Friday, April 20, 2012

Francis Collins, creationism, and research ethics

PZ's posted about some more confused claptrap from Nick Matzke, in a post at the Panda's Thumb. As often happens, the discussion over there has devolved due to accommodationist, well, something that's either stupidity or intellectual dishonesty or a blend of the two.

Fortunately, some of the responses are smart and entertaining, including Larry Moran's. One of Moran's quotations from Francis Collins, though, caught my eye for another reason. Moran notes: "Collins believes that, 'Humans are unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history' (p. 200)." He rightly asks, "Is that view really compatible with yours? Do you actually believe that evolution can’t explain why humans recognize the difference between right and wrong?"

There was concern at the time of Collins' appointment to head the NIH that this belief would affect the promotion or discouragement of research on the evolutionary origins and basis of morality. I think this issue of research priorities potentially shaped by false religious beliefs rather than science was and remains a valid concern. Even so, I assume this research area is extremely small within the NIH.

The agency, however, supports research on millions of nonhuman animals every year. If the head of the organization holds false religious beliefs about humans' qualitative "spiritual" differences from other animals, what effects could that be having on the culture of research ethics within the NIH and beyond?

There's a long history of false beliefs about human exceptionalism (religious and nonreligious) being used to justify the callous and cruel treatment of animals in scientific research. It's true, of course, that the NIH has some institutional protections for animal subjects in place - though we shouldn't be so gullible as to believe they're always honored in practice - and researchers themselves have their own beliefs and emotions about animals. But the effect of someone who believes in special creation and human uniqueness heading this research agency could be as simple as maintaining the status quo - little impetus from the top of the organization to rethink the culture and practices of animal research, or a lack of attention to findings about the capacities of nonhuman animals that might be relevant to the ethics of their treatment in a research context. This could affect the lives of millions of beings.

The situation probably involves too many variables for us to be able to determine the effects of Collins' false beliefs, especially in the present. But it would be wrong to ignore the fact that beliefs in this as in any context have serious ethical implications.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interlude - Revenge

While I continue to wade through Fromm, here are two tunes featured on Revenge. (Why do so many songs I like sound like they were recorded in a land beneath the sea?)

“Twice,” Little Dragon:

“Baby’s Arms,” Kurt Vile:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In case you missed it…

Tofu is gay. Viewed through the lens of the reactionary sexual politics of meat, it makes perfect sense.

The best part is the ad agency’s “We would not do that today.” It was entered in an Art Directors Club competition, winning a silver, in 2009, and displayed on their web page until last month.

An op-ed and a blog

One positive aspect of the Pink Slime Affair is that not only am I finding the sites I read regularly focusing more on factory farming but I’m also being exposed to people and sites I hadn’t previously known about.

James McWilliams has a fine op-ed in the New York Times this week on “The Myth of Sustainable Meat.” And guess what? He has a blog, too! Eating Plants has much to offer, including a thorough and fair review of Michael Pollan’s food manifesto* and series on hunting and Reasons to Go Vegan. I look forward to reading future posts.

*I was going to write about that, but McWilliams’ review says everything I'd planned to and more. By the way, I happened to read Pollan’s book the same week as David Kessler’s The End of Overeating

and was surprised to find the latter – despite the fact that I’m not in its targeted audience – far more enlightening and compelling.

The worst verse

…and possibly the worst string of words I’ve ever read:
The slain of the LORD shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground.

- Jeremiah 25:33
Distilled evil.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Interlude - biophony

Listen here.

An interview with an undercover activist

As difficult as it can be to go into work every day and resist the urge to grab armfuls of animals and run, ultimately I know that undercover investigations are altering the landscape of animal agriculture in a way that is so much larger than that which could be accomplished with individual acts of liberation alone. Until recently, investigations also had the benefit of being legal in most states, which is a protection that drew me to the profession, and also why lawmakers and industry officials are working so swiftly to criminalize our behavior.
Yes, I’m going to link to Will Potter’s blog again. No apologies – his posts are consistently thoughtful and informative.

This one is an interview with an undercover factory-farm investigator. Try to square it with the agribusiness depiction of these people as criminals and terrorists who should be silenced.

Erich Fromm #1: Preliminaries - critique and the need for a (post-)humanistic approach to mental health

I was going to post about Shyness

and also a book I’m reading called Solitude. Christopher Lane’s Shyness is another in the vein of several of the books and articles I’ve talked about here over the past year or so. Drawing on internal APA and corporate documents, it hammers a few more nails in the coffin of the current psychiatric model, offering yet more evidence of how fundamentally problematic – absurd, really - it is. The book could be tighter, but deserves a place on the critical-psychiatry reading list. (It’s also added a few more works of fiction to my to-read list.)

As the critical analyses taken together clearly show, to call the current corporate-dominated mental health system and culture flawed would be a profound understatement. The extent to which capitalism could come to completely take over this realm and shape it to the needs of corporations would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. The most basic claims of the psychopharmaceutical model are wrong, and it is actively harmful in so many ways. I can only imagine – hope would maybe be a better word – that people in the future will look back and think we were, well, crazy to have allowed this to continue for so long.

The powerful interests behind the system won’t let it collapse as quickly as it should, of course, so it’s vital that investigative and critical work continue. At the same time, though, there’s a pressing need to construct a humanistic model of mental health. (I’m not, I feel I need to note, making a “productive solutions vs. criticism” claim like we hear so often from accommodationists. I don’t think these are mutually exclusive, and I detest arguments that cast critical perspectives as “negative” and “unproductive” or seek to classify groups as either hostile/angry/critical or empathetic/engaging/hopeful. An ethical critique of the existing system is invaluable to social justice movements and inseparable from practical proposals for change.)

JT Eberhard recently posted about the creation of the Therapist Project, a secular therapy movement. This is a great idea, but it can’t be based on a rejection – it can’t be simply a negation of religious, New Age, or any other antihumanist or pseudo/antiscientific brands of therapy. It’s also utterly impossible for a humanistic therapy or psychology to develop within the corporate neuropsychiatric system as it stands. We need to develop an authentic humanistic approach, one that encompasses but also goes beyond clinical practice.*

As good a place as any to start in this project, I think, is with Erich Fromm. Writing in the mid-twentieth century, Fromm provided an intellectual foundation for a humanistic approach to mental health that goes well beyond professional psychiatry or psychology. So I’m going to write a series of posts summarizing and analyzing various aspects of Fromm’s work. I have a number of points of difference with and criticisms of Fromm, ranging from relatively minor to fairly major, but what I plan to talk about in the initial posts are Fromm’s substantive positive ideas and how they can contribute to the construction of a humanistic movement.

I’ve been reading Fromm’s books over the past few months in no particular order and haven’t organized my notes comprehensively prior to starting, and I’m writing the posts in the series, as I continue to read, without a preset structure or plan. So the series won’t have an overarching structure, and will likely jump around a bit. Fromm’s writing is united by a set of core themes, though, which will provide some consistency. I invite questions and suggestions as I go forward.

My next post in the series will outline Fromm’s conception of humanistic psychiatry and his definition of mental health.

*Actually, as I’ll talk about in future posts, we need to develop a post-humanist approach. In fact, a humanist approach that doesn’t move beyond itself would necessarily fail. Given the serious implications for our own present and future well-being of the harm we continue to cause to other animals and to our environment, even the strictest humanist has, in practical terms, by necessity to be a post-humanist. On occasion I’ll talk about where Fromm falls short in this sense. For the most part in the series, though, I’ll refer to a humanistic model, with the implicit understanding that this is also oriented to nonhuman life.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Living in Alien Worlds," moderated by Carl Zimmer, this Friday in New York

Animals experience their worlds in ways we cannot understand—with senses we have lost long ago or never had. They define their worlds with exquisite senses of smell and hearing, with vision that sees what we can't imagine, or with responses to chemical or electromagnetic properties that we are insensitive to. By these yard sticks, many animals are far smarter than we are.
“Living in Alien Worlds” will be a panel discussion this Friday (April 13th) evening at Hunter College West in Manhattan, organized by Thinking Animals and moderated by Carl Zimmer.

I’m sad I can’t make it to New York for the event, but I hope they record it and make it available online! For the fortunate people in the area who can attend, it seems tickets are $25 ($35 for the reception to follow). Probably best to reserve online as soon as possible in case they sell out.

This looks like a great series of talks. I wish I’d known about them sooner. The last one apparently featured Marc Bekoff, whose The Emotional Lives of Animals I just read.

(I’ll probably have more to say about it in the near future.)

And this panel includes Katy Payne, interviewed in this piece:

Speaking of books, the topic of this discussion brings to mind Jacob von Uexküll’s A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, which I’ve been debating buying for what seems like forever.

If anyone’s read it, let me know what you think.

The Brown Dog affair


I came across a post recently that described the Brown Dog Affair in London in the early twentieth century. I was surprised I hadn’t learned of it before. Even the drier Wikipedia account is fascinating. Here’s a synopsis of a short book about the episode:

At the centre of the Latchmere Recreation Ground in the south London borough of Battersea, not far from the Latchmere pub, there is a small hump on the tarmac pavement that cuts through to Battersea Park Road. Its contours are barely discernible from the general surrounds, but they are significant nonetheless, for they are all that remain of one of the most controversial statues ever erected in Britain.

The brown dog memorial was an unprepossessing bronze drinking fountain erected in memory of an anonymous London mongrel, but it became a national cause célèbre in Edwardian Britain and a focus for alternative politicians of the era. It spent most of its short life under a 24-hour police guard.

Unveiled in 1906 to commemorate a dog killed by animal experimenters at the University of London, it was loathed by the establishment not just for its bold-faced anti-vivisectionist inscription, but also for its capacity to act as a rallying point for political activists from a whole host of disparate movements. Suffragettes, trade unionists, socialists, marxists, liberals, leading figures in the temperance movement and all kinds of mavericks flocked to its defence. Many local people in Battersea adopted it as their own.

Members of the medical establishment in particular grew to hate this provocative bronze dog for the scorn it poured over their profession. When orthodox attempts to remove the memorial came to nothing, medical students and their supporters tried to smash the dog under the cover of darkness. Later they took violently to the streets in what became known as the ‘brown dog riots’. Newspapers gorged themselves on the controversy, there were endless public meetings to discuss the memorial’s legitimacy, and questions were asked in Parliament.

In the end, however, the brown dog’s fate rested not with national politicians but with the local council – which eventually pulled the monument down in the dead of night. The anti vivisectionists were enraged, but they could do nothing to save the memorial. Today, only the hump remains. Next to it, there is a sign on an iron fence. It reads ‘No Dogs’.
A major point here, and in the article I read, is the surprisingly diverse coalition of leftwing groups that rallied around this statue. It’s vitally important that we recover the history of interchange (including tensions and strains) amongst these people and movements, as Adam Hochschild did in his recent book. This is not to say that every cause or act of protest – including this one - has been unassailable; far from it. But at a time in which there are well-funded campaigns to drive wedges between social justice movements, remembering can be an act of resistance.

Interlude - "Encounter," Czesław Miłosz (1936)

Cuttlefish reminds us that this is National Poetry Month. I’m writing a poem which I might or might not complete before May, but I’ll also post a few this month from famous poets. This one by Czesław Miłosz I came across recently while organizing some old files. I’d torn it out of a magazine several years ago:

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Steve King: The CAFOs' Bernard Gui

This article about King's boasting of getting animal activists to "confess" (his word) their vegetarianism is at once funny, telling, and unsettling. Think Progress quotes King:
I sit on the Ag Committee and we had a hearing before the Ag Committee when we invited in the president of the Humane Society of the United States, HSUS, President Wayne Pacelle. And we had one or two other witnesses from the anti-meat crowd or anti-animal husbandry crowd. PETA was there and one other animal activist group. So we just asked them, under oath, “are you a vegetarian?” And they confessed they were vegetarians, all of them. Well there they are with an agenda for our diets.
It turns out that - try not to faint - this claim wasn't entirely truthful, but the thinking behind it falls within such a typical pattern. Vegetarianism for many on the Right is as unthinkable as atheism. I wish I could find the quotation from something I read recently in which a Christian is talking about a person who's very plainly an atheist, and says something like, "I'm starting to think she doesn't even believe in God!" It's not just that they see vegetarianism and atheism as bad, but that their references to them contain an element of incredulity at the very idea, a sense that disbelieving in any gods or not eating other animals are too ridiculous to be actual positions.

Faith and meateating, in turn, are not seen to require any justification. They just are. But you see, when a challenge is sensed, the standard conservative line. As King declares, "I’m here to tell you I’m a committed carnivore," which reads like "I'm here to tell you I'm a proud God-fearing Christian." Positions that are morally hollow and devoid of reason, simply reflecting indoctrination or pandering to powerful corporate interests, are presented as evidence of personal decisiveness and moral resolve.

Chris Hayes and panel: "You are what you eat?"

Some of the vegetarian and vegan sites are linking to this panel discussion, “You are what you eat?” on UP with Chris Hayes:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Two aspects worth noting: First, Mark Bittman’s controlled facial reactions while he’s listening to the drivel spilling out of’s Josh Barro. Second, the honest and self-critical perspective Hayes himself brings to the discussion, particularly when he talks about the numbers of animals harmed in this system and the practices necessary to continue exploitation on that gargantuan scale, especially the alleged “treating” of farmed animals with drugs for stress and discomfort.* This disturbs him most, he admits, because it drives home the ways in which nonhuman animals suffer like we do - how similar to us these abused and exploited beings are. Hayes even encourages people to carry that forward:
That little glint of some sort of moral intuition that there’s something wrong with that – I don’t think it’s a healthy thing to override that. I think that’s something we want to cultivate.
I couldn’t agree more, and find the language of cultivating compassion perfectly apt. The panel as a whole – well, minus Barro - does seem interested in beginning to confront not just the human health problems related to factory farms, which are substantial and significant, but the moral questions they raise. Morally, too, we are what we eat.

*The very notion of giving psychotropic drugs to these animals is so awful and absurd on so many levels I wouldn’t know where to start.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Will Potter interviewed about repression of animal rights movement

Here are a couple of highly insightful responses from a brief interview with a Spanish collective:
...As you know, here in Spain some activists have been charged with animal liberation related stuff. They are (or were) all involved with legal campaigning. The comparison with the SHAC 7 or the Austrian activists case is inevitable. Do you think laws like the AETA can have some “copycat” laws in other countries?

Absolutely. Spain, Austria, Finland, and elsewhere are experienc[ing] similar copycat prosecutions. The corporate-led campaigns to demonize animal rights and environmental activists as “eco-terrorists” have indeed become international in scope. I would argue that this is an example of how these tactics are not “state repression,” as leftists generally describe it, but “corporate repression.” The state may be carrying out these tactics, but only because corporations are seeking to protect their profits around the world.

Which are, in your opinion, the “low points” of the movement which make it vulnerable to repressive attacks like the green scare, the AETA…?

The strategy behind the government’s tactics is fragmentation. In discussing this, I think it’s helpful to visualize social movements as having a “horizontal” and “vertical” component. The intention is to separate these movements horizontally, and create rifts between them and the broader left. Animal rights activists and environmentalists are therefore depicted as ideological extremists who, if they have their way, will stop you from eating meat and driving cars and having pets. There are of course already tensions between these movements and the more traditional left, but campaigns by corporations and politicians intend to exacerbate them. If these movements are not seen as part of a broader social justice struggle, it is easier for other leftist and progressive groups to turn their backs on their repression.

Similarly, there is a campaign to fragment these movements vertically. Aboveground lawful groups are told that they must condemn underground groups, and if they do not they will also be treated as terrorists. This two-prong strategy — breaking these movements away from other social movements, and breaking the aboveground away from the underground — isolates those who are being targeted and intensifies the repression.

So, to answer your question more directly, the most effective tactic for repressing these movements has been to turn the activists against each other, either by pressuring them to become informants or by pressuring them to publicly condemn each other....

Miranda Fricker and Peter Singer on Ethics Bites

I just came across a site from the Open University called Ethics Bites, which features a series of short interviews (around 15 minutes each) about applied ethics. Apparently, they're also available on iTunesU.

Two featured philosopher-writers I've talked about here in the past: Miranda Fricker and Peter Singer. Both interviews deal with the ethics of our relationships with animals. The questions are intelligent, and both authors eloquent.

It doesn't seem you can embed the audio, but you can listen to the interviews or, if you prefer, read the transcripts, here:

  • Miranda Fricker on Blame and Historic Injustice*
  • Peter Singer on the Human Use of Animals

  • *I'm not really buying her claim that her meat-eating should be regarded with disappointment rather than blame. If she's not in a position to know better, I don't know who is.

    Gordon Ramsey discovers factory farming

    It's bizarre that this was such a revelation to someone with his experience in the culinary industry. He seems genuinely aghast, though, and doesn't try to brush it off. In fact, he expresses new appreciation for vegetarians and vegans.

    It would be great if someone like Ramsey would take just the step of explicitly rejecting factory farming and counseling other chefs and restaurant owners to refuse to make use of its "products" and to use meat from animals who haven't been tortured in these establishments. Not ideal, but enormously helpful.

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Law & Order: Criminal Intent music

    Combing through the NBC L&O:CI forum and another random site with a partial list, I put together this bunch of songs featured in the episodes:

    “Pride,” Syntax (Season 6, Episode 12 – “Privilege”):

    “Prisoner,” Adam Crossley (Season 6, Episode 9 – “Blasters”):

    “Fever,” Sarah Vaughan (Adam Freeland remix) (Season 6, Episode 19 – “Rocket Man”):

    “Illuminati,” Fatboy Slim (Season 6, Episode 3 – “Siren Call”):

    “Empty,” Ray Lamontagne (Season 6, Episode 22 – “Renewal”):

    “Spirit in the Sky,” Norman Greenbaum (Season 6, Episode 15 – “Brother’s Keeper”):

    “Dirty Laundry,” Bitter:Sweet (Season 7, Episode 13 – “Betrayed”):

    “Ooh la la,” Goldfrapp (Season 6, Episode 20 – “Bombshell”):

    “Reach Out,” Prodigal Sunn feat. Madame Dee (Season 6, Episode 14 – “Flipped”):

    I’m hoping to add more, so please let me know of any I’ve left out (except “Under Pressure” - Season 6, Episode 13, “Albatross” - as I don’t really care for the song or the episode). One I’d love to find a video for is “Inta Hayati” by Samir Al-Ajani (Season 7, Episode 5 – “Depths”).

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    I Am a Cat!

    I just started I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki:

    It's rather awesome.

    Born to Buy and Class Dismissed

    A few months ago, I posted about a visit to a girls’ clothing store with a friend, which, I discovered to my horror, was selling candy at the registers. At the time. I mentioned this to people I know, and they seemed far less shocked than I was about it. It slowly dawned on me that although I know quite a bit about contemporary marketing, the fact that I spend so little time around young children has shielded me from a full appreciation of the massive expansion in the scale and scope of the commercialization of childhood, which others perhaps have gradually become more accustomed to over the past couple of decades.

    The disturbing realization in the store led me to move a book I’d been planning to read for some time, Juliet Schor's Born to Buy: The Commercialized Childhood and the New Consumer Culture (2004)

    to the top of my list. I just finished the chapter on marketing in schools, my reading punctuated literally by series of exclamation points in the margins and figuratively by moments of scandalized laughter.

    Here’s a snippet:
    [Roberta] Nusim’s company, Youth Marketing International, has produced 1,500 curricular programs. She now has many competitors, who annually produce thousands of these sponsored educational materials, or SEMs….

    …SEMs have made huge inroads into American classrooms in the past two decades, with little awareness by parents and the public…. [L]arge sums of money have yielded an unprecedented ability to put out corporate messages. Revlon’s curriculum taught kids about “good and bad hair days” and asked them to list their three must-have hair care products if they were stranded on a desert island. Campbell Soup Company’s Science Curriculum included the “Prego Thickness experiment” with a “slotted spoon test” to figure out whether Prego or Ragu spaghetti sauce was thicker….

    For corporations, one of the appealing aspects of SEMs is that they can market covertly, and thereby more effectively…. (pp. 92-3)
    Remember that this was published in 2004, and describes just one aspect of the corporate invasion of education. How much worse things must be today.

    So I decided to see if Youth Marketing International was still around and how they were doing. They are, and apparently fine. They seem to have rebranded themselves Young Minds Inspired as a PR ploy. Like many such operators, they maintain two sites (I won’t link to either): one potential clients will find by searching for “Youth Marketing International” and another that educators (and parents) will find searching for “Young Minds Inspired.” Their sales pitch to clients speaks for itself:
    YMI offers a unique way to market your message to teachers, preschoolers, young children, ‘tweens, teens and young adults. We reach all of these audiences in the uncluttered environment where students spend the better part of their day and where lasting attitudes are formed—in the classroom.

    What We Can Do

    Based on your marketing needs, YMI will develop an in-school, curriculum-based program comprised of customized print, multimedia and/or interactive online elements.

    A YMI program will:

  • Integrate your brand into lessons and activities that students will spend hours interacting with in a positive and meaningful way.
  • Give your message special credibility and importance to young people as well as their parents, by having teachers they admire and respect present these materials in the classroom.
  • Extend your message beyond the classroom via take-home activities.
  • Deliver the message that your company values learning and cares about families.

  • Following the completion of each program, YMI gathers teacher feedback and provides post-program analysis of results that measure its success.

    Who We Reach

  • YMI can reach students and teachers in preschool through college. We can also reach athletic coaches, administrators, librarians, and other influential educators.
  • Through customized take-home components, YMI programs can also reach parents and other family members.
  • YMI’s Teacher Connection is our proprietary and continuously updated database of educators who request and use our programs.
  • Our targeted distribution system can deliver your program to every school in the U.S. and beyond or to selected schools based on geography, market size, proximity to retail locations, ethnicity, and/or income level.
  • Also darkly amusing is the “What Clients Say” page, proudly displaying the logos of the corporations pleased with this vehicle to get their propaganda to captive students (it’s important to note that, as Schor discusses, the message the students are getting, disguised as part of the regular educational curriculum, is not just marketing for a specific product but the larger message of corporate beneficence and the corporate line on such crucial issues as AGW and the environment, industrial agriculture, animal rights, and child nutrition*).

    The materials (found by searching for “YMI classroom”) would be funny if they weren’t real and presumably being used in actual classrooms. Teachers, librarians, and coaches can choose amongst, for example, “Get it going with GOYA,” “KNOW Hunger” provided by Tyson chicken nuggets, “Wonders of Wireless” from Samsung, an “Ecoimagination” Student Outreach Leaders Guide provided by GE, “Cool Foods for Kids” from the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association, “Refuel with Chocolate Milk,” and a “Step Up to a Healthier You” supplement courtesy of the Pork Board.

    As Schor mentions, these propaganda schemes have emerged as a perverse response to the defunding of public education and the resulting lack of resources for teachers (often leading them to use their own personal funds to buy instructional materials). But this is just part of an organized rightwing campaign to privatize and corporatize public education generally. These, of course, feed each other, as they’re meant to: decommitting to public education opens doors for corporate propaganda in schools, which in turn is hoped to produce adults who are less capable of thinking critically about corporations and less inclined to resist their incursion into and influence in education and politics. Precisely at a time when kids should be developing skeptical and critical-thinking skills and being encouraged to use them, they’re being subjected to veiled propaganda from powerful organizations.

    Speaking of education and politics, a great book I read recently is John Marsh’s (2011) Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality:

    Marsh, an educator who for years participated in educational opportunity programs, argues:
    [I]f inequality is affected by more than just education, then education is neither a necessary nor sufficient strategy to aid the poor and working poor. …I have tried to show how it is not sufficient, but equally important, it is not necessary either. Given the political will, whether through redistributive tax rates, massive public works projects, a living wage law, or a renaissance of labor unions, we could decrease poverty and inequality tomorrow regardless of the market or the number of educated and uneducated workers. In the meantime, Americans could remain as stupid [sic] - or as smart [sic] - as they are now. These policies also have the advantage of reducing poverty and inequality in the short term, straightaway, unlike schemes to boost the supply of educated workers or equalize educational opportunity, which will take at least a generation to unfold. (KL 1339-1345)
    Over the years, not surprisingly, I’ve heard the education solution suggested by many students. I have to say that I’ve never quite understood how people don’t see the flaws. It’s an individual-level solution to a structural problem, like interview-training programs for unemployed people. It’s a fundamental failure of the sociological imagination, and a major hurdle to be overcome.

    Anyway, in addition to making a solid argument for why education isn’t a real solution to structural inequality - and contributing to the case that, in fact, reducing inequality should improve educational outcomes - Marsh offers an enlightening history of the projects to which public and higher education have been harnessed in the US over the past centuries (the story of the workers of Wheeling, VA, rejecting a library funded in part by Andrew Carnegie in the early twentieth century is delightful). I have few significant criticisms. The first is that he gives short shrift to the role of a genuine education in enabling people to fulfill their human potential and to participate fully in political life. Second, and related to this, he pays little to no attention to more radical educational movements in the US that have had goals other than the instrumental ones we hear so much about. Finally, the activism he espouses – though with limited confidence about its success – is overwhelmingly focused on working within the system and not appreciative of possibilities for more substantial change. (I think people often assume a positive relationship between the radicalism of goals or actions and the odds against their success, but I don't think this is necessarily true by any means.)

    *For instance: “Some of the worst examples of bias have been found among corporate environmental materials. In the early 1990s, energy, paper, and other primary materials companies became concerned about what they considered an excessively proenvironmental attitude among the nation’s youth. They worried that existing environmental education curricula were exacerbating those sentiments. So the companies began what can only be described as an expensive propaganda effort to obscure the nature of the environmental problems facing the planet….” (p. 94). The shaping of environmental thinking by Sea World via educational outreach is described in some depth in Susan G. Davis’ Spectacular Nature.

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Veganism is happening

    Just the other day I learned of a couple of organic vegan restaurants in Manhattan. Then yesterday someone gave me a great cookbook from a vegan restaurant she’d recently tried, and another person pointed me to a review in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times of a metro-area (Branford, CT) organic vegan place, G-Zen.

    Sure, I suppose it’s possible that I’m now finding my attention drawn to these items because of my embrace of veganism, but I prefer to think of them as evidence of a vegan wave sweeping society.

    Sunday, April 1, 2012

    A few foods I've rediscovered as a vegan

    As I expected, the shift to veganism has led me to a renewed appreciation of a number of foods. Here are a few:

    1) Lemons! I’ve always loved everything about lemons, but over the past several weeks I’ve also come to appreciate how well a spritz of lemon juice at the end of preparation can even, surprisingly, substitute for feta. That squeeze of juice brightens up so many dishes, including one of my favorites: spaghetti tossed in olive oil with spinach, garlic, walnuts, red pepper flakes, and olives.*

    2) Which brings me to another: olives! They’re just so salty and rustic and beautiful. I find myself adding them to more and more dishes. At the first social gathering I went to since going vegan, a small cocktail party, the hostess thoughtfully prepared vegan hors d’oeuvres for me (well, they were for everyone, but specifically catered to me). Her delicious olive tapenade with crostini sent me on an olive kick which is still going strong.

    3) Wasabi crackers! I adore wasabi in general, and my current snack of choice is KA-ME wasabi rice crackers. They have five well-deserved stars on Amazon. (Looking into wasabi, I discovered that scientists have developed a wasabi fire alarm for deaf people, which won them an Ig Nobel last year.)

    4) And finally…udon noodles! The Koyo ones - another five-star Amazon rating - are so simple and elegant in their little bundles. I haven’t even made a proper soup of them yet (though I’m learning more about Japanese folklore, which is fascinating), but I’m enjoying them and newly inspired to start preparing Japanese vegan foods.

    *And sometimes with a little Daiya faux-mozzarella, which is surprisingly good. The jury’s still out on some of the other cheese substitutes, except for the inedible Daiya faux-cheddar.