When We Half Understand Poverty

Yesterday’s New York Times carried an article on the relative cost of fast food and fresh, home-prepared food. The article challenges the notion that junk food is cheaper than fresh, using fast food as its comparison.

This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)

This is cheating a little bit, given that the actual poor don’t really go out that often, even to McDonald’s. A better comparison would have been prepared and unprepared grocery food. The numbers would have been closer as well, though I’m not sure which food would have come out ahead on average.

When Jennifer Ouellette linked to the article, someone (with time to comment but not to read, apparently) asked whether the article addressed time poverty. Another person noted that she can make healthy food for her kids in 20 minutes. She also keeps fresh fruit around for snacking and pushes the most perishable fruit on the kids first so it doesn’t go bad.

I’ll get to the problem with applying that perspective to poverty shortly, but I’d also like to point out that the Times made a similar mistake in the article.

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A Perfect Birthday Gift

It’s been a long, busy weekend visiting friends. I held a 4,000-year-old cuneiform tablet in my hand and touched 600-year-old vellum. I also got one of the best birthday presents of my life.

Congratulations on lapping the sun once more. Though I’m sure you didn’t put any direct effort into it, you’ve managed to make it all the way around again. Sure, Earth may not be where it was this time last year, what with the movement of the solar system in this galaxy and the movement of the galaxy in this universe, but hey. As fixed frames of reference go, this is the best we have, saying that we made it all the way around the sun again. And as is customary for marking such an arbitrary and otherwise fluid milestone, I did something for you that I hope you’ll appreciate.

I do. I appreciate the gift, and I appreciate all the people who got together behind my back and made it happen.

Now it’s time to recover from an grand weekend and an amazing gift.

Persuasion

One more reprint for a busy birthday weekend.

I’m walking up the street with my friend. I’m maybe fourteen or fifteen. She’s a couple years older. A fine mist starts.

Friend: It’s raining.

Me (struck by some awesome whim): No, it’s not.

Friend: No, really. I just felt a drop.

Me: I don’t feel anything.

The rain gets slightly heavier.

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You Want to Sell Me What?

Another reprint for a busy weekend.

When the doorbell rings late on a Saturday morning, it means one of two things. Unfortunately, it’s almost never one of the neighborhood kids who wants to make some money cutting my grass. No, instead it’s someone who wants me to buy their god.

Today’s was special. I was getting ready to run out and do some errands when I heard the familiar chime. Usually they send the well-dressed and stately (for the black churches) or the ultra-sincere but casual kiddies (for the white churches). Not this time. It was just some white guy my age with glasses and a stack of glossy half-page flyers.

He handed me one. I took it because I don’t really trust these people to recycle the leftovers. Then I looked at it. “Miracle for Muslims,” it said at the top, with the picture of an older black man at the bottom in a very western dress shirt.

“I’m from the X______ Church, and we’re hosting a lecture on–”

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Saturday Storytime: Godmother Death

Sometimes the joy of story is in the telling. Even a well-known story with the characters and endings unchanged can take on new life in the hands of a poet like Jane Yolen.

She was visible that day. Sometimes she plays at being mortal. It amuses her. She wore her long gown kirtled above her knee. She wore her black hair up in a knot. But if you looked carefully, she did not walk like a girl of that time. She moved too freely for that, her arms swinging. She stepped on her full foot, not on the toes, not mincing. She could copy clothes, but she never remembered how girls really walk.

A man, frantic, saw her and stopped her. He actually put his hand on her arm. It startled her. That did not happen often, that Death is startled. Or that a man put his hand on her.

“Please,” the man said. “My Lady.” She was clearly above him, though she thought she was wearing peasant clothes. It was the way stood, the way she walked. “My wife is about to give birth to our child and we need someone to stand godmother. You are all who is on the road.”

Godmother? It amused her. She had never been asked to be one. “Do you know who I am?” she asked.

“My Lady?” The man suddenly trembled at his temerity. Had he touched a high lord’s wife? Would she have him executed? No matter. It was his first child. He was beyond thinking.

Death put a hand up to her black hair and pulled down her other face. “Do you know me now?”

Keep reading.

An Audience Divided

This being the weekend of my birthday, it’s going to be very busy. Rather than try to squeeze in some serious blogging, expect a few reprints that should keep at least one of us amused. This was originally posted here.

Sunday morning, I was out to brunch with the usual suspects. My friend Kelly peeked over his shoulder at the table of senior citizens directly behind him, didn’t quite shrug, and started talking. “So, I was at a reading last weekend. Man, talk about dividing your audience.”

His wife’s eyes got big as she smiled and nodded.

One of the readers was a mystery writer. His detective was investigating the death of a woman with a stable of boyfriends. For this particular scene, he was interviewing one of the boyfriends.

Kelly paraphrased the boyfriend’s dialog. “Then she pulled out the [moderately intimidating sex toy*], and I started screaming, ‘Avocado! Avocado!’”

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The Boundless Creativity of Comics

If you follow comic books at all, you probably know that DC has been in the middle of a reboot of their universe. Some of the enthusiasm for the reboot waned when those involved in the writing were announced, and it was discovered that they were mostly (with a very few notable exceptions) the same group of white guys of a certain age who had already been working on these titles. Now that the titles are coming out, how are things going?

Well, the good news is that we do have some minority representation in the superheroes (even though they un-disabled Barbara Gordon in order to squeeze her back into the character of Batgirl). We still have a black, atheist superhero in Mister Terrific:

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MRA Says, “Yep, We’re Domestic Abusers”

Before I interviewed Amanda Marcotte in July, we were discussing Men’s Rights activists. She made a statement to the effect that if you scratch an MRA, you find a guy upset that someone is keeping him from beating his wife and kids whenever he feels like it. Yesterday, via Ophelia, I came across a Man Boobz post that features an MRA making basically the same argument.

The MRA, Price, doesn’t say it directly, of course. He just says violence against women is all the fault of feminists.

Repeated provocations against men, systematic discrimination against men, and state-sanctioned debt slavery are starting to have the inevitable effect. In a triumph for the feminist movement, men are lashing out violently against women, fulfilling the feminist fantasy of a gender war.

I didn’t want to hurt you, honey, but you just wouldn’t stop. Everything would be fine if you’d just stop–in Price’s case, stop doing things like getting child support orders or demanding that equal civil rights trump the historical favoring of men in the workplace and civil and educational institutions.

You know I love you, but you make me crazy when you’re like that. I just can’t control myself.

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Magic Courtesy of Dave McKean

I wasn’t planning to pick up a copy of Richard Dawkins’ new book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. No, I’m not engaged in any Elevatorgate boycott. I just prefer my reality in slightly more chewy doses, and I don’t have any younglings around at the moment who would appreciate it. I expected the book to be quite good but not for me.

Then–then! Then, I discovered that Dave McKean had done the illustrations for the book. Cue squees, bouncing, and plans to buy the book. You can get a small sense of why in the illustrations in this promotional video:

Simply put, Dave McKean is one of the most flexible artists working today (as well as being charming in person). Like most people, I discovered McKean through his collaborations with Neil Gaiman. I loved his covers for Sandman and Violent Cases, so much so that I felt a little sad when he announced that he wanted to change his style so he didn’t get bogged down in one look.

Then he did it, and he just got better. He changed his look, but he didn’t change his aesthetic. He’s still putting images together from disparate parts, some simplistic, some hyper-realistic, some surrealistic. Now he’s just working with a greater array of parts. And it works, even as part of your brain is telling you it can’t possibly.

Of course, that can’t come close to describing the art itself. For that, I recommend this video that features footage from the film MIRRORMASK. It’s got a little bit of everything.

Oh, this book is going to be good.

Michele Bachmann Eyes

There’s some discussion in another thread about how to describe Michele Bachmann’s eyes. I had to repost this.

I just…I couldn’t disappoint all the Googlers. Apologies to Jackie DeShannon, Donna Weiss, Kim Carnes and Betty Davis.

Her ire is getting old,
Her lips filled with lies
Her heart is always cold
She’s got Michele Bachmann eyes
She’ll turn bigotry on
You won’t have to think twice
She’s bright as New York snow
She got Michele Bachmann eyes

And she’ll hate you
She’ll berate you
All the while segregate you
She’s caught on tape
And she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro gape
She sees Sarah Palin’s senseless rise,
She’s got Michele Bachmann eyes

She’ll let your bridges fall
It whets her appetite
She thinks you’re all in thrall
She got Michele Bachmann eyes
She’ll say a prayer for you
Pretend she’s playing nice
She hopes you have no clue
She’s got Michele Bachmann eyes

She’ll evict you
And afflict you
Help a bad government restrict you
She’s in a scrape
And she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro gape
Everyone thinks she’s so high,
She’s got Michele Bachmann eyes

And she’ll hate you
She’ll berate you
All the while segregate you
She’s caught on tape
And she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro gape
Everyone thinks she’s so high,
She’s got Michele Bachmann eyes

And she’ll hate you
She’ll berate you
Segregate you
She’s got Michele Bachmann eyes

She’ll evict you
And afflict you

Okay, apologies to everyone else, too. Blame the margarita. I do.