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Sunday, June 29, 2003  

They banned rounds! During WWI, when the Lloyd George government shortened the licencing laws to increase industrial production (and because they were anti-drink - it wasn't just the US that had this problem), they also banned the buying of rounds. You might as well ban British accents and rain.

posted by JD | 10:31 AM
 

The best painting at the Tate Modern. Is it Francis Bacon's Figure in a Landscape? That thing just rips right into me everytime. Reminds me of the death face of the old American west, with shapes reminiscent of canyon ridges and emptied stagecoaches.

posted by JD | 10:29 AM
 

American media poodles v. British bulldogs. CalPundit has a thread onwhy they're so different.

posted by JD | 12:50 AM


Saturday, June 28, 2003  

Our lives less perfect. I agree with Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall's take on GM food (can?t find the link right now), but I also agree that his new "cookbook" seems to be less a helpful cookbook than, as the standfirst says, "a daunting how-to-live guide" that leaves its reviewer abashed. Let's face it, any cookbook that includes the sentence "I hang my beef for a full month at the local abattoir" is basically a more ethically and spiritually rich version of Martha Stewart and her fucking hand sewn place settings. It's almost a form of aspirational pornography. "Fearnley-Whittingstall's book," writes the reviewer, "is one answer to our state of devastation - retreat, seasonality, self-sufficiency... The challenge is how the rest of us live up to it." The reality is, we can't, and for that reason this book is less cookbook than it is substitute, or fantasy life. Which is of course what a lot of cookbooks are - but the problem here is that this book's author porports to speak for the common man on the issue of GM. There's a bit of a disconnect there.

posted by JD | 11:07 PM


Thursday, June 26, 2003  

G to the M. On Monday I wrote a long reply to Micha Gertner as part of the most recent Matthew Yglesias GM strand. I was very happy with it, so of course the damn thing got sucked up into the stratosphere never to be seen again. (Is it wrapped in a lost sock, teetering on the edge of a black hole?) Anyway, here's another go at it.

Or here will be another go at. It's later than I thought, and I'm due at a boozer.

posted by JD | 1:59 PM
 

Income mobility is decreasing. In the US, anyway. (Don't know what it's doing here. Where to find out?) CalPundit is on the case.

posted by JD | 11:45 AM
 

Racism, tennis, Serena and Venus Wimbledon is on, and an opinion piece in the Guardian's sports section says that "Tennis is racist - and it's time we did something about it".

Much of what he says is correct, I think. Tennis is an almost all-white sport, both in the stands and on the court, and where one race congregates together without significant contact with others, racism is inevitable. We see this especially in rural hostility to blacks, who, in the UK at least, non-urbanites rarely encounter outside of their own TVs. But when discussing the lack of support for the Williams sisters, I think the author underestimates some non-pernicious factors, particularly the ability to identify with the athlete - which is, I think, as essential on field and court as it is on stage.

I know what you're going to say: This is just an excuse for racism - for white people supporting whites because they "can't identify" with blacks. Nope. If that were the case, every second honky in Highbury wouldn't be sporting Thierry Henry's number 14, and Michael Jordan wouldn't be an industry onto himself. And would Tiger Woods be one of the most well-known and supported men in sport?

Ah, you say - but Tiger's only half-black, and that makes him more palatable to whites. To a degree, this may be true. Lighter skin-toned blacks do seem to find white acceptance easier. But certainly in the US, a little black is all black (remember the rule of the octaroon), and half is way more than a little. Tiger Woods is most definitely a black man, and is by far the most popular athlete in a sport that is even whiter than tennis.

But what if he were 6'10" and as muscular as Shaquille O'Neal - would he be so popular? I don't think he would. I think that were he significantly larger and stronger than all his peers - as Serena is - Tiger would be seen less as a triumphant man than as a triumphant machine. And nobody really loves machines.

What if Serena were the size of Justine Henin? I think we'd love her to death - plucky little black girl fighting her way out of the 'hood and showing those stuck-up rich tennis snobs what it's all about. But she's a physical monster, the corporal equivalent of a team whose financial budget is twice that of all its opponents. Ask yourself this: between the two sisters, who do you prefer? I find that I cheer for Venus, because although she's very tall, she's lanky and lean. She looks like a normal person, just better. Serena looks like a machine made for winning. And whatever the rest of us mortals are, we certainly aren't that. So we support our own. The little ones, the ones with checkered pasts or flawed bodies, or even, in Tiger's case, the black ones in a sea of whiteness.

On a related note, I've done a quick search to try to find comparative t-shirt sales figures for NBA players, but have had no luck - just a bunch of jokers trying to sell me Hawks gear. What I'd like to know is, how high does Shaq rate? He's been the most dominant player of the last decade, but I'd be willing to guess that since he seems to come from a different species than the rest of us, even than other giants such as Tim Duncan, his t-shirt sales don't come in the top three.

posted by JD | 9:39 AM


Sunday, June 22, 2003  

A brief overview of what Amartya Sen, 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, says about famines (taken from the Nobel Prize website):

Analysis of famine
Sen's best-known work in this area is his book from 1981: Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Here, he challenges the common view that a shortage of food is the most important (sometimes the only) explanation for famine. On the basis of a careful study of a number of such catastrophes in India, Bangladesh, and Saharan countries, from the 1940s onwards, he found other explanatory factors. He argues that several observed phenomena cannot in fact be explained by a shortage of food alone, e.g. that famines have occurred even when the supply of food was not significantly lower than during previous years (without famines), or that faminestricken areas have sometimes exported food.

Sen shows that a profound understanding of famine requires a thorough analysis of how various social and economic factors influence different groups in society and determine their actual opportunities. For example, part of his explanation for the Bangladesh famine of 1974 is that flooding throughout the country that year significantly raised food prices, while work opportunities for agricultural workers declined drastically as one of the crops could not be harvested. Due to these factors, the real incomes of agricultural workers declined so much that this group was disproportionately stricken by starvation.

Later works by Sen (summarized in a book from 1989 with Jean Dr├Ęze) discuss - in a similar spirit - how to prevent famine, or how to limit the effects of famine once it has occurred. Even though a few critics have questioned the validity of some empirical results in Poverty and Famines, the book is undoubtedly a key contribution to development economics. With its emphasis on distributional issues and poverty, the book rhymes well with the common theme in Amartya Sen's research.

posted by JD | 6:52 PM
 

The GM special. In June's Observer Food Monthly

posted by JD | 6:41 PM
 

The massacre of Makassar. This too is from Food: A History. In the 17th century the Dutch and Portuguese were in a trade war to decide which nation would control the distribution of spices from SE Asia to Western Europe. To the SE Asian kingdoms, the European market was too small to be much worth their while; most of their trading was with other Asian nations, particularly China.

That didn't matter to the Dutch, who decided to defeat the Portuguese not just directly but indirectly - that is, by destroying the sources of their spice, including Makassar. "Do you believe," the sultan of Makassar asked the Dutch, "that God has reserved for your trade alone islands which lie so distant from your homeland?"

I think we can guess the answer to that. Using the most heavily gunned fleet in the history of the Indian Ocean, the Dutch decimated Makassar, completely destroying its spice trade - most of which, of course, wasn't even with the West.

Is this story in any way analogous with the rigged agricultural policies of modern times, in which African nations are kept in utmost deprivation so that European and American politicians can funnel huge guaranteed profits into the pockets of agribusiness CEOs?

posted by JD | 6:35 PM
 

Food:A History is an easy, mostly pleasant read, despite the obvious arrogance of its author, Felipe Fernandez-Arnesto. Here are a few factoids:

  • The author says that in medieval times lard was the defining ingredient of Christian cookery, precisely because Muslims and Jews were forbidden to eat it. I've heard that the reason the Spanish are so pork mad is because eating pork was once a way of showing disaffection with their Muslim rulers. If that's the case, thank god for the Moorish invasion. Few things in life are as pleasant as being in a bar from whose ceiling hangs dozens of gorgeous hams.
  • He F-A writes that "the idea that the demand for spices was the result of the need to disguise tainted meat and fish is one of the great myths of the history of food." It's an offshoot, he says, of the chauvanistic assumption that because we've progressed in some ways we have progressed in all. In fact, he writes, "it is more likely that fresh foods in the Middle Ages were fresher than today, because locally produced, and that preseved foods were just as well preseverd in their different ways - by salting, pickling, dessicating and conserving - as ours are in the age of canning, refrigeration and freeze-drying..."

    posted by JD | 6:24 PM
     

    Micky D's asks suppliers to use fewer antibiotics. I'll count this as some damn good news. Some organisations, such as the inaptly named Animal Health Insitute (it represents the makers of drugs for animals), are complaining that this a decision based not on science but on market research. Their biased claims of what is good science aside, all hail marketing decisions - at least in this case.

    McDonald's buys 2.5 billion pounds of meat, chicken and pork a year. By demanding that less antibiotics go into its food, it's doing more than any other company can when it comes to reshaping how food is produced. Very good news indeed.

    But what is prompting this conversion? Are pressure groups such as Environmental Defense really having this much impact? I don't remember reading about any public clamor for this sort of semi-sanity.

    posted by JD | 6:13 PM
     

    Lie of the bland continued. Supermarkets are considered the prime culprit in the homogenisation of rural England and the collapse of its town centres. On the other hand, supermarkets have helped make food much more affordable. I've read that in the late 1950s or so the average household spent something like 30% of its monthly income on food. That figure is much lower now - I've seen a figure as low as 10%. Not sure what the true numbers are though.

    How do we save town centres and local shops while keeping food costs low? What do they do in Europe? Does the lack of a Rip Off Britian pricing system enable people to buy locally without spending exorbitantly? How do I find out?

    posted by JD | 4:05 PM
     

    Where to get the CPRE report:
    Lie of the Land is at CPRE, 128 Southwark St SE1

    posted by JD | 4:01 PM
     

    The lie of the bland. A report published by the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) claims that the English countryside is being homogenised and that tows and villages are losing their unique identities. The report (or at least the Guardian article about the report) largely blames national chains, particularly supermarkets, for driving mom & pop shops out of business and physically reshpaing towns by moving their economic hearts out of the centres. "Year by year," the report states, "England is becoming less varied and more and more the same. High streets are almost indistinguishable from one another."

    What effect does this sort of homogenisation have on us? What does it mean when them most popular pub in every small town is a Wetherspoon's? Some would argue that it means Whetherspoon's knows how to give people what they want, but that argument doesn't take into account the ability of large corporations to win people over through economy of scale. And once we are won over, what effect does it have on us to lose local character, to lose what makes one town or village different from the next? I can't help but feel that we lose far more than we know. But then I'm sure that some will argue that this is an elitist position taken by those who see small towns as tourist destinations when Guardian readers like me need a break from London. I disagree with this line of argument (though some do-gooder lefty townies are ceratinly guilty of this crime), but want to learn more so I can debate more intelligently.

    I'm reminded of the Wal-martisation of America and the decimating effect it's had on small towns. People can now afford more stuff, but because they do their shopping at Wal-Mart instead of at the local shops, everyone ends up working at Wal-Mart, with cruddy benefits (I suspect) and no sense of being anything more than a cog in a great machine.

    Local shops are essential to our well-being, I think, and this is, ironically, one of the reasons I prefer the city to rural areas. Unlike towns and villages, cities have dense enough populations to support local shops, even when superstores do move in to the area. Amazingly, it's in the cities, not the villages, that we find local butchers and bakers. (Not a lot of candlestick makers, though, it seems.)

    posted by JD | 4:00 PM
     

    Nickel and dimed. Just finished Barbara Ehrenreich's first-person account of her efforts to survive at the bottom end of the wage school. Doesn't tell me much I didn't have a pretty strong idea of before, but it's very well written and does ask the essential question: How can we justify a wage structure that makes it inevitable that people who work full-time at necessary jobs can't get by from week to week in even the most basic sense?

    I've heard it's different in the Scandinavian nations - that so-called low skill workers are paid a living wage. Is that true? If so, what are the drawbacks of emulating these societies, besides the obvious fact that Americans especially are loathe to pay more taxes - even if it means that we'll have less crime and safer societies?

    posted by JD | 3:43 PM
     

    GM yes or no? Here's a fairly interesting argument on whether GM good thing or GM bad thing. Tempers flare a bit, and hopefully I make some sense. Or maybe I'm just a crackpot.

    posted by JD | 3:35 PM


    Friday, June 20, 2003  

    Talks Collapse on U.S. Efforts to Open Europe to Biotech Food, reports the NYT, and the US says it's gonna tell the WTO and demand a spanking .

    Here's the quote that gets my goat: 'The European Union "denies choices to European consumers," Richard Mills, a spokesman for the United States trade representative, Robert Zoellick, said in a statement today.'

    When GM food comes in, we'll lose almost all the choice we have, just like when Wal-Mart moves into small towns.

    Please, in this instance, let common sense and quality of life triumph over the free market.


    posted by JD | 12:43 PM


    Thursday, June 19, 2003  

    Too busy, too long. And a bit of a post-book depression as I get back into more prosaic tasks. Website schmebsite - give me books.

    And what's out there in blogistan to lure me back in? I don't know, really. it's an odd thing living outside your country yet having grown up in it. I find that American politics are gripping - especially when it's America v. The World, as it has been lately, but I just can't get as excited by the doings here in my new home. When does the curve begin to slope downward? I don't know, but right now past experiences certainly exert a stronger pull than present activities. Of course, it's very easy to feel that pull from the US, probably in its own way easier than with any other country. America's gravity is immense, and every time it sneezes the snot flies all over the world.

    Lately it seems like hayfever season.

    posted by JD | 4:48 PM


    Monday, June 16, 2003  

    I don't like Mondays. Or at least I didn't until I arrived home tonight after a ghastly day doing technical crap in the office, and found that Flatmate Neil was grilling prawns, sardines(!), steak, chicken and venison sausages. Not to mention sweetp potatoes.

    Sweet jeebus! Between the three of us we've downed several beers, a bottle of rose cava and a bottle of champagne. Now My Amazingly Drunk Flatmates have just raced to the store for more booze. They've brought back something called Lambrini, which tastes like a palative mixture of champagne and baby sick. A Monday tradition is born!

    Hic.

    posted by JD | 10:04 PM


    Sunday, June 08, 2003  

    Damn that was a busy two weeks. I've just finished editing and subbing a book on eating disorders. (This has nothing to do with my recent fascination for food articles, by the way.) One of the girls quoted at length in the book had reached a stage of bulimia where her vomiting became spontaneous; she says she was throwing up as many as 60 times a day. Can that be possible?

    In other news, while browsing through that big skanky Dalston Oxfam's bookshelves yesterday, I found a hardback copy of Prayer for Owen Meaney - for 59p! Is this my favourite novel of all time?

    Walking through Nunhead cemetery later in the day, I sat down on a large gravestone and re-read the final chapter, in which the truth of Owen's premonitions becomes clear. I cried like a big baby.

    But then I do the same every time I re-read the Bigwig's Last Stand chapter in Watership Down.

    posted by JD | 10:43 AM
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