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Federalism Sucks

Posted by LizardBreath
on 02.28.09

Or so says Matt Yglesias, pointing out that if you want to find really egregious examples of industry capture of regulation, you look at the state level.

I honestly can't see an argument in favor of devolving anything to the states, or treating them as more than administrative regions, other than the maddening one that the Constitution obliges us to, for historical reasons that haven't made any sense since the middle of the nineteenth century. (We should have had a real constitutional convention in the late 1860s. Hell, we should have one now. Rewrite the damn thing, so we know what it means, and trash all of the baroque precedent hanging off it. And get rid of the states.) There's an argument for devolving power to localities who know better how to handle local problems, but states are too big to be localities; the state government of New York isn't going to sensitively handle the issues Brooklyn and Elmira are dealing with out of local knowledge of both. They're too big for genuine grassroots citizen movements to be able to easily influence, but small enough for corporations to buy pretty cheaply.

States. Feh. Who needs them?


 

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"Healthier" School Lunches Aren't Actually Healthier If They Taste Disgusting

Posted by LizardBreath
on 02.28.09

A little over a week ago (Unfogged! Your source for breaking news!), Alice Waters had an op-ed in the Times arguing for a massive revamping of the school lunch program:

Many nutrition experts believe that it is possible to fix the National School Lunch Program by throwing a little more money at it. But without healthy food (and cooks and kitchens to prepare it), increased financing will only create a larger junk-food distribution system. We need to scrap the current system and start from scratch. Washington needs to give schools enough money to cook and serve unprocessed foods that are produced without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. When possible, these foods should be locally grown.

How much would it cost to feed 30 million American schoolchildren a wholesome meal? It could be done for about $5 per child, or roughly $27 billion a year, plus a one-time investment in real kitchens. Yes, that sounds expensive. But a healthy school lunch program would bring long-term savings and benefits in the areas of hunger, children's health and dietary habits, food safety (contaminated peanuts have recently found their way into school lunches), environmental preservation and energy conservation.

And the young Turks of the Washington policy establishment have been kicking the op-ed back and forth at the Internet Food Association: here; here; here; and here.

I want to take issue with the second IFA post linked above, in which Tom Lee argues against making the pretentious the enemy of the good:

From reading the linked article, it's clear that Waters is envisioning menus that are healthier, that rely more on on-site production and fresh ingredients, and which she and her supporters find more personally compelling. That's all fine, but I'd say that only the first of those should be an actual policy goal. Adding "and kids will eat it" is probably worth doing, too.

There's really no good reason to dismiss frozen foods or centralized production. I understand that Waters isn't a fan of those things; that's understandable given her credentials and background. But the goal here is to wind up with healthier kids, not to train itty bitty aesthetes. I like eating sophisticated food, too, but it's a luxury good -- and one that would be wasted on most kids, anyway. There's simply no compelling case for favoring a casserole or soup produced on-site in a school over a frozen one if they're both using the same recipe and same quality of ingredients. Yes, factory-produced food is frequently unhealthy. But the the idea that there's some inherent health disadvantage to food produced through economies of scale is just a lazy heuristic.

What Tom's missing here is that there are good reasons why mass-produced food tends to be so unhealthy: mass-produced fatty, sugary, starchy food can be delicious (mmm, Oreos. Mmm, french fries.) Mass-produced healthy food is very likely, on the other hand, to taste like ass. (Grayish-green limp green beans, anyone?) McDonalds isn't pushing high-fat crap out of spite, they don't actually want their customers dead -- they'd be feeding us delicious, healthy, vegetable dishes and making the same amount of money if it were possible to mass-produce a delicious, healthy vegetable dish. But it's not.

Wanting school lunches to be produced onsite from fresh ingredients isn't pointless pretension or wanting to train "itty-bitty aesthetes", it's a necessary step if you're going to make school lunches healthier while still making them appealing enough not to put the kids off the whole concept of eating vegetables. (Admittedly, Alice Waters is somewhat overboard in the op-ed. Holding out for organic ingredients is environmentally nice, but hasn't got much to do with the quality of the food as an end product.)

Food isn't an aesthetic experience for the pretentious few and simple fuel for ordinary folk. It's an aesthetic experience for everyone: people won't consistently eat food they don't enjoy. (An underdiscussed possible explanation for the correlation between poverty and obesity is that eating is a pleasure, and poor people are likely to have fewer competing pleasures to indulge themselves with.) If we want to use the school lunch program to help schoolchildren develop healthier eating habits, the food has to be healthy, but it has to be a pleasure to eat. Mass-produced vats of vegetable slop aren't going to cut it.


 

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How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing

Posted by Ben
on 02.27.09

It is a certainty and not to be doubted that the profusion of communication options in recent days carries with it a responsibility of choice that increases polynomially with each new method, for any method m carries with it a penumbra, if you will, of meaning related to all the other methods that could have been, but were not, chosen, shading off into insignificance, indeed, as those methods become obviously inadequate or ill-suited even as they remain available and, technically, live, as when it is not thought to be significant that one receives a short email as opposed to a fax when nothing that needed to be made similar was sent (though it would be remarkable were the situation reversed), but as, however, the functionality offered by two methods nears identity, there is all the more perceivable significance in the choice of one rather than the other, as for example is the case regarding email and messaging on facebook; nothing much is doable by the latter method that is not doable by the former, and for the vast majority of messages of a strictly personal, attachment-free nature the choice is indifferent, but the compartmentalization effected simply by having two different systems, one of which is attached to a website with a single if broadly-defined purpose, while the other floats free as a completely general means, is itself a component of any message that could have been sent in both ways.

And that brings me to my present topic, American Telephone and Telegraph. The technology megacorp has taken to sending me a little newsletter, a little something for the élite, you understand, in which are detailed certain "tips" as well as certain "trends", and in the most recent of these (don't let on that I link to it, for they like to keep it under wraps), the overlords of speech at a distance informs me, under the general rubric (designed to put off all but the most iron-stomached) "itsa d8", that "texting is changing how we communicate --and flirt--with our significant others". This is indeed a method of interaction in which the stakes are low, texts being offdashable and aboutforgettable quickly, a fact the behemoth in our airwaves seeks to demonstrate by inviting us to "[t]ake the shy guy who might not be comfortable saying, "That was an amazing kiss last night." Texting makes it easier.". Unfortunately the analysis here is not quite to the point (as again it isn't when we are informed that "[f]or those who've just started dating, text messages are a seductive way to flirt."): it almost reads as if the piece is an advertisement for texting and not an investigation into the ways we interact with and inform each other. For of course the ease with which the thing is done corrodes all sorts of other informations quite dependent on how it is done and therefore, possibly, on the difficulty thereof. The example in the following paragraph is notable not for the ease with which it was accomplished but for the wit in the accomplishing, and that is something difficult.

But these are not the only inadequacies of the telecom's report. For anyone who says, first, that flirtation is (and implies, is to be) carried out in some medium, and then cautions that "it's important to send texts to your significant other that can't be easily misinterpreted", is surely missing something important about the whole genre.


 

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If lager were a Spanish verb, the first-person present tense would be lago (meaning [among other things]* "lake"), and I would love a lake of lager, for a brief while anyway.

Posted by Stanley
on 02.26.09

I've been on a tear about lagers. But there are so few!

We have a couple of specialty beer shops here in town, and it's ale after ale, all the way down, leaving me buying Moosehead and Carlsberg and, shit, Dos Equis' green-bottle lager? Not that bad!

But I want choices. And recommendations. And this Hacker-Pschorr Munich Gold lager ain't half bad. But Victory's Lager sucked.

I suspect a big part of it is, I don't really get what I'm looking for in a lager. I lack the vocabulary. But I really like some of them.

*added because ben's a little bi just being ben.


 

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Brooklyn reduced to barter economy

Posted by Ben
on 02.26.09

I was prepared to be disgusted by this article, but actually I find it endearing, even (as Negativland once said of Christianity) thought-provoking. New plan: move to Brooklyn and sell jam. IYKWIM.

In addition to relying on barter, Brooklyn has apparently come to resemble underemployment-ravaged Greece in its restaurant customs: You want to peek in the kitchen in the back, as opposed to being served in the front.

But really I have no desire to mock people who apprentice themselves to butchers or learn to make knives in Georgia.


 

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Much like the secondary characters in the original sketch.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.26.09

I really like our dean. His office is just down the hall from me, and we both get a kick out of absurdly silly banter. But I'll be goddamned if I'm going to play along with his stupid Rob Schneider inspired "Heebs...The Heebster...Makin' copies..." revival. Dude, you've been trying to draw me in for weeks. Give it up.


 

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Below Fan Fic, Above Furries

Posted by Becks
on 02.25.09

I've done some stupid things on the internet but there's a whole subculture of people devoted to remixing episodes of CSI: New York into montages set to Good Charlotte songs?


 

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Ask The Mineshaft - Find a Therapist Edition

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.25.09

An anonymous reader asks:

Dear Mineshaft,

I need a therapist, but I'm not sure how to go about finding one. I
need someone to help me with both short-term anxiety/stress/panic
attack issues and longer-term family conflicts, so I'm looking for
someone who is experienced with both cognitive behavioral therapy and
a more talk-oriented approach. I know plenty of people who see
therapists, but none of them have offices near my home/work.
Insurance isn't a factor; I'm able and willing to pay out of pocket
for someone good.

Sincerely,
Halfway To The Nuthouse

I'll try my hand at an answer first, since at least I'm opinionated. My answer is after the jump.

Dear Halfway: I'm assuming it's a priority for you to find someone near your home/work, since otherwise you've got recommendations aplenty. And I'm assuming you don't know anyone who can recommend someone near your home/work, since you seem to be well aware of how recommendations work.

So first, get a name or two of a highly recommended therapist who is distant, call them and see if they have any local recommendations for you, who employ the approaches you'd like to use. (I personally think a blend of cognitive behavioral and talk-oriented is excellent.) Good therapists can accurately identify other good therapists, which isn't quite the same as guaranteeing a good vibe with you, but it's a good start.

Ultimately though, I think finding a therapist always boils down to doing the evaluating each one on your own terms, which can definitely be labor intensive. (So even if you end up cold-calling therapists and setting up umpteen blind trial appointments, I think you'll still eventually find someone you work well with.)

I personally believe we are all highly qualified to select a therapist. With a good therapist, you will leave your session feeling like...well, like they are very competent. That they were able to discern the subtleties of what you are saying, and they are sympathetic but don't seem to drown you in sympathy. On the first visit, they may not yet get a chance to ask questions that challenge you, but you'll know if there's enough of a vibe to give them a second chance. And if you don't love them after two or three sessions, find someone else. Therapy doesn't work without trust, and so you've got to find someone that you are convinced is highly competent, or you're not going to be able to trust them.

Fantastic therapists are out there; you might just have to fish for a while. (I don't want to minimize how frustrating that would be, to go on blind date after blind date, so to speak. But sometimes that's what the evaluation process looks like when it's working.)

Thoughts from the Mineshaft?


 

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Clap Clap Clap

Posted by Becks
on 02.24.09

So did Obama solve all of our problems in his speech tonight? I didn't have a chance to watch it so I'll just form my opinion based entirely on the Unfogged comments.


 

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Practical poisons

Posted by Ben
on 02.24.09

Everyone knows that metallic sodium is a highly reactive substance and that it's just endless fun to put a decent-sized chunk of it in a beaker and then pour water over it.

It is also common knowledge that if your sinuses are giving you trouble chlorine gas will clear them right out.

This is why it's so remarkable that salt is so boring. However! if the heaven-born and ever-bright LA Times is to be believed, it's possible to jazz that shit up a bit.


 

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Spit it out, Junior.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.23.09

This weekend I interviewed a bunch of high-achieving high school seniors, as part of our in house scholarship award program. Each year I've done this, it's been striking how much more verbal the girls are than the boys. Sometimes talking to the boys is freaking grueling.

These students are not high-achieving by Unfogged standards, but they are by general American standards, so it's safe to presume most of them had a standard set of priviliges growing up. A lot of small, Christian high schools, a lot of parents who are fairly involved in their kids' lives, a lot of suburban San Antonio and small town Texas.

But wow are they instilling a giant verbal gap in their kids. My guess is that the gender indoctrination is on the high end in these kids' lives, and with that comes a lot of silencing the boys while they're growing up, or at least not encouraging speech the way they encourage it with their girls. I'm sure there's a biological component, but I'm inclined to minimize it's contribution.

But I've never raised a kid; I haven't seen these kids being raised; I haven't really seen how kids are raised anywhere else, either. Is it this striking everywhere?


 

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Golden

Posted by Becks
on 02.22.09

Are any of you watching the Oscars? This is some supremely weird and creepy stuff, right?


 

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Yes, Yes, We're All Doomed And Nothing Will Do Any Good

Posted by LizardBreath
on 02.22.09

But Tom Geoghegan, progressive labor lawyer, is still running for Congress from Illinois' Fifth District, and the primary (which in this district is, I understand, pretty much the election) is on March 5, a little over a week from now. There's still time to give him money or make phone calls from home.

If you need to know more about him than you've read here, Kathy G. is your woman; most of the last month or so of her blog is Geoghegan-based.

Not that I have any illusions as to how much good one Congressman is going to do. But I'd love to see this guy win.


 

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And then I felt lame and wrote about it on the internet dot com.

Posted by Stanley
on 02.22.09

I'm pretty sure I got sized up for a mugging last night. After a gig at a hotel in Alexandria, I walked to a convenience store, which turned out to be rather far away (I think the concierge thought I was driving, not walking).

Walking back, I realized I was catching up to two dudes who had given me the stink-eye when I passed them earlier. (I had done the whole head-nod "what's up" thing as we passed. Reaction: stink-eye.)

A block behind them, I switched to the other side of the grass-median-divided six-lane road, figuring, eh, whatever, it's a busy road and well-lit. I'll just keep my distance and keep moving. Plus: who wants to mug what appears to be a large homeless squirrel anyway?

Half a block apart, they cross to my side, and I immediately cross to be opposite them. Except the one dude stays in the grass median. We get even and we're both obviously looking at each other.

Finally, I say "What's up?" and "How's it going?" and somesuch, all pretty assertively and definitely in a yep-I'm-aware-of-your-presence-and-odd-behavior sort of way.

No response. The two meet in the median and drop back. I finally see for the first time that the one dude has a three-foot pipe, and I'm thinking "aw, fuck, man".

And then I caught a cab. Hotel. End of story.

I really wonder about the talking them up thing. I think it stalled whatever was going on. I also wonder if I'm overreacting, since it was a fairly well-trafficked bit of road. The whole thing is just entirely unnerving, and it's bugging me to write about it even now.


 

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