Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Oakland Taliban

Image from sfgate.com

Video: http://cbs5.com/video/?id=8795@kpix.dayport.com

In what seems to be an era of fundamentalism run amok, we in Oakland now have our very own Taliban.

These wannabe moral dictators introduced themselves by ordering the proprietors of two liquor stores to stop selling alcohol to African Americans, and then they swept whole shelves of liquor bottles onto the floor. In what seems to be a connected case, a couple of days later the proprietor of one of the stores was stuffed into a car trunk and abandoned ten miles away, where he remained for about 12 hours, and his store was set afire.

Self-righteous men in spiffy suits with bow ties believe they have the right to ram their moral values down our throats, and are deliberately dressing in the style of Black Muslims, although at least one sect of Black Muslims disavows any knowledge of these men and their mission. “They questioned why a Muslim-owned store would sell alcoholic drinks when it is against the teachings of Islam,” according to one report.

It is rather stunning, and troubling, that a dozen men would embark on such a crusade, clearly believing in their own superior moral standards and their right to impose them on everyone in the community. What next? Will they take their metal rods to the backsides of streetwalkers? And then, will they beat schoolgirls whose heads are not “properly” covered?

These men are nothing more, or less, than Oakland Taliban, and they clearly intend to whip us all into shape. I dearly hope the arrests are swift, and the punishment severe, because a message needs to be sent loud and clear: we will not stand for your self-righteous thuggery. We don’t give a damn what your religion is - you still must obey the laws of the land. You do not rule us, and no, you do not even rule “your own” women. And, perhaps you should get your own house into order before loosing your demons onto the rest of us.

Follow-up (12/4/2005): Well it appears these self-appointed enforcers are already out beating the streetwalkers:

“Once, [Donna] Word recalled, she looked outside her beauty shop and saw a group of young black men in bow ties attacking a prostitute on San Pablo Avenue. ‘They hit her with this stick -- it was, like, 2 feet long -- and they yelled at her to get off San Pablo Avenue and never come back,’ Word said. ‘They were chasing her down the street.’”
- http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/12/04/MNGH0G2P961.DTL

Friday, November 11, 2005

Full-on identity crisis

Button up the Holocaust museums, turn off the documentaries about Nazi war crimes, and understand this: our troops and other subordinates, under the orders of our Commander in Chief, are not just torturing innocent civilians in hellish prisons, secret and otherwise, but are burning people alive - yes, civilians - with white phosphorus so-called “illumination” grenades and a new improved napalm.

This is not some dark, distant, dismal history we are talking about; this is happening at this instant, paid for by the taxes taken from our paychecks today. “Shake and Bake” is no longer a quick chicken dinner, but a technique using percussion blasts to shake - drive people into the open, and then follow up with bake - rain down white phosphorus grenades that dissolve one’s flesh all the way down to bone. This is being done in our name, by our children, fully documented in an Italian television documentary on the taking of Fallujah.

Geneva Conventions? What of them? We the Imperial Americans do not care to constrain ourselves in our pursuit of....our pursuit of what, exactly? What have we accomplished in our Iraq adventure, other than the killing and maiming of untold numbers of people - Iraqis and our own once-idealistic troops - and the thorough destruction of a country’s complete infrastructure?

Sure, a broken Saddam is now on trial (of sorts) and can no longer torture and maim his own people, but so what? We’ve taken over that role now, and seem to be quite able competitors to his regime. Our “war on terror” is nothing so much as a terrorist-creation scheme, providing ample reasons again and again for the anger and desperation that is at the root of all terrorism.

As humans, we Americans ought to be a little smarter, and should be able to use our frontal lobes - the ones that enable us to look into the future and evaluate likely consequences of actions taken today - to comprehend that our actions in Iraq are not and will never make us any friends, but will ever and always result in nothing but anger and intractable hatred toward us and all that we represent.

I have been against the Iraq war since its inception, and immediately wrote a letter of support to Hon. Barbara Lee when only she showed the courage and foresight to stand against the Bush regime’s descent into hell. But there is absolutely no comfort to be found in being proved correct - it only makes me wonder how my countrymen could be so blind, and makes me fear the worst for our future. At times I wonder if we even deserve a future, because who have we become?

Who are we?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Are they kidding?

I ran across this offering as a “Recommendation” from Amazon, because I expressed an interest in “The Complete New Yorker” (which is strange enough), but what an amazing “role model” for little girls! Do people really buy these things? And then they wonder why their daughters want to dress like sluts?

I am beyond stunned...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lies and more lies

“[Last] week, Senate and House Republicans on the Agriculture appropriations subcommittee inserted a last-minute provision into the department’s fiscal 2006 budget specifying that certain artificial ingredients could be used in organic food. The Organic Trade Association, an industry lobbying group that proposed the amendment and spent several months pushing for its adoption, says that the measure will encourage the continued growth of organic food.”*

Instead of redefining”organic” food in order to pad their bottom lines, food corporations should be responding to the demonstrated consumer demand for organic foods as currently defined.

But clearly, these corporations are not interested in providing products to satisfy the current consumers of organic foods. Rather these massive food concerns merely want to share in the profits to be made from this “niche” sector of the food market, and if it means thoroughly debasing the concept of “organic,” they see that as being of zero consequence.

As someone who chooses pay the price premium in order to purchase organic foods, I would like to ask these corporations if they really think I am so stupid that I would purchase their proposed redefined “organic” products and continue to pay that same price premium for lesser quality products? To answer that question, I need to describe my reasons for buying organic.

As a biologist, I have a profound respect for the complexity of living organisms, for the specificity of living enzyme systems,** and for the power of evolution by natural selection to fashion an organism that is adapted to its environment. There is no more intimate environmental interaction than the one between an organisim and the air, food and water it consumes.

Adaptation as configured by evolutionary forces requires one thing above all else, and that is time - generations of time - because it is only through the genetic tinkering occurring over generations that organisms are produced that are more, or less, suited to their environments, and those more suited are the ones more likely to produce subsequent generations.

What happens when, through massive human manipulations over a short period of time, the environment is changed? What happens when suddenly, foods are consumed that have never before existed on the planet? What is the likelihood that fine-tuned enzyme-driven metabolic pathways will not notice the difference? What happens when once-scarce foods are suddenly consumed in abundance? How will organisms respond when toxins such as heavy metals are magnified hundreds of times over to appear in their diets? What happens when completely novel substances such as chlorinated hydrocarbons (e.g., pesticides and Splenda) enter the food system?

These and hundreds of similar questions have either not yet been answered, or have been answered with negative results. Food corporations and food scientists who pretend that anything that contains a reasonable ratio of protein, carbohydrate, and fat should qualify as food are, in my opinion, grossly in error, because from an evolutionary and environmental perspective, it simply is not so.

Living in a free country, I am entitled to my opinions, and I am also entitled to make my own decisions based upon those opinions, and from a moral perspective, this is never so true as when it applies to my choices about how to nourish my own corporeal being. Others may disagree with my opinions, but as long as this is not a totalitarian state, they do not have the right to challenge my decisions (except in the limited realm of illegal substances).

My choice is to eat food as free of contaminants as possible, and in as unprocessed a form as possible. I want food that would pretty much be recognized as food by humans over the past fifty generations, not some manufactured biochemical concoction invented by a chemist to lend shelf-life, or bright color, or de novo flavoring, or mouth appeal, or cheaper production, or any of numerous other misguided intents.

I want food that is free of trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavorings and sweeteners, refined flours, pesticides, herbicides and other toxins, antibiotics, hormones, and other drugs and additives. I want the animal-based foods I eat to come from animals that live decent lives and that eat foods natural to their kind. I want the farms that produce the foods I eat to operate on principles of sustainability, and respect for the air and water. I want my food to be free of even trace amounts of such things as “boiler additives, disinfectants and lubricants,” substances that would be allowed in organic foods if this amendment passes.*

Big food producers believe they should be “grant[ed] temporary exemptions to allow conventionally grown ingredients like corn, soybean oil or tomatoes in organic food when organic versions are not ‘commercially available’ ”* - which demonstrates nothing so much as their complete disregard for truth in labeling: what it really means is that big food producers want to use cheaper ingredients but charge a premium price while identifying their goods as the premium product. There is a word for such behavior, and that word is lying.

Ultimately, that is what it boils down to: truth or lies in labeling. I have no problem with the corporations arguing against the value of organic foods, but they have absolutely no right to hijack the meaning of the term to encompass their products that do not meet the standard. If they want to join the game with their own version of “organic,” they need to also come up with their own term, and then compete, openly and honestly. Sadly, that does not seem to be an option in their profit-oriented playbook.

*“What Is Organic? Powerful Players Want a Say,” by Melanie Warner, New York Times, Nov. 1, 2005.

** Showing a simplified map of metabolic pathways - for more details, go to http://www.expasy.org/cgi-bin/show_thumbnails.pl