Friday, July 31, 2009

The Omnivore's Delusion?

I've been of two minds when it comes to food. On the one hand, I tend to go for more organic meat and produce when I go shopping. I tend to want to eat meat that was produced humanely.

On the other hand, I tend to get wary of food critics like Michael Pollen who tend to put down anything that reeks of moderenization. I chafe at those who think that organic farming will lead to less foodborn illnesses and the like.

So, this article by a real live farmer tends to play into my doublemindedness. Farmer Blake Hurst makes some good points, such as the fact that most of the people who talk about food and farming are not involved in farming at all and don't understand it. He makes the point that just like we don't expect doctors to use the same instruments that were used a century ago, we should not expect farmers to farm and live like their grandparents. Here is what Hurst has to say about a businessman he encounters on a flight:

He was a businessman, and I’m sure spends his days with spreadsheets,
projections, and marketing studies. He hasn’t used a slide rule in his career
and wouldn’t make projections with tea leaves or soothsayers. He does not blame
witchcraft for a bad quarter, or expect the factory that makes his product to
use steam power instead of electricity, or horses and wagons to deliver his
products instead of trucks and trains. But he expects me to farm like my
grandfather, and not incidentally, I suppose, to live like him as well. He
thinks farmers are too stupid to farm sustainably, too cruel to treat their
animals well, and too careless to worry about their communities, their health,
and their families. I would not presume to criticize his car, or the size of his
house, or the way he runs his business. But he is an expert about me, on the
strength of one book, and is sharing that expertise with captive audiences
every time he gets the chance. Enough, enough, enough.

As I said, he makes some good points that those of us who aren't farmers need to hear. That said, I think he sometimes paints every criticism of "industrial farming" with too wide a brush. Some complaints are legit. For example, I tend to want to buy chicken or beef that was produced humanely. I have a hard time seeing animals penned up in cages and treated less like animals than as a plant. Hurst seems to believe that this is much better than what goes on in nature:

Lynn Niemann was a neighbor of my family’s, a farmer with a vision. He began raising turkeys on a field near his house around 1956. They were, I suppose, what we would now call “free range” turkeys. Turkeys raised in a natural manner, with no roof over their heads, just gamboling around in the pasture, as God surely intended. Free to eat grasshoppers, and grass, and scratch for grubs and worms. And also free to serve as prey for weasels, who kill turkeys by slitting their necks and practicing exsanguination. Weasels were a problem, but not as much a threat as one of our typically violent early summer thunderstorms. It seems that turkeys, at least young ones, are not smart enough to come in out of the rain, and will stand outside in a downpour, with beaks open and eyes skyward, until they drown. One night Niemann lost 4,000 turkeys to drowning, along with his dream, and his farm.

Now, turkeys are raised in large open sheds. Chickens and turkeys raised for meat are not grown in cages. As the critics of "industrial farming" like to point out, the sheds get quite crowded by the time Thanksgiving rolls around and the turkeys are fully grown. And yes, the birds are bedded in sawdust, so the turkeys do walk around in their own waste. Although the turkeys don't seem to mind, this quite clearly disgusts the various authors I've read whom have actually visited a turkey farm. But none of those authors, whose descriptions of the horrors of modern poultry production have a certain sameness, were there when Neimann picked up those 4,000 dead turkeys. Sheds are expensive, and it was easier to raise turkeys in open, inexpensive pastures. But that type of production really was hard on the turkeys. Protected from the weather and predators, today's turkeys may not be aware that they are a part of a morally reprehensible system.

Like most young people in my part of the world, I was a 4-H member. Raising cattle and hogs, showing them at the county fair, and then sending to slaughter those animals that we had spent the summer feeding, washing, and training. We would then tour the packing house, where our friend was hung on a rail, with his loin eye measured and his carcass evaluated. We farm kids got an early start on dulling our moral sensibilities. I'm still proud of my win in the Atchison County Carcass competition of 1969, as it is the only trophy I have ever received. We raised the hogs in a shed, or farrowing (birthing) house. On one side were eight crates of the kind that the good citizens of California have outlawed. On the other were the kind of wooden pens that our critics would have us use, where the sow could turn around, lie down, and presumably act in a natural way. Which included lying down on my 4-H project, killing several piglets, and forcing me to clean up the mess when I did my chores before school. The crates protect the piglets from their mothers. Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin, and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother, which I've seen sows do to newborn pigs as well.

Again, Hurst makes good points. I'm not a farmer, Hurst is. He knows what goes on in agriculture more than I do. But, does that mean I should not say anything or have any concerns about how one might raise their crops and animals? I agree it makes more sense to have turkeys not drown in the rain, but I do fear at times, that Hurst's views tend to see the cows and pigs as "dumb animals" and nothing more.

My other concern is that it almost seems that Hurst is simply asking people to simply trust him since he is the expert. While one should be wary when someome like Pollen is running around telling people how to grow food, I also feel I should have some healthy skepticism with experts. Just because someone has a more intimate knowledge of something doesn't mean they are automatically correct. Experts can be nothing more than shills for a group, ignoring the red flags.

Read the article. I'd like to hear people's opinions.

Read the article. I am interested in hearing other people's views.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Go, Dede, Go!

This my latest post at the Progressive Republican about the hopeful rise of the socially liberal Northeastern Republican...again.

Go, Dede, Go!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Progressive Republican is Looking for Bloggers

As some of you know, I also write for the blog the Progressive Republican. We are trying to build up our base of writers and I wanted to pass along this notice to the three people who follow my blog:

The Progressive Republican is looking to add bloggers to the roster, and the following is a list of some qualifications and expectations we are looking for:

  • You must understand the basics of blogging (linking to other sites, embedding pictures and video, etc.), and having a blog is preferred but not absolutely necessary.

  • Good grammar and punctuation skills are a must.

  • You should be in agreement with Progressive Republican principles (Please click on the link to find out what those principles are).

  • You should be willing to commit to a minimum of 2 posts per week.

  • If you're engaged in multiple social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Digg, etc.) and are willing to use them to promote your posts, that would be a big plus.

  • Be able to interact with the commenters on your posts and keep the conversation on track.

  • Stay true to the spirit of the site and always make sure you keep your arguments sharp and your language clean.

If you are interested please drop a line to

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Conservatives and the Gates Affair

I work part time as a pastor at a church near downtown Minneapolis. A few months ago, I went to the church one Saturday evening to do some work. The church has an alarm system and I tried to disarm it with my code only to realize that the code did not work. After some time, I was able to use another person's code to shut the alarm off. Unfortunately, I was not able to prevent the police from coming to the church.

I came out of my office to see a white cop looking into the church. I came forward and explained the situation to him. He took my ID and went to his squad car for a few minutes. Everything checked out and he joked about not trying to set the alarm and went on his way.

In the back of my mind, I had feared such a situation because I am a black man. I don't know why I felt that way, but I did. I feared the police would assume that I was breaking into the building. The church has had a history of breakins and I was worried that the policeman would think I was another thief.

Fortunately, that did not happen. Maybe the cop noticed I casually came out of the office, or that I wasn't dressed like I was stealing something from a building. Whatever it was, he "profiled" me and judged that I wasn't a threat.

I share this experience because I think that every black man has had that fear running in the back of their head when they encounter a white policeman. I think it comes from a dark history between the police and the black community. The police have not always been a friend to black males and so I think our antennas go up.

It has been interesting to see how white conservatives have reacted to the whole affair with Henry Louis Gates. For many, he is just one more in a long line of liberal race baitters. Here is what Jules Crittenden had to say on the matter:

It’s getting a little awkward. It turns out Crowley might not be some lunkheaded Irish bigot cop after all. It’s looking like he might be the kind of white cop … if it is actually permissible for white men to be cops in post-racial America … that Gates, Obama, etal, might consider a paragon, an example for all.

I hate to moralize, but this is the kind of thing that happens when you make snap judgments and start busting heads and taking names based on nothing more that racial prejudice. Turns out that when you judge people by the color of their skin, great injustices can result.

Crittenden then goes into a long spiel about the struggles that white men must face because of affirmative action. He talks about the past history of racism, but like a lot of white conservatives, seems to think that it is just something in the past. If a black man complains about how they were treated, well they surely must be lying.

Now, I think what happened between Mr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley is not clear cut as I thought it once was. Crowley isn't some bigoted cop. But I also know that like Professor Gates, I would also be a bit apprehensive around a white cop because I don't know how things will transpire. It's an automatic reflex based on history. Yes, it might be the result of an overactive imagination, but it has it basis in a reality where black men have been mistreated simply because they were black.

I may disagree with President Obama on many things, but I can understand why his first reaction concerning the whole incident was one of saying the policy "acted stupidly." He was responding from a visceral feeling that I think is in the hearts of many of black man: that some policeman is going go overboard on them because of their race.

Maybe it was the wrong thing to say. But I can understand why he said it.

BUt all that has been lost on some conservative and policemen. Here is what retired NYPD cop Bob Weir had to say:

If anyone is a racist in this confrontation, it is this obstreperous professor who evidently feels that his loft academic status and his friendship with Obama not only put him above the law, but give him a platform to inject "color" into every situation. Make no mistake about it, if Crowley were black and followed the same protocol, Gates would have recognized that there was no opportunity for a public spectacle, so he would have behaved properly.

Speaking of behavior, President Obama showed his own lack of class and judgment when he said the Cambridge PD "acted stupidly." To make such a sweeping statement of condemnation after admitting that he didn't "know all the facts," is beneath the dignity of his high office.

What is disturbing here is that not only is Gates tagged as a racist, but the President is accused of not having all the facts when in fact, Mr. Weir as well as Mr. Crittenden and others also don't have the facts. We have two stories about the incident and both sides rush to believe the their side is the true one.

But in reality we don't know the facts at all. That will come in time, but people are rushing to fill in the blanks.

I have long believed that liberals tend to be too sensitive on racial issues, to the point that no one can talk about them or they become excuses for people of color to indulge in victimhood. But I also think that conservatives tend to be to dull to the experience of blacks in America and the scars that we still carry with us concerning the legacy of racism. White conservatives want to believe that this was all done a long time ago and that we African Americans should just move on. But the fact is, those scars take a long time to heal.

In short white conservatives want us to "get over it." Maybe in time we will, but it isn't that easy. You can't just undo 400 years of history in a few decades.

My fellow conservatives might think I'm just whining when I share my fears concerning white cops, but they are real for me just as they might have been for Mr. Gates and millions of other African American men. I wish for a moment that they could understand that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Remembering E. Lynn Harris

I found out that E. Lynn Harris died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 54.

Harris was known for writing about the lives of black gay men, a topic that didn't get a whole a lot of ink in society and in some cases, still doesn't.

His books came along at a time back in the early to mid 90s when I was coming out. It was a godsend to read books about people who looked like me and who came from background similar to my own. Harris' novels opened me up to a world where black gay men were not so invisible, but present to their friends, families and churches. I think I can safely say that Harris made it possible for me to be proudly black and proudly gay.

But he wasn't just admired by black gay men- in fact, what made him a celebrity was the response he got from black women who loved his portrayals of strong women who weren't acting like "bitches and hos." He respected them and they loved him back.

It will be sad to not read any more of his wonderful novels. But I hope the novels that he has written will continue to help a new generation of young black gay men to know that it's okay to come out- black and proud.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Harris.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why Moderate Republicans Suck

I posted the following over at the Progressive Republican. Let me know what your thoughts.

Why Moderate Republicans Suck

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Professor Gates

On the whole affair concerning Professor Henry Louis Gates: There is a lot of murkiness here, but I tend to lean towards this being a racist act.

I don't immediate jump to seeing every situation as racist- as the saying goes, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. One the one hand, it doesn't make sense to me why Dr. Gates had a hard time getting into his own house. That said, one has to wonder why the neighbors didn't notice that this was Dr. Gates.

But it really all boils down to this to me: the police should have simply asked for his ID to confirm that he lived there and left. I can understand checking out a place in case there is a robbery, but the Cambridge police went overboard.

As a black man, I know that for some odd reason, I can be percieved as a threat by people. I remember being 13 and going with my Mom to a credit union. While she did her business, I just kind of stood around. Unbeknownst to me, I was being watched and Mom found out and was upset. I was just surprised that people would consider me a threat- if they knew me, they knew I wouldn't hurt a fly.

Which is why I tend to side with Dr. Gates here. If he were white, I doubt this would have been an issue. But there is something that makes the larger society feel uneasy around black men. Especially, where you are a stocky and tall black man.

It's a sad tale, but not a shocking one. Race is becoming less of a factor in America, thank goodness, but less doesn't mean none.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Revolutions of the Heart

Here in Minnesota, we don't have primaries, but party caucuses. On a winter's night, thousands of Minnesotans go to schools and community centers to talk about issues and vote on candidates.

In 2008, I went to my GOP caucus and encountered a group of energetic young folks who were pumped.

I had come face to face with the Ron Paul revolution.

Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican congressman, lit a match with his 2008 campaign for President. Even though he didn't receive the nomination, he did set many a hearts a twitter, including these young people.

The people at my table were enthusiastic and excited to be there. I remember seeing one young man and his wife pour over the state platform, looking with surprise at all the social conservative planks. They couple and another young man were at the ready with resolutions to change the platform. I had to leave early for a dinner date, but I was impressed at the passion of these folks even if I disagreed with them.

Over time I have heard and seen stories of followers of Ron Paul who have come in and basically took over local party operations. They relish their role and are active in shaping the party in their image.

What is interesting in these followers is just how much this is a passion of the heart for them. They are just filled with excitement and hope. They feel that nothing can stop them. When state parties or local officials in the GOP try to shut the Paulites out, they just come back stronger.

Passion is something that is important in politics. In some ways, passion in politics is like falling in love. Ron Paul Republicans are in love, with Ron Paul's brand of libertarianism and want to change things.

I contrast this with the breed of Republican that has many names such as Liberal Republican, Moderate Republicans, Rockefeller Republicans or Progressive Republicans. When I encounter these people, I don't see people in love. At times they seem lethargic, complaining that their true love has left them, but doing nothing to reach out to that lost love and win them back. Instead, they think about the good old days and wish that maybe someday, their old love will come back.

Most of my fellow moderates are devoid of any love for their heritage. They don't love their party enough to want to change it from its self-destructive ways.

I think what moderates in the GOP miss is that politics is not simply a logical game. It also involves the passions, the heart. That's what keeps you in the game when the going gets tough.

I remember talking to a former moderate Republican who was not crazy about the partisan atmosphere in a moderate Republican group. I found this a little strange since this was a Republican group and well, they supported Republicans.

Moderate Republicans need to learn to fall in love again with the GOP. Not the present party, but it's great past. It needs to fall in love with those moderate heroes who blazed a path for us. And we need to take that passion and infuse into making the party a more hospitable place for moderate conservatives again.

A few days ago, someone asked why I stayed in the GOP. It took me a while to think of an answer, but I think I've found one. It's because I love being a Republican.

Yeah, I know that in its current state the party sucks, but I am in love with many of the principles that made the party great. And I am in love enough to want to change the party and it make a viable party once again.

There has been a lot of talk about the trying to "moderate" the GOP. But it will not happen unless a lot of passionate people are willing to take party. Lukewarm people need not apply.

Is Sotomayor Off Limits?

This blog post by Craig Crawford has me puzzled:

Watching Lindsey Graham's gotcha grin as he needled Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor with disingenuous and rhetorical questions you had to wonder what was so funny.

Does the Republican senator think it is amusing that he and his party's condescending tone toward the Hispanic woman was costing them ethnic votes with each passing hour of Tuesday's Judiciary Committee hearing?

It is not that the Republican inquiries were out of bounds in legal terms. But a confirmation hearing like this is a political forum.

Even if they vote for her, the fallout for Republicans could reach well beyond Hispanic voters. They are coming across as a bunch of snarky and bitter old white men who cannot bear the thought of their kind losing power.

The impact of this story on the political scoreboard should give Democrats much more to smile about.

This post and another one by fellow moderate GOPer Sophia Nelson, has me wondering: are liberal persons of color who are to be nominated just supossed to glide through hearings, never asked any tough questions?

I have argued in the past and still maintain that Republicans should not try to block Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court because for the very same reasons. And I would certainly agree that there needs to be more diversity among the GOP.

That said, I think the GOP can and should ask some probing questions. What did she mean by her "wise Latina" remark? Can she explain her ruling in the Ricci case? Probing the judge is not akin to being a racist.

The thing is, if the circumstance were reversed, and it was President Bush nominating a Hispanic judge to the Supreme Court, I doubt that Crawford would be wagging his finger when Democratic Senators starting asking tough questions to the nominee, as would be their right.

The fact that persons of color such as President Obama and Sotomayor are taking positions of power in our society is a great thing and it means we are living up to the promise E Pluribus Unum. But that also means we as persons of color have to be big boys and girls and take the slings and arros that come on the political stage.

As a fellow Puerto Rican, I am proud to see Sotomayor being considered, and hope that she will make a good justice. But that Pride doesn't mean tossing her softball questions.

Monday, July 06, 2009

On the Heroism of Cassie Wallender

Republicans historically have been known as the Party of Lincoln, the party that freed the slaves. Of course, in recent history that legacy has been tarnished by a long string of politicians and GOP leaders that have said things that can only be seen as bigoted.

The recent story of Young Republican candidate Audra Shay responding to a racist comment on Facebook is but the latest sad story. Audra is running for the leadership of the Young Republicans and hopes to be elected on Saturday. Her recent reaction to an incredibly racist comment is enough for me and I hope for those attending the national convention of Young Republicans in Indianapolis, to NOT elect this woman for leadership.

But instead of focus on the follies and sins of Ms. Shay, I think there needs to be praise given to one woman for standing up to such prejudice. Cassie Wallender, a chairwoman of the Young Republicans in Washington State responded to Ms. Shay on Facebook. She called Shay on her response. The following account comes from writer John Avalon:

Cassie Wallender, a national committeewoman from the Washington Young Republican Federation, then wrote: “Someone please help a na├»ve Seattle girl out, is Eric’s comment a racist slur?” She answered her own question one minute later: “Okay, why is this okay? I just looked it up. ‘It comes from a term baracoons (a cage) where they used to place Africans who were waiting to be sent to America to be slaves.’ THIS IS NOT OKAY AND IT’S NOT FUNNY.”

Wallender wrote a letter to the national committee of Young Republicans sharing her concerns:

I continue to hold that stating “You go get ‘em” and “LOL” to racist remarks are not acceptable for YRs. Her continued inappropriate responses to the situation and utter lack of an apology are quite disconcerting. I do not want to see infighting as we are all on the same team ultimately, but this is unacceptable especially from any of our elected officers. Even despite the red flags of spin pointed out above, and giving Audra the benefit of the doubt regarding racism, at the very best this was extremely poorly handled by turning it into a political attack on people completely uninvolved and by showing allegiance to those making racist statements while choosing to squarely turn her back on those speaking against racism.

All in all, this is a plea to my fellow National Committee Members to look at how this was handled and decide in your own heart and mind if this was appropriate, and if this is how we want to be represented to our country.

A note of thanks has to go to Cassie for standing up and speaking out. She could have kept her concerns to herself, kept her head down and ignore the issue. Instead, she spoke up.

Some of my friends on the Left assume that all white Republicans are racists. I know that is not the case, but rarely have we seen whites in GOP speak with such courage in the face of hate.

The GOP needs more Cassie Wallenders. They need women and men who stand up for inclusion. They need people to carry the banner of Abraham Lincoln and uphold long held Republican traditions of equality.

Audra Shay had a chance to be brave in the face of hatred and failed miserably. Cassie Wallender is hero for confronting bigotry.

Kudos to you, Cassie.

Sarah Palin: Exit Stage Right?

I was on vacation in my native Michigan when news broke Friday about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin stepping down from the governorship, so I've been slow in responding about this. I can say that it was somewhat surprising and a good way to make sure one isn't going to run for the Presidency in 2012. Palin herself noted that a lame duck governor with higher political aspirations (like Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty) would do start giving speeches and going on trips. Here is what she said:

So that Alaska will progress, I will not seek re-election as governor. And so as I thought about this announcement, that I wouldn’t run for re-election and what that means for Alaska, I thought about, well, how much fun some governors have as lame ducks. They maybe travel around their state, travel to other states, maybe take their overseas international trade missions. So many politicians do that. And then I thought, that’s what wrong. Many just accept that lame duck status and they hit the road, they draw a paycheck, they kind of milk it, and I’m not going to put Alaskans through that.

Of course, doing that would have allowed her a national spotlight and shown her governing. Had she simply stayed in office as a lame duck, she would have governed, gained experience and gone on those important trade missions that look presidential. But quitting before even finishing one term, puts her without the experience that she sorely needs if she wants to run for president. That's the general wisdom, but I think with Republicans in such an anti-government mood, it might not be surprising that some party activists would want a candidate with as little government experience as possible.

But the real thrust of this post is really about who is to blame for the governor's current situation? Was she taken down by the elites or did she bring this down on herself?

My answer mirrors that of blogger Radley Balko:

Here’s all I want to say: It is possible that Sarah Palin was both unfairly mistreated and personally attacked by the media and many on the left, and that her family was rather ruthlessly and mercilessly run through the ringer wringer . . . and that she’s a not particularly bright, not particularly curious, once libertarian-leaning governor who sadly devolved into a predictable, buzzword spouting culture warrior when she was prematurely picked for national office by John McCain.

I believe that Palin had been brutally attacked by the media and the Left. There were the odd conspiracy theories about Trig Palin, her son and those horrible jokes by David Letterman about her 14 year old daughter. Politics is a rough field, but it seems that it was incredibly rough on Palin.

But truth also is that she was not the brightest bulb in the bunch. The Vice Presidency isn't the most glamorous job in the land, but it is as they say, a heartbeat away from the presidency. One would hope that someone like Ms. Palin would have at the very least some "street smarts" when it comes to major issues, but in the end, she didn't even have that.

Even though she was rough handled by the press and liberals, the fact remains that politics is a rough business and you have to have a certain amount of fortitude to deal with it. The politics of personal destruction is not new to American politics and those who seek elected office have to develop a hard shell to repel the slings and arrows that come their way. Palin's resignation shows she didn't have what it takes to remain in the arena.

If she is planning to run for President in 2012, the only thing I can say about that is that it will be a rough ride. Leaving aside that she will still lack credible experience, her leaving office because people said bad things about her will come back to haunt her out on the hustings in New Hampshire and Michigan, two states that allow independents to vote in primaries. If she can't handle being governor of a small state, be sure that her opponents in '12 will tell voters she won't be able to handle the pressure that is the Oval Office.