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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Real Food Challenge

This year, I'm heading up the Arts & Sciences "Green Team," which has mostly focused on energy conservation issues in the two previous academic years. Last week, however, I had a conversation with a colleague who emphasized the importance of buying (and eating) locally-grown food. We had just concluded a meeting that featured delicious food grown and prepared locally.

Later that same evening, I read Anna Lappé's piece in September 21 issue of The Nation on student efforts on campuses nationwide to change food purchasing for their dining halls. The campaign is called the Real Food Challenge. Lappé:
The concept is simple, really. Students, some who pay as much as $100,000, or more, for four years at a private college, should have a say in what grub their schools serve--and that food should reflect shared values of fairness and sustainability. The Real Food Challenge provides an organizing tool to empower students to persuade their schools to make the move. Schools that join the challenge pledge to shift at least 20 percent of school food to "real food"--sustainably raised, grown with fairness, and from local and regional farms--by 2020.
Unfortunately, Louisville doesn't have dining halls in dorms. Instead, students purchase food from vendors based in locations scattered throughout the campus.

Most are chains: Papa Johns, Wendy's, Subway, Einstein Bagels, etc.

Apparently, hundreds of schools have embraced the challenge. I'd like to see University of Louisville and other schools in the region meet the standard.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Climate Politics update

I haven't been providing links to the blog I started in August: Climate Politics: IR and the Environment. So, here's a list of my most recent September posts, complete with opening sentences. You can find half a dozen posts there from August as well.

Dirty energy subsidies 
September 26, 2009 |

Last August, the UN Environmental Programme reported that “around $300 billion or 0.7 per cent of global GDP is being spent on energy subsidies annually.” These subsidies are particularly important because most are devoted to fossil fuels. They artificially reduce the price of those fuels, thereby increasing consumption and

The Problem of China: As viewed from the USA 
September 20, 2009 |

For more than a century, the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases have been emitted by advanced industrial states. Recently, however, China has assumed the top spot in annual emissions. On a per person basis, of course, China still trails the global leaders by a good distance.

Those statistics highlight the related problems of scale (China is really big) and inequality (mu…

Weep for OPEC? 
September 10, 2009 |

Representatives from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are meeting in Vienna this week and the looming threat of Copenhagen is clearly on their agenda. I wrote “threat of Copenhagen” because OPEC states are primarily devoted to selling a commodity that is a significant source of climate change. The U.S. Energy Information Administration…

What’s the baseline? 
September 4, 2009 |

The Copenhagen conference starts in three months and this blog will cover key negotiation issues. Let’s start with the framework for negotiation, OK?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dates to the June 1992 Earth Summit. The overwhelming majority of nations are parties to this agreement — even the United States, which did not ratify the fol…

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Books and reading

This isn't the greatest on-line test that I've taken, but blogging around here has been rather slow lately:

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Book Snob
Dedicated Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

PEDs in Iraq

Last week, The Independent reported that "many" private security contractors in Iraq are using steroids to bolster regular workouts:
Paranoid, competitive and fuelled by guns, alcohol and steroids. That is how one senior contractor in Baghdad describes the private security industry operating in the city's Green Zone...

At night they return to the Green Zone, where the only releases are working out in the gym – with many also using steroids
Ted Rall's September 12 cartoon emphasizes this point, but I've rarely seen the alleged drug problem mentioned in the mainstream reporting about Iraq.

The LA Times did report a major drug bust in August 2005:
Italian police seized 215,000 doses of prohibited substances as they broke up a ring that supplied steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to customers around the world, including American soldiers in Iraq, a police official said Monday.

The U.S. military there had no immediate comment, but steroid abuse has long been discussed as an issue in Iraq, where American troops and contractors work out in gyms on military bases and even in the mirrored halls of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.
Both this story and the Rall cartoon implicate U.S. troops, not merely private contractors.

The American Council for Drug Educationdr suggests that steroid abuse causes severe behavioral problems:
Some users show bad judgment because the drugs make them feel invincible. Other users suffer from uncontrolled aggression and violent behavior called “Roid Rage”, severe mood swings, manic episodes and depression. They often suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability and can have delusions.
Oh, and of course, they are not good for your health either.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

How fast did this page load where you live?

AT&T's U-verse service has arrived in Louisville -- potentially challenging Insight Communication's dominance of the cable television and broadband markets.

Maybe the consequence will be improved service (and lower price). Right now, Kentucky ranks 31st in internet download speed -- 4.6 megabits per second. That's roughly 10% below the national average of 5.1 mbps.

Granted, Louisville residents probably benefit from a higher download speed than do rural Kentuckians -- but readers should keep in mind that US speeds are not especially fast by world standards. Many European countries have internet download speeds that are much faster -- France, Sweden and Finland average between 15 and 20 mbps.

Korea and Japan obliterate the US, with speeds average 45 and 60 mbps, respectively.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Telemarketing College Prep

A few minutes ago, I received a phone call from someone who identified himself as a representative of the Smart Education Foundation. He asked for a parent of my oldest daughter (he had her name) and then proceeded to try to market an ACT/SAT test preparation software (DVD) package for $189 plus $10 shipping and handling. The "non-profit corporation" (licensed since July 13!) guaranteed a 300 point improvement in SAT scores (and a comparable increase for ACT, though I didn't catch the precise number).

He sounded like a polished telemarketer and I could hear other telemarketers in the background, presumably "selling" the same product.

He said the software was tax deductable (and returnable for a refund) and that Smart Education Foundation (SEF) used customer "donations" (???) to fund use of the program for needy college-bound children.

As he was about to ask me for my credit card number ("So, does this sound like something you would be interested in for XXXX [my child]?"), I asked him the percentage of funds they donated to needy children.

He had no answer -- though he assured me it was a good question -- and then quickly moved to tell me the website and phone number (which you can find on their website in any case).

The website provides the details about their benevolence: 6 awards for a total of $5000:
The Smart Education Foundation (“Sponsor”) offers the following awards to our members only:
  • 3 awards of $500.00 each
  • 2 awards of $1,000.00 each
  • 1 GRAND PRIZE award of $1,500.00
Oh, but check out the fine print. This is the first rule:
All applicants must be enrolled in the “Continuing Education” online service provided exclusively to our members. All members must continue to pay the monthly fee of $54.95 for at least 4 consecutive months in order to compete in the contest. Contestants must keep the online service throughout the month the award drawing takes place.
Even a "winner" has to pay at least $220 to compete in the contest for the prize. The other rules are fairly onerous too.

Their telemarketers certainly fare better than this, as an August 13 ad on Craiglist in Chicago assures experienced
"Educational Consultants can Earn Between $35,000 and $75,000 + A Year!"
I found an ad from this past week, so they are still recruiting for telemarketers.

A self-identified "scam reporter" claims that the firm has a sordid history. I'm not 100% sure it is the same firm, but the story sounds similar.

I found one guy on LinkedIn (update: reference to his personal page deleted 9/13/09 upon reasonable request) who lists his affiliation as "Educational Advisor" at Smart Education Foundation (SEF) in Chicago. He is a 2007 college graduate...

"Caveat emptor."

3/17/10 update: They called me again today! The telemarketer again had my daughter's name and asked for her father or mother. I cut him off when he mentioned calling from the "Smart Education Foundation" and I asked if he was selling education software. I politely thanked him for the call and hung up.

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