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Ethical Food

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

To my surprise, my food posts (I am, after all, supposed to be feminist & foodie) have sparked serious controversy ’round these parts. So let’s see what happens today, when we throw religion into the mix.

Interestingly, though, here it is religion that is the issue around which people are converging, or at least a motivating factor for that convergence. Yesterday, the NY Times Dining & Wine section featured an article pithily titled “Of Church & Steak,” which surveyed various religious movements working toward more ethical food production. Movements are emerging among Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, and Muslims that push not only to slaughter animals in the most humane way possible (a focus of the Jewish kashrut laws or Muslim Halal), but also to ensure that the animals live cage free and that the people who care for and slaughter the animals are treated with respect and are paid living wages (not minimum wage). It’s food as social justice.

It’s not that this blending of green/sustainable/humane living and religion is anything new (eco-Kashrut has been around for about 30 years, as the Times notes, and which finds a modern home here). What’s new is the growing popularity of these movements, and their increasing power within their own religions. In Judaism, for example, the Conservative movement (less tied to the texts of Jewish law than Orthodox but more concerned with tradition and law than Reform) is in the process of creating a new kind of Kosher seal that would take into account issues of sustainability, humaneness during life, and treatment of human workers. (Apologies for the focus on Judaism; it’s what I know most about and would welcome perspectives from other religions on comments).

This change is clear both in the growth of interreligious work on ethical meat and in each religion. In the words of the inimitable Joel Salatin, proprietor of Polyface Farms, and a central figure in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, put it well in the Times article:

“Ten years ago most of my farm visitors were earth muffin tree-hugger nirvana cosmic worshipers,” Mr. Salatin said. “And now 80 percent of them are Christian home schoolers.”

I can’t preach from a bully pulpit on this issue — I’m headed to Peter Luger‘s tonight, where I doubt they use what I would call ethical and sustainable meat. But for me it’s something to aspire to, for ethical reasons that are both religious and secular.

(also at Feministe)

Wait, Armed Liberal Is Still Alive?

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

Marc Danzinger argues that Duncan Black is trying to gag…Tom Friedman. No, I’m serious. Why, one more “Wanker of the Day” award and Friedman’s inexplicable presence on the nation’s most valuable op-ed space, inexplicably best-selling books, all-too-explicable ubiquitous TV presence will vanish entirely! It’s that kind of grasp on logic that leads you to still be in Iraq War supporter in 2007.

And yet, you can see where it comes from. I mean, consider again the definitively puerile and reprehensible comments from Friedman that were the original subject of discussion:

What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?”

You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow?

Well, Suck. On. This.


That Charlie was what this war was about. We could’ve hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.

Pretty much a representative summary of the general seriousness and intellectual merit of the typical warblog circa 2002, you have to admit.

Abortion and Animals

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

LT comments in the thread earlier today that (s)he can see some relevance of animals to the abortion debate. And I can actually see it in one narrow context. In his essay in What Roe Should Have Said, Akhil Amar argues:

There are indeed plausible textual reasons for not treating the unborn as persons within the meaning of the Constitution…but even nonpersons may have interests that deserve of human protection. A pet dog is not a person, yet society may protect it from cruelty or wanton destruction…

This is is true, as far as it goes. The fact that the fetus is not a legal person does not, in and of itself, mean that the state cannot legislate to protect fetal life. (Well, apparently there are some libertarians who argue that the state cannot protect animals; not being a libertarian, I’m free to agree with McArdle that such legislation is perfectly acceptable, and in any case it’s certainly not prohibited by the United States Constitution.)

But as applied to abortion, the analogy doesn’t do any serious work: it breaks down in ways that are particularly important to assessing abortion. Most importantly, unlike animals fetuses reside in women’s bodies, and being forced to carry a pregnancy to term imposes serious burdens on a mother’s health and life prospects, which forcing a woman not to torture dogs does not. Similarly, bans on abortion ineluctably place these burdens exclusively on women as a class, while most laws protecting animals don’t burden any particular class of individuals. And finally, unlike with abortion statutes as Michael Vick now knows we’re willing to enforce laws banning animal cruelty against rich people. Roe extended the de facto access affluent women had to safe abortions to more women by straining down legislation that was arbitrarily enforced; again, there’s no analogy with bans on animal cruelty here.

So ultimately the point, while narrowly clever, isn’t useful. If access to abortion is not a fundamental right, the analogy is superfluous; the state can already balance the relevant interests pretty much however it chooses. (It matters only in the sense that the state would not be required to ban abortion, a conclusion that for obvious reasons opponents of legal abortion are generally desperate to avoid in any case.) And if abortion is a fundamental right — and under the relevant doctrine is clearly is — comparing fetuses to animals doesn’t get you very far in terms of justifying the severe burdens abortion bans place on the right.

Yousta Bee!

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

Shorter Neocon:

I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9-11, I’m outraged by John Kerry’s 1971 appearance on the Dick Cavett show.

In the comments, I’m advised to brush up on my history of the Vietnam War by reading more from Neocon’s oeuvre.

I’ll get to that, I’m sure, right after I see what Marmaduke has been up to lately.

Look, We’ve Seen This Kind of Thing Before

[ 0 ] August 23, 2007 |

Was lucky enough to get a ticket to see the New Pornographers last night. Even better, the rockcrit friend who got me the ticket had heard that Neko wouldn’t be appearing, but she turned out to be there, a pleasant surprise. (No Dan, though.) She had technical problems for the first couple songs and the new acoustic backing players were often inaudible, but otherwise it was excellent, tight playing of very well-selected old stuff mixed judiciously with the best stuff from Challengers. Some fans were impatient with the shambolic between-song patter, but I have always found that part of their charm. During one interlude where fans shouted requests someone yelled “Lady of Spain,” and before I could even shout out “Never play ‘Lady of Spain’ again!” Carl made the obligatory Slap Shot reference, and followed that up with a discussion of lines from Strange Brew. Non-Canadians wouldn’t understand.

I have an etiquette question. The woman who was in front of us for most of the show hit me a couple times with her large bag accidentally early on, the kind of thing you’d expect given how packed things were. But then she actually tottered back into me a couple times, and it became evident that she was so wasted she could barely stand up (it was a little funny at first, because she was also scrawling things in a notebook.) After a bit the guy with her literally had to hold her up so she wouldn’t fall down. And then halfway through the show he brings her another beer, leaving her to collide with people for a couple minutes. I didn’t say anything, for the reason that I almost never do in such situations: I try to adhere to the principle of “mind your own goddamned business.” I’m very reluctant to mention such things to a friend; in the rare circumstances where I’ve timorously make a query about someone’s drug problem or eating disorder of whatever I’ll feel guilty for weeks. With strangers, I don’t think you should stay anything. Still, I wonder if it’s appropriate in a case like that to say “uh, don’t you think she’s had enough,” or alert the bartender or something?

The Cambodia Myth

[ 0 ] August 22, 2007 |

I suppose it’s comforting to see the President continues to know fuck-all about the American war in Vietnam.

On Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri, Bush will tell members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that “then, as now, people argued that the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end,” according to speech excerpts released Tuesday by the White House.

“Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left,” Bush will say.

“Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps’ and ‘killing fields,’” the president will say.

There’s an interesting history, it seems to me, to be written about the right-wing fable of “abandonment” that connects disparate 20th century events like the Yalta Conference, the “loss” of China, the collapse of South Vietnam, and so on. What unites these narratives is the stubborn insistence — in the face of all evidence to the contrary — that something could have been done to avert Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe, Maoist victory in China, or the eradication of a South Vietnamese government that had never enjoyed the legitimacy granted to it by American officials, who invested two decades and 60,000 American lives in that awful chimera. Such fantasies are seldomly enlivened by plausible explanations of what the US might have done; rather, they are preoccupied with ferreting out domestic appeasers, traitors and defeatists who enabled the nation’s humiliation.

None of this is surprising, and the Bush administration’s reliance on false, right -wing historical narrative has been noticed before. Bush’s invocation of the Cambodian genocide, however, is both predictable and disgusting. Rather than simply wallowing in counter-factual satisfactions (e.g., what if FDR hadn’t simply “given away” a region of Europe his nation didn’t actually control?) it actually inverts history by pretending that the killing fields were a consequence of American weakness rather than an effect of American aggression. The history on this is pretty unambiguous. Without four years of American and South Vietnamese bombardment of eastern Cambodia, and without the illegal invasion of the country in 1970, the preconditions for the ascent of the Khmer Rouge would not have existed. More importantly, as the Khmer became embroiled in a xenophobic campaign against ethnic Vietnamese and sought — improbably — to regain lands lost to Vietnam centuries before, the United States had little to say in the way of official complaint against Pol Pot’s regime. Indeed, the “reasonable” position set forth by Kissinger (under Ford) and Brzezinski (under Carter) held that Pol Pot — though detestable — was at least useful so long as he threatened the Communists in Vietnam. And when the Khmer Rouge was deposed by a Vietnamese invasion and replaced by a Vietnamese puppet states, both Carter and Reagan continued to insist that the Khmer Rouge be acknowledged as the legitimate government of Cambodia.

Allow me to put it even more simply: to the extent that the United States abetted the Cambodian genocide, those contributions were made not by people who called for an end to the war in Vietnam but instead by those who insisted that the war be expanded into another nation; that the war could be brought under control with a massive, short-term escalation; and that domestic opposition to the war was irresponsible and meretricious.

The Ghost of Trolls Past

[ 0 ] August 22, 2007 |

Long-time readers of LGM will remember our first major troll, who during debates about abortion would start babbling about bald eagles. I thought this was a true innovation, but similar arguments are now being made in the august halls of the Tennessee legislature. Apparently, if you believe that it should be illegal to torture dogs, then you have to be against abortion. And as soon as dogs that have already been born start occupying women’s uteruses, this analogy will be somewhat less specious. (In addition to the problem of calling fetuses “babies” — given that the GOP believes that women who get abortions should not face any legal sanction, I can only infer then that Rep. Campfield believes infanticide should be legal unless it’s a contract killing.)

Making Us Necessary

[ 0 ] August 22, 2007 |

Nothing like a little self-congratulation to get a blogger going in the morning.

Amanda’s got a post up at Pandagon and Offsprung bemoaning the horrendous job the MSM does addressing or qualifying the false claims made by the wingnuts in interviews, op-eds and other appearances. Case in point: An 8/20 article in the Denver Post about a new Planned Parenthood clinic planned for the Denver area.

Amanda points out the most egregious quote, which the article’s author, Karen Augé, leaves flapping in the breeze:

Leslie Hanks, vice president of Colorado Right to Life, said her organization will continue its opposition to Planned Parenthood and likely would fight efforts to build a clinic.

“Let’s face it, they’re in the business to kill babies for profit,” she said. “First and foremost, they get young girls hooked on their birth control pills, which don’t work,” Hanks said.

And then nothing. There is so much wrong with this quote that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Planned Parenthood does not “kill babies for profit.” If I have to explain why that’s wrong, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Second, the quote equates birth control pills (BCP) with an addictive drug with no legit purposes. Given that BCP is neither addictive nor useless, it’s a BS move. Third, BCP does work. I can testify to that myself, as can the hundreds of millions of other women around the world who use it. It’s not foolproof, but then again, neither is abstinence, really.

Amanda has some praise for the MSM on this issue, though it’s short-live and tongue in cheek (at least the first sentence):

It’s good that reporters aren’t helping anti-choicers conceal that they are opposed to the prevention of unwanted pregnancies through contraception, which does serious damage to their strange claims that they’d like to reduce the abortion rate. (Note to idiots: You don’t reduce abortions by increasing the main cause of them, unwanted pregnancies. That’s like trying to reduce the auto fatality rate by banning seatbelts.) Still, the fact of the matter is that this he said/she said style of reporting that’s fact-free creates the wrong impression that it’s all just a matter of opinion, and since these ridiculous, fact-free claims are being trotted out in articles from reporters that are supposed to be trustworthy, it’s all too easy for some readers to think there must be some truth to them.

Bloggers aren’t perfect (ahem), but I am sick of all the O’Reilly style invective calling us name-callers and flame throwers (oh the irony). At a time when it has become abundantly clear that the MSM too often leaves behind its mantle as the fourth estate, it’s bloggers who can fill the gaps.

“Fair and balanced” reporting (something I make no claim to provide) is a good thing, but only when it takes form as something other than a place for people to air their opinions unmediated by the journalist.

(Also at Feministe)

Is That Really Any Better?

[ 0 ] August 22, 2007 |

Matt calls this development good, but I’m not so sure…

In light of the heated controversy that has surrounded the Turkish-Armenian issue in recent weeks, and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians.

We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide…..

Having said that, we continue to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States.

That’s fine and well, but having given up the argument that the Armenian Genocide didn’t really amount to a genocide, the ADL’s only case now is that a recognition of that genocide by the United States would be… bad for Jews, and bad for Israel. This hardly seems to be a very principled position; I very much doubt that the ADL would have suggested that a congressional resolution recognizing the Holocaust would have been “a counterproductive diversion that would not foster reconciliation between Germans and Jews.” I mean really, if Germany had behaved as badly in regards to memory of the Holocaust as Turkey has to the Armenian Genocide, would Abe Foxman (or, really, anybody with moral sense) write that off in the name of geopolitical posturing?

Frivolous Lawsuit of the Day

[ 0 ] August 22, 2007 |

Whatta maroon. Michiko Kakutani must be praying that “write a negative review, pay $150 million” doesn’t become a legal precedent…

The Moral Hazard Myth

[ 0 ] August 21, 2007 |

Repeating a frequent argument, a commenter to this thread says:

The structure of a universal care system should somehow promote and reward healthy living.

How does one deter the freeloaders who take poor care of themselves and then overuse the system for years on end (as sort of mental health therapy)? “It will not happen” is a questionable response – it happens now.

Frankly, this gets us to one legitimate critique libertarians have of universal health care: it can be used to bootstrap lots more nanny statism. I can live with that given the net positives of having a better health care system, but it’s regrettable.

For this reason, however, it’s worth noting that the argument is lousy, a subset of the utterly bizarre belief that medical care works according to similar incentives as markets for consumer goods. As Malcolm Gladwell notes with respect to the claim that having health insurance (rather than paying for doctors out of pocket) represents a major moral hazard:

The moral-hazard argument makes sense, however, only if we consume health care in the same way that we consume other consumer goods, and to economists like Nyman this assumption is plainly absurd. We go to the doctor grudgingly, only because we’re sick. “Moral hazard is overblown,” the Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt says. “You always hear that the demand for health care is unlimited. This is just not true. People who are very well insured, who are very rich, do you see them check into the hospital because it’s free? Do people really like to go to the doctor? Do they check into the hospital instead of playing golf?”

For that matter, when you have to pay for your own health care, does your consumption really become more efficient? In the late nineteen-seventies, the rand Corporation did an extensive study on the question, randomly assigning families to health plans with co-payment levels at zero per cent, twenty-five per cent, fifty per cent, or ninety-five per cent, up to six thousand dollars. As you might expect, the more that people were asked to chip in for their health care the less care they used. The problem was that they cut back equally on both frivolous care and useful care. Poor people in the high-deductible group with hypertension, for instance, didn’t do nearly as good a job of controlling their blood pressure as those in other groups, resulting in a ten-per-cent increase in the likelihood of death. As a recent Commonwealth Fund study concluded, cost sharing is “a blunt instrument.” Of course it is: how should the average consumer be expected to know beforehand what care is frivolous and what care is useful? I just went to the dermatologist to get moles checked for skin cancer. If I had had to pay a hundred per cent, or even fifty per cent, of the cost of the visit, I might not have gone. Would that have been a wise decision? I have no idea. But if one of those moles really is cancerous, that simple, inexpensive visit could save the health-care system tens of thousands of dollars (not to mention saving me a great deal of heartbreak). The focus on moral hazard suggests that the changes we make in our behavior when we have insurance are nearly always wasteful. Yet, when it comes to health care, many of the things we do only because we have insurance—like getting our moles checked, or getting our teeth cleaned regularly, or getting a mammogram or engaging in other routine preventive care—are anything but wasteful and inefficient. In fact, they are behaviors that could end up saving the health-care system a good deal of money.

As far as I can tell, here’s not much empirical evidence that the “moral hazard” has a major impact — it’s pretty hard to explain why the American system, which offers less insurance than other comparable ones, is so much more expensive, for example. The reason above is an important one: financial disincentives discourage you from preventative medicine, but not from treatment for more serious illnesses.

None of this surprises me, because the argument also strikes me as illogical on its face. The thing is, being healthy is its own powerful incentive. Maybe I’m unusual, but even though I have decent health insurance I don’t actually enjoy being sick, bedridden, in physical pain, spending time in doctor’s offices, etc. Do people really think it’s common — even subconsciously — for someone with a relatively healthy lifestyle to get health insurance and see that as an opportunity to go on that all Popeye’s, deep-fried HoHos, and Cutty Sark diet they’ve been hankering for? I don’t understand this reasoning at all. There may be room for some minor disincentives at the margin, but the idea that universal healthcare won’t work because the possibility of being bankrupted by medical bills is the major incentive people have to be healthy is bizarre.

More On Southwick

[ 0 ] August 21, 2007 |

From Nan Aaron:

The Post is wrong. Why are so many unions opposed to Southwick? Because Southwick voted against the interests of injured workers and consumers in divided decisions 89 percent of the time. Why are civil rights groups opposed? Because he also voted overwhelmingly — 54 of 59 times — against defendants alleging juror discrimination. That prompted his own colleagues on the Mississippi Court of Appeals to accuse him of “establishing one level of obligation for the State, and a higher one for defendants on an identical issue.” Southwick, they charged in a dissent, placed his “stamp of approval on the arbitrary and capricious selection of jurors.”

Right. Which is, of course, might make him an attractive Republican Supreme Court nominee someday….

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