Religious Amsterdammers with a taste for flesh might want to stockpile some steaks and encased meats from their favorite butcher shops.
Earlier today, the Dutch House of Representatives passed
a bill that would force all meat vendors to stun animals before they are slaughtered, removing from the law an exemption for Jewish and Muslim butchers who kill their livestock by lacerating the throat, in line with halal
and kosher guidelines. The legislation, which still needs to pass the Senate, was championed by the Party for the Animals
, a tiny single-issue political party lead by the charismatic MP Marianne Thieme
. The 39-year-old lawyer claims there is “worldwide consensus among scientists that animals suffer terribly if they are not first stunned before slaughter,” a position backed up by Farm Animal Welfare Council, a British advisory panel that urged
its government to outlaw the practice in 2003.
Merits of ritual slaughter aside, it’s tough to blame the 1.2 million Dutch Muslims for feeling
like they are being unfairly targeted by small-minded politicians. Just this week, several Dutch ministers announced plans
to cut funding for programs designed to help immigrants. The government, according to Home Affairs Minister Piet Hein Donner, “will distance itself from the relativism contained in the model of a multicultural society,” which is a polite way of saying that Dutch conservatives find foreign stuff scary. Geert Wilders, the xenophobic leader of the Freedom Party, was also acquitted
this week of inciting hatred against Muslims, a decision that some fear
will only heighten anti-immigrant sentiment. And Wilders’ colleagues in government continue to shift the balance of power
to the right on issues like burqa bans and language requirements, mirroring the machinations
of cultural nationalists across northern Europe.
The Dutch national teams of the 1970s famously popularized the style of play known as “total football
,” in which any player can take on the role of any other teammate on the pitch. It’d be swell if Dutch natives carried that democratic impulse into the political realm, too.
Do yourself a favor and leaf through rockstar neurologist
David Eagleman’s fascinating cover story
in The Atlantic
this month. The premise of the piece is fairly straightforward: while our criminal justice system presupposes that all humans are equally capable of using reason
to decide whether or not to commit a crime (and therefore equal before the law), advances in science are teaching us that factors both genetic and social can warp the neural networks in the brain that control impulses
, make decisions, and comprehend consequences. There is no “neural equality,” as Eagleman puts it, but we still treat criminals of every stripe as if their brains are identical, missing the opportunity to hand down customized punishments and rehabilitation strategies that take into account the differences in how each criminal mind (literally) operates.
One of the more extreme examples Eagleman uses to illustrate the interplay between neural activity and villainous intent is the case of Kenneth Parks. In 1987, this young Ontario resident and new father lost a considerable sum of cash gambling at the race track, forcing him to embezzle money from his employer and crack open his family’s savings account without his wife’s knowledge. Unfortunately for Parks, his boss caught wind of the scheme and fired him.* With few options left, he and his wife subsequently put their house up for sale, a decision that surely would have saddened and embarrassed Parks’ in-laws, with whom the couple was close.
That’s when tragedy struck. One May evening, in what seemed like a desperate attempt to steal money or keep hidden his humiliating financial secrets, Parks drove
14 miles to the in-laws’ townhouse, parked his car in a basement garage, entered their house with a key they'd given him, and using a tire iron he brought with and a knife he stole from their kitchen, attacked the couple in their bedroom, killing his mother-in-law and choking his father-in-law nearly to death. Drenched in blood, he then hopped back into his car and drove to a nearby police station to confess.
An open and shut murder case, right? Not quite. Parks and his family had a long history of sleep disorders, and the night before his fateful drive, he had slept poorly. The following morning, Parks also received a small blow to his right temple during a friendly rugby match. Katherine Ramsland offers more context
in her summary of the court proceedings: The experts described Parks's actions as the result of many circumstances converging: he had plans to fix his in-laws' furnace, he was used to the route he would take to get to their house, and he was restless from stress and anxious about his upcoming embezzlement trial. In his sleep, something spurred him to take care of the favor, and when he went in to fix the furnace, he was startled by his in-laws. He attacked both without knowing what he was doing. To strengthen the defense, his family's history of sleep disorders was submitted.
When he couldn’t recall one single moment of the event during months of testimony, and eventually expressed extreme remorse over the death of his wife’s mom, a jury determined that Parks was the victim of homicidal somnambulism
(sleepwalking) and his actions were totally involuntary
. The decision was eventually upheld
by Canada’s Supreme Court, and Parks left court with a minor prescription
and a new lease on life.
If you have some beef you want squashed and think this unique defense may work for you, don’t get your hopes up. Last year, in a blog post for the New York Times
about the intersection of sleep violence and the law, Virginia Tech historian A. Roger Ekirch points out
that “courts were less lenient in the event of ill will between a defendant and his victim.” These days, a little therapy and/or some meds can placate the afflicted, too. Feigning parasomnia, in other words, is a strategy best left inside one's dreams.
* I picture Parks as William H. Macy in "Fargo," frantically stammering
inside some huge parka.
With NBA draft night upon us, and this year’s crop so “bombed out and depleted
,”* I think some franchises should follow the lead of the Harlem Globetrotters and think outside the box when assembling its incoming class. Earlier this week, the yucksters from upper Manhattan offered contracts to 7’8” goon Paul Sturgess
, viral dunker Jacob Tucker
, 12-year-old dribbling prodigy Jordan McCabe
, and Barcelona striker Lio Messi. (Yes, that Messi
.) Assuming the world’s greatest footballer would hang up his boots for a chance to nail unassuming children with confetti,** that would make for one entertaining squad.
The idea of Messi and McCabe running the fast break got me thinking about other distinctive barnstorming squads in U.S. sports, an exercise that always leads back to the The Israelite House of David
. This baseball team was the brainchild of Benjamin and Mary Purnell, founders of a briefly successful and religiously eccentric turn-of-the-century commune
in Benton Harbor, Michigan. (Sect leaders prophesied, incorrectly it turns out, that Jesus would return to Earth after the millennium and induce thousands of years of peace for 12,000 members of the 12 tribes of Israel. Nonbelievers wouldn’t reap the benefits of JC’s visit.) The Purnells, hoping to spread their gospel across rural America and make some cash in the process, fielded a team of ballplayers and sent them on the road. Their look was one-of-a-kind; because church members abstained from shaving or cutting their hair, players boasted scraggly beards and wild manes.*** And their squads were stacked with homegrown talent as well as hired hands, including aging major leaguers (Grover Cleveland Alexander, Mordecai Brown) Negro League stars (Satchel Paige), and skilled women (Jackie Mitchell, Babe Didrikson). From a fascinating 1970 piece
in Sports Illustrated
:These barnstorming ballplayers were to baseball what the Harlem Globetrotters are to basketball. For four decades, from World War I through the mid-1950s, there was a team—and sometimes two, three or more—out on the road representing the House of David. Playing upwards of 185 games a season, the men of the House of David had their biggest following in towns like Kewanee, Ill. (pop. 16,000), where they once drew 10,000 fans, and Great Falls, Mont., where a local newspaper hailed the visitors as "the one big baseball attraction of the year." Everywhere they went they wowed the fans with exploits that a sportswriter in El Dorado, Ark., engaging in the kind of wordplay that long tresses seem to inspire, called "hair-raising."If the thrills failed to come in the regular course of the game, the players enlivened matters with some well-rehearsed bits of grandstanding. John Tucker, the first baseman, deftly caught pop flies behind his back. And whenever Eddy (New) Deal was on third base there was no telling when he might go backward and steal second. Some of the zaniest antics came during the celebrated pepper game, a sleight-of-hand routine in which a group of House of David players tossed the baseball around with such lightning speed that it was almost impossible for the eye to follow. Sometimes it would disappear, only to be located, inevitably, deep inside somebody's beard. The pepper game, promised the posters that went into store windows shortly before the House of David arrived in town, was "worth the price of admission alone."
Following a major sex scandal and the death of Benjamin in the late 1920s, a power struggle erupted from which the commune never really recovered. (In 1994, Adam Langer published a memorable profile
in the Reader
of the few remaining members.) But sports fans the world-over owe the House of David a debt of gratitude; without their precedent, Meadowlark Lemon and “Sweet Georgia Brown
” would have been relegated to the dustbin of history.
**One point for you
, Grantland staff.**Joke borrowed from Steve Guzowski
***Steinbrenner wouldn’t approve
Last night, my book club
met to talk about “Cutting for Stone
,” Abraham Verghese’s mythic tome about medicine and family. (The verdict on the novel was mixed; I found it engaging and affecting, though a bit simplistic.) The protagonist and narrator Marion, an Ethiopian-born doctor, is named after Marion Sims
, a 19th century American surgeon whose personal biography is novelistic in its own right.
Verghese initially describes Sims as “a simple practitioner in Alabama, USA, who had revolutionized women’s surgery.” That almost undersells the southerner’s varied accomplishments
. From his small private practice in Montgomery, Sims refined techniques to remedy painful ailments like cleft palate and newborn lockjaw. His major contribution to the field was a surgical treatment for vesico-vaginal and recto-vaginal fistulas
, a gruesome injury (of which I’ll spare you the grisly details) largely caused by prolonged labor or violent rape. In 1853, Sims moved to New York City, where he established the first hospital for women in the United States, and eventually opened up the Cancer Hospital, now known as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. A monument
in his likeness still stands at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street in Central Park.
His legacy, however, is severely complicated by the approach he employed to perfect his craft: operating on slave women. From a 2003 story
in the New York Times
:By all accounts, Sims, like a vast majority of his antebellum Southern white counterparts, was a strong proponent of slavery. Thus, when Sims wanted fistula patients, he simply bought or rented the slaves from their owners. Sims operated on at least 10 slave women from 1846 to 1849, perfecting his technique. It took dozens of operations before he finally reported success, having used special silver sutures to close the fistulas. Three of the slaves -- Lucy, Anarcha and Betsy -- all underwent multiple procedures without anesthesia, which had recently become available. Sims's records show that he operated on Anarcha 30 times.Sims's persistence aroused some alarm, and several physicians urged him to stop experimenting. In response, he later reported that the slave women had been ''clamorous'' for the operation and had even assisted him with surgery.
Some activists in East Harlem have requested
that the city take down Sims’ statue, though a 2007 petition circulated by New York City Council member Charles Barron fell short. Meanwhile, the medical condition the doctor helped eradicate in the developed world is still ravaging women in sections of Africa and Asia where obstetric care is scarce. Though statistics are difficult to gather, the United Nations Population Fund estimates
that 2 million women remain untreated globally and at least 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occur each year. Over the past decade, Nicholas Kristof has devoted several columns
to the problem, one the media or global leaders seldom discuss because the patients affected are almost all poor and stigmatized. Here’s another reason domestic pols with a bully pulpit need to correct the misconception
that America overspends on foreign aid.
If you weren’t aware that Tang
still existed, it’s not your fault. Kraft Foods, which manufactures the breakfast drink mix, hasn’t devoted one dime to domestic advertising in almost four years, and even the 2008 marketing budget was dwarfed by spending for other powders like Crystal Light and Kool-Aid. Travel abroad, though, and Tang is everywhere
. Thanks to an international ad blitz
that promotes new local flavors and smaller sizes, the brand just announced that it generated
$1 billion in sales in the fiscal year that ended this past March. Brazilians are gulping down soursop
Tang, Mexicans sucking up horchata
Tang, and the Chicago-based food conglomerate is raking in new profits as a result.
During Tang’s heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s, the drink maker benefited more from luck than some prescient business decision. Contrary to popular belief, NASA did not invent the substance, which was originally developed in 1957 by William A. Mitchell of General Foods. The product actually floundered in its first few years on shelves, failing to displace orange juice as the nation’s go-to morning citrus drink. Their fortunes changed when astronauts in the Gemini program brought packets on board to mask the taste of the fetid recycled water the capsule’s environmental system was producing. Space exploration was synonymous with progress, and “the glare of rocket engines
could elevate even the most mundane of products to a scientific breakthrough.” Overnight, Tang became hip and heroic without even trying.
It was an opportunity General Foods -- bought out by Kraft in 1988 -- didn’t waste. According to Gerard J. De Groot, author of “Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest
,” “from 1965 to 1973, it was impossible to find an advertisement for Tang that did not mention the astronauts.” Or moon people, apparently. Here’s a goofy cartoon commercial from the early 70s:
Hilarious science writer Mary Roach notes
in her new book on space travel that NASA still uses Tang, “despite periodic bouts of bad publicity,” like when terrorists tried to mix
packets with hydrogen peroxide to form Tang Bombs. Considering that space travel has lost most of its cachet
stateside anyway, Kraft seems wise to keep its focus on developing markets. (H/T Gapers Block)
Feel like ruining your day? Take a glance at this horrifying report
published by Human Rights Watch detailing widespread lead poisoning in China. While the pollutant is tightly regulated in most developed countries, investigators with the human rights group claim that hundreds of thousands of villagers and children in at least nine of China’s 31 provinces now suffer
from toxic levels of lead exposure, largely caused by run-off from battery factories and metal smelters. And local officials in the Chinese government, keen on “optimizing economic development” (as their Five-year Plan for Environmental Protection requires), have essentially choked off access to tests and treatment for kids at risk, bringing back frightening memories
of its lackluster response to the 2003 SARS epidemic.
When lead enters the bloodstream, even in tiny amounts, it can cause serious damage, particularly among kids whose bodies absorb the substance quickly and whose nervous systems are still developing. “A gradual build-up of lead in the bloodstream,” the Guardian notes
, “can … lead to anaemia, muscle weakness, arrested development, attention disorder and brain damage.” The latter risk, which is often irreversible, is most unnerving. A 2003 article
in The New England Journal of Medicine
convincingly linked elevated lead levels to reduced IQ. And Jonah Lehrer penned a great post
last month explaining lead’s effect on the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which controls impulses and “executive function
.” Here’s the conclusion:The tragedy of lead exposure is that it undermines one of the most essential mental skills we can give our kids, which is the ability to control what they’re thinking about. While the unconscious will always be full of impulses we can’t prevent, and the world will always be full of dangerous temptations, we don’t have to give in. We can choose to direct the spotlight of attention elsewhere, so that instead of thinking about the marshmallow we’re thinking about Sesame Street, or instead of thinking about our anger we’re counting to ten. And so there is no fight. We walk away.
If the Chinese don’t take care of this problem immediately, it’s entirely conceivable that violent crime
will rise dramatically over the next several decades. That trend would pose a greater threat to the country’s international image than slightly diminished economic growth.
King Tut’s life in Egypt was brief. New biological evidence suggests that his funeral was, too.
Since Howard Carter stumbled upon the famous boy king’s preserved tomb 90 years ago, archaeologists and Egyptologists have tried desperately to determine the cause of his premature death. Was he done in by an assassin (unlikely)
? Malaria (getting warmer
, though inconclusive)? A leg fracture made lethal by a degenerative bone condition (most convincing
)? Or maybe he gave his life for tourism (funniest option
)? Whatever the final cause, it’s clear Tut was cursed with bad genes and inadequate medical care; a DNA study by Egyptian raconteur Zahi Hawass concluded
last year that various members of the 19-year-old’s family exhibited “cleft palate, clubfeet, flat feet, and bone degeneration.” A Victorian court
, this lot was not.
Microbiologist Ralph Mitchell added another piece to the Tut puzzle this week: according to his research, the Pharaoh was buried much more quickly than most Egyptian sovereign. And the evidence is literally stuck on his tomb’s walls, in the form of brown spots covering a famous painting of the goddess Hathor. From Scientific American:The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities asked the Getty Conservation Institute. They in turn posed the question to Harvard microbiologist Ralph Mitchell. His lab cultured material from the spots and sequenced its DNA. It turns out that the brown marks contain melanins — by-products of fungus metabolism. But the fungus is no longer alive. And photos show that the spots haven’t grown in the past almost 90 years.Mitchell thinks this evidence indicates that King Tut was buried in a hurry. Because the paint on the walls was probably still wet. And that moisture, along with the body and the food buried there, would have fed the wall fungus, until the tomb ultimately dried out.
Nobody is ready to speculate about what might have necessitated the hasty memorial. He was, after all, embalmed and provided customary last rites. For all we know, they could have rushed his body inside for some benign reason like a bad storm. I don't think a sickly teenager deserved all the hubbub anyway.
At the recommendation of a fellow comedy nerd
whose taste I respect, I’ve started revisiting “Cheers
,” NBC’s long-running sitcom about the titular Boston bar. (Netflix Streaming has made all 275 episodes available, for those with an account.) My folks loved “Cheers,” so it’s one of those older shows that, through the beauty of syndication, I caught fairly frequently as a kid. Watching it now, it’s striking how similar it feels in both tone and style to the network’s latest mainstream success (and one of my favorite shows of all time), “The Office.”
Obviously, the conceit of the “documentary” sets the British import apart from its Thursday night predecessor. That said, the two workplace comedies mirror each other in very elemental ways: each has a talented ensemble with full, actualized personalities; the writers can tactfully veer into absurdist or screwball territory and generate big laughs because the show is generally so grounded; they treat their hilarious cold opens like little set pieces, few of which have any relevance to the storyline of the subsequent episode; and the comedy is never cynical or mean. Bill Carter, in his 1993 “Cheers” obit
, boiled down the show’s core appeal, one that could just as well describe the work of Greg Daniels and Michael Schur (a noted
“Cheers” fan himself):"Cheers" is as much a throwback as a step forward. After "All in the Family" in the late 60's, it seemed almost obligatory for sitcoms to take up social causes, especially if they wanted to score Peabody Awards along with their Nielsens. "M*A*S*H*" was a vehicle for antiwar outrage; "Family Ties" poked fun at Reaganomics and the me-first ethic of the 80's, "Roseanne" takes the measure of class divisions. Every sitcom seemed to want to do "very special episodes" about drug abuse or illiteracy or someone's death and what it taught us about life.On "Cheers," the lessons are incidental, and its subtext will have to be unearthed or imagined by the sociologists of the future. Rather, what the show's creators aimed to do was deliver pure comedy that was sophisticated but not pretentious, "I Love Lucy" as told by Noel Coward.
“Cheers” called it quits after 11 seasons when its star, Ted Danson, decided to leave his post inside the bar. “The Office” is taking the opposite strategy
. Whether or not the creative team can recapture the magic of seasons two through five sans Michael Scott is yet to be seen. Perhaps they should fire up their Rokus for a little inspiration.
American ranchers are having a hell of a time keeping track of their cows. Cattle rustling
-- a staple of the Old West -- is back in style
, and these modern outlaws are frustrating the cowboys and cowgirls who contribute to the country’s multi-billion dollar ranching industry. Most raiders, law enforcement officials say, lure the productive animals into a trailer late at night and then drive the bounty straight to another working farm or a stockyard auction, where the cattle is sold off before their owners can track them down. When asked
by a reporter from the New York Times
about this criminal behavior, a 30-year-old rancher from East Texas, which has experienced a rash of raids in 2011, “spat into the dirt, said that hanging was proper punishment, and gave no facial indication that he might be kidding.” Reactions like his explain why the Lone Start State recently increased penalties
for stealing livestock.
Yet cattle rustling in the States is a trivial problem when compared to the South Sudan, which is scheduled
to secure its official independence next month. As both a store of wealth (since functioning banks are rare) and a prerequisite for marriage
, the possession of bovines plays an integral role in the economic life of the Sudanese. Not surprisingly, herders have guarded livestock fiercely for generations. But since President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s intelligence service began flooding
the region with automatic weapons in an effort to create havoc and stave off southern secession, armed militias have made that practice much more dangerous
:Panyang used to be a cattle camp in the scrub of Southern Sudan. In early January, 500 tribesmen came with AK-47s and just shot the place up. Between this camp and another one, they took about 5,000 head of cattle, killed a dozen people and wounded another 24. Skeletons still lie in a dry riverbed nearby, bits of clothing still clinging to the bones. [...]People used to steal cattle with spears, but now they use AK-47s left over from the war. The result is carnage. In 2009, the United Nations estimated that 2,500 people died in tribal violence in Sudan's southern region, much of it from cattle raids.
This year’s death toll
already eclipsed 1,000 by the beginning of May, prompting the new government to unveil
(about six weeks ago) a Livestock Patrol Unit tasked with “reducing tensions within and between pastoralist communities and their neighbours.” Using foreign aid, Southern officials are also launching a series of public works programs to provide new agricultural and commerce jobs. Here’s hoping both are effective. That part of the globe needs some good news.
Here’s some exciting news from the good folks at Put This On: the Japanese mega-retailer Uniqlo may actually start selling
its duds on the Internet.
Uniqlo, for those who’ve never traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun, is essentially the Asian version of The Gap. During the 1980s and 1990s, Tadashi Yanai (now the richest man in Japan) opened hundreds of small stores in malls that offered shoppers no-nonsense, low-cost basics in a variety of colors. The company grew so rapidly that the brand became virtually inescapable on the island, and the opportunities for domestic expansion subsequently dwindled. So Yanai took his business overseas, opening 21 stores in England and three in suburban New Jersey a decade ago. In its initial international foray, Uniqlo tried to cater to the same clientele it had charmed back home -- a 2001 article in Independent
noted that Uniqlo “doesn't want to be hip, or trendy, or even vaguely fashionable.” And the stores all flopped.
That’s when things got interesting. Instead of giving up on overseas sales altogether, the company made two major strategic alterations to its brand: it opened giant, glitzy stores in several major world cities (including New York) and began stocking in that American outlet more tailored Japanese sizes. From an excellent piece
last year in New York:Soon after the Soho store opened, management noticed a blip in the sales statistics that prompted another midcourse correction: The styles of clothes Uniqlo had designed for America—an approximation of the Gap, with a looser, relaxed-in-the-middle fit—weren’t selling. Uniqlo doesn’t do market research, so instead they started to ship over compact, Japanese sizes, and when those items started moving, they resized the American orders. Uniqlo had stumbled on an underserved market: the urban basics shopper.You can’t walk into the Gap, or even the newly hipsterized J.Crew, and find yourself a wide selection of skinny jeans. This is because, with the notable exception of American Apparel, most American retailers have designed their small, medium, and large sizes to approximate the physiques (and tastes) of the general American population. Most of these customers do not want their basics fitted. What Uniqlo discovered, however, is that there are a lot of people who do—especially in New York. “People were trying to get that kind of look downtown, but weren’t completely satisfied,” says Mark-Evan Blackman, chair of the Menswear Design Department at F.I.T. “That customer essentially walked across the street and into Uniqlo clothing.”
While the company strayed a bit from its core business last year (and paid the price
for it), Uniqlo is still making brisk sales in a tough economic climate; in 2009, the company reported over $7 billion in sales, up by 30 percent in many locations. And Yanai thinks overseas revenue will exceed
domestic sales by 2015. (A second massive outlet in the Big Apple, scheduled to open later this year, will certainly help.) Considering how dramatically shopping habits have changed in modern times -- the average American purchases
60 pieces of new clothing per year -- it’s no surprise that urban shoppers have gravitated to these well-made, well-tailored, and affordable threads. This slim Chicagoan, for one, is excited that he won’t need to fly east to obtain them anymore.