Archive for March 23rd, 2012
Very interesting post from Jeffrey Goldberg in James Fallows’s blog.
Carol Wolf writes in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
Every day about 140,000 cars and trucks cross the massive, seven-lane Tappan Zee Bridge connecting the northern suburban counties of New York City. Most drivers have no idea the 57-year-old bridge was designed in such a way that if just one of its structural elements gives way, the whole bridge could fall and send them tumbling into the Hudson River. The same is true for the Pulaski Skyway between Newark and Jersey City, and the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in California, not to mention the Fremont Bridge in Portland, Ore., the Lafayette Bridge in St. Paul, Minn., and thousands of others across the country.
Five years after the Minneapolis I-35W span suddenly collapsed in August 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others, the U.S. still has 18,000 similarly designed spans, known as fracture-critical bridges, that need continual attention and money for inspections at a time when funding for maintenance is drying up. On March 31, the current extension to the federal highway bill, which funds work on bridges, will expire. Congress has been working on new legislation since the fall, getting nowhere. The Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion highway spending package on March 14 that would raise money for transportation projects by changing how pension fund contributions and liabilities are calculated. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is pushing a five-year bill that calls for using royalties from U.S. oil and gas drilling—a proposal he hasn’t been able to sell to his own party.
The delays and political bickering aren’t reassuring for commuters who rely on the San Diego-Coronado or any of the other fracture-critical bridges. “They don’t give any warning at the point of collapse,” says Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. “It is sudden and catastrophic.”. .
Continue reading. The public infrastructure’s crumbling was a sure sign of Rome’s decline/fall. And we’re seeing it here, now.
Very nice grub tonight. I use again the 4-qt sauté pan (I use All-Clad Stainless, but I was able to get this piece in Copper Core at a substantial savings). Put it on medium heat, add:
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp hot chili sesame oil
When that’s hot, add:
2 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 large shallot, sliced thinly
Stir and sauté until limp. Add:
10 cloves garlic, minced
Sauté until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add:
2 tsp smoked paprika (I really like that taste)
good shake cayenne pepper
1 jalapeño pepper, small dice
4 oz tempeh, cut into slabs and then chunks
1 handful celery
2 domestic mushrooms, halved and sliced thick
2 Tbsp salted roasted peanuts (I used Virginia Diner peanuts I’m trying)
1/4 cup white wine (had it on hand, and pan seemed dry—this deglazed it as well)
Sauté that for a while, stirring the while, then add:
1/2 bunch collards, stalks minced, leaves chopped
1/4 cup beef broth (had it on hand)
1/2 cup cooked converted rice
I stirred that together, brought to boil, reduced heat to simmer it, and covered it. The peanuts, though, made me think “Thai”, so I removed the lid and added:
2 Tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
Covered it, cooked it for 20 minutes, but checked early, and all liquid was pretty much gone. I suddenly realized I had 1/2 green bell pepper I wanted to use up, so I added:
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped small
Stir, dip out a bowl, and top with yogurt that’s mostly drained and well toward being yogurt cheese.
Very yummy, actually. The weird variations of textures was striking: nothing quite a “meat” texture, but sort of the “meat” texture deconstructed into parts (mushrooms, tempeh, peanuts, rice, raw green pepper, fish sauce… put them together and they spell “meat”—of course, the beef broth didn’t hurt, either).
The above is not so much a recipe as simply a record of what I did. You could do a lot of different things: pine nuts or pecans in lieu of peanuts, or used diced Meyer lemon in place of fish sauce and lime, or add black olives, or use EVOO in lieu of sesame oil, or chard or kale in lieu of (or in addition to) collards, and so on. Go with what you got.
I was thinking today of Grandmother Ham, my paternal grandmother. (My maternal grandmother died when I was an infant.) Grandmother Ham lived “across town”, a distance of about 8 very short blocks, which I could regularly walk by myself from around age 4. (I knew to cross the county road that was Main Street for six blocks or so at the (sole) stoplight.) So in the course of things my grandmother and I spent quite a bit of time together.
And she was great: she had a vegetable garden for a back yard—quite common in those WWII days and probably before, from the Great Depression—so I could dig all the holes I wanted. (I don’t know why young boys go through a compulsion to dig holes, intensified in my case by tales of our soldiers digging foxholes on the front lines in the European Theater: suddenly the holes I was digging were foxholes!)
I wore myself out, harmlessly, digging an enormously deep hole (maybe 18″?). Grandmother would admire it, then bring out her bucket of coffee grounds, chicken bones, eggshells, slops, peelings, and such, dump it into the hole, and have me cover it up.
Today I got thinking about how she told me repeatedly, from first grade through college and into graduate school: “Get an education. They can’t take that away from you.”
That’s the way it was always said: with the tagline, “They can’t take that away from you,” with just a slight emphasis on the “that” to indicate how different this (education) was from other things—things that, by implication, “they” could take from you—and apparently were likely to do so.
I suddenly realized over her life—indeed, just since 1900, when she was 21—she had seen a great deal of “them” taking “that” away. Indeed, in the decade of the Great Depression that ended when I was born (no causality implied, either way), everyone had suffered, personally, and everyone had acquaintances and sometimes friends and indeed family (if not themselves) who indeed had had everything taken away. Literally. Left without a house, without a job, without a car: destitute, with nothing but what they wore and could carry. That was not unusual. That was happening and quite visible.
Obviously, it was also a time of great unrest: people don’t like to live under such conditions. And people became conscious that some people lost everything—that is, everything except what they wore and could carry and those things that could not be taken away. Things like: an education, a skill, a talent, knowledge, friends, networks of acquaintances, experience, status (even former status: those who Know Someone doubtless fare better than those who don’t)—these are the things that “they” cannot take. That’s what’s truly valuable: the things that cannot be taken away. Your house, your car, your possessions? They can always be taken away (and frequently are: repo is big business and Bank of America made a lot taking away houses from people who owned them outright). Money? Hah. Two words: Bernie Madoff.
The things of greatest value are those they can’t take away from you. The way you hold your hands… the way you sip your tea…
There‘s one’s true wealth. And so it makes sense to devote most of your time, thought, effort, and resources toward those things, for in doing so you build wealth that can’t be taken from you.
Only a tiny bit of movement, and Big Agriculture has yet to put the pressure on Congress and the Obama Administration. Gardiner Harris reports in the NY Times:
A federal magistrate judge on Thursday ordered the Obama administration to alert drug makers that the government may soon ban the common agricultural use of popular antibiotics in animals because the practice may encourage the proliferation of dangerous infections and imperil public health.
The order, issued by Judge Theodore H. Katz of the Southern District of New York, has the effect of restarting a process that the Food and Drug Administration began 35 years ago in hopes of preventing penicillin and tetracycline, two of the nation’s most popular antibiotics, from losing their effectiveness in humans because of their widespread use in animal feed to promote growth in livestock like chickens, pigs and cattle.
The order comes two months after the Obama administration announced restrictions on agricultural uses of cephalosporins, a critical class of antibiotics that includes drugs like Cefzil and Keflex, which are commonly used to treat pneumonia, strep throat and skin and urinary tract infections. The F.D.A. is expected to issue within days draft rules that would bar the use of penicillin and tetracycline — highly popular in agricultural settings — in animal feed to further growth, the same issue tackled by Judge Katz. A decade ago, the F.D.A. banned indiscriminate agricultural use of a powerful class of antibiotics, called fluoroquinolones, that includes the medicine Cipro.
The judge’s order may accelerate the F.D.A.’s incremental efforts to restrict common agricultural practices that are viewed by microbiologists and other medical researchers as leading to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotic treatments, a development that many doctors say has cost thousands of lives.
Antibiotics were the wonder drugs of the 20th century, and their initial uses in both humans and animals were indiscriminate, experts say. Farmers were impressed by the effects of penicillin and tetracycline on the robustness of cattle, chickens and pigs, and added the drugs in bulk to feed and water, with no prescriptions or sign of sickness in the animals.
By the 1970s, public health officials had become worried that overuse was leading to the development of killer infections resistant to treatment. In 1977, the F.D.A. announced that it would begin the process of banning these uses. But the powerful House and Senate appropriations committees passed resolutions urging the F.D.A. not to follow through on these efforts, and the agency retreated.
“In the intervening years, the scientific evidence of the risks to human health from the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has grown, and there is no evidence the F.D.A. has changed its position that such uses are not shown to be safe,” Judge Katz wrote in his order.
A vast majority of antibiotics used in the United States still goes to treat animals, not humans. Meanwhile, outbreaks of illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown in number and severity. . .
Continue reading. As you can tell, the FDA has experienced an inversion in which its mission to protect the public becomes perverted so that it sees its mission as protecting industry, the public be damned.
The American ideal (for many males, at least) is the Rugged Individualist: the man (almost always) who does not depend on anyone else, who forges his own path, goes his own way, finds his own solutions. Survivalists are prone to this notion, as well as many others who feel that they fall short.
The Rugged Individual lives off the grid, on his own land, grows and hunts for his own food, and is beholden to no one. He loads his own ammo or makes his own arrows, etc.
And yet: it falls apart at the slightest push. Rugged Individuals have a high mortality rate: a broken leg or a serious illness, and they die: no one to care for them, no medicines. Indeed, a proper Rugged Individual would lack language (which, after all, has been created by Others), would not have clothing or tools save those he could think up and make for himself. Basically, the Rugged Individual staggers naked through the woods, depending on a stick and a sharp rock for his food and safety: not much of an existence.
I tried and failed to think of all the ways in which I depend on others: my birth, of course, but also my language, my clothing, food, housing, transportation, tools, cookware, entertainment, … In fact, there’s very damn little that I create totally from scratch—even the shaving book is written in a language I had given to me, and an activity that was defined for me, using tools and products made by others, to groom myself according to social customs…
The Rugged Individual, in practice, is a gibbering, naked, short-lived animal—and desperately hungry, no doubt, not knowing which foods are best to eat at each season, nor how to hunt (all the hard-won accumulated knowledge humans pass to the next generation), but by God! beholden to none. The promise and premise both are false.
The NY Times has an intriguing column by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame:
Discussions of religion are typically about God. Atheists reject religion because they don’t believe in God; Jews, Christians and Muslims take belief in God as fundamental to their religious commitment. The philosopher John Gray, however, has recently been arguing that belief in God should have little or nothing to do with religion. He points out that in many cases — for instance, “polytheism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, many strands of Judaism and some Christian and Muslim traditions” — belief is of little or no importance. Rather, “practice — ritual, meditation, a way of life — is what counts.” He goes on to say that “it’s only religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths” and that “what we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.”
Even if God is powerful enough to save the souls of the devout, and loving enough to want to, he still might not.
The obvious response to Gray is that it all depends on what you hope to find in a religion. If your hope is simply for guidance and assistance in leading a fulfilling life here on earth, a “way of living” without firm beliefs in any supernatural being may well be all you need. But many religions, including mainline versions of Christianity and Islam, promise much more. They promise ultimate salvation. If we are faithful to their teachings, they say, we will be safe from final annihilation when we die and will be happy eternally in our life after death.
If our hope is for salvation in this sense — and for many that is the main point of religion—then this hope depends on certain religious beliefs’ being true. In particular, for the main theistic religions, it depends on there being a God who is good enough to desire our salvation and powerful enough to achieve it.
But here we come to a point that is generally overlooked in debates about theism, which center on whether there is reason to believe in God, understood as all-good and all-powerful. Suppose that the existence of such a God could be decisively established. Suppose, for example, we were to be entirely convinced that a version of the ontological argument, which claims to show that the very idea of an all-perfect being requires that such a being exist, is sound. We would then be entirely certain that there is a being of supreme power and goodness. But what would this imply about our chances for eternal salvation? . . .
Continue reading. I find the idea intriguing—it to some extent rhymes with my notion that it’s important to observe your behavior and draw conclusions from that rather than from your motives for the behavior: what matters is what you do, not the reason for it.
UPDATE: It would be interesting indeed if God judged people purely from their actions and words, without regard to their thoughts and motivations (and prayers): just looking at what actually happens. Wonder if under that idea the populations of Heaven and Hell would change…