Friday, September 28, 2007

Minor Blogging Vacation

I'm about to depart for my first ever Fall Camping Trip. I'll be kicking back in Wisconsin with John Piper.

Ok, I won't be hanging out with the Tulip of Minneapolis, but I will be with a Jon. And I'll be sharing a tent with a Calvinist.

The upshot is, expect my next post on Monday. Till then, pax Christi.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Luverne, MN and The War

Update: it turns out there's a family connection! (Family by marriage is still family, especially when their names are the opening words of a newspaper article.)

My Favorite German Billionaire

We've been talking about grocery shopping, economics, and ethics (or at least, I've been talking--you've just been reading and refusing to comment; I have clearly not been controversial enough; either that, or you're not really there and I'm shouting down the empty hallway; Should parentheses contain multiple clauses joined by semicolons? Discuss.).

As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, multinational corporations (somehow I feel the conspiracy-theory quotient is upped by calling them "multinational") continue to perpetuate the structures pioneered by colonial powers. Do they use the same methods? Well, they generally don't have standing armies and control the educational system--although I'm sure you can find such claims on the internet. Personally, I don't know what to do with the more extreme claims that you hear in anti-globalization circles, and the purpose of this post is not to evaluate them.

What I am more and more convinced of, however, is that the trend of the last half century or so is for corporations to have more and more freedom and autonomy across national boundaries. They are also driven by at least one major motivating factor that also motivated colonial empires: the twin desire for inexpensive sources of raw material and lucrative markets for finished goods. Given these desires and their autonomy, one can only expect corporations to actively seek to perpetuate the structures of colonialism, and the flow of money from "them" to "us." As for their methods, there is only one thing that would prevent them from imitating as many colonial methods as they can get away with:


Now, you may believe that people are basically good (a discussion thread for another time), but I don't generally expect to find vast pockets of virtue lying untapped in human institutions. I acknowledge the presence of virtue among us, and it's not as though by working for or patronizing a corporation, you are robbed of your virtue and conscience. However, I must not anchor my hope in the ubiquity of virtue, and assume that those with power and motivation to do otherwise are acting virtuously.

Now, to prove that I'm not a whacko (or maybe just to prove that I'm hopelessly hypocritical) I want you to know that I live the regular American life like anyone else. I delight in all the "bad guys": Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Coke, Halliburton--wait, not so much that one. It simply makes sense for me to patronize these places. When I act in the interests of my household and those near to me, I support them as well. One of the best resources for the poor in my area is the grocery chain Aldi, which my wife and I rely on to stay in our food budget.

So, should I be concerned that when I act with the best interests of my household in mind, I give more money to this man?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Going to Deerfield Tomorrow

I apologize for the interruption in service, but I'm preparing for a presentation tomorrow. I'll be on the Trinity campus for the presentation in the evening, and then at the library for a while, so I may see you if you're one of the many people who live there.

Our discussion of corporations and food will continue anon. In the meantime, here's another reading recommendation:

Shakespeare in the Bush: Is good literature universal literature? Lots of implications for Bible translation here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why Does Everyone Eat Food from Other Places?

One of the most mind-altering experiences of my life was taking an anthropology course a couple years ago. I recommend the experience to everyone. Perhaps the most eye-opening thing I read for the class was Why Can't People Feed Themselves? which is available online in a couple places (a scanned copy here; and a reformatted version here). I'd never heard most of the arguments in this article, which is a travesty considering that it's from 1977. I'm guessing you haven't heard them either, but you might be better educated than I am. I'm going to pause here so that you can read it right now. Trust me, it'll be the most interesting thing you read this week.

Go on, click the link.

And we're back.

The upshot of the article for the current topic is that the people who would really benefit from eating locally are the people in the Majority World. These are the places where self-sustaining agriculture has been and continues to be devastated by powerful economic forces. These are the places where the lack of self-sufficiency keeps the money flowing from those who have the least to those to have the most.

Unfortunately, my eating locally will do nothing to help the Majority World recover the sustainability that the colonial powers disrupted. In fact, by refusing to buy their main cash crops, I would be reducing the flow of money back to those who need it. That's why the Categorical Imperative (see below) may mislead us here.

Now, it's obvious that when I buy bananas for 29 cents a pound, not a whole lot of money makes it to South America. Now, I'm about to sound like a wacko conspiracy theorist, so take a deep breath and prepare yourself. Ready? Okay, here it goes: multinational corporations have to an extent taken over the role of the colonial powers.

Now, don't write me off as a lunatic yet. Come back tomorrow and we'll talk about corporations a little more.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The New Ken Burns Film

Tonight my wife and I happened across the new Ken Burns documentary, The War. We arrived rather late into the action (the third installment of the series, covering 1943), but that just puts us that much closer to D-Day. You almost feel like it's all downhill from 1943; then you remember the Pacific. Or you remember that all of the action in Band of Brothers hasn't even started yet.

The documentary has a different feel to it. It's definitely not like all the WWII documentaries that run on the History Channel, but I'm not sure I like it that much better. Everything feels out of focus (wait, that's probably my rabbit ears). Anyway, the Ken Burns fundamentals are all in place: big picture provided by an authoritative narrator voice, more or less famous actors reading letters and editorials, interviews with the experts, and the stories of a few individuals traced throughout the film.

Speaking of which, about fifteen minutes into the show, I was amazed to hear Tom Hanks read out the name of the town where I was born.

I never lived in Luverne, you understand, but Lismore doesn't have a hospital, so my sisters and I were all born in the next county, 20 miles away from Lismore. I guess Luverne is technically my native town, but I don't know much about it or recognize the sights on main street. Now it's a part of History, though, so I'm sure I'll be learning more.

I do wonder if the Nobles County Historical Society is a little envious, though. (I was going to post a link to their website, but it looks like they can't be bothered to get on the internets. So here's a website for Pioneer Village, which the first person to click on this link will grace as the 148th visitor!)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Does Kant want you to Eat Local?

I don't know much about philosophy. Reading philosophy generally makes me want to punch something, so what I do know on the topic is compressed into simple "this guy said that" sentences. My understanding of Kant is that he said:

Act in such a way that if everyone acted as you did, the world would be a great place.

This is known as Kant's Categorical Imperative (or rather, something like it is known as the Categorical Imperative; the statement above is probably known as Chaka screwing up the Categorical Imperative). How does the CI answer the question, "Should I eat only food grown locally?"

In one sense, I think it would answer positively. One of the stated advantages of local eating is that it reduces the wasteful transportation of food across the world. It takes a lot of fossil fuel to ship Special K's beloved pineapples from Hawaii. If everyone in the world ate what was grown locally (assuming that there was enough food, and the right variety of food, to nourish everyone), it would seem to save a lot of resources.

Unfortunately for the categorical imperative, when you choose a certain course of action that seems to be what everyone should do, everyone does not automatically do it with you. I may choose to eat locally, but not everyone in the world will do so alongside of me. Most Americans, and most people in the world, will continue to eat food raised elsewhere. This state of affairs has a shady history in colonialism, which I will talk about in my next post.

In my opinion, the facts of international trade in food products make eating locally far from a simple moral good. In fact, it might be downright unethical. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Think globally, eat locally

In case you haven't figured it out yet, my plan is to start posting regularly on this blog, so come one come all and comment!

Today, I want to start a series of posts on the phenomenon of eating locally raised food. I first happened across this movement while doing research for a paper on grocery shopping last year. A review in the excellent magazine Books and Culture called it "The New Organic." The basic idea is to promote sustainable agriculture by only consuming food grown locally. Novelist Barbara Kingsolver has written a book about her family's experience trying a local diet, and a recent article in The New Yorker (can't find it online) described the author's attempt to eat only food raised within the five boroughs of New York.

My initial reactions to the idea were simultaneous attraction and repulsion. On the one hand, I'm fascinated by the simplicity, the near asceticism, of a local diet. It can be seen as an experiment in creative anachronism, a return to premodern strategies, like the project at St. John's University to create an illuminated Bible using the materials available to medieval monks. It would be an amazingly educational experience; one would learn a great deal about agriculture, local geography and ecology, and the history of food preparation.

On the other hand, having already learned a little about the history of food, I'm very grateful for the things I eat that are grown elsewhere. Living as far north as I do, I envision winter meals consisting of onions, parsnips, and old potatoes.

What do you think? Are you similarly intrigued and repulsed? I am particularly interested in what Special K has to say, as she is our resident Kingsolver fan/ecologically minded citizen.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Anatoly Liberman would appreciate this quote, although he might be able to express it in an even wittier way:

The standard line on onomatopoeia is that it is illusory. After all, dogs go bow-wow in English but gnaf-gnaf in French, and roosters go cockadoodledoo in English but kikiriki in German. Still, there is some degree of sound symbolism here. I doubt there’s a language where dogs go kikiriki and roosters go thud.

- Ray Jackendoff, Foundations of Language, 251n10

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lileks snippet

From the Bard of

I also had a few minutes to clean my desk. Really! you say. Tell me more! Well, I’ve been moved to a new desk. The previous tenant did not clean it out. I was waiting for him to get his stuff, since there were drawers and drawers of folders pertaining to something, but he never came back. Today I learned that the previous tenant had actually left the paper a year ago. Well. Safe to say we can throw the stuff out.

Hello, what’s this?


Corn and dirt? What is this, the back 40?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Can the phoneme inventory be reset?

I doubt it, but that's what somebody seems to think happened to this kid.

Blogging is fun for everyone

So why don't we all do it some more? All day long I read read read at work. Then I come home and read read read some more. I need to write something, even if it is just drivel in pixels. So here I go, shouting into the empty hallway (to switch metaphors inadvisedly).

Could someone (everyone, in fact) explain this sentence to me?

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23, NIV)