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Archive for December 2010

“Get off our back”, we can eat what we want

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Relative to:  Sarah Palin’s criticism of Michelle Obama, over the First Lady’s Anti-Obesity Campaign and school nutrition rules.

To start: This argument wants to be over the issue of the US becoming a “nanny state,” in which Americans lose the right to eat the “food” that they choose, despite eating very little food. I must say, I don’t want a nanny state. I understand that fear, and I get it. It is not really over “food”, and what “foods” or  foods one should eat.  It seems to me, the issue is about why so many people need that nanny in the first place. Sometimes, people need a nanny.

How can we have an argument about obesity? Obesity is a problem. An epidemic. This isn’t news, nor is it in any way disputable. It  causes diabetes, heart disease, strokes, Cancer, etc. etc. etc. (This is such obvious news, it doesn’t even deserve a link (here’s a link)). Children are becoming obese far too frequently for good-conscience adults to ignore. Remember adult onset diabetes? It doesn’t exist anymore, because it has become Type II diabetes. Adult onset implies it is an adult problem. Obesity ought be opposed. But we are not a nanny state. If you are an adult and want to be eat “foods” that directly lead to obesity (I recognize not all obesity issues result from lifestyle choices, that genetics and other factors exist) the government won’t stop you. It’s your right.

The question that has brought me to writing this post then, is why anyone would oppose a healthy foods initiative in school, for school children, for individuals who eat only what they are provided , and many of whom eat very very poorly. Do we really think that providing children with food, not “food”, is a symbol of a deteriorating state? Adults can eat what they want, but can they feed anything they want to their children? Knowing that childhood obesity is already a severe, and growing, problem in the United States? Sometimes folks need a nanny. Remember the story of that child who was named Adolf Hitler and was subsequently taken from his parents?  It turns out they weren’t fit to raise their children. Is that better or worse than providing a child with a lifetime of health issues and likely an early death? These are the stakes of obesity in the US. And it’s a huge problem, involving poverty issues, racial issues, education, access, etc. etc. etc. But one place that actual change can be made is in school cafeterias, where kids go almost everyday, to simply eat.

So, Sarah Palin, I get it. You want the government to stay out of your business. You’re running for president. You can eat all the ‘smores on your television show that you want, and criticize Michelle Obama for her healthy food programs, and deride her socialist nanny state tendencies. But there is nothing to oppose in supporting a healthy diet *and lifestyle* for children.

UPDATE: In a NY Times editorial today, The Can’t Do Nation, Timothy Egan writes the following: What’s wimpy is Sarah Palin equating Nanny State intolerance withMichelle Obama’s campaign to get children to exercise more and improve their diets. Eat smores, Palin implored, as a patriotic act of defiance to Big Government. This assertion is an affront to every genuine act of political disobedience, let alone the epidemic of childhood obesity.


Written by Christopher ZF

December 30, 2010 at 12:28

Posted in food

What Should Kids Read?

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Relative to:  the current immense popularity of dark, brooding, post-apocalyptic young adult fiction.

At the NYTimes Room for Debate this week, the topic taken up is “The Dark Side of Yound Adult Fiction,” and several authors and cultural critics wonder why teens love reading about such terrible times and peoples as are so popular right now.

The debaters give many reasons for such popularity. The world is a wreck right now, and kids reflect that in their reading. The world is actually quite good and promising for these kids, and they want the joys of escapism to fantasy. The real world of good and evil is grey and YAF provides good and evil in black and white. Kids consciousnesses have been saturated with darkness by the time they are teens, and they crave that darkness more.

As I was reading these individual arguments for why teens read about things that are awful, I had to ask: do we really think this is a new subject? Or is it just getting more appealing for younger readers? Reading Orwell in high school is common. His worlds are dark and scary. I was assigned Ayn Rand in high school. Her picture of the world is awful, and her solution for the world is even scarier. Kids have been reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild for 60 years, terrified for every one of them.

Some of the writers in the debate understand this. But still wonder at the desire of teens to immerse themselves in “fantastical dystopia.” Why the fantasy of a destroyed world? Lisa Rowe Faustino answers thus: “No different from that quintessential literary adolescent Holden Caulfield, we want to hold on to the joy in life we felt as children. We want to hold on to our individuality, our humanity, our ability to love and connect to others. We have always wanted to hold on, but in today’s global communications network we can’t avoid facing overwhelming obstacles. The more we understand how small and powerless we really are against the immense forces that control our existence, the more we yearn to feel meaningful.”

Faustino here is the only commenter that seems to get close to how this makes sense. There is a part of being a youth that naturally wants one’s life to be in the thick of the struggles that will define one’s era, yearning for meaning and fame and glory while overcoming truly great obstacles. And those obstacles are increasing every day. We join Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua on their adventures to feel their journeys for meaning and restoration of peace and order. But in my opinion that overestimates what the characters, and the readers, are really in search of. We may start out searching for glory in the text, but we end wanting love for the protagonists, and a peaceful place to live in that love. Be it back at home when we can finally return to the warm glow of family, or with a new-found romance that will resolve our obstacles. The fight for meaning in these books is almost always the search for home, the search for place where one can feel truly at peace. Because such a place in the real world  seems very distant, and fantastical, in high school.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 27, 2010 at 11:36

Posted in books and reading

Wilderness and the BLM

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Relative to: Wilderness designation rights returned to BLM.

Every acre of protected wilderness is a good thing. You can’t have too much wilderness, and anyone who thinks the US is anywhere close to reaching that point is deluding themselves. So it is with Christmas Joy that I read about the Obama Administration’s plan to give the Bureau of Land Management the right to set land aside for Federal protection as wilderness. The decision reverses a Bush Administration policy, restricting the BLM.

The Bush Policy, “derided by some as the “No More Wilderness” policy — stated that new areas could not be recommended for wilderness protection by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and it opened millions of acres to potential commercial development.” Americans should rejoice that this policy is being reversed; it was terrible and unfortunate in the first place.

The Obama plan will create a new designation, “Wild Lands,” which can then be set aside by congress as protected wilderness. I’m not quite sure why this new step is necessary, but I am happy to see the possibility of increased land protection.

Merry Christmas!

Written by Christopher ZF

December 23, 2010 at 18:03

New Start Treaty Nears Completion?

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Relative to: The New Start Treaty, and Obama’s Agenda.

As much as Mitch McConnell and other GOPers have said their primary senate intentions are to make Mr. Obama a one-term president, it seems they just can’t keep the President down, even amidst a lame-duck session that was supposed to allow no victories for Democrats before the new Republicans arrived in DC. On the heels of the repeal of DADT, today  it looks likely that the New Start Treaty will pass before the end of the year (day?), renewing and updating the nuclear arms treaty that has existed with US, Russia, and others for decades.

Last time this subject appeared at TRC, we stated that there is only one correct answer when it comes to dealing with nuclear weapons. Though Lamar Alexander may represent the wrong answer–“the United States would be left with enough nuclear firepower “to blow anyone to kingdom come”–not passing the New Start treaty is definitely a step away from the right answer with nukes. New Start is not the perfect way to manage such destructive capability, and blowing others to kingdom come is exactly the problem. But we’ll take it for now, because for now, it is better than having no treaty at all, and letting nuclear weapons fall off the radar.

Finally, the GOP would be advised to notice how President Obama–whose presidency has been marked by slow, thoughtful, deliberate work on serious, long-term issues–has continued doing what he does best (and which drives liberals mad). Despite the historic elections, and the swinging of the nation back to the Republicans, and the failing economy and etc. etc. etc., the President has managed to continue to achieve legislative priorities by winning over Republican votes. Despite the damnedest efforts of GOP.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 21, 2010 at 10:34

Repeal DADT

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Relative to: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

It’s been 8 days, a lot of computer problem and a new house since the last post on TRC. But we are back on and return with what could be very good news. After much delay, ballyhoo on the part of opponents, a push to let the military do their own study, the completion of that study and then more ballyhoo on the part of opponents despite the results of that study, it looks like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell might be repealed.

It is overdue. The senate appears to have 61 votes, enough for passage. Now it is up to Sen. Harry Reid to bring the measure before senators. Even Sen. Joe Lieberman, of all people, calls any delay by Reid “totally unacceptable.”

So get it done, ladies and gentlemen. There are procedural hurdles and other votes of importance, sure. But this is important, and it can finally be done. Do it.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 16, 2010 at 16:56

Emmer to Concede, Dayton to Govern

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Relative to: the Minnesota Governor’s Race

The news of the morning in Minnesota brings the announcement that MN Rep. Tom Emmer will concede the Governor’s race to former US Sen. Mark Dayton. This is welcome news, not just because Dayton, a democrat will win the seat and keep the state from total republican control, but also because it will allow the state of Minnesota to move on on the time. Gov. Pawlenty will not have to remain in office, causing liberal head-aches as he works with the new conservative house and senate majorities, and Dayton can get into office to start working with congress on a budget.

The vote advantage in Dayton’s favor has been nearly insurmountable, and in recent weeks it has become clear that Emmer and the Republicans in the state did not have a strategy to win the election. I’m glad to see the state going forward and moving past the recount to the business of governance.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 8, 2010 at 09:50

Posted in Minnesota, Politics

the absence of phosphorous.

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Relative to: a broken computer, a move, and missing elements of life.

A lot has happened in the past week or so since I’ve been able to post at TRC. Our laptop is now in disrepair, which makes blogging significantly more difficult. On top of such problems, the move has taken a great deal of energy, time, and energy. Leaving one exhausted at the end of the day, with little motivation for posting.

But here is the story I would’ve posted on, at length, had I been around.
I have been geeking on this NASA story since it broke. It is a big story. Potentially. Life-altering, possibly. It just may change everything we know. Scientists have found bacteria which has replaced phosphorous with arsenic, and those bacteria have gone on living, building fundamental components of the organism out of arsenic.  Phosphorous has always been considered necessary for any kind of life form (along with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur). Life without phosphorous, well, thats a big deal.

Substituting a fundamental element of life creates a new definition of what life is. Making life with toxic chemicals must change our perspective, and there’s nothing I love more than having to alter, on a grand scale, what we think we know. Arsenic is a toxic chemical on this planet, not a life sustaining element. It’s much more science-fiction than science. That’s why NASA made such a hullaballoo over the releasing of the announcement, and the world (of science and space nerds) made such a big deal over the story.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 5, 2010 at 08:43

Posted in NASA, Science