Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why Jimmy Inhofe wasn't invited to play with the other kids

As an early lesson in democratic process, most elementary school classrooms in Santa Barbara have a charter or class constitution posted on the wall. At the beginning of the school year, the kids come up with a list of rules they feel are fair ("No interrupting," for example), and they all sign their names to the agreement.

Based on this little gem from Gore's hearing yesterday, I suspect little Jimmy missed this lesson. I'm kinda embarrassed for Oklahoma...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who to Woohoo Wednesday: Van Jones

Sometimes, when you're feeling bad, there's a perverse instinct to seek out something that will make you feel even worse. Thus, having a bad day, I find myself feeling almost nauseous after reading the transcript of this Rush Limbaugh show. Why did I do this to myself? Seriously, why? I should know better. Now I'm sick and I'm sorry.

So, for something completely different, let's try a new blog feature—Fuller & Fuller's first feature—which will focus on someone doing good. Someone to cheer. Someone who deserves a hearty "Woohoo!" Studies have shown woohoos help restore normal breathing and reduce blood pressure in sufferers of RLS. So, welcome to Who to Woohoo Wednesday!

Interviewed on Grist: Van Jones is a civil rights lawyer and activist in Oakland, and founder and director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Given the gang violence we've experienced in Santa Barbara this week, I was especially interested in his practical work with disadvantaged kids. Here are a few highlights:

There's no way to get changes big enough to solve these problems without creating pathways out of poverty for millions of new green-collar workers. The renewable economy is more labor-intensive, less capital-intensive; therefore, there should be a net increase in jobs.

There will also be lots and lots of money made. So beyond just having African-American kids be the workers in a green economy, we also want them to be inventors and investors and owners and entrepreneurs in the green economy. That's true for Latinos and other groups too.

And if you're tired about hearing Congressional feet dragging because they insist cutting emissions means cutting jobs, consider:

A lot of downward pressure on workers comes from increasingly intense competition with India and China. The good thing about renewable energy is that it's not going to be Chinese workers putting up solar panels. It's not going to be workers in India retrofitting buildings so they don't leak as much energy. Wind that's blowing in the United States is going to turn those wind turbines, not wind blowing in Asia. There is an opportunity here to do work that can't be outsourced.

Woohoo, Van Jones! Good to know you're out there.
I'm starting to feel a little better.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Risks of the dog eat dog food world

Studies have shown that having a pet makes you healthier. The simple act of petting their furry forms lowers blood pressure. Sedentary people are more likely to exercise if their carpet demands it. If there's a bad guy around, I expect the ranch dogs will work together like acrobats in Cirque de Chien to quickly, and ideally comically, Culkinate them. Good dogs!

America loves its pets, but it's not all belly rubs and sunbaths. This week, pet owners are getting a wake up call about the risks of having a massive, centralized food processing and distribution system. Over 90 brands of dog and cat food have been recalled after contamination at the two U.S. plants that make and distribute the food. Turns out that Eukanuba, often considered a high-end product (and certainly priced like a high-end product), is made by the same plant that manufactures the scary Save-A-Lot brand. Guess now they're both kinda scary.

As human readers of this blog know, human food gets recalled, too--even something as unprocessed as spinach. But one of the most alarming aspects of this tragedy is the tremendous scope. I haven't found a statistic about what percentage of "cuts and gravy style" pet foods are generated by the two plants, but based on the number of recalled brands, I suspect at least half.

So, the word is: DIVERSITY. We're at risk when we put all our cuts-n-gravy in one or two baskets. It's easier to shut down one kibbleria if you can keep a few others running. The problem in this case is thought to be the wheat gluten used as filler, wheat that all came through one source. Food contamination happens, but by choosing local, minimally-processed foods, we reduce the risk, and when a problem happens, it's more manageable.

And, as George reminded us, it's in our best interest to pay attention to what we feed the dogs, lest they discover that we, too, are made out of meat.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What we'll sow

The unlikely title "Something to applaud the Bush Administration for" caught my attention on Grist this morning. Sounds like the new Farm Bill is moving in the right direction, according to the linked opinion piece in the New York Times which says includes the most generous conservation program ever offered by this administration: increasing spending by $7.8 billion over 10 years on land conservation and investing an additional $1 billion a year in a bold new program to develop renewable fuels other than corn ethanol from farm crops.

All this represents a significant break from past farm bills, which have traditionally provided heavy subsidies for big growers of corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice who are concentrated in a handful of states. Half of all farm spending, which amounts to about $12.5 billion annually, now flows to just 22 Congressional districts.

The problems with this system are legion. At home, it drives small farmers out of business and compromises the environment. Abroad, it penalizes third-world farmers and jeopardizes trade talks.

The more I learn about food production and distribution, the more I appreciate how important these issues are for all of us. The system we have now—the seasonless miracle market with year-round everything—exacts a terrible price. It sounds as though this Farm Bill is taking a small but significant step in the right direction.

In related news, the word Monsanto should send chills up your spine.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rubbing rostrums with the whales

Like most kids who grow up on the SoCal coast, I've been whale watching. The Dramamine Cruise field trip is a rite of passage in San Diego, a chance to get cold and nauseous with your classmates while looking for waves on the horizon that are darker than the other waves on the horizon. We are told, since there is no discernable whaleness or whaley features whatsoever, The dark waves are whales! Real live whales! This is our cue to squeal with glee, and hurray! It's finally time turn the boat around and get some hot chocolate. It is, at least potentially, a fascinating glimpse of the natural world, though I suspect that the experience spawns more future orgasm-fakers than future naturalists. Not that the two are exclusive. But I digress...

When we were invited to spend a week whale watching in Baja, I was excited about having a vacation together, spending time with family friends, and exploring a new place... To be honest, seeing the whales was toward the bottom of list of reasons I wanted to go.

I blog to you today as a reformed whale watching sceptic. Laguna San Ignacio is one of three nursery areas for the gray whales, and the only one that has not been developed. When Mitsubishi and the Mexican government planned to build a huge salt plant in the lagoon, NRDC stepped in, and the resulting victory is one of the great environmental success stories and a model of ecotourism. The area is now recognized as a protected biosphere, with restrictions on future development and carefully limited camping and boating.

The local economy is growing stronger, with a crafts cooperative that thrives making whale souvenirs and schools that have received generous grants for Internet access and technology. Not to mention jobs as pangeros, guides, drivers, and cooks... and wow, what cooks!

It doesn't seem right to call the experience "whale watching," a term that's been tainted by those early field trips and is far too passive to describe the contact we had. What we experienced was whale rubbing, whale singing, whale cooing, dunking our heads into the water and looking the whales in the eye. About 10% of the whales that come to San Ignacio are "friendlies"—they seem to enjoy contact with humans. Mother whales actually guide their calves toward the small boats.

The whale in this picture is a calf, just a couple of months old, already substantially bigger than our boat. The shape lurking beneath is the mother, who also came up to be petted. There were two 1-1/2 hour boat trips each day, and I lost count of how many individual whales we met.

After boating, we returned to camp at Punta Piedras, to spend time exploring the mangroves, looking at shells and bones on the beach, eating delicious fresh foods, or sitting along the bluffs, with the teal green waters of the shallows giving way to the darker currents that teemed with whales spyhopping, blowing, breaching and mating. Our view from shore was better than the view I've experienced on most whale watching cruises, but now even the distant whales have become real to me, and more intimate. They aren't just some dark, wave-like abstraction of a whale anymore.

On our first day home yesterday, we went for a run along the cliffs above the beach, scanning the horizon for traces for flukes or sprays, but saw only the smooth Pacific. They're out there, though. I know it.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Noodly Appendage

My friend Cissy is one of the coolest people I have ever met. Not only is she cool, she has seriously cool stuff. She has an Aretha Franklin banner hanging outside her house. She has a porcupine-quill suit on display in her living room. She has long red clown shoes under the coffee table. She has a KitchenAid Professional mixer.

And I have a KitchenAid Professional mixer!

The KitchenAid Professional is an amazing machine. But Cissy's was even cooler than mine because she has the pasta making attachment. I say "was" cooler because, now that I have a pasta making attachment too, mine is just as cool.

Last night we tried out our new noodly appendage, and made our first batch of homemade pasta. The basic recipe for homemade noodles couldn't be simpler: flour, eggs, water. I strolled out to the coop to gather fresh eggs, noticing new buds on the apricot trees and the first blossoms on the snow peas.

You have to break a few eggs to make noodles. The recipe called for 3 eggs, plus two Tablespoons of water, and additional water enough to make 3/4 cup total liquid. I cracked three eggs into the measuring cup, only to find that 3 ranch eggs are well over 3/4 cup, before adding any water. So, in this case, you only have to break a couple of eggs to make noodles.

Adjusting the recipe, we commenced pastapalooza. Sure, pasta making is simple, and lots of people do it all the time even without a KitchenAid, but it was a new adventure for us. With our friend Dave helping, the process was one part gourmet kitchen, one part Play-Doh Barber Shop, and two parts Lucy in the candy factory. The KitchenAid pumped out a steady stream of noodle, which we gathered onto a linen towel to dry. The results would never be confused with the store-bought and varied from string bean to coffee bean in length, but once the little pastinis were cooked, we called it macaroni. And it was delicious!

Last night, I made pasta, something that I've always bought prepared at the store. I reclaimed lost knowledge; my father says his mother made noodles all the time, yet I've never seen anyone in my family do it, and I've certainly never done it myself. To me, pasta has been something to buy, not make. I've grown up in a culture that replaced cooking with processed foods. On one hand, making noodles isn't really that big a deal; on the other, I felt like Ghandi, making my own cloth. There's an alchemist's high when a familiar food casts off its packaging and reveals its humble origins. I no more expected to make macaroni in my own kitchen than I would expect to make gold. Behold, the powerful noodly appendage!

It's one more step away from the supermarket. Plus, all the cool kids are doing it.