Save the planet. Buy meat-offset credits

Because I am a fervent believer that the unrestrained free market has the best possible answers to all problems, I would like to propose to the Internets at large a solution to the problem of meat, and a way of reigning in the pork and cattle industries that have become nothing less than environmental disasters.

The industrial world has shown us the way. Carbon credits, in which over-polluting companies can buy what are essentially rights to pollute from companies that have cleaned up their act, are obviously turning around the entire global warming problem. Lickety-split, as they say. Thus, we simply need to apply this model to the agribusiness world, and we’re in good shape.

Here’s how it will work. All people on the planet will be given an appropriate level of meat consumption. Say, three-quarters of a pound a week. That’s three quarter pounders at McDonalds, more if you figure that not all that mashed-up stuff is actually meat anyway. Anybody who wants to consume more than that can go onto to and buy credits, and chow down to their heart’s content.

The credits themselves will come from people who can document that they’ve eaten less than the 3/4 lb per week. Veggies, tofu- and bean-lovers. The less meat you eat, the more money you’ve got in the bank.
Think of the advantages. It’s a perfect way to funnel developed-world funds to poverty-stricken, or even voluntarily vegetarian nations. Give every citizen in the world a account, and we can even skip some of those pesky foreign aid issues where development funds get diverted by (dare I say steak-loving) dictators and generals.

And for those of us bean-lovers who are living in say, Berlin, skimping on meat budgets so we can enjoy our palatial two-room apartments, well, let’s just say we won’t have to worry about the falling dollar anymore. We’ll be subsidized by the international brotherhood of the Fleisch.

Who’s with me? Anybody have Ban Ki-Moon’s email address?

(Thanks to Kean for the link to this NYT story, which is a good luck at the genuinely terrible state of industrial meat production and consumption in America)

Obama: Fairy tale or American exemplar?

I’m thrilled about Obama’s win in Iowa. I’m not as surprised as maybe I should be, reading the headlines, but maybe this is one of the advantages of being overseas, and not steeped in the daily horse-race reporting. From here, the story emerging after Obama’s win — that Democrats are more focused on the prospect of a complete and cleansing change than on the promise of competence — seems a bit obvious. Yet that’s simplistic, too. What Obama seems to have done is convince people in Iowa that in addition to being a genuinely new and healing force, he can still be a competent leader. More power to him, that’s what the country needs.

The coverage here is fascinating. I was a little shocked to read this in Der Spiegel, a magazine I ordinarily respect deeply.

But the Iowa snow king has scant hope of reaching the White House. He’s too young, too inexperienced, too vague, and for many Americans, too black. His magic words about the era of change, of hope, of an America he will unite — all that will evaporate like morning mist. …

Yesterday morning in my hotel, at the breakfast table next to mine, two sisters, perhaps six and eight years old, greeted each other with the following exchange. “Are you fired up?” said one. “Are you ready to go?” replied the other. That’s the battle cry of Obama’s supporters. Children love fairy tales.

Compare this to Arianna Huffington’s take:

Obama’s win might not have legs. Hope could give way to fear once again. But, for tonight at least, it holds a mirror up to the face of America, and we can look at ourselves with pride. This is the kind of country America was meant to be, even if you are for Clinton or Edwards — or even Huckabee or Giuliani.

It’s the kind of country we’ve always imagined ourselves being — even if in the last seven years we fell horribly short: a young country, an optimistic country, a forward-looking country, a country not afraid to take risks or to dream big.

Huffington’s right, I think, even if it’s a bit starry-eyed. A kind of optimistic political innocence is a defining American characteristic. It can go horribly wrong, as the Bush years have shown. But at least today, Americans still genuinely believe in — even expect, as in a Hollywood movie — healing and redemption after periods of darkness.

The Spiegel article rejects this idea. Obama represents the triumph of this innocence, and Americans are silly to believe in fairy tales, it argues. I think there’s more, too; America has screwed up so badly, so viciously, in ways with such awful consequences for the rest of the world, that it doesn’t deserve a healing process. And maybe there’s something to this. We voted Bush in twice, inflicting his ignorance and violence on the rest of the world; maybe it’s time we stopped believing in fairy tales.

But I think that’s a misreading of America. Voting for Obama is neither a rejection of our own history or a childlike misunderstanding of the difficulties of the future. It’s the expression of a people and place that for more than 200 years has been defined by constant self-reinvention. It’s an ugly spirit at times, when we not only refuse to admit our mistakes, but actually forget them. But genuine hope is not only a fairy tale. Sometimes healing happens.

Some say the year will end in fire…

darkshots2smA good way to swap the years in and out. The streets of Berlin on Silvesternacht (New Years Eve night) were as always marked by heavy artillery. Even after describing it a hundred times to people in the States, I had forgotten the visceral effect of letting everybody in the city have dozens of rockets far more powerful than anything we had as kids, and then having everyone shoot them off at once.

We visited Unter den Linden again, where at midnight there’s roughly 7 zillion rockets going off at once. The smoke was thick enough that we could barely see the official, professional fireworks down by the Brandenburg gate. But who needs the pros when you have artillery in your bag, and so does everyone snowmonkeysm standing arm-to-arm for a mile.

And beautifully, the city was covered in snow the next morning. Or roughly morning. Noontime, morning enough for New Year’s day. Thick flakes that coated the trees and covered the red gunpowder stains on the sidewalks, and melted by the close of the day. But enough to bracket the world with fire and ice.

Below is my first experiment with YouTube. Let’s see what happens:

Update: Answer, it broke things. So instead, here’s a link to a little video of New Year’s Eve. Too bad!