Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Epitome of Sangfroid

This is probably bullshit originally pushed by the royal family and then amplified by the Orthodox Church, but if it's true, what a cool cat he was:

Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, reported witnessing what he called "a fiery ball" while in the company of his grandfather, Tsar Alexander II: "Once my parents were away," recounted the Tsar, "and I was at the all-night vigil with my grandfather in the small church in Alexandria. During the service there was a powerful thunderstorm, streaks of lightning flashed one after the other, and it seemed as if the peals of thunder would shake even the church and the whole world to its foundations. Suddenly it became quite dark, a blast of wind from the open door blew out the flame of the candles which were lit in front of the iconostasis, there was a long clap of thunder, louder than before, and I suddenly saw a fiery ball flying from the window straight towards the head of the Emperor. The ball (it was of lightning) whirled around the floor, then passed the chandelier and flew out through the door into the park. My heart froze, I glanced at my grandfather - his face was completely calm. He crossed himself just as calmly as he had when the fiery ball had flown near us, and I felt that it was unseemly and not courageous to be frightened as I was....After the ball had passed through the whole church, and suddenly gone out through the door, I again looked at my grandfather. A faint smile was on his face, and he nodded his head at me. My panic disappeared, and from that time I had no more fear of storms." [4]

If it were any other Russian royal, I'd be more suspicious, but one only has to read just what it took to assassinate Alexander II to appreciate what a tough old son of a bitch he was.

Well played, Czar. Way to shrug off being buzzed by a foo fighter in the middle of church services.


A reminder to myself to write something some day about the worst writer in the history of TV and movies, Aaron Sorkin.

And I say this without watching a single episode of The West Wing. No, Sorkin earned my opinion with the god-awful Sports Night, perhaps the worst show I've ever seen on network TV.

Ok, I don't mean worse than some early FOX sitcoms or 80's network shoot-em-up dramas, both of which were frequently all kinds of stupid. I mean worse in the sense that critics loved it, worse in the sense that it was marketed as intelligent and witty. Worse in that it was horrible in its ambition; and worse in that it so completely failed to impress on its own terms. Worse in that it was composed of the smarmiest dialogue I'd ever heard in my life -- and I've been around a lot of flaky, "quirky" people whose sole talent is their ability to annoy. Fuck Aaron Sorkin.

MOAR Like This, Plz

The free market demanded deregulation; deregulation caused consolidation; the free market worked as it always does with most producers and almost all consumers getting fucked.

There are always reactions, of course. Here's one:

New breed of hog farmers let pigs run wild

By Georgina Gustin

FRANKENSTEIN, MO. — Hog farmer Russ Kremer stands at the edge of a pen, surveying his pigs as they scamper and snort in the mud.

"They like diversity," he says, pushing a camouflage ballcap off his forehead. "Some of them are down there in the water, some are grazing on the rough ground. Some are pretty cliquish; they remember their litter mates."

Kremer won't go so far as to say they're like children to him, but clearly his animals are more than meat products in the making.

Kremer raises nearly 1,000 pigs on his 160-acre farm in rolling Osage County in central Missouri. These days, though, he is often traveling around the nation, preaching the gospel of natural farming. "I'd rather be in my pen, enjoying my pigs," he says, "but some weeks I'm home just two, three days."

Over the last decade, Kremer has become an evangelist for raising animals outdoors, with fresh air, room to root and run, and without antibiotics. In the process, he has persuaded other farmers to go the same route, helping to create — and feed — a growing appetite for meat raised humanely and largely without drugs. The demand for naturally raised pork has become so steep that Kremer and small-scale farmers like him are sealing sales deals with companies around the country — and large industrial farm operators are taking notice.

While these independent farmers gain a toehold, some industrial farmers also have started to question what, exactly, constitutes a "naturally raised," and "antibiotic-free" pig. Farmers set their own standards — the only government designation that assures an antibiotic free meat is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "organic" label. At the same time, large corporations such as Cargill and Smithfield, have introduced their own antibiotic-free lines to capitalize on the demand.

"Usually these are market-driven programs," said Craig Rowles, a veterinarian and hog farmer from Carroll, Iowa, adding, "Antibiotic-free means different things to different people."

Kremer's transformation began 10 years ago when a boar gored him in the knee, causing it to balloon from infection. After being treated with six courses of different antibiotics, the wound hadn't healed. Kremer and his doctor came up with a hypothesis: his herd had become resistant to antibiotics, and Kremer, in turn, had, too.

"I looked at what was happening with me and with my pigs and I said, 'We have to change this,'" he remembers. "I was having the same problems as the pigs."

He never was able to make a conclusive connection but decided to go drug-free. He cleaned out his herd and started anew, filling his barns with deep straw, fencing in pastures and feeding the pigs an antibiotic-free diet. "Honestly, it's a lot easier to raise pigs this way," he says now. "You don't have to have a syringe in your pocket all day long."


In the 1980s, U.S. pork production moved indoors — into the confined animal feeding operations that now dominate the industry.

One major reason for the shift, hog farmers say, was the growing health concerns over fat in American diets. Farmers starting raising leaner but less-hearty pigs. To have a viable herd, farmers moved them inside into cramped quarters where disease spread faster. They started using more antibiotics routinely, not only to prevent disease, but for faster growth.

Soon critics began accusing the industry of rampant antibiotic overuse , saying these practices led to resistant microbes and growing drug resistance in humans. In 1998, the European Union responded to evidence supporting the link by banning the routine use of human antibiotics in livestock.

The livestock industry also was deregulated as confined feeding was on the rise. "Corporations could get bigger and bigger and bigger, and finally they started to control the marketplace," said Tim Gibbons of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which runs its own 15-member hog farming cooperative in the Columbia, Mo., area.

Independent hog farmers went out of business, or were swallowed up by the large companies such as Cargill or Hormel, who contracted with individual farmers to produce their pork. Under those contracts, production, including the administering of antibiotics, was controlled by the companies.

Small farmers blame such companies for their disappearance. In 1985, there were 22,000 hog farmers in Missouri. Today there are 1,900, according to the Department of Agriculture, and 300 of those produce 90 percent of the state's pork.

Conventional hog farmers counter that confined feeding saved many farming families from financial ruin while putting safe, inexpensive, healthy meat on American tables.

"We put animals inside to keep them clean and healthy," said Don Nikodim, executive director of the Missouri Pork Association, whose membership includes most of the industrial hog farmers in the state.

Some large-scale farmers believe that consumers don't understand the extent of antibiotic use. "I think there's a misconception in the public that antibiotics are used haphazardly, and that really isn't true," Rowles said.

He recently testified at a congressional hearing on behalf of the National Pork Producers Council, urging leaders to vote against legislation limiting the ability of pork producers to use antibiotics. Rowles has an operation that annually brings to market between 140,000 and 150,000 pigs, which are treated with five antibiotics. He pointed out that government mandates withdrawal times for certain antibiotics before the pigs can come to market. "There are standards we have in place to assure the public," he said.


When Kremer made the transition to natural production a decade ago, there was little demand for naturally raised pork. So he launched the Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative to develop a marketing strategy and a label, called Heritage Acres, and started knocking on doors.

At the beginning, store managers couldn't see the value in the "naturally raised" distinction and wondered whether consumers would pay a premium for it. But eventually, as chefs around the country starting seeking out "heritage" pork and activists decried industrial farming practices, consumers started wanting it, too.

Now Denver-based Chipotle supplies some of its 800 restaurants with pork from the co-op, and in St. Louis it's available at Whole Foods and Sappington Farmers' Market, where it generally costs a few dollars more than its conventionally raised counterpart.

"I wanted the best flavor, and that's how it got started," said Andy Ayers, former owner of Riddles Penultimate Cafe & Wine Bar in University City, who started buying Kremer's pork about 10 years ago.

St. Louis-based Volpi Foods began buying pork from the co-op about six months ago for its salami and ham. Lorenza Pasetti, Volpi's president, said about 20 percent of its products are made with the co-op's pork, but the company can't find enough of it.

That kind of demand has prompted the corporate giants to launch their own antibiotic-free pork.

Some critics question, though, whether industrial farm operations can function without antibiotics. And even farmers who ascribe to natural methods, like Kremer, believe that antibiotics should be used to treat disease.

But for Kremer, antibiotics aren't the sole issue. It's the environment that usually accompanies their use. He says his pigs rarely get sick because they develop strong immune systems in a natural environment. And, more important, he believes their lives are respected from farrow to slaughter.

"We're all part of this equitable food system," he said. "When I speak, it comes from the heart."

This farmer's doing the right thing, but it amounts to a drop in the bucket. And the nature of the bucket won't change, thanks to the system of legalized bribery (the "free speech" of free marketers) through which the crappy farmers thwart the regulatory power of democracy. The degree of choice here for the average consumer is just large enough to superficially support the free marketers' Hitlerian lie* that the market is self-correcting. Actually, due to the expense and scarcity of decent pork, the only people who can afford it consistently are -- surprise, surprise -- wealthy free marketers. Thus the system provides in exactly the way they really want it to; they just lie about how, and most importantly, for whom.

*A nice code for the lie so huge, so outlandish, that it paradoxically seems plausible, at least to the congenitally credulous. Additionally, it is the lie so huge that it waylays its victims, just one of which is the truth.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nineteenth Century Pantloads

Ah, the "free market"-worshiping chickenhawk. From Zinn's People's History:

During the Civil War [J.P. Morgan] bought five thousand rifles for $3.50 each from an army arsenal, and sold them to a general in the field for $22 each. The rifles were defective and would shoot off the thumbs of the soldiers using them. A congressional committee noted this in the small print of an obscure report, but a federal judge upheld the deal as the fulfillment of a valid legal contract.

Morgan had escaped military service in the Civil War by paying $300 to a substitute. So did John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Philip Armour, Jay Gould, and James Mellon. Mellon's father had written to him that "a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health. There are plenty of lives less valuable."

Of course these wicked men are modern libertarians' Gods, captains of industry, Randian "achievers" who "generated" (not "accumulated" and never "stole") "wealth;" they made America great before the menace of progressivism, labor unions, and the Pure Food & Drug Act ruined everything. Robber barons? Well, as the typical libertarian/Reason reader David Nieporent wrote, "'robber barons' are a myth created by liberal schoolteachers." So there.

[No doubt digamma will show up to protest, decrying my supposed "strawman." Yet for every digamma in the libertarian fold there are eleventy hundred Nieporents; for every Jim Henley there are eleventy hundred Glenn Reynoldses. Rather as in Catholicism there are eleventy hundred Kathryn Jean Lopezes and William F. Buckleys to every one Dorothy Day or JC in DC.]

Never Would Have Guessed It

Sauron was a fascist, an implementer of the devil's theories:

After joining his new master in Middle-earth, he proved to be a devoted and capable servant: “While Morgoth still stood, Sauron did not seek his own supremacy, but worked and schemed for another, desiring the triumph of Melkor, whom in the beginning he had adored. He thus was often able to achieve things, first conceived by Melkor, which his master did not or could not complete in the furious haste of his malice.”[19] “In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part.”[20]

A sort of Goebbels-Himmler type to Melkor's Hitler. (Wingnuts would say he's Lenin to Melkor's Marx.)

The time would come, however, when Sauron was almost wholly consumed by evil. Tolkien wrote that he did not think there could be such a thing as "Absolute Evil" ("since that is Zero"), but "in my story Sauron represents as near an approach to wholly evil as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants, beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit."[2]

Now this probably sounds like socialism to a wingnut, but to me it sounds like neoliberalism.

Gandalf went for advice to Saruman the White, leader of the White Council, but discovered that Saruman had been corrupted by his long studies of Sauron. Using the palantír in the tower of Orthanc, Saruman was now in communication with the Dark Lord and acted as his ally, though he also secretly hoped to gain the Ring for himself and use its power to supplant Sauron.

I like this; it's an instance of what could be called the "Apt Pupil" syndrome, the corruption of scholars of the historically morbid.

It literally never occurred to Sauron that his enemies were attempting to send the Ring into Mordor to unmake it at Mount Doom. Rather he took it completely for granted that they would try to access and use its power. Sauron regarded all his opponents, even up to Manwë Lord of the Valar, simply as rivals for world dominion and just as cynical as himself: “His cynicism, which (sincerely) regarded the motives of Manwë as precisely the same as his own, seemed fully justified in Saruman. Gandalf he did not understand."[54] Exploiting this blindspot in Sauron's psychology had been Gandalf's strategy all along: "Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse [power], that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning."[55]

Cynicism. This is no doubt true of all who abuse power -- not only of their own nature, but true with regard to how dimly they perceive the actual motives of decent people. Self-abdication always perplexes the power-mad; sometimes they are so thrilled with bewilderment that they fetishize the abdicator, witness the leaders of Rome, the Italian Republic, and Anglo-America in the respective cases of Cincinnatus, Garibaldi, and Edward VIII*. Proof, to me, is in the examples of the Founders: both Washington and Jefferson considered chasing power an unseemly endeavor. Both were embarassed by it. Yet both, at the same time, did exactly that -- often, behind the scenes, in a most rabid and ruthless way. Typically American in their hypocrisy, they knew better than to do what they did. They did it anyway, all the while denying it.

*In the Duke of Windsor's case, ignorantly.

He's To Stab You In The Front, Suckers

But, of course, to the extent that you see or feel the stab at all, you'll think it's in your back. Because, frankly, you're a bunch of idiots: the man has made himself plain. So many times you were told that Obama is and will be a centristy, Clintonoid neoliberal. So many times you were outraged at the suggestion, and then stupidly pointed to Obama's identity as "proof" of his leftism/radicalism.

'But he's black!' you'd splutter, as if that fact coupled with his electoral win meant social democracy was on the march.

Actually, minorities can do the dirty work of the typically white Wealthy Criminal Class just as well as those who resemble the class's original membership. Witness the stockpiling of hacks, villagers, and pseudo-liberals in Obama's cabinet:

In Cabinet, Obama goes for experience, pragmatism

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama has wholeheartedly embraced experience in choosing his Cabinet. That may seem at odds with the president-elect's campaign theme of "change we can believe in."


More so than his recent predecessors, he has drawn heavily from the Senate for top advisers. His choices for secretary of state (Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York), interior secretary (Ken Salazar of Colorado) and vice president (Joe Biden of Delaware) were fellow senators. Tom Daschle, named health secretary, was the Senate Democratic leader from South Dakota until he lost his seat in 2004.

From the House, Obama has plucked Reps. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois as his chief of staff, Hilda Solis of California for labor secretary and just-retired Republican Ray LaHood of Illinois for transportation secretary.


Obama also came down on the side of experience in filling other Cabinet posts. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is a holdover from President George W. Bush's administration and a former CIA director under Bush's father. Attorney General-designee Eric Holder was deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton.

Oh but never mind all that; everything's okay! Because it's a multiculturally conservative cabinet:

By most counts, Obama has fulfilled his promise to have the most diverse Cabinet in history. Of his nominees for jobs generally considered "Cabinet level," fewer than half are white men.

Three are Latino (Richardson, Salazar and Solis). Four are black (Kirk, Holder, U.N. Ambassador nominee Susan Rice and Environmental Protection Agency pick Lisa Jackson). Two are Asian-American (Chu and Eric K. Shinseki, Obama's pick for veterans affairs secretary).

But Obama fell short, Baker said, in picking full-throated Republicans for his Cabinet. Gates, staying on as defense secretary, has not confirmed that he is a Republican, and LaHood often annoyed GOP leaders by refusing to walk the party line on key issues.

All in all, however, Obama has put in place a diverse team in which almost no one appears to have been chosen mainly to fill a gender or ethnic slot, said Norm Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute.

"To be able to get that mix of Hispanics and African-Americans and Asians and women is really impressive," he said.

The overall team, Ornstein said, "is a collection of very strong individuals and people known for their pragmatism."

It may not please liberal activists who want sweeping change in Washington, he said, but it reflects a pragmatic new president facing some of the toughest challenges in modern times.

One day perhaps the special interest/identity politics uber alles wing of liberalism will finally understand that it's not what/who one is but how one thinks and what one believes that truly matters. But then that's just common sense -- it's also very, very socialist.