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November 17, 2007

enjoy your t-day food vat product

This is inspired by a story I heard on NPR this morning, and I'm in no mood for meticulous research (for reasons explained below), so you'll have to take my word for it.

The story was about certain farmers, who are trying to save the turkey's gene supply by raising heritage birds.  Now, an excellent reason to raise heritage birds is that people who care about how food tastes (and can afford it) will shell out two or three times more for a heritage bird than one of those butterballs you get in your local market.  But another excellent reason, perhaps more altruistic, is that, as the poultry industry has developed the birds that most of us eat, they've created a population of millions and millions of birds are genetically very similar.  In fact, they all share a limited number (200, I think I heard) of parents that we used to develop the characteristics that make these little fellas so profitable -- white feathers (for lack of skin discoloration), quick maturation and enormous breasts, as the average silly American doesn't like the white meat.

The flip side of a gargantuan flock of these engineered birds to feed us are discrete and possibly devastating.  On the one hand, the homogeneity of the turkeys render them vulnerable to pandemic -- there's only one genetic barrier to jump, and then the disease (like, say, the bird flu) runs through like fire through oily rags.

On the more creepy and icky side, a side effect of being frankensteined into utility, these birds are literally functionless other than as dinner.  Because of their controlled mutations, they live a very short time, they cannot fly, and they cannot reproduce by themselves.  They are so massive that they must be inseminated by the farmers.

So, basically, if you remember your sci-fi friends joking about that future day, when we are all fed exclusively by proto-organic material grown in a vat?  Well, that day snuck in when we weren't looking.

Yes, soylent green is made of turkeys.

[No research?  I'm sitting in a Bethlehem, PA bookstore with free WiFi, computing in public, for the first time.  I'm not sure how I like it.  If I help myself to a second cup of coffee, do I owe then another buck seventy-five?  But enough about me?  How you been?]

Posted by mrbrent at 3:46 PM

epa stories in real life

This is partly a little update on Mayor of Mayor's intention to cut the federal budget by letting federal hiring evaporate, and this is partly a rare example of Reader Mail.

I was contacted by a soul, who wishes to remain unknowable, who has experienced first-hand the current robustness of the various government agencies.  It goes a little something like this:

I had a meeting with an organization that is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.  We met at the EPA offices in Manhattan.  Since Bush's first term, they've imposed a hiring freeze at the EPA.  In this giant office building sits an empty floor that once bustled with EPA activity.  It was a fucking ghost town.  Downright creepy.  The guy we met with said that the exodus spiraled out of control.  A smart person left and wasn't replaced.  Other smart people got frustrated and left.  There are now literally four people working on this floor, one of whom is merely funded by the EPA and only marginally a part of it.

So when people talk about a hiring freeze within government, it decimates whatever agency they're talking about.  It was a glimpse of our current government at work I didn't really want to see.  Seriously, the Manhattan EPA office was one of the most disconcerting places I've ever been.

Now, the Glenn Becks and the other doughy straw men of the world would argue that the evisceration of the EPA is no big whoop; why should our tax dollars be going to protect something that's been protecting itself for centuries?  The short response to that is that we need to spend our tax dollars now because the enviroment is doing a pretty bang-up job of protecting itself right now, and it's in the common interest to mitigate that self-defense in a proactive fashion.

The long response is that, if your goal is to choke off taxpayer spending because your philosophy is that certain functions should not be taxroll funded, and your strategy, in the face of the public's unwillingness to agree with these big thoughts, is to sinecure and moronify these services into utter disrepair so that the torches and pitchforks demand that these services be defunded, then you are a coward and an asshole.  The results of your Straussian mustache-twirling are an unsecure food supply, a crumbling infrastructure.  Oh, that and Katrina, which was a long time ago, but still.  The government's failure on Katrina?  That's worse than treason, and I defy an ethicist to disagree.

Besides, the pitchforks and torches are not out to abolish these services, they are out for the rocket scientists who thought that proving a point is worth losing a city.

So remember that Mr. Giuliani wants to be president, because any disasters that happen on his watch will be your fault, because you won't take responsibility for yourself, much like we New Yorkers invited 9-11.  Under his watch.

Also, Unkowable offers this Nation article on the virtues of beaurocracy as worthy of your further interest.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:24 PM

November 16, 2007

have some more matt taibbi

If you, like me, are a fan of Matt Taibbi's writing, then why not spend some portion of your budgeted leaf-raking time reading this Huffington Post interview with Mr. Taibbi?  If I neglect to drop the obligatory Dr. Hunter S. Thompson reference, will you maybe think about it?

The first half is a little bit maybe too rock star (The Secret Origin Of Matt Taibbi!), though if you look at his work as a product of his ten years as an ex-pat in Moscow -- well, there may be a conversation there.  But in the second half, they get to talking about the American political process, and Taibbi talking about this is not so different from him writing about it:

I think one thing that needs to be done that isn't is you have to remember the [presidential] campaign is a two-prong story.  You have the fake thing that everybody sees which is the campaign trail, where the guys get out, give these bullshit speeches, and everybody argues over which one looks better in a duck hunting jacket.  Then you have the real story that goes on behind the scenes, which is all these guys are raising $300 million dollars, and every dollar they raise is for a favor they're going to trade in four years.  I think it would really behoove the press and the alternative media to look at who these guys are taking their money from and what it is they're going to give for that.

Oddly, I was thinking of shopping for a duck hunting jacket down at the Volunteers this weekend.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:14 AM

November 13, 2007

wherein but giuliani and g.b.h. are referenced

Josh Marshall notices that candidate Rudolph Giuliani's proposal for fiscal responsibility is the result of drinking all kinds of crazy juice:
To cut government spending, Giuliani promised to replace only half of the federal workers expected to retire over the next eight to 10 years.

Crazy in as much as, that is a solution for a different kind of problem -- i.e., overstaffing.  As far as efficiency, reducing the budget, etc., it doesn't accomplish a whole lot more than increasing shareholder value.  Wait, no, that would be for a business.  Oh, right -- it would actually decimate the government's ability to provide services, whether those services are regulate the economy, wage wars or feed and clothe the poor.  This is not an ability that I was aware needed decimating.

But, for my money, the truly weaponized crazy is a sentence or two later:

Those two actions [i.e., not replacing retiring workers and some other panacea that shall not be referenced here], he said, would require that average Americans take more responsibility for their lives.

So then, in the mind of Rudolph Giuliani, the difficulty the Bush Administration experienced in maintaining the surpluses of the Clinton Administration, leading to the eventual kajillions of dollars of running deficits, this difficulty was caused by average Americans (the kind, presumably, who cannot afford Rudy's post 9-11 speaking and consulting fees) not taking enough responsibility for their lives.

In other words, to quote a little G.B.H., "Let's have a war/And blame it on the middle class". [AND THEN LATER.]  A friend (and librarian) reminded me that "Let's Have A War" is originally a Fear track, and not G.B.H., as I imply above.  G.B.H. only covered it.  He also wonders who G.B.H. was, as I would if I hadn't gone to the very liberal liberal arts college I did.  Never owned any myself (I think I was knee-deep in Crowded House and Kate Bush, as I am a wimp), but I heard it a bunch, from the same dude with the awesome scar obtained by a beercan thrown at the Tompkins Square Riots.  Yes, we had riots back then!

And now we are bored!  Next scene!

Posted by mrbrent at 9:07 AM

November 12, 2007

unions vs. free markets -- blogging gold!

In case you haven't noticed, the entertainment world currently has two ongoing labor actions in effect.  The Writers Guild of America has walked, and over the weekend IATSE Local One, the stage hands union, struck the majority of shows on Broadway.  None of this impacts your lives directly (unless you had a ticket to a weekend matinee), and probably won't for a few months, once the networks run out of scripts.  And even then, you won't hardly notice, as the reality programming and repeats that they'll broadcast won't differ significantly from what America is used to in primetime.

But I do hope that you care.  I know that collective bargaining organizations are no longer as popular as they were back when the middle class was healthy, but they serve a very important purpose as far as serving the interests of a working class, whether that working class makes cars or screenplays.  The big complaint I hear from folk my parent's age is that "unions are corrupt", which may or may not be valid -- mostly, I file that under Falliblity of the Human Species.  The other big argument against unions (which tracks with rationale of big business, surprise), the concept of the free market, and how regulation should not intercede with the "right of contract", etc.  I consider that argument the fig leaf of the greedy, but a much more better dissection of it, in light of the WGA strike, can be found here, on John Rogers' site:

Listen, I get it.  You love free markets.  So do I.  I just know that they weren't designed by Jesus.  They're not perfect, and sometimes you need a union not out of any high moral stance, but just to maintain fair business practices.

It's purely a question of equivalency.  When you have business entities who have no moral sense purely by design, whose only purpose is self-interest (increasing share-holder value), with annual profits rivaling the GDPs of small nations, it is only logical that workers would organize in their own self-interest.

OK, gonna go listen to some Billy Bragg now.  Thanks for your time.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:16 AM