Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wrong Direction

Here's a good example of how art can make a point instantly.

From an exhibit called Manifest Justice, on now in Los Angeles.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Chicken Farmers Get Screwed and Can't Even Complain

In 1984 I decided to stop eating pork, lamb, and beef. I meant to work my way along to vegetarianism soon afterward, but it never happened.

My reasons for the first decision and the second lack-of-decision were both based on the resources n needed to create consumable calories, rather than from an animal rights perspective. The land, water, and feed needed to raise large mammals for food is pretty far out of whack compared to just eating plants. The resources needed to raise birds and catch or raise fish, on the other hand, are much less than for large mammals, though they are still more than for growing plants.

So I subconsciously used that fact as a reason to excuse me and my busy life from ever seriously pursuing vegetarianism.

Differentiating between the levels of resource use does has some validity. But I’ve known all along that the commercial poultry industry was not something I wanted to support. I try to buy eggs, chicken, and turkey from farms that I know treat their birds better than corporate agribusiness does, and (I hope) also treat the people who process the meat better as well.

I'm very aware of the inhumane working conditions for the people who process poultry (a euphemism for killing the birds, removing their feathers and organs, cutting up their bodies, and packaging them for sale). Repetitive stress injury particularly comes to mind. The pay is not very good for the difficulty and strain of the labor, which means undocumented workers make up most of the pool of labor available. And all this so we can have cheap food.

But there’s one part of the corporate poultry business I wasn’t aware of until a few days ago when I watched this segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

The gist of it is that some time over the past few decades, the farmers who raise chickens for Tyson, Purdue, and the other big four or five poultry corporations have been turned into sharecroppers.

The farmers are “independent” and own the barns and equipment. They provide the labor or pay hired hands to help them. But the chickens and the feed are owned by the corporation. The farmers have to sign contracts that require them to follow whatever current science (or fad) the corporation has decided on this year — requiring costly changes to infrastructure on a regular basis. The contracts tell the farmers how to raise the birds, such as limiting their access to the outdoors or even their amount of movement. (Birds that sit still get fatter faster.) As Oliver put it, “Chickens are like reality stars: the happier they are, the less money they're worth.”

The contracts also prohibit the farmers from speaking about the contracts or criticizing the corporations.

The farmers are paid in a competitive system where they are compared to other farmers under contract to the corporation. If the quality of your birds is in the top 50 percent of all the birds produced, you get a bonus. If they aren’t, you get penalized.

But the corporation decides which chicks you got in the first place. They’re ranked from 1 to 10. Farmers who try to fight back get a lot of birds rated 8, 9, or 10, which makes it hard to earn a living. It's not uncommon for these poultry farmers to live at the poverty level, which is ridiculous.

What they need is to organize, but their contracts prohibit that since they aren’t even allowed to talk about what they have in common.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) has introduced an amendment in Congress to remove those restrictions on the farmers’ speech. It’s something the House Agriculture Committee could pass and bring to the floor. But it hasn’t.

My representative, Betty McCollum, sits on that committee. I’ll be calling her to find out how she has voted on Kaptur’s amendment and what can be done.

And I’ll be working a bit harder to eat only plants unless I know exactly where the animals I eat come from.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cure Appendicitis Now!

It never occurred to me to think appendicitis could possibly be treated with antibiotics. It's just one of those gaps in my thinking.

Medical researchers don't have my problem, though. According to a recent story in the New York Times, clinical trials in France have found that for the one-thousand patients involved,

antibiotics can cure some patients...about 70 percent of those who took the pills did not require surgery.

Patients who wound up having an appendectomy after trying antibiotics first did not face any more complications that those who had surgery immediately.

“These studies seem to indicate that antibiotics can cure appendicitis in many patients,” said Dr. David Talan, a specialist in emergency medicine and infectious diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles. “You at least have the chance of avoiding surgery altogether.”
Three hundred thousand Americans have appendectomies every year -- if that physical and financial cost could be prevented for 210,000 of them, imagine the benefit.

Most adults know someone who has had a burst appendix. It's a bad, bad thing, and I had assumed that it was the outcome of every case of appendicitis that went untreated. I found out from the article, though, that this is not the case:
...an inflamed appendix is not, as most people think, a ticking time bomb. While perforation occurs in 15 percent to 25 percent of patients, researchers hypothesize that those who get perforations may have a predisposing immune response or infection with certain kinds of bacteria. In others, appendicitis goes away on its own.

Nor is the length of time that an appendix is inflamed necessarily linked to the risk of perforation. Most people with a ruptured appendix already have it when they show up in the emergency room.
Fifteen to 25 percent is a large portion of cases -- based on the number needed to treat formula used in assessing the validity of an intervention, it clearly seems worth doing an invasive procedure to protect from that kind of risk.

But then I reread that last sentence from the quote: "Most people with a ruptured appendix already have it when they show up in the emergency room." So maybe the patients who haven't ruptured yet should be given a trial of intravenous antibiotics if the research shows that their outcomes are not worse, even if the appendix eventually rupture.

I also learned from the article that this isn't the first time antibiotics have been looked at as treatment for appendicitis. It started right away, when antibiotics were new in the 1940s, and they have been used off and on in settings that limit access to surgery.

The biggest unknown is whether the appendicitis will reoccur once it's cleared up with antibiotics. Researchers don't know what causes the infection in the first place, and so they can't be sure it won't come back at some point.

From a doctor's point of view, it's a standard, 30-minute operation -- as close to a sure thing as you get in medicine. From the patient's point of view, though, it's costly in terms of time, pain, and money.

If I were the patient, I would try treatment with antibiotics. And it's clearly worth doing more controlled trials with patient follow-up to see what happens over the years.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tar Sands Resistance March, June 6

A large group of organizations is sponsoring a march and rally to demonstrate resistance to the use of Canadian tar sands as fuel in our post-peak-oil world.

It's on June 6, starting at noon with a march from Lambert Landing (at the Mississippi River right behind Union Depot in downtown Saint Paul) to the State Capitol.

Leave this junk in the ground! We can't burn it all without making our world incompatible with modern life. Not to mention the fact that extracting it is turning pristine Canadian wilderness, which should belong to native peoples, into a hellscape. Plus, if we leave it in the ground, no one has to put it on a train bomb that rolls past our houses or in a pipeline that harms rural areas even when it's not spilling toxic crap.

I want to congratulate the organizers of the march on designing a successful poster and logo. Great job calling up traditional protest iconography while connecting the visuals with both the dirtiness of oil and our geographic region (check out the fingers in that fist).

The march is sponsored by the Sierra Club, 350, Interfaith Power & Light, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Energy Action Coalition.

More info can be found at TarSandsResistance.org.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Controlled Burn

I've been reading about native plants and growing them for going on 20 years, but I don't think I've ever seen a controlled burn in action.

That changed today over at the Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center in Minneapolis. I approached the building, wondering what was burning and maybe just a little worried. Enough to look around the building, past the entrance, to see the little sign that labels the burning area a prairie restoration.

That put my mind at ease even as the flames lapped along the far edge where the smoke is thickest.

Burning keeps down both the Eurasian weeds and the tree weeds, and gives the native species, with their deep roots, an advantage.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kevin Cannon Visualizes Lowertown

Once again the Star Tribune hired an ace freelance illustrator, rather than rely on the in-house talent, for an important piece of artwork.

This time it was Kevin Cannon, creating one of his excellent maps of St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood in honor of the soon-to-open St. Paul Saints ballpark. It graced the cover of today's Variety section and is also being distributed as a poster.

(Click the image for a larger view.)

In case you're in the area and may want to visit Lowertown, the Strib has Cannon's map linked up to info on the various restaurants and bars here. Lowertown is one of the parts of the Twin Cities that can make you feel as though you're in a real city and not just a glorified suburb.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Another Way to Steal from Your Employees

I just saw this new article from The Nation about the retail chains exploit workers by making them "managers" so they don't have to be paid overtime. As I've written before, "dollar" stores are notorious for this, but it's also common in fast food and just about every other type of corporate-owned retail.

My blood is at a moderate boil once again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Sign Without Letters

I spied this remnant sign in South Minneapolis today:

The barber shop is as gone as its letters, replaced by a foofy retailer with weathered urns and orchids in the window.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Why TV News Doesn't Cover the Supreme Court

In a discussion with Ta-nehisi Coates at the CUNY graduate school of journalism, Chris Hayes described the three visuals that are available when television news has to cover the Supreme Court.

They are:

  • An exterior shot of the building, panning up
  • A slow pan over the words "equal justice under law"
  • The group photo of the nine justices, in front of a red curtain, that's done each fall when they begin their term.
And that's it. All networks and cable stations show the same shots, over and over.

He says that this is why the court isn't covered more. With nothing to see, it's hard for television to talk about it, because they need visuals and sound. "You show me a car on fire and we will put that f*&#ing thing on air for an hour. Because you can't turn away from watching something burn."

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Gang; Prostitute; What Image Came to Mind?

You may have noticed that I have not been monitoring the news closely for the past few weeks. For the most part, it has led to a lot more calmness in my life.

But it also means there's a lot less to talk about, usually. Right now I am just barely letting the motorcycle-gang shooting in Texas get through to my consciousness.

With that as context, I just saw this beautiful bit of juxtaposition:

(From the Twitter account @randompattern.)

Isn't it interesting that I wrote "motorcycle gang" above, instead of just "gang"? That extra word helps the reader know the shooting involved a bunch of white guys instead a bunch of black guys.

Which reminds me of this:

Clearly, the copy editor thinks everyone assumes prostitutes are female unless noted otherwise.

 And gang members have brown skin unless they have a roaring engine between their legs.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Politics by the Yard

When Daughter Number Three-Point-One was in her early elementary school years -- 2000 and 2004 -- we noticed a pattern while walking around during election time.

As you may expect, there are not many Republicans living in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and so not a lot of yards have Republican lawn signs. But when there are such signs, they almost always seemed to be in yards like these:

Signs for Democrats, on the other hand, were in yards like this:

Yes, that's a rain garden on the right. Or even yards like this:

With no lawn at all.

It's not that signs for Democrats didn't ever appear with a grass lawn. But when they did, the lawn looked more like this:

Which is clearly not fertilized or doused with weed killer, and which looks a little dry because it lacks the consistent watering you get from installing a sprinkler system.

I don't know if this is a case of confirmation bias on my part, or if it's a true pattern. It's particularly tempting to make an analogy about love of monoculture, but I will hold back. It may just be Saint Paul, after all. I can imagine things being different in the suburbs, where a house with signs for Democrats might have a Chem Green lawn just like any other.

But in my city, I'll be watching these particular lawns in 2016 to see what kind of signs (if any) they put up.

Friday, May 15, 2015

So that's What They Mean by "Ugly House"

I'm sure there are entire websites devoted solely to photos of ugly houses, but I think I've found the house that wins the prize:

I'm not sure what happened here. It looks as though it was a two-and-a-half story imitation Tudor house, probably built in the early 20th century.

Then someone came along in the 1970s and replaced the windows with casement vinyl, stuccoed the first floor into prison-style concrete, and then wrapped the second floor in a mansard rooflet... maybe to cover up the rest of the mistakes.


(This house is in St. Paul.)