Thursday, January 30, 2014

Humane lobby days

"We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." — Immanuel Kant

HERE'S an opportunity for animal lovers to come together and work to make a difference on behalf of innocent animals who can not speak for themselves. In the upcoming weeks The Humane Society of the United States will be holding organized Humane Lobby Days in state capitols across the country where animal advocates are invited to gather to learn and lobby for animal protection laws at the state level.

Below is a map of where these events will be held. It's a screen capture, so it's not interactive, but I've made a list for you of where and when these events will be held, and I've attached the website HERE.

Iowa Humane Lobby Day
Thursday, February 6, 2014   10:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Iowa State Capitol   1007 E. Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50319

Idaho Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, February 11, 2014   12:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Idaho State Capitol   700 W. Jefferson Street, Room WW 17
Boise, ID 83720

Utah Humane Lobby Day
Thursday, February 6, 2014   9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Utah State Capitol   350 N. State Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84103

Arizona Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, February 4, 2014   9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Arizona State Capitol, Capitol Museum - Old Senate Chambers   1700 W. Washington St.     
Phoenix, AZ 85007 

Colorado Humane Lobby Day
Thursday, February 20, 2014   9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
First Baptist Church (Miller Hall room)   1373 Grant Street
Denver, CO 80203 

Minnesota Humane Lobby Day
Wednesday, March 19, 2014   9:00 AM - 12:00 PM 
State Office Building, Room 300 S   100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155 

South Dakota Humane Lobby Day
Thursday, February 6, 2014   9:00 AM - 3:00 PM
South Dakota State Capitol   500 East Capitol Avenue - Presidents & Speakers Lobbies
Pierre, SD 57501

Nebraska Humane Lobby Day
Monday, February 24, 2014   9:00 AM - 3:00 PM 
The Cornhusker Hotel   333 South 13th Street
Lincoln, NE 68006

Kansas Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, February 11, 2014   9:00 AM - 4:30 PM 
Docking State Office Building   915 SW Harrison St. - Auditorium
Topeka, KS 66612

Oklahoma Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, February 4, 2014   10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Crown Heights Christian Church   4020 N. Western Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK 73118

Michigan Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, April 22, 2014   9:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Michigan State Capitol - Room 402/403   W. Michigan Ave & S. Capitol Ave
Lansing, MI 48933

Indiana Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, February 25, 2014   9:30 AM - 3:30 PM
Indiana Historical Society   450 West Ohio Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202

Kentucky Humane Lobby Day 
Thursday, February 20, 2014   10:00 AM - 2:30 PM 
Capitol Annex, Room 111   702 Capitol Avenue
Frankfort, KY 40601

Tennessee Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, February 25, 2014   8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Tennessee State Capitol - Old Supreme Court Chambers   600 Charlotte Ave
Nashville, TN 37219

Mississippi Humane Lobby Day
Wednesday, February 19, 2014   9:00 AM - 3:00 PM 
Woolfolk Annex Building   501 N West St
Jackson, MS 39201

Florida Humane Lobby Day
Wednesday, March 26, 2014   8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Challenger Learning Center   200 S. Duval Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301

West Virginia Humane Lobby Day
Monday, February 3, 2014   8:30 AM - 4:00 PM
West Virginia Capitol   1900 Kanawha Blvd E
Charleston, WV 25305 

Maryland Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, February 4, 2014   8:30 AM - 3:00 PM
St. Anne's Parish, Parish Hall   199 Duke of Gloucester Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

Vermont Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, February 25, 2014   9:00 AM - 3:00 PM 
Pavilion Office Building - Auditorium   109 State St.
Montpelier, VT 05609

Massachusetts Humane Lobby Day
Tuesday, March 18, 2014   11:00 AM - 4:30 PM
Massachusetts State House   24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Just another day in the USA

"Tell Washington it's too dangerous to wait." — Gabby Giffords

THERE HAVE BEEN eleven school shootings so far this month. I keep wondering when we, the people, will have had enough and muster the will to hold every single elected official accountable for this crisis. Below is an article from The Wire.

January's Epidemic: 11 School Shootings in 19 Days

By Abby Ohlheiser
January 28, 2014 

January 2014 is threatening to become the month when gun violence became a matter of routine in America's schools. Since the start of the month, there have been at least 11 active shooting incidents on a high school or college campus, one for every two weekdays of the month (including New Year's Day.) Those shootings — all on or near school grounds while students were present, and most perpetrated by students themselves — have claimed at least two lives and injured at least 11 students.

But in addition to the actual shootings, the number of shooting scares and threats are on the rise as well. Reports of "active shooters" and precautionary lockdowns have become a part of every school's standard procedures. If it feels like there's "another one" every day now, that's because that's very nearly true. In fact, the latest school shooting (the wounding of a 17-year-old in Hawaii) happened while this very post was being edited.

For comparison, there were as many as 28 school shootings during the entire year of 2013, the 12 months after Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 first-graders and 6 teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. In other words, the year our nation had supposedly had enough and was finally going to do something about gun violence.

Here's what the month in school shootings and scares looks like (so far) on a calendar. Orange is a shooting, red means more than one shootings, and yellow is a scare or lockdown, prompted by a report to police. (The two incidents on the 15th and 16th were actually a continuation of one incident, as the same student brought a gun to class on both days.)

ThinkProgress also noted the frequency of school shootings this month, concluding that there's been a shooting pretty much every other day so far. When you factor in lockdowns and scares, and note that most schools were on holiday break until at least the 6th (and that January 20th, Martin Luther King Day, was also a national holiday) gun incidents have become an almost daily occurrence at American schools this year.

Here are the shootings so far, for January 2014:

— On January 9th, a 17-year-old high school student was wounded when a 16-year-old classmate allegedly shot him outside of Liberty Technology Magnet High School in Jackson, Tennessee.

— On January 13th, a 14-year-old freshman at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn., was shot twice after a basketball game at the school. The shooter was not immediately apprehended. Days later, a 17-year-old turned himself in.

— On January 14th, two students were shot at a Roswell, New Mexico middle school. The gunman was 12 years old. He opened fire in the school gym, until a staff member at the school talked him into putting down his weapon.

— On January 17th, a 17-year-old student at a Philadelphia charter school opened fire and injured two of his classmates. The suspect will be charged as an adult. Two other teens were brought in for questioning in connection to the incident, but later cleared.

— Also on January 17th, an Albany High School student was shot near campus. The Friday shooting sent the Georgia school into lockdown. 

— On January 20th, a  Widener University student was shot while sitting in his car in a campus parking lot.

— On January 21st, one student died at Purdue University after being shot by a classmate at the university's engineering school.

— Also on January 21st, Turlock's Wakefield Elementary School in California went into lockdown following a shooting across the street from campus.

— On January 24th, one student died in a shooting at South Carolina State University. 

— On January 27th, police were investigating a shots fired incident at or near Rebound High School in Carbondale, Illinois. The victim was apparently the father of one of the school's students. Two high schoolers allegedly involved in the incident didn't return to school after lunch.

— On January 28th, a 17-year-old boy at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, was shot in the wrist and wounded after reportedly attacking school police officers with a knife.. The unknown suspect was taken in custody.

There's a good chance that we missed some of the close calls and scares as it seems like there's been almost too many to keep track of, but a cursory search surfaced quite a few of them for January:

— On January 15th and 16th, a student at Glenn Hills Middle School in Georgia brought a gun to school two days in a row. He was apparently attempting to rob another student

— On January 17th, Richmond Hill High School in Georgia went into lockdown after reports of a student with a gun on campus. There was also, apparently, a bomb threat.

— On January 22nd, University of Oklahoma went into lockdown after reports of shots fired at the school's architecture building. A police search turned up no evidence of a shooting.

— On January 23rd, Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado went into lockdown after a series of threatening phone calls.

If you count the double incident in Georgia, there has now been a shooting, lockdown, or gun scare somewhere in the United States for the last 12 consecutive weekdays. (There have only been 19 full weekdays this month, and that's counting MLK Day.) And this tally doesn't even take into account this month's mass shootings in other public places. Like last Saturday, for instance, when a 19-year-old opened fire at a Maryland mall, killing two people before killing himself.

Although, by the Daily Beast's count, states enacted 106 of the 540 gun bills proposed in 2013, efforts to pass national legislation with even basic amendments to federal gun control laws have failed. Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords will attempt to push the issue nationally once again with an ad that will air before and after tonight's State of the Union Speech. 

"Tell Washington it's too dangerous to wait," Giffords says in the ad. So far, January 2014's list of school shootings is sadly helping her to make her point. And there's still three days left.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Talking to the enemy

“When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting.” — Daryl Davis

PROPS to Paul for finding this great story on the website Liberty Voice (love their tag line which is Bolding Inclusive) out of Las Vegas.

KKK Member Walks up to Black Musician in Bar — but It’s Not a Joke, and What Happens Next Will Astound You
November 20, 2013 — By Rebecca Savastio

Daryl Davis is no ordinary musician. He’s played with President Clinton and tours the country playing “burnin’ boogie woogie piano” and sharing musical stylings inspired by greats like Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s a highly respected and electrifying performer who is currently an integral member of The Legendary Blues Band (formerly known as the Muddy Waters Band,) and he rocks the stage all over the nation.
Davis’ travels, of course, have always afforded him the opportunity to meet a huge range of diverse people, but perhaps nothing could have prepared him for the moment that would change his life.
It was 1983 and Davis was playing country western music in an (informally) all-white lounge. He was the only black musician in the place and when his set was over, a man approached him. “He came up to me and said he liked my piano playing,” says Davis, “then he told me this was the first time he heard a black man play as well as Jerry Lee Lewis.” 
Davis, somewhat amused, explained to the man: “Jerry Lee learned to play from black blues and boogie woogie piano players and he’s a friend of mine. He told me himself where he learned to play.” 
Daryl Davis and Jerry Lee Lewis.
At first, Davis says, the man was skeptical that Jerry Lee Lewis had been schooled by black musicians, but Davis went on to explain in more detail. 
“He was fascinated,” says Davis, “but he didn’t believe me. Then, he told me he was a Klansman.”
Most people in this day and age probably would have turned and run right out of that good ol’ boy’s bar, but not Davis. He stayed and talked with the Klansman for a long time. 
“At first, I thought ‘why the hell am I sitting with him?’ but we struck up a friendship and it was music that brought us together,” he says.
That friendship would lead Davis on a path almost unimaginable to most folks. Today, Davis is not only a musician, he is a person who befriends KKK members and, as a result, collects the robes and hoods of Klansmen who choose to leave the organization because of their friendship with him.
The road to these close and authentic friendships, Davis says, involved a lot of learning on his part. He’d had racist experiences and had long wanted to write a book about race relations, but hadn’t had the opportunity to sit down and talk to a Klansman. His upbringing was extremely diverse, and his first experience with organized racism was a shock.
 "I was raised overseas in integrated schools. I had had a racist experience already but I didn’t know people organized into groups whose premise was to be racist and exclude other people. It seemed unfathomable to me. My parents were in the Foreign Service and I was an American embassy brat, going to international schools overseas. My classes were filled with anyone who had an embassy: Japanese, German, French, Italian. It was multicultural but that term did not exist at that time. For me it was just the norm. Every time I would come back (to the US,) I would see people separated by race. When my father was telling me about (the KKK) at the age of 10 it didn’t make any sense to me. I had always gotten along with everyone."
When Davis decided he needed to write a book about the KKK, he knew he had to find the friend he’d made in the country western bar. Davis tracked him down eight years after they had first met.
Daryl Davis at a KKK rally.
“I went to his apartment unannounced,” Davis says. “He opens the door and sees me, and he says ‘Daryl! What are you doing here?’ He stepped out of his apartment and I stepped in. He said ‘what’s going on man? Are you still playing?’ I said ‘I need to talk to you about the Klan.’”
At first, his friend resisted, saying he would not give Davis the information he was seeking. “He would not do it because he was fearful; he thought I would be killed." 
"I said, 'Well give me the guy’s number and address.'" 
He finally gave me Roger Kelly’s number and address but he told me: ‘don’t go to his house; meet him in a public place.’” Davis immediately began making plans to approach Kelly, who at the time was the leader of the KKK in Maryland.
“My secretary called him,” Davis says, “and I told her, ‘do not tell Roger Kelly I’m black. Just tell him I am writing a book on the Klan.’ I wanted her to call because she’s white. I knew enough about the mentality of the Klan that they would never think a white woman would work for a black man. She called him and he didn’t ask what color I was, so we arranged to meet at a motel.”
That meeting, says Davis, was fraught with tension from the start. Kelly arrived at the motel with a nighthawk-a bodyguard dressed in military style fatigues complete with a firearm.
"We met at a motel, and I sent my secretary down the hall to get an ice bucket and sodas so I could offer Mr. Kelly a beverage. The room, by coincidence, was set up so that if the door opened, you could not see who was inside…Right on time there’s a knock on the door. A bodyguard dressed in military gear comes in with a KKK beret and a gun on his hip. Mr. Kelly is directly behind him in a dark blue suit. The bodyguard comes in and sees me and freezes in his tracks. Mr. Kelly trips and slams into him like they were dominoes."
"I saw the apprehension so I got up and walked over and said ‘Hi Mr. Kelly, come on in.’ He shook my hand, the bodyguard shook my hand, and they came in. Mr. Kelly sits down and the bodyguard stands at his right. He asked for identification and I handed him my drivers’ license. He says ‘oh you live on Flack Street in Silver Spring.’ Well, I didn’t need him coming to my house and burning a cross or whatever, and here he is calling off my street address. I wanted to let him know not to come to my house so I said ‘yes, and you live at…’ and I said his street address. I made it clear — ’let’s confine our visit to this hotel room.’"

But I had no reason to be concerned. One of his Klan members lived right down the street from me. It was coincidence.
The tension, however, continued, Davis says, and eventually reached a fever pitch.
"Every time my cassette would run out of tape, I would reach down into my bag and pull out another. Every time I reached down, the bodyguard would reach for his gun. He didn’t know what was in the bag. After a while he relaxed and realized nothing was in the bag but cassettes and the bible. After about an hour, there was a very loud, strange noise which was ominous, and I was apprehensive. In the back of my mind, I heard my friend in my head saying ‘Mr. Kelly will kill you.’"
"I stood up and slammed my hands on the table, and I felt my life was in danger. When my hands hit the table, my eyes locked with his, and he could read them. We stared into each other’s eyes. The bodyguard was looking back and forth at us, but then my secretary Mary realized what had happened."
"The ice bucket had melted and the cans of soda shifted, and that’s what made the noise! We all began laughing at how stupid we all had been. In retrospect, it was a very important lesson that was taught. All because a foreign entity of which we were ignorant, entered into our comfort zone, we became fearful of each other. The lesson learned is: ignorance breeds fear. If you don’t keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. If you don’t keep hatred in check it will breed destruction."
After that defining moment, the meeting was much more relaxed. Davis became friends with Kelly and eventually went on to befriend over 20 members of the KKK. He has collected at least that many robes and hoods, which he has hanging in his closet. He also is viewed as being responsible for dismantling the entire KKK in Maryland because things “fell apart” after he began making inroads with its members there.
He says that KKK members have many misconceptions about black people, which stem mostly from intense brainwashing in the home. When the Klansmen get to know him, he says, it becomes impossible for them to hold on to their prejudices.
"This Klansman and I were riding around in my car and the topic of crime came up. He made the remark that all black people had a gene that makes us violent. I said ‘Gary, what are you talking about?’ He said ‘Who’s doing all the shootings?’ I said ‘let me tell you something, I am as black as anyone you’ve ever seen and I’ve never done a drive by or a shooting.’ After a time I said ‘you know, it’s a fact that all white people have within them a gene that makes them serial killers. Name me three black serial killers.’ He could not do it. I said ‘you have the gene. It’s just latent.’ He said ‘well that’s stupid’ I said ‘it’s just as stupid as what you said to me.’ He was very quiet after that and I know it was sinking in."
Davis also became close with Robert White, a Grand Dragon in the KKK. 
“I respect someone’s right to air their views whether they are wrong or right. Robert White was a Grand Dragon who had gone to prison numerous times. I said I wanted to interview him for my book. At first, he was very violent and very hateful but we talked for a long time. Over time, he began thinking about a lot of things he had done and said that were wrong. He quit the Klan. Toward the end he said he would follow me to hell and back. …and he gave me his robe and hood, and his police uniform.”
Daryl Davis with robes and hoods 
Klansmen have surrendered to him.
Davis recounts his experiences with the KKK in his book Klan-Destine Relationships. He says his friendships are real and intimate, and that he does typical things with his friends who are in the Klan. He has even served as a pallbearer at a Klansman’s funeral and attended another’s wedding. 
When asked about the fear many people feel when confronted with images of KKK members, he says “It’s just material. You have to address what’s in the person head and in their heart.”
Indeed, Davis says that the best way to break down barriers and improve race relations is for two people who disagree with each other to sit down and talk.
"A lot of people have anti-racist groups. They get together and meet and have a diverse group and all they do and sit around and talk about how bad discrimination is. Then someone says ‘there’s a Klan group across town. Why don’t we invite them to come and talk to us?’ and the other person says ‘Oh no! We don’t want that guy here!’ Well, you’re doing the exact same thing they are. What’s the purpose of meeting with each other when we already agree? Find someone who disagrees and invite them to your table."
"Invite your enemy to talk. Give them a platform to talk because then they will reciprocate. Invite your enemies to sit down and join you. You never know; some small thing you say might give them food for thought, and you will learn from them. Establish dialogue. It’s when the talking stops that the ground becomes fertile for fighting."
Davis currently keeps busy by playing in his band and touring the country giving lectures. He is planning a second follow-up book to Klan-Destine Relationships. He says there’s no need to be afraid of the KKK because at least they make their intentions clear, whereas racism can manifest in anyone, and it is often invisible. He urges those who wish to combat racism to reach out to those who have misconceptions about race.
“When two enemies are talking,” he says, “they’re not fighting.”

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Travel junkie

"Wherever you go, go with all your heart." — Confucius 

YOU WOULDN'T know it based on the last couple of years, but I'm a travel junkie. Paul should have been able to read the signs. 

When we'd only just met and had yet to go on a date, Paul told me that if I felt like coming back to Spaghetti Works — where we met — to hear the Des Moines Big Band play again the next week, he'd save me a seat.

I said I'd probably stop by, but I almost didn't because I was consumed with trying to work out details for a trip to Switzerland using a ticket a friend had purchased. At the last minute he couldn't go and gave it to me. Turned out to be non-transferrable, but otherwise I would have been on the plane.

BP (Before Paul), I spent two months in Europe on my own, once flew from Alaska where I was working to Hawaii on vacation, have been to England (twice), Ireland (three times), Portugal, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Finland, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Estonia, Canada (four times), Mexico (six times), Costa Rica, St. Martin and the Bahamas, and though I haven't hit every state in the US, I've spent time in all but Arizona, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Vermont and West Virginia. Of course I know there are WAY more places that I haven't been than I have, but still it's a good bit of gadding about. 

I have to laugh at myself. Paul and I will have just gotten back from a trip somewhere, and I'll think, "Oh good. Now I've got that out of my system," and then a month later I'll hear that siren song and find myself looking at discount fares to Europe or the Caribbean

Like anyone, I like to get the biggest bang for our travel bucks, so my ears perk up when I hear about new ways to save. Here are a few tricks of the trade excerpted from a January 7, 2014 article in The New York Times by The Frugal Traveler, Seth Kugel.

Tips for Travel Savings in 2014

A Room of One’s Own?

This is no longer just a hostel versus hotel debate. Private rentals through Airbnb have long been in the mainstream, and hospitality exchange sites like Couchsurfing and BeWelcome are thriving — two visitors from Lyon, France, who found me through Couchsurfing, are staying in my living room even as I write this.

For those who need their privacy, don’t write off Airbnb; you can set filters to show you only private rooms or even entire houses. And despite the name, I’ve found that many Couchsurfing hosts (though not me) offer spare bedrooms.

If you really want to stick with just hotels, there are ever more ways to save. Two new sites monitor hotel prices after you reserve in case prices go down: TripRebel simply refunds you the difference, and TripBAM alerts you if the price drops in the same or nearby hotels and offers to rebook your reservation. For the truly picky, TheSuitest uses hotel features and amenities to calculate a room’s value relative to its price, so you can find the best deal on a place with, say, a gym or great views.

Connecting the Stops

On a flight from New York to São Paulo last year, I sat next to a young guy headed to Buenos Aires quite indirectly. He had long layovers in São Paulo and Montevideo, lengthening a 10-hour trip to more than 24 hours. But to him it was a no-brainer — he’d save a few hundred bucks.

If that sounds familiar, you probably already know how to list flights by price and set filters to allow multiple layovers on sites like Kayak and Bing Travel. And here’s another tip for flights in Europe: The WhichAirline app and site ( can help you find inconvenient but very cheap connections that other engines don’t. For example, it found me a $119 flight from Paris to Budapest on the budget carrier Ryanair, with a layover of about five hours in Milan each way. (The cheapest option on the usually dependable was $280.)

If you’re anti-layover, consider making your dates more flexible. It’s far easier than it used to be. About a year ago, Google introduced Flight Explorer (, which displays a bar graph for the best prices to a specific destination over any specified time range. Even better, be flexible about your destination: Pick a region (“Western Europe”) and it will show you those same bar graphs for multiple destinations, starting with the cheapest options. You can also set the maximum length of the trip.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ammonia and you

"What I loathe is the multi-national conglomerates who must take responsibility for the degradation and pollution of so much of our landscape with their factory farming and greed." — Fay Godwin, photographer 

I MENTIONED in a recent post that I subscribed to Mother Jones and donated to their research fund. The investigative journalists there may make me smart yet. Below is an article written by Tom Philpott that's particularly relevant to my fellow Iowans.

Are Agriculture Exports Killing Us?
—By Tom Philpott| Wed Jan. 22, 2014 2:55 AM GMT

Late last year, US Department of Agriculture chief Tom Vilsack boasted that US agriculture exports had hit an all-time high in fiscal 2013, and hailed "historic work by the Obama Administration to break down barriers to US products and achieve new agreements to expand exports." Underlying Vilsack's glee is the idea that growing huge amounts of food here and selling a big chunk of it overseas bolsters the US economy and stabilizes rural America.

That kind of thinking has driven agriculture policy at least since the days when Richard Nixon's ag secretary Earl Butz exhorted farmers to scale up operations and plant "fencerow to fencerow" in order to supply foreign markets.

But a new paper (PDF) from Harvard suggests massive ag exports might not be the economic boon imagined by USDA secretaries. The researchers looked at a single farm pollutant, ammonia (NH3), which makes its way into the air from fertilizer applied to farm fields and from the manure that accumulates on livestock farms. Once it enters the atmosphere, as Erik Stokstad explained in an excellent (pay-walled) news item in Science, it "reacts with other air pollutants to create tiny particles that can lodge deep in the lungs, causing asthma attacks, bronchitis, and heart attacks."

The Harvard team found data on the ammonia emissions associated with various major crops and meat products between 2000 and 2009, calculated what percentage of each commodity goes to exports, and figured out what share of total ag-based ammonia emissions come from growing food for export.

Having calculated the total, they set about figuring out the public-health costs associated with all of that export-driven ammonia billowing about in the air we breathe. The results, as our friends at UpWorthy might say, will astonish you—but not in a warm and fuzzy way. They calculated that our agricultural exports cause $36 billion in annual ammonia-realted healthcare costs, along with about 5,100 premature deaths.

A large hog farm and its ammonia–spewing "manure lagoon." USDA/NRCS

Now, $36 billion might seem somewhat modest compared to the total value of US ag exports, which as Vilsack recently announced, have surged to a record. But the headline export numbers are raw—they don't account for how much farmers spent to produce their export-bound bounty. When the researchers looked at the 2000-2009 period and averaged total exports minus production costs, they found that the net value of US ag exports came in at about $23.5 billion annually (see chart below).

Thousands of deaths aside, simple math—$23 billion in gains vs. $36 billion in costs—suggests that the US policy of pushing ag exports is a net economic loser. And as the authors make clear, ammonia emissions are only one of the hidden costs associated with large-scale agriculture. Others include eutrophication (fertilizer-fed dead zones in lakes and deltas), loss of biodiversity, and greenhouse-gas emissions, including another by-product of excess fertilizer and manure, nitrous oxide.

Of course, the $36 billion in costs associated with ammonia emissions don't affect the bottom lines of the gigantic meat and grain-trading firms that move all that meat and grain from here to foreign markets. Nor does it affect the input suppliers that sell farmers the fertilizers and pesticides to grow the grain that's exported, both directly and in the form of grain-fed beef, pork, and chicken. Such costs are what economists call "externalities"—burdens that fall not on the corporations that profit from making a problematic good, but rather on society as a whole.

And that's a pretty good deal, if you're in the business of, say, producing pork in the US for the booming Chinese market. No wonder a Chinese company bought US pork giant Smithfield last year.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Catnip dreams, Soot

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” ― Thomas Campbell, Scottish poet

For a little over a year, I've been assembling a collection of witty, literate, liberal, loyal, big-hearted, funny, kind, aware, outspoken, animal-loving Facebook friends. Galen Brooks, who is the very embodiment of those qualities, was one of the first to join the club. It's remarkable what good pals we've become. 

His (Ben, Jen and David's) cat Soot of almost 21 years recently died, and in honor of this fine feline and his people, I'm rerunning a post I wrote February 1, 2013. 

I'VE MADE a new friend-of-a-friend. Galen read my post from January 1, 2013 containing the story from the New York Times about Goathouse Refuge. A cat lover himself, he had his own uncommon narrative to tell me about collecting many cats. I'm sharing it with his permission.

Almost 20 years ago, Galen's son, Ben, adopted a kitten while attending Oberlin College and was raising him in his dorm room. This, unsurprisingly, was entirely against the rules, and when he got busted, he phoned Dad in a panic. Galen immediately made an emergency trip to Ohio to rescue Soot the kitten. 

Soot moved in with Galen, and they had a "spectacular time" (his precise words) for three years. But then circumstances changed in Galen's life rendering him unable to keep Soot and do him justice. He worried about finding a proper home for his housemate.

The honorable Soot T. Cat.

The dilemma still unresolved, one day Galen noticed an ad in the Baltimore City Paper soliciting unwanted cats. He was alarmed! No matter how many times he turned it over in his head, he couldn't think of a benign reason someone would offer to take any cat of any age from anyone. 

Days passed, and still he wondered and worried. 

"I had visions of cages in a lab or in the back room of a Thai restaurant, but finally I realized, 'Well, whoever it is can't reach through the phone and actually grab Soot from me. I can call and sleuth out what kind of sinister plot is afoot.'"

As it turned out the ad was placed by a woman who, with her husband before he died and then afterward on her own, had acquired a substantial portfolio of rental properties in Baltimore. In addition to the customary clauses, she had one singular, but strict condition in every lease; tenants were required to assume responsibility for the care and feeding of one cat for each house or apartment.

She kept a number of cats at her home all the time so that when a dwelling was let, the renter could choose his or her cat.
 Many of her tenants were college students who often rented for less than a year, so she experienced a fairly high turn over yielding many cat opportunities.

Although her goal of placing as many cats in homes as possible was worthy, Galen questioned the soundness of her plan. What became of these cats when people moved out? Were they doomed to experience a continuous cycle of being uprooted and shunted about?

"Oh no," this benevolent landlady said. "That never happens. Tenants always take their cats with them. Actually, I often have renters come back for a second cat as a playmate for their first. And that's why I'm constantly looking for cats. Any cat, any age." 

And what about Soot, you may wonder? As it turned out, there was no need to 'lease' Soot after all. Ben was out of college and living in Portland by the time Soot needed a new home, and when he called Dad to say he was coming home for Christmas, Galen said, "Aha! And you'll be taking Soot home with you." 

Soot is now 20 years old, Ben and Jen and Soot have moved back to the DC area, and Galen gets to see all three often. In fact, 'Grandpa' just spent a week babysitting for Soot while Ben and Jen were out of town. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Seinfeld principle

“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren't any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn't be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life's challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.” ― Richard Buckminster Fuller

I WAS NEVER a fan of the TV show, Seinfeld. Not sure why exactly; the characters just kinda got on my nerves. However, I think Seinfeld, the person, has a sharp eye for human nature.

I read an interview with him years ago in which he made an observation that was dead on the mark. He said that men talk about how much they love women, but tend to take the individual ones in their lives for granted and not be particularly nice to them, whereas women roll their eyes and complain about men as a class, but treat the individual ones in their lives with patience and love.

I fit the female model of that paradigm. Fortunately, however, I married someone who isn't the average male. He's really, really nice to me every single day as well as respectful and kind to all women. 

I also evince the same general/specific dichotomy about humanity: in general, I think we're a blight upon the earth, a pox, but individually there are those who are so inventive and altruistic that they make my heart soar.

Below is an article written by Nona Willis Aronowitz for NBC News about one remarkable woman who has figured out how to make a huge difference in the lives of underprivileged mothers and their children. (BTWeducation coverage for is supported by a grant from the Gates Foundation.)

'Mom did it, we can do it': Two-generation programs help lift families out of poverty
By Nona Willis Aronowitz

AMARILLO, Texas—Last Tuesday afternoon, 25-year-old Jessica Welch escorted her three young children into her well-appointed, four-bedroom duplex. Family pictures and a constellation of crucifixes adorned the walls; a colorful homemade quilt hung over the sofa. Her two daughters, 9 and 4, started bickering over Christmas candy, while her son, a first-grader, quietly started homework in a loose-leaf binder. Periodically, the kids would run outside and shout out to a few other children across the yard.

Welch earned her associate’s degree in nursing in 2011, so she works two days a week as an RN at the local hospital while the kids are in school. Every night is pretty much the same: After Welch puts her kids to bed, she makes her way over to the desk in the corner, where she studies to finish her Bachelor’s of Science in nursing online at Texas Woman’s University.

Jessica Welch helps her son Kaden with his homework as her daughter
Keja draws inside their home provided by Eveline's Sunshine Cottage in Amarillo, Texas.

A few years ago, this scene of peaceful domesticity was unimaginable. Welch was living in public housing and seldom let her kids play outside because people sold drugs outside her door. Twice a teenage mom, she couldn’t imagine fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse, so she had settled for working as a Certified Nurse Assistant for $7.50 an hour. But that all changed in November 2007, when she applied to be a resident in Eveline’s Sunshine Cottage, a nonprofit program in Amarillo, Texas for single, low-income moms who are serious about getting their education.

At Sunshine, women and their children live in apartments usually subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing or similar programs, and they must be enrolled in 12 credits or more, often at Amarillo College a few blocks away, and maintain a good average. No drugs or alcohol are allowed, and absolutely no men.

It’s a serious commitment, but the rewards are rich: a degree, a safe place to live, role models and childcare, and a community that has your back.

“You can be on government assistance all you want, but you’re just a number,” said Welch, who, now that she works as a nurse, pays the $800 rent herself. “You have mentors and a whole group of people saying that you can do it.”

Eveline’s Sunshine Cottage is a small, intimate example of a relatively new approach for ending the cycle of poverty, in which 16 million American children live: two-generation educational solutions, where the focus is on both parents and children.

This idea can take many forms, like pairing early childhood education with career advancement classes for adults, or getting parents more involved in their child’s Head Start program. But a particularly hands-on approach is a residence like the Cottage—which not only allows a mother to pursue an education, but provides a built-in support system for her entire family. The Cottage connects families to two daycare centers within walking distance, helps with Head Start applications, and works with an organization called HIPPY, a free, in-home instructional program for parents of preschool-aged children.

Cottage resident Sheneka Collins in her home. She is pursuing
a degree in education with the goal of becoming a principal.

Although this two-pronged approach may seem like a no-brainer, “it’s a surprisingly new idea and hasn’t yet been brought to scale [nationally],” said Barbara Gault, executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “It’s not just a matter of providing high-quality education to children. It’s about not thinking of their parents as a lost cause.”

Programs like these have a domino effect, said Gault. “When a single mother gets a college degree, you’re reaching her kids and her kids’ kids.”

Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, even as the state’s funding for families has gone down. Since the sequester has taken effect, thousands of low-income children in Texas have lost access to childcare, and the state lost about $2,263,000 in funding for job search assistance. So it’s up to people like Eveline Rivers, founder and director of the program in Amarillo, to fill that gap.

But Rivers didn’t set out to replicate national trends toward two-generation solutions. In fact, the Cottage emerged rather organically. Rivers had been organizing her longstanding “Christmas project,” which provides presents to low-income children in the area. Year after year, she saw the names of the same single moms. “I thought, ‘we’re just putting a Band-Aid over the problem,” said Rivers.

A more longterm solution, she reasoned, would be to figure out how to help the women get educated. One October night in 1999, she got wind of a small apartment building for sale three blocks away from Amarillo College, and she had the idea for Eveline’s Sunshine Cottage. She established it as a nonprofit with the help of an attorney friend, and started writing grants. To her surprise, the money—from foundations, individuals, and local businesses—poured in.

In 2001, she moved her first families in, and in the years that followed, the nonprofit bought two more buildings on the same street. The Sunshine Cottage now has capacity for nine families. The community, which Rivers refers to as “the sisterhood,” is tight-knit. They babysit for each other. They lend each other eggs and milk. They trade information about preschools and nursing clinics at the nearby college. The result is a sort of makeshift mirror image of the college dorm experience—only with diapers to change and mouths to feed.

Eveline's Sunshine Cottage founder Eveline Rivers (left) hugs resident Sheneka Collins.

“They’ve all come from a tough situation, so they understand on some level what the others are going through,” said Rivers. “Part of the point is so they can find friendship.”

Before Welch picked up her kids from school, she went to lunch at Rivers’ house for a “moms-only” meal, something Rivers tries to organize every month or so. This Tuesday, she served all the moms a feast of chicken spaghetti, salad, garlic bread and homemade chocolate cake. Her house is cheerfully decorated with plaques bearing perky adages like, “Remember, ‘Stressed’ Is ‘Desserts’ Backwards.”

It was just Rivers and “the girls” that day, but sometimes she’ll invite Nancy Brent, the director of the Adult Students Program at Amarillo College, to help the mothers with class schedules, financial aid, and scholarship applications. Other times she brings a board member who offers budgeting advice to the women. Rivers’ community ties in Amarillo run deep, and she shares them with her girls. Her mechanic friend teaches the moms how to change tires. Her orthodontist friend has gifted a few with braces.

“You’re kind of welcomed into this community, and it’s like a bonding thing,” said Shaneka Collins, 31, a resident who has four kids and is working toward a degree in education, after moving in from a local shelter almost two years ago. Until she came to the Sunshine Cottage, she didn’t think she could “get back in the groove” of school, because “I had nobody who pushed me, or told me that they’re proud of me, or that they expect me to succeed,” she said. “[Here] you have that every day.”

Most of the Sunshine Cottage women said their kids were doing better in school, too. “They see me studying and get excited when I get 100 on a test and put it on the refrigerator,” said Collins. It’s now a given that her kids will go to college—“they want to be doctors and they want nice things, and they need an education for those.”

And then there are the “cottages” themselves, furnished and decorated with donations from Amarillo residents. Having a comfortable home “just has a calming effect,” said Claudia Correa, who works fulltime in customer service at an energy company and goes to school fulltime for business management.

Before moving into the Cottage, Correa, 37, and her four children were sleeping on the couch and floor of her father’s two-bedroom apartment. “When you don’t have your own place to live, it’s very emotionally draining,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen the next day.”

Similar programs are trying to apply the two-generation solution idea nationally. The Jeremiah Program, which serves 77 families in the Twin Cities, is planning to double that capacity by building facilities currently underway in Austin, Tex. and Fargo, N.D.

“The idea of a campus community, about getting like-minded people to support each other…and breaking down that barrier of isolation—that can be done on a larger scale,” said Gloria Perez, president and CEO of the Jeremiah Program.

At Jeremiah, there’s an Eveline-like professional serving 18 moms at a time: a “life skill coach” who meets with them once a month to check on their progress. Jeremiah engages community volunteers, much like Rivers’ network of Amarillo professionals. The success stories make this idea attractive to deep-pocketed philanthropists: the Aspen Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation each have given millions of dollars toward two-generation programs.

And according to early research, this approach seems to be working: studies show that when parents continue their education, “the home environment becomes richer, it’s more cognitively stimulating, and it helps children learn,” said Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, a professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, who is developing a two-generation project of her own in Evanston, Ill. A report by Katherine Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin found that if mothers went back to school while their kids were still young, their children were less likely to drop out of high school or to become teen parents.

Meanwhile, Eveline’s Sunshine Cottage has graduates who are thriving. 

Shannon Davidson entered the program in 2005, when she was 27 and had three kids, no job, no car, and no place to live. “We were really desperate,” she said. Once a ninth-grade dropout, she stayed at the Cottage for five years and got her associate’s degree. She now makes $25 an hour working fulltime as an RN and recently bought a house in Amarillo. Her oldest son is about to graduate high school and wants to eventually attend the police academy.

“My kids think, ‘Mom did it, we can do it,’” Davidson said. “It’s pretty much that simple.”

These successes reverberate beyond the nuclear family. Davidson inspired Welch to apply to the program. And Welch, in turn, referred another woman, Elsa Flores, whom she’d known since sixth grade. Welch now works at the same hospital where she delivered her three children, and sees teen moms like her all the time.

“Now I can talk to these young girls that everyone else brushes off,” she said. “I can tell them it’s possible to choose the right choices.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Oh why not

“Some women hold up dresses that are so ugly and they always say the same thing: 'This looks much better on.' On what? On fire?” — Rita Rudner

WHAT THE HECK. Here are the worst dressed at the Golden Globes IMHO.

Hayden Panattiere
Lena Dunham

Berenice Bejo

Caitlin Fitzgerald

Edie Falco

Drew Barrymore

Aubrey Plaza

Kristin Chenoweth

Zooey Deschanel

Olivia Wilde

Julie Bowen

Julia Roberts

Zoe Saldana

Paula Patton

Golden Globes 2014

“Where's the man that could ease a heart like a satin gown?” ― Dorothy Parker

DID YOU watch the Golden Globes Sunday night? We Tivoed it so we could fast forward through speeches and commercials. Usually I go on about the dresses I liked and the ones I didn't. This time I'm just posting pictures of the ones I thought were perfect, or at least pretty darn close. 

I gave two thumbs down to a bunch of them because they were just too gol-darn skimpy, (side-boob exposure is my latest unfavorite fashion trend), and then of course there were, as usual, some just plain plug-ugly ones. Below are ones I liked.

Tina Fey

Amber Heard

Leslie Mann

Uma Thurman

Lupita Nyong’o

Sofia Vergera

The Golden Globes were a little more fun to watch because we'd just seen American Hustle the night before. It was so well acted! Jennifer Lawrence is just a total savant/phenom as an actor. Amy Adams won the Golden Globe for best female actor in a comedy movie, Jennifer won for best supporting female actor, and the movie won best picture in the same category. But I can't believe that Christian Bale didn't win for the part he played. He was incredible.