Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Joe Lieberman Forgets That We Can Look Stuff Up

Joe Lieberman, like the Republicans he likes to emulate, thinks no one will go back and see if he ever said the opposite of what he's saying now. Perhaps he's changed his mind, or perhaps, like the wingnuts, he's just a brazen hypocrite. Whichever. History is what it is....

Joe, back in 04, when he was running for President:
"And one of the things we will do when we're one nation is to end the moral outrage of 44 million people without health insurance in the richest country in the world, nine million children whose parents can't take them to the doctor when they get sick 'cause they can't pay the bill. I'm gonna do that, and also help the millions who have insurance that can't pay it, by creating national health insurance pools like the ones members of Congress get our insurance from."
Joe, your current tirade is the kind of errant nonsense up with which I will not put.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grass-fed Meats slow Global Warming

There was a lot of noise on the blogs recently about the contribution that livestock makes to global warming. I always pipe in with a never-acknowledged comment that they're talking about feed-lot livestock, penned up by the thousands in too-small a space, being fed corn, which, in the case of cattle, they are not meant to eat. This is where the methane, a particularly insidious greenhouse gas, is developed in quantities worthy of concern.

Does this mean you should stop eating meat? Well, no. Being a vegetarian is, undoubtedly, much better for the planet than being a meat eater. But grass-fed meat is solar powered, raised on land where it would be hard to grow grain or anything else humans could eat. So, you belligerent meat eaters can have your beef jerky and eat it too. Just make it grass-fed. And eat less of it.

Take Nectar Hills Farm, which is near Cooperstown New York. The rolling hills of this farm aren't well suited for any other kind of agriculture. It's grass land, where the cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, and emus graze in open pastures eating grass (or bugs). Since beef is the big deal in global warming terms, lets compare these naturally low-fat and cold-tolerant highlanders to, say, a steer in a Kansas City feed lot.

Dave Dutton and Sonia Sola are the owners and farmers at Nectar Hills Farm. They love their animals, a small herd of about 35. The cattle roam the pastures of their farm, eating grass, which, because they're ruminants, is what they have evolved to eat. The steer in KC is stuck in a feed lot with so many other animals that he can barely turn around. He is fed corn, which makes him sick, so he has to be given lots of drugs to keep him alive long enough to get to market weight. Because he eats corn, which makes his stomach acidic, he farts a whole lot more methane that one of the Nectar Hills Farm cows. The KC steer is knee deep in manure. The Nectar Hills steer spreads his manure around the pasture, where it fertilizes the grass he will eat later. The KC steer's manure is, along with the manure from thousands of others, poisoning the over-loaded local watershed.

There are many other reasons to eat grass-fed meat. For me, the environmental reasons are the most important. What I do to me affects me, but what I do to the world affects everyone. Environmentalists should be aware of alternatives to industrial agriculture, including alternative livestock operations, that do not contribute to the problem of global warming in the same way that large, industrial feed-lots do.

This isn't a new topic. Michael Pollan talks about grass-fed meat all the time. In the documentary King Corn, you get to see a cow with a big hole in it's side that's being treated for problems related to being fed corn. Many restaurants and health food stores are carrying grass fed meats (see the Nectar Hills Farm links page for a list of places you can purchase their meat, including the Borough Hall Brooklyn Farmer's Market in New York City). So, the solution is out there. If you ask for it, you'll be able to get it. And, you'll make a big difference without becoming a vegetarian. Not that there's anything wrong with being a vegetarian.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Income Caps for Robber Barons?

Here's a comment I just left at my friend Mort Mather's Happy Blog, where he has a post advocating regulating income with caps.

I'm with you on the populist furor, but I direct my ire a little higher up, and have different ideas on how to deal with it.

First of all, I don't support a cap. At least I don't think I do. It's interesting to think about. I doubt it would ever happen in this country.

Second, back when those 90% rates were in effect, there were tons of loopholes. The rich never paid that much.

Third, What percent of the owner's income should the players get? Of course, this race to pay the players the most (see Moneyball), raises ticket prices, etc, making baseball a game for rich people only if you actually want to go to the park. But the players are the draw, and it's certainly unfair to pay them like chumps when the owners are raking in many multiples more...

But, yeah, I agree that this is just obscene. Look at this post from the Flowing Data site today. Sickening.

The Bush tax cuts, especially happening in a time of war, were grossly obscene, and cost about what health care would cost. We should start by repealing them early, rather than letting them expire in a few years.

Then, we should raise taxes on the top 5% or so, just to make up for all the loot these robber barons have sucked up out of the system. Conservatives always say it will trickle down and stimulate, but, once again, we see it does the opposite. So, we can shake it loose with higher taxes on the rich, or encourage investment in a green economy through incentives like tax credits.

Funny how I woke up thinking along this line, then found the Flowing Data post, and then found your post... Great minds think alike.
 Now that I've thought about this a little, I would like to point out that a lot of these obscene salaries and bonuses are being paid with taxpayer money. You don't have to read Matt Taibbi to know that there's some really rotten stuff going on on Wall Street. These people are holding our economy hostage, and can obviously do some serious damage if we don't give them what they want.

The way things are going, it's obvious there's going to be some kind of show down. Will we return to the populist days of FDR, where shared sacrifice and massive government involvement put people to work on common projects that help us all? Or will we continue to cower, to vote against our interests (I'm looking at you Republican voters), and to let the richest dictate to our leaders what we can and cannot do? Is this a democracy, or a corporatocracy?

I saw a poll yesterday that almost half the white people in America think Fox News is a legitimate source of news. My first thought on that is what a damn good thing white people will be the minority soon. My second thought was, yeah, but not soon enough. The more I look at this mess, the more I realize it's broken. It's going to take an FDR to fix this crap sandwich all you Republican voters kept spreading mayonnaise on, and I don't know if we have any FDR's around these days.

But thanks for the mind candy, Mort.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Food Centric

Seems my life has evolved around food. Not sure why, really. My family wasn't all that big on food. My Dad liked to make his specialty things, like award winning chili. But there weren't any restaurant workers in my family, until I got my first job as a dishwasher at Le Mirabelle, a French restaurant in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where I grew up. I managed to work my way up to salad chef, and did the deserts for a while.

Then I worked at Mikes, a beer joint on the south side of the tracks, where I cooked hamburgers and served beer in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I went to college. That was an experience worth forgetting. So, I got out of the food service life, until I met my wife, who was a cook in Hawaii before she started slinging beers at the 326 Bar in the Farmer's Market in LA, next door to CBS Television City, where I was working as a stagehand.

The rest is history.

Our vacations to New York and points east were always based around food, not the least of which was always a few days at the house or Robin's cousins, Cathy and Eric, owners and operators of Woodstock Moveable Feast, a Hudson Valley catering company. Staying at their house was always a culinary adventure! The picture above is from their website.

When I became disabled and couldn't work as a stagehand anymore, we moved back east to be near Robin's family here in Cherry Valley, where our brother-in-law, Clem, runs The Rose and Kettle, a gourmet restaurant near Cooperstown, and he has a delicious food blog. He met his wife, Dana Spiotta, when they both worked at the Giorgio's of Gramercy, a great place to eat in New York City.

Once we moved up here, we started looking for business projects. Since farming and ranching is so big up here, we thought we'd team up with a local grass-fed beef outfit to make Robin's gourmet beef jerky. Robin met Sonia, who along with her partner Dave, run Nectar Hills Farm, which grows grass fed and pasture raised meats, including the naturally low-fat Highlander Cattle (they have less fat because they have hair, as you can see in this picture), the top round from which we make into naturally healthy and delicious gourmet grass-fed beef jerky.

My friend Mort Mather, who lives (happily) up in Maine, and I converse regularly about organic gardening, which he does for his son's southern Maine restaurant. He and I go way back to the early days of the internet when I published his organic gardening articles at my organic gardening web site (which was one of the world's first).

I've started gardening again (albeit lazily due to my physical limitations) and it seems my food friends will never let me fade away from the culinary life: My Los Angeles caterer client, Emma, now has a LA Catering blog. Even my Maui bed and breakfast client often writes about the delicious tropical fruit she grows in her garden.

Oh, and then there's the organic Kona coffee farm that I used to do the web site for, back when Dr. Faust ran it. He sold it to Mike, who now, because times are tough, pays me with the best coffee on earth, because he's not making enough money to pay me with cash. And that's fine, because, well, it's organic Kona coffee!

So, somewhere out there someone's going to be reading this, and they'll think, hey, this guy's all about food! Let's contact him! Since we gave up eating pork almost two years ago now (for ethical and environmental reasons), and we try to eat only grass-fed meat, and we grow a lot of our own food, and we try to stay away from fast food, and we are the very definition of a slow food family, I just hope that person is Michael Pollan.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Wrote it on the Calendar: F'ing Snow!

That's right. We couldn't afford a calendar for this year, so I print a new month from the free printable calender site. New month comes along, as they tend to do like trucks engine breaking down the slope approaching the big hill near here, and we recycle the old one. So, yeah, we'll only see the words "F'ing Snow" written on the 16th of this month for two more weeks. And then, of course, it will be November, and there will be snow on the north edges of the house that will stay there till March, and October 16 will slowly get forgotten, like all the 110 degree days back in the California desert are just reports we here from our daughter occasionally.

But there it was this morning, a little spotty dusting of snow, kind of pitiful by upstate standards (less by weight than GW Bush's lifetime blow total), keeping the radicchio nice and cool until the sun could come up and thaw all the greens out enough to keep them alive for another day. Gardening in this big walk-in fridge of a summer has been challenging (see the last few posts at the Organic Gardening Blog). But, hey, it's something to do... Saves a few bucks, tastes better than the store's crap, and gives me something to think about besides the lack of TV, the constant calls from bill collectors, and the pain.

All the latest evidence suggests that we're nearing the end of our experiment in poverty, stress, and depression. Well, at least poverty. Thanks to Obama, there are new administrative law judges being hired, and my Social Security Disability appeal hearing happens around Thanksgiving, a full year earlier than we would have expected under a President McCain. Ask any SSD lawyer what one of the biggest differences is between R's and D's, and there's your answer. R's don't give a shit about people who are hurt and disabled. Let them eat what they can grow.

So, with that hearing coming soon, and the lawsuit back in Cali winding it's way to some inevitable ending that has been pre-diminished by Governor Arnold's shiny new corporate sponsored worker's decompensation laws, there is actually a chance that we could get some back money to stop these damn calls, and enough monthly to put us solidly back in the lower middle class, where like the scattered white trash of snowy spots this morning that melt as fast as the sun can find them.

Of course, there's still a few months to go before that triumphant return, and there's still the possibility of another welfare Christmas, but there's hope. Which leads me to the two endings I can't avoid here. One is a joke from the bonus features on the last disc of the Dr. Katz series that we just watched from Netflix (our equivilant of TV now): Dr. Katz's bar friend Stan tells Julie the bartender this joke:
I don't eat free-range chicken; I can taste the hope.
And then there's the welfare Christmas bit, which is from Everclear.

New life. Yeah.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The First Step of Peace is to Deny the Gods of War

"Recognizing the severity of John McCain's issues with violence and its appropriate use, the Nobel Committee awarded Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize primarily just for beating him. [...snip...] You award accomplishments. And Obama's main accomplishment in the area of peace is that he denied the Gods of War their choice of president." - BooMan

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Worker's Decompensation Countdown

Decompensation is the functional deterioration of a previously working structure or system.--Wikipedia

The countdown had been ticking for nine out of ten days while I was double bagging two week old garbage in the garage. For the last six months we'd been paring down to the minimum—paying only the bills for things we really needed. The garbage collection was the latest to go to a collection agency. Luckily, the collectors for the bills we stopped paying first, like cell phones and credit cards, didn't call as often anymore, so the slew of new calls was alleviated by the lack of old ones. No matter; soon there wouldn't be a phone to ring.

The countdown ended this morning when I got an email from my lawyer telling me they have a preliminary hearing in my worker's compensation (or lack thereof) case in a month. The 10 day countdown, which began on the day that the agreed medical examiner was deposed and stuck to his report that I, indeed, was seriously messed up from being a stagehand for 20 years, was over. There would be no money in time.

Now a different kind of countdown starts... This one is the inevitable intertwining of dwindling input (and its incipient shrinking of output) with the self-devouring depression/pain cycle—eventually, the snake digests enough of itself that the cycle is broken. The swallowing ends.

My little business, which occasionally makes enough to extend the fast approaching horizon a few miles, has been feeding on its future for a while now, with me promising future work for bigger payments now: I've actually milked the future dry.

What kept the whole seizing engine sputtering along was the hope of a massive overhaul right down the road. The hope that the insurance company would rather part now with the money everyone agrees will be mine eventually, or later, at a 10% penalty I would gladly give up now for that much in advance.

Insurance companies are giant computer programs, with lawyers and claims adjusters all robotically rolling down the longest, most arduous path, at an agonizingly slow pace, like a tractor on a busy highway, following the dotted yellow line of the actuarial odds, blindly aware of the one thing they have that the worker doesn't: time. The slower they can go, the longer they hold on to the money, and the more desperate the decompensating worker becomes.

I expect another insult offer any day now. I tore myself up for 20 years, cannot work in my profession again, and suffer agonizing pain daily, all for an original offer that would make my nut for three months? Now they'll offer five times that, and it will still be an insult, considering that they owe me twice that, plus the weekly starting now until the case is over. And then, if we make it that far, there will be a settlement.

It's a lot of money to me. To an insurance company, it's what the CEO spends on one private jet trip.

Now the cycle has dwindled, like the alien signal hidden in the satellite system in Independence Day, to nearly nothing. I'm like Jeff Goldbloom's character: I figured out what it means, but I'm powerless to stop it. Time is almost up.

The outputs are shrinking faster with each incrementally smaller input. Soon, I'll be down to a c-note borrowed from someone who needs it to pay their rent, and that will be the last money borrowed. We'll miss some deadlines and the phone, then the internet will be shut off, and that will be the end of the little nuggets from working. Then the rent will be missed, and, because we've been late before, the threatened eviction process will begin. And it will be cold. We'll be burning wood because the propane will be gone. And we'll be cleaning our stuff out of the car as the repo man watches, telling us how much he hates his job. And then our stuff will be hauled away by agents of the eviction authorities, since we can't afford to do it ourselves. And then we'll be homeless.

When we got here and originally applied for the food stamps we're getting, we applied for a Section 8 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That was a year ago, when we were told the waiting list was 6 months. Then it was nine. Then it was a year. Now, the program's been frozen. Too much demand. No new section 8's, even for those who applied a year ago, at the “beginning” of this recession.

We've managed to get by with just the food stamps and Medicaid, staying off the assistance by borrowing, but at some point I'll have to go apply for that, and explain why I can't work, and watch my wife drive off to some minimum wage job to make enough to cover the gas to get there, thereby qualifying for cash benefits: what a subsidy to the minimum wage industries that hire the welfare workers! And at that point I'll know that what I've suspected all along is true. The deep sickening massive flock of butterflies in my stomach will have created a massive hurricane on the other side of my globe, and I will know that I am the epic fail I had hoped I wasn't.

Every tick gets exponentially louder. Every dollar coming in is dwarfed by the so many that are due to go out. Every stabbing pain where there used to be cartilage will be chased by the gaping mouth of depression that the pain eats to grow, until something breaks, a giant crack in the levee, and I am the Ninth Ward, what's left of my ego shouting from a rooftop as the shit water rises all around me, while the news choppers fly over, burdened by the knowledge that they cannot help, they can only broadcast to an indifferent system that plays guitar, like some corporate Nero, while another soul sinks.

The epilogue, if there is one, is that I will be tracked down in some shelter somewhere, someday, and someone will ask if I'm me, to see ID, and I'll sign for some official looking envelope that had worked its way through the stopped-up colon of bureaucracy, and it will contain a very large check. Let it be known now that if I have functionally deteriorated so far that I try to wipe my ass with their thousands of dollars, that I want my wife to have it.