Lately I've been thinking about meat. It's an autumn subject, arising with the start of deer and duck season. Around this time of year you get to sample meats you don't get at other times of year. Squirrel. Quail. Venison. Bear. Beaver. Ivory billed woodpecker. Kidding.
Most of our meat comes from three animals. Beef, pork, chicken. Most Americans eat fish infrequently, and then largely tuna, catfish, salmon and trout. So that's seven animals that account for almost all of the meat consumed in America.
If I made ninety percent of my diet out of three vegetables and ninety percent of the remaining out of four more, I'd expect to have a deficiency of some kind. No nutritionist would suggest that I choose seven fruits and vegetables and eat them exclusively.
Further consider that domesticated animals are bred to be docile, fast-growing with meat that is sweet and tender. Nutritional factors are given less attention, particularly if they conflict with the animals being docile, fast growing, sweet and tender. Government regulations don't require that meat be proven nutritious, only reasonably safe.
When I consider those two factors together I've got to wonder if the American diet might have some hidden inadequacies.
So I called around to some half-dozen local butcher shops to see if there was anything out there to break the monotony. I asked if they had either emu or goat. And guess what. They didn't. Beef. Chicken. Lamb. That's it. Only one of them knew of a commercial product that had deer meat in it, and that wasn't really enough to taste.
I know there are alligator farms around. They must do something with the meat. I know that deer and bear and emu and ostrich are farmed. Where's bear meat in the local meat case? If there was a demand for rattlesnake, I'm sure they could be farmed, verrrry carefully. And I was truly surprised by the rarity of goat meat. You'd think there'd be some ethnic demand for goat meat, some traditional Mexican or Middle Eastern dish.
EXPLOITED WAL-MART WORKERS
Who gets paid less, a Wal-Mart associate or a Daily Show intern? Does Al Franken pay his interns more than Wal-Mart pays their associates? I read his book "Lying Liars, etc..." and he related a story where one of his interns got lyme disease while running an errand for Mr. Franken and guess what! Mr. Franken, Inc. wasn't providing health insurance for that person. I'm not saying Wal-Mart is blameless in all its personnel dealings, but Wal-Mart's critics are guilty of worse exploitation. Insert your favorite aphorism here. Pot/kettle. Take the log out of your own eye. Sauce for the goose. Let you who is without sin. Isn't Al Franken a major spokesman for the Democrats and isn't health care one of the Democratic Party's top priorities?
I've got no particular gripe with Al Franken. I'm with him sometimes and against him sometimes, but he's the most visible example of this kind of double standard. Everybody who goes on TV and criticizes Wal-Mart over wages and health care has interns on their staff.
There was a case where a Wal-Mart store was accused of exploiting undocumented workers. I wonder about the interns on the legal staff representing those workers. Who puts in more hours for less pay than an intern on a pro-bono legal staff? Did they have any sense of irony?
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS REFORM
Speaking of organizations that use interns, nonprofit groups like theatre, ballet, symphony and opera companies have cadres of interns working very long hours and being paid mostly in college credit and false hope. These companies have their special tax status based on the claim that they do some social good, so the government allows them tax breaks as a kind of subsidy.
Thing is, theatre, opera and ballet are all things that rich people go to see. If it's something rich people like, can't they support it without a subsidy?
I don't suggest removing federal subsidies for the arts. Every government for eight thousand years has supported the arts, and ours should be no different. You can tell a lot about the people in charge by the art they support. I do suggest an experiment in the distribution of NEA grants to nonprofit performing arts institutions.
What we are told is that government subsidy is necessary to keep these art forms accessible to the poor. Fine. A noble sentiment. From personal experience, I know the poor don't show up, and even the rich want a further discount on a subsidized ticket. By giving grants to the company, the NEA is often subsidizing an empty seat.
So here's my plan. If you qualify for medicaid, you get season tickets to the local performing arts company of your choice. The government pays for the ticket. You can use the tickets yourself or sell them to a rich person. Make your best deal.
Effect number one, the poor people will very quickly become astute observers of the arts scene. They'll want to know which tickets sell best. The best selling tickets will be requested the most and will recieve the most government money.
Effect number two, communities with the most poor will have the best funded theatres.
Effect number three. Ticket brokers would probably emerge who would buy and sell tickets based on demand. The prices might fluctuate like a stock exchange. Here's an interesting question. Would a poor person take three dollars cash for a ticket to a professional symphony or would he go to the symphony himself?
I know it's an oddbal kind of trickle-up way of distributing arts funding, but for a million dollars the government could try it with, say, the Arkansas Symphony. One season the NEA just buys up every ticket and gives them to the poor to see what happens. The poor person either gets a bit of cash or a night at the opera, which is the original intent, right?
One odd consequence of such a scheme is that people who want tickets will have to negotiate with the poor. Now that's empowerment, putting a limited resource entirely in the hands of the otherwise powerless. Couldn't you just see one of Little Rock's aristocrats trying to recover his primo orchestra season tickets? The classes would have a kind of contact they don't normally have.
WHERE DID ALL THESE EVANGELICALS COME FROM?
They came from the Cold War and from desegregation.
Back during the Cold War the government saw fit to encourage religious fervor to further the effort to oppose the spread of godless communism. Even if you didn't know enough about the communist economic or political system to know what you were opposing, the country churches provided recruits to go to Vietnam and fight the spread of an athiest empire.
The our civilization cultivated and encouraged this religiosity. It was during the cold war that the words "Under God" appeared in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Then came desegregation and bussing. A lot of whites formed private schools to escape the chaos. Forming those schools as adjuncts to churches had tax advantages, plus you could always claim to be putting your kid in a private school for religious rather than racist reasons. Those schools all had religous instruction and lots of those kids were liberally exposed to some very conservative viewpoints they would otherwise not have encountered.
Here we are thirty years later and those products of fundamentalist Christian educations are now in their forties and fifties and they're making themselves heard. This is just the fruit of a tree the government planted a generation ago for other purposes.
I can see why they're angry. They're encouraged in their faith to go fight the devil athiest communist. As soon as the Berlin Wall falls everybody is suddenly all het up over separation of church and state. Get that nativity scene off the courthouse lawn, remove the ten commandments monument, Merry Christmas ist verboten, Happy Holidays, y'all.
While they were away fighting the communist athiests, the draft-dodging secularist lawyers were at work purging God from their own town square. I'm pretty sure that's their point of view, and I'm pretty sure that's the most direct, least diplomatic way I can say it.
So there. I told you where they came from and I told you why they're pissed off. You've got no excuse for not understanding it even if you don't agree with it.
RTJ -- 12/17/2005
THE TWO PROPHETS
Like most good athietst, I spent part of my Christmas reading the Bible and a-thankin' 'bout Jesus.
While skimming Revelations, I came to the part about the Two Prophets who prophesy for 3 1/2 years and then the Antichrist commands them to be killed publicly.
When I saw that part, something clicked into place. After thinking about it for awhile, this idea isn't the best fit I could hope for, buuuuuuuuuut..... here goes anyway.
There were two young Jewish Journalists who got their heads sawed off on TV seen all over the world. Both were young. Both had been at work just a few years. Both had reputations as excellent journalists and fairly fearless boat-rockers. And after all, what is a journalist if not a professional witness? They were the only two journalists who died this way, and they shared so much else in common (family background, their religion, opposition to the war, etc.) that you naturally think of them as a pair. The two witnesses.
I figured that was kind of a force-fit for the imagery, but right after that the Beast with seven heads and ten horns tries to kill the mother of the reincarnated Christ by vomiting out a torrent of raging floods. Take your pick of two images for that. Hurricane Katriina or last year's Christmas Tsunami. The woman in Revelations is rescued by God and flown to the safety of the desert on the wings of an eagle. If you decide the torrent is Katrina, then the Messiah is probably a black Christian, very likely a Catholic. If you decide the torrent refers to the Sunami, then the Messiah is probably a Moslem. So by this interpretation the risen Christ is most likely either a Christian or a Moslem. Narrows it down to what, a half-trillion people? Anyway, although the Beast knows who the Mother is, he doesn't know where the Child is, or for some reason can't reach the Child. He is enraged over that, plus the fact that he has just lost the "War in the Heavens," whatever that means. According to John the Evangelist, the Beast vents his rage on the Earth.
If there's anything to this reading, batten down the hatches for a sh*tstorm.
So that's my contribution to this interpretation game. The death of two witnesses closely preceeds a raging flood, and there it is in the papers.
I had one of those experiences the other day in which I realize that something I've been doing forever is a complete waste of time and money.
My leaf-vac-mulcher gave out, and of course just when I needed it most. I went down to the giant hardware store to buy a replacement. The old one was really a toy. It was an electric jobby with enough power to inhale and grind leaves if they weren't too big and if they could be gently coaxed up the snout of the thing. A substantial black oak leaf of ten or so inches could block the passage and I'd have to break the machine down and clear the material out every few minutes.
So I decided no more kidding around. I was going to get the biggest gas powered model available. It was easy to find. Two hundred bucks.
The price tag was enough to make me pause and think. Plus tax is $218 and that's thirty-five years worth of leaf bags. Then there's the ongoing cost of gas and oil to consider. Then there's the trouble of mixing the gas and oil and storing the mixture and storing the machine and maintaining the machine.
Then there was the mulch itself. I never use oak leaf mulch in the garden because it promotes fungal growth. I don't put in in my compost for the same reason.
Why have I been making all this mulch? I don't use it myself and the yard waste collection guys are just going to mulch it again when they get it back to the disposal site.
Every now and then a moment of lucidity saves me some cash. Too bad I didn't have this moment ten years ago.
RTJ -- 1/8/2006
WORK AND WELFARE
I was listening to an interview with a Katrina victim on NPR today. She was discussing the paperwork problems she was having getting relief checks from FEMA. While she was talking I had this tangential thought.
Government relief is better than a job when it comes to the initial acquisition of the money. The law says that if you fill out the forms right and give them to the right people, then you get money.
A job is different. You can go to a dozen different places, fill out a dozen forms at each place, get everything right in every space and give the right answers to every question the man asks and STILL not get the job.
I'll bet part of the frustration with workers leaving welfare comes from this difference. In the bureaucracy, you do the forms right, you get the payoff. Job hunting seems like a similar procedure, but without the guaranteed payoff. "I filled out the papers. I gave them to the man. Why didn't I get the job?" You might fill out a hundred applications before you get a job, and this conflicts with the expectations created and constantly reinforced by the welfare procedures.
Here's my half-assed suggestion to help reduce that frustration. Worth what you're paying for it. Make welfare bureaucratic procedures as different as possible from typical job application procedures.
RTJ -- 1/4/2006
GULF WAR SYNDROME
The symptom cluster experienced by veterans of the First Gulf War is similar to the symptoms of mercury exposure.
Soldiers are injected with vaccines before going overseas. They get dozens of shots for all kinds of diseases. Mercuric chloride is often used as a preservative in vaccines. If all of a soldier's vaccines are preserved with mercuric chloride, he's going to be exposed to a lot of mercury in a very short time.
If your headaches and mood swings and sleep disorders are caused by mercury exposure, no amount of psychotherapy is going to help you.
RTJ -- 1/16/2006
PET PEEVE: DRAG-AND-DROP EXPERTS
I was browsing the Arkansas tourism websites and found Amanda Galiano's Little Rock page on about.com. She highlighted her top ten roadside attractions in the state, and three of them were links to my website. The rest were either links to other commercial websites or text listings that she could hav gotten by phone or from my website.
This "Arkansas Expert," Amanda Galiano might be a pseudonym for some outsourced computer nerd on the far side of the world. There's no indication other than her bio page to suggest that she's ever been here. Her roadside attraction page is 30% my material.
I suppose strictly speaking, she doesn't take credit for my work so much as she links to my pages and keeps them within her own site while about.com sells ad space in the margins. That's just thiiiis close to them selling ads on my website. I know there's nothing I can do, but it bothers me.
If anybody out there knows an HTML string that will stop them from framing my material within their commercial website, please let me know.
I once got a letter from a woman who had written one of those books about goofy roadside attracttions and festivals all across the country. I don't remember the title, but it had a cover picture of a go cart shaped like a high-heeled shoe. She praised my work and flattered me and kissed my butt and asked me to link to her website, which was set up to sell the book.
I told her that this was the kind of thing I might link to, but before I did I wanted to know how many of the attractions and festivals had she personally visited and how much of the book was written over the phone.
I did not get a direct answer, but that butt-kissing quickly turned into an ass-chewing. The sense I got was that quite a lot was done over the phone.
That's why I link to Roadside America and not to a lot of other places. These guys actually go to the places and then write about them.
I've got no problem with people using my material to find interesting places to go and things to do. That's why I write it. But for crying out loud, people, write your own stories and take your own pictures if you're going to claim to be an expert or a guide.
If you've seen the Weird U.S. series, those guys are actually going places and showing you things, and that's something I can approve of. Plus, I like the fact that they don't set themselves up as experts. Rather, they present themselves as tourists who are in search of experts.
One more thing on this subject: I once was looking up Dogpatch on the web and found that one of those web-based cultural encyclopedias had made their Dogpatch story out of three or four paragraphs plagiarized from my own story. There was even a typographic error that they had not bothered to change.
So I wrote to them, saying shame shame, you ripped off my story verbatim, that's plagiarism, naughty naughty.
They wrote me back, apologizing and saying the people responsible no longer worked at the company. Of course I believed them. I've never heard that one before.
A couple of days later I checked the page again. The typo had been corrected.
RTJ -- 1/21/2006
Every year scientists come up with a flu vaccine and every year there's a new virus or two that threatens to become widespread, and every year science comes up with appropriate new flu vaccines. Apparently it's fairly routine. Once a virus is isolated, antigens can be developed which will provoke the body to produce antibodies and bingo, there's your vaccine. They do it every year like clockwork.
So here's the question. AIDS is a virus. Scientists have isolated it. If it's so routine to make vaccines for flu viruses, why can't they do it for the AIDS virus?
RTJ -- 1/24/2006
A MOMENT OF LUCIDITY CONCERNING HILLARY CLINTON
All Hillary Clinton's adult life she had struggled in her husband's shadow, her intelligence and assertiveness resented by both friends and rivals. She was criticized by Arkansas political wives for not playing her support role. She spoke early and often and under criticism on the need for progressive legislation concerning health care, maternity leave, education and blah de blah de blah. Government sponsorship of every social good. The Peoples Republic of Arkansas.
As President, Bill put her in charge of developing health care proposals. Again she was stifled and for much the same reasons as before. Over the years she has collected tons of well-developed ideas for the advancement of social and economic justice.
Finally, her hard work and party loyalty paid off and she got herself shoehorned into a New York Senate Seat. Not that she doesn't deserve it or can't handle it, but most Senators get there by more conventional means.
At last she has the political clout to present her agenda. At last she can take her light out from under a bushel and let it shine. Education! Universal Health Care! Economic justice! Prison reform! Maternity leave! Social equality!
But first....., cock fighting.
What happened to all that other stuff? That stuff that was so important. How is it that as soon as you're through with Freshman Orientation you introduce an initiative to ban cockfighting and restrict the raising and transport of fighting birds? What shuffle brought that card to the top of the deck? You look at your list of things to do to make my life count. Let's seeeeeee.... nine am, day one.... stamp out cock fighting.
Was it that listening tour you went on? Is cockfighting something New Yorkers were really bending your ear about? What have you got agianst... you know.
There's only a couple of places in America where raising fighting cocks is of any importance at all, and one of them is Arkansas, or was. You were never shy about your opinions, where was this one for twelve years? It seems to have sprung fully grown from the forehead of Zeus the minute you got your stuff unpacked.
So here's what it sounds like to me. One of your new constituents handed it to you, and you pushed it even though it meant a jab in the ribs to your old home. Like a loyalty test, a kind of burning of bridges, an offense deliberately calculated to announce your new political friends and your rejection of your old loyalties. You marshalled the combined force of the Democratic party and got the thing through.
Ever wonder why we now have a Republican Governor?
Nice going, Hillary. You lost Arkansas for the Democrats, but you've got PETA behind you.
THE CARTOON RIOTS
I don't know what's in the purple ink those guys dip their fingers in when they vote, but apparently it goes right to the brain.
RTJ -- 2/10/2006Arkansas Travelogue home page | Matters Literary