Saturday, October 10, 2009

Peace: What is it Good For?

Yes, I've heard.  President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Seems to me that the only five people in the whole world who thought this was a smashing idea were...the five folks on the Nobel Committee.  Really?  A unanimous decision?  Maybe they'll decide to revoke the prize if the Prez does things they don't like, for example, if he deploys additional troops to Afghanistan.  Or, if the U.S. or Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities.  This could be some kind of record for shortest Nobel prize tenure.

This Norwegian silliness aside, the really important news from today is that Turkey and Armenia will sign a pact on Saturday establishing diplomatic ties, nearly 20 years after Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union.  Turkish-Armenian bitterness goes back over a hundred years, to the decades prior to World War I when Armenians began resisting their Ottoman rulers and were systematically persecuted.  After a series of smaller massacres (I know, an oxymoron), between 500,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died during 1915-1917 as the Turks systematically deported and killed large portions of their Armenian population in order to prevent them from siding with the Russian enemy, as they feared they would.  The Armenian Genocide has been a major source of friction between the two countries, with Turkey claiming the casualties were greatly exaggerated and Armenia pushing for world condemnation of Turkey for this horrific past.

Given the dismal state of relations between these two neighbors, kudos are in order for both governments for negotiating what amounts to a truce, especially because their respective populations are not necessarily in favor of any concessions to the other.  While it may be true that Turkey and Armenia probably agreed to this pact because of what they have to gain economically and internationally, they deserve our applause for looking past their mutual contempt even while their citizens are not yet ready.  That is true political bravery.  If you think political bravery comes easily when there are many economic benefits to be gained from cooperation, consider how many neighboring countries are unable to come to peace despite all they could gain from it: India and Pakistan, Israel and Syria, the Koreas, much of Africa, and so on and so forth.

Now, if only there were a prestigious international prize we could award to the Swiss Foreign Ministry for mediating these negotiations and accomplishing peace between Turkey and Armenia.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Beef, Ground on a Bias

Conservatives like to complain about the "liberal mainstream media."  A lot.  They blame the "MSM" for a laundry list of evils, for everything from fawning coverage of Democrats at the expense of Republicans to ignoring "real news" to gibberish about them advocating the indoctrination of kids.  Prime targets: New York Times, MSNBC, National Public Radio, ABC, CNN, and so forth.  (Always mysterious to me why Faux Noise with all its ratings dominance is excluded from the MSM category.)

This nonsense aside, there are much better grounds for pointing out liberal bias than whining about unfairness.  Case in point, today's New York Times article about the dangers posed by ground beef.  Starting with the horrific story of a young woman, Stephanie Smith, who became paralyzed after eating a hamburger tainted by E. coli, the writer goes on to describe "why eating ground beef is still a gamble":
The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

Using a combination of sources — a practice followed by most large producers of fresh and packaged hamburger — allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat.

Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows.
Yuck.  E. coli is an ever-present danger, and apparently, my beloved hamburger is the biggest vector of this bacteria.  Who knew you could become paralyzed from E. coli???

Anyway, point well taken.  I will now never buy ground beef unless I know that it was ground at the grocery store from a good (single) cut of meat, or maybe if I'm buying from a local, reputable rancher.  I'm definitely never buying anything from Cargill.  I even applaud the Times for their fantastic exposé of meat grinding practices.  Good journalism.

But, then, they have to go and say this (emphasis mine):
Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen. 
WTF?  How do you make the leap from exposing unsanitary meat production practices to fingering the federal government for not sufficiently regulating meat grinding?  I don't need more federal laws, I just need more investigative pieces like these that uncover the unsavory side of food production so that I, as a consumer, can be informed and make appropriate choices.  This, dare I say, would be an old school conservative point of view.  Their liberal bias is what leads the Times to blame the federal government for not preventing all hazards out there.