July 31, 2008

Garfield - Garfield + Garfield

I've linked to Garfield Minus Garfield a couple of times so thought this was interesting:
NEW YORK, NY – July 30, 2008 – Paws, Inc. and Ballantine Books, a division of the Random House Publishing Group, announced last week at Comic-Con International that Ballantine will publish a book inspired by the popular webcomic Garfield Minus Garfield...

The full-color book format will give readers the experience of having both the original and doctored Garfield strips together on the same page for comparison. Dublin, Ireland-based Garfield Minus Garfield creator Dan Walsh will provide the foreword to the book.

Garfield creator Jim Davis was intrigued by—and pleased with—the concept. “I think it’s an inspired thing to do,” Davis said. “I want to thank Dan for enabling me to see another side of Garfield.”
Good for you Jim Davis.  Regardless of what you think about the original Garfield strips you've got to admire a guy who can not only see value in someone taking his original work, manipulating it and creating something else of worth but then going one step farther and endorsing it alongside your own.  Tip of the hat to you sir.


July 30, 2008

Waste of Time

If I worked in an office I would explain away this post by yelling "Hump Day!", but I don't, so here you go:  20 Ways to Die Trying to Dunk a Basketball.

Economic Indicators: The Machete Index

More from Bananas, over lunch:
United Front measured its annual prosperity in standard ways:  stems exported, bunches sold, prices on the stock market board.  What might be termed its 'machete index' was more informal though a useful rule of thumb.  In the realm of big knives, United Fruit was the largest machete buyer in the world.  Each of its plantation labourers, mozos, 'peasants,' had to have one purchased from the company store.  United Fruit itself bought them from the Collins Company of Collinsville, Connecticut, the 'world's greatest machete maker.'  English and German models were cheaper but United Fruit was a down-home New England firm.  Collin's three salesmen sweated their way around the region with their heavy samples cases, jumping on and off riverboats and labouring along plantation trails.  In a good year, they sold United Fruit 36,000 machetes.  Yet in 1931 during the Depression, the company bought only 24,000, a reduction in demand of a third.
Not as popular these days as the Big Mac index but much more retro.

Fast Food Moratorium

It will be interesting to see if Los Angeles's moratorium on new fast food restaurants in South L.A. starts a trend similar to that of the trans-fat ban.  

I'm in favor of the intent behind the ban but I'm more inclined to side with the skeptics on what the outcomes will actually be.  The problems seem more systemic than a simple scarcity of healthy restaurants.  If there truly was a market demand for healthier eating options I'm inclined to think that they would be there, what better incentive is there than open your doors and make a lot of money.  This is from my Bananas reading last night:
. . . . Articles appeared in the press saying how consumers preferred it but consumers took what they got.  Long before their time, Keith and Preston had an instinctive grasp of the forces involved.  The world of business and economics believed, and for many years yet would continue to do so, that consumer demand somehow just arose.  But, wrote Samuel Crowther admiringly, looking back nearly twenty years later on these early days of United Fruit in his book The Romance and Rise of the American Tropics, what was being discovered was that 'demand is a thing which must be created.'
Do fast food restaurants force healthier restaurants out or do they emerge once the healthier options leave?  And what is a healthier restaurant?  The ban defines 'fast food restaurant' as follows: 
any establishment which dispenses food for consumption on or off the premises, and which has the following characteristics: a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders and food served in disposable wrapping or containers.
But an absence of those characteristics and the presence of waiters certainly doesn't mean eating there is going to improve your health.  I'd be more interested in seeing some initiatives that encouraged people to eat at home, that created real incentives for grocery stores that sold "real" food to move back in, that worked with schools, churches and civic organizations to create a demand for healthier life styles.  And I would throw in some community gardens to boot.  

July 29, 2008

"AIDS in America is a black disease"

More info on the state of AIDS in America.  I posted earlier on how new infections have shifted to the rural south and now this report from the Black AIDS Institute fleshes out more carefully how new infections are affecting the African-American population.  From CNN:
The AIDS epidemic among African-Americans in some parts of the United States is as severe as in parts of Africa, according to a report out Tuesday.

"Left Behind - Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS" is intended to raise awareness and remind the public that the "AIDS epidemic is not over in America, especially not in Black America," says the report, published by the Black AIDS Institute, an HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on African-Americans.

"AIDS in America today is a black disease," says Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the institute and himself HIV-positive for 20 years. "2006 CDC data tell us that about half of the just over 1 million Americans living with HIV or AIDS are black."

Although black people represent only about one in eight Americans, one in every two people living with HIV in the United States is black, the report notes.
. . . . .
According to this report, if black Americans made up their own country, it would rank above Ethiopia (420,000 to 1,300,000) and below Ivory Coast (750,000) in HIV population. Both Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast are among the 15 nations receiving funds from the President's Emergency Plan For Aids Relief. The United States has given about $15 billion to PEPFAR nations in the past five years. 

The Black AIDS Institute says it's not criticizing the federal government for helping poorer countries cope with the AIDS epidemic. Rather, it's saying the "AIDS epidemic [in the U.S.] is not getting the kind attention that it merits."

"We understand the needs of black folk in Johannesburg (South Africa)," Wilson says. "Why can't we understand the needs of them in Jackson, Mississippi? We understand the needs in Nigeria or Botswana, why not understand the needs of Los Angeles or Oakland?"
For some reason I haven't been able to find a copy of the actual report online yet, let me know if you do.

July 28, 2008

Zimbabwe, the Olympics and Unintended Consequences

Somehow I missed this aspect of the run up to the ongoing talks between Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe:   
One government insider said: "The signing of the memorandum of understanding between Mugabe and Tsvangirai may appear to be a triumph for South African diplomacy under Mr Mbeki, but the power behind the curtain is China.
"China exerted diplomatic pressure on Harare for the protection of their own interests in this country, given the threat and risks of their economic investments under a new government. This explains the sudden change of heart by Mugabe. This is all choreographed."
The Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe is understood to have told Zimbabwean foreign affairs officials in Harare that his government expects Mr Mugabe's administration to "behave" and help dampen international outrage over the recent elections.
One diplomatic source said: "Mugabe was told in clear terms by his Chinese friends that he has to behave and act in a way that will silence the international community.
China does not want a situation in which the Olympics will be snubbed.
There has been plenty written on China's involvement in Africa of late so I won't belabor that point but I will point again to this list of Top 10 Misconceptions About Chinese Investment in Africa.  Here is #4:
China will always help African leaders, including those with poor human rights records. China immediately distanced itself when the International Criminal Court indicted Slobodan Milosevic of crimes against humanity despite its previous promises of supporting the Serbian leader at all costs. In Africa, the Chinese government has already broken its promise of non-interference in the cases of Angola and Sudan when it “encouraged” leaders to change their policies with an eye towards fulfilling international trade agreements and ceasing the targeting of civilians. Moreover, China did not use its veto power to stop the ICC from investigating the crimes in Darfur.
Aside: As usual Chris Blattman is asking very smart questions that no one else is asking, this time in regards to the sustainability of hit and run power sharing agreements.

Religious Freedom Matters

I don't often turn to the Economist for insightful religious commentary but this article on the dangerous right to change one's beliefs is pretty good:
But America’s religious free-for-all is very much the exception, not the rule, in human history—and increasingly rare, some would say, in the world today. In most human societies, conversion has been seen as an act whose consequences are as much social and political as spiritual; and it has been assumed that the wider community, in the form of the family, the village or the state, has every right to take an interest in the matter. The biggest reason why conversion is becoming a hot international topic is the Muslim belief that leaving Islam is at best a grave sin, at worst a crime that merits execution (see article). Another factor in a growing global controversy is the belief in some Christian circles that Christianity must retain the right to seek and receive converts, even in parts of the world where this may be viewed as a form of cultural or spiritual aggression.

The idea that religion constitutes a community (where the loss or gain of even one member is a matter of deep, legitimate concern to all other members) is as old as religion itself. Christianity teaches that the recovery of a “lost sheep” causes rejoicing in heaven; for a Muslim, there is no human category more important than the umma, the worldwide community of believers.

But in most human societies the reasons why conversion causes controversy have little do with religious dogma, and much to do with power structures (within the family or the state) and politics. Conversion will never be seen as a purely individual matter when one religiously-defined community is at war or armed standoff with another.
Earlier, and I think relevant.

July 27, 2008

Bananas: Excerpts

I'm reading Peter Chapman's Bananas and as has been pointed out elsewhere it is a very interesting read.  Here are some gleanings:
Clement Attlee, Britain's prime minister in the early years after the Second World War, had a United Fruit shipload of bananas brought over in 1945 to herald the idea of a bright new future.  This was to be 'Social Democracy and the 'welfare state' and the boat had a banana on board for each child and pregnant mother of the land.  His gesture, however, was taken in other ways.  Evelyn Waugh, the novelist, saw it in more melancholic terms, of a lost and glorious past.  When the bananas arrived for his three children, he had his wife serve the fruit with rare cream and sugar and scoffed the lot in front of them.  (His son Auberon later wrote that he had not taken anything his father had to say on faith and morals very seriously thereafter.) 

Entry cost [to the 1876 Great Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia] was fifty cents, the average worker's daily wage a dollar twenty-one.  The gates took five million dollars, one thousand and one of them was counterfeit.  Of the five hundred and four children lost, all but five were returned to their families the same day, the rest the next.  Four people died, none from foul play.  There were six hundred and seventy-five arrests, fourteen of which were for pick-pocketing.  One person was also arrested for fornication, though with no indication as to with whom.

Recently Spotted: Global Disparity


Screenshot from this article by Bread for the World's David Beckmann.  Google Ads provides endless opportunities for ironic awkwardness.


The NYGirlOfMyDreams couple has called it quits.

July 26, 2008


1.  Drive55.org - I posted earlier on my surprise at the degree to which your MPG's increased when reducing speed and these folks are taking it to the next level. (via - I can't remember who, sorry)

3.  Eat Republican - this is a good but unfortunately titled column about the unifying nature of an issue like food and food policy, and more broadly, though less implicitly, global hunger.

4.  Tech Comes to Rwanda - in an earlier post I made an aside comment regarding my skepticism of Rwanda transforming itself into an African Singapore, so in the interest of fairness here is an article sketching out their progress so far.

5.  Codex Sinaiticus is now online.  This is nerdy but very cool.  Anyone who has ever done research involving ancient texts has to be geeking out over the possibilities of this becoming the norm - my Koine Greek is beyond rusty but it even made me want to dive in.

6.  Lazy locavores.  Hmmm . . . more career options.

July 25, 2008

Eggy Cam

Paddy Power is raising money for Down Syndrome Ireland by running a bet on which of ten eggs will hatch first. You can also put money on the hatching time and sex of the chick among other things. So far it looks like egg #8 is the odds on favorite. Live video stream of the eggs and more here (fyi: the video wasn't working on my Mac and there are a lot of puns).

Gmail Adds Encryption Option

Gmail is currently rolling out the option to default your account to HTTPS.  The functionality has always been there and most who were concerned utilized bookmarks or add-ons but it's good to see them providing a native solution.  My wife, if no one else, will sleep easier tonight.


July 24, 2008

The Agricultural Economist Answers

The Freakonomics folks have posted the answers to the questions they solicited last week for agricultural economist Daniel Sumner.  It's a wide ranging, interesting Q&A on a number of issues that have been bubbling up in the news this year.

Recently Spotted: Inflation . . . SOLVED!

While checking out at the grocery store a few minutes ago I couldn't help but notice that all of the cashiers were wearing bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with the following message:
Shop at H E B
You might question the implicit economic policy, but you have to admire their hutzpah.  I suppose it could also be managements protest over this.  Whatever the motive it's a bad sign for the economy when the t-shirts my grocery store cashiers are wearing are talking about inflation.

PS - If you click through to that WaPo article you will experience the most insanely, distractingly busy webpage I've seen in quite a while.

Watch What You're Watching

Colbert spent about 2/3 of his show last night talking about and talking to Nas regarding the O'Reilly situation, Fox news and his new album.  He then performed "Sly Fox" live.
Watch, cause they're watching
Watch what you're watching
Better watch, cause they're watching
Watch what you're watching
Misleading ya
Watch what you're watching

Not bad advice.

Truth Still Stranger than Fiction: Bacon Suits

So this is the bacon suit that Stewart was talking about.


Dark Knight Musings

I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight last night and a couple people have emailed wondering about my thoughts so here they are:

1.  I've never been a "Batman guy."  He's a great character, an all time hall of famer in the comic book world and therefore I have great respect for him and his legacy but I've never had a real attachment to him.

2.  The movie is incredibly immersive.  It's length, pacing, tone and arc really pull you in and surround you - it was a very quiet, edgy theatre for the entire film.  That being said I'm not sure it's a world I want to be immersed in.  It was powerful and effective but I don't know if I enjoyed it.

3.  It wasn't very entertaining.  I wasn't bored and it was most certainly not a "bad movie" - it was actually a very good movie, but maybe not a very good "comic book movie?"  This is certainly personal bias but I go into a comic book movie looking for a certain level of escapist, fantastic realism and in most cases Nolan went a different direction and opted for gritty realism.  Not a bad choice, just not as entertaining to me.

4.  Where was this movie set?  Am I right in thinking this is the most solid, real-world Gotham we've ever seen on the screen?  Again, obviously an intentional choice by Nolan to root the plot and it's implications in a plausible, real world context for the obvious impact that it provides but I missed the classic, gothic Gotham.

5.  Where was Batman?  I mean this in two senses.  One, this movie could have just as easily, and maybe more aptly, been named The Joker, Harvey Dent, or Commissioner Gordon.  Their story lines, their character development, their on screen charisma were all much more developed and appealing than Nolan's Bruce Wayne/Batman.  Like I said, I'm not a Batman fanatic but I like Batman more than those guys.  I think they subjugated the psychology, the angst and the struggles of Batman underneath these other characters struggles.  Second, it seemed to me that this was a much weaker Batman than we've seen elsewhere.  Since when were rottweilers Batman's kryptonite?  Again, maybe it is a choice to opt for "realism" but did you see it when he fell off his bike and got knocked out - come on, he's the freaking Batman.  This Batman really could have been Albert II.

6.  The Joker.  As everyone has said - incredible performance - you can't take your eyes off him any time he is on the screen.  But I've never "gotten" the Joker as a super-villain.  Why doesn't someone just hit him over the head or shoot him - the mob, if not a citizen?  I get that his chaotic nihilism, his "you have nothing to frighten me with" persona is so unnerving that it almost creates a shield around him when he is interacting with the public but on some level he's just a crazy guy and we're now living in a world where if you cough funny on an airplane your fellow passengers will pile on you without a seconds thought.  I think the vigilante anarchy that the Joker was trying to catalyze would have turned on him before it turned on itself.  I know, I know, willing suspension of disbelief but it's as if Nolan wanted me to believe everything except the plausibility of the Joker and his schemes - how do you sneak enough explosives into a hospital to blow the entire thing up, how do you roll 200 barrels of gasoline onto a ferry boat without being seen?  It felt less like terrorism and more like incompetence.

7.  I'm going to side step any discussion of underlying themes or critiques of current global political implications because there is enough of that going on elsewhere, but I will say that I think any "message" the film has is in the overall arc of the movie and not in any individual instance or plot point.

8.  Should have been rated R.

9.  3.25 stars.

Nerdy with Understated Sex Appeal, Good Sense of Humor

No, no friends I'm not talking about myself - but I see how you could be confused - that is the description of your incognito friendly neighborhood web-slinger, Peter Parker, as imagined by the visionary director of The Lion King.  Here's how the rest of the casting call reads for Spiderman: The Musical:
Peter Parker is described as "male, 16-20's [with a] great rock voice, can be nerdy with understated sex appeal, good sense of humor." Mary Jane is "female, 16-20's, beautiful girl next door, strong pop/rock singing voice." 
The Principal Woman should be "female, 25-35 years old [with] amazing rock vocals. Think Sinead O'Connor with a Middle Eastern/Bulgarian/Greek twist. Foreign, world music types are great, foreign accents are great." All ethnicities are encouraged to audition.
I confess, I always saw Mary Jane as more of the singer-songwriter type.  But, who is this "Principal Woman" you ask?  Well, it's Arachne of course:
The character breakdowns provide some insight to plot points as the character Arachne ("female, 20-35 years old, any ethnicity") is described as "a beautiful, boastful young woman turned into a spider for her hubris and lack of respect for the gods. She subsequently appears to Peter Parker and the audience as in turn a powerful spider-woman who comes from another time to inspire Peter; an otherworldly lover; a bride; a terrifying (and sexy) dark goddess of vengeance; a dance partner in a charged and violent spiders dance of death; and, finally, a lonely, fragile young woman." Casting is seeking a "strong Celtic, Balkan style, e.g., Sinead O'Connor," noting, "outside the box ideas are welcomed. Could be someone from the music industry."
Am I the only one who didn't know that this was even happening?  Or that Bono and The Edge were writing the music?  And that they finished it all in two weeks?  

Spoiler Alert:  Scar kills Uncle Ben.

July 23, 2008

More on Religion Matters

Ethan Zuckerman points to a good column in Sunday's Washington Post that falls firmly into the category of "religion matters." It is written by a catholic priest and professor at Georgetown, Ryan Maher, who has been teaching the university's traditional freshman theology class in Doha, Quatar at a recently opened branch campus of their School of Foreign Service. The class, to say the least, was not typical of those he had taught on the Washington D. C. campus:
That was not an easy course to teach. I imagine it was not an easy course to take, either. We were all aware that we were engaging in something novel, a college class of mostly Sunni and Shiite Muslims exploring with one another and with their Catholic priest professor some of the basic theological issues: the existence of God, free will, sin, prayer and Judgment Day.

One day early in the semester, in the middle of a discussion on the definition of revelation, one of my students, an intensely bright Muslim from Bosnia, heaved a deep sigh and blurted out, "I hope we don't get blown up for talking about this stuff." I was writing on the blackboard, with my back to the class. I laughed. When I turned around, I saw that he wasn't joking.
Reading the rest of the article it is apparent that Maher feels that a personal experience with religious belief and not just an anthropological knowledge of religions is important for reasons that go to the heart of international relations and foreign service:
The majority of Georgetown students I know are fairly knowledgeable about religion. They can talk intelligently about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The glitch is that they talk from the perspective of anthropologists and sociologists and historians. These are valuable perspectives. But they are not enough. Of course we need to raise young people who can be smart, savvy, sophisticated participants in international affairs. What we also need are young people who can be all of those things while at the same time knowing and understanding what it is to live one's life with a commitment rooted in faith.
He gets to the heart of the matter when recalling a conversation with a friend over the place of faith in American politics, specifically in light of John Kerry's refusal to discuss his the role faith played in his own life:
I have thought about that conversation for a long time. It has helped me understand what hobbles American higher education when it comes to educating people for careers in international affairs. It's not that we don't know about religion; it's that we don't understand faith and its life-shaping power.

The majority of people I know in higher education would argue that there is nothing wrong with religion for people who feel they need it. Their sentiments come down to something like this: "You have your religious convictions, I have mine. Let's acknowledge our differences and agree to disagree with one another within the confines of polite debate." That makes sense, of course, but it is not enough to prepare a new generation of diplomats who will be asked to engage the Muslim world in the decades to come.

This template for discussing religion and faith is fundamentally flawed. It presumes that different groups of faithful people approach their religions in the same way football fans approach their favorite teams: I cheer passionately for mine, you cheer passionately for yours, and we all agree to play by the rules and exhibit good sportsmanship. For people of faith, religion isn't like that. A person of Muslim faith and a person of Christian faith engaged in honest conversation about religion are not like two fans pulling for their respective teams. They are more like two men in love with the same woman, each trying to express, safeguard and be faithful to his relationship with his beloved. Love brings with it complexities that football does not.
I think Maher is absolutely correct and as I've said, as recently as yesterday, religion matters. Whether we are engaged in international diplomacy or trying to communicate the benefits of leguminous cover crops, we ignore matters and factors of faith to our own peril, detriment and eventual failure when dealing with the vast majority of the world's peoples.

July 22, 2008


This is a really interesting article on mirrors in the New York Times.  Two sections that caught my eye in particular:
Other researchers have determined that mirrors can subtly affect human behavior, often in surprisingly positive ways. Subjects tested in a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups performing the same exercises in nonmirrored settings. Reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V. Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne found that people in a room with a mirror were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.

“When people are made to be self-aware, they are likelier to stop and think about what they are doing,” Dr. Bodenhausen said. “A byproduct of that awareness may be a shift away from acting on autopilot toward more desirable ways of behaving.” Physical self-reflection, in other words, encourages philosophical self-reflection, a crash course in the Socratic notion that you cannot know or appreciate others until you know yourself.
And then this near the end on visual perception:
When we look in the mirror, our relative beauty is not the only thing we misjudge. In a series of studies, Dr. Bertamini and his colleagues have interviewed scores of people about what they think the mirror shows them. They have asked questions like, Imagine you are standing in front of a bathroom mirror; how big do you think the image of your face is on the surface? And what would happen to the size of that image if you were to step steadily backward, away from the glass?

People overwhelmingly give the same answers. To the first question they say, well, the outline of my face on the mirror would be pretty much the size of my face. As for the second question, that’s obvious: if I move away from the mirror, the size of my image will shrink with each step.

Both answers, it turns out, are wrong. Outline your face on a mirror, and you will find it to be exactly half the size of your real face. Step back as much as you please, and the size of that outlined oval will not change: it will remain half the size of your face (or half the size of whatever part of your body you are looking at), even as the background scene reflected in the mirror steadily changes. Importantly, this half-size rule does not apply to the image of someone else moving about the room. If you sit still by the mirror, and a friend approaches or moves away, the size of the person’s image in the mirror will grow or shrink as our innate sense says it should.
(via Friends of African Village Libraries)

Declining U.S. HDI and Life Expectancy

More on health and disparity with news that the U.S. has dropped four spots in the Human Development Index.  
Here's the state by state map:


Here's the changes in the top 30 countries from Wikipedia:


A Purpose Driven Africa?

I never know what to say about articles like this one from USA Today entitled, "America's finding purpose in hopes for Africa's future," and for that reason I usually say nothing. But this one dovetails closely enough with some other things that I've been thinking through and dealing with - including looking for a new job - that I thought I would throw a few thoughts into the wind.

For starters I'm tired of being cynical. I'm really making an effort, although it's hard to tell at times, to shed the ironic cynicism that marks so much of how myself and my peers view, comment on and relate to the world. It's not profitable, it's not clever and after a while you actually start to feel as shallow and stretched thin as you sound. Not that I'm embracing naivety, and there are certainly worse things to be than naive, it's just that I want to be more sincere, more present, more charitable and I don't want to assume that there is anything special about me in doing so. Instead I want to assume that the best of me is encountering the best of you, the best of whatever, and naive or not it usually becomes quickly apparent whether or not that is true. At some point the benefit of the doubt fell out of vogue but I'm trying to bring it back - if JT can bring sexy back why can't I do the same for sincerity.

So, all that introspection to say that there is plenty of fodder for cynicism in this article, and a number of cringe worthy statements which I will try to treat charitably. Here are a few thoughhts:

1. It's a run of the mill story looking at the movement among American's to invest themselves in the "obvious solutions" to Africa's problems. Broadly, from a sociological standpoint, I'm really interested in this movement. How new is it? Who's involved in it - from my experience it tends to be limited to middle to upper-middle class WASP's (no coincidence that this demographic makes up the bulk of Warren's congregation) and the usual disenchanted twenty-somethings - is it broader than that? Are there really more people involved in this type of charitable work than before or has globalization simply moved more of it abroad like everything else and therefore it's a bigger story?

2. Religion matters. I've said this before, although not very coherently - here and here. It is not coincidental that the lens through which this movement is viewed is the work of Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. Religion as an on the ground reality that must be factored into development strategies and as a motivation for those involving themselves in relief and development work does not get the attention that it needs from the development biz. Conversely, those like Warren, involving themselves in relief and development work often do not draw heavily enough upon the experience and expertise of those who have devoted themselves to the study and practice of that work. If you can get McCain and Obama on the same stage in your church, you have no excuse for not getting the best advise you can find in terms of planning and methodology. And maybe they are, I don't know who is running the P.E.A.C.E. program now so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt but there are a few statements in the article that make me worry.

3. As an aside, the criticism that Warren and company should be focused on doing more "at home" is a red herring. For starters, their local ministries out number their global programs. Second, I'm not sure people understand the scale that this church is operating on. This isn't your local parish church, this is a small city of 30,000 people. What if the Red Cross only operated charitably in America, wouldn't we wonder why they were being so stingy with their resources. Saddleback is the Red Cross of the American religious landscape, there would be something wrong if they were not working globally. As an aside within an aside, this is one of the few arguments in favor of the megachurch model that I find relevant, i.e. that they are resource rich enough to involve themselves in worthwhile projects that would otherwise be neglected.

4. The relationship between motivation and methodology. I know these people. Not personally, I've been to Warren's church and met him in an academic setting - we share an alma mater, but I know people like these people. And I like them. The way they express their faith, the life choices they have made, their politics - all of this and more I certainly have quibbles with but they tend to be genuinely good people in the sense that even the most cynical of us understand that to mean. So, when Tom Wheeler says he feels called to pour sidewalks in Kigali and in that way that he will be serving the nation of Rwanda and somehow contributing a small piece to moving it in the direction of stability, peace and prosperity I tend to believe him. Cities need sidewalks and I've never been to Kigali so I don't know how high up on the priority list they really are but at least he's a civil engineer with a specialized skill from Orange County willing to use it in the service of someone other than Walt Disney. I have trouble finding fault in him for that. I have trouble finding fault in someone who feels like they can make the world a better place. I have trouble chastising someone who feels like a smooth piece of concrete with one less pothole for an overburdened mother to watch out for on her way home is a good thing. Combining religious zeal with sound, sustainable development is hard for lots of reasons and there aren't a lot of good models out there to draw on but I think it can be done. Achieving a sustainable good for a developing country does not require a detached bureaucratic elitism.

However, there are certainly questions of methodology that need to raised. Who is profiting from this work? Are jobs being created for local laborers or are they being undercut? How will it be sustained? Is there a priority need for new sidewalks in Kigali? Again, maybe these questions and more are being asked but it is worth noting that noble motives do not lead to sound methodology any more than sound methodology engenders right motivation. All the more reason for there to be conversations and cooperation between secular and faith-based NGO's, who often fall within one camp of the other.

5. I'm sorry we didn't hear from more Rwandan voices in this piece, and I'm sorry that this is often the case in such instances - I hope it is not the case with the work that Warren is doing. In light of the long term investment that Saddleback is making in Rwanda I would hope that much of the leadership of those endeavors is in the hands of Rwandans. Again, I'm extending the benefit of the doubt here and hoping this is the case, but the truth of the matter is that it needs to be the case.

6. I would like to see more modesty from religious groups involved in relief and development work. This may be another way of saying I would like to see more realism, more admission of the harsh realities of fundamentally changing the structures that entrench poverty, hunger and war into the fabric of a society. On the one hand those who do not come from a religious background find this understandably naive. Even I, who come from a similar evangelical protestant background cringe when I read statements from Warren like, "within a few decades, Rwanda could be an oasis of prosperity — "the next Singapore." I know that the idea is not original to Warren, but there are so many problems with that statement - simple geography for one - that I've been trying to ignore it, and hopefully someone will pull Warren aside and ask him to take it out of his talking points. The more "faith-based" language is also understandably troubling:
About 100,000 copies of The Purpose Driven Life in the Rwandan dialect have been handed out. Bradberry says that if Rwandans really hear the Gospel, they'll have no choice but to forgive each other.
That is tough for even me to swallow, and I have a profound faith in the transforming power of the gospel. Unfortunately, as unintentional as I'm sure it is, this is an example of a statement which reads more like a downplaying of genocide than a confidence in the redemptive power of faith. Faith-based groups involved in relief and development work need to be more modest in their claims and they need to be quicker to ask for help, advise and collaboration from experts in the field - all of which I think they can do without losing the integrity of their faith, enthusiasm, zeal and presence which positions them to be bridges for development.

Ok, There is more that could be said, but I've spent (wasted?) enough time on this, there is actual work to be done.

PS - One last thing as long as I'm dispensing unsolicited advise, on the very small chance that anyone associated with Saddleback reads this post, please read between the lines of this "throw away" sentence in the article: "The move has been a shock for his kids, Hannah, 12, and Zack, 10." Make sure your training and recruitment is taking into account just how big a "shock" it can be for those who get dragged along.

Chris Abani @ TED

UPDATE:  Yeah.  You're gonna want to watch this one.

Chris Abani's talk at TED 2008 is up, and I'm looking forward to listening to it.  I finally finished reading Graceland about a month ago and heartily recommend it to those who haven't read any of Abani's fiction or those who are looking to dip their toe into contemporary African fiction.

July 21, 2008

What Humans Will Eat

More from The Onion in the laughing so we don't cry category.

HIV/AIDS: A Rural/Southern Epidemic?

UPDATE: The Daily Dish points to another map reflecting disparities in US health/life expectancy, this one ranked by congressional district.  Not surprisingly, the bottom five contains two districts from Mississippi and two from Louisiana - I assume that the bottom of the bottom is an Appalachian district, and that the top of the top is peopled by congressional aides.  Here's the source.


This is one of several emerging trends that reflect a decline of the overall health of those living in rural portions of the deep South:
"Rising infection rates, coupled with inadequate funding, resources and infrastructure have resulted in a catastrophic situation in our public health care systems in the South," the report says.
Kathy Hiers, chief executive officer of AIDS Alabama and co-author of the report, told The Birmingham News that HIV/AIDS is taking hold in isolated parts of the South.
"The ruralness of the epidemic is what's becoming painfully clear," Hiers told the paper.
The report says the number of deaths from AIDS dropped in the rest of the nation between 2001 and 2005 but continued to increase in the South.
Health authorities have known for years that the 16-state Southern region was leading the country in the number of new infections. But, Hiers said, they thought the increase was concentrated in big cities in Florida, not spread across the region.
Experts have now focused in on the Deep South - Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. They have found HIV infections rising in rural areas populated by blacks with financial, health and social problems.
Gary A. Puckrein is the president and CEO of National Minority Quality Forum in Washington. He said the shift in HIV infections has to be highlighted.
"Certainly one of the big misconceptions is it is big cities on the West Coast and East Coast that are really driving the disease, and it's not so," Puckrein said. "It's moved both in terms of geography and demography. It's really important for people in Southern states to know that because they're not getting their fair share of support."
This image is from the much reported story earlier in the year on declining life expectancy in the South, especially among women:


Top 10 Misconceptions about Chinese Investment in Africa

There's been a good bit written on the Africa/China relationship of late so the African Politics Portal put up their Top 10 Misconceptions about Chinese Investment in Africa.  Here's #7:
7. China is not a promoting a new form of colonialism on the continent. They are building roads designed to help them take minerals out of Africa; Chinese are getting privileged, under-market prices for the commodities they are shipping out from Africa (oil, timber, coal, copper, coltan, etc.); they are creating segregated neighborhoods for Chinese people only: Chinatowns have sprung up throughout the continent just like the Apartheid era white farms; they are paying Africans very low salaries and fire them when they try to object (see the cases registered in Zambia, South Africa and Angola). All these considered, we still haven’t gotten to the “new” colonialism. All the above are replicas of the policies used by the white racists 50 years ago.

July 19, 2008


1.  I would like to read more on this, but here are a couple of articles on the genetic variant present in individuals of African descent that might account for as much as 11% of Africa's HIV cases - one from Time and one from Bloomberg.

2.  "What mainstream publishers don't want you to know about door-to-door magazine sales."  This could also be retitled "What my wife wants me to know about door-to-door magazine sales," as I am a consummate sucker for anybody with a remotely probable story who shows up at my door selling something - it's an odd "weakness" that seems out of character otherwise.

3.  Favorite foodie kids books - good suggestions in the comments as well.

7.  Great interview on NPR with woefully little known Mississippi bluesman David "Honeyboy" Edwards.  There are some great lines in there, but this one from the 93 year old Honeyboy is classic, "I can do anything I ever done.  Just take more time."  Andrea Seabrook closes the segment by quoting Wes Montgomery, "I never practice my guitar. From time to time, I just open the case and throw in a piece of raw meat."

Here's some Honeyboy from YT:

July 18, 2008

Domestic Dialogues: Frankenstein Complex

Me:  But what if we had a robot that would tell you, "I love you."

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

How did I miss this?  Wes Anderson is making a stop motion animation of Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr. Fox with voice work by George Clooney, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett among others.  

PS - Unrelated entertainment news:  The Office spinoff not really an Office spinoff?

The Increasing Militarization of African Aid

There's nothing particularly new in this short column from the Washington Post but there are a number of things lined up back to back that are cumulatively troubling for folks interested in the continued development of the African continent and the nature of America's involvement in that process.
U.S. aid to Africa is becoming increasingly militarized, resulting in skewed priorities and less attention to longer-term development projects that could lead to greater stability across the continent, according to a report released Thursday by the advocacy group Refugees International.

The report warns that the planned U.S. Africa Command, designed to boost America's image and prevent terrorism, is allowing the Defense Department to usurp funds traditionally directed by the State Department and U.S. aid agencies.

A Pentagon spokesman did not return a call requesting comment. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned this week against the risk of a "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy and said the State Department should lead U.S. engagement with other countries.
It's hard to know how much of this is a reflection of the current administration and what might change post November - I think it's too simple to predict that McCain would bring business as usual and Obama usher in an era of enlightened involvement in African affairs (Bill Easterly via Chris Blattman points out that we haven't seen anything new from Obama on the development front, but nor have we from McCain for that matter.).  The troubling intermingling of the Pentagon into traditional "development" arenas isn't a new story but these specific numbers were new to me:  
The Pentagon, which controlled about 3 percent of official aid money a decade ago, now controls 22 percent, while the U.S. Agency for International Development's share has declined from 65 percent to 40 percent, according to the 56-page report.
That is a big jump.  

However, the article, I think, is correct in saying that the larger, more fundamental problem with regards to Africa is "a lack of consistent, coherent U.S. foreign policy attention to Africa."  That certainly isn't going to change overnight and I'm having trouble deciding if Africom is going to help or hinder it's development - my gut says hinder.  Yet, I am not ready to say that the Pentagon should not have any role in the development agenda - I think that ignores some of the central realities shaping our world at the moment, as unfortunate as that may be.  Which makes me wonder if the key element missing here is not simply an allocation of resources but one of leadership.  If we acknowledge that we are going to need a number of players involved in order to achieve meaningful progress, and that those players are all territorial when it comes to their own agendas, often with good and appropriate reasons, then what we need is solid direction from the top.  It brings to mind this paragraph from Collier's The Bottom Billion which can be read as both an indictment of our continued schizophrenic development strategies (we are not alone in that diagnosis) and as a starting point for the possibility of change come November (emphasis mine):
The objective of development has to be elevated above the level of the development ministry.  Because four different branches of government need to be coordinated, the only level of government likely to be effective is the top.  The head of government has to accept development of the bottom billion as a personal priority.  Obviously I do not mean that this should be the main priority, for that is unrealistic.  Rather, because development requires so much policy coordination it should be recognized as one of those objectives that need to be lodged officially at the top of government.  If fact, heads of government are surprisingly keen to take on development as a public objective.  Think of the eagerness of George W. Bush to share a platform with Bono.  Think of Tony Blair launching the Commission for Africa.  What has been lacking is not the commitment so much as the serious content that should follow in its wake.  We have had leadership without an adequate agenda, because to date the agenda has been dominated by aid.  Bush used his photo opportunity with Bono to announce the Millennium Challenge Account.  The Commission for Africa produced a wide-ranging report, but during the ensuing election seeason it dwindled into a campaign to double aid.  A head of government should not be leading an aid campaign, rather, he or she should be forcing policy coordination across the government.  That is the head of government's unique role because no one else can do it.
In the meantime we laugh so we don't cry:

Flash of Genius

I'm a total sucker for movies like this.

July 17, 2008

Art Reflecting Life

The Wall Street Journal updates their hedcuts to reflect the changing economic climate.  Heavy on the grimaces, scowls and pensiveness.

Vehicle Speed and MPG's

I knew that your fuel economy dropped as your speed increases - the primary factor being aerodynamics - but I didn't think it was this much:
Today, 35 m.p.h. is no longer the best speed for autos with their sleek designs and advanced transmissions. Newer vehicles generally get the highest gas mileage somewhere between 45 and 55 m.p.h., says David L. Greene of the National Transportation Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn.

The main force reducing mileage is air drag, says Dr. Greene. The faster you go, the greater the drag. Drag forces increase exponentially, so doubling your speed from 40 to 80 increases drag fourfold.

It makes a huge difference, for at 80 m.p.h. your car pushes against wind with the force of a hurricane.

Consumer Reports tested the effect of higher speeds on gas mileage. David Champion, director of auto testing, found that boosting the highway speed of a 2006 Toyota Camry cut gasoline mileage dramatically:

•55 m.p.h. – 40.3 miles per gallon

•65 m.p.h. – 34.9 miles per gallon

•75 m.p.h. – 29.8 miles per gallon

On a hypothetical 1,900-mile round trip from New York City to Disney World in Florida, the Camry would use 47 gallons of gas at 55 m.p.h.. But at 75 m.p.h., it would burn nearly 64 gallons – a $70 difference.
My guess is that the differences would be even more significant for older cars.  I think this is the referenced Consumer Reports article.

PS - Not that the President would ask you to make such a "partiotic" decision as to save gas.

Word of the Day: Entomophagy

I presume the origins of this piece from the Economist lie in an attempt to write about the increasingly forgotten story of the global food crisis from a new angle.  My experience with entomophagy is limited to termites and mopane worms both of which I found palatable.  

July 15, 2008

Finding Batman?

Following up on yesterday's post I was curious as to whether or not there was anyone who might meet the minimum entry qualifications for "becoming Batman" - i.e., really rich, athletic and young enough to get it done.  I took a look at Forbes' list of billionaires (I'm thinking you've got to at least be a billionaire these days to outfit yourself with all the accouterments that Batman needs, not to mention what you need to stay up and running without adding additional income) and sorted them by age (I'm allowing some flexibility on age but set a max of 35 - assuming that the older candidates would have already started or completed their 12-18 years of training).  So, with those quick curriculum you only come up with 18 possible "Batmen."  I then clicked through the biographies on the Forbes website and did some further "research" on Wikipedia for those who looked promising and came out with what I thought was only one real possibility.

Albert II, Prince of Thurn and Taxis might be Batman.  Here's what I think he has going for him. He's young, 24, so he has time to get trained.  As royalty, he inherited his wealth.  It's going to be hard for a self-made man/woman to become Batman as much of your energy and attention during your most energetic years is going to be invested in making your fortune, so, like Bruce Wayne, you need to inherit and have time to grow both disenchanted with your position and the means at an early age to divert yourself with the training necessary to become Batman.  I'm thinking that being royalty also exposed Albert to things like fencing, hunting, and other leisure sports that might begin to develop reflexes and skills that translate into those needed by Batman.  He has some military service.  He is studying both economics and theology which suggests both an intellect and a sensibility that might be drawn to and succeed at fighting against the darker side of humanity - or at least feel like he could/should make a difference.  He's a championship racing driver, which suggests that he is drawn to risk taking, competition and action and possesses some level of athleticism and good reflexes.  Family owns some kind of tech company which could be used to outfit his crime fighting needs.  Family also owns 30,000 hectares of German woodland, in which you could undoubtedly hide a hundred Bat Caves.  He lives in a freaking castle.  I rest my case.  He is Batman.

Notes:  I couldn't think of a similarly useful list of olympic class athletes to search, but unless you've got a trusted sponsor, which would leave your identity in jeopardy, I think the money factor is more limiting than the athletic side of things.  Other possibilities I considered were Richard Branson (maybe more of an Iron Man guy) and Kirk Kerkorian - who seemed to have personalities and biography elements that match but both are too old, maybe in their younger days.  Tiger Woods.  He's got the money, athleticism, drive and focus to pull it off but being a professional golfer doesn't allow for sneaking around all night.  Any other suggestions?


The Pope sent out the first ever papal text message today to attendants at World Youth Day in Australia.  Here's the text:
Young friend, God and his people expect much from u because u have within you the Fathers supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus - BXVI
He is also the first pope to have a cellphone and an iPod, all of which sounds like it puts him well ahead of John McCain.

PS - What happens when papal infallibility and txtspk collide?

July 14, 2008

Becoming Batman

I've seen similar pieces before that postulate on the likelihood that someone could actually transform themselves into Batman, generally regarded as one of the more "realistic" superhero's as he possesses no "super powers," but this one in Scientific American is pretty good as it is an interview with E. Paul Zehr, a professor of kinesiology and neuroscience as well as a 26-year practitioner of Chito-ryu, who has a new book coming out in October entitled, Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero.  Here are a couple of good quotes:
How would Batman get enough rest?
The difficulty for Batman is he's going to be trying to sleep during the day. He's going to be really tired, actually, unless he can shift himself over to just being up at night. If he were just a nocturnal guy, he would actually be a lot healthier and have a lot better sleep than if he were doing what he does now, which is getting some light here and there. That's going to mess up his sleep patterns and duration of sleep.
. . . .

How would all those beat-downs have affected his longevity?
Keeping in mind that being Batman means never losing: If you look at consecutive events where professional fighters have to defend their titles—Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Ultimate Fighters—the longest period you're going to find is about two to three years. That dovetails nicely with the average career for NFL running backs. It's about three years. (That's the statistic I got from the NFL Players Association Web site.) The point is, it's not very long. It's really hard to become Batman in the first place, and it's hard to maintain it when you get there.
. . . . 

How many of us do you think could become a Batman?
If you found the percentage of billionaires and multiply that by the percentage of people who become Olympic decathletes, you could probably get a close estimate. The really important thing is just how much a human being really can do. There's such a huge range of performance and ability you can tap into.

July 13, 2008

Banksy Revealed?

The Daily Mail claims to have sorted out the mystery of Banksy's identity and as a bonus attempts straight faced surprise that he might be a well-to-do suburbanite.

July 12, 2008

Occasionally Music: Honey Harvest

If things look good we'll be harvesting our honey this Wednesday.  It makes for a long day but it's totally worth it, 'cause as Erykah says, honey, "sugar got a long way to catch you."

PS.  Man, that is a great performance.  I used to be a pretty big Badu fan but really haven't heard much off of her new album.  Anybody know if it's solid.

Friends in the News

Friends of ours get some press from the Dallas Morning News in an article on emerging interests in farming.


1.  Interesting story and database on which parts of the country army recruits are coming from.  The database lists numbers of active, guard and reserve recruits by state and county - it would be nice to see that data in a map interface.

3.  Joy tries out the chocolate chip cookie waiting game to see if the payoff is worth the wait. 

4.  Jeff Sharlett points to a good new comics podcast/blog by a husband and wife team.

5.  Sad, powerful piece from the Washington Post on a funeral for a 19 year old recently killed in prison.

6.  Long piece on the state of American rail travel through the lens of a train ride from New York to San Francisco.

July 11, 2008

Safari Tips: Southern Africa Edition

Chris Blattman points to and offers some safari tips.  Sounds like most of his experience is in visiting the East Africa parks so I'll offer a few general tips from my own experiences in Southern Africa parks - Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa - and trying to do things on a shoe string budget.

1.  Camp in the parks when at all possible.  In Botswana this is relatively easy to do - contact the Tourism Board and they will get you started, just make reservations early -especially if you are living on the continent as you can most likely borrow all the gear you would need (tents, stoves, water jugs, cooking gear, etc.) from friends and acquaintances.  If you are doing the tourist thing you can rent gear and still come out cheaper than staying at a lodge.  You have never camped until you have camped in the middle of the African bush.  There are few experiences that will make you feel as alive as lying on your back in the middle of the night with a herd of elephants passing almost silently through your campground or a couple of lions chasing an impala through your evening meal.  A couple of hints:
A.  If you're in Botswana make an effort to camp in Deception Valley, Savuti, Linyati and Kasane.

B.  Take very seriously all the precautions/instructions you will read and bring extra everything.

C.  Bring a headlamp.

D.  Spend the night before you leave in the nicest lodge you can afford - eat a great meal, take a hot shower and sleep in a comfortable bed.

E.  Insider Tip:  If you don't want to/aren't able to camp but don't have money for the lodges try calling around to a boarding school in a nearby village.  If the students are out on holiday most will rent you space to sleep in and let you use their showers/bathrooms - you may even get lucky and there could be an empty staff apartment.  You'll probably still need to bring along a propane stove for cooking but those are easy to find.  This can save you a ton of money.  Oh, don't leave anything of value, real or perceived, around during the day.
2.  As Chris suggested, drive yourself if possible, but make sure you buy a good, current map of the park and have a little experience with 4-wheel drive.  Swap information about what you have seen and were you saw it with the other drivers you see - the pro's may be a little icy at first, after all you are a lost customer, but if you share the goods first they usually come around.  The military/anti-poaching forces are another great source of info - they are usually hanging around the gates and smokes are appreciated.

3.  In the heat of the day most everything is asleep and you should be too.  Save your energy for very early mornings - in the truck at first light - and late afternoons.

4.  Bring a good book.

3.  Buy a nice field guide.  It doesn't take long to get excited about the animals you are seeing and want to learn more about their habits.  In addition, it will help you notice and appreciate all the amazing lesser known animals, especially birds, that are also present.  Plus someone can read aloud during the long stretches of seeing nothing.

4.  Take a lot of pictures.  Most will be worthless but a few will be amazing.

5.  Bring a lot of water, sunscreen, a good hat and sunglasses.

6.  If you are living and working in country bring along one of your national friends.  Most have never been able to experience the heart of their national animal resources in this way - and, unfortunately we're quickly pricing them out of the market - especially those from urban areas.

7.  I second Chris's recommendation of the Carnivore in Nairobi and will suggest The Boma to those heading to the Chobe/Victoria Falls area.

For My Wife: Office Webisodes

Go here when NBC makes them take it down.

First in Firsts

SI.com has learned that for the first time in history, a major presidential candidate may sponsor a race car in NASCAR's premier series. According to sources, Barack Obama's campaign is in talks to become the primary sponsor of BAM Racing's No. 49 Sprint Cup car for the Pocono race on August 3. Details of the agreement are expected to be worked out over the coming days.
This guy is not playing around.

Wish List

I'm in need of a haircut, which usually means that my wife pulls out the clippers, I grab a chair and we try to position ourselves in our apartment on the most isolated spot of floor available in order to minimize the number of surfaces that get covered with hair clippings.  However, there is another way:

Is it any surprise that the Japanese are once again light years ahead of us in home grooming technology.  You can buy it here.


July 10, 2008

Overheard: Mis-Communicating

Her talking to Him:

"I didn't know I was supposed to take you seriously, I thought you were just doing your podcast."

Links: Early Edition

A couple things I didn't get around to today:

1.  Marketplace report on local stores, groceries in particular, reaping the benefits of higher gas prices.  What happens in places where the big boxes have snuffed out the locals?

2.  Flickr user posts video of her being struck by lightning while she films a thunderstorm. (via)

4.  Cool animation of the growth and spread of Wal-Mart across america. (via)

Map of the Day

This is an oldy but a goody which I haven't seen for a while:

I'm a coke guy in a pretty solidly coke area.  I wonder what is going on with the Missouri/Illinois border area?  Alaska seems confused.  What is "other"?  As always, Wikipedia is helpful.  I thought some of the anomalies in the dispersals might be accounted for by immigrant populations but comparing that map with this one from Wikipedia it doesn't really look like it:


Guardian Publishes World Bank Report on Biofuels

The Guardian has finally made available the previously mentioned report by the World Bank which points the finger at biofuels for somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% of the responsibility for the current rise in global food prices.  Just downloaded it and won't have time to read it for a while but here is the direct link (pdf) if you are interested.

PS - Who handles PR for the World Bank?  They should have released this thing themselves the  minute word got out that such a report existed.

San Francisco Victory Garden

I've been following the progress of Slow Food Nations Victory Garden with interest for a couple of reasons.  First, the notion of tearing up the lawn in front of any city hall and filling it with an urban garden is pretty darn cool.  Second I was interested to see that they were using a modified "keyhole garden" design for most of their beds.  Keyhole gardens are used in a number of places across Africa (perhaps in other places as well, but I'm only familiar with those in Africa) to provide backyard vegetable production but I've never heard of them being used much in the states.  

Here's an animation put together by Send a Cow, demonstrating a bit of their design:

I had never actually seen a design exactly like the one the video demonstrates, with a compost bin built into the middle.  It's an interesting idea although I would wonder if it would be a more effective distribution of the benefits to compost separately and then incorporate the finished compost into the soil.  I would also be a little worried about it going anaerobic, as it has to be difficult to turn.  It is, however, very convenient.  In answer to your next question, the cans play a similar role to the vermiculite in your potting soil, creating space for water and air flow within an essentially closed container, although you'll want to punch some holes in them to make sure they don't trap water that turns stagnant.

The third reason I'm following the garden's progress is that I'm very interested to see how the garden is managed, maintained and used over the coming years.  

Battles Not Worth Fighting, Part Two?

While eating lunch with a friend last week I noticed a guy crossing the street exhibiting some impressive sag.  I mentioned that it seemed to be a less common style these days and wondered if it reflected a shift in fashion trends or the fact that I hadn't spent much time recently with the 18 and under set.  Judging by this pointer from Andrew Sullivan it seems that the style is still alive and doing well, but getting some push-back from law enforcement.  I'll confess that my main interest in this story is as an excuse to post this great graphic from the Detroit Free Press

How great is that.

The story, of course, is nothing new, either in this current fashion manifestation or the countless other ways in which youth have historically used clothing conventions to poke their parent's generation - and this one has been covered before as well.  I would say that this falls well within the "battles not worth fighting" category but understand the desire of those in positions of authority to do something, anything, to attempt to counteract an image that they feel is reflective of broader issues that their communities are struggling with.  I think it is misplaced and I think it is a waste of resources but I understand the urge.  Plus, you've got to realize that you are fighting an ancient losing battle when you read this quote:
Senita Abrams, 18, left, and Tia Cotton, 17, both of Flint, express their admiration Monday for males who wear sagging pants. "I think it's cute when boys sag," Abrams said.
Anecdote:  I worked for a couple of years at a "children's home" - one of those strange combinations of group foster home, rehab facility, and emergency housing that emerge piece meal from our social services - as a recreation director/chaplain.  I had some input on the "rules of the land" and sagging inevitably came up just about every time the staff had behavioral discussions.  We were located in one of those peculiarly southern areas that are simultaneously rural and urban with most of the staff sensibilities being squarely in the rural context and most of the residents being soundly urban.  The residents were a pretty diverse bunch but sagging was a style that cut across the demographics - black, white, hispanic, male, female, rich, poor, young, old - just about everybody did it.  It wasn't hard to see why.  There wasn't a whole lot that the kids had control over in that context and there was even less that they felt allowed them to even passively express their disapproval of their authority figures, their surroundings and all the conventions that they were under.  Sagging was a flash point for meaningless arguments and worthless punishments that did little more than create ill will in an environment where ill will was already the default.  I tried to push the line that fighting the trend wasn't just a losing battle but a self-defeating one and depending on who was on staff at the time sometimes we won and sometimes we didn't.  However, I soon noticed that 98% of the time the sagging habit disappeared from an individuals behavior when they got a part-time after school job.  I want to say 100% but I'm sure my memory is forgetting someone so I'll play it safe and say 98%.  With no discussion, no prompting, it just disappeared.  Sure it would come back once in a while when the individual felt the need to demonstrate that they were still "legit" but it was always temporary.  Opportunity has a way of pulling a lot of things up all on its own.

July 9, 2008

These Are Strange Days: Example #453

How long until these are actual olympic events?


Screw Caps

We were discussing the unfair (in my opinion) negative bias that wines sealed with screw caps seem to receive with some friends the other night, so I was interested to see this article stating that two prominent French wineries are making the switch from cork to screw caps.  This bit had some info that was new to me:
According to recent figures, of the seven billion wines bottles sealed each year, the number using screw tops has shot up from 300 million in 2003 to 2.5 billion this year. According to the world's best-known wine critic, Robert Parker, wines bottled with corks will be in the minority by 2015.

"The cork industry has not invested in techniques that will prevent 'corked' wines afflicted with the musty, moldy, wet-basement smell that ruins up to 15 percent of all wine bottles," he wrote recently wrote. The one exception, he said, would be "great wines meant to age for 20 to 30 years that will still be primarily cork finished".
So 1/3 of all wine is now bottled with screw caps - which doesn't seem to be reflected in what I see on shelves - and 15% of the remaining 2/3 is lost to bad corkage.   I had no idea it was so high.  I wonder what percentage of that are wines left to age for 20 to 30 years and which are younger wines?  If I remember correctly the argument for corking red wines intended for long term finishing is that the cork allows the proper amount of "breathing" needed for the wines to age to maturity, but I don't see why this couldn't be simulated with screw caps.

PS - If you didn't click through to the article then you did not face the moral dilemma that I faced on whether or not to click on this article in the sidebar.  I'll leave you with this money quote as further temptation:  
Jaime Eastham, of the Bat Conservation Trust, said they had never heard of a bat being found in a bra before.

But she said the animals roost anywhere that appears dark and safe.

The Secret to Great Chocolate Chip Cookies?

I had never heard of this before:
Given the opportunity to riff on his cookie-making strategies, Mr. Rubin revealed two crucial elements home cooks can immediately add to their arsenal of baking tricks. First, he said, he lets the dough rest for 36 hours before baking.

Asked why, he shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “They just taste better.”

“Oh, that Maury’s a sly one,” said Shirley O. Corriher, author of “CookWise” (William Morrow, 1997), a book about science in the kitchen. “What he’s doing is brilliant. He’s allowing the dough and other ingredients to fully soak up the liquid — in this case, the eggs — in order to get a drier and firmer dough, which bakes to a better consistency.”

A long hydration time is important because eggs, unlike, say, water, are gelatinous and slow-moving, she said. Making matters worse, the butter coats the flour, acting, she said, “like border patrol guards,” preventing the liquid from getting through to the dry ingredients. The extra time in the fridge dispatches that problem. Like the Warm Rule, hydration — from overnight, in Mr. Poussot’s case, to up to a few days for Mr. Torres — was a tactic shared by nearly every baker interviewed.

And by Ruth Wakefield, it turns out. “At Toll House, we chill this dough overnight,” she wrote in her “Toll House Cook Book” (Little, Brown, 1953). This crucial bit of information is left out of the version of her recipe that NestlĂ© printed on the back of its baking bars and, since in 1939, on bags of its chocolate morsels.
It makes sense.  It also makes sense that it was left out of the "original" recipe and pretty much everyone since then - who wants to wait 36 hours for cookies.  The article in the NYT offers a couple of other little known hints as well as a recipe bringing them all together.  We'll give it a try the next time we're feenin' for a batch and report back.

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