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Links With Your Coffee - Sunday


  • An Animal's Place - New York Times
    The first time I opened Peter Singer's ''Animal Liberation,'' I was dining alone at the Palm, trying to enjoy a rib-eye steak cooked medium-rare. If this sounds like a good recipe for cognitive dissonance (if not indigestion), that was sort of the idea. Preposterous as it might seem, to supporters of animal rights, what I was doing was tantamount to reading ''Uncle Tom's Cabin'' on a plantation in the Deep South in 1852.

  • Farming And Chemical Warfare: A Day In The Life Of An Ant
    One of the most important developments in human civilisation was the practice of sustainable agriculture. But we were not the first - ants have been doing it for over 50 million years. Just as farming helped humans become a dominant species, it has also helped leaf-cutter ants become dominant herbivores, and one of the most successful social insects in nature

  • Science Professors Know Science, But Who Is Teaching Them How To Teach?

  • U.S. 'Not Getting What We Pay For' -
    Talk to the chief executives of America's preeminent health-care institutions, and you might be surprised by what you hear: When it comes to medical care, the United States isn't getting its money's worth. Not even close.

  • Lie, cheat and steal: high school ethics surveyedcapt.490b7f6bdfd04f2e93e52f8fa79fe532.students_dishonesty_gfx922.jpg
    In the past year, 30 percent of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test, according to a new, large-scale survey suggesting that Americans are too apathetic about ethical standards.

    Educators reacting to the findings questioned any suggestion that today's young people are less honest than previous generations, but several agreed that intensified pressures are prompting many students to cut corners.

    "The competition is greater, the pressures on kids have increased dramatically," said Mel Riddle of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "They have opportunities their predecessors didn't have (to cheat). The temptation is greater."



"They have opportunities their predecessors didn't have (to cheat). The temptation is greater."

Maybe this will finally kill the multiple choice test. In the era where almost any device you pick up is a calculator and any smartphone can google or wiki, why do young people need to know when the Magna Carta was issued, or the decimal equivalent of of a fraction?

Its like typing class, I am sure by the time most kids hit high school they probably type faster with their thumbs then most teachers do with their whole hands. Stop testing on content and instead test on understanding and systems and have them complete projects that involve using wikis and Google and spreadsheets.

I don't necessarily think this is a case of reduced ethics so much as it is kids adapting to new tools while adults stand still.

Theft and lies are a different story, but in a world where their parents can call them 24/7 if not have a GPS tracker on them at all times, i wouldn't blame a kid for the occasional lie.

why do young people need to know when the Magna Carta was issued, or the decimal equivalent of of a fraction?

In my experience, kids who don't know these things happen to be the same oes who can't understand how acid-base buffers work because they can't conceptualize a logarithmic scale, and they can't think even in 'order of magnitude' numbers. A certain number of facts simply need to be available to people who are exposed to any kind of quantitative data; when listening/watching to a scientific presentation one needs o be doing decimal-fraction conversions as one follows the talk.

When listening or even reading about history, a decent chronology of events has to be in your head in order to get the point of "understanding". Without that chronology already in your head, causal connection of events can't occur.

I think you are right, I just think asking for the answer directly to those questions is quickly becoming an antiquated way of testing their knowledge. Give them a task where they have to look those things up repeatedly and they will learn them out of necessity.

In school i did better at AP history then earlier history and better at Trigonometry and Algebra then multiplication and division. I always felt concepts, systems, and opinion had too small a role in education.

I also think that these kids are getting a pretty poor education. No doubt taking a test on content with Wikipedia in your pocket doesn't teach you a whole heck of a lot.

In school i did better at AP history then earlier history and better at Trigonometry and Algebra then multiplication and division. I always felt concepts, systems, and opinion had too small a role in education.

I think these observations have a simple explanation: math is more interesting when applied to discover something more cut-and-dried than a multiplication table and history is more interesting when your 11th grade teacher tells you that the word "hooker" derives from the prostitutes who followed Hooker's army during the American civil war. As I've said before, Bush's speechwriter, David Frum, coined a great phrase when he put the words "soft bigotry of low expectation" into Dubya's mouth. Never mind that "low expectations" describe Dubya's entire life of unremitting failure, our educational system bores more kids out of the system than anything else.

On a related note, we have a pack of so-called "chemical education" aficionados in my department who speak about teaching scientists to teach science. They love to talk about 'assessment' and 'inquiry-based' science teaching. What they really do is half-assed sociology that real sociologists would probably regard as utter crap.

"soft bigotry of low expectation"

Exactly, too long we have expected that our students can do little more then memorize and then regurgitate factoids and only the "bright" students should be asked to participate in a real discussion of content or analysis.

We also ask them to get up at 6am as adolescents and a number of other moronic things that are completely counter productive.

This article seems to me to be an example of looking at some symptom of a larger problem, and then trying to assign the cause of the symptom without at all considering the larger problem. A new ethical framework is not what is needed, and it was incredibly lazy journalism for the author of that piece to give the last word in the article to that sort of crypto-religiosity. The problem is also not "our busy lives." The problem has more to do with what RedSeven and Tim are discussing here: fundamental disconnects between education and critical thinking. When you make the tests all about factoids, you make it easier to cheat, of course. But more to the point, you also bore the crap out of already disaffected youth, and they think your tests are so freakin ridiculous that they might as well cheat. The change needed here is not in ethics or in simplifying kids' lives, it's in the approach to learning. This is something, sadly, not discussed at all in the article.

On a related point, it is heartening to hear that UW-Madison is placing significant value in their grad training programs on teaching. This is one step in the right direction towards addressing the problems we've been discussing above.

Ah - I just caught a few cheaters in a class where I do what I can to link knowledge to creativity. They came up with some lame excuse about sharing instructional information that didn't add up. The jury is out on this case - I'm not going through all the motions because there is a simpler solution. I AM looking to get this on their record for the future.

It IS important to get the knowledge connected to something the utilizes the new skill(s). The standardized test has been the bane of this: getting students to regurgitate information, or maybe make some calculations, then enter an answer on a dot test (usually multiple choice). Get the happy score and go the the prestigious school - oh, yeah.

It is also difficult to wean students from this system. They feel pressure to have a certain GPA/and perhaps add in some boredom for a class they don't want to take, so cheat and move on. Stress is often on a GPA rather than an education. Employers need to change their outlook on potential company members just as schools need to fashion an outlook that encourages learning and not information spewing.

In the end, those who remain curious and seek the information (quality info) to satisfy that curiosity will be the ones to contribute well in society. They often catch and surpass those with more desirable degrees from more desirable institutions. Certainly an ivy-leaguer who doesn't go beyond university learning will be left in the dust by the person who continues to question the various facets of life. If you are left in the dust, a simple way to catch up is to cut a corner. Sometimes this can be in the form of leap-frogging (as in technology) and is legal. Then there are the unethical and illegal means - plagiarism, character assassination, unlawful dealings.

Solutions are hard to come by. We should encourage success, but not at all costs. We should encourage excellence with the notion that not everyone can be excellent at everything: even so, we are all valuable in some way.

We should do our best not to reward mediocrity - via elections or gargantuan salaries and "golden parachutes" for inept CEO's who leap from one dying company to another.

As to how this will decrease cheating? Unless there is a major shift in societal views of "success," it beats the hell out of me.

And now to read the Pollan article.

Too bad about your students, sister. I've been there too. Unfortunately, the problems with our educational institutions are... well... institutional ones. Caring and talented teachers like yourself cannot reverse the overall trends single-handedly. Nevertheless, I'm sure that for every one of your pathetic cheaters there are two or more students who have been positively affected by your obvious comittment to teaching.

Fascinating article by Pollan. I think that even if staunch meat-eaters refuse to consider vegetarianism, they ought to at least acknowledge where and how their food originates. I don't object to the basic principles of being a carnivore in the sense Pollan lays out -- humanocarnivorism -- but factory farms are simply indefensible no matter how you slice them (no pun intended). You don't have to be "one of those animal people" to want this horrible, sickening practice changed or ended altogether.

I do object to one assertion, which is OSU scientist Steven Davis's contention that all-vegetable agriculture would actually increase the number of animals killed.

First off, his figure is entirely theoretical, but assuming accuracy, there are real arguments against it. Yes, many wild animals might be killed during initial harvests, but surely a long term view reveals it as a step toward a more humane world: as they are not in captivity, the animals could adapt, evolve, or simply migrate elsewhere; whereas in a controlled slaughterhouse, their bloody systemic fate is 100% ensured, along with their descendants. I see a valid difference here.

Second, albeit a little less convincing, Davis leaves out that a personal garden would not require machinery that would harm animals. Of course, it's not realistic to propose individual gardens for huge populations, but surely having crops in your own backyard is indeed a route to unassailable veganism, something that is not impossible as the article states. Many people could realistically grow their own food.

Anyway, I appreciate that he lays out the facts without mocking people who wish to defend the welfare of animals. If we choose to accept the fact of evolution, then we must also acknowledge how similar we are to some of what we eat. A sober, reasoned approach is the only way to improve this situation.

P.S. For the record, I am ashamed of organizations like PETA who choose extreme tactics that only hurt the cause. I am a Pollan vegan, and I would be happy to thoughtfully debate this topic with anyone. I also recommend his book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". Fantastic read about the history of food without dogma from any perspective.

I have always found it interesting the lack of real dialogue on this subject. I have been something of a fair-weather vegetarian for over a decade, and its amazing how easily some people get offended if I so much as objectively state what the arguments for giving up meat are. Its something that goes quite deep I think in our understanding of our place in the world.

Regarding the 'friendly farms', I would not contend that this isn't a step in the right direction, but I have trouble imagining that it would be possible to feed the entire world a diet of meat from farms which have, by design, limited productivity.

I saw an article in WIRED last year that claimed if one truly has environmental concerns then it is better to have these industrial farms which produce more meat on a land to meat ratio. While possibly a valid point, it goes nowhere in addressing the ethical question of animal welfare.

All in all, I can't imagine a majority of North Americans foregoing meat in their diet anytime soon, so the question is, do you bring about reduction in factory farming by abstaining from meat altogether, or by voting with your wallet to assist in financing a shift into more ethical farming methods, which would likely eventually give way to a decrease in overall meat consumption. I would be inclined to argue that the latter option is likely to be the most effective, though I'm still on the fence regarding whether or not slaughtering and consuming an animal for purely gastrointestinal preference is morally defensible.

I would agree with the author though that probably the single major problem facing this issue is how easy it is to just look and wish away the reality of how our food is produced, perhaps this is why people react so negatively when the attempt is made to simply turn their heads.

I'm a vegan, and I guess I'd call myself a Pollan-ish Vegan. "-ish" because, while I generally applaud Pollan's even-handedness and thoughfulness (two things almost entirely missing from this debate in its typical form - from both "sides"), I object to several of his conclusions in the latter portion of the article.

It's interesting that he gives (and repeats) that Franklin quote:

The advantage of being a ''reasonable creature,'' Franklin remarks, is that you can find a reason for whatever you want to do.

...because I think that Pollan falls victim to just this sort of reasoning gymnastics.

(1) On the issue of species versus individual rights, I would simply say that he is comparing apples and oranges here :). There are ethical arguments BOTH for animal rights AND for species protections, and they way Pollan ties them together here is extremely, well, specious. Chickens may be "thriving" under our care in numbers, but the Prairie Chicken in the midwest is going extinct because...well...the Midwest has been turned into a place to grow things like chickens (actually beef, but you get my point).

(2) Pollan states off-handedly: "grass-fed beef for everybody." But if that were the case, then one thing we would have to do is eat WAY less meat, because grass-fed beef need TONS of land.

(3) As mentioned above, this idea he quotes of vege diets leading to more animal deaths is incredibly disingenuous! The pressure for destroying forested habitats - and in the process driving countless species to extinction - is the needs of huge amounts of land for a meat-heavy diet. And, furthermore, it's disingenuous to, on the one hand, advocate for humano-vorism, and then state that the vege alternative is factory vege farming! Here on San Juan Island, we eat local produce grown as carefully as the cows on Salatin's farms.

(4) When Pollan states "Humans may not need to eat meat in order to survive, yet doing so is part of our evolutionary heritage," he is falling into EXACTLY the same logical trap he identified earlier in the article when he dismissed parallel arguments by pointing out that "murder and rape are natural too." Again, see the Franklin quote. Reason is a VERY useful tool to argue for something you want to do, when in this case, you argued in the exact opposite direction earlier.

(5) Salatin is allowed to get away with...well...murder when this quote of his goes un-dissected by Pollan:

''People have a soul; animals don't,'' he said. ''It's a bedrock belief of mine.'' Salatin is a devout Christian. ''Unlike us, animals are not created in God's image, so when they die, they just die.''

So, the conclusion, then, is that if it turns out that humans DON'T have a soul, it would be OK to kill them? Yikes!

(6) Pollan concludes thusly: "Yes, meat would get more expensive. We'd probably eat less of it, too." Ah ha! There's the real rub! My Pollan-ish form of veganism says: eat way less meat! We don't need it, and eating so much of it pretty much guarantees cruelty.

(7) Finally, there is the environmental argument for reduction in meat consumption, the most compelling being the far lower carbon footprint inherent in a vegetarian/vegan diet. This may be beyond the scope of Pollan's interesting article, but certainly is one of the key ethical considerations here, so deserves mention.

A lot of the article linked to here ends up in Omnivore's Dilemma, so this was a quick read for me.

Pollan does report on Salatin's view of the world in the book, and he doesn't necessarily buy all of it. An argument for the Polyface farm organization is that the animals live their lives as close the way as they would if they were not domesticated.

The animals contribute as much to the vegetable side of the farm as they do the animal side of the farm. The animals traverse different areas of the farm each day so that they can participate - as in chickens following the cow maneuvers and manure, picking out bugs from the cow-pies that will enrich the soil for vegetation growth.

The organization of Polyface keeps it fairly self-sufficient compared to a vegan farm. Soil with little animal contact needs nourishment from outside sources.

I recently road the train for many hours over thanksgiving. I met an itinerant farmer/architect graduate and we had some great conversation. The farm he had just been working on did some deals with Polyface. Both of us had things to contribute to the conversation, but we also agreed that smaller farms were more healthy all the way around. Corporate farms tend to run in constant deficits: they need to mass-produce, supply often exceeds expectation and prices fall, they then need subsidies to survive. No rinse, but repeat.

Smaller self-sufficient farms hold their own. Products are often more expensive, but in the food world, you do get what you pay for. Humans are by nature omnivores, but we don't need tons of meat, just enough to provide a balance of protein. We can be vegetarian or vegan by choice. Today's agriculture does allow for that, but it's tricky and you have to decide at what cost.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is one of the few books that have changed my life. I have searched for the good farmers in the Des Moines area and buy my produce and meat from the them and it is quite tasty. I've gotten lazy with my cooking - or not - who needs lots of spicing up when the food is fresh?

(For the record, Ghandi's memoirs changed my life quite a bit as well. I even went veg for awhile but couldn't sustain that part. The philosophy still remains.)

One quick comment: I think this conversation often suffers from hyperbolic dichotomies. Some of that is even apparent in the Pollan article; for example, in his section on "vegetarian utopia." Pollan's whole shtick is a nuanced view of being an omnivore, but he too seems to fall into the pattern of characterizing vegans with an overly broad brush

Whatever this "vegetarian utopia" is, we are light years away from it; as far away as we are from any utopia. Let's talk instead (shall we?) about reality. Yes, purely vegan agriculture is difficult, but the amount of animal input needed to boost yields to reasonable levels for mass production amount to WAY less animal inputs than we currently produce with our meat heavy diets.

Vegan agriculture (or nearly vegan agriculture) can be seen as part of the solution. I would argue that this is a much more useful formulation than discounting it based on the "if all farmers were vegans, then it wouldn't work" argument. Most farmers won't be anywhere near vegan anytime soon, but a perceptible shift in that direction would be welcome from the points of view of health, environmental sustainability and animal cruelty.

(By the way, Gypsy Sis, I am not saying that any of the above characterizes your post -- in fact, your welcome comments just inspired me to write some more)

I'm sure this is going to make me hugely popular around here but I'm going to say it any way: most of the American women I know who are vegans or vegetarians use it as a sort of eating disorder. It is just another way to control what they put in their bodies. How else can you explain the disproportion among men and women vegetarians? I'll never forget the tiresome story told by a girl I know from Seattle of her exasperating hours-long search for a vegetarian restaurant in Paris. I think I'd rather spend a day cooped up in one of those little chicken prisons than listen to another young girl tell me about how and why she doesn't eat meat.

How is a vegan diet even healthy for humans? You at least need a little yak milk. I can't think of a single vegan culture on the planet so it seems like to follow this route you are bucking about 100,000 years of human evolution.

With that said, I should probably eat less meat than I do. I also think that the way we harvest a lot of our meat in America is pretty disgusting. The Spanish worship pigs. You see hams literally hanging from the rafters in almost every bar in the country. Take a look at a Spanish pig farm and they look like health spas for fat rich people, with pigs scampering from oak tree to oak tree to eat more acorns. People here also have a closer relation to their food. A walk through my market will prove this. You'll see whole carcasses of rabbits, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and a world of sea monsters—sort of disconcerting for people used to buying their meat in shrink-wrapped plastic. And I live in a fairly large city (Valencia). People in the country have an even closer tie to what they eat. There is definitely room for a little more balance in what and how we eat, and the ethics of animal treatment should enter in to the equation, just don't try to take away my jamón ibérico.

How is a vegan diet even healthy for humans?

Well, the proof's in the pudding, leftbanker. There are tons of healthy vegans out there (myself included - I'm an XY by the way). Without the wide availability of certain veg sources for key vitamins and other compounds (such as nutritional yeast and soymilk for vitamin B-12, and flax seed for omega fatty acids), it would be incredibly difficult to have a well-rounded vegan diet. That's why there are no entirely vegan ancient cultures. Hooray for the modern world!

I'm glad polio has been eradicated too.

leftbanker, I enjoy your posts, but your assertion that veganism or vegetarianism is a symptom substitution for eating disorders is B.S.

OK, there are probably a few that you've met so they stick out in your mind. I tend to remember the veggies that smoke and it always makes me laugh. Isn't a veg lifestyle supposed to be more healthy?? But they avoid meat generally for the animal rights position more than health. Too bad the smoking veggies tend to disregard their own health.

I've met many healthy vegetarians. I've also met the high protein fad dieters that chow down on so much meat that you know that their bodies are disposing of the excess and that - initially - leads to weight loss.

Balance is the key. Yes, grandma had this one down - eat your fruits and vegetables, throw in some meat and legume protein, grains, dairy, and and voila! You'll be healthier for it. And if you wanna throw in chocolate, coffee, fat, and/or alcohol as your optional food groups, just do it in moderation.

You can have your jamon. Just let me decide if I want vegetarian paella or the other delicious version with crab and chorizo. If you roast red peppers, most people will flock to both versions (and adding fava beans doesn't hurt).

[more in the ramble above]

how many of these kids downloaded movies and music illegally from their very own homes while ther parents said nothing about it?

how many of their parents downloaded movies and music?

Stealing is stealing, but how can we expect our kids to know wrong when nearly everyone around them openly steals digital goods?


max: "piracy makes kids unethical"

How can we as a society possibly know not to cheat on tests when we can download music for free? It just doesn't make any sense! Blast those P2P companies that corrupted our moral values. Our youth will be lost unless we unplug the internets for good! ITT: RIAA employee

There was a time when making a mixed tape for a friend did not make you a criminal. Then the technology to do it became cheap and easy and now its against the law.

Perhaps what makes our children so lacking in morals is not only that breaking the law is easily done but, that it is so hard to avoid with our current laws. Everybody has copied a song or shared a video or posted a picture on myspace or something like that.


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