it is only because of machines that the U.S. is able to feed itself.

It is only because of machines that we are a net food exporter.

As the U.S. Department of Commerce notes,
Foods, feeds, and beverages represented $108.4 billion of U.S. exports in 2008, and was the second largest export growth category (end-use) for the U.S., with exports rising $24.2 billion (or 28.7 percent) over 2007. The U.S. trade surplus in foods, feeds, and beverages rose $16.8 billion to reach $19.4 billion in 2008, up from a surplus of $2.6 billion in 2007.

Nothing said here is meant to discourage people from doing more backyard gardening.

And when you garden, please use fewer pesticides and more organic fertilizers.

If you can afford it (and many people can), try to buy foods that have a positive environmental and social agenda woven into their manufacture, whether that is local-grown, organic, or fair-trade.

Try to learn more about modern agricultural methods such as no-till, strip-till, and ridge-till practices, as well as winter cover-crop production, sewage-sludge fertilizer, drip irrigation systems, and mechanical harvesting innovations.

But do not turn your nose up at farm mechanization or overseas agricultural production.

Mechanization is what allows farmers to farm in the United States, and it is what allows old people and poor people to afford food.

If this is a surprise to you, then I suggest going out this next weekend, with shovel in hand, to dig a five foot deep hole in the ground just to see what manual labor feels like. Digging by hand is farming without mechanization.

After you have dug your five-foot-deep hole, I suggest spending a little time with "the Google" so you can discover the average annual income, from all sources, for those age 65+. It is not quite what you think! After paying for rent, gasoline, prescription drugs, clothes, heat, and car maintenance, how is it that these people are supposed to afford $5 tomatoes?

And as for overseas production, it is the only logical alternative to a new slave trade in the United States for crops that cannot yet be mechanically planted and harvested.

Without a doubt, overseas production is the future of organic produce at your grocery store, as the differential cost of manual weed control in Mexico versus the U.S. is $50 per acre as compared to $500 per acre.

The bottom line is this: The idea that there are vast acres of locally-grown, organic, non-mechanically harvested fruits and vegetables in the U.S. is pure fantasy. So too is the notion that America's roadsides are littered with fruit and vegetable stands selling such produce. Yes, go ahead ahead and cultivate an organic garden. But gardening is not farming. If American agriculture is going to be saved, it will be with a tractor and not a hoe.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pearly White Profits From Teeth Cleaning

This is how a Jack Russell Terrier smiles.

The cover of the February issue of Veterinary Economics features an article entitled Pearly White Profits in which veterinarians are advised that canine and feline dentistry are great profit centers.

Tips are given on how to get the receptionist to bill pad suggest new services such as teeth cleaning, and the article says every veterinary practice should have associates "devote two to five minutes of every 15- to 20-minute office visit to talking about dental care."

The article says everyone in the practice should "make a list of the top 10 things you can do to increase the number of dental procedures your practice performs."


But you know what this article never says or even suggests? That there is any scientific evidence to support the notion that there is any medical benefit to annual teeth cleaning.

Absolute silence there!

And you know why? Because no such evidence exists.

And, here's the kicker: that's not just true for dogs, it's true for humans too. As the Journal of Evidence-based Dentistry notes, there is "insufficient evidence to understand the effect of routine scaling and polishing".

And that's for humans. For dogs?

Well, do you really need to know which way the wind blows?

Think it through for a minute. What's the main difference between the teeth of a human and the teeth of dog?

That's right! The human can be expected to live 80 years with adult teeth, while the dog will generally be dead after 12 or 13 years.

But there's more.

You see, human teeth cleaning can be done with the human wide awake and sitting up in a chair, while canine dentistry has to be done with the dog completely knocked out under general anesthesia.

That's a big difference!

And the reason that's a big difference is that anesthesia is risky for both humans and dogs.

In fact, complete general anesthesia is so unsafe that today, when a human heart stent is put in, the patient is almost never put completely under. The sames is true for laser eye surgery, most small tumor removal, and carpal tunnel surgery.

In fact, veterinary anesthesia is so dangerous your vet will insist on doing a full run-up of blood tests before it is done, and even then anesthesia complications and fatalities are fairly common.

And yet, your vet cannot show you a single scientific study that shows that dental scaling and polishing on a dog or cat has the slightest medical benefit.

Not one.

Bottom line: Annual teeth cleaning is not about canine health care, it's about veterinary wealth care.

The entire field was invented, approximately 20 years ago as a way of bringing more money into veterinary practices to replace money disappearing because of changing vaccine protocols for dogs and cats.

Go ahead and brush your dog's teeth. Home-based prevention is good medicine. But when it comes to an annual dental cleaning at the vets, just say NO.

Does that mean there is no place for canine dentistry?  No, not at all.  I recommend taking in a dog when it's about five years old for a teeth cleaning, and then again when it's about 10.  The cost is high, and the benefits are not clear, but a good scaling of the teeth may make them look a little better and may reduce doggy breath a bit (but do not count on much change on either score).  


Do You Feel .... Inadequate?

This is a real ad for a real pharmaceutical product.

Below, a little "Bonus Brooke" in which Ms. Shields explains the basics of Darwin, genetics, natural selection and even genetic drift.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Rule Britannia, The Great Nanny State

Fark reports that:

"The nation that once ruled over half of the world and which stood alone against the Nazis now requires proof of age before it will let you buy a pizza cutter."

Don't believe it? I didn't either. So here's the headline and the link:

Woman, 28, told to prove age to buy pizza-cutter

Perhaps they thought it would be used to dock a terrier's tail?

Cruise Ship Impales Whale, Brings to Dock on Bow

Fin whale impaled on bow ball of the Sapphire Princess cruise ship.

Does this boat smell like fish?

From The London Times:

A passenger cruise ship arrived at port in Vancouver on the weekend with a dead fin whale lodged on its bow.

The Sapphire Princess, from the Princess Cruise Lines, arrived in Canada from Alaska on Saturday morning with the whale speared to the ship’s bulbous bow, the part of the bow which cuts through the water.

It is not known how long the carcass of the fin whale, estimated to be approximately 70 feet long, had been attached to the ship before it docked at the Port of Vancouver’s Canada Place terminal

A Bag Of Groceries

I went to Trader Joe's to pick up some fun food stuff.

This is not "core" food, i.e., it is not my morning granola breakfast cereal (made in the USA and distributed from California) or milk (from a dairy in North Carolina), or bags of boil-it-in-the-pouch Indian food (made in India) which I put over jasmin rice (grown in Thailand), and not spaghetti (made in USA, distributed from California) and tomatoes sauce (made in USA, distributed from Indiana), or potatoes (grown in the USA) or hot dogs (made in the USA), or coffee (Sumatran at the moment, but sometimes sourced from Kenya, Columbia, Mexico or Tanzania).

This is fun food stuff.

The total cost for one bag of food: $34.61. Here is what I got, what it is, where it came from, and what it cost.

  • The Butternut Squash Soup says "17% organic ingredients" and includes filtered water, organic soybeans, natural cane sweetener, sea salt, expeller pressed canola oil, rice flour, natural flavor, onion powder, garlic powder and ginger. No source is given for this soup other than distributed by Trader Joe's of Needham, Massachusetts. The soup contains no preservatives, no artificial colors and no artificial flavors. Cost: $2.49 for a quart.

  • The Carrot Ginger Soup has water, carrots, onions, potatoes, honey, organic evaporated cane sugar, rice flour, ginger root, expeller pressed canola oil and/or saflower oil, seat salt, spices, natural flavor. No source is given other than distributed by Trader Joe's of Needham, Massachusetts. The soup contains no preservatives, no artificial colors and no artificial flavors. Cost: $2.79 for a quart.

  • The Creamy Corn and Roasted Pepper Soup (2 boxes) is water, sweet corn, potatoes, onions, honey, roasted poblano peppers, cilantro, sea salt, expeller pressed canola oil and/or saflower oil and/or sunflower oil. No source is given other than distributed by Trader Joe's of Needham, Massachusetts. The soup contains no preservatives, no artificial colors, and no artificial flavors. Cost: $2.79 per quart

  • Two plastic tubs of black licorice Scottie Dog candies, made in San Francisco - $2.99 each. I freeze these so I eat them a little slower.

  • A package of 3 gorgeous fresh peppers in three colors (orange, red, yellow), grown in the Netherlands - $3.49. I have no idea of what I am going to do with these peppers, but they were gorgeous.

  • A package of crystallized ginger, from Thailand - $1.49. A guily pleasure.

  • A package of "soft and juicy" dried mango, from Thailand - $1.69. An exotic snack.

  • A package of chile-spice pineapple, no source, $2.49. An experiment. I can already tell you a failed one.

  • A package of six kiwi fruit, from Chile - $2.49.

  • A dozen brown extra-large eggs, from Pennsylvania -$2.29. Generally eaten hard-boiled.

  • A tub-canister of Chai Instant Spice tea, no source. - $2.99. Another experiment.
Anything to learn here? Maybe. I eat food from five continents. You probably do too. I do not eat much meat. Those colored bell peppers, it turns out, are grown in greenhouses, and are even imported into Florida. Go figure. I guess some parts of American agriculture are about as up-to-date as American car design and manufacturing.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Get the Hell Out of My House

You know what's funny?

What's funny is all the right-wing self-defense, right-to-carry, private property conservatives who are as silent as church mice when it comes to the Henry Louis Gates arrest in Boston.

You see, what happend in Boston was not a close call: the cop was wrong, was poorly trained, and violated Mr. Gates' rights as a citizen and home owner. As Lowry Heussler writes:

The crime of disorderly conduct, beloved by cops who get into arguments with citizens, requires that the public be involved. Here's the relevant law from the Massachusetts Appeals Court, with citations and quotations omitted:

The statute authorizing prosecutions for disorderly conduct, G.L. c. 272, § 53, has been saved from constitutional infirmity by incorporating the definition of "disorderly" contained in § 250.2(1)(a) and (c) of the Model Penal Code. The resulting definition of "disorderly" includes only those individuals who, "with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof ... (a) engage in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or ... (c) create a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.' "Public" is defined as affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access.

The lesson most cops understand (apart from the importance of using the word "tumultuous," which features prominently in Crowley's report) is that a person cannot violate 272/53 by yelling in his own home.

Read Crowley's report and stop on page two when he admits seeing Gates's Harvard photo ID. I don't care what Gates had said to him up until then, Crowley was obligated to leave. He had identified Gates. Any further investigation of Gates' right to be present in the house could have been done elsewhere. His decision to call HUPD seems disproportionate, but we could give him points for thoroughness if he had made that call from his car while keeping an eye on the house. Had a citizen refused to leave Gates' home after being told to, the cops could have made an arrest for trespass.

But for the sake of education, let's watch while Crowley makes it worse. Read on. He's staying put in Gates' home, having been asked to leave, and Gates is demanding his identification. What does Crowley do? He suggests that if Gates wants his name and badge number, he'll have to come outside to get it. What? Crowley may be forgiven for the initial approach and questioning, but surely he should understand that a citizen will be miffed at being questioned about his right to be in his own home. Perhaps Crowley could commit the following sentences to memory: "I'm sorry for disturbing you," and "I'm glad you're all right."

Spoiling for a fight, Crowley refuses to repeat his name and badge number. Most of us would hand over a business card or write the information on a scrap of paper. No, Crowley is upset and he's mad at Gates. He's been accused of racism. Nobody likes that, but if a cop can't take an insult without retaliating, he's in the wrong job. When a person is given a gun and a badge, we better make sure he's got a firm grasp on his temper. If Crowley had called Gates a name, I'd be disappointed in him, but Crowley did something much worse. He set Gates up for a criminal charge to punish Gates for his own embarrassment.

So where is the right-wing outrage at the over-reaching of the police state?

Where is the instruction piece that says this is why every black man in America should be strapped with a Glock even as they walk around in their own home (not to mention when they go to the Mall, to Church, or to a Sarah Palin rally)?

Oh. Right. Henry Louis Gates is a black man. In that case, what the hell did he expect would happen to him? The man was being uppity.

And he was being uppity to a good, God-fearing law enforcement official to boot! He's lucky he was not shot. In fact, he should have been shot. How else will we ever teach black people to never question authority?

Friday, July 24, 2009

MSNBC Gets Spanked for Cause

Charles Pierce is awesome in this clip.

He refuses to let MSNBC off the hook for booking right-wing nut cases in the morning while acting as if it is purer than Caesers Wife during Countdown in the evening.

Pierce hammers the 20-something guest bookers at CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox and the other TV networks for giving air time to people who are well and truly crazy.

David Shuster tries to bring it back to the nut job Liz Cheney, but in fact Mr. Pierce is making a bigger -- and far more important -- point.

Keith Oberman should step up and step in to invite Pierce back on this show for a longer segment.

So what if Pierce will not let MSNBC off the hook? Sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander. Let's see if Keith Olbermann has a real set of balls -- and any real power to call a little bit of heat down on his own network.

Charles Piere's book, by the way is entitled Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. Nice title. It just made my reading list.

Ames Pony Shovel

In looking for a source of extra-long rivets to repair a shovel head with, I discovered that an Ames Pony shovel (from AM Leonard) can now be bought from >> see here

This is a very good American-made shovel from a company that has been making tools for longer than we have been a country.

This shovel is not cheap, but it is worth every penny.

Canada Versus U.S. Health Care

No one pays more for health care than we do here in the U.S., but we are told that if we embrace a public option health care plan (yes, you can still keep the insurance you have now if you are happy with that insurance), then we will be sliding down a "slippery slope" to a Canadian-style health care system.


Canada has always seemed like a pretty civilized country to me. They certainly live longer, on average, than the average American.

Let's look at some other numbers:

What else?

  • The U.S. spends more on health care than Canada, both on a per-capita basis and as a percentage of GDP. In 2006, per-capita spending for health care in the U.S. was US $6,714; in Canada, US $3,678. The U.S. spent 15.3% of GDP on health care in that year; Canada spent 10.0%.

  • In 2006, 70% of health care spending in Canada was financed by government, versus 46% in the United States. Total government spending per-capita in the U.S. on health care was 23% higher than Canadian government spending, and U.S. government expenditure on health care was just under 83% of total Canadian spending (public and private).

Best News Headline Ever

The continuing crisis: >> Swedish lesbians suck sperm banks dry.

Laughing at the Republican Loons

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Yes, we need a laugh, and who is funnier than the totally insane Republican party? Leaderless, devoid of ideas, bereft of facts, caught up in wave after wave of stories about homosexual-glory-hole-bathroom capers, diaper-wearing fetishes, and serial wife-cheating, they are like a living laugh track.

Of course, the left has its loons too, and I have celebrated them as well.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Canine Freak Show Litigation

Here's an update to my earlier post entitled Woman Tries to Stop the Canine Freak Show.

It seem that the owner of the freak show has, well, freaked out, that the 5-legged chihuahua that he hoped to exhibit might, instead, get its deformities fixed and go to a loving home.

The owner of the freak show is now suing for his right to display the 5-legged dog for profit.

Update to the update:
The 5-legged dog now has four legs and is recovering after surgery. The owner of the freak show says: “Sometimes, you just gotta say: ‘OK, I still have nine live, two-headed animals,' and move on.”

Blue Dogs: A Nice Name for Whore

David Sirota has a nice piece up on why "Blue Dog" Democrats are really nothing more than ugly little political whores of the worst kind.

Finally, someone describes how it really works in Washington! Read the whole thing. This is serious truth:

What's really going on is this: "Blue Dogs" and "conservative Democrats" tend to represent swing states and districts - that is, states and districts that are among the very few that aren't gerrymandered and therefore actually play host to competitive elections. Because of this, their re-election races tend to be especially expensive, which means these politicians have to raise a shit-ton of cash for television ads. How, pray tell, do career politicians raise a shit-ton of cash? They trade their votes and legislative maneuvers for corporate campaign money, most of it coming from special interests in Washington who have little to no grassroots support/connection to the politician's state/district. The special-interest, D.C.-centric nature of these bribes is only enhanced by the fact that many of the "Blue Dog" and "conservative Democratic" districts/states are rather poor, meaning the money-sucking politicians are all but compelled to rely on out-of-state cash for their warchests.

All of this creates a closed circuit that serves the status quo. A "conservative Democratic" politician from a swing state needs to raise millions to finance a competitive campaign. There's not a lot of loose money lying around the district, considering the recession and the destitution of the very kind of district the "conservative Democrat" comes from. So the "conservative Democrat" ends up relying on money from D.C. special interests like, say, health insurers - interests that are largely hated in the "conservative Democrat's" state and have little grassroots connection to the state. That money then buys House and Senate votes that prevent stuff like health care reform that would most benefit the constituents of economically struggling states like the "conservative Democrat's" state.

In the end, because of this kind of transaction, the state remains destitute, and the politician remains in office, keeps raising out-of-state cash, and keeps insisting with a shit-eating grin that it's crazy - just crazy! - for anyone to think their votes could be influenced by millions of dollars.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wendell Berry's Pipe Dreams

Earlier this Spring, Wendell Berry, the poet, writer, cultural critic and farmer, spoke at George Washington University, about four blocks from my office. You can see a portion of his presentation in the video, above.

Berry has made a small name for himself as a professional mourner for rural America, and as a confirmed Luddite who embraces a kind of romantic pastoralism.

To his credit, Berry notes that there is a certain dissonance to his presence, and indeed his very existence.

"I flew up here, to tell you, among other things .... that if I was going to get here guilt free, I would have had to walk.

This is paradox we are all caught in, and it ought to give us an appropriate sense of complexity.

[pause] ... Seems to me that for 35 or 40 years, I have been flying about all over the country to tell people, in effect, that they ought be be staying home.

[pause] ... That's a hard nut to crack."

Of course, he does not even try to crack it. And why should he?

After all, his stock in trade is not solving the world's social and economic problems, but bemoaning the way things are even as he paints a gauzy and pastel-tinted picture of the way things used to be.

I am not trying to break Wendell Berry's rice bowl here. He is a very good writer. I just wonder whether Berry gets his groceries delivered from town as Thoreau did? I do not know, but I would not be too surprised. After all, it's much easier to talk about living a simple life than it is to actually get off the grid and live a fully self-sustaining existence without benefit of trans-continental (and even international) commerce.

I do know that Berry bemoans the fact that his little town of Port Royal has gone from 18 stores to just 3.

I sympathize. If making a rural living was so great, more people would be doing it.

Now, to be clear, I am not begrudging Berry his airline flights.

Nor am I begrudging him his suit (which he did not make) or his shoes (which he did not make).

What I am going to call Wendell Berry out on is something else: his use of a manual typewriter.

Now, I do not care how Berry writes. He can scrawl on the wall with a crayon if he wants. He is a very good writer, and however he wants to work is more than fine with me.

What I object to is Berry's idea that he is virtuous because he uses an old manual typewriter rather than a computer.

His reasoning? He says he does not want to use electricity for fear of giving support to coal mining, and:

"when somebody has used a computer to write work that is demonstrably better than Dante's, and when this better is demonstrably attributable to the use of a computer, then I will speak of a computer with a more respectful tone of voice,
though I still will not buy one."

Right. Got it. Don't bother Berry with the facts. He is a poet bent on rhetorical flourishes. He will do what he wants to -- which of course is his right.

That said, I would point out that Dante did not write with a typewriter.

Dante did not use a machine made of metal and plastic, assembled in a factory sweat shop.

Dante wrote with a quill pen on vellum that was skinned from sheep that were probably slaughtered less than 50 miles from where he lived.

Berry, on the other hand, has spent 40 years flying about the country telling us to not do what he does.

His books are printed on bleached pulp wood paper that is the very definition of modern industrialism.

In the video, seen above, the lights, the video recorder, and the microphone are all powered by electricity. So too was the loom that wove his suit, and the machine that sewed his shirt.

So too, might I add, is the computer on which you are reading this little missive, and upon which I type at this very minute.

Berry thinks he is more virtuous than you and I because he pounds away on a typewriter.

Could he be simply more ignorant?

You see, I have read Mr. Berry's work, and while it is very beautifully written, I think it would be greatly improved if it was leavened a little bit by something other than romantic philosophy. A few facts. A little data. Some history. Maybe a smattering of real-world economics.

For example, in the poem that Mr. Berry reads in the video above, he moans that "the forests are ruined and the fields are eroded and the streams polluted."

Now, I do not want to quibble, but if Mr. Berry did some research, he would know we have more forests in America today than we did 50 years ago, and we have less soil erosion, and we have cleaner rivers, streams and lakes.

It was not modern farmers that made the Dust Bowl, or modern loggers that clear-cut Appalachia.

In modern America, we have fewer sewer outfalls than we did 50 years ago, and a lot more secondary and tertiary water filtration systems.

Does Mr. Berry not know this?

There is nothing wrong with beautiful words, but at some point it all becomes a little too close to aromatherapy: a nice smell to have wafting through the room, but pretty far from the kind of medicine we really need if we are well and truly sick.

And Mr. Berry thinks we are a very sick nation.

I am not so sure. I will profess agnosticism on the point, and let his thesis stand.

Nor am I quibbling with all that Berry has to say -- far from it.

Mr. Berry decries the fact that the world is moving too fast.

I salute that notion. I believe it was Mahatma Ghandi who observed there is more to life than increasing its speed.

Mr. Berry says we need to cultivate community and personal relationships more.

I do not disagree. One does not need to send money around the globe to engage in charity or good works.

Mr. Berry decries the decline of rural agriculture, and celebrates a return to the kind of rustic agricultural life that existed 50, 70 or even 100 years ago.

It is here where Mr. Berry and I part company.

You see, we no longer live in an age of schooners and candles. When Mr. Berry was born, in 1934, the population of the world was 2 billion. Today, the population of the world is 6.8 billion.

When Mr. Berry was born, the population of the U.S was 122 million. Today it is 310 million and growing rapidly.

Just as Mr. Berry cannot afford to come to Washington, D.C. by walking, so too can the nation no longer afford to plow its fields with horses.

The complete history of the world in 15 seconds.

As for electricity, I am not sure what Mr. Berry is afraid of. Surely he knows he does not need to make his electricity from coal? We have solar cells, windmills, generators that run on home-brewed bio-diesel, min-hydro sets powered by small streams, methane converters, and bicycle-powered generators, all commercially available off-the-rack, and easier to find than a typewriter repair shop.

You mean to tell me that in reading all of those copies of Mother Earth News, Wendell Berry never figured out how to make electricity without an electrical cord plugged into a coal-fired utility grid? Then he sure wasn't trying too hard!

But let's come back to that computer.

You seem, I am not pro-computer, I am anti-ignorance. I am pro-substance.

I do not mind poetic words, but they should be wrapped around something more than a vague yearning for a simpler time, and a beautiful whine that the world is not as it once was.

Yes, the world has real problems. It always has. Sadly, Mr. Berry (like Henry David Thoreau before him) does not seem to have real answers.

Take the issue of population growth.

Bill McKibben, who introduces Berry in the short video clip, above, wrote a book called Maybe Just One.

McKibben gets it: the natural world is not committing suicide, we are killing it.

And we are not killing the natural world because we are malevolent: we are killing it because there are too damn many of us.

So what does Wendell Berry have to say about human population growth?

Not a thing so far as I can see.

Well, that's not quite true is it? No, instead, he gives us more poetry and failed philosophy.

He tells us that there used to be a "natural" method of family planning called abstinence and self-restraint.

Really? Fascinating. You see, I am a demographer by training, and what I know for a fact is that the "natural" method of population growth has never been abstinence and self-restraint -- it has been fantastic and depressing rates of childhood mortality. That is how we really controlled population from the dawn of time until very recently. Surely Mr. Berry knows this?

And, at the risk of being being seen as mean-spirited, let me note that Mr. Berry's own family does not seem to have practiced too much "self-restraint" at the time of his birth. You see, Mr. Berry is the first of four children.

Four children!

Four children is a higher fertility rate than that of Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Burundi, Cambodia, South Africa, Honduras, India, Nicaragua, Mexico, Syria, Iran, Bangladesh, China, or Indonesia today.

What would the world be like if everyone had four children, and human population doubled every 25 years ad infinitum?

If we only keep score from the year of Mr Berry's birth, we would have nearly 16 billion people on earth today, rather than 6.8 billion.

The simple truth is that there is no amount of simple living that Mr. Berry can do to save the amount of resources that might have been saved if his parents had stopped at just one or two.

Which is not to say I am blaming Mr. Berry for his parent's inability to practice self-restraint.

I am simply pointing out that population and family planning choices matter a lot more than whether you grow a few organic tomatoes in your back yard.

Of course, when it comes to farming, things get really interesting with Mr. Berry and his own rural economy.

You see, Mr. Berry has become a kind of touchstone for the "eat local and eat organic" crowd.

Having read Michael Pollan, they see exported corn and soybeans as evil, and the local farmer's markets (if one can be found that is actually selling locally-grown produce rather than repackaged stuff from Florida and California) as nirvana.

The little joker buried in the deck here, however is that Mr. Berry's own farm is not a vegetable farm.

Mr. Berry's farm grows corn (that evil weed) and other grains, as well as tobacco (cough, cough).

In fact, tobacco has been the touchstone of the Berry household -- the cash crop that made everything else work, not only on his farm, but in his larger farming community which he now so eloquently bemoans the decline of.

Why did Berry and his neighbors grow tobacco? Simple: You could make a lot of money by plowing just a few acres of poor soil.

Never mind that tobacco bled the land white.

Never mind that tobacco killed 400,000 to 500,000 Americans a year -- more Americans than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined.

And how come the Berry farm no longer grows tobacco today?

It is not because Berry "got religion." Wendell Berry himself explains his home-farm economics:

This is tobacco country. We've lost two-thirds of the allotment in the last few years, courtesy of the global economy. Not the anti-smoking people. This is traditionally a mixed farming country. Tobacco was the staple crop, but we also grew corn and small grains. The small grains were grown as cover crops on the tobacco and corn ground.... Tobacco acreages have declined here because the companies can fill their needs more cheaply elsewhere. The other products we grow are thrown into the world market to compete as best they can. With the help of subsidies, of course. In Kentucky we have always raised for export. One of this state's problems is that it hasn't added value to its agricultural products. I would say we are adding less now than ever. Louisville used to have two or three packing plants, for instance, and a stockyard. But no more. Most of the things that are produced in this state are shipped out, to have the value added elsewhere.


Berry's complaint is that foreign tobacco is killing Americans, not American tobacco.

He does not voice an objection to tobacco deaths, or the $96 billion a year we spend on smoking-related health care costs. He objects to the fact now we import death rather than grown it in local fields.

Wendell Berry's daughter, Mary Smith-Berry, is also a farmer, living just up the road from her father. In an interview she explains the economics of her region, and her creative solution for the modern era. As the article notes:

The land in Kentucky is rolling - beautiful, but much of it marginal for agriculture. For many generations, farmers relied on tobacco as their cash crop.

"Tobacco, for all its other problems, was a decent crop for a family to raise and make a fair price," Smith said. But the federal tobacco buyout program of 2005, which ended years of subsidies, made growing tobacco unprofitable for many.

Smith said the buyout had unintended consequences. Although tobacco had rarely been the only crop on a Kentucky farm, without the tobacco base, it is hard to keep farms as farms. The farm across from the Smiths' has been subdivided, and more neighboring land might be.....

.... Then, on a trip to California, Chuck Smith happened to ask a vineyard and winery owner how many acres of grapes he had. He was expecting to hear 300 to 400 acres; the answer was eight.

"Chuck said to me, 'That's tobacco,'" Smith said. "It's a way to make a living on a small area of crop."

So the couple is now proprietor of Smith-Berry Vineyard and Winery, which is open to the public five days a week.

I am glad Mary Smith-Berry and her husband have found a way to make a living on their farm courtesy of Internet-driven tourism.

Boutique wineries with musical groups to draw in the crowds are a thriving small-farm business in the hill country of my own native Virginia as well.

But let's not kid ourselves that this is "essential" agriculture any more than tobacco was, or marijuana is.

This is entertainment agriculture for well-heeled yuppies who burn thousands of gallons of gasoline driving out to sit on the grass listening to music at weekend wine tastings.

This is a nicety for rich people, not a necessity for our tables.

Tobacco, booze and marijuana have never made us stronger as a nation -- they have made us stupider, sicker, and less productive.

They are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

You want to know the solution?

Less ignorance and more knowledge.

And you know the cheapest way to get that?

Buy a computer, plug it in, and Google away. You can even read, listen to, or watch a little Wendell Berry if you want!