February 20, 2006 | Permalink
What do you call it when you learn a new word, and from that moment on you hear it, like, every five minutes? A similar thing happened to me in New York, where I noticed a sign labeling a two-headed pipe as "Siamese." Then suddenly, I started seeing "Siamese" signs everywhere...
Linguistically, this Siamese thing is interesting in that it apparently has become a modifier meaning 'two-headed' or 'sharing a body,' but it is no longer acceptably used to describe people formed in this way; they are described as "conjoined." So why not describe this kind of pipe as "conjoined" also? Is this just an example of colorful (and politically incorrect) firefighter talk?
Of course, before Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, Siamese meant from Siam (today's Thailand). What will Siamese mean in another hundred years? How about Spam? Or Magnetic Poetry?
February 17, 2006 | Permalink
...for Toy Fair, one of our big trade shows. I arrived early Monday morning, just after the biggest blizzard (29" of snow) in New York history. Everything is slowed to a crawl but this feels like a celebration; people are grinning like drunks and leaping over snow banks and puddles while yakking into their cell phones and dodging the multitudes, propelling their way into their, and our, destinies. Business is momentarily slow, but this feels like heaven.
February 14, 2006 | Permalink
To have an office that looks out on railroad tracks is to get an anthropological education of sorts. Today I realized that much of what I see going past are these tanker cars, which until today I'd never noticed are filled with corn syrup. Corn syrup, I just learned after some Google research, is mostly used as the sweetener in soft drinks, and is largely responsible for the obesity (and associative health issues) epidemic our country is experiencing today. Michael Pollan has written a bunch of articles on agribusiness and the "cornification" of our food supply... it's a fascinating issue:
"Our entire food supply has undergone a process of ''cornification'' in recent years, without our even noticing it. That's because, unlike in Mexico, where a corn-based diet has been the norm for centuries, in the United States most of the corn we consume is invisible, having been heavily processed or passed through food animals before it reaches us. Most of the animals we eat (chickens, pigs and cows) today subsist on a diet of corn, regardless of whether it is good for them. In the case of beef cattle, which evolved to eat grass, a corn diet wreaks havoc on their digestive system, making it necessary to feed them antibiotics to stave off illness and infection. Even farm-raised salmon are being bred to tolerate corn -- not a food their evolution has prepared them for. Why feed fish corn? Because it's the cheapest thing you can feed any animal, thanks to federal subsidies. But even with more than half of the 10 billion bushels of corn produced annually being fed to animals, there is plenty left over. So companies like A.D.M., Cargill and ConAgra have figured ingenious new ways to dispose of it, turning it into everything from ethanol to Vitamin C and biodegradable plastics.
By far the best strategy for keeping zea mays (the botanical name for both sweet and feed corn) in business has been the development of high-fructose corn syrup, which has all but pushed sugar aside. Since the 1980's, most soft drink manufacturers have switched from sugar to corn sweeteners, as have most snack makers. Nearly 10 percent of the calories Americans consume now come from corn sweeteners; the figure is 20 percent for many children. Add to that all the corn-based animal protein (corn-fed beef, chicken and pork) and the corn qua corn (chips, muffins, sweet corn) and you have a plant that has become one of nature's greatest success stories, by turning us (along with several other equally unwitting species) into an expanding race of corn eaters.
So why begrudge corn its phenomenal success? Isn't this the way domestication is supposed to work?
The problem in corn's case is that we're sacrificing the health of both our bodies and the environment by growing and eating so much of it. Though we're only beginning to understand what our cornified food system is doing to our health, there's cause for concern. It's probably no coincidence that the wholesale switch to corn sweeteners in the 1980's marks the beginning of the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in this country. Sweetness became so cheap that soft drink makers, rather than lower their prices, super-sized their serving portions and marketing budgets. Thousands of new sweetened snack foods hit the market, and the amount of fructose in our diets soared.
This would be bad enough for the American waistline, but there's also preliminary research suggesting that high-fructose corn syrup is metabolized differently than other sugars, making it potentially more harmful. A recent study at the University of Minnesota found that a diet high in fructose (as compared to glucose) elevates triglyceride levels in men shortly after eating, a phenomenon that has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and heart disease. Little is known about the health effects of eating animals that have themselves eaten so much corn, but in the case of cattle, researchers have found that corn-fed beef is higher in saturated fats than grass-fed beef.
We know a lot more about what 80 million acres of corn is doing to the health of our environment: serious and lasting damage. Modern corn hybrids are the greediest of plants, demanding more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop. Corn requires more pesticide than any other food crop. Runoff from these chemicals finds its way into the groundwater and, in the Midwestern corn belt, into the Mississippi River, which carries it to the Gulf of Mexico, where it has already killed off marine life in a 12,000-square-mile area.
To produce the chemicals we apply to our cornfields takes vast amounts of oil and natural gas. (Nitrogen fertilizer is made from natural gas, pesticides from oil.) America's corn crop might look like a sustainable, solar-powered system for producing food, but it is actually a huge, inefficient, polluting machine that guzzles fossil fuel -- a half a gallon of it for every bushel."
-From "When a Crop Becomes King" Published July 19, 2002 in The New York Times
February 02, 2006 | Permalink
A pic I love, with a bunch of subtextual questions: A parade? in Europe? How long ago? (The rider?) was apparently pretty handy with a welding torch, and had a wry sense of humor to boot...; what was his relation to the little kid? To cycling in general? Is the little kid still alive? Anyone out there know the answers to these questions?
February 01, 2006 | Permalink