Friday, June 30, 2006

Don't make a religion out of food

Posted By on 06.30.06 at 11:59 AM

Eating local/organic/healthy is a great idea, but devotion to good food as an end in itself does sometimes seem to get out of hand. Beware: Puritanism wore out the Puritans after a couple of generations, and this postmodern Calvinism could go the same way.

If you’re already tired of people expecting you to be painfully cognizant of every consequence of every single choice you make unto the seventh generation, you’ll warm to the inimitable Jessa Crispin's takedown of the new book Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. She addresses the authors:

“It's like a panel of meat lovers wrote this as a stereotype of what vegetarians would like. It's just so easy, like when you talk about authentic Latin American food and then offer a recipe for portobella mushroom quesadillas as an example and suggest the cook listen to something called 'Love Songs of the Tropics' to set the mood.”

Or as Gene Kahn of Cascadian Farms put it in Steven Shapin’s review of a gaggle of new organic books in the New Yorker last month (no longer on the magazine’s own site but visible here):

“This is just lunch for most people. Just lunch. We can call it sacred, we can talk about communion, but it’s just lunch.”

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Fabric: It's not just for covering your nakedness any more

Posted By on 06.30.06 at 09:36 AM

Check out the amazing Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art.

(Hat tip to Slog. )

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Can we talk?

Posted By on 06.29.06 at 12:18 PM

“From time to time, most people discuss important matters with other people.  Looking back over the last six months--who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?”

The General Social Survey, a project of the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, asked that question in 1985 and again in 2004. The results were surprising.

(FYI, this isn’t just any poll. The GSS is the gold standard of impartial public opinion research, conducted face-to-face with a random sample of 3,000 Americans every other year. It's been a model of caution and care in tracking public opinion on general subjects since 1972, and on some subjects well before that. More.)

Twenty years ago the average person had a “network” of three people with whom he or she could talk over important matters. Now it’s down to two, and those two are more likely than before to be family members, rather than neighbors or coworkers. In 1985 about 10 percent said they had nobody to talk to; now it’s 25 percent.

Miller McPherson of the University of Arizona and two other sociologists report the findings in the American Sociological Review. Money quote:

“In his groundbreaking [1982] study of social networks, To Dwell Among Friends, Claude Fischer labeled those who had only one or no discussion ties with whom to discuss personal matters as having marginal or inadequate counseling support. By those criteria, we have gone from a quarter of the American population being isolated from counseling support to almost half of the population falling into that category.”

No one study is conclusive but this is a solid piece of evidence that’s pretty hard to spin as good news. Unlike many GSS questions, this one hasn’t been asked in every survey, so there aren’t as many data points as one would like. And perhaps most people define “important” differently now than before, though I know of no evidence for this.

According to Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber, this is the best media summary. Discussion here and a determinedly skeptical take here. Gross overstatement here that's well answered here.

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Leon Kass’s strange notion of “human dignity”

Posted By on 06.29.06 at 07:14 AM

Leon Kass is entitled to his opinion, bizarre as it may seem:

At present we have a President as friendly to the concerns of human dignity as we have had in a long time, or are likely to have for a long time to come,” he tells the magazine of his current employer, the American Enterprise Institute. “We have a Congress that is equally sympathetic.”

I suppose when you’re a former professor at the University of Chicago and former chair of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, you can think about human dignity without worrying about small things like civil liberties, extraordinary rendition, and respect for the Geneva Conventions. Let’s narrow our vision to match his for a minute, and consider his response when his interviewer asked him about the Terri Schiavo case. “Since I did not have the facts I stayed out of the Terri Schiavo case," he says. "The facts were very hard to get. But I regret very much that it became the political controversy that it did.”

Excuse me?  If “the facts were very hard to get,” how did Bill Frist--leader of the supposedly sympathetic-to-human-dignity Senate--manage to diagnose Schiavo’s condition by video?

And if Kass does “regret very much” that it became a political firefight, why can’t he say who started the fire and poured gasoline on it for political advantage? Which President does he think urged Congress to pass a special law that literally made a federal case out of a family decision?

Kass has always been impressed with his own moral seriousness.  You’d think he could have traded it for more than a gig as a Republican hack.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Filthy rich in Chicago

Posted By on 06.28.06 at 12:56 PM

Last month Crain's Chicago Business published its "Fortunate 100"--its annual list of Chicago’s best-paid CEOs.  (Nonsubscribers can check out the Fortunate Five.)  The millions and tens of millions are just business porn--MEGO. Let's measure the numbers in an understandable way.

The median annual income for an Illinois college graduate aged 21-64, according to the Census Bureau, was $45,689 in 1999.  (I’m being generous with the education level to make up for the old data. If you’ve got better, lay it on me.)

If you started working at age 21 and retired or died at age 64--and spent all that time at the median income (you wish), then your lifetime earnings would be just over $1.96 million. Total.

In order to match last year’s most fortunate CEO, W. James McNerney Jr. of Boeing, at $29.3 million, you'd need to work for 15 lifetimes. And then another 15 next year. Get busy!

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Cruel and usual

Posted By on 06.28.06 at 08:42 AM

Usually I don’t see much point in plugging other media. Today’s an exception. National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” is paying attention to something that Americans of all political persuasions--myself included--would prefer to ignore and hope just goes away.

It won’t. When everything else has been swept away, history will remember the early 2000s as the time when the United States became a torturing nation while a weak president spoke in generalities and looked the other way.  Absent a major turnaround and a no-holds-barred investigation that goes all the way to the top, this shame is what we will be remembered for.

Torture provides no useful intelligence and the practice is already corrupting doctors, who have helped cover it up.  Here's more, including Steve Inskeep’s interview with Dr. Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota, who has systematically documented this corruption in his new book Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror.

Among bloggers, gay conservative Andrew Sullivan has kept an eye on this over at the Daily Dish.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Reasonable conservatives and Hastert attack dogs

Posted By on 06.27.06 at 01:15 PM

“It's time for Hastert to go, and it is in the interests of every conservative to say so.”

That’s what Bruno Behrend posted on the conservative group blog Illinois Review as soon as he read the Sun-Times report elaborating on the story the Sunlight Foundation broke regarding seven-figure profits the Speaker of the House has made through a land trust on property a few miles from the projected “Prairie Parkway” in western Kane County.

“I frankly don’t care whether the types of schemes in the article are ‘technically legal,’” Behrend wrote.  “They simply destroy the trust that people have in their leaders.  The fact is that Hastert has outlived his usefulness if he's going to enrich himself this way.”

Few of the commenters at Illinois Review agreed with Behrend--many took a wait-and-see attitude--but only one stooped to a personal attack on Behrend or the media messengers. Conservative caution and reasonableness were the order of the day. “Newspapers have every right to investigate more and ask questions and Hastert is far better off divulging complete information as fast as possible,” one commenter wrote.

Contrast that with Hastert’s own response:

* Spokesman Ron Bonjean called the Sunlight Foundation a “special interest group.”

* Hastert’s attorney sent a threatening letter to Sunlight.

* Hastert himself blamed “Democratic media.”

This isn’t as low-rent as Vice President Dick “Fuck Yourself” Cheney.  But still: when will Illinois conservatives get representation in Congress that’s as civil and rational as they were in this exchange?

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Blago and Bush -- separated at birth?

Posted By on 06.27.06 at 09:04 AM

“[A]n unprecedented streak of spend and borrow has now put [us] into the greatest financial hole . . . ever.”

Sound familiar? That comes from an e-mail written by Tom Cross, the Republican leader of the Illinois House, describing the Blagojevich administration’s ongoing raids on state employee pension and other dedicated funds.  (More detail.)
 
Note that those words could just as easily have come from a congressional Democrat assailing George W. Bush’s fiscal policy of running up deficits for citizens' grandchildren to pay.

Both criticisms are on target. So why are there no pundits and politicos around to state the obvious: that both Blagojevich and Bush want to expand government, but neither has the guts to acknowledge that it must be paid for?

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Things we midwesterners could've told you

Posted By on 06.26.06 at 02:56 PM

Asad Raza left New York City for Parkersburg, West Virginia, imagining that he would “finally make contact with authentic American folkways, and hopefully foodways, to find local diners and farm markets and maybe even meet a grizzled trapper, a la Withnail and I, who would supply me with rabbits or venison or brook trout. Ah, Asad, you idiotic city slicker. The most popular grocery in town is at Wal-Mart, and the diner is Denny's. . . . If anything, the national food distribution system is more entrenched and dominant here in sleepy P-burg, with its forty thousand people, than in New York.”

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Continuing the world's first blog . . .

Posted By on 06.26.06 at 11:49 AM

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Wikipedia says that blogs combine "text, images, and links."  By that standard, the Reader has had one since August 16, 1985, when the ink for "The City File" first hit the back pages of the paper. (Check out an image of that column below.)

Of course, back then we had neither the word "blog" nor hyperlink technology. "Google" was just a way to misspell a very large number, and any reader who questioned the information in an item had to make phone calls and/or visit a public library.  But a bloggy substance was already there in that first column--short snips that referred to original sources and occasionally provoked conversation.  
 
In that first blog entry I noted that local entrepreneurs had to find venture capital in Minneapolis; today Marshall Field's is set to become Macy's, dancing to a tune played at regional headquarters in--Minneapolis. Other items back then chronicled drug-war insanity and racism in schools and public housing, and one quoted now-famous new urbanist Peter Calthorpe's case that city dwellers are doing the environment a favor just by . . . being city dwellers.  

The medium has changed, but the stroboscopic alternation of insight and idiocy goes on. 

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