Monday, May 10, 2010

The confederate flag

So I think most of the media hoopla has died down over this.  Its kinda weird when something practically in your backyard garners national attention.

Anyways, I wasn't terribly interested in this particular story as hugely problematic issue.  I think it is just a bunch of teenagers getting upset and offended over really nothing.  "ZOMG! He's wearing a flag! He must be disrespecting >ME<" as if the world revolved around themselves.

But what >I< did find rather offensive was one particular student.  One of the "American" flags that one student was wearing was an image of multiple flags, including the American flag, on the back, and the confederate flag on the front. 

Why is the confederate flag a symbol of patriotism?  Its a symbol of a failed cessationist movement that threatened to DESTROY America in Civil War.  A cessationist movement sparked over and largely motivated by the desire to enslave people.  If you're going to pick a symbol that would represent your patriotism, then I'd humbly suggest that you pick a different symbol.

Worst yet, it doesn't even seem to give with the social rhetoric that people often tout.  Love America or leave it.  The south apparently didn't LOVE America so they tried to leave it.  So waving the confederate flag suggests that one doesn't love America.

Now, I'm sure some would say that there is a certain patriotic overtone to the the confederate flag.  The American ethos of forging ahead, doing thing differently, independent spirit.  But we don't celebrate our failures.  We don't hoist up for all to see DDT and exclaim, Forging ahead!  Independent Spirit!

Perhaps its a symbol of Southern culture?  I'm not opposed to symbolizing particular sects of the our nation by a flag.  Heck, each part of our nation has particular symbols that represent them.  The Hollywood sign, The Golden Gate Bridge, The Empire State Building all represent subcultures of our nation.  Put it on a flag, and wave it, and you've got yourself a symbol.  But to pretend that the confederate flag doesn't represent a pro-slavery movement is like pretending rainbow flags show your support for rain.

Wear a peach.  Wear a cotton ball.  Wear a plantation house.  Wear a mint julep.  Wear Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane.  But don't wear the General Lee.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why I am not a Localvore

Here is a pretty good read on the Greening up our food, and why it may be hurting the impoverished around the world.  Oddly, he doesn't make the most obvious argument for helping the impoverished world and that is simply buying food products from those that can export them.  As more people become localvores, foreign farmers lose more consumers, pushing them further into poverty.  Now Paarlberg is concentrating on those who are in much worse conditions, and I agree those are people we should assist first.

But this is where I start disagreeing with him.  First, he says that we should bring the industrial model to Africa.  Now we have tried industrial models in Africa, and they don't succeed because,  infrastructure aside, its too expensive.  In America we give farmers heavy subsidies to ensure a reliable income in times when crops fail because of weather, or whatever other reason.  These subsidies also keep food prices artificially low, making them affordable by all (at least for the staple crops like corn and wheat). 

Second, when he says that the industrial model does not create unsafe food, he seems to be focusing only on plants.  With crops, he's correct.  With livestock, he's incorrect.  In fact, most outbreaks involving crops, are usually traced back to livestock.  But he conveniently forgets this when he brings up fertilizer run-offs.  Suddenly farming includes livestock again.

So what about animal manure and fertilizers?  First, fertilizers and pesticides are already OVER used.  If there is little financial incentive to avoid over fertilizing and over spraying, other than you're wasting product, but the product is already dirt cheap as it is, and the losses are could be significant if you UNDER fertilize and spray, farmers tend to err on the side of overuse.  This is the profit first thinking that characterizes industrial food production.  So his analysis that organic farming would be worse, because the amount of livestock would increase is simply flawed.  First, if we simply had fewer livestock, we would have less need for cropland, since most of our cropland is devoted to feeding our livestock.  Second, if we utilized manure instead of petroleum based fertilizers, industrial farmers would aim to UNDER fertilize than over fertilize, since it would be more expensive, and increase the risk of E. coli which could significantly damage their brand marketability.

But Paarlberg does bring up many good points about the green revolution in food, like organic not being particularly healthier, or safer for that matter.  The industrial argiculture is becoming more green, and more efficient, as always, and in many ways this is better for the environment.

Strangely, Paarlberg doesn't suggest the easiest way that we can aid the impoverished of the world.  Donate money to them.  World poverty rates have dropped almost in half from the 60s to today, largely due to the work of NGOs.  World poverty does not have to continue to exist.  If we have been able to reduce world poverty in half in 50 years, we could eliminate it in probably 20 more years if we simply gave money, in a responsible manner, to assist them.