Thursday, February 25, 2010

Most of our work is about giving communications advice to non-profit advocacy groups.  Some of that disappears into the bowels of organizations never to be seen again.  So it is satisfying to catch it when it actually emerges out into the world.  Our work on the "ripple effect" that the arts have has been getting a good deal of circulation.

Last year we did research for the Union of Concerned Scientists to help with their efforts to move the US away from its reliance on factory farms.  (Actually, one of our recommendations was to not use the term "factory farms" at all, but instead to use the technical term, CAFO.)  A letter to the editor in today's New York Times is a perfect encapsulation of the kind of message that we helped them craft -- to reach the audience that they need to persuade.

The letter was in response to an appalling editorial about how we should deal with the cruelty of CAFO's by engineering animals that feel less pain.

To the Editor:
Given that our current system for producing meat inflicts pain on animals, the sensible response is to change the system, not the animals.  Adapting food animals to an admittedly cruel system is a poor use of advanced scientific knowledge, especially since we are not “stuck” with the confined animal feed operations, or CAFOs, that dominate our current system.  Smart pasture operations raise cows on pasture, which is what they are built to eat. The same pasture operations that make for contented cows also protect air and water quality, sequester heat-trapping carbon and don’t undercut the efficacy of valuable human antibiotics. Eventually the price differential between CAFO and grass-fed cows will decrease as pasture-intensive operations scale up.  Instead of engineering animals to adapt to pain, we should focus on moving now toward food production systems that are good for people, food animals and the environment.

Mardi Mellon
Director, Food and Environment Program,
Union of Concerned Scientists
Washington, Feb. 19, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Porter turned twelve today and blew out the candles on a plate of lemon bars.

Here is part of a poem he wrote last year (with a little help from Judith Viorst):

If I were in charge of the world
I'd cancel tomatoes
Wednesday afternoons
Gross medication, and also
A certain middle-schooler.

If I were in charge of the world 
There'd be visible leprechauns,
Smarter guinea pigs, and
Ladder trees.

If I were in charge of the world
You wouldn't have ouch.
You wouldn't have dirty.
You wouldn't have bedtimes.
Or, "Time for lights out!"
You wouldn't even have lights.

If I were in charge of the world
Coffee ice-cream 
would be a vegetable.
All video games would be E
And a person who sometimes forgot to eat,
And sometimes forgot to think,
Would still be allowed to be
In charge of the world.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

At age 40 I could say I was half-way to 80, but turning 45, to say halfway to 90 seems overly optimistic.  So somewhere there I crossed that half-way point.  Still you never know.  The family tree is knotted with tough old Puritans and Scots farmers who lived well into their 90s.

We went out for breakfast at the Whistlestop cafe so Nico could watch the trains go by as he had his pancakes.  The crossing gates were coming down even as we pulled up in the car - so he and I got out to grip the chain link fence and we squinted through the ferocious wind and roar that Amtrak's Northeast Regional threw back at us.

A simple strawberry shortcake, split among the four of us served as my birthday cake.

In the evening we went over to Charles and Patty's and got in their way as they cooked us all a wonderful dinner of Indian food.  Beer was drunk; laughter was laughed; commensality ensued.  It was good.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I saw a woman with a Modigliani face in a silver SUV waiting patiently, maybe mournfully, to turn past the little graveyard on Route 1 where the Dennison sea captains and their dead children lay 10 generations buried beneath stones engraved with weathered, winged skulls.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Phew, a month has passed as the blog has sat fallow.

I was off in Los Angeles for 10 days at the end of January -- doing ethnography for one of the unions trying to organize grocery workers, and managing a couple of other ethnographers, a videographer, and another anthropologist doing on-going phone interviews for the same project.  That set us hip-deep in data that we're still chewing through.

It was good to see Anna, Esperanza and Alberto, and I used Glendale as my base of operations.  They fed me well.

As that California project slips into the write-up and video-edit stages, I'm running point on the next phase of research, interviewing Walmart employees. (More on that later.)

In Rhode Island and Connecticut, unsettled weather has brought snow days and school delays.  Nothing like the blizzards they've gotten further south and inland, but Monica and the boys have been exploring the local ski slopes.  A few warm days have thinned the snow cover and it's patchy on the sunniest spots.  The rivers are running high.  A bluebird showed up yesterday morning, poking around in Nico's birdhouse.  The juncos hopped around looking at it as though it were an apparition.

I introduced the boys to GURPS, the role-playing game, and it became an immediate obsession.  Their characters bonded in their first tavern brawl - an important rite of passage in gaming.  And now they are starting out on a campaign to free some captive wizards in hopes of getting some magic items in reward.  Porter has a cat-man with powers of stealth and invisibility as well as a woman knife-fighter who teleports.  Nico has a red-headed fencer who shape-shifts to a fox and a female elven archer.  I'm running a pyromaniacal dwarf and a magic user to balance out the group.  It all waits on Porter getting ahead on his burden of homework.

Monica's been emailing back and forth with Clara settling the details of March's trip to Costa Rica.  We're getting antsy for travel.