Al-Qaeda, factory farming and the paradox of (in)visibility

I love this video on factory farming because it starts so innocently – the marketing person is taking full responsibility for the way consumers are tricked into thinking the way we produce food is ok, even quaint. But then trick number three turns the table and places the blame squarely on her audience, the consumer:

The video reminds we of a great article by Schoeneborn and Scherer (2012) about al-Qaeda, exploring invisibility in clandestine organizations. But because the targets in these two situations are very different, we get very different outcomes, using the same insight. With al-Qaeda, we are the target, so the extreme invisibility of its governance structure and operations, and the extreme visibility of its ‘products’ leads to a society of fear and insane military budgets. In factory farming, we are not the target. So the same invisibility of the governance and operations, and visibility of its ‘products’ leads to “willful ignorance” in the face of massive, systematic cruelty.

Pink, Part 2

So this was my basic argument about the colour pink and the gender assimilation of our children through toys, but GoldieBlox articulates it in a much cooler way:

And for those of you who are not from my generation, the song they have re-written is the Beastie Boys’ song Girls, which originally had lyrics like, ‘all I really need are girls, to clean up my room, to cook me breakfast…’ Seriously, I’m not kidding. Those are the original lyrics. Way better this way.

If you want GoldieBlox to win commercial time during the Super Bowl, you can vote here.

Slavery and the Apparel Industry: The good and the bad has come out with a report that ranks companies in the apparel industry in terms of slavery and child labour. The report has graded companies based on “the extent to which a company has traced its suppliers and established systems throughout its supply chain that can enable it to prevent and address modern slavery”. This is a composite score, based on company policies that address issues of slavery in the supply chain, traceability and transparency, monitoring and training, and support for workers’ rights. While there is a ton of detail on the report on their website (, here are some of the findings. Of the following companies that scored a D or an F, many the ones you expect to see on the list:

  • Abercrombie and Fitch (current target of a labour rights violation campaign related to child labour in cotton production)
  • Aeropostale
  • Aramark
  • Armor Holdings
  • Blauer
  • Bob Barker’s
  • Carter’s (current target of a labour rights violation campaign related to child labour in cotton production)
  • Express
  • Forever 21
  • Fruit of the Loom
  • Garan
  • Lacoste
  • Propper
  • Quiksilver
  • Robinson Textiles
  • Rocky
  • Sketchers
  • Spiewak
  • Walmart (current target of a labour rights violation campaign, as always)

Companies that scored an A or a B also include the ones I would expect, like the Fair Trade lines, and also many others that surprised me:

  • Adidas
  • Alta Gracia
  • American Eagle
  • Eileen Fisher
  • Esteem
  • Gap (YET, current target of a labour rights violation campaign related to factory safety)
  • Gildan
  • Good & Fair
  • H&M
  • HAE Now
  • Hanesbrands
  • Indtex
  • Levi’s
  • Maggie’s Organics
  • New Balance
  • Patagonia
  • praNa
  • PUMA
  • Solidarity (Fair Trade line)
  • Timberland
  • Tompkins (Fair Trade line)

So here’s our shopping list: No Walmart, no Abercrombie and Fitch, yes Adidas and Gap.

Pink, or my rant against the gender assimilation of children

I hate pink. Despise pink. The colour. I have nothing against the singer – she’s lovely. The root of my hatred may go back to the solid fuchsia track suit of my early childhood (thanks, mom!), but I also have an ethical bone to pick with the colour pink.

If you walk into any toy store you will immediately notice a strict colour divide. As you know, pink is for girls. So if you are a toy manufacturer and you have an idea for a girls’ toy, make it pink. with a hint of mauve – not a strong purple, but a soft version would be acceptable. No need to consider any other colour in the spectrum. All other colours are for boys.

And this is a problem because only a small spectrum of toys are deemed “girls’ toys”. All other toys are for boys. So if it is a doll, a house or any part thereof, or a fairy/princess, it will be pink. And a girl who wanders into the toy store heads straight for the pink aisles, where they have a choice between a ridiculous amount of dolls and accessories, houses and accessories, and even fairies/princesses and accessories. And then they come to the middle aisle where the colour changes and they know that these toys are not for them. Because they are not pink. And a boy would never dream of wandering into the aisles of pink – we do not want our boys to play with dolls. That would be terrible, and we must make it very clear that dolls are not for them.

Even at my favorite second hand store, the toy section is divided in two, helpfully labelled “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys”. But you can tell which one is for girls, because only pink (and mauve) toys are on that shelf. And the boys’ toys includes everything else. Now, there are only two small shelves of toys in the story. It would not be overly strenuous for the shopper if they were all mixed together and the shopper had to look through all of the toys. It may actually be helpful – what do you get for the girl who has everything? A boys’ toy.

So, here is my question to you: if we mix it all up and use all colours for all toys and just put them on the shelves, maybe grouped thematically or alphabetically, what would happen?

Because here’s the thing: my 3 year old son loves trucks, LOVES THEM. And when people see him playing with trucks, they often comment on how much of a boy he is, as if he could be anything else. But he also loves fairies and princesses, dolls, and tap shoes. And pink.

And his 3 year old friend across the street, she loves her dolls. LOVES THEM. But she also loves cars and trucks, castles and blocks. And her favorite pajamas are not the pink Dora jammies, they are the black ones with bones on them.

There are differences between girls and boys. I do agree with that. But if we truly believe that boys and girls are so completely different, why do we need to try so hard to make sure boys do boy things and girls do girl things? Why can’t we make cool toys and put them on a shelf and let each child decide for themselves?

TED Talk by Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

This is fantastic. I dabbled in guerrilla gardening this summer, rather poorly, as you can see here. This guy is my hero.


Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

Ron Finley grows a nourishing food culture in South Central L.A.’s food desert by planting the seeds and tools for healthy eating.

Poverty, International Aid and Immigration

re-blogged from Open Borders


Post by Michael Carey (occasional blogger for the site, joined May 2013). See:

One of the main justifications for supporting open borders is that it has the potential to alleviate poverty.  But opening borders is not the first thing that comes to mind when people think of poverty reduction measures.  Most people tend to think of international aid programs. Trouble is, international aid isn’t that effective.

For a quick primer, see this report published by the Center for Global Development. The main points include the following:

  • International aid has four main objectives: stimulation of economic growth, strengthening local institutions, immediate humanitarian relief, and economic stabilization after a shock.
  • The evidence accumulated from numerous studies is that there is basically no correlation between international aid and economic growth even though many countries receive over 10% of their gross national income in aid annually.
  • Donors are faced with a significant Principal-Agent problem, which results in a lot of aid ending up in the hands of corrupt officials and useless bureaucrats, or being wasted in some other way.
  • There is some evidence that aid is (slightly) more effective when given to countries with better governance and policies in place, but this does not always correlate with who needs aid the most.

Basically, international aid doesn’t work that well in the long run. Interestingly, this does not mean that we are losing the war on poverty. In fact, according to this article in the economist, the world met the millennium challenge goal of cutting poverty in half between 1990 and 2015 five years early.  So how did it happen?

In a word, China. We are all familiar with the story of China by now. After China adopted meaningful economic reforms in the 1970′s, their economy exploded and millions of people got jobs in new industries making goods that are exported across the world.  What we don’t always take into account is that this massive economic growth depends on a massive level of economic migration.  Chinese cities have over 250 million migrant workers.  Some estimates claim that another 250 million will move to the city by 2025.  China’s migrant population will soon be greater than the entire population of the US.

China has hundreds of millions of internal migrants despite the fact that the government does not allow its citizens to freely move around the country.  Chinese migrant workers live under conditions similar to illegal immigrants in this country.  Millions of migrant worker children are not even allowed to attend school even though China’s leaders know that their urban industries depend on migrant labor.  Migration has been vital to China’s economic growth, but there is massive bureaucratic resistance to granting these migrants basic rights because of the strain it would put on local welfare and education systems.  Sound familiar?  Still, hundreds of millions of rural Chinese have decided it is better for them to live on the margins of an industrialized economy than to risk starvation in a backward agricultural area.

Despite government attempts to prevent it, migration has been a fundamental part of how the world was cut poverty in half.  The explanation is pretty simple. Prior to industrialization, pretty much everyone lives in poverty.  Individuals in agricultural societies don’t produce very much, and they are fairly evenly distributed across the land. Individuals who specialize in a modern economy are very productive but they need to live in close proximity to other people. Thus industrialization goes hand in hand with massive rural-urban migration.

China isn’t the only country that has been transformed by internal migration. 30 percent of India’s population are migrants, as that countries citizens search for better conditionsIn Brazil, the urban population went from 36% to 81% of the total in the second half on the 20th century.  And of course, the United States has experienced several periods of migration that shaped our nation’s history.

When we talk about poverty reduction, migration should be the first word that comes to mind.  Of course, the movements discussed here have been internal.  Internal migration is a bigger factor than international immigration in global poverty reduction because it is easier for people to move around within their own countries (despite restrictions, as in China).  A few countries have both the massive rural populations and dynamic urban production centers that make economy changing rural-urban migration possible.  But many areas of the world are being choked off either because their rural population has nowhere to go or their aging economy lacks an influx of new workers.

The benefit of open borders is that it allows the process of industrialization and poverty reduction to proceed without artificial barriers.  The China miracle could become a comprehensive global solution to poverty.