29 January 2010

Making Art, Greenishly

On my way to the Y the other day, I passed a little gallery and got to look around at some really neat sculptures of animals. I was all ready to take The Offspring over, but it turned out he'd already seen them, and loved them as much as I did. Here's "Cortez":
A ship and a shell, part of Cortez's side:
His nose is a spaghetti server, his jaw, an adjustable wrench; there's a gavel and a brush, some more shells, and all kinds of other stuff, unrecognizable until you look closesly, and so on down to his base, fittingly enough, a wheel:That's not all. Go along over and you'll get to see two elephants; a wild toothy sort of animal, maybe a boar; a couple of lions; another horse; and various other interesting creatures. It's all at the New York Studio Gallery, on the corner of Stanton and Suffolk Streets, until February 6. Closing reception, February 3 from 7 to 9 p.m.

26 January 2010

Read the Label

The use in foods and medications of FD&C Red #40, also known as E 129, has been banned by the governments of Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, and Norway. (That information courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Company.) It's been linked with asthma, hyperactivity, and migraines. But it's still in common use in the United States.

You'll find it, probably no surprise, in Skittles, M&Ms, Fanta grape soda, and Hershey's strawberry milk. Also in pickled ginger, yogurt, various "juice drinks," and ice cream.

Plus: kids' formulations of Amoxicillin, Benadryl, Motrin, Tylenol, cough medicines, and many other medications. Read the labels on the OTCs, and ask your pharmacist if the packaging for prescription medication provides any information about "inactive" ingredients.

And by the way... the "carmine" in Dannon yogurt, Dole grapefruit juice, and various other "natural" products? Made from ground up bugs.

24 January 2010

Eat Less Meat, Slow Global Warming

Environmentalists have been urging people for years now to eat less meat to reduce their environmental impact. Actually, decades: Consider Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet, first published in 1971, which led me to stop eating meat after I read it in the early 1980s.

In any case, the Times has finally reported on the phenomenon in an article that appeared on line today, but not in their print edition. In the interest of journalistic objectivity, they had to go out and find some representatives of the meat industry to counter environmentalists' claims about the environmental degradation caused by meat farming.

The heads of various industry groups insisted that the evidence for detrimental environmental impact of farming meat is controversial. One pointed out a different study that showed that only 18 percent, not 50 percent as claimed by World Watch, of greenhouse gases come from meat.

If meat production is "only" responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases, that's still a major proportion. That's a fifth of the total. That's huge.

By the way, remember cigarette manufacturers, anybody? Remember their claims, going over decades, that cigarettes weren't bad for you, and then that the evidence was controversial? Am I just being cynical in being disinclined to fully trust studies of environmental impact that have been funded by the manufacturers?

19 January 2010

Still... Haiti

In The Guardian, today: Cruise ships are still docking at private beaches in Haiti so that the vacationers can jetski, go for a swim, or shop for trinkets.

The company that owns the ship defends the decision, saying that they're using the ship to make donations of food and water and donating profits from the visit to relief efforts, and besides, there are 230 Haitians who work inside the resort's twelve-foot fences, so they're all getting paid.

Pardon me while I get sick to my stomach.

Okay, I'm back.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there are around 230 cruise ships in operation worldwide; they can carry up to 3000 passengers, and the biggest employ hundreds of crew members.

What if each cruise ship company gave just one boat to the Haitians, or to Doctors Without Borders, or the International Red Cross, for the next few weeks? What if each of these boats became a floating hospital, or home to a few thousand Haitians?

Good could come of it... not just hypocrisy.

18 January 2010

Thinking about Haiti

I have a hard time with the fact that they call it "looting" when people are going into ruined buildings and searching for food and water.

I had two cookies in my hand last night, my son only one, and he protested. "It's not fair!" I almost choked, thinking about the folks in Port-au-Prince. I almost launched about how lucky he was to have a cookie at all. But I don't think that would have led to a productive conversation.

He's six, and I'm talking to him a little bit about the earthquake and the fact that many people are hurt, or their homes have been damaged. But I'm shielding him from images and words about the situation. (No TV or radio in the house, so it's a matter of making sure he's not reading over my shoulder as I read about the tragedy on line.)

Any parents, or other opinionated people, out there? How do you talk to a kid about a tragedy like this?

14 January 2010

Doctors Without Borders

One way to help the folks in Haiti: donate to Doctors Without Borders.

"Plus" Sized Models

The Times has a feel-good story today about Crystal Renn, a plus-size model whose career has taken off in the (really rather minor) backlash against the fashion industry's backlash against emaciated models.

According to the Times, Ms. Renn is 5'9 inches tall, has a 30-inch waist, and weighs 165 pounds. She wears a size 12, as compared to the average for American women of size 14.

Not only that, she's an unusually tall, slender size 12. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average American woman is nearly 5'4 inches tall, has a 37-inch waist, and weighs ... 165 pounds. But the same amount of weight on a body 5 inches shorter is going to sit very differently.

(Digression: how they determined Ms. Renn's dress size, or that of the average American, is somewhat of a mystery to me, as my own clothes run anywhere from size 4 to size 10, depending on the manufacturer.)

In any case, the fact that the world's most famous plus-sized model is far thinner than the average American woman is not, in my mind, particularly good news. The image of beauty being sold may be somewhat less unrealistic than Kate Moss, but that doesn't make it appropriate.

But the other problem is that Americans are in fact overweight in large numbers, for structural reasons that are not addressed by a microscopic shift in the world of high fashion.

The agriculture industry is motivated by a bizarre system of federal subsidies for the manufacture of corn and dairy products to sell large quantities of them in various unhealthy combinations, which they advertise incessantly. Make high-fructose corn syrup more expensive by eliminiting federal agricultural subsidies for its production, and all of a sudden its presence on your supermarket shelf will diminish.

I actually saw a billboard some months ago claiming that you could get a healthy breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts. Do they sell any fruit in their stores? anything at all made out of anything close to 100 percent whole grains? Not the last time I bought a cup of coffee.

13 January 2010

Long Hair -- Only For Girls?

The New York Times reports that a school district outside Dallas, Texas is refusing to allow a four-year-old to attend pre-kindergarten with his classmates because his hair has grown too long to meet the district's standards. He spends his days in the library with a teacher's aide instead of in the classroom with the other kids.

His hair, according to school board officials, will distract the other students.

It seems to me to be a pretty draconian enforcement of gender norms. Or is it actually a ban on progressive politics, expressed through music?

According to the school district's code of conduct, in the section "Boys: Additional Guidelines":
Hair is to be out of the eyes, not extend below the bottom of the earlobes and
cut so that it does not extend over the collar (dress shirt).

Also: no earrings for the guys, though apparently the school board has no problem with a parent piercing the ears of a four-year-old girl, or letting her wear her hair over her face. (For what it's worth, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to pierce a child's ears until the child can take care of the piercing "herself.")

It seems to me that if the other little kids are being distracted, it's not by the boy's hair but by the reactions of the adults around him. It's too bad the school officials of Mesquite, Texas feel it's that important to police so intently the boundaries between boys' and girls' self-expression.

05 January 2010

How Much Did We Pay For That?

The Mate and I went to lunch on New Year's Day at Thai Smile, a wonderful little restaurant in, of all places, Plymouth, New Hampshire. The Rose Bowl was on the TV and we briefly watched the half-time show, which included a flyover by four Air Force jets in honor of someone (probably someone famous, whose name I didn't catch because I live under a rock in a home without television).

The Mate wanted to know: How much did that cost the nation's taxpayers?

The military has a website dedicated to explaining the rules for Air Force flyovers, with instructions for how to apply for a flyover and a list of frequently asked questions. For some reason, it doesn't mention anything about costs.