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24 August 2008

"Black in a new light" and other stories

  • The Wall Street Journal has an article about the sociopolitical ripples of Obama's candidacy in the black American community. It reminded me of an article praising Michelle Obama I read recently in The Root.
  • The Washington Post is doing an in-depth biography of Obama. This segment, quite long and full of information, covers his childhood and the life story of his parents. I found it very absorbing, the sort of thing you would find interesting for the characters even if Obama himself were a relative nobody.
  • Darling Hubby and I just finished watching the BBC/HBO production House of Saddam. It's worth a watch.
  • I am thinking of downloading iPlayer to fill in the gaps created by my crazy schedule vs. the restrictions on recording Freeview (basically the same as SkyPlus, in that you can only do two or three shows that overlap, and since the channels tend to schedule all the good stuff at once, this is a problem.)

16 August 2008

The Audacity of Taupe

A couple of weeks ago, I have discovered a great blogazine, side-barred at Slate, called The Root. And this really excellent article/post, The Audacity of Taupe, discusses Obama as a man of mixed race, and the changing self-image of mixed race Americans over the generations. By David Swerdlick.

Black people can't argue a speeding ticket after sundown, and the only thing in life that white people can't do is use the N-word. To that simple rule, I am now officially adding the M-word. Good news, though—"Creole" has been approved for everybody's use.

13 August 2008

Honeybees in the UK - a status check


It's not looking good for the honeybees. So far, experts have not found evidence of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) but there has been a massive rise in honeybee deaths this past winter and spring. Honey shortages are expected. But it's more than honey, you know. The shift from food crops to bio-fuel corn and wheat leads to food shortages for humans, but also to pollen shortages, which means bees die off, which means they aren't around to pollenate fruits and vegetables which leads to reduced yields of other food crops. It sets up a feedback cycle, a race to the bottom. The most pessimistic scientist-experts say frightening things, like all the bees could be gone in ten years, and humanity cannot survive ten years beyond the extinction of bees.

12 August 2008

A new twist on Red vs. Green

You know what they say about "the left" (if such a thing even exists any more, or ever did) : the only time they form a circle is when they're going to form a firing squad. In a way this is the red vs. green battle from the 1970s, but with all the (polluted) water that's gone under the bridge, there has been some shifting. George Monbiot, as lefty-greeny as you can get, made the quixotic gesture of trying to bring some sense into the carbon-reduction, energy crisis, global warming (WE'RE ALL DOOMED!) "debate" and essentially issued a challenge to the boosters of nuclear energy. A challenge that he never expects them to be able to meet. But having failed to pronounce Shibboleth correctly, he came in for attacks.
Last week's Guardian had a comment piece by, of all people, Arthur Scargill (I'm ashamed to say, I genuinely thought he was dead.) The title directs itself to Monbiot, and claims that coal is not the "climate enemy" but rather a potential planet-saviour. It is an astonishing piece really, and I am quite glad that Monbiot answered it, because I did think, when he (Scargill) waxed lyrically about all the deep, rich coal under England's green and pleasant, the first thought in my mind was "open-cast". And my instincts were right in this, if Monbiot is to be believed instead of Scargill:

When he speaks of a resurgent coal industry, he pictures deep seams hacked out by grimy workers romantically dying of silicosis. But, with a few minor exceptions, this is no longer how coal is produced in the UK. New research I’ve commissioned, published for the first time here, shows that the industry is planning a great opencast revival.

Monbiot goes on to tell about a proposal in the Welsh assembly to require a minimum distance from any new open-cast mine to any residential area, and although it doesn't seem a very great distance (half a kilometer), if adopted, it would "sterilise" any proposed new mines.
This means that they could no longer be dug. The pits are viable only if they are allowed to wreck the lives of local people. Even before a lump of clean coal is burnt, its extraction trashes the environment.

Scargill's and Monbiot's otherwise fascinating articles both end with some strange arcane business about a "duel" where they will each be sealed in a room with the poisonous substance of their choice, which I found totally baffling. I guess you need to have a penis to really understand how some things work after all.

George Orwell, August 1938


The Orwell Prize, in association with the Orwell Trust and others, have begun a daily blog of George Orwell's diary entries in real time but 70 years later. It just began a few days ago (9 August) and not much "has happened" yet (he is in some sanitorium in Kent), so it won't take you long to catch up. The diaries were kept daily from August 1938 until some time in 1942, so they cover the period of his recuperation (partial) after being shot in the neck in Spain, his sojourn in Morocco, and his thoughts on the coming of WWII and the first two years of that conflict. And as with any blog, you can interact and leave comments and read those of others. Or you can just go for quality over quantity and stick to Orwell.

11 August 2008

Whole Foods - how the mighty have fallen

I shouldn't gloat.
Some years ago, I refused absolutely to shop at Whole Foods. It wasn't just the high prices that later led to the nickname of "Whole Paycheck"; it wasn't just the unnecessarily vicious anti-union attitudes of its founder and management. It was these factors combined with the threat it posed to my most beloved of institutions, the new-wave consumer-owned food co-op. Eventually, it came to a point where it wouldn't matter any more. Co-ops had shrunk in number, but those that survived generally gained in strength. A lot of this was down to a tipping point in consumer preference for organic and artisanal foods, especially amongst the economic upper-middle classes. This benefitted both Whole Foods and its major competitor Wild Oats, as well as Fresh & Wild in the UK and food co-ops throughout the US.
In the past year or so, Whole Foods has acquired both Wild Oats and Fresh&Wild. Almost exactly a year ago, Whole Foods, with great fanfare, announced its opening of the first UK outlet, in London, natch, in Kensington, natch. Just in time for the so-called "credit crunch".
Last week, Whole Foods announced that it had lost $18 million in its first year in London. Of course it could have been expecting losses in any case, and on such an expensive piece of real estate, with British shoppers not being in the mood for costly food-shopping experiments, it should have expected the near disastrous results.
In the US, when the overall profit slump triggered a share sell-off the next day, Whole Foods laid most of the blame not on its ill-fated expansion into the UK, but on the costs associated with acquiring Wild Oats. Well, maybe.
Now Whole Foods is pursuing a brilliant strategy (in the US only I presume) of sales, discounts and budget-related customer education, trying to reverse its "Whole Paycheck" image. As I said when they opened the London branch, we'll see.

04 August 2008

We want unsound investments and we want them now!

From the Onion : Recession-plagued Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In. Some likely candidates for the 2008 bubble: undersea mining rights, postmodernism, illegal immigration futures, "widgets" or fairy dust. Anything really, as long as it can create massive, unsustainable debt while triggering a burst of good old recession-busting spending. One of the experts cited in the article, who works for a prominent bubble-based investment firm, reminds us that "the American economy cannot exist on sound investments alone." How very true.

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