Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Got paid again.

It ought to go without saying, but: I am not I; thou art not he or she; they are not they. And here is not there, New Mexicans.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This is NAIS, the National Animal Identification System. This is what they have to say about themselves:
The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a national program intended to identify animals and track them as they come into contact with, or commingle with, animals other than herdmates from their premises of origin.

The system is being developed for all animals that will benefit from rapid tracebacks in the event of a disease concern. Currently, working groups comprised of industry and government representatives are developing plans for cattle, swine, sheep, goats, horses, poultry, bison, deer, elk, llamas, and alpacas.


In April 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the framework for implementing the NAIS—an animal identification and tracking system that will be used in all States and that will operate under national standards. When fully operational, the system will be capable of tracing a sick animal or group of animals back to the herd or premises that is the most likely source of infection. It will also be able to trace potentially exposed animals that were moved out from that herd or premises. The sooner animal health officials can identify infected and exposed animals and premises, the sooner they can contain the disease and stop its spread.

The NAIS will enhance U.S. efforts to respond to intentionally or unintentionally introduced animal disease outbreaks more quickly and effectively. USDA’s long–term goal is to establish a system that can identify all premises and animals that have had direct contact with a foreign animal disease or a domestic disease of concern within 48 hours of discovery.

The first step in implementing the NAIS is identifying and registering premises that house animals. Such premises would include locations where livestock and poultry are managed, marketed, or exhibited. Knowing where animals are located is the key to efficient, accurate, and cost–effective epidemiologic investigations and disease–control efforts.

USDA anticipates that all States will have the capability to register premises according to the national standards by 2005. Officials with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are currently training State officials how to use a standardized premises registration system. USDA is also evaluating alternative registration systems that States or others have developed and want to use, to ensure these systems meet the national standards. In addition, USDA is working with States and industry to educate the public about the NAIS.

As premises are registered, another component of the NAIS—animal identification—will be integrated into the system. Unique animal identification numbers (AINs) will be issued to individually identified premises. In the case of animals that move in groups through the production chain—such as swine and poultry—the group will be identified through a group/lot identification number (Group/Lot IDs).

USDA is developing the standards for collecting and reporting information, but industry will determine which type of identification method works best for each species. These methods could include radio frequency identification tags, retinal scans, DNA, or others. As long as the necessary data are sent to USDA’s information repositories in a standardized form, it will be accepted.

USDA will build upon existing identification systems and allow for a transition period from systems currently defined in the Code of Federal Regulations before requiring AINs or Group/Lot IDs. Working with States and industry, USDA will also evaluate various animal identification technologies to determine how the collection of animal movement records can best be automated.

As premises are registered and animals or groups of animals are identified based on the standard protocols, USDA will begin collecting information about animal movements from one premises to another. With an efficient, effective animal tracking system in place, USDA will be able to perform rapid tracebacks in case of an animal disease outbreak. As envisioned, only Federal, State, and Tribal animal health authorities would have direct access to the national premises and animal identification information repositories. They need this information to accomplish their job of safeguarding animal health.

USDA is investigating various options to protect the confidentiality of the information. It is important to note that the national repositories will include information only for animal and disease tracking purposes. Proprietary production data will remain in private databases.
I quote at length because this is important.

Steve and Matt have been blogging about this (see here, here, here, here) for some time now. I haven't chimed in before because the question ("Is NAIS a good thing?") has an answer ("No") so obvious to me that I didn't want to waste time dealing with it.

But somebody out there --a not insignificant number of somebodies, I suppose-- must feel differently. And I. Don't. Get. It.

I accept that most questions will be answered differently by different people, and I try to understand why someone would come up with a different answer than I do. Are they stressing practical benefits, where I am concerned with natural rights? Is it a dispute over the data? Are we perhaps unknowingly in heated agreement? I'd rather find common ground than fill the air with bluster and sound bites. It is a great comfort to me to remember that I am not charged with convincing the world of the truth, and indeed that the chance of possessing it myself, perfectly, is vanishingly small.

But with NAIS, or similar efforts (see, e.g. Natalie Solent discussing National ID cards), there doesn't seem to me to be any possible justification. Can people really look at the last hundred years of history --of which I feel it is a remarkably small and manageable undertaking to make an acquaintance, it's not like we're asking people to study the Three Kingdoms and recite the seven impieties of Cao Cao-- and say to themselves, "I feel perfectly comfortable with increasing government surveillance and power over my private life"? And how can the same people who decry it whenever the other party is in power decide that suddenly what was a vicious abridgement of someone's rights is now an understandable requirement? Do they really think that they will never need to give up power, or that if they do, such programs will disappear with them?

And how can anyone look at history (still the last hundred years, so as not to tax anyone's waning interest) and decide that the government will never become a troubling entity against which the only option is fire, and lots of it?

Blah; rhetorical questions are a sign of a short temper. Like I said, I don't get it, and don't expect to be convinced otherwise. There are, I guess, just some people who will not be happy until they can be sure that no one is doing anything unsupervised ever. I shall call them umbridges, after the unlovely creature in Harry Potter.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Wargh. Just woke up from fever dreams in which I was arguing about the relevance of Nietzsche to unarmed combat with Ari. Not sure what to make of that, but I decided that my rambling, disconnected state of mind was the perfect time to post a bit. Hurrah for heat exhaustion/dehydration!

I look awful, by the by. Not just the crusty eyes and gaping mouth, but beaten up -- which is perfectly accurate, since I got jumped yesterday. I took one on the chin that's making me look like Bruce Campbell, and a shot near my eye is promising to turn into a really excellent shiner. There's another lump on my head the size of a... well, traditionally one should say "robin's egg", but it's more hummingbird sized. Thank you, hair. I'd say that you should see the other guys, but they were all girls, first off, and secondly, they're all dead. This is not my fault; they came at me with knives. In their defense, I suppose I should mention that I was breaking into their house to rearrange things a little.

Yes, clever ones, I have a beehive (Roald Dahl's English/Boxing teacher's remarks, which stood for both disciplines: "Punches slow and easily seen coming" may be relevant to this post. In my defense, I am creaky and stupid). Yesterday I gave it its two week inspection, and I'm sure that you will be ecstatic to learn that the queen, whom I did not see, is nevertheless breeding like a nun of London. From little dots at the bottom of their hexagonal homes to curling larvae to etiolate miniatures, I have small creatures in every state of development.

I feel shockingly affectionate towards them. Everything Kate has said is true, except that my French was a little ruder after they got near my swimsuit area. Thank heaven for Villon's vocabulary. And, "docile", quotha! It's easy to call them docile from twenty feet off. But they are engaging little creatures. I like them not some much individually, but as a collective. I think of the hive as a sort of companion, and it's easy to spend an afternoon just watching it guard and forage.

Pleasantly, I am not alone with my ignorance. A real beekeeper came by yesterday as well. His name is not Max, but that's what I'm calling him. He is a smart, cheerful Armenian and has kept bees for years. He was kind enough to take me down to see his hives.

The difference between what a newcomer and an experienced beekeeper can see is remarkable. He was checking for queen cups, in hopes of preventing swarming. But he walked me through the hive frame by frame. I was particularly impressed that he handled the frame with neither gloves nor smoke, and was wondering what his secret was when he said a word I do not know but am unlikely to repeat in mixed company. "Dey got me," he explained, showing me his thumb. "Now I smell like dey want to sting me. What a deal."

It was, however, not against him that their wrath fell but against me. This seemed (and seems still) rather unfair. But a little smoke sent them into their hive to gorge themselves, and we were soon peering at frame after frame again. Max could tell the young bees from the old. "Dey look bewildered," he said. I suspect him of punning.

He told me that the honey flow was starting, and that we needed to get some supers on a hive quickly. "Sometimes dey will fill up a super in one, two days. What a deal!" We shall follow his advice.

It's always a pleasure to watch someone competent and confident go about his business, so it was with renewed enthusiasm and humility that I waved good-bye to Max and started to put on my own equipage. From what followed I am tolerbaly sure that I have more to learn about how the veil works.

The stings, though, just add piquance to the endeavor. It is completely worth it, to answer Voracious Reader, for the pleasure of interacting with and working alongside such an alien earthly creature. Even if they produced neither honey nor wax I should enjoy their company. Bees have been everything to everyone from amazons to a symbol of pioneer frugality. I'm doing my best to anthropomorphise them as little and as pleasantly as possible. Reading Fabre helps. Reading Maeterlinck does not. I myself shall conclude with a selection on bees from T. H. White's Book of Beasts, as a reminder to remain credulous:
They are skilled in the art of making honey. They live in definite houses. They build their homes with indescribable dexterity, making them out of various flowers and filling innumerable cells with woven wax. They have kings. They have armies. They go to war.

Bees flee from smoke and are irritated with noises.
I promise that I am reading real books about beekeeping as well. They're just not as quotable.

(Interesting typos in the writing of this post: "prefectly curate", "ronin's egg", "little rudder")

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I let our readers down last summer, neglecting to post the promised review of Osvaldo Golijov's new opera, Ainadamar. Well, NPR has a decent feature about it, with plenty of music to listen to, which is more than I could have offered.

Let me say, however belatedly, that I liked it. Most importantly, I liked it musically first and foremost: flamenco rhythms and melodies, Latin percussion, moorish-sounding chorus, many Sephardic touches. The occasional electronica was not overly domineering. The music has strong momentum, and the scenes flow pretty well together. Dawn Upshaw is characteristically excellent in the lead, and there is some very, very beautiful music for the low mezzo trouser role of Lorca.

As for the libretto, and the deeper meaning, well, my interest remains musical. I am not fascinating by Lorca, and Ainadamar did not engender any such interest. I think, for the record, that a lot of the libretto is paraphrased from Lorca's own poetry. As with much modern art, the meaning may or may not be present and may or may not be deep; either way, the opera doesn't motivate me to expend much effort teasing it out. I am inclined to purchase the new recording, and listen to it sans libretto.

As a post-script, let me point out that new operas are held to absurdly high standards. They are mercilessly compared (consciously or not) to the classics of the standard repetoire, which represent a tiny fraction of opera. Taking a wide historical view, I'd say that while Ainadamar might not belong in the company of the true greats, it is at least as successful as 80-85% of all operas. It's also much better than almost anything from the last 60-70 years. Finally, I quite approve of Golijov's approach of plundering ethnic musics for complex and listenable sounds. Classical music might actually have a future in such a dalliance.