Monday, January 26, 2004

The meat market

The Meatrix and Michael Pollan's An Animal's Place show the pork/beef/poultry industries as they are today. If you eat it, you have a responsibility to see where it comes from.

The way it should be -What you may not know - "natural flavors" can include meat, Calls for Labeling Grow After Meats Are Found in 'Veggie' Foods

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thinking of moving to the country? The hidden underbelly

The post was written with this area in mind, but much of it is more widely applicable.

Yes in many ways Nevada County is a fine place to live. Small town life, pine trees, river, close to skiing, within [painful] commute distance to Sacramento, historic walkable towns, arts, music, above-the-fog-below-the-snow, community, golf, golf, more golf - as any of the real estate websites will tell you. For balance, here's the flip side.

(And this may not be wholly accurate, it's my perception only, I'm probably oversimplifying, dramatizing etc. Not making any of it up though.)

Bring your own money. For the most part the high tech companies up here aren't hiring, so most of the employment opportunities involve - in one way or another - providing services to the retirees who move here from L.A., Sacto, and the Bay Area. And relative to service industry wages, housing here is expensive.

Culture clashes. You have a modest little home in town, then find that your new next door neighbor - who moved here for the historic charm, all those cute little houses you know - wants to erect a McMansion. You buy the peaceful home in the country, then find that your neighbor likes to use his acreage for a shooting range. Or he and his children like to race their ATVs at top speed and volume up and down the shared road on your property for recreation. A shared private road means that everyone has to cooperate (and pony up) to maintain it. Not everyone will. Not all the gunfolk are aware that a speeding bullet does not respect property lines. Parts of the county have a real problem on weekends with off-road vehicles and their occasionally well-soused and well-armed drivers - apparently it's a popular destination for the wildlife of Sacramento. Meth labs. Meth addicts who don't just destroy their own lives. Garbage dumpers. Out-of-control teenage vandals on dirtbikes.

Crowding. You have a great well that yields 40+ gallons a minute; then someone moves in downslope from you and starts irrigating their extensive new landscaping with water from their great well, causing yours to go dry. Perhaps confusing the area with East Palo Alto, they install floodlights and leave them on all night.

Health and safety hazards. The San Diego fires of last fall could just as easily have happened up here - we have the classic urban-wildland interface. The history of mining means that our rivers have enough mercury in them that you shouldn't eat the trout often. Mining tunnels honeycomb the area, and sometimes they cave in, causing the ground above to subside; this is most unfortunate when part of your house lies above. Some Lyme disease. High ozone levels. Think carefully before buying that house in a low spot, since in winter everyone's woodsmoke will accumulate there. Also if you live in town and the people around you use wood heat, you'll be breathing a lot of second-hand smoke.

And (in the baseless scaremongering dept.) something I wonder about- the gravel road rock may contain serpentine which has asbestos-like fibers, which could mean that there are health consequences of inhaling road dust (of which there can be plenty, if your house is near a well-traveled gravel road). The state has set limits on the asbestos-like-fiber-content of road gravel, not sure how that translates into practice. It's probably fine...

Reminders that your pets are made out of meat. Bears, coyotes, foxes and bobcats will appreciate your supplying them with poultry. Mountain lions eat livestock and occasionally also dogs (although none of ours have developed a taste for human flesh yet); coyotes cause "lost cat" fliers to appear in town.

I tell you this in the belief that it's best to know what you might be getting into, before you make the leap. However one pattern we've noticed is that the people who leave the area do tend to move back.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

USA Today, following in the footsteps of Melanie Ho

A welcome change: CJR Campaign Desk and Brad DeLong point out substantive reporting (no blue suits! no argyle sweaters!) by USA Today (if link rots, try BDL's post) reporting not only the content but also the context of Bush's State of the Union address.

It brings to mind this post from the Daily Howler last spring, Part 4 of A Culture Of Lying:

[On coverage of the first Bush-Gore debate - ] "One scribe noted what Bush had done. You could call it a senior moment...":
[DH:] At the crucial first debate with Gore, Bush lied about his budget plan, then accused Gore of using "phony numbers" and "fuzzy math" when he described the budget plan accurately. The next day, the fun really started, as Bush and aides toured the country, tossing off palpably bogus facts - and saying that they showed Gore was lying. It truly takes a low, slimy man to call the other guy a liar on the basis of "facts" which he’s simply made up.

...For the record, there was one journalist who spoke in real time:...she noted a nasty "irony" - an irony that would somehow elude the mainstream "press:"
Bush's attack on the vice president's mathematical calculations has a dual irony. First, Bush was using fuzzy math himself: While Bush accused his opponent of using "fuzzy math," the Republican candidate's own statistics were partisan-created rhetoric rather than substantiated facts.
We don't know of any other journalist who noted this basic point - who noted that Bush was accusing Gore of the very thing he, Bush, was doing. The journalist then laid out some basic problems with Bush's fake, phony "facts":
Gore was correct in his statement about Bush's budget figures..

...[facts snipped; go read her article or the Daily Howler post]

...Ignoring these facts, Bush argued that his tax cut for the wealthy was far less than his actual policies and plans demonstrate.
[the journalist?]
Why, it was Melanie Ho, a UCLA senior, writing in the Daily Bruin. While mainstream "journalists" cowered and quaked - and told the world what a liar Gore was - a college student was somehow able to note the "irony" in what Bush was doing. We’ve often asked if high school students could get away with work like the press corps'. In the fall of 2000, only Melanie Ho - a college student - had the courage to get this tale right.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Journalism dim sum II

In Eliminating the Bimbo Factor, Tim Porter quotes Tom Rosenstiel:
This tendency to define journalism as a series of techniques rather than responsibilities and principles has added to many of journalism's contemporary problems." He adds:
Without journalism democracy is not possible. Without democracy, journalism has no purpose other than profit. Journalism and democracy will rise and fall together."
Jay Rosen paraphrasing Lee Bolinger - "Journalists also need to grasp how the press does-or does not-foster the kind of quality debate required if people are to make democracy work."

In LA Times roundtable -
"You're not publishing a newspaper to be liked," Rodriguez shot back. "You're publishing a newspaper to inform the public and to promote democracy."
...are you worthy of the responsibility [of owning a newspaper]? Do you have an interest in doing something that improves public discourse?"
"Do it if you're prepared to ask what serves, not what sells."
Herbert Gans interviewed by Jay Rosen (read the whole thing) -
objectivity is the conscious effort to be detached, to keep one's own personal values out of, not necessarily the topic chosen, but the method with which facts are gathered and the writing so that the final story (or research project findings) has neither an investment in the answer nor is a statement supporting the reporter's or researcher's values.
...this kind of objectivity will survive, because once a news firm, or any other firm with an ideologically diverse audience, takes sides--especially on issues on which the audience is divided or polarized--it runs the risk of alienating a large number of customers, or important advertisers worried about alienating their customers...
Finally, from The Onion (circa Nov 20), Media Criticized For Biased Hometown Sports Reporting:
"In our extensive study of the nation's sports sections and broadcasts, we documented countless examples of shamelessly one-sided reporting, obvious speculation, and bald editorializing masquerading as journalism," FAIR spokesman Scott Wilborough said. "Coverage was heavily, sometimes brazenly, weighted toward the teams from a media source's own area."
...Wilborough said the problem may be larger than many realize. "Let's face it, sports news is the only news most people read," Wilborough said. "That's reason enough to clean it up. Otherwise, the media may start seeing bias and sensationalism as a formula for success. I don't think anyone wants to live in a country where that happens."

Monday, January 19, 2004

Journalism dim sum

Recycling accumulated newspaper and blog quotes.

Always read PressThink.

Also, for the next 11 months, the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk, which is covering the coverage of the presidential campaign - as in "Campaign Desk is glad the AP finally got the facts correct -- but a little irked that some newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, fixed the error without acknowledging they had made the mistake in the first place." (sorry, not the greatest of sound bites, but, as the others would have required the Heimlich maneuver...)

via Butterflies and Wheels, Jonathan Chait on why U.S. political journalism fails:
For all the talk about the importance of objectivity, reporters are surprisingly willing to express their opinions openly when it comes to matters of pure politics.
Yet, when it comes to real matters of fact--that is, things that involve figures, dates, actual events--reporters frequently take the opposite approach. They are evenhanded to a fault, presenting every side of an argument as equally valid, even if one side uses demonstrably false information and the other doesn't.
This bizarre approach to policy reporting effectively rewards dishonesty. What's the point of a politician telling the truth if even the elite press will simply throw up their hands and fail to distinguish between truth and falsity?
In comments here, "It's an ongoing trend that's becoming more and more apparent: Commentators confuse 'editorial opinion' with 'freedom to cite unsubstantiated evidence as truth.' Hey, it's my opinion, so I can quote whatever sources I want, right?"

A tip o' the hat to Rhetorica, recently, calling a couple of political writers on sleazy tactics - "the ellipsis indicates ... the omission of words that were used in the original source. The point of this punctuation is to help shorten the amount of original material used without changing the meaning as intended by the original communication.
...While they didn't change the words, they changed the signs in order to divert your journey toward the truth. They did this on purpose. And that makes them liars."

Thought Signals:
The real problem with the Times' policy on stringers is that it's counter to what a newspaper is supposed to be all about: the truth. When the Times puts a national correspondent's byline on a story that includes string from others - whether staffers or freelancers - it's telling its readers that that story was reported only by that reporter. It's telling its readers a lie.

Paul Krugman via Disinfotainment:
Don't talk about clothes. Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean was a momentous event: the man who won the popular vote in 2000 threw his support to a candidate who accuses the president of wrongfully taking the nation to war. So what did some prominent commentators write about? Why, the fact that both men wore blue suits.

This was not, alas, unusual. I don't know why some journalists seem so concerned about politicians' clothes as opposed to, say, their policy proposals. But unless you're a fashion reporter, obsessing about clothes is an insult to your readers' intelligence.

From Crooked Timber - "it almost doesn't matter what that candidate actually says. What really matters is framing."

In the press van down by the Warwick, a report on the reporters -
What was most interesting was hearing them interact with each other. I always had this silly stereotype of journalists trying to scoop each other and keeping their information to themselves, but these guys were the definition of pack journalism. What was scary was that a lot of them didn't really seem to know what they were talking about regarding some of Dean's policy stances, things he said at the speech, etc. I got the distinct impression that they were interviewing each other for information (instead of, say, the official campaign spokesman that was in the front seat). Honest to Pete, I heard one reporter ask another "How do you think Dean is doing," and the other went on to answer how he felt Dean probably wrapped up the nomination when he decided against campaign financing, but the test will be if his appeal extends beyond the base of radical liberal supporters..." The exchange was followed by the sound of fingers typing on keyboard...

God but American journalism sucks when it's ordinary:
...there's a whiff of cynicism: [Candidate] is honing a message, not speaking from his heart. The media is fully complicit in the transformation of politics into marketing; that's the filter the media themselves use.
The author now tells us that "[Candidate]'s message is tactically sharp" (the author's cynicism again being imputed to the candidate). But then she moves off that tactically sharp message and says that it "dovetails" with the critique against special interests that "virtually all" the [party's] candidates have proffered.
...this article... strikes me as typical of so much of the media's sloppy, lazy and marketing-centric way of working.

In Altercation - "...the old journalistic cliché that the only people who object to a genuinely objectionable action are people with a vested interest..."

more tomorrow.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

sound bytes

DocBug - "The Net is a great well of knowledge. Unfortunately, like all wells, it also makes a great echo chamber."

Jakob Nielsen (via): "human time is our most precious resource. Stop strip-mining it."

Definition of epistemologically challenged - a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff.

Paul Graham, not entirely sure that it fits but...:
As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Worth considering

David Neiwert (in comments) -
Fascism is a form of totalitarian government whose hallmarks are a leadership that cannot be questioned, aggressive nationalism, racism, close ties to capitalist elites and the absence of legal due process.

The hallmarks of fascist propaganda are half-truths, lies, appeals to patriotism, and verbal bombast and threats that seek to cut off debate and cower opponents. This propaganda counts on the acquiescence of good people in order to succeed.

And, in the local news, property rights advocate William Weismann sentenced to five years in prison for trying to hire hit man to kill his neighbor. "...Scared, confused and pushed to the point of no return, lost in a nightmare...he is not a nasty or violent man."

Sunday, January 11, 2004

nothing to say. go elsewhere.

From comments at Matthew Yglesias's site: "It's perhaps worth noting that, as a rule, the Amish do not blog."

From the Global Ideas Bank, the last Sunday in January has been designated International Internet-free Day ("The Internet did not start off as a vehicle for social isolation and damaged eyesight...")

Friday, January 09, 2004


In tune with Kevin Kelly's question "what is your heresy?" ("...a strongly held belief that goes against the grain of their peers, something not in the accepted canon of their friends and colleagues...")...

via mefi, a great article by Paul Graham on how to better identify current heresies and moral fashions:
It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

...Is our time any different?

...What would someone coming back to visit us in a time machine have to be careful not to say?... excellent advice on how to go about looking into this and vivid insights, e.g.
[re Santa etc.] It is probably inevitable that parents should want to dress up their kids' minds in cute little baby outfits...a well brought-up teenage kid's brain is a more or less complete collection of all our taboos-- and in mint condition, because they're untainted by experience...

(and, the bone thrown your correspondent's way: "Nerds are always getting in trouble. They say improper things for the same reason they dress unfashionably and have good ideas: convention has less hold over them.")

Wishful thinking dept: have Edge do an anonymous survey of its usual cast of "leading thinker" characters, asking about their heresies. It would make for fascinating (and perhaps appalling) reading.

and- addendum(?) to the "natural laws from" post below - Geoffrey Miller's Law of Strange Behavior:
To understand any apparently baffling behavior by another human, ask: what status game is this individual playing, to show off which heritable traits, in which mating market?

Thursday, January 08, 2004

More mindless cribbing from those with quality content

most likely via metafilter...

Idea incubators, at
Good ideas, [I think] all from the Global Ideas Bank:
  • A politician's suit covered with sponsors' logos
    at least once a year politicians should be obliged to wear a ceremonial suit covered with their sponsors' logos, with the patches sized according to the percentage the sponsor contributed to the campaign fund.
  • Meet the mayor on the park bench
    ...sitting on the same red bench in the centre of Hönefoss every Wednesday at noon, whatever the weather. This was his idea for opening up dialogue with his community. Sometimes people have to queue up to chat with him.
  • Jurors can interrupt with questions
    Circuit Judge Robert Jones in Portland USA who since 1994 has allowed jurors in civil trials in his courtroom to interrupt with questions, even when witnesses are on the stand
  • anti-virus software that anybody in the developing world could download for free from the web.

  • How to share out property fairly among relatives
    executors auction the property amongst those eligible, with the highest bidders' payments going into a pool to be shared out at the end.
  • Three classes of substances - legal, illegal, tolerated
    'It would be illegal to advertise tolerated substances and they could be sold only in generic paper wrappers'
One small contribution of my own -

Having the Visiting Nurses come out to give flu shots at the drugstores and workplaces is a wonderfully time- and cost- effective way to prevent illness in a large number of people. Likewise for bone density screenings, likewise for the freely available blood pressure monitor in the drugstore. But given that diabetes incidence is rising, that it tends to develop gradually, that it costs a lot to treat once it develops, that people often don't know they're at risk - why not also have the nurses come out to do fasting blood glucose screenings?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

A libertarian perspective

In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged*, the rugged individualist hero and heroine opine upon the landscape:
The earth went flowing under the hood of the car. Uncoiling from among the curves of Wisconsin's hills, the highway was the only evidence of human labor, a precarious bridge stretched across a sea of brush, weeds and trees. The sea rolled softly, in sprays of yellow and orange, with a few red jets shooting up on the hillsides, with pools of remnant green in the hollows, under a pure blue sky...

Dagny leaned against the corner of the side window, her legs stretched forward; she liked the wide, comfortable space and the warmth of the sun on her shoulders; she thought that the countryside was beautiful.

"What I'd like to see", said Rearden, "is a billboard".
Then [Dagny] smiled. "But think of how often we've heard people complain that billboards ruin the appearance of the countryside. Well, there's the unruined countryside for them to admire!" She added, "They're the people I hate".
And no, she's not kidding - from skimming the book it would appear that neither Ms. Rand nor her characters have a sense of humor.

Also this is rather quaint:
...the diamond band on the wrist of her naked arm gave her the most feminine of aspects; the look of being chained.
pp 279-80 and 136 respectively

Monday, January 05, 2004


On perspective, from here:"All of this rhetorical overkill reminds me of a line about the late rants of F.R. Leavis: 'In his later books he libelled his literary opponents so scandalously that when he tried to condemn Stalin he had no harsh words left over.'"

From comments here:"Just saw a bit of the Paris Hilton and Nicole show. It is, easily, the most eloquent argument for an estate tax that has ever been created."

From everywhere: Britney Spears as argument against allowing heterosexual marriage

Love is a many-legged thing

From here:
Utilitarian: One who believes that the morally right action is the one with the best consequences, so far as the distribution of happiness is concerned; a creature generally believed to be endowed with the propensity to ignore their own drowning children in order to push buttons which will cause mild sexual gratification in a warehouse full of rabbits.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

my Nevada City wishlist

FYI for nonlocals - "Nevada City" is a misnomer now; once this was the 4th largest city in California, but that was back in Gold Rush days. Now we fall into the "quaint hamlet" category.

Here's what I'd like to see, in no particular order:
  1. More people turning their garages into second units - we need more cheap housing in town, and it needs to be integrated, and not everybody needs a full size house. What incentives could we provide?
  2. Recognition that not all "improvements" are...
  3. Shade trees. Downtown is woefully devoid of shade, and it's miserable walking up Broad St on late summer day with sun blasting into your face. If Grass Valley has planted shade trees; why can't we? We could plant them in little peninsulas between parking places, also on the corners of the %^&*( overpass, also at the edges of the Brewery parking lot. It would make for a much more pleasant downtown in summertime.
  4. A town website and perhaps also emailing list. There's really no excuse anymore, for not disseminating city meeting agendas in a way that's convenient for citizens. Public Servant - S, e, r, v, a, n, t.
  5. Make it possible to report problems, and receive responses to problem reports, via email.
  6. A "suggestion box" on the website, to collect the items on all residents' wishlists?
  7. And, of course, a City Hall weblog to report news on things like the water quality problem, water bills due, changes in office hours, etc.
#1 might be thorny, but the rest are no-brainers. Which of the candidates for Nevada City Council will pledge to enact them?

Saturday, January 03, 2004

It goes up to eleven

Edge's World Question Center series. It doesn't get any better than this.

(for each of these pages, you may need to scroll down a few screenfuls to get to the content.)

In 2002 they asked "What is your question? Why?". Among the responses:
  • "Why do we decorate?" ... (Brian Eno)
  • "Why do people like music?" ... (W. Daniel Hillis )
  • "Eureka: What makes coherence so important to us?" It's part of our pleasure in complex ritual or listening to Bach, to be able to guess what comes next some of the time. It's boring when it is completely predictable, however; it's the search for how things all hang together that is so much fun ... (William Calvin)
  • "Why is it only amongst adults in the Western world that has tradition been so insistently and constantly challenged by the raising of [these sorts of] questions?" (children everywhere do it, but stop when they grow up) ... (John R. Skoyles)
(includes this from John Perry Barlow: "Information is like a life jerky: dried up and not terribly communicative..."
"Democracies don't prepare well for things that have never happened before." (Richard A. Clarke)

2003 was responses to a hypothetical request for advice by George Bush ("What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?")

2004 asks for observed natural laws. Here's a taste -
  • Jaron Lanier
    ...You have to draw a Circle of Empathy around yourself and others in order to be moral. If you include too much in the circle, you become incompetent, while if you include too little you become cruel. This is the "Normal form" of the eternal liberal/conservative dichotomy...
  • Alan Alda:
    All laws are local - In other words, something is always bound to come along and make you rethink what you know by forcing you to look at it in a broader context
    A law does not know how local it is - Citizens of Lawville do not realize there are city limits and are constantly surprised to find out they live in a county.
  • Alison Gopnik's Gender Curves -
    The male curve is an abrupt rise followed by an equally abrupt fall. The female curve is a slow rise to an extended asymptote. The areas under the curves are roughly equal. These curves apply to all activities at all time scales (e.g. attention to TV programs, romantic love, career scientific productivity).
  • Dawkins's Law of Adversarial Debate: When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

January 1, 2004

In lieu of resolutions, a performance review.

I was wrong about:
  • the short-term future of SARS, which (as you may have noticed) did not sweep across the planet leaving devastation in its wake. Moral of story: just because the news reads like Chapter 1 of a sci fi novel, doesn't mean that the other chapters are on its heels.
  • assuming that the occupation of Iraq would go fairly smoothly. Moral of story: try reading some historical nonfiction for a change.
  • writing off The Union (local paper) as irredeemable. The turnaround/recovery has been remarkable; I wish there was a way to support them without buying a dead tree subscription. A Pledge button on the website's front page maybe, with suggested yearly contribution (and free old archive searching/retrieval to those who give it)?

I learned:
  • that the blogosphere plus google makes for a mind-blowingly wonderful resource.
  • enormous amounts about journalism - the good, the bad and the lazy - the biases, the ideals, the conflicts of interest, the dynamics of coverage, etc - mostly thanks to the above-referenced blogosphere. (Thank you, BS denizens!)
  • that it is natural for an organization or individual that serves the public not to do so wholeheartedly, if the result would be to reduce their importance.
  • that, in politics, "all other things being equal" is rarely if ever the case - our political views flow from our personalities.

We live in interesting times.