Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Challenge of Avoiding Junk Food

Don't like McDonalds? But they're hard to avoid- each dot of light on that map above represents a branch. The answer says Weather Sealed is to move to South Dakota:

.... McDonald’s cluster at the population centers and hug the highway grid. East of the Mississippi, there’s wall-to-wall coverage, except for a handful of meager gaps centered on the Adirondacks, inland Maine, the Everglades, and outlying West Virginia.

For maximum McSparseness, we look westward, towards the deepest, darkest holes in our map: the barren deserts of central Nevada, the arid hills of southeastern Oregon, the rugged wilderness of Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, and the conspicuous well of blackness on the high plains of northwestern South Dakota. There, in a patch of rolling grassland, loosely hemmed in by Bismarck, Dickinson, Pierre, and the greater Rapid City-Spearfish-Sturgis metropolitan area, we find our answer.

Between the tiny Dakotan hamlets of Meadow and Glad Valley lies the McFarthest Spot: 107 miles distant from the nearest McDonald’s, as the crow flies, and 145 miles by car!

Say what you will, Anglo American capitalism has always been great at providing choice, I'm sure you'll agree...


Saturday, 26 September 2009

Seven Deadly Sins: Their Distribution in the US

Yes, I've got John B's range of problems plus a few more, but once my family sorts itself out I'll start blogging properly again. Meanwhile check out Angie Androit on Sociological Images:

Some geographers at Kansas State University recently did an analysis of the spacial distribution of EVIL in the United States. Which part of the country is most afflicted by sloth? Lust? Greed? Envy? Wrath? Gluttony? Pride?

That’s right, folks – these geographers have operationalized sin, quantified it, then measured and mapped it. Pride is the aggregate distribution of all other sins, since it is supposedly the root of all evil (though one could also make a good case for apathy). Here’s how the sins are measured (and here’s a good view of the maps):

  • Greed: Average incomes versus total inhabitants below the poverty line
  • Envy: Total number of thefts (robbery, burglary, larceny, and stolen cars)
  • Wrath: Total number of violent crimes (murder, assault and rape) per capita
  • Lust: Sexually transmitted diseases per capita
  • Gluttony: Number of fast-foot restaurants per capita
  • Sloth: Expenditures on arts, entertainment and recreation versus rate of employment
  • Pride: An aggregate of the six other sins

There are clearer maps over at Flowing Data.

Monday, 14 September 2009

A Question

The Problem

My mother is very old and very frail. She has various chronic medical problems which mean that she has severely restricted mobility and stability, so there have been a number of recent falls. She has lost the effective use of her right hand which means that she can’t cook or even cut her own food up. I call these problems ‘medical’ in the sense they each have at least one medical name – but, truth be told, I don’t really see them as separate ‘medical’ problems. Mum is just old. & she lives alone. She's also poor: she lives in a ground floor privately rented flat and gets full Housing Benefit.

She is now in a care home for a spot of respite care after her most recent fall, and I'm trying to sort out the necessary services to allow her to return to her flat - aids, adaptations, meals on wheels and so on. As a woman who was 8 on the formal abolition of the workhouse - and only 26 when they really ended - she views residence in any kind of institutional 'care', from hospitals down, as a sort of shaming personal disgrace. And I live two hours drive away in a house with no downstairs bathroom or spare bedroom. My only sibling lives abroad and Dad is dead.

The Question

Mum is going to die at some point in the probably not-too-distance future I know. But it is her chassis and wheels that are failing, not the basic engine - her heart and lungs - so this might take a number of years. I want her to have a good ending.

I invite all all you lefty - or even perhaps not so lefty - bloggers to explain how your particular take on politics and the world might help achieve this. Or are there things about the nature of welfare and old age which are just beyond politics as we currently understand it?

& it's OK, I'm not asking you to solve my problem let alone my Mum's. It's not that personal. I just want to see how the left can attempt to connect its formal politics to lived experience. I don't want to 'tag' anyone formally, but I'd be interested in responses from anyone, especially anyone on my blogroll.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

On Anniversaries

The last fortnight or so has been a time of anniversaries: the outbreak of WW2, 9/11, the collapse of Lehman Brothers. All of them lovingly covered in depth in the Press and on TV. After all, it's easy copy. You don't have to do the spadework of a real news story, just gently remind everyone of what happened in Event X, list the plans to commemorate it and get a few talking heads to intone on Event X's significance. Happily for our media friends you can usually rely on a new someone or other each year to come forward with a different perspective. So this year we've had 'WW2 -The Polish Version' in the mainstream media. (I'm as one with B& T on that one by the way).

Except the Credit Crunch/Financial Crash of course. We haven't even agreed what to call that, much less decided what it means. Peter Clarke expands on this point in the Guardian today with the help of a variety of the allegedly Great and Good: Skidelsky, Keynes biographer, says Keynes is back; Peston admits he thought things would change faster; David Hare wants to know why no politician has thought all this through as yet; Fay Weldon gives us a plug for her new book. And so on. Meanwhile Wiliem Buiter in the FT says, almost in the style of Manuel from Fawlty Towers, that he knows noooothing, albeit in a very erudite way. Krugman in the NYT says the whole economics profession got blindsided - but other economists seem to believe that their profession didn't pay enough attention to their own nostrums. The Crash is certainly a Great Event, worthy of an anniversary - but no one has a convinicing narrative, there is not yet an established Myth to reinforce or to attempt to knock down.

It is, in short, as yet a Phoney War that no one quite knows how to characterise at the moment - because it isn't finished and may yet have barely begun. Who knows if we're about to bounce, 'V' style, into a sunny upland future of a new Long Wave upswing or be seduced by a false dawn ? What will come to be seen as the defining moments of the financial crisis have yet to occur. Sure, unemployment has risen. Sure, some familiar firms have got belly up. Nonetheless, we're told that on all sides that the formal conditions that indicate a technical end to Depression are looming on the horizon. Perhaps. The real story - the anniversary signifier, the thing our children will remember it for, the Dunkirk, Barbarossa, Kursk and D-Day of this economic crisis as it were - lies ahead.

I can't help but believe that this story, when it emerges, will focus on the three re-negotiations of power:

  • The inevitable one that will occur in my lifetime between the 'West' as we have traditionally understood it and the BRIC countries, especially China. People who make things aren't going to put up with not getting anything but a fraction of the fruits of their labour for ever and a day;
  • The renegotiation of power we need and which I hope for, but which may never materialise - the one between the merchants of relentless growth, and the planet. This can only be done through re-distribution - because, as Chris points out, just stopping economic development per se kills babies. But more babies - and toddlers, and other children, and adults - will die unless we act to stop the potential for runaway climate change. So redistribution is key;
  • The renegotiation between state and civil society and the organised power of Capital. This is the most complex of all in some ways - and perhaps even less likely to happen than a coherent response to climate change. But we need such a renegotiation if all this is not to happen again.
Happy anniversary.