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Do Not Not Kill and Innocent Man

Dear Governor Perry,

First of all, happy belated happy 400th execution day! It seems like only yesterday that Texas reinstated the death penalty, and yet you have managed to execute 400 people since 1982. Oops, scratch that, you killed DaRoyce Mosley Tuesday night, so make that 401 people, right? Actually, by the time you get this letter, you may have killed your 402nd inmate, John Amador, scheduled for August 29th. Or you may even have killed the 403rd person, Kenneth Foster, scheduled to die August 30th. As you know, Kenneth Foster’s fate is in your hands. In 1996, when Michael LaHood was fatally shot, of course, the man who pulled the trigger was not Foster, but Mauriceo Brown. And sure, Foster was inside a car at the time of the murder. Sure, 80 feet away from the crime scene, he was unaware of what Brown was up to. And sure, Amnesty International says,

In essence, Kenneth Foster has been sentenced to death for leaving his crystal ball at home. There is no concrete evidence demonstrating that he could know a murder would be committed. Allowing his life to be taken is a shocking perversion of the law.

The law of parties allows anyone involved in anyway in a crime to be found as guilty as the person who committed the crime. Texas is unique because it applies this law to death penalty cases. In other words, Texas is so special, it will execute you for a crime it admits you did not commit.

I know you have received letters from leftist anarchist wing bats like Archbishop Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and the European Union who are trying to bully you into granting a stay of execution. So I wanted to write you my own letter, urging you to hold your ground. Stay strong Mr. Governor! I so admire how you stood up to those EU girly boys, telling them,

230 years ago, our forefathers fought a war to throw off the yoke of a European monarch and gain the freedom of self-determination. Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens. While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas.

Who cares what the EU pansies think? When it comes to the death penalty, you are in good company. Some of the most freedom-loving countries-- Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Zimbabwe—have capital punishment. I, like yourself, am a traditionalist and love your argument that “the people of Texas decided a long time ago that the death penalty was a good idea.” After all, Texas has a long proud history of old noble decisions going back to the War of Northern Aggression.

And, of course, "Texans are doing just fine governing Texas," representing its people and defending their interests. I think the Texan record speaks for itself. You are number one in percentage of uninsured, and number two in non-immunized children and teenage pregnancy. You are number five in poverty AND child poverty (no fair!)

Mr. Governor, I'm sure your used to people accusing the Death Penalty of being racist. And of the three men killed/ to be killed this week, one was black and one was Latino. But, out of the 10 upcoming executions, one of them is white.

Governor Perry, when you feel yourself faltering, just remember the strong gubernatorial roots that ground and nourish you. President George Bush, arguably Texas’s greatest governor, executed 152 people in his unique caring way. In his page-turning autobiography A Charge to Keep, Bush wrote, "I take every death penalty case seriously and review each case carefully.... Each case is major because each case is life or death." Bush took the cases so seriously, that he would even read the clemency pleas, according to his then legal council Alberto Gonzalez, "from time to time". Signing 152 death sentences was so stressful for Bush, sometimes the poor governor had to resort to impersonating death row inmates’ pleas for clemency in order to decompress.

So please listen to reason, Mr. Governor, your own reason: "Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens." Like sitting in your car and not being clairvoyant.

Sincerely, Katie Halper

To tell Governor Perry what you think about Kenneth Foster’s case, call 512-463-2000, fax (512) 463-1849 and visit here.

And call the Board of Pardons and Paroles today!

Rissie Owens
(512) 936-6351
(936) 291-2161

Charles Aycock
806-359-7656

Linda Garcia
979-849-3031

Jose L. Aliseda,
210-564-3721

Juanita Gonzalez
254-865-8870

Conrith Davis
936-291-2161

Jackie DeNoyelles
903-723-1068

LET'S ASK MARION: CAN WE LEGISLATE A LEANER NATION?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: The Trust For America’s Health has just released a report, “F as in Fat”, that’s launched another round on the nightly news of all that stock footage of morbidly obese people waddling along Main Street, USA. The study finds that obesity rates are continuing to climb across the country, with poor Southern states showing the greatest increases. Our ever-widening waistlines are racking up something like $117 billion a year in preventable health care costs.

We don’t get enough exercise, and that includes not exercising our “personal responsibility” to make better choices for ourselves and our families. But many Americans have limited access to affordable, wholesome foods and safe places to exercise, whereas crappy convenience foods are omnipresent and our car-centric, couch potato way of life actively encourages inactivity.

As Jeff Levi, Trust for America’s Health’s executive director, told ABC news, “Everyone recognizes that there are personal choices involved. But you can’t make healthy choices if those opportunities and options aren’t there for you.”

You’ve been calling on Americans for ages to eat less and move more. But, as you’ve so thoroughly documented in your books, food manufacturers make a fortune encouraging Americans to overeat. Their purpose is to generate profits for their shareholders; the fact that the cheap, nutritionally bankrupt foods they make their money on have unleashed a plague of diseases is not their problem. Yet.

But it’s ravaging the rest of us—Big Food’s fat cats have made us a nation of fat can’ts. Trust for America’s Health is calling on our government to create a national strategy to reverse this epidemic. Their suggestions include strengthening the food stamp program to pay for more fruits and vegetables; improving nutrition standards for school food; building bike paths, and requiring that kids exercise for 60 minutes.

But will our government really be willing to reverse the agricultural policies that subsidize this surplus of junk foods and challenge the free market free-for-all that’s brought us to this crisis? Can we legislate a leaner nation?

Dr. Nestle: Let me start with the video footage. If we need legislation for anything, it’s to get rid of that stock footage. It is rude and disrespectful and does nobody any good. Whenever I see it, I am always suspicious that what comes next will be equally thoughtless.

Let’s remember what we public health types call the “root” causes of obesity: farm policies promoting hugely excessive food production (the 3,900 calories a day per person problem), and Wall Street’s insistence that publicly traded companies grow—expand sales and profits—every quarter. Toss into that mix the way we allow corporations to fund election campaigns, and you’ve got your answer. Congress could do plenty if it put public health above corporate profits, but its hands are tied and it, in turn, ties the hands of the agencies that could do lots of things to make it easier for people to eat more healthfully and to be more active.

In 1990, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and I wrote a paper on public health approaches to obesity prevention, in which we gave a long list of policies which, if put into place, would do just that. Since then, there has been action on some of them, but not much. Congress said schools needed to have wellness policies, but didn’t give the schools funding for implementation. Some school are doing good things, others can’t. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is demanding that food corporations cough up data on how much money they spend advertising to kids, and I can’t wait to see whether the FTC can actually get that information.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave us new, hopelessly complicated dietary guidelines and the USDA gave us a food-free Pyramid that nobody can understand or use. And the FDA proposed putting the total number of calories on the front of food packages but has never been able to get that beyond the proposal stage.

What we really need is a national campaign focused on eating less junk foods and on having fun being active, accompanied by what is needed to make those actions possible. This means getting food advertising off of TV and out of schools, getting vending machines out of schools, serving healthier and better tasting food in schools, getting price breaks for smaller portions, and setting up supervised playgrounds for after-school games, bike paths, sidewalks, public transportation systems, well lit and attractive stair wells in office buildings, and everything else you can think of to make it easier to eat better and be more active.

Big changes in society led to our current predicament. So it’s no surprise that big changes in society are needed to reverse recent trends. Impossible? Pipe dreams? I don’t think so. Just look at what a few parents can do to transform a school. This is grass roots democracy at its best, but it would sure help to have Congress more actively involved in promoting public health. Maybe in the next administration.

THE APPLE VS. SNACK CAKE SMACKDOWN CAUGHT ON CAMERA!

Apples go to bat for us everyday; remember the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” A steady diet of snack cakes, on the other hand, leaves you stuffed with empty carbs and factory-made fillings full of chemicals you’d never use in your own kitchen (if you don’t believe me, read Twinkie, Deconstructed, in which Steve Ettlinger analyzes the 39 ingredients it takes to make America’s favorite snack cake.)

But free market forces and misguided agricultural policies have given sweet, spongy snack cakes a big boost over the humble, wholesome apple in the battle for America’s hearts and bellies.

So I was happy to see at least one apple is fighting back, and knocking the chem-crème stuffing out of a not-so-innocuous snack cake, as documented in Food Battle, the latest short from Free Range Studios, those socially conscious satirists who brought us Store Wars, the Meatrix, and, most recently, the Mouth Revolution.

Food Battle takes our Byzantine, $90 billion a year Farm Bill and turns it into a tussle between a snack cake and an apple, highlighting the clash between the Goliaths of industrial agriculture and all us Davids who yearn for a saner, more humane and sustainable food chain.

Is it a gross simplification? Is it really such a simple tale of good guys versus bad?

Well, actually, yes, and yes. You can’t possibly explore the nuances of such a complex piece of legislation in a short comic film, but Food Battle makes the essential point that our agricultural policies have been hijacked by corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us. That’s a message that most Americans should be able to sink their teeth into, and maybe even get riled up about. Because there’s nothing democratic about a diet that’s determined by special interests.

Who Framed Larry Craig

The real tragedy behind Craig’s arrest: the death of the Singing Senators

Today is a terrible day for America, public bathrooms, a cappella music everywhere. The arrest of Senator Larry Craig by an undercover police officer for lewd conduct in a public men's bathroom is the final nail in the coffin in which rots the once vibrant barbershop quartet known as the Singing Senators. Also called the Vocal Majority, the Singing Senators, or SS, consisted of John Ashcroft, baritone; Trent Lott, bass; Jim Jeffords, tenor; and Larry Craig, lead. The quartett’s beginning were as humble as the senators themselves. They started out harmonizing to Happy Birthday at the birthday party of fellow Republican senator Bob Packwood a framee in his own right, who would be forced to resign over sexual harassment charges based on bogus evidence like his diary and accusations from 11 different people. The crooners had their formal debut at the Kennedy Center and then went on to record an album Let Freedom Sing in Nashville and perform on the Today Show. As their popularity skyrocketted, The SS started performing more frequently, raising millions of dollars for Republican causes and charities. They may have sounded in tune, but something was out of key. And that was Jim Jeffords, who became an Independent, betraying not only the GOP but the SS. Days before Jeffords defected, a hopeful Lott predicted Jefford would stay in the party “After all, I mean, what would we do in the future about the Ainging Senators? We need Jim to be part of that harmony.” But Jeffords abandoned the quartet, and in a flash the Singing Senators were over, a blast from the past. Lott never saw it coming.

But Craig would not be silenced and, the quartet’s lead, used to leading, launched a solo career, writing his own songs, the most notable perhaps, an homage to Judge Samuel Alito, (to the tune of the West Side Story's "Maria"

The most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard/Alito, Alito/Alito, I just met a judge named Alito/And suddenly the name will never be the same/Alito, Bush just picked a judge named Alito/Alito, say it proud, that Republican saying/Say it soft and there’s Democrats praying/Alito, may the Senate confirm Alito.

Singing was just to fun for this Senator to give up. As Craig explained to Senator John Thune, whom he tried to recruit to the SS, “You’ve got to let your hair down and enjoy it.”

Then finally, only 2 moths ago, on June 12, after a 6-year hiatus, the Singing Senators made a comeback! Purged of the defecting Jeffords, their sound was purer and the trio was tighter. Craig explained, “We’re not a quartet any longer. We’re a trio, and there are a lot of good reasons for that.” Singing at a fundraiser for the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute, the three singing senators performed God Bless America, country and gospel tunes, and the sexy Oak Ridge Boys hit American Made:

She looks good in her tight blue jeans /she bought in Mexico/ And she loves wearing French perfume everywhere we go/ But when it comes to the lovin' heart/ one thing is true/ My Baby's genuine "U.S.A." / red white and blue/ From her silky long hair to her sexy long legs/ My baby is "American Made".

The SS had performed with the Oak Ridge Boys in 1997, so singing American Made marked a 10 year anniversary of Christian jamming.

Here's where things get fishy. This reunion show took place on Tuesday June 12. The arrest of Larry Craig took place on June 11th, one day before! And the arrest report was enetered on June 12th just hours before the reunion concert would kick off. A coincidence? Or a vast left-wing conspiracy? The reunion concert had to have been widely publicized through the series of tubes that is the internets. And the arrest was surely an attempt to silence Craig and the Singing Senators. The former rancher, family values conservative Idaho senator is said to have solicited gay sex in an airport bathroom. And yet, Craig is so straight, he voted for a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage(sorry Mary cheney), opposes including homosexuals in hate crime legislation. And he’s so not gay that when he was accused of being involved in a sex scandal involing male pages he said that made him “Mad as hell.”

Which sounds pretty macho to me. If he’s gay, why did he preemptively release a statement saying he wasn’t when he hadn’t been implicated in the scandal anyway? Sheesh. What could be less gay?

It looks like someone wants to shut up the Singing Senators.... only this time... for good.

The Barbersop ensemble, be it quartet or trio, is the most wholsome, most patriotic of all American all-male a cappella singing traditions. The values, the freedom-loving, and the irresistible melodies and rthyms of the SS threaten the liberal, gay, Jewish, vegan establishment bent on bringing down America.

Well, they may be able to stop the Singing Senators. They may be able to frame Craig. They may be able to persecute Lott, destroy his porch and put racist words in his mouth. They may be able to recruit Jim Jeffords. But nothing, not even pancreatis or Gonzolezean hospital-room harassment can bring down John Ashcroft. He will sing for the Senators, he will make the Singing Senators Soar.

WHY WON’T WENDY’S THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX?

You have to be a real egghead these days to be able to unscramble all the labels on egg cartons: cage-free, free range, certified organic, certified humane, yada, yada, yada.

The one label you won’t see—battery cage--is the one that actually applies to 95% of the eggs sold in the U.S. For some reason, the industrial egg farmers who confine their hens to quarters so tight they can barely breathe through their soddered-off beaks don’t seem particularly eager to trumpet their chosen method of egg production.

Meanwhile, the demand for cage-free eggs is so great, as the New York Times noted recently, that Whole Foods--which does not sell, or use, battery cage eggs--sometimes runs out of cage-free eggs and “has to scale back the amount of prepared food and baked goods it makes.”

From Ben and Jerry’s to Google’s cafeteria and Wolfgang Puck’s kitchens, battery cage eggs are no longer welcome. McDonald’s, whose European outlets rely mainly on cage-free eggs, is contemplating a change in its U.S. egg policy. And Burger King’s agreed to reduce its use of battery cage eggs.

But Wendy’s refuses to follow in Burger King’s baby steps.

"We're not in a position to impact the issue," their spokesapologist, Bob Bertini, told a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. Well, sure. After all, they’ve only got 6,300 outlets in the U.S., and besides, they don’t feature all that many egg dishes—oh, wait! They’re rolling out a new breakfast menu featuring a Steak 'n' Egg Breakfast Sandwich and the “Frescuit,” their answer to the Egg McMuffin.

But, hey, “We're not able to do everything at once,” as Bertrini told the AP.

The fact is that if Wendy’s moved to reduce its use of battery cage eggs, it would encourage more egg producers to abandon the cages. This could only be a good thing, right?

Not if you ask the United Egg Producers, an industry trade group which defends the practice of relying on the cages. But then the United Egg Producers’ president told the New York Times that the demand for cage-free eggs is a myth:

''There is a lot of talk about cage-free, but are people actually buying them?'' said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers. ''I think the consumer walking into the grocery store sees cage-free and they cost two or three times more, and they don't buy them.''

Funny story about the United Egg Producers. Despite their president’s claims to the contrary, the conventional egg farmers who belong to the United Egg Producers are well aware there’s a growing aversion to battery cage eggs. So they invented their own label, “Animal Care Certified.” Sounds reassuringly humane and ethical, doesn’t it?

But, as Marion Nestle documents in What to Eat, all the label actually certified was “that a company gives food and water to its caged hens.” In 2003, animal welfare advocates filed a false advertising complaint with the FTC on the grounds that the “Animal Care Certified” label implied that the hens were humanely treated. Rather than attempt to justify the label, the United Egg Producers voluntarily changed it to read “United Egg Producers Certified.”

So if you want to buy eggs from hens who spend their needlessly short, miserable lives in tiny cages, never, ever having the chance to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests as they’re naturally inclined to do, look for the United Egg Producers Certified label. It certifies, as Nestle notes, that its eggs come from “tens of thousands of chickens in cages piled one on top of another in batteries infamous for accumulated feces, feathers, and the overpowering smell of ammonia from the hens’ wastes.”

Oh, and the eggs that come out of these poultry gulags? They can’t hold a candle to the eggs you get from chickens that actually get to live outdoors and graze on grass and grubs. And though “cage-free” represents a step in the right direction, it doesn’t mean that the chickens have actually spent any time outdoors—they’re still kept indoors in huge flocks.

That’s why I had to laugh when I saw a display at one of the agricultural exhibits at the Dutchess County Fair last week intended to educate kids about life on the farm. It depicted a happy looking flock of hens nesting comfortably in unconfined quarters, their unclipped beaks presumably free to dig for grubs. The percentage of chickens that actually get to live out this bucolic scenario is miniscule, which is a shame for us as well as the chickens, because the benefits of pasture raised eggs go far beyond better conditions for the hens.

Pastured chickens free to forage on field greens and bugs produce eggs that are far better tasting and more nutritious. A USDA-funded study “found that such eggs had 10 percent less total fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, 400 percent more omega-3’s, and 34 percent less cholesterol,” according to The Real Food Revival, a terrific guide by Sherri Brooks Vinton and Ann Clark Espuelas, who declare pastured eggs “the gold standard.”

We get our eggs from a farmer who’s famous for her fabulous produce but keeps her equally fabulous eggs a secret, because she only keeps a few hens and can only bring a dozen or so cartons of eggs to the Greenmarket. So you have to get there really early and ask for the eggs, which are kept hidden in a cooler and doled out to those in the know. Their yolks are the deepest saffron yellow you’ve ever seen, and the flavor is superb, well worth getting up at the crack of dawn for. Looks like the early bird not only gets the worm, but the best eggs, too.

WEEKEND GARDEN BLOGGING

Farmer Kitty is inordinately pleased with the paltry haul from our less-than-triumphant victory garden this weekend, but then, it doesn’t take much to float her boat—or fill her wheelbarrow.

We, on the other hand, are too demoralized by the theft of our entire crop of hazelnuts to get too excited about the jumbo heirloom zucchini and picture-perfect bell pepper. We know who the culprits are—our bushy-tailed adversaries were spotted in the act of pilfering our precious nuts, so there’s no mystery here.

Except, of course, where the nuts are buried. The squirrels themselves don’t even know, because they actually forget where they’ve buried their plunder within about ten minutes, as I learned from reading Bill Adler’s Outwitting Squirrels. I also learned that after mating, the male squirrel secretes a waxy plug that prevents any future paternity battles when his little litter of fuzzy filchers is born.

I learned all kinds of fascinating things, but nothing to save our nuts. We’ll just have to content ourselves with admiring the hazelnuts’ catkins and the fiery fall foliage that awaits us. Next year, I’m going to cover the hazelnuts in netting, and keep those furry little creeps away from my crop.

COUNTY FAIR BLOGGING

We made our annual trek to the Dutchess County Fair this week, to “ooh” the blue ribbon pies and “aah” the prize ponies. New York State’s second largest county fair calls itself the “showplace for agriculture in Dutchess County,” and it’s true, there’s plenty of livestock and locally grown veggies on display in the exhibition halls. Every year there’s the obligatory preposterously large pumpkin:

A head of cabbage bore a sign declaring itself “organically grown,” the first time I can recall ever seeing any mention of organics at the county fair. We were also pleased to see a vending machine selling glass bottles of Hudson Valley Fresh chocolate milk instead of the usual cans of soda.

Another first was the Spacey Tracy’s pickle stand. Spacey Tracy’s pickles is a local enterprise, selling their hot ‘n’ spicy pickles, pickled peppers, mint jellies and other goodies at the Rhinebeck farmers’ market every Sunday. In order to compete with the standard county fair fare, Spacey Tracy’s dunked its pickles in batter and deep-fried them. A good idea? By the time we got to Spacey Tracy’s, we were so saturated with saturated fats that the prospect of a deep fried pickle didn’t even appeal to us.

Now, you can’t go to a county fair without consuming your share of fried foods, and I will freely admit that I enjoyed my waffle fries immensely. But the bag of deep fried Oreos that Matt and our friend Amy bought went straight to the garbage, because after Amy bit into one, her lovely face contorted into such a grimace of displeasure that I had no trouble declining her offer to try one. I mean, they didn’t even look good—pale, soggy and greasy, not golden and crispy.

The New York Times ran a story last week about how the Deep Fried Combo Plate at the Indiana State Fair—a Snickers bar, two Oreos and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, all encased in batter—is no longer fried in trans-fats. The switch to less artery-clogging fats is admirable, of course, but does not, alas, make a deep fried cookie or candy bar healthy.

Which is why signs such as the one below are destined to become a staple at county fairs, too:

I didn’t even know there were special socks made for diabetics. Apparently, the cuffs are extra loose so as not to impede circulation. Judging from the number of morbidly obese men, women and children we saw funneling funnel cakes down their throats at the fair, diabetic socks are a definite growth industry. Like most of the merchandise at the fair, with the exception of a few booths of handcrafts, they were manufactured in China. So much for local.

Another clothing item I’d never seen before were the sweaters worn by the newly shorn sheep, to keep them from shivering after giving up their wool to warm us. I bet their sweaters are made in China, too. Oh well. At least we can still make our own chocolate milk, pickles, and sand art.

 

An Open Letter to Robert E. Murray


To Robert E. Murray
CEO, Murray Energy Corporation
Address unknown

Dear mine-owner and CEO Murray,

I was touched when you promised that you would "not leave this mine until those men are rescued, dead or alive." So I was extremely worried, having read the headline "Murray's Absence Puzzles Families." A company spokesman said you were "ministering" to the families of the miners, but it turns out the families have not seen you either. The ingrates actually "feel that Bob Murray has abandoned [them]." What these families fail to understand is that your absence is selfless, not selfish. Six years ago, Mayor Rudy Giuliani went down to Ground Zero and was exposed to the "exact same things that [the rescue workers] were." He became "one of them." And today, you, Mr. Murray, with a Rudy-esque valor and empathy, have put yourself in the same position as the little people who work for you, and you too are missing.

Wherever you are, I hope you can hear me and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I know you must be doing something righteous. You yourself are the first to admit that you fight for "the little guy that nobody cares about." Like the little guys to whom you donate: George "Maccaca" Allen, Katherine Harris, Mitch McConnell and Christopher "Friend of Jack Abramoff" Pombo.

You stand up to special interest groups like Mine Safety. Your friend Senator McConnell happens to be married to Labor secretary Elaine Chao and when an inspector for the Mine Safety Health Administration, which Chao oversees, got out of line, and wouldn't shut up about safety violations, you tactfully reminded him, "Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and last I checked, he was sleeping with your boss." Luckily, Department of Labor justice is as blind as Department of Justice justice and the uppity safety inspector was transferred and forced into early retirement.

When opportunistic politicians tried to politicize the Sago mine tragedy by passing laws which would protect workers' safety, you stated "I resent these politicians playing politics with my employees' safety because I take the safety of my miners to bed with me every night." When the most opportunistic of all, that senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, said America needs a President who is "pro-labor and will appoint people who actually care about workers' rights and workers' safety" you had the balls of coal to call her "anti-American."

When tragedy struck you experienced a state of denial only felt by those who are at one with the little miners. At a press conference following the collapse you insisted "there's no emergency here," and threatened to call off the conference unless helicopters flying overhead were removed. You are a believer and explained "the lord has already decided whether they're alive or dead and whether they were killed from the percussion from the earthquake. But it's up to Bob Murray and my management to get the access to them as quickly as we can."

The liberal, Jewish, gay, vegan media is claiming that retreat mining, the fictitious method in which miners pull down the last standing pillars of coal and let the roof fall in, caused the collapse. Retreat mining sounds pretty safe to me, and it's only killed thirteen people in the last seven years. Talk about conspiracy theories! You know that the unfortunate accident had nothing to do with alleged "dangerous mining conditions." And you swear that "this was caused by an earthquake, not something that Murray Energy or our management did. It was a natural disaster....And I'm going to prove it to you." Government seismologists argue there was no way this was an earthquake, but who are we going to believe? A bunch of nerds who have nothing better to do than get PhDs in seismology? Or you, a man who knows it's all up to G-d any way.

This isn't the first time you have used your organic grasp of science to take on pseudo-science. You called global warming a myth and "Albert" Gore "the shaman of global goofiness and gloom and doom" responsible for "the destruction of American lives and more death as a result of his hysterical global goofiness with no environmental benefit."

Because you are an outspoken defender of coal rights, because you speak truth to power, and truth to mishigas like global warming and non-earthquake induced collapses, you are persecuted by those who harp on harmless minutiae: the 2,787 violations, $2.4 million proposed fines, and accident rates two times higher than the national average at your mine in Illinois; your 64 violations and $12,973 in fines proposed at Crandall, or the injury rates that are eight times higher than average at Ohio Mine.

I can only surmise you are off chasing the real culprit, the earthquake, as you promised. Or perhaps you are talking to God to see whether he decided if the miners were "dead or alive." Or maybe you overslept. That is a distinct possibility since you do take your miners' safety with you to bed every night.

So let us call off this lost cause of a search for the little miners, and search for the one great man we must find and save: Robert Murray.

Sincerely,
Katie Halper

HOLY COW! WORSHIPPERS SAY “AMEN!” TO THE GRASS-FED GOSPEL

The question of whether religion has been more of a force for good or evil is, like hell, eternally hot. Blessed are those who blaspheme, for their books shall inherit the best-seller lists. Just ask Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, who all come down firmly on the side of reason, to the dismay of tooth fairy fans, Santa supporters and faith-based followers of other dubious deities.

I would love to believe there’s a God, particularly a benign, compassionate God who wants only the best for all his children and our fellow creatures. But there are a whole bunch of different Gods running around out there, each with his or her own cult following, and some of them seem, quite frankly, to be rather hostile or downright hateful. Like the God pastor Fred Phelps’ worships, who “hates fags.” What the hell kind of a God is that? Then there’s that Allah who apparently advocates blowing people to smithereens. I think I’ll stick with the Reverend Billy and Buddha, thank you very much.

Some Christians are convinced the impending Rapture renders conservation entirely unnecessary. Conservation for whom? For us godless Left Behind lefties? As Ronald Reagan’s enRaptured Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, told Congress, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.” So it made perfect sense to Watt to propose that we open all 80 million acres of undeveloped land in the United States for drilling and mining by the year 2000.

But there are a growing number of evangelicals and other religious types who don’t think it’s our God-given right to plunder our God-given resources. And now, according to an article in today’s New York Times, people of faith are beginning to rethink our food chain, too:

Christians, Jews and Muslims who see food through a moral lens are increasingly organized and focused on showing their strength. The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, a national coalition of more than a dozen religious organizations, is lobbying Congress for legislation to help small farms. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is helping congregations and universities in the Midwest buy local produce from family farmers.

Environment-minded Jews are asking the leaders of Conservative Judaism to rewrite their kosher certification rules to incorporate ethical concerns about workers, animals and the land. Hazon, the Jewish environmental organization, has set up community-supported agriculture programs, or C.S.A.’s, in which customers purchase shares of a farm’s harvest.

“This is the first time I have seen such a deep and growing involvement of the faith community,” said Brother David Andrews, who is on sabbatical from his job as executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has followed these kinds of issues for 30 years.

If this nascent cause was taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound. “The religious movement is a huge force,” said Arlin S. Wasserman, the founder of Changing Tastes, a consulting firm in St. Paul that advises food companies and philanthropic organizations on trends in food and agriculture. “Already, religious institutions oversee the production of $250 billion per year in food if you bundle together halal, kosher, and institutional buying.

Does this groundswell of spiritual support for sustainable agriculture and compassionate consumption represent a sea change?

“Food and the environment is the civil rights movement for people under the age of 40,” said the Rev. John Wimberly, pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church in Washington.

Hallelujah! I’m about as fond of organized religion as I am of organized sports, but if these folks are going to cast their lot with us secular proselytizers on behalf of pasture-based agriculture, all I can say to Rev. Wimberley is this--from your lips to God’s ear.

LET’S ASK MARION: WILL SUSHI HURT MY BRAIN?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: I’m not one of those Volvo-driving, latte-drinking liberals, but I do eat a lot of sushi. So I was sufficiently alarmed by a New York City Department of Health report last month that one fourth of New Yorkers have elevated levels of mercury thanks, in large part, to our fondness for fish.

We New Yorkers may be more full of it, but excess mercury is a problem all over the country. We know that even a small quantity of mercury can hurt cognitive development in children. And yet, a BP (British Petroleum) refinery in Indiana is still allowed to dump mercury directly into Lake Michigan, which is “a magnet for sport fishing and the source of drinking water for Chicago and scores of other communities,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

So if we can’t count on the EPA to, you know, actually protect the environment, we have got to be proactive and stay on top of what fish is OK to eat and what’s not. You touch on this topic in your “Eating Made Simple” article in the September issue of Scientific American, in which you note that “two small servings per week of the less predatory classes of fish are unlikely to cause harm.”

You’re presumably talking about fish like anchovies and sardines, but they’re not exactly a staple on sushi menus. Tuna, on the other hand, is. As are salmon and mackerel, which are so high in those omega-3 fatty acids that are known to benefit our brains. My own brain hurts when I try to figure this stuff out. So, seriously, how often do you eat sushi?

Dr. Nestle: I love sushi and eat it every chance I get although I try to be careful to eat it in places where I think the chefs know how to prepare it safely. I can well sympathize with your sushi-induced headache. Balancing the risks and benefits of seafood is no joke. It took me five chapters in What to Eat to deal with fish choices and it took an Institute of Medicine committee two years just to grapple with the methylmercury vs. omega-3 problem.

Personally, I’m much more worried about the risk of biological hazards—bacteria, viruses, worms, and the like—in sushi than I am about methylmercury, but I’m past the point of becoming pregnant. Pregnancy is the real concern. Methylmercury is not good for baby brains. It does not seem to have nearly as much effect--except at high levels--on adult brains.

The good news is that only five big predatory fish in the food supply that are commonly eaten accumulate high levels of methylmercury: (1) shark, (2) swordfish, (3) king mackerel, and (4) tilefish. The other common one has half the level of those four: (5) albacore (white) tuna. Everything else has much, much lower levels, as shown in this chart from the 2006 Institute of Medicine report.

The amounts in other fish are so low that the chart has to make the scale bigger so you can see the difference.

The methylmercury story is one place where I think government agencies make truly sensible recommendations. In 2004, the FDA and EPA came out with a joint advisory for people most likely to suffer bad effects from eating too much methylmercury: pregnant women, women likely to become pregnant (because methylmercury accumulates) and small children. These agencies say that if you are in this category, don’t eat those five fish. Period.

If you are not in those categories, eating a serving or so of those fish once in a while seems OK. In any case, there isn’t all that much fish in sushi. The fish portions are tiny so the amounts of methylmercury will be tiny. That leaves plenty of sushi to enjoy. Salmon, for example, is very low in methylmercury and so are shrimp, eel, and lots of other kinds I like. And, being an adult, I will occasionally indulge in a piece of tuna.

With that said, I’m fussy about the possibility of biological contaminants in sushi. Here too, the FDA has sensible things to say. The FDA tells pregnant women, young children, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and those with low stomach acidity not to eat raw seafood--ever. If you aren’t in those categories, and want to reduce your risk of picking up some nasty parasite or bug, it helps to make sure the fish was solidly and deeply frozen before you eat it. Even then there’s a risk, but a much smaller one. So I like to be sure I’m eating sushi in a place with a well trained chef who knows food safety rules.

But the whole subject makes me really angry. About 40% of the methlmercury in fish gets into their waters from coal-burning power plants (the rest comes mostly from volcanoes and natural sources). We know perfectly well how to clean up emissions from those plants before they dump toxins in land and water. This is the best example I can think of to illustrate why changing the environment is so much more important to health than individual choices. You don’t like methylmercury in your fish? Write your congressional representatives and tell them to stop delaying controls on emissions. Now.

(For more on sushi safety, the Colorado Health Department has a neat page with many links to other sources of information on mercury, bacterial, and other kinds of problems with fish.)

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