A member, and hoping to stay that way, of the reality-based community

23 September 2011

This is some sick shit.

Some confessions:

  • I was once a registered Republican (didn't just vote that way, I identified that way).
  • I was once a staunch and abiding supporter of the death penalty (as in, I was willing to say so loudly and in public).
Which is to say, I was stupid.

If I was successfully taught anything as a child, it was that being selfish is wrong.  Wanting more for yourself than for others similarly disposed is just unfair, hence wrong.  Doubly so when someone's life is on the line.  These days, I call that evil.

I have been accused of being a tad judgmental on occasion, though.

The death of Troy Davis at the hands of the Georgia Supreme Court has finally left me bereft of defenses for the death penalty, and so against it, as loudly and publicly as I was once for it.

Understand, this has nothing to do with the logic of the death penalty.  I fervently believe, still, that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of certain crimes-- murder in all its glorious forms first among them-- is cause for the State, acting as the agent of the people, to kill the perpetrator of said crimes.

I just don't think we're up to deciding beyond a reasonable doubt.

Thus, our judicial system is perverted.  Horribly.  214 people have been convicted and sentenced to death all over the country, and DNA evidence has shown to the satisfaction of the courts in these cases that the conviction meets the legal standards to have it over-turned.  This is not a trivial standard.

The idea that these people were even in jail-- never mind on death row-- is frightening.  I can't imagine the Kafkaesque horror of being sentenced to death when I knew I was innocent.  I believe enough in the Golden Rule to not wish it on anyone else.

Seriously.  Put down the needles, or take your hand off the switch, or whatever, and walk away.  And start demanding justice for your fellow human beings.  Otherwise you'd best stop expecting it for yourself.

29 August 2011

Of False Dichotomies

Frank Bruni, if you do not know, is a columnist for the New York Times, among other duties there. He used to be a restaurant critic. This information will be important later.

Lately, he published a column in which he, in a transparent attempt to appear "balanced" (as best as I can tell), by setting against each other the chef-turned-monster-celebrity Anthony Bourdain and the "deep-fried doyenne of a fatty, buttery subgenre of putatively Southern cooking," one Paula Deen.

Bourdain, in his less-than-charitable way, said some apparently unprintable and mean things about Deen whilst calling her out for, "telling an already obese nation that it's O.K. to eat food that's killing us." Bruni then quotes Deen's response to the effect that she and her friends "cook for regular people who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills" and further defends her thus:

She’s otherwise 100 percent justified in assailing the culinary aristocracy, to which even a self-styled bad boy like Bourdain belongs, for an often selective, judgmental and unforgiving worldview.

And her retort exposes class tensions in the food world that sadly mirror those in society at large. You can almost imagine Bourdain and Deen as political candidates, a blue-state paternalist squaring off against a red-state populist over correct living versus liberty in all its artery-clogging, self-destructive glory.

Well, yeah, you can. But that completely misses both Bourdain's point and the actual issue at hand: eating like a "traditional" Southerner (minus the ridiculous volume of greens, and plus the many, many calories provided by all of the biscuits, gravy, pork, and the endless desserts-- cf. Deen's appearance on NPR's "Wait, Wait! Don't Tell Me") will probably kill you. And it will kill you by giving diabetes and the many other afflictions that derive from profound obesity, which are bad enough by themselves. The people who invented the food Deen celebrates worked like animals (in the case of the slaves and tenant farmers nearly literally), and generally died from things that killed them long before heart disease could set in. Unless you're out walking in a field all day every day, you don't get to eat like them with impunity.

So, Bruni's point is also that Bourdain is an ass. But if you've read "Kitchen Confidential" you knew that. What else is new? News Flash: Celebrity chef has gargantuan ego!

Tell something new.

He then tempers his criticism:
To give him his due: we are too fat and must address that. But getting Deen to unplug the waffle iron doesn’t strike to the core of the problem any more than posting fast-food calorie counts or taxing soft drinks do. A great deal of American obesity is attributable to the dearth of healthy food that’s affordable and convenient in low- and even middle-income neighborhoods, and changing that requires a magnitude of public intervention and private munificence that are unlikely in such pinched times.
Which is a bunch of bullshit excuses.

Don't get me wrong. Inner cities largely are "food desserts". But the bulk of America's obesity problem isn't among the poor. It's among the middle class (even if it's the lower middle class). And if you believe it's not possible to eat healthily on low wages, I'm here to prove that you're not paying attention. Eating healthily is not easy, mind. It requires work, and time, and sacrifice. But it's not impossible. And it doesn't require intervention (except maybe to modify tax policy for processed food).

This is Bourdain's point: if Deen really cared about families struggling to feed their families good food, she would use her celebrity to promote healthy cooking and eating. Not an endless parade of cakes and brownies, tempered only by roasted beasts.

Eating healthily means you have to cook for yourself. You have to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and cut them and chop them and steam, blanch, or saute them. I did it on what is now $7/hour. You can do it. You may have to give up watching TV in order to shop and cook (without slicing off a finger). You may have to learn a lot about how food works when it's in your pan or pot. You may have to eat a lot less meat and potatoes and a lot more rice and beans. But, if you have fresh vegetables and fruit available to you at a distance comparable to that you go to get your Mickey Ds (or whatever is your particular poison), and you are paying for anything beyond shelter, transportation, and power for your stove, you have no one to blame but yourself if you are not eating healthily.

Once you make this transition, you might even be able to afford a bottle of wine to go with it once in a while (I hear there's something called "3-buck Chuck"; I'm guessing there's competitors....).

08 May 2011

Michelle Bachmann's profound misunderstanding of our form of government (or outrageous hypocrisy)

My apologies for failing to comment on this when it happened.  Michelle Bachmann"Our founding documents, they cannot be improved upon," said Bachmann, giving an almost Biblical rendition of the work product of the nation's first generation of politicians. "They're brilliant. We believe in them. That's not divisive."

If you believe in them, you know that they contain the mechanism for changing them.  And you accept the changes that have been applied through that process.  You don't pine for halcyon days when they were pure (or at least not if you're as fond of freedom of speech as I am).  Fer cryin' out loud, the thing was amended ten times in four years after first passage!  Then there was that whole Prohibition-of-demon-alcohol nonsense.  You can even propose your own.  Why not?  Oh, wait, I see that you are.

Wow.  That's pretty disingenuous.

30 April 2011

When Reason is overtaken by spite

Of late the conversation in Washington that's been getting the most attention by the press is the question of whether to raise the debt limit. To grossly oversimplify the positions in question, the Rs want to refuse to raise the debt limit until they get some (unspecified) reductions in future spending/a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget/a unicorn that shits rainbows. Or something. It's not entirely clear. The Ds are mostly saying that, while the debt could be a problem someday, today is not the day to start paying it down, what with the economy in the toilet.

It's certainly true that, in the long run, the debt needs to shrink substantially (even dramatically). Currently it's at about 90% of the GDP, or about 14 trillion dollars, and it's rising. That's not sustainable forever, but there's substantial disagreement about how long it will be before things will reach a point where no one will lend us more money, or at least not at a sustainable interest rate. When that will be is a matter of debate itself, and isn't discernible by mere analysis. It strongly depends on whether or not people and institutions who are interested in buying US Treasury Bonds are sure they'll get their money back. Refusing to pay off the debts of the United States is a good way to engender fear in the average investor (who, so far, has viewed US T-bills as a rock-solid investment, particularly when T-bills are paying more than inflation).

The Rs, for reasons that appear to be rooted entirely in satisfying a lunatic fringe of the body politic, are holding that record, those promises, and our near-term economic future hostage to, well, to the rest of us agreeing to destroy the economy.

That assessment may seem a bit harsh, but it's an assessment of the obvious consequences of pursuing a policy of immediately shrinking the government to the size of revenues (that's a high-falutin' way of saying "spend only what we take in" while also saying, "No, you may not raise taxes"). You may wonder, "how can he say such a thing?" Well, the current deficit is 13% of GDP, with total spending of 40% of GDP. It's not good. That's just what it is. If tomorrow, you stopped the government from spending more that 27% of GDP, the economy would shrink by 13%.

This may sound awesome (yay! no deficit!) but for the millions of people that would lose their jobs, it would be very unpleasant. I'm concerned that more than 13% of the currently employed would lose their jobs, since folks with money would have even less incentive to invest.