January 28, 2009

State of the States: Importance of Religion

Not much new or surprising in this report by Gallup but I do like pretty maps.


Links: Food and Ag Edition

1.  Giving a cow a name increases her annual milk yield by almost 500 pints.  This is pretty cool but my guess would be that dairy farmers who call their cows by name and "treat them as family" are the types of farmers who are also taking greater care in other matters more central to an increase in milk production, if those were controlled for I hazard the increase would disappear.  But I like this bit:
Dr Douglas added: "Our data suggests that on the whole UK dairy farmers regard their cows as intelligent beings capable of experiencing a range of emotions."
2.  The Feeding of the Nine Billion.  A summary post by Alex Evans on the release of his excellent year long study report (pdf) of the same name looking at global food prices and scarcity.  Definitely worth a download and read.  I especially like this bit from the executive summary on the need for a 21st-century Green Revolution (emphasis mine):
Invest in a 21st-century Green Revolution. The 20th-century Green Revolution achieved astonishing yield increases. Now, a 21st-century equivalent is needed – one that not only increases yields, but that also moves from an agricultural model that is input-intensive (in water, fertilizer, pesticide and energy) to one that is knowledge-intensive. Genetically modified crops may have a role, but ecologically integrated approaches – such as integrated pest management, minimum tillage, drip irrigation and integrated soil fertility management – often score higher in terms of resilience and equitability, as they put power in the hands of farmers rather than seed companies. Additional funds for public research and development are also vital: the budget of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has fallen by 50% over the last 15 years, for example.
3.  Getting fat in rural America.  Blog for Rural America points to the release of the Center for Rural Affairs' new report Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity in Rural America (pdf) - also worth a read.

4.  When banks manage the food crisis - from the Food First Institute.

5.  Tom Philpott over at Grist has some thoughts on the Gates Foundation's plans to boost food production in Africa as outlined in their annual letter.

7.  Reason on agricultural subsidies, a topic that rarely comes up outside of Farm Bill discussion.

January 26, 2009

Obama Backlash?

Years from now when historians look back at the Obama presidency and seek to determine precisely when the backlash began they will point to two historical artifacts.

This song (opens popup player - lyrics are here for those with stout hearts but weak constitutions) by Garrison Keillor from this weekend's A Prairie Home Companion and this video by a parade of . . . . luminaries(?).  (Oh, I strongly encourage you - do not listen or watch either of these.  No, I'm serious.  They.  Are.  Awful.) 

Marbury has the take down.  

Like many, I have been worried about the state of political satire and comedy under an Obama presidency, but apparently his supporters have all co-conspired to fill in the gap - taking one for the team if nothing else, I suppose.

January 23, 2009

Good Music, Good Cause

The new compilation put out by the Red Hot folks looks pretty freakin' great.  Artist and track list here, and you can listen to new tracks contributed by The National and Bon Iver via their handy widget below.

January 20, 2009



Tough to fool a baby, even more so if said baby is a Jedi.

January 19, 2009

Clif Bar Voluntary Recall

Heads up - keep an eye on the peanut news mis amigos, I've had a mild case of a salmonella strain before and it was one of the most unpleasant 24 hour periods of my life.

January 16, 2009

Links: Themes Edition

1.  Basketball:  
a.  The Audacity of Hoops - it's the only sport I follow and as someone who worked through many of the trials of early adolescence playing on a dirt court in his backyard I really enjoyed this piece. 

b.  A similarly themed anecdote from Peggy Noonan:
This week in the transition headquarters, the president-elect walked by a row of offices. Someone had given him a basketball; he dribbled it as he walked down the hall. Suddenly a young veteran of the campaign turned to another and said, "The black guy with the basketball is the next president." For them it's a rolling realization: You know it, lose it in the flow, realize it again, and suddenly it's new again. The aide says, "He's in a line with Washington and Lincoln, and luminaries like JFK and Reagan." He shakes his head wonderingly. I have seen new guys say this about new presidents most of my professional life. I never see it that I'm not moved. To this day.
c.  Ankle Insurance Co.


2.  Africa:
a.  Advice to Obama's Africa team from the Global Development Center: Don't Change Too Much.  

b.  Similar thoughts from US News and World Report.

c.  Flying toilets still abound.

January 13, 2009

The Uncharted Zone

American Idol premiered tonight which meant that my wife and I parted ways at 8:00.  It's not that I'm above watching American Idol, sociologically it's probably the only interesting reality show left on the air, but I don't watch much TV that's not animated and I have an over developed sense of empathy that makes it very uncomfortable for me to watch people publicly humiliate themselves and if by some chance you haven't seen the show, that's it in a nutshell.  

Any who, as usual when left to my own devices I eventually got around to You Tube and discovered The Uncharted Zone.  It is, by all accounts, both "The Most Important Music Television Show Along The Gulf Coast" and "The Gulf Coast Leader In Music Video Production," offering such services as:
Can follow a story line with actors and/or the artist playing parts.
Can be cool scenes inserted around the song
Can be models looking good throughout the Music Video
Can be different angles of the artist performing
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding and they have quite a feast on their You Tube channel, but might I suggest this sampler counting down their top ten videos of 2008: 

All of this raises three mildly serious questions in my mind.  Are all public access television shows doing this kind of internet crossover?  Isn't You Tube just public access television writ large?  How many American Idol contestants will we see on future UZ top tens?

Global Soil Maps

Global Soil Maps:  of particular interest to those exploring issues relating to agriculture, climate and sustainability but with a wide variety of maps that could be used for more general purposes.  

It comes to my attention as a number of global development heavyweights are investing in a project to more thoroughly map the (often) depleted soils of Africa.  Though I don't quite share this level of optimism:  
"The digital soil map has brought soil science to the 21st century," he said. "At the push of a button, you have answers on soil erosion, where to farm and what crops to grow on what type of soils."
it should prove useful.  Any farmer worth their salt, or 6'th grade science student for that matter, will tell you it does little good to plant crops in soils that don't have the fertility necessary to bring them to maturity, but then again, any farmer worth their salt won't need a digital soil map to tell them where and what to plant.  It's certainly good information to have, especially on the meta level, but I've never spoken to a farmer on any continent who didn't already know what and where to plant.  Which isn't to say that there aren't new technologies which might help increase yields, there almost always are, but it is to acknowledge that most farmers on the African continent farm the way they do out of necessity, i.e. they want to feed their family today and tomorrow will worry about itself.  


January 11, 2009

Links: Extended Edition

1.  Religion bits:  Father John Neuhaus passed away, Gordon Cosby and The Church of the Savior transition "out of existence" (or depending on your perspective "out into existence"), Philip Jenkins on dying Christianities, the rapture index ticks up a notch (can you guess the category?), the Church of England adds a couple of timely new prayers, "A prayer on being made redundant," and "A prayer for those remaining in the workplace," both are here

2.  Crayon Physics Deluxe finally available (if you have a PC, sorry Pomeroy).

3.  "Bikers wear fruit shells to avoid helmet law", or the perils of regulation in a developing context:
Police in Nigeria have arrested scores of motorcycle taxi riders with dried fruit shells, paint pots or pieces of rubber tire tied to their heads with string to avoid a new law requiring them to wear helmets.

The regulations have caused chaos around Africa's most populous nation, with motorcyclists complaining helmets are too expensive and some passengers refusing to wear them fearing they will catch skin disease or be put under a black magic spell.

The law, which came into force on January 1, pits two factions equally feared by the common motorist against one another: erratic motorcycle taxis known as "Okadas," whose owners are notorious for road-rage, and the bribe-hungry traffic police.

Some bikers have used calabashes -- dried shells of pumpkin-sized fruit usually used as a bowl -- or pots and pans tied to their heads with string to try to dodge the rules.

Construction workers have set up a lucrative trade renting out their safety helmets for around 500 naira ($3.60) a day.

"They use pots, plates, calabashes, rubber and plastic as makeshift helmets," said Yusuf Garba, commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission in the northern town of Kano.

"We will not tolerate this. We gave them enough time to purchase helmets. Six months ago the price of helmets was below 800 naira so complaints about non-availability and high prices are no excuse," he told Reuters.

Helmet prices have since risen sharply as sellers cash in on demand.
4. Little housing crisis on the prairie:
Pa and Ma signed the papers.

Laura still didn't understand. "But, Pa," she asked again, "if we never pay off any of the principal, how will we build equity in the house?"

"Don't worry, Laura," Pa reassured her. "In a year, this house will be worth twice what we paid for it. And if we need cash before then I can always hew some equity out of an oak stump with my ax. Oak is good hard wood."

Then Laura felt better. Pa could make anything with his ax.

"You see, Laura," Pa went on, "Uncle Sam has made a bet with us. We have bet that housing prices will continue to rise at historic rates for the foreseeable future. And the government has bet that if real-estate values plummet, honest citizens like us will be too stupid to do anything but continue paying out our hard-earned 5-cent pieces for property that was never worth more than a fraction of its appraised value. Either way, we are going to win that bet!"

"Charles," Ma remonstrated. She did not approve of gambling, even in metaphors.

"But what if land values do drop?" Laura wanted to know.

Pa's blue eyes twinkled. "That can never happen, Half-Pint. Why, it's just as likely that all our crops will be ruined by a blizzard, or a prairie fire, or a horde of grasshoppers!"

Laura and Mary and Ma and Pa all laughed at that idea. Jack barked and barked. Mr. Edwards ran around his mule in circles, slapping at imaginary bees.
5.  Ethan Zuckerman on cyberwarriors in Gaza.

7.  Know your cuts of beef (and make Letterman proud).

8.  In a move of colossally bad timing (not to mention failure of foresight) for me, barring some intervention, many second-hand and thrift stores will be forced to stop selling children's clothes come February 10th.  WTF, mate?!  (see also, above article on Nigeria.)

10.  Good long piece in the New Yorker on international aid workers in Africa, worth a read for anyone thinking in that direction (via Scarlett Lion).

January 9, 2009




January 8, 2009

Oxfam in Gaza

Oxfam's Mohammed Ali lives and works in Gaza and he's been posting on the situation there through the Oxfam newsfeed.  This, depressingly, from yesterday:
We have one day left of food and the nappies I bought two weeks ago are nearly gone. They are not good quality as little has been able to enter this strip of land since the blockade was imposed on us eighteen months ago. Bad quality nappies means unpleasant leakages, and for the last few days the little ones have had to be bathed in freezing cold water.
My sister who was with us the last time I wrote decided to return home in spite of our protests. She feared that with food reserves running out we might have to eat one meal a day rather than the two we have been having of late. At home she has a little food left, enough to keep her and her family going for a while longer.
We are now eleven, huddled together in my parents’ dining room. My brother and I and our families moved there, thinking that the first floor may be the safest option. There is a saying in Arabic, which says, ‘ death in a group is a mercy’, I guess if we die together maybe just maybe we will feel less of the pain than in doing so alone.
I have had 8 hours sleep since the beginning of this conflict; we can hear attacks almost every minute.
Strangely, as technology enables us to make the waging of war more and more impersonal it also makes the victims and casualties of war more and more intimate.   

January 7, 2009

So, there's this . . . .

An artifact from a seemingly foreign land.  (via)

Oh, if you're wondering, You Tube's first "related video" for this little gem is entitled "Retarded Cats."  Which I also find hilarious.  

I could make a pretty good case for the idea that You Tube is single handedly keeping us as a nation out of a full blown depression by virtue of its ability to cumulatively distract us all long enough so that we wander back from the edge.  God bless those good folks, bless them every one.

January 6, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

If you haven't listened to This American Life's December 29th podcast then you're probably still playing catch up after the holidays like me.  However, I recommend doing so as soon as possible as it's a quality episode but especially so for Joshua Bearman's piece on the infighting currently shaking the very foundations of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santa's.  (Bearman, you may remember, was also the author of the previously mentioned excellent piece from Rolling Stone on real superheroes, he's got a real thing going there.  Did you see what I did right there?  Did you see it?)  If for nothing else you will need it to make sense of this

PS - You could also throw some change their way.

January 5, 2009

A 50 Year Farm Bill

Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry have a short op-ed in the NY Times today (logins if needed):
Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological “solutions” for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods.

Clearly, our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities.

For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we will have food. That is a mistake. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy. The government will bring forth no food by providing hundreds of billons of dollars to the agribusiness corporations.
Not unrelated, Salon has a review of Mark Bittman's new book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, which is described as "applied Pollan."

Church and State

Recently released report from Pew on the religious makeup of Congress and contrary to race and gender it looks a lot like the rest of the country it purports to represent. The full report here and some summary from USA Today.  Of Interest at first glance:  the rise of Catholics (+11.3%) and Jews (+6.1%) and the decline of Protestants (-19.4%) over the past 48 years; and the fact that you apparently still can't get elected without claiming some faith tradition (0% unaffiliated compared to 16.1% of the population).


January 4, 2009

Urban Hunger in Africa

If I remember correctly, somewhere around 40% of Africa's population live in urban areas, a number that was in the low teens circa 1950. So it's no surprise that the U.N. is struggling to find solutions for the rising problem of urban hunger across the continent and in doing so finding that it's a different beast altogether from the rural hunger that the international development industry has principally been "designed" to combat:
Escalating hunger in African cities is forcing aid agencies accustomed to tackling food shortages in rural areas to scramble for strategies to address the more complex hunger problems in sprawling slums.

The United Nations World Food Program, the world's largest food-aid group, has plenty of experience trucking food into rural Africa, responding to shortages sparked by drought, famine and war. But in urban areas -- where, despite widespread poverty, hunger wasn't a significant issue until recently -- the hurdles are different.

In the vast and crowded slums, with many unnamed streets and dwellings without running water or electricity, it is difficult to identify who's most in need of help. Simply handing out food can disrupt cities' informal markets, cutting into the livelihoods of those who earn a few dollars each day selling peanuts or fresh fish, or of small farmers who haul their produce to the city.
As Bill Easterly is fond of saying, poverty is more than a technical engineering problem that is simply waiting for the right answer to come along. Effective ground level solutions have to find ways to knit together the socio-cultural fabric that has been torn apart by poverty and hunger, unfortunately that is a really hard task to accomplish if the needed threads have been left behind in the village.
In rural areas, aid groups can rely on the communities to help single out the neediest people and quickly distribute aid. That's more difficult in cities, where more nuanced surveys are needed to find the most vulnerable.
One suggestion, Ms. Sheeran, might be to call the church.

NPR Hearts Me

We finally got around to becoming members of our local NPR affiliate this year and if I had known that they were going to cater to my musical tastes so well I would have done so much sooner.  There was a nice interview with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on NPR this afternoon discussing their new EP, Blood Bank, due out on January 20th - they've also got some nice live performance audio up as well.  Even better they've just started streaming Andrew Bird's new album, Noble Beast, also due out January 20th.  

Both mentioned previously here.

Update:  Long profile of Andrew Bird in the NY Times. (user: beatbox/pword: beatbox)



I suppose this means most countries just aren't "earning" our help.

2.  Boy Scout earns all 121 possible merit badges.  You only need 21 to make eagle scout.  Here's a list of the 121 current merit badges, here's a list of those that have been discontinued since 1911.  If nothing else it's a good record of the rise of the urban, technology dominated culture of modern America and the decline of the agrarian. 

3.  Best of 2008: Blogs.  One of my favorite newly discovered blogs this year has been Kim Wolhuter's video/photography blog, Wildcast.  Wolhuter is a wildlife filmmaker (with quite a pedigree as both his father and grandfather were the head ranger at Kruger) operating along the Zimbabwe/South Africa border and he updates his blog with amazing frequency with video and photography of incredible quality.  It's a can't miss for wildlife geeks and today's post is a good example. 

4.  When a phillips is not a phillips, an exhaustive guide.

5.  Penguin's favorite book designs of 2008 and Robot 6's 25 best comic book covers/

January 3, 2009

Belated Tennyson

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out false, ring in the true.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be. 

January 1, 2009

The Science of Shopping

From the Economist:
Then there is the in-store bakery, which can be smelt before it is seen. Even small supermarkets now use in-store bakeries. Mostly these bake pre-prepared items and frozen dough, and they have boomed even though central bakeries that deliver to a number of stores are much more efficient. They do it for the smell of freshly baked bread, which makes people hungry and thus encourages people to buy not just bread but also other food, including frozen stuff.