2012 - %3, February

How to Cook After a Catastrophe

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 7:00 AM EST

A weather presenter and a celebrity chef walk into a kitchen…that was the novel hook for this cooking class (and, hell, it's not often Climate Desk gets to film a cooking show).

This is about as far away from the dry, cracked soil of a Texas cattle ranch as it gets: Fifth Avenue, New York City. At a seminar that cost $225 a head, a small selection of guests learned about the impact of 2011's record number of billion dollar disasters—there were 12, including the ongoing drought in Texas—and how to cook around them using substitute ingredients. While author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich talked about the ingredients affected by last year's weather, TV meteorologist Bonnie Schneider (you've probably seen her on CNN) explained how climate change is causing tougher farming conditions and leaving Americans with bigger food bills.

The take-out lesson? Disaster cooking is about more than simple substitution.

"Recycling food is not about reheating food," Bastianich said. "It's about making something new." After demonstrating how to create a delectable ragout, she added, "There's going to be a run on oxtails!"

Lidia Bastianich at Eataly, New York: James West

Lidia Bastianich at Eataly, New York: James West

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 9, 2012

Thu Feb. 9, 2012 6:57 AM EST

US Army Sgt. Aaron Sweeny and Staff Sgt. Robert Novak, both with 3rd Platoon, Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Spartan, watch explosions from a mountain top near Forward Operating Base Salerno during a call for fire exercise on February 3, 2012. US Army photo by Spc. Ken Scar, 7th MPAD.

Today's Dilemma for Conservatives

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 9:26 PM EST

This cracks me up:

Florida’s poor can use food stamps to buy staples like milk, vegetables, fruits and meat. But they can also use them to buy sweets like cakes, cookies and Jell-O and snack foods like chips, something a state senator [Ronda Storms] wants stopped.

....[Her] bill would also require the state to launch a culturally sensitive campaign to educate people about the benefits of a nutritious diet. Supporters say it would help recipients follow healthy eating habits and prevent taxpayer funds from being used to purchase luxury foods like bakery cakes when they can whip up a cheaper box mix.

What a dilemma. On the one hand, this bill promotes the exact same nanny-state behavior that Republicans howl about when Michelle Obama or Michael Bloomberg starts nattering on about salt consumption or fatty foods. On the other hand, it punishes welfare recipients, something that's always good for a round of applause from right-wing audiences. What's a conscientious conservative to do?  

US Pushes the World to Import Our Dodgy Meat

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 8:08 PM EST
Paylean is the brand name for Eli Lilly's growth-promoting hog-feed additive ractopamine.

Remember that recent story by Helena Bottemiller (my post about it here) on how the US meat industry regularly doses hogs and cows with an additive called ractopamine that makes their meat leaner but also stresses them out?

According to Bottemiller, the FDA approved ractopamine back in 1999 based on industry-funded science that remains controversial. Traces of the chemical, made by the animal-medicine subsidiary of the pharma giant Eli Lilly, routinely make it into the meat supply. And that's precisely why it's banned in dozens of countries, including the entire European Union as well as China and Taiwan. These countries also refuse to accept meat imports that contain residues of it.

Turns out, the Obama administration isn't just content to allow domestic meat producers to expose American consumers to Lilly's chemical. It also wants to impose it on consumers throughout the world, even those who live in one of countries where it has been banned. The issue has emerged as a central dispute in trade talks with Taiwan, because inspectors in that nation have been refusing to allow in American meat that tests positive for ractopamine.

Your Daily Newt: Gingrich Shoots a Pig. Sort of.

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 6:50 PM EST

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

In early February, Newt Gingrich launched a new website attacking GOP front-runner Mitt Romney for his less-than-distinguished record as a hunter. The site, romneyguns.com, mocks the former Massachusetts governor for once claiming to have hunted "small varmints," and depicts Romney in an Elmer Fudd-style cap holding a rifle, standing inside a silver cup. It's funny because Romney has been hilariously uncomfortable when he's asked about hunting. It's also funny because the man attacking him is Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, as my colleague Andy Kroll reported in January, has never owned a gun in his life. His comment that "males are biologically driven to go out and hunt giraffes" notwithstanding, he does not hunt. Instead, Gingrich's passion for wildlife is on the complete other side of the spectrum—he once told a reporter that he'd like to spend 6 to 12 months in the Amazon staring at tree sloths. When it comes to big-game-hunting bona fides, the former speaker gives Romney a run for his money. Newt's affinity for firing a gun in anger at an animal was captured in this scene from a 1995 Vanity Fair profile:

Carter tells a down-home kind of story from the 1970s. Newt and Carter, who was then his campaign treasurer, used to barbecue hogs in the Gingriches' driveway in Carrollton, Georgia. They would go to a friend's farm and pick out a hog --and shoot it.

"One day, Newt says to me, 'I need to be the one to kill the hog. It's only right, just morally.'"

Carter showed Newt how to use a Walther P-38, a W.W. II German pistol. "I said, 'Put some corn in your left hand. When the pig comes over to get it, put the pistol against his head and shoot him between his eyes.'"

"So the pig comes over and he starts eating," says Carter. "Newt flinches as the round hits the pig on the side of the head and ricochets down." But the shot only stunned the hog and sent it fleeing back into the pen. "Newt keeps trying to get this pig to come back to him. Newt's getting madder and madder. I said to him, 'You just shot the son of a bitch in the head, Newt, why do you think he's gonna come to you?'"

Carter recalls urging his comrade-in-arms, "'You gotta get in there, in the hogpen, and go get him.' But Newt wouldn't do it. So I ended up going in the pen and killing the hog."

Boehner Pledges to Reverse Free Birth Control Decision

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 4:44 PM EST

House Speaker John Boehner joined the battle on contraception coverage on Wednesday, vowing to overturn the new regulation that requires health insurers to provide birth control at no cost. The Obama administration's decision has roiled some anti-contraception religious groups and conservative members of Congress.

"This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand," said Boehner on the House floor. He said that if the Obama administration doesn't reverse the decision—which would exempt churches but not universities or hospitals affiliated with religious organizations—then Congress will. The Obama administration's decision was made as part of the reform measures put in place under the new health care law. The Institute of Medicine recommended that birth control be provided without a co-payment as one of a number of preventative care measures.

Boehner's promise drew a quick response from pro-choice Democrats in the House and reproductive rights groups, who held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon. "Some have decided to again use women's health as a political football," said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.). "Most Americans believe that women, not their bosses, should decide what health care services they have access to."

"The opponents of birth control in Congress are trying to take health benefits away from working women," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). She predicted, however, that the move would cause "a backlash from the women of America." "I think it would be at great peril if they were going to do this."

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Bernie Goldberg on Conservative Bigotry

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 4:24 PM EST

I missed The O'Reilly Factor on Monday — I was probably in the middle of fighting with Expedia over some travel arrangements — but Bob Somerby tells us we missed a good one. Bernie Goldberg, the liberal-turned-conservative who's a regular guest, had something to say about the conservative campaign to get Ellen DeGeneres fired as a spokesman for JC Penney:

GOLDBERG: There's something that needs to be said, no matter how uncomfortable it makes some people listening to us. There is a strain of bigotry — and that's the word I want to use — running through conservative America.

It doesn't mean all conservatives are bigots or even that most conservatives are bigots. That's not what I'm saying. But there is a strain of bigotry, and it goes against gay people, for instance.

Ellen DeGeneres did nothing wrong. She's gay. Right? There is — reasonable people may disagree on gay marriage. That's fine. But to, but to call on somebody's dismissal to be fired, to lose her job because she's gay is bigotry. And I don't care how many people listening to us right now don't like that.

O'REILLY: Well, I mean, the argument though—

GOLDBERG: Let me say — let me say one other thing briefly, Bill. In the middle of the last century, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was another strain of bigotry on the right, and it was against black people. That has to leave the conservative movement.

I used to be a liberal. I became a conservative because liberals were a little too crazy for me. A lot too crazy for me, actually. But you know what? I am immensely uncomfortable with the bigotry on the right, and I don't care how many people don't like it. I am sick of it.

Bob thinks it's counterproductive to throw around charges of bigotry too casually, and I suppose I agree. At the same time, he was happy to see Goldberg say this on the air, and so am I. That's because the problem here isn't so much that there's a strain of bigotry on the right — there are strains on the left and the center too — but that conservative leaders are too tolerant of it when it wells up and conservative media are too willing to stoke it in order to goose ratings. That's the real crime, so it's nice to see Goldberg and O'Reilly call it out. I wish they'd do it more often, but good for them for doing it even occasionally.

Which reminds me: Bob is doing some fundraising for his site right now. I find him a huge pain in the ass on a bunch of levels, and I disagree with him about as often as I agree. That said, I also read him every day because he routinely talks about stuff that no one else on the left pays much attention to. It may not be obvious from my writing, but his site helps keeps me honest. He's worth donating a few dollars to if his stuff is up your alley.

Birds Near Fukushima Hit Harder Than at Chernobyl

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 4:03 PM EST
Eurasian bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Bird populations in Japan's Fukushima Prefecture appear to be more whacked by the effects of low-level radiation than expected—based on responses by the same species around Chernobyl after that nuclear power plant disaster. This according to a new paper in the science journal Environmental Pollution 

Last July, four months after the earthquake and tsunami, a team of European, Japanese, and American researchers identified and counted birds at 300 locations in Fukushima prefecture between 15 and 30 miles (25 and 48 km)  from the nuclear complex. Most of these areas were still open to human occupation and were experiencing external radiation levels from 0.5 to 35 microsieverts per hour.

The team compared the results to their similar investigation in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone between 2006 and 2009, 20 to 23 years after that nuclear disaster. 

Their findings:

  • Overall, as expected, the bird community in Fukushima declined significantly in the more contaminated areas.
  • For 14 species of birds that appeared in both Fukushima and Chernobyl, the decline in population size was more pronounced at Fukushima than Chernobyl.
  • Among all birds, including the species not common to both areas, more birds declined in Chernobyl than Fukushima. 

Why these discrepancies? Possibilities include:

  1. The Fukushima birds have never experienced radiation of this intensity before and may therefore be especially sensitive to radioactive contaminants.
  2. Overall more birds declined at Chernobyl because it's been more than two decades since that disaster, during which many species have basically disappeared from the most contaminated regions.
The study notes that the Fukushima accident occurred at the height of the main breeding season.

Neither of those possibilities bode well for Fukushima's birds in the long run.

The authors note that the March 11, 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima occurred at the height of the main breeding season when birds were working at or close to their maximum sustainable level of energy output. Though presumably the Chernobyl birds, hit by radiation beginning on April 26, 1986, were experiencing similar stressors.

According to senior author Timothy Mousseau at the University of South Carolina's College of Arts and Sciences:

Our results point to the need for more research to determine the underlying reasons for differences among species in sensitivity, both initially and following many generations of exposure... [and that] large-scale studies be initiated in Fukushima immediately to make the research potentially much more revealing.

The paper: 

  • Anders Pape Møller, Atsushi Hagiwara, Shin Matsui, Satoe Kasahara, Kencho Kawatsu, Isao Nishiumi, Hiroyuki Suzuki, Keisuke Ueda, Timothy A. Mousseau. Abundance of birds in Fukushima as judged from Chernobyl. Env Poll. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2012.01.008

Chart of the Day: Homegrown Terrorism Has Shrunk to Minuscule Proportions

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 2:16 PM EST

Today's chart comes from Charles Kurzman of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. It shows the steady decline over the past decade in indictments for support of terrorist attacks in the United States:

The number of violent plots carried out by Muslim-Americans was also down substantially in 2011, and virtually all of them were disrupted early. From the report: "Of the 20 Muslim-Americans accused of violent terrorist plots in 2011 only one, Yonathan Melaku, was charged with carrying out an attack, firing shots at military buildings in northern Virginia. Nobody was injured."

This comes via Dan Drezner, who notes some recent remarks by a Pentagon official that we might have been overestimating al-Qaeda's capabilities all along. Then some snark:

Now, I'm sure that the reason for this lull is that Al Qaeda's remaining assets in the United States are focusing their energies on getting all turkeys to become halal or something. That said, I'm going to continue to insist that the United States faces a much less threatening threat environment now than it did fifty years ago. Oh, and that I don't need to listen to Representative Peter King when he opens his mouth on national security issues.

Nobody is suggesting that the threat of homegrown attacks is zero. But it's very much a manageable, garden-variety law enforcement problem at this point. It's way past time for everyone to dial down the panic.

Today's Shopping Tip: 3D Clip-Ons

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 1:10 PM EST

And now for something completely different: a shopping tip. This is for my readers who wear glasses and like going to the movies. A few weeks ago I bought a pair of 3D clip-ons, and I'm here to tell you that they're great. More and more movies are being released solely in 3D — which means we're getting to the point where it's hard to avoid 3D even if you don't like it much — and trying to wear those clown-size theater 3D specs over your usual prescription glasses is a huge pain. The clip-ons are far more comfortable and unobtrusive, which makes them a great investment, especially since they only cost four bucks. And I suppose they can even double as ordinary clip-on sunglasses if you're into such things. Highly recommended.