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April 30th, 2008

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/30/business/worldbusiness/30fertilizer.html?hp

Keith Bradsher is usually at least a little better than this:

"Ms. Nha, her face weathered beyond its 51 years, said her growth was stunted by a childhood of hunger and malnutrition. Just a few decades ago, crop yields here were far lower and diets much worse."

And _why_ were the crop yields here far lower and diets much worse a few decades ago? Possibly because Mrs. Nha was apparently born right in the middle of the Vietnam War? A war in which the US used Agent Orange extensively. I know we're used to thinking of it as a poison that directly harmed veterans, but it was used as an herbicide and defoliant which, well, come on, let's think about it, _killed crops_.

But _that's_ not why crop yields were low. Nor because a bunch of the adults were off fighting or fleeing instead of cultivating crops. Nope. Yields have improved because:

"Then the widespread use of inexpensive chemical fertilizer, coupled with market reforms, helped power an agricultural explosion here that had already occurred in other parts of the world. Yields of rice and corn rose, and diets grew richer."

I'm not saying the fertilizer didn't help, but if you attribute all the gains in that time frame in crop yield to fertilizer, it's at minimum kinda misleading.

ETA: yes, I know Agent Orange is supposed to kill weeds, but weeds is contextual. Unless you can convince me that it wasn't offing any of the food crops the Vietnamese were relying upon, I'm going to assume it did some damage. And _even if it didn't_, the rest of my argument still applies (disruption, refugees, no one to cultivate, etc.).

ETA again: Agent _Blue_. Doesn't get as much publicity, but was specifically aimed at rice crops.

Not precisely an unbiased site:

http://www.mindfully.org/GE/2004/Monsanto-Vietnam-Rice3jun04.htm

According to wiki,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_history_of_Vietnam

"Destruction attributed to the Second Indochina War was considerable. Hanoi claimed that in the South, 9,000 out of 15,000 hamlets were damaged or destroyed, 10 million hectares of farmland and 5 million hectares of forest lands were devastated, and 1.5 million cattle were killed.[1]"

Somehow, I just feel that this is going to have a bigger effect on human development than whether or not there's cheap chemical fertilizer around. Given Monsanto's involvement on both sides of this, I'm extra special suspicious. After all, if you're busy trying to get people worried about the "good" part of your chemical business, you're hardly going to encourage attention being drawn to the, er, "bad" part of your chemical business.

ETA yet again: and by "born in the middle of", I realize that it's extremely fuzzy when the first Vietnam War (aka long list) ended and the second one started, if, indeed, there is a gap at all. Certainly, experienced much of her youthful growth right in the middle of is accurate, if born in the middle of is not.

sorta solomon like

According to this:

http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/About/News/2008/2008-04-30_Eldorado_Senate.asp

"The stories about family relationships continued to change as we loaded buses to move children around the state. We placed the children according to the latest information the women had provided about sibling groups and mother-child relationships. As the buses were loaded, there were instances where women came forward with different information. In one case, a minor who previously had said she didn’t have children begged not to be separated from her baby. We were able to place the girl with her child."

Wow.

DNA is going to definitively answer all these questions. Apparently they people in the shelter tampered with wristbands CPS tried to use to identify people. Really makes Parker's comments about how CPS can't keep stuff straight sound even fishier than most of what Parker is quoted as saying.

And CPS is reiterating that they think some of the children at the ranch do not have parents at the ranch.

There's a lot more. Here's another gem:

"When an investigator asked one girl how old she was, she looked at her husband. “You’re 18,” he said. She then answered that she was 18."

The media has not done a great job of reporting this information:

"There are 27 girls who have indicated that they are 14 to 17 years old. There are an additional 26 girls who have provided conflicting information about their ages, at some points indicating they are minors and at other times saying they are adults. Of these 53 girls, more than 30 have children, are pregnant, or both. Six of these girls have two children, and two have three children."

The idea that there are 17 yo or younger girls (or females who say sometimes they are that young, and other times claim to be older) and have _three children_ is horrifying. Teenager bodies tend to take damage from _one_ child. Multiple children, either starting heinously young, or spaced unbelievably close together, or both, likely results in permanent compromise in maternal health.
I've been kicking around an idea for a week or so about "what would the Founders have thought" about the YFZ raid and follow-up. Of course, back in the day, children were the property of their father, so to some degree, this would have been very much ignored. But on the other hand, _children were the property of their father_, so one guy reassigning wives and kids at will probably would have gotten the hairy eyeball at a minimum and very likely would have been sued or tried. I keep thinking that the takings clause in the Fifth (no, not the part about self-incrimination; the bit about how you can't take property without due process and possibly compensation) might have cropped up during the conversation, to the extent that a prophet suborned local authorities to support his activities breaking up families.

[ETA: Parley Pratt, one of Mitt Romney's ancestor, makes an interesting test case for how FLDS might have been handled back when wives and children were property. Hector McLean sued Pratt for taking his wife and their children; the judge acquitted Pratt. McLean then got a posse together and shot him. I'm still looking for a better explanation for why the judge thought the mother should have custody, since that seems a little anomalous.

Further ETA: http://jared.pratt-family.org/parley_histories/parley-death-stephen-pratt.html

Reading between the lines, I suspect that the judge concluded Hector was a dangerous drunk and no good as a man, much less a father. The presence of one of Eleanor's brothers makes it more likely that this would be heard and believed. OTOH, it may have been because he sent the kids off to Eleanor's dad unattended -- one of those custody things that makes you go hunh, wha?!? now, but probably made a lot of sense of everyone back then. This is actually quite an incredible story, in which, surprisingly, Parley (whoops!) comes off looking pretty good.

Further ETA: OMIWTF The judge and Pratt were both masons and the judge perceived it as a bond. Conspiracy alert! ]

In the course of trying to follow up on this, I stumbled across the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which I knew about in general, but had never read in specific, either the original or any summary. And I have to say, I'm a little surprised at what is in it. Article 7.1 says, for example, "The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents." It would seem that FLDS as a group has definitely been thwarting this principle in a variety of ways. I know it's easy to go, wait, CPS is thwarting this, separating children from their mothers/fathers, but if you can't figure out who the parents _are_ or establish when they were born, there's a bit of a problem of longer-standing than this month.

Article 8.2 says, "Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity." DNA testing seems like exactly the right approach under the circumstances, particularly since we're increasingly discovering that a lot of these children have been separated from their bio-mothers, possibly to the degree they have no idea who their biological mother is.

If I recall correctly, the US is not signatory to this convention. I think the reasons can be found in Articles 10 and 37, among others.

Article 11.2 says, " States Parties shall take measures to combat the illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad." which would appear to be relevant to trafficking between Texas/Utah/Arizona and Bountiful, B.c.

Article 13.1 is a bit breathtaking: "The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice." Any FLDS kid with the presence of mind to demand access to cable news and broadband internet access, for example, has at least a basis for making a claim, right? ;-)

Article 14.3 clearly limits freedom of religion: " Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others." That is one long list of exemptions.

There's a lot more -- a _lot_ more, at least 40 articles, ignoring boilerplate for states and implementation and so forth that don't set out specific rights of the child. Several articles address abuse of various sorts, trafficking, etc.

One more for the road: Article 29.1

"States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:"
...
"(c), The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;"

You can take this to mean, we should be tolerant of what FLDS is up to and not interfere. More plausibly, any State that is a party to this agreement is signing up for the idea that the State has a responsibility to protect the Right of Children to an education that satisfies that criteria. Which I think we can all agree the children at YFZ were not getting such an education.

ETA I missed a doozy in Article 24.3: "States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children."

I'd bet money that this sucker got put in with a view to going after stuff like FGM, but it's sure written broadly.
Reading through (I'm still not done with it) the Convention, a couple of things really jumped out at me. One is the primary education to be free and compulsory and the other has to do with the right of children not to be subjected to violence, degrading punishment, etc. I immediately thought, whoa, one wonders what the homeschooling community thinks of _this_.

The Home Schooling Legal Defense Association is opposed:

http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000000/00000021.asp

Judging by what they choose to emphasize in their opposition, I'd call these people rabidly right wing. (The about us link confirms they self-identify as a Christian organization, and they are the founders of Patrick Henry College altho that is now organizationally separate.) Ignoring their horror at the idea of children having the right to disregard parental authority, their quotes seem to confirm that the Convention is part of the wedge being used to put an end to corporal punishment. They may not be happy about it, but I sure am.

Not only is this being used as a wedge against corporal punishment, it's being used as a wedge in ensuring adequate access to information about sex, according to yet another batch of whack jobs here:

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=50395

"Farris pointed out that in 1995 the United Kingdom was deemed out of compliance with the convention "because it allowed parents to remove their children from public school sex-education classes without consulting the child."

Go UN! And further reasons why the US isn't a party to this.

Farris then extrapolates that idea: "by the same reasoning, parents would be denied the ability to homeschool their children unless the government first talked with their children and the government decided what was best. This committee would even have the right to determine what religious teaching, if any, served the child's best interest." (That isn't the article author; that's Farris.) Clearly, we're taking a big leap here.

Farris interviewed Dobson on the subject; you can follow-up here. My stomach isn't strong enough for this kind of nonsense, other than at a very high level:

http://www.parentalrights.org/blog/tag/un-convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child

There's some _good_ commentary out there about homeschooling and the Convention (including some references to the black-helicopter types I've quoted above):

http://gottsegnet.blogspot.com/2006/05/crc-end-of-homeschooling-or-worse.html

which includes:

"In August 2005, the Norwegian Education Minister proclaimed, "Homeschooling is a human right." Homeschoolers in Germany are pressuring the government to give them the same right to home educate that every other nation in the European Union has. They are even looking to appeal to the International Court of Human Rights in order to force Germany to allow homeschooling." (Another source indicates that homeschooling became illegal in Germany in 1938 when Hitler banned it. Wow. It appears to still be illegal, and it isn't just Christian right wingers doing it; there are academic lefties as well, altho it's the conservatives generating the headlines.)

I'm all over the homeschooling, but if T. wanted to go to public school, I would support him in that decision. I really, sorry to say, believe kids _do_ have rights, even when I'm not necessarily overjoyed about how that turns out, and the Convention seems to be startlingly in line with my thinking.

Ultimately, the above blogger is not in favor of the US being a party (altho Clinton signed it, it hasn't gone before the Senate, apparently) because we're sovereign and, in her opinion, we've got it pretty much covered and the language of the convention is sufficiently vague to make one nervous. I can certainly sympathize, but on the other hand, I also look at the Convention and rub my my hands together in maniacal glee thinking, with _this_ tool, I could apply pressure to end violence against children, isolation of the weak by family members with economic and other power who want to be petty tyrants under the guise of "tradition" or "religion". Sure, go after FGM, but I'm radical enough to want to go after _M_GM. And I don't think this blogger's complacency about our ability to protect our children is entirely justified.

But then I look at Germany, and go, hmmmm. The Convention is indeed broadly worded enough to give one pause.

empty houses = arson

http://wbztv.com/local/new.bedford.arson.2.711788.html

This article is about New Bedford, MA.

Finally, someone else is making the connection. I've heard rumor of a case that hasn't been proved yet in Nashua from months ago.

Things I Should Find So Hilariously Funny

This is from last month.

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/14/surge-in-escalator-injuries-among-elderly/

Another gem:

“What really surprised us was the reckless behavior exhibited by some older adults on escalators,” said study coauthor Greg Steele, associate professor of epidemiology. “Obviously, the wheelchair should not have been on the moving stairs. And of course the injured individual should not have attempted to beat them down the stairs.”

Clay Shirky, cheap likker and bad history

I was really prepared to blow right past this, but I've been in a cranky mood for days if not weeks, so what the heck.

http://www.shirky.com/herecomeseverybody/2008/04/looking-for-the-mouse.html

This is a superficially charming essay that purports to explain Why Blogging Is Better than Watching Gilligan's Island and how the Industrial Revolution has something to do with gin.

There are a variety of problems with it, but I'll start with what's right with it. There really was a point in history where London (and not just London) was truly awash with gin. I've read _more than one book_ on exactly this topic, which sort of frightens me, now that I think about it. I have a very different explanation for _why_ London (and not just London) was awash with gin, and why London slowly became a city in which people didn't go to and die quickly. [ETA the second quarter of the 18th century]

Here's one of the books I read about gin:

http://www.amazon.com/Craze-Gin-Debauchery-Age-Reason/dp/0812968999

The other book I'm having trouble identifying.

[ ETA It wasn't about London specifically, but it was about awash-in-cheap-likker.

http://www.amazon.com/Drink-History-America-Andrew-Barr/dp/0786705590

I have not found evidence of a review by me; it came out in the dead years for my website reviews and long before I was on lj. The author is British. ]

I also agree with Clay Shirky WRT his assertion that all this internet/web/blog/whatever stuff is, in fact, considerably better than watching Gilligan's Island and speculating about who is cuter.

Now, for the rest of it.

(Q1) Why were there so many new/young people in London all at once?
(A1) Overpopulation in the countryside.

Why was there overpopulation in the countryside? Pick one. They'd wiped out transmission of rudimentary family planning practice over the previous century or so. They'd reoriented sexual activity away from group "outercourse" towards one-on-one penetrative stuff. There was this thing with the commons that people get very excited about. There were some amazingly good years in terms of crops because of climate trends. Etc.

(Q2) What do unattended young people tend to do?
(A2) Drugs.

In this case, gin. Beer was a staple of the British diet at the time (we're talking pre-coffee, pre-tea in terms of poor-people consumption). Beer was something you drank. Maybe the only thing you drank. Wine was for rich people. Water was dangerous. Usually, you drank small beer, which had less alcohol in it than even current Lite beers. And you had it for breakfast, as well as every other time of day. When gin came along, there wasn't a good understanding that the wollop packed by gin was a function of volume, so people drank it the way they drank beer (implausible, but not really that far off the mark). People had been doing similar with wine (who could afford to), which had been problematic enough. With gin, hoo boy.

(Q3) What happens when you have a whole lot of inebriated, alcoholic people densely packed in?
(A3) They die.

And they did. In droves. They died of malnutrition. They died of traffic accidents (yeah, _those_ predate automobiles. Believe me.). They died of disease. They died of stupid, pointless fights. They died of STDs. You name it. They died of it. Their children didn't grow up to reproduce because of similar. London had growth from immigration; if they hadn't had in-migration, they would have been shrinking because that was one unbelievably lethal city.

(Q4) What kind of crazy, fucked up government would unleash this tide of alcohol on itself?
(A4) There's a _great_ question.

I'll just post, in toto, my review, which can also be found here:

http://www.seanet.com/~rla/books/jan04.html

[ Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason, by Jessica Warner

I picked it up in paper, and was mildly stunned to notice the other book out in hardcover that covers a lot of the same ground, right down to the comparison with modern-day efforts to regulate drugs. Warner’s analysis is nothing new, which is a pity, because she presents information that suggests other parallels I had never noticed before: drugs that cause irrational behavior on the part of users and reformers tend to be things that the government was until recently encouraging the development of in the interest of agriculture/land-owners. And a lot of what she identifies as marking a new craze could be used to describe our increasingly negative interaction with junk food/fast food/carbs/etc.

That last chapter aside, however, Warner’s prose is readable, and she did a great job of presenting the history in a gender-balanced way. She worked to tie the various and varying economic issues (correlating harvest size, for one, and revenue needs on the part of the government to wage war, for another). She presented all the information needed to present a cogent argument for how to best regulate drugs (identify the one(s) most people think are harmless, make licensing cheap to get but require licensees to keep their patrons on their best behavior, and make everything else very, very, very illegal and then assiduously enforce it all) but stopped short of laying it out in the final chapter, which I regard as admirably restrained. ]

So. It's been a few years, but basically, same reason we're awash in HFCS and Type-2 Diabetes: agricultural policy gone horribly awry.

(Q5) How did it get fixed?
(A6) Government regulation.

I realize that a lot of people -- including a lot of techie people, some of whom blog -- would really like to completely ignore the role of government in (a) creating these problems and (b) managing/solving these problems. Whatever. They're wrong. Bad history.

Oh, and gin? Not very much like television. I know _no one_ who has gotten the DTs from Gilligan's Island or any other kind of television (altho some visuals cause seizures in some people, I know of no visuals, or amount of visuals, that can cause seizures in anyone, which alcohol, IIRC, can). Television is the kind of drug you regulate _toward_. Probably, the intartubes/webs/blogosphere is, too. While crime maps are pretty cool, and I'm a big fan of the wiki-anything, a lot of what's going on is trading paper reference material for much more expensive electronic storage (you would not freaking believe Google's power bill, apparently), and trading talk-to-the-expert for the-masses-write-down-what-they-know-and-are-68%+ of an expert (at times, that plus makes them way better than the best expert, and that's pretty damn cool).

While the looking-for-the-mouse story is charming, it is not compelling. I've got a whole laundry list of things I do less of because I blog or read stuff online, including, but not limited to, hiking, cooking, and reading books. It turns out that online stuff is nice for me, because it's marginally sociable and interruptible, which at this point in my life is Teh Awesome. Flip side, I'm slow to arrange F2F socializing as a result, and that I'm not convinced is a good thing.

The biggest problem I have with Clay Shirky's essay is its massive emphasis on abstraction. He talks about "cognitive surplus", but there are a ton of people from a century or so back who would take one look at all of us madly typing away and just shake their head and go back to work. What we have, here, is massive gear slippage. We don't have cognitive surplus. We have muscular shortage. Shirky talks about doing, but it's a weird kind of doing that would make whittling look incredibly active.