26 February 2009

accountability now...

[from the huffington post...]

'Accountability Now': Bloggers And Progressive Groups Plan To Challenge Elected Dems

by sam stein

Some of the most prominent names in progressive politics launched a major new organization on Thursday dedicated to pinpointing and aiding primary challenges against incumbent Democrats who are viewed as acting against their constituents' interests.

Accountability Now PAC will officially be based in Washington D.C., though its influence is designed to be felt in congressional districts across the country. The group will adopt an aggressive approach to pushing the Democratic Party in a progressive direction; it will actively target, raise funds, poll and campaign for primary challengers to members who are either ethically or politically out-of-touch with their voters. The goal, officials with the organization say, is to start with 25 potential races and dwindle it down to eight or 10; ultimately spending hundreds of thousands on elections that usually wouldn't be touched.

"Most of the time, regardless of your record in Washington, an incumbent does not have to worry about being challenged in a primary," explained Jeff Hauser, an online Democratic operative who will serve as the group's executive director. "This only increases the power of the Washington echo chamber and the influence of lobbyists. We are trying to change that... We think there are potentially talented challengers out there who think the process of mounting a primary challenge is simply too daunting. When you bring to bear the resources of national organizations and the influence of the netroots, you can help these potential candidates."

It is a concept bound -- indeed, designed -- to ruffle the feathers of powerful figures in Washington, in part because the names behind it are now institutions themselves. With $500,000 currently in the bank, Accountability Now will be aided, in varying forms, by groups such as MoveOn, SEIU, Color of Change, Democracy for America, 21st Century Democrats and BlogPAC. FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher and Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald will serve in advisory roles, while Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos will conduct polling, with analytical help from 538.com's Nate Silver.

"This will be very much interactive and localized," said Hamsher. "We are already going out to local state blogs to help us identify well-qualified candidates in their communities. Once those people are identified we will be able to bring the strength of our resources to help them mount primary challenges."

In a conversation with the Huffington Post, Hauser, Hamsher and Greenwald said that the process by which targeted incumbents were chosen would not constitute an ideological litmus test. The goal, they noted, was simply to follow the numbers: figure out which Members were casting votes that were out of tune, philosophically speaking, with their constituent's public opinion readings. And then bear the most basic form of political pressure: encourage a primary challenger to run and help him or her campaign. Fundraising will be done by galvanizing online support for specific races -- a practice now natural to Accountability Now's principals.

The overarching premise would be to break down the power of incumbency. But the side effects would be equally lucrative: putting members on notice that their votes have consequences and offering a support structure to aspiring progressives.

"We want to normalize the idea that Democratic incumbents can be challenged...and to the extent that we can legitimize that you can then open up the conversation, causing even the good incumbents in Washington to endorse primary challengers as a means to make the political class more responsive," said Greenwald. "We want to destroy the taboo against challenging politicians from within their own party."

And yet, not everyone is bound to be on board, least of all official Washington. Protecting incumbency is, as Accountability Now's founders are acutely aware, one of D.C.'s foremost operating principles (in 2008, only 23 incumbents lost their House races and only four of those losses came in the primary). And there is a reason for it. Political power comes in the form of numbers and unity. As such, keeping the majority intact often takes precedent over ideological purity. Rep. Donna Edwards' victory over ethically challenged Al Wynn in 2008 -- a template for what Accountability Now seeks to do in 2010 -- was one of the few cases that went against the grain.

But in private, some Democrats expressed worry about pushing for progressive change from the outside rather than from within. Would running an election opponent be the best measure of political persuasion? What if, hypothetically, a primary challenger won the nomination only to lose in the general?

These are concerns that Accountability Now does not take lightly. They insist that they will "take district realities into account," which means that Democrats who represent moderate districts will be forgiven for their moderate votes. But beyond that, they argue, it is the candidate's responsibility, not theirs, to ensure reelection.

"No incumbent worth their salt should lose in a primary -- their advantages are considerable, and so to be vulnerable indicates a considerable focus on K Street, not Main Street," said Hauser. "A primary is the height of democracy, a two-year job performance review -- what is wrong with having to listen to constituents as well as D.C. lobbyists and groupthink."


23 February 2009

my life in twenty- five records...

everyone knows about the "25 things" and recently there have been various "15/ 20/ 25 albums that meant a lot to you" or whatever going around and as such i've decided to combine the two. this essay is long, and definitely not for everybody. but if i "tagged" you you're in there somewhere.

dedicated to little lucy nelson and to evan greenwald. may you both find your own way a little more peacefully than i found mine.

[this essay can also be found at my blog: http://woolgathering-sf.blogspot.com/2009/02/my-life-in-twenty-five-records.html.]

my life in twenty- five records.

side one...the early years.

1. guns n' roses... "appetite for destruction."
2. the ramones... "mania."
3. jane's addiction... "nothing's shocking."
4. pearl jam... "ten."
5. jane's addiction... "ritual de lo habitual."
6. smashing pumpkins... "gish."
7. pearl jam... "vitalogy."
8. faith no more... "angel dust."
9. neil young... "harvest."
10. bob dylan... "bringing it all back home."
11. the beatles... "the beatles, aka the white album."
12. r.e.m.... "new adventures in hi- fi"
13. led zeppelin... "physical graffiti."

side two... college, etc..

14. ben harper... "fight for your mind."
15. the rolling stones... "exile on main street."
16. the beatles... "live at the bbc."
17. radiohead... "ok computer."
18. jeff buckley... "grace."
19. modest mouse... "the moon and antarctica."
20. wilco... "yankee hotel foxtrot."
21. neutral milk hotel... "in the aeroplane over the sea."
22. the clash... "london calling."
23. my morning jacket... "okonokos."
24. iron & wine... "our endless numbered days."
25. eddie vedder... "into the wild."

side one...the early years.

1. guns n' roses... "appetite for destruction."

it all really starts with "appetite."

before axl and slash came into my life there of course was music-- most notably poison, motley crue, and bon jovi. i was born in 1977. the drug, "hair metal," as it's come to be called, and mtv, its pusher, and me-- i feel like we all grew up in the same neighborhood.

that neighborhood was roswell, ga. i have a brother, cary, who is three years my junior. back then we did everything together. that he lives in miami, florida now, as opposed to in san francisco with me, does pain me a little-- though obviously i'm happy that he's happy.

like i said, back then we did everything together. if we weren't "playing guns" [we were like six and nine at the time] we were playing "rock stars." we knew all the moves and all the songs. our father had cut from a thin piece of plywood a couple of les paul- shaped guitars, which we decorated dutifully. they were our favorite toys.

it was all very sweet and innocuous. but by eleven years old, i was on the verge on puberty and along came guns n' roses. in 1988 guns n' roses were the biggest fucking band on the planet. there's absolutely nothing like them today [especially not guns n' roses].

"appetite for destruction" had been given to me [on cassette] by my fifth grade girlfriend, jessica oliver. she broke up with me the next day. i studied the liner notes, the artwork, the pictures. for me it was like the discovery of the dead sea scrolls. things that were troubling me, that i didn't understand-- suddenly they were very clear. it wasn't so much the lyrics or the subject matter of the songs [true story: my brother and i knew that if our mother caught wind of the swear words-- and there are a lot of them on "appetite"-- she would take away the tape for sure. i had where the swears were so memorized that when we'd be listening to it on our shitty little single deck tape player, and a swear would come up, i would turn the volume knob down then up really fast to mute it. we listened to it like that my whole fifth grade year], it was the guitar. slash's guitar work, for lack of a better way to describe it, really spoke to me in a language i could understand.

whether "appetite" is now thought of as a classic is probably up for debate. certainly i can see the arguments against. but for me, it's not only a classic, it was the beginning of something.

2. the ramones... "mania."

a habit i formed early, one i'm most proud of, was basically to notice what band t- shirts the bands i liked were wearing and then buy those other bands' tapes.

guns n' roses wore a lot of t- shirts. i learned about metallica, the sex pistols, and the rock club cbgb as a result of them. the ramones were another band [the most important to me] that i learned about. [when i think about it, i learned most of what i know about punk rock-- a lifelong passion of mine-- from two sources. what t- shirts gn'r wore, and from greg king, stewart king's older brother. he had the misfits, dead kennedys, g.b.h., d.r.i., m.o.d. [all the initial bands], and bad brains tapes that i so coveted when i'd spend the night at stewart's house during our sixth grade year. it should be noted that i've never spoken a word to greg, still to this day. but his 1989 7" and cassette tape collection will be forever burned into my brain.]

it wasn't until that next year, my thirteenth, that i got "mania," i think from drew stewart. i remember shooting baskets in the gym of the old sandy springs middle school with drew and learning the lyrics to "the kkk took my baby away." i remember being unable to write out the lyrics to "blitzkrieg bop." i remember thinking joey ramone looked like nothing i'd ever seen before.

i've since bought all the remastered ramones albums, at least the first five. i listen to them often, mostly in my car. but it only seems right to listen to "mania" on a shitty sony walkman, the kind where the deck is held in place with duct tape and the headphones keep slipping off because the silver band that goes around your head is so stretched out.

additionally i consider it a real point of pride that in 1995 some friends and i drove to new orleans to see the ramones and pearl jam play. this was during the great war with ticketmaster, and the show was at some out of the way stadium, and it was muggy as hell, and it was fucking awesome. long live the ramones.

3. jane's addiction... "nothing's shocking."

ah, the mighty jane's addiction. one of the greatest bands ever.

i got turned onto "nothing's schocking" in the seventh grade by adam zivony, who also turned me onto incense. i remember drinking some canadian club i'd snuck over, smoking cigarettes, burning incense, and listening to the second side, with "summertime rolls" and "mountain song" and "idiot's rule."

one of the things i always thought was coolest about perry farrell and jane's was that by the time their three album cycle was over, they had, in my opinion, encapsulated all there was to write about in terms of rock lyrics. personal freedom, love, sex, serial killers, mountains... they really covered it all.

later on, in high school, you'd be hard pressed to find a notebook of mine that didn't have some jane's addiction lyric on it. it would be something like this [picture my shitty high school handwriting]:

"you know the man you hate?
you look more like him everyday!
hi- di- hoa!
two good shoes won't save your soul!"


it is fifteen years later and i'm about to finish my first record. in the liner notes you'll find those words.

jane's addiction really was the perfect bridge, both for me and for the world, between the guns n' roses era and, uh, what would come next.

4. pearl jam... "ten."

what would come next, everyone knows, was nirvana's "nevermind." millions of essays have been written on "nevermind" and the seismic culture shift it caused so i will spare you.

"ten," its spiritual brother, caused a similar shift, and a parallel one was inside of me. it was like nothing before, or since. "ten" was like a religion for me.

i was in the eighth grade. axl rose was wearing kilts and starting riots, and i had a girlfriend named emily. i was still pretty hung up on guns n' roses-- though it was now the "use your illusion" years. all of a sudden, "grunge" was everywhere. "smells like teen spirit" had broken wide and it was a new world. soundgarden's "outshined," alice in chains' "man in the box", and pearl jam's "alive" were all in heavy rotation on mtv. craig halperin, i think, gave me a taped copy of "ten" and i listened to it endlessly. i finally got a real copy of it myself and pored over the liner notes-- which were so cool. the lyrics to the songs were all artfully presented, each individually [i remember "even flow" was just a dollar bill with the words to the chorus written around the edges and "jeremy" was all typed up on an old school typewriter].

knowing what i know about music now, the songs are pretty straightforward, but back then i really couldn't figure out what i was hearing, what was going on. [the mix still is a little strange-- really reverb- heavy. i'm glad brendan o' brien is taking a scalpel to it.]

what i did know, however, was that THIS WAS IT. this was the fuckin' SOUNDTRACK TO MY SOUL. obviously this sounds melodramatic and overwrought now but come on, man, i was fourteen. which brings us to emily.

the aforementioned emily snow jacobs was my eighth grade girlfriend, and my first true love. a teeny- tiny bit of me still is in love with emily from way back then. i trust that my wife understands.

i remember the first time i met emily was in the lunchroom in the seventh grade: i asked to borrow her math homework to copy it, and promptly lost it. fast forward to mrs. emerson's math class the next period, and we were checking said homework. emily got called on, and obviously she didn't have the answer. i got called on next and did. [she relishes telling this story, and does so every time we get together.]

anyway all eighth grade year emily and i dated, or went out, or went, or whatever the hell. we had about as tumultuous a relationship as two fourteen year- olds can. emily is a fantastic person, and i really truly love her deeply. but she can also be the most fucking frustrating person in the world. [i think she'd cop to that.]

i'm rambling, i know. i'll get to the point. "black," the fifth song on "ten," [the second to last song on the first side of the cassette, right before "jeremy"-- very important] was, and i guess still very much is, our anthem. i don't listen to "ten" much anymore, but when i hear the studio version of "black" on the radio, i think about emily jacobs. and i think about how crazy i was about her. and i get all gooey for that whole period of time, before high school.

the other standout track on "ten" obviously is "alive." two quick stories about "alive":

1. carrie shetler-- a friend of mine still, though now only through facebook-- and her mother were in a horrible car accident that eighth grade year. her mother was killed, and carrie was badly hurt, and it was a shock for our school. i remember her telling me much later that the first song she heard when she came out of her coma was "alive" and that it really had an incredibly healing effect on her, and that "ten" really helped her through that period of time.

2. it was the eighth grade dance. it was me and my crew [i wasn't the leader or anything]: jj ortega, alan hollander, and todd hodges. tami liptak was my date. emily was todd's, paige porter was jj's, and monica trinidad was alan's. the idea was that we all went not with our girlfriends, but with our best friends who were girls, but that obviously we would be hooking up with our girlfriends afterwards. jj lived in this castle up in alpharetta and we all went up there after the dance. i remember making out with emily on jj's bed, we were literally next to todd and paige doing the same thing. jj and tami were in his closet [i remember hilarious calls of "jj! come out of the closet!"] and alan and monica were, i don't know, somewhere else getting it on. todd jumped up from our makeout bed [everybody was clothed, just for the record] and threw on "ten" but he started it on track three, "alive" [some of us had moved onto cds by that point]. i think we high- fived each other and got back to business.

a few years later todd too was in a horrible car crash. i went to visit him in the hospital, held his hand as he lay there in the hospital bed, and sang "alive" to him softly. he died later that day.

pearl jam has remained one of my favorite bands, and "ten" probably still ranks as the one i've most listened to ever in the history of my life. it is a sacred artifact to me, and i take it personally when people disparage it, or the band, because it now seems easy or fashionable. so fucking watch out.

5. jane's addiction... "ritual de lo habitual."

i lost my virginity in the first few months of my ninth grade year to "three days" on the "ritual" album. enough said.

6. smashing pumpkins... "gish."

"gish" will always make me think of billy mosier. he turned me onto it on a church retreat my ninth grade year and it became the next album in what was becoming a pattern of "albums that i listened to nothing else but." it was another one of those records that sounded like nothing i had ever heard-- the drums, especially. billy and i became great friends on this retreat and soon after went together to see them play a five- dollar show at centerstage in midtown. it was effectively my first show [the poison show i went to in the fourth grade i do not count], thus beginning a lifelong habit of going to shows with billy. over the years we have really seen every major band you could think of. i have hundreds of ticket stubs from shows we went to see in high school-- 311, primus, lollapalooza, nine inch nails, dinosaur jr, pink floyd, beastie boys... really, and i mean really, if a band was coming into town, we'd go see 'em.

this was of course back in the days of waking up early on a saturday and going to turtle's [which became blockbuster music] and getting in line to get tickets. it was a ritual we had. he'd pick me up in the cadillac-- simultaneously the world's best and worst car-- and we'd head for bagels and coffee before landing at the turtle's across the street from my neighborhood. if my memory serves, they'd hand out lottery numbers at 9:30, 9:45 maybe, everybody'd line up in numerical order, and then tickets went on sale at 10:00.

by mid- tenth grade ticketmaster had struck a deal with publix and for a while we seemed to be the only people who knew that, so we were getting all sortsa great seats. soon enough though the cat was out of the bag and we were back to lines and lottery numbers. after a while we figured out that you had a better chance of getting good seats if you went to some out of the way publix, where there would be no line, so we'd drive down to ridiculous places like college park and lakewood to score.

we saw smashing pumpkins twice during the "gish" period, i think. that they recorded their follow- up record, "siamese dream," in atlanta had a lot to do with that fact. we saw them a few times after that, the last time being the 1995 [?] lollapalooza. but the "gish" period was the best for my money.

billy and i were roommates in college and have remained amazing friends all these years. he is in fact, and i swear this is true, flying up from san diego next weekend [27/ 29 february] to visit and see a show at the fillmore.

7. pearl jam... "vitalogy."

1994/ 1995 were hard years for me. "vitalogy" chronicled those years.

a few weeks into my eleventh grade year i dropped out of high school and moved out of my parents' house. it was the ridiculous, desperate, myopic act of an adolescent who was incredibly pissed off and trying to grow up too fast.

for whatever reason, my pain management skills have always included a heavy reliance on substances. in this instance my seventeen year- old pain was being treated with a lot of really shitty mexican pot. i was a fiend. i could not be sated, and i could not be stopped. whether or not i had more pain than some of my friends, i don't know. i had [have] some emotional problems. i can deal with them now. i could not back then.

my frustration with having just turned seventeen and feeling twenty- five reached a pinnacle sometime around october of 1994 and i left home. i moved in with some drug dealers i knew and basically dropped out of society. i had a job at papa john's pizza and no future, but i didn't care. i couldn't see past next month. i still to this day have no idea what was going on in my head during that period of time. i was really a fucking disaster. that i still have some very close friends from that period of time [billy, and danny simon] is more a testament to their patience with me than anything else.

it was during this period of time that i started experimenting with some more illicit substances-- acid, in particular. i tripped on acid a lot. the most i ever took was five hits at once. i was literally out of my mind, trying to achieve some william blake/ timothy leary/ carlos castaneda fantasy.

"vitalogy" was the perfect album for me through all this. it was all the things that i was: angry, sad, desperate, confused, frustrated. remember that "vitalogy" was the first pearl jam record to come out after kurt cobain's suicide, so there was that. it was also really the apotheosis of their fame, and the ticketmaster war was taking shape. all of this and more was in the songs, "not for you" and "corduroy" in particular.

additionally i don't think eddie vedder ever sounded better [say that five times real fast] than on "vitalogy." those performances are AMAZING. listen to the anger in "spin the black circle," "tremor christ," and "whipping." listen to the sadness in "nothingman." ah! what a great album. without it i don't know if i would've made it through that period of time.

8. faith no more... "angel dust."

but i did make it through that period of time, and when i did the album i remember listening to more than most was "angel dust." it was already a couple of years old by this point, but for whatever reason it really spoke to me. during this period of time i was getting ready for the g.e.d., which i got special permission to take a year early. i was starting community college in the fall when all of my friends were going into their senior year of high school. crazy how that turned out. i had gone from loser drug- addicted dropout insane person to starting college a year early. that being said, i have no salient memories of this period of time, really, no memories of moving out of that apartment and back into my parent's house, no memories of what i did when i was out with my friends [though i was still way into grass], no real memories at all. my "lost weekend."

9. neil young... "harvest."
10. bob dylan... "bringing it all back home."

there is no way to measure the remarkable and acute effect these two men have had on my life. it was at the beginning of that senior/ freshman year that i started really listening to dylan and neil, and i, like always, went truly overboard on them both.

"harvest" is still neil's most well- known record and as such it was the one i got started with. soon i had his entire discography basically. it was the same way with bob dylan. i went further and further into bob over those next few years, from seventeen until twenty- one, compared to that i've gone further and further with neil [likewise tom waits] these last few years, from twenty- eight let's say and still counting.

a great story about "bringing it all back home": "bringing" is the last truly acoustic recordings dylan would do for close to thirty years. and even at that, it's only the second side of the album that's acoustic [side one includes "subterranean homesick blues"]. "mr. tambourine man" is the first song on the side, and it was cut independently of the three songs that would follow it. the next three are "gates of eden," "it's alright, ma," and "it's all over now, baby blue," three of the longest, most poetic songs dylan's ever written. dylan recorded these three in order in one long, continuous take. he sat down with his guitar, made sure the engineer recording the session had enough tape, and just played those three songs boom boom boom in a row and that was the record. wow.

11. the beatles... "the beatles, aka the white album."

alongside neil and dylan we find the beatles in what was a huge shift in my music taste. this senior/ freshman year saw me really go from an "alternative rock" guy to a "classic rock" guy. i was bored with "alternative." kurt cobain was dead, pearl jam was basically underground. it was increasingly way more likely that you'd find me listening to creedence than my bloody valentine.

like everybody, i'm sure, my love affair with the beatles dated back to my childhood. i knew the songs, my mother was a big fan, i could play a couple on piano. the beatles were ubiquitous, you know? it wasn't until my seventeenth year that i really started listening to beatles albums, really starting getting into them.

and when i did, i went even crazier on them that i had ever gone before. crazier than for pearl jam, crazier than for bob dylan. to this day there is no band i am more insane about, that is to say really in love with, when it comes down to it, than the beatles. i could go on and on about them, about how in particular john lennon is my spiritual guru and how we all want to change the world. but there is nothing i could really say about the beatles that hasn't been said before, and so i'll just say that "the white album" is my favorite of all of their records.

12. r.e.m.... "new adventures in hi- fi"

one of the only current bands i really liked during this period of time was r.e.m.. i chose "new adventures" in particular, one because i think it's their most underrated record, and two, because i can really remember listening to this album a lot at the end of that senior/ freshman year. i was working at the coffee shop inside the borders books near perimeter mall in atlanta during the day, and delivering chinese food at night, listening to "new adventures," saving money for my eventual move to athens to continue college. i worked with adam cohn and danny simon, a few others sure but these two guys in particular stand out as my co- workers in the true, quotidian sense. we had a really good time, delivering for the mandarin house on roswell road.

adam still lives in atlanta and i see him-- alongside jj ortega, another terrific old friend of mine that i don't talk to near enough-- every time i go back to visit. the three of us have the quintessential "pick up right where you left off" friendship. i love those guys and would take a bullet for either one of them.

danny simon is probably the best guy i've ever known. certainly the smartest [in the eighth grade, danny circumvented all the alarm systems in our houses using, i think, magnets. it enabled us-- i mean this was like five or so different houses/ hooligans-- to be able to sneak out certain windows of our house with our parents asleep and our alarm systems still on. furthermore, he had wired up a sensor that alerted him to whether his parent's bedside table light was still on, so he could know whether it was safe to sneak out or not. a surreptitious wire ran from his parent's nightstand UNDER THE RUG and UP AND DOWN THE WALLS from their room to his. you give me internet access and a fucking week right now and i wouldn't be able to do that. and he was like thirteen.]. the two of us have been through so much together it is impossible to catalogue. truly. i think of him, and billy, as brothers-- equal with my own.

additionally danny is one of the funniest people i've ever met. he could've made a fortune in the fifties as a borscht belt comedy writer. but instead he got his phd in physics at uc santa cruz and now lives with his wife, rozalyn, and their beautiful daughter in sweden. i look forward to their visit in april. i wish they'd move back.

13. led zeppelin... "physical graffiti."

it was also during this period of time that i was in what i'd generously call "my led zeppelin phase." friends of mine would probably not be so kind. i was obsessed with zeppelin during this spring/ summer/ fall of 1996. i'd gotten the complete discography boxed set from the borders that i worked at and it was all i played, "physical graffiti" [their best] in particular. "in my time of dying" still is a song that ranks among my most favorite ever, not just of zeppelin but of all time. john bonham was a god.

side two... college, etc..

14. ben harper... "fight for your mind."

ben has always been an anomaly. he doesn't really fit in anywhere, and that's what i dig about him. i can relate to that.

billy turned me onto ben harper in spring of 1997. it was a new life for me, i was living in athens, on my own for what was basically my first time. [the dreaded drug den apartment i lived in i do not count.] i had quit smoking pot [even though you can basically buy it at whole foods here in sf, i remain drug- free].

i had recently gotten a dog, hodges, and also become a vegetarian. the two definitely went together, for the getting of hodges- bo- bodges [when he got neutered danny simon renamed him hodges- no- bodges, which stuck around for a minute] more or less sealed my vegetarian fate.

i was twenty and i was living with billy, rozalyn ayers [who'd later marry danny], and jeff hall. i was making a lot of mixed tapes during this period of time. huge, epic mixed tapes that have now been lost to the winds of time. the hugest, most epic series of mixed tapes came as a result of a break- up i had with a girl.

this person and i hung out for a month or so at the beginning of my sophomore year in college. basically it seemed like our whole relationship revolved around music. she lived a couple of streets over from me in normaltown and i was really, really into her. for a number of i'm sure good reasons it didn't work out and i was pretty broken up about it. i channeled that hurt into the most excellent series of mixed tapes that i'm convinced have ever been made. i mean it was to the point that i was going over to people's houses and borrowing their cds so that i could be as efficient as possible in making these huge, epic mixed tapes [most of my stuff was on vinyl and on cassette, and making tapes was just so much easier with cds]. i'd take home huge stacks of my friend's cds [alex reeves and drew kane immediately spring to mind] and spend all day and night stitching them together into this elaborate tapestry. it was all very dramatic and heart- on- my- sleeve [i was twenty after all]. the plan was to give her these tapes, thinking that she'd listen to them and realize what we had, or something. there were more than a few ben harper songs on those tapes: "walk away," "waiting on an angel," "forever," "another lonely day," "by my side." you get the picture. ultimately i guess i thought better of that, and i'm glad that i did because those tapes were awesome. i think i still have one or two of them somewhere in storage.

15. the rolling stones... "exile on main street."

following this episode i went on a real kind of chauvinist/ misogynist kick for a while and got really into "exile on main street." it seemed like a natural reaction at the time, to go on offense, but looking back it was just wounded youthful pride. bravado. whatever.

no matter. "exile on main street" is the greatest fucking rock and roll record ever made. i would recommend it, and a bottle of jameson irish whiskey of course, to anyone going through a break- up.

like i said earlier, i was living with rozalyn ayers at the time and i think that after the second month or so of me playing nothing but "exile" she actually hid it from me, and i can't say that i blame her. "exile on main street" is, i'm sure, the reason she moved out a few weeks later.

love you, rozy. thanks for still being my friend.

16. the beatles... "live at the bbc."

after all that sour i guess i needed some sweet. hence my love of "live at the bbc."

"live at the bbc" is just what it sounds like, a collection of all the appearances the beatles made on bbc radio in the early- to- mid 1960's. it's essentially a collection of covers, from artists like ray charles, elvis, chuck berry, little richard, buddy holly, the tin pan alley songs, early early motown, and the phil spector girl group stuff... all the stuff that influenced the beatles. alone it would be a definitive history of 1950's/ early 1960's pop music singles. couple that with the fact that they're all performed by the beatles, and it's truly one of the greatest albums ever.

17. radiohead... "ok computer."

"ok computer" IS the greatest album ever.

i don't care what you say. better than "sgt. pepper," better than "the velvet underground and nico," better than "blonde on blonde." at least that's my opinion. it's my favorite album of all time-- the only album that rivals "ten" for "most listened to album ever in the history of my life."

"ok computer" came out in 1997 but i didn't really start listening to it in earnest until about 2000. like i said, i had been going through this massive "classic rock" thing. i mostly hung out with kind of a hippie crowd, but i wasn't a hippie. [it should be noted that i had a real huge hair/ dylan- in- 1966 thing going on during this period that made the "i'm not a hippie" argument difficult. but i digress.] i was always way more led zeppelin/ stones than phish or the dead. but when i got into "ok computer," everything changed.

i couldn't stop listening to it. i was obsessed. i was enlightened. i was reborn.

while there was precedent for "ok computer" [think "sgt. pepper," think "the dark side of the moon"], i had to come by those records later in life as, obviously, they had been made before i was born. but for "ok computer" i was getting to be part of a paradigm- shattering masterpiece basically in real time. i was getting to be alive at the same time that this thing was going down. it was a privilege. it was an honor. i wanted to soak it all up.

the most important thing that should be noted about "ok computer"'s effect on me is that it really did snap me out of this bullshit "classic rock" trip i was on. obviously there's nothing wrong with the beatles and the stones but it was like i was consciously living in the past and not embracing what was happening during MY lifetime. "ok computer" showed me that i needed to be much more in the moment, that there was so much out there that i wasn't paying attention to. my lifelong passion for progressive politics were borne out of this realization, just in time for the 2000 election.

a final note about "ok computer": the years 2001- 2003 were my darkest, even darker than the "vitalogy" years of 1994/ 1995. my drinking was WAY out of control. i had been kicked out of the university of georgia and was in a truly terrible, go- nowhere relationship. i was once again without any direction, or care for my future-- i had totally tipped over. the difference between this time and the time before was that THIS time around i was in my mid- twenties and i kinda shoulda known better. [whatever that means.] i was really unsure if i was going to make it. i felt like i was going to die. i listened to "ok computer" over and over again, and when i would i would imagine that the closing strains of "lucky"-- the final instrumental chorus-- i would imagine that that just had to be what it sounded like when someone was dying and on their way to the next spiritual plane. and "the tourist," the song that follows "lucky," i'd imagine that's what it sounded like once you got there. i imagined myself so many times as that person.

incredible that the very same song, "lucky," includes the lines "kill me sarah, kill me again/ with love/ it's going to be a glorious day" and that i sing it to my wife now as a love song.

18. jeff buckley... "grace."

speaking of songs about love and mortality, jeff buckley's "grace" is a record that stands alone.

i came to "grace" a few years after jeff's death [he drowned in the wolf river, which is an offshoot of the mississippi, in 1997] by way of my brother [who told me he cried when he found out that they shared a birthday]. we were living together in athens and he had a big buckley poster on the wall. i had heard of him, remembered that he'd died, but i'd never listened to him. when i started to, i have to admit i really didn't get him at first. didn't like his voice, didn't like his riffs, didn't like his approach. found them... irritating.

i was not ready for him.

it was really only after another break- up that i finally was. i had been living with this girl who it turned out was, well not the devil incarnate exactly, but she certainly was no angel. it really wasn't even entirely her fault, she was coming immediately off a divorce and i was her rebound and i knew it and i fell for her anyway and when the inevitable happened i took it pretty hard. it probably didn't help that it was xmas time, the first xmas after september 11th.

it was a really strange time. good friends in my life were both coming [billy] and had gone [lara taylor sevener]. i was working three jobs, one at the globe barbacking/ working the door, one at the 283 bar working the door, and the third at earthfare [earthfare was like a mini whole foods] as a front end assistant manager. there was also an issue with school that i'll spare you, but let's just say it wasn't good and that i wouldn't be going back.

i had met this girl at the globe [the globe was at the time one of the best bars in athens. it was an irish- style pub, all wood, with a great staff. i had taken over kai from macha's monday night shift and worked my way up] and was smitten. soon enough we went home together and one thing turned into your mother and suddenly she was living at my house and we were spending whatever free time i had together. this went on all october- december 2001. it was an intense few months. i remember listening to coldplay's "parachutes" a lot, and to built to spill's "ancient melodies of the future," "kid a" had also just come out.

like i said, the inevitable happened and she slept with somebody else-- IN MY HOUSE. obviously there was no going back, but nonetheless i was stung. one of my very favorite people on the planet, lara taylor sevener [we'll get to her soon enough], had the most memorable thing to say about all of this: "lee, you can't get this girl out of your house fast enough." i will never forget her saying that.

i remember in breaking up with her quoting that great line from neil young, "funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way," and that was that. i soon started listening exclusively to mr. buckley. he really got me through that period of time.

"grace" is almost as important a record to me as "ok computer" or "ten" on a lot of levels and on some others it's actually even more important. [it should be noted that this fact has nothing to do now with the girl.] jeff buckley's voice, his guitar work [he used the absolute most difficult jazz chords to construct his songs outta], and the songs themselves haunt me to this day. to say that it is a terrible shame that he isn't around today making music is as facile a posit as i've ever heard, and it burns my finger typing the words.

19. modest mouse... "the moon and antarctica."

we gotta backtrack a little bit. there was no way to separate "ok computer" and "grace" thematically and as such i jumbled the chronology a bit. but "the moon and antarctica" does come between.

for three years, from age twenty until twenty three, i was in as serious a relationship as i had ever been in. it in fact stood as my longest relationship until i met my wife. out of respect for this person's privacy i'm going to leave out most of the graphic details. i will say this: those are pretty big years, or at least they were for me, and i learned a lot from this person and from that relationship. mostly i learned what not to do and how not to be. and for that i'm really grateful. i wish this person nothing but the best.

when it ended i was like a new man. i was working two jobs, one at the five points jittery joe's and the other at earthfare, though at this point i was only a checker/ bagger. i was jogging every day and in what is still the best shape of my life. my running tape was "the moon and antarctica." listening to it now, as i'm doing, i can literally see and smell milledge avenue, heading down it as i'd do from five points towards prince avenue, past the big intersection at baxter where the varsity was, on down past meigs and sometimes the grit, other times past the taco stand and dunkin' donuts and then past michael stipe's house to boulevard, ah, beautiful boulevard, still my favorite street of any street i've ever seen or been on.

at night i'd head out for drinks with the gang. the gang during this period of time i still think of as my all- star team [a notable exclusion being my wife]: billy mosier had just gotten back from one of his travels around the world, danny simon had just gotten back from living on an israeli kibbutz, lara taylor sevener and amy fouts had just finished law school. scott gilbertson, thomas hunter, and even rozy were floating around, too, and we were all in the summer town of athens, georgia. you could find us at 283 or the manhattan or the engine room or the go bar any night of the week with a maker's and blenheim in our hand. it was the summer before september 11th and everything was golden and glorious. i was having a lot of sex with this really cool tattooed chick who i hear now either lives in costa rica or north carolina but it was nothing serious [incidentally we went on vacation to new york city for labor day weekend, right before my twenty- fourth birthday. we in fact did the world observation deck in the south tower of the world trade center. it was monday, september 3rd, 2001].

many of my experiences that summer seemed like they had been foretold in the r.e.m. song "nightswimming," which of course is on their masterpiece "automatic for the people." it was during this period of time that i was occasionally hanging out with michael stipe. we had some friends in common and had a couple of conversations with him [i remember one specifically the two of us had about the rolling stones. michael was totally flabbergasted by the fact that they had been together forty years] and we did a few shooters together, mostly at the go bar. i mention this because the other album i remember listening to a lot during this period of time was "reveal," by r.e.m.. it's a small world as we know it, and i feel fine.

20. wilco... "yankee hotel foxtrot."

"yhf" reminds me of the year 2002, and of working in athens. i worked a lot of places in athens. over the course of the years 1997- 2003, i worked at the five points mellow mushroom, the downtown mellow mushroom, blue sky coffee, jittery joe's at five points, jittery joe's on prince, the globe, the 283 bar, the five and ten, earthfare, helix, five star day, and the speakeasy. i'm sure i'm leaving a couple out.

in 2002 i think i mostly worked at the 283 bar, the globe, the five and ten, and helix. this was of course the height of tipped- over alcoholic irresponsibility. i've never had much time for regret, i figure everything that's happened's happened and there's nothing i can do plus it led to me to where i sit right now typing and there's no place that i'd rather be. but the way i conducted myself at those four jobs, 283 not so much but definitely the globe [where i was constantly drunk, and finally fired for having sex in the basement on shift], the five and ten [still the nicest restaurant i've ever worked at, and one i did not appreciate at the time. [[farm 255 downtown in athens will forever be my favorite restaurant that i've ever worked at.]] i was never especially drunk on shift at the five and ten, it was always more a slap- happy half hung over kinda thing. unless it was sunday brunch, in which case i would always be massively hung over/ still very drunk from the night before], and especially helix [where my behavior was the probably the worst, totally inexcusable: i'd show up hung over as shit every day at ten when we opened and would sleep in the back until after lunch time. i remember when i was finally fired marie claire, the manager, asked me, "i mean, you're not surprised are you?"]. the way i treated those places and those people-- chuck bussler, krista merry, robert sampson-- still nags at me a little bit and it's probably one of my biggest sources of regret.

21. neutral milk hotel... "in the aeroplane over the sea."

i can pinpoint for you what is definitely my biggest source of life regret like it's you asking me my birthday: being in the same fucking town at the same time as neutral milk hotel during the "in the aeroplane over the sea" period and never seeing them live. it was only much later [around 2003] that i finally "GOT" "aeroplane." that i missed untold opportunities to see the history that was neutral milk being made provides me an unending sense of frustration.

22. the clash... "london calling."

i feel essentially the same way about "london calling": how did i not have this album for so long? obviously it came out in january 1980 and i was like barely two, but come on, it shouldn't have taken me as long as it did to finally get it.

"london calling" reminds me a lot of when i moved from athens to atlanta in the summer of 2003. i was in what i thought was a very serious relationship at the time with a flight attendant [surprise! it turned out not to be] and had been basically asked to leave athens, georgia. i got in touch with my old friend ken mcclain, who had been living in florida, and we decided to meet in little five points and band together once again.

we settled into a house in candler park-- ken, kim and me. kim [i honestly can't remember her maiden name] was my friend and she was going to be our third roommate. kim and ken fell in love in little under a week i think and got engaged. i performed their wedding ceremony on the beach in savannah, georgia in september of 2003 and though we don't really keep in touch [much to my dismay] they are still very much together.

atlanta was fun. i worked first at one midtown kitchen, a very hip and happening spot basically on the back side of piedmont park. it was at one that i met jessie, a super badass woman who became my best friend after i stopped flying the flight attendant's friendly skies. jessie was [is] fucking awesome, a true original. we spent a lot of time together, mostly at the righteous room and at 97 estoria, smoking cigarettes, doing shots, and talking about life. everybody thought we were in love and didn't know it but that was just never the case. we knew what we had-- a really killer friendship-- and we were content with that. she lives in chicago now and i figure that as long as she's being true to herself she must be doing awesome.

i soon left one midtown kitchen for bartending and waiting tables at spice restaurant. spice was a very very hip spot right in the middle of midtown atlanta and my professional home for two years or so. the staff at spice was pretty amazing when i think about it even if i didn't fully appreciate them at the time. i had a lot of fun working there and made good money.

[my two favorite spice stories are these: the first is that, like i said, the restaurant is right in the heart of midtown atlanta but it is especially at the very center of the african american tranny hooker nexus. these gals were fun, we'd kid with them from time and it was always fun to watch them cruise 5th street. what was not fun was that every sunday brunch you had to go around the building-- spice was a free- standing three- level antebellum home that had been converted into a very modern looking industrial space, and it had a large outside space-- with a dustpan and a broom and sweep up all of saturday night's used condoms.

my second favorite spice story is about the late- night buy- out parties we'd have. the two most famous were "brother 2 brother" and what i can only call "the swingers club." "brother 2 brother" was an organization for young, african american homosexuals. it would go like this: we'd close down the restaurant by 11:30 or so and get everybody out. we'd then stack up all the tables off in a corner, leaving the dining room pretty open. a dj would come in and set up and then all of a sudden BOOM! midnight would hit and these fellas would start showing up, literally by the hundreds. it was beautiful really, all these gay hip hop boys in sunglasses that cost three times as much as my shoes. these boys could fucking DRINK. it would be me and my two bartending compatriots, jennifer and gina, and we would just be speed bartending for three solid hours, only stopping to feed each other shots. we'd clean up and walk out with like three hundred extra dollars on top of whatever we'd already made that night. it was a gas.

"the swingers club" was entirely another matter. somehow-- it was never made clear to me-- we got rented out by a swingers association. basically what that means is that i got to bartend at a public orgy, literally a bunch of naked people walking around having sex with each other in full view of everyone [[including me, jenn, the general manager chris, and the mexican busboy daniel]] for a couple of hours. it was surreal, like something out of "caligula" or "eyes wide shut." one example that i remember really clearly is that this naked woman-- fairly attractive-- went down on this other naked woman-- again, fairly attractive-- in front of about eight of us. [[i was furiously smoking cigarettes and doing shots while this was all going on.]] when she finally came everybody applauded.]

my favorite thing about spice, though, for about the longest time, was that lara would come and visit me once or twice a week.

lara taylor sevener was one of the first people i ever met when i moved to athens in 1997 [she and billy were a year older than me and already good friends]. we got close in 2000 and i still consider her one of my very best friends-- a family member alongside billy and danny-- and my personal [and forever] wartime consigliere.

lara has always been someone i've looked up to. she knew everybody, always had something hilarious, profound, or hilariously profound to say, and she's always looked fucking great. to me it's always been a bitchin' card trick and an impressive juggling act.

lara grew up in baton rouge, louisiana, but you'd know that immediately upon meeting her. her accent literally speaks for itself. it's as refined-- not coarse, like so many southern accents-- as pillowy cotton. it has the air of southern aristocracy while at the same time it has a downhome everyman thing that immediately puts you at ease.

she has a quicksilver mind, one of the fastest i've ever seen. it's the thing i've always respected the most about her. she has a way with words that would put mark twain, winston churchill, bob dylan, and willie shakes [billy, thomas hunter, and i lived together for a year in 1998, my junior year in college. of course we had a party pretty much the first thing we did and at that party lara wrote on our roomates- only message board the very first line from "twelfth night": "if music be the food of love, play on! --willie shakes." it stayed on the board all year.] all in their place. i could think of no better way to honor that talent, and our friendship, than to give her what was effectively the keynote speech at our wedding. she repaid me a year later by asking me to give the second reading during she and steve's wedding service.

it's very, very, very easy to write about her, she's such a character. i'm crazy about her. i could tell you story after story but you'd probably think i was embellishing, or worse. so i'll just say this: lara taylor sevener is one of my favorite people on the planet and i am a better person for knowing her. she's helped me through countless catastrophes in my life and i really don't know where i'd be without her. i made her a copy of "london calling" a couple of years ago. i hope she still has it.

a very serious final note: lara was almost killed in a car accident last year on the day before my birthday [her husband, steve, WAS hurt really badly-- lara more or less was physically fine and steve has since made a full recovery], reiterating [and solidifying] my belief that a car is nothing more than a speeding bullet indiscriminately looking for a target. to say that i would have been destroyed had anything truly permanent happened to her is like saying that it's unfortunate that the world trade center is not there anymore.

23. my morning jacket... "okonokos."

the reason that i said earlier that "my favorite thing for the longest time about spice was that lara would come visit" is because spice is also where i met my wife, sarah.

sarah schoff and i met on july 2nd, 2004. it was a friday night and i was off work. i was up there anyway on the other side of the bar, drinking free drinks with a couple of girlfriends when i noticed a couple of seats down this woman that i was sure i knew. she was beautiful, with pale white skin and jet black, silky hair.

it turns out she was sure she knew me too. she was there with a couple of her girlfriends, counseling one of them through her first big fight with her boyfriend [now husband] and just generally blowing off some steam. they had come to visit the girls, jenn and gina, my co- workers. jenn and gina were fantastic bartenders ["cocktail engineers"] and fantastic people, both with larger- than- life personalities and killer senses of humor. thank god for them, for otherwise sarah and i would never have met.

so the girls [sarah plus her two, and jenn and gina] were all talking and i guess sarah asked them about "the guy with the chops." [i had pretty large sideburns at the time.] they immediately were like, "lee?! you mean lee?! oh he works here and he's great and you should totally go talk to him."

sarah's always been a woman of action, and she seized on the moment. she pushed her way through the two girls i was sitting between, bummed a cigarette off of me, and told me a joke about an italian guy who was fucking another italian guy's wife. it was pretty bold, and very sexy. she had me locked in her tractor beam.

the two girls i was with, i swear they evaporated into plumes of smoke and suddenly sarah and i were engrossed in a conversation that was volleying back and forth between woody allen, bob dylan, her childhood, my childhood, more jokes [i've got a few in my repertoire], and god knows what else. talking to her was like looking into the future. soon enough we were kissing, right there at the bar, right in front of her friends and my co- workers.

the bar at spice was proving to be too small for the atomic energy we seemed to be getting off each other, however, and so we bar- hopped around the rest of that night, finally ending up back at her place. two days later i moved in.

our first few months together were insane. i'd take off whole weeks of work just to stay in bed with her. those first few months we vacationed in lake tahoe, and in new york city, and in asheville, north carolina. we did xmas at her parent's house in sacramento. overall, the sheer weight and fury of the chemical reactions transpiring would have flattened any other two people. call me hyperbolic and self- aggrandizing all you like. you weren't there.

sarah mattie schoff was born in a little town called adamant, vermont. she and her brother, jessup, who is two years her senior, were raised on a farm. the children of hippie parents. her upbringing couldn't have been any different from my suburban one [and probably many of yours]: they killed or picked all their own food, wore handmade clothes [sarah wore her brother's hand- me- downs], and they had to go to the bathroom either in an outhouse or in an old coffee can. their house was heated only by firewood, which they had to chop, and during the brutally cold vermont winters they slept in as many layers as it took to keep warm.

when sarah was thirteen the family moved to sacramento, california, where her father, charlie, was born and raised. i can remember sarah telling me the first time she saw central heat and air she was like, "why the hell have we been chopping wood this whole time?" she had several run- ins with the cool kids who took advantage of her naivete before settling in with a good group of folks, many of whom she keeps up with today [and did before facebook].

she studied hard in school and went to college at chico state and graduate school at the university of arizona, getting a master's degree in public health and nutrition. she did her residency in the cancer ward of a hospital. by age twenty- eight she had reached the top of her field, working just beneath the director of nutrition at one of the most prestigious and exclusive resort and health spas in the world. it was there that she met an australian billionaire that swept her off her feet. they were together for a few years, and married for a little while. the relationship was tumultuous at best. about nine months after they finalized their divorce we got together.

in the almost five years that we've been together [married almost two], we broke up twice. the first time was in the summer of 2005, just after our first anniversary. it was necessary but it was awful and i truly fell apart, like a paper mache doll that had been dropped into a bucket of rubbing alcohol and left to disintegrate. i spent my nights and all my money at bars around atlanta and when i'd get home i'd just collapse on the couch and stare cross- eyed at the television. hurricane katrina and the launch of stephen colbert's show "the colbert report" happened during this period of time. i was living with my brother in decatur and looking back it's remarkable both that he still speaks to me and that he didn't have me committed. i was a broken man. i was sure this time that i was going to die.

we got back together just as sarah was moving to san francisco and consequently i started planning on moving there myself. life was full of promise but there was something still rotten in the state of denmark. i just couldn't put my finger on it.

there were undeniable and seemingly intractable problems-- barriers to tranquility-- that we had. sarah was five years older than i was, for one. our age difference now is no big deal, hardly noticeable. but the difference between twenty- eight and thirty- three to us was huge and palpable. visceral.

that she was the former wife of a billionaire was another. heh heh you say but i was a struggling fucking bartender and she was like liz taylor. she wasn't an asshole with or about her money [she's in fact one of the most generous people i know] or anything like liz taylor, but the comparison is apt nonetheless. maybe you could say she was more like gwyneth paltrow or somebody like that. the point is she had money and i didn't and that fact was not lost on either of us.

caution to the wind and consequences be damned and all that i set off towards the sunset anyway, with my clothes and some humble possessions. i took up with her in her fourth floor pacific heights apartment and tried to find work. i finally got lucky with a temp agency [i have never been the most employable motherfucker] and started to put roots down. it was about this time that sarah broke up with me.

i was stunned. i had left my life and moved across the country for this woman. and she broke up with me. it was a feeling i can only equate with what bungee jumping or skydiving-- or jumping off a tall building or bridge to your death-- must feel like. [it should be noted that we've been back together and married for a while now and still i have panicky holy- shit- i'm- falling nightmares about her breaking up with me and kicking me out.]

i packed my meager possessions and left. i knew i couldn't stay in sf as i really didn't know anybody else, and i knew i didn't want to move back to atlanta as i really fucking hated it there. so i moved back to athens.

it was july in athens and i had sold my car when i'd moved out to sf, so i was walking everywhere and riding a bike. it was hell. turns out it's really really hot in georgia in the summertime. i was born there and had lived there all my life, so it wasn't like this was a galloping shock or anything. but still, the difference between georgia and sf in july in terms of weather is like the difference between venus and the moon.

i got through the sticky inferno of july and august, found work, reconnected with some friends [ck koch, elizabeth tanner], and made some new ones [lera lynn, michael boatright]. it was a good time. i had been through atlanta and sarah and everything and i was just going to go back to what i was comfortable with, what i knew, and more importantly what i knew i liked. only this time i wasn't going to be so mickey- rourke- in- "barfly" about it.

the biggest problem sarah and i ever had was me figuring out who i was. when we met i was a lovable and lovably irresponsible good time charlie twenty- six year old bartender. wanting to be with this woman, i tried to "grow up" real fast and "get a job" so that i could be someone that she could love and be with. there was nothing natural about the progression. it was more like going through the windshield after the impact of a car wreck.

and a fucking car wreck it was. and this went on for YEARS.

so i had decided that i was just going to be myself, and just be accountable to myself. i had a bike, a four hundred dollar a month rented house, a couple of good jobs, and inner peace. and then she called.

i couldn't believe it. it was clear that she missed me [it had been six months] and that she felt she had made a mistake-- did she want me back? i didn't know what i thought about that. of course i still loved her, and of course i was still in pain. was i ready to go through it all again?

i was. sarah got on a plane and came to athens for a week. that was december. in january i packed up my things once again and moved westward, once again. in nine months i had moved nine thousand miles-- once to sf, once back to georgia, and then back to sf.

it turns out sarah breaking up with me and me moving back to athens was the best thing that ever happened to us. it gave us time to breathe deeply and find ourselves again, decide what was important to each other as individuals, and just as importantly decide what was entirely unimportant to each other as individuals. i had spent so much time trying to "grow up" and "be normal" so that she could love me and be with me that i was blind to the fact that she DID love me and she WAS with me. and again, this went on for YEARS. it was only after i was back on my own and i realized that i was probably never going to "grow up" and "be normal" did i feel like the person that she fell in love with in the first place.

i'm not saying i was entirely at fault for our troubles. sarah certainly had her fair share of bullshit during our relationship, and it was during this same period of independence that she rectified a lot and grew and found a new level of understanding about herself, and about us.

we got engaged on january 2nd, 2007 and married on july 14th of the same year. it was a beautiful wedding, and we honeymooned in dublin, london, paris, and amsterdam for two weeks.

i have never met a more amazing woman. my wife is brilliant, and hilarious, and twisted, and beautiful, and graceful, and kind. she is a tremendous chef. she is fantastic in bed. she has a killer singing voice. she is a true artist when it come to interior design. she is like a mystical earth mother to all the children and animals that cross her path. she has the world's best smile. she helps me be a better human being. she never lets conventional wisdom, be it about a homeless person or a republican, cloud her judgment or allow her to act in error or in anything other than the best interest of humanity. she is my sunshine. she is the ceiling of the sistene chapel to me. she is my "white album." she has a great ass. she is the mama bunny.

this has very little to do with my morning jacket's live album "okonokos," other than that they are one of my favorite bands and that both their records "it still moves" and "z" were out during this period of time, and it's my opinion that all those songs sound better live.

"okonokos," additionally, is the best fucking live album EVER, and, to paraphrase steve earle, i will stand on "live at leeds" and "get yer ya- ya's out" and all the others' coffee table in my boots and say so.

24. iron & wine... "our endless numbered days."
25. eddie vedder... "into the wild."

these last two records really say where my head is at these days. i'm a little mellower, a little slower, a little more reserved... for the most part. like the old saying goes: "everything in moderation, including moderation."

"our endless numbered days" is a record about love and family. it's themes are evocative both of childhood and of the idea of home, of family, of domesticity. i wrote a song for my mother on my record that i hope lyrically doesn't lean too heavily on some of the songs included in this set.

and "into the wild" is just AMAZING, alone and especially as a companion piece to the movie. both works [the album and the movie] have had a huge influence on me in that i just so respect artists who are honest and have vision and the courage to go after those visions, to try to make them materialize. that's what i've tried to do, both with my music and with this essay. thanks for being a part of it.


20 February 2009

couldn't agree with this more...

[from the ny times...]

No Lunch Left Behind

Berkeley, Calif.

THIS new era of government bailouts and widespread concern over wasteful spending offers an opportunity to take a hard look at the National School Lunch Program. Launched in 1946 as a public safety net, it has turned out to be a poor investment. It should be redesigned to make our children healthier.

Under the program, the United States Department of Agriculture gives public schools cash for every meal they serve — $2.57 for a free lunch, $2.17 for a reduced-price lunch and 24 cents for a paid lunch. In 2007, the program cost around $9 billion, a figure widely acknowledged as inadequate to cover food costs. But what most people don’t realize is that very little of this money even goes toward food. Schools have to use it to pay for everything from custodial services to heating in the cafeteria.

On top of these reimbursements, schools are entitled to receive commodity foods that are valued at a little over 20 cents per meal. The long list of options includes high-fat, low-grade meats and cheeses and processed foods like chicken nuggets and pizza. Many of the items selected are ready to be thawed, heated or just unwrapped — a necessity for schools without kitchens. Schools also get periodic, additional “bonus” commodities from the U.S.D.A., which pays good money for what are essentially leftovers from big American food producers.

When school districts allow fast-food snacks in the lunchroom they provoke widespread ire, and rightfully so. But food distributed by the National School Lunch Program contains some of the same ingredients found in fast food, and the resulting meals routinely fail to meet basic nutritional standards. Yet this is how the government continues to “help” feed millions of American schoolchildren, a great many of them from low-income households.

Some Americans are demanding better. Parent advocacy groups like Better School Food have rejected the National School Lunch Program and have turned instead to local farmers for fresh alternatives. Amid steep budgetary challenges, these community-supported coalitions are demonstrating that schools can be the masters of their own menus. Schools here in Berkeley, for example, continue to use U.S.D.A. commodities, but cook food from scratch and have added organic fruits and vegetables from area farms. They have cut costs by adopting more efficient accounting software and smart-bulk policies (like choosing milk dispensers over individual cartons), and by working with farmers to identify crops that they can grow in volume and sell for reasonable prices.

Many nutrition experts believe that it is possible to fix the National School Lunch Program by throwing a little more money at it. But without healthy food (and cooks and kitchens to prepare it), increased financing will only create a larger junk-food distribution system. We need to scrap the current system and start from scratch. Washington needs to give schools enough money to cook and serve unprocessed foods that are produced without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. When possible, these foods should be locally grown.

How much would it cost to feed 30 million American schoolchildren a wholesome meal? It could be done for about $5 per child, or roughly $27 billion a year, plus a one-time investment in real kitchens. Yes, that sounds expensive. But a healthy school lunch program would bring long-term savings and benefits in the areas of hunger, children’s health and dietary habits, food safety (contaminated peanuts have recently found their way into school lunches), environmental preservation and energy conservation.

The Agriculture Department will have to do its part, by making good on its fledgling commitment to back environmentally sound farming practices and by realizing a separate program to deliver food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, from farms to schools. It will also need to provide adequate support for kitchens and healthy meal planning. Congress has an opportunity to accomplish some of these goals when it takes up the Child Nutrition and Women Infants and Children Reauthorization Act, which is set to expire in September.

But the Department of Education should take some initiative, too. After all, eating well requires education. We can teach students to choose good food and to understand how their choices affect their health and the environment. The new school lunch program should be partly financed by the Department of Education, and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, should oversee it. Vice President Joseph Biden should also come to the table by making school lunch a priority of his White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families.

Every public school child in America deserves a healthful and delicious lunch that is prepared with fresh ingredients. Cash-strapped parents should be able to rely on the government to contribute to their children’s physical well-being, not to the continued spread of youth obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other diet-related problems. Let’s prove that there is such a thing as a good, free lunch.

Alice Waters is the president of The Chez Panisse Foundation. Katrina Heron is a director of the foundation and a co-producer of civileats.com.


17 February 2009

regarding foie gras...

[from the village voice...]

Is Foie Gras Torture?

By Sarah DiGregorio

It's very hard to watch the video about foie gras from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and not conclude that you should lay off fatty liver.

You're shown a disheveled duck squeezed into a cage so small that the bird can't open its wings. Disturbingly, it rocks back and forth. You then see an enormous barn full of birds, all of them immobilized in tiny cages. There are graphic shots of birds' festering open sores with rats nibbling at them, some that are dying slowly, and some with holes punched through their necks. We learn that foie gras production has been banned in the United Kingdom, Israel, and Switzerland.

The Humane Society and the ASPCA have also joined PETA to oppose foie gras. They object to the force-feeding process, called "gavage," which entails putting a metal tube down a duck's throat to deliver a large amount of corn-based food that causes the liver to enlarge. The process, animal rights groups say, causes trauma to the duck's esophagus and beak. Also, they say, the enlargement of the liver—from six to 10 times the normal size—causes the ducks to become deathly ill, struggle to walk and breathe, and vomit up undigested food. At the website of the humane group Farm Sanctuary, a photograph of a healthy, fluffy white duck rescued from a foie gras farm is contrasted with a shot of two ducks in tiny cages, both covered with their own yellow vomit.

"I am disturbed by the rough handling that creates myriad lesions—fractured limbs and infections of their feet," says Dr. Holly Cheever, vice president of the New York Humane Society, a veterinarian, and an occasional consultant to PETA. "Pneumonia and esophageal scarring, fungal and bacterial infections, and, in rare cases, the rupture of the liver from excess pressure on a badly swollen organ—not to mention the semi-comatose and seizuring states I have seen in the end stages as the liver fails and the brain can no longer function . . . yet, the feeder will grab a seizuring or semi-comatose bird and force the tube down to continue the process of liver engorgement. Surely you do not need a veterinary affidavit to label this as cruel?" Cheever says that the esophagi are often "blown open" and that the fattened liver becomes profoundly diseased, which causes the birds to die a slow death, beset with seizures and unable to walk.

Groups that oppose the production of foie gras have pushed for city and state bans on the product, sometimes with success, as in California, and sometimes with temporary success, as in Chicago. Meanwhile, various groups continue to hold demonstrations outside restaurants that serve the product, and the Humane Society has brought lawsuits against a local farm.

After watching the gruesome images, it's not hard to understand the legislative concern. No one wants tortured ducks on their watch. After all, we adore ducks—Daffy, Donald, even the Aflac duck—because we find them funny and appealing, much more so than chickens or turkeys.

However, in some cases, legislators have reversed course. In 2007, New York State Assemblyman Michael Benjamin withdrew his name from a proposed bill banning foie gras production in the state after he visited the biggest foie gras farm in the country, Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

What did he see there? Fortunately, Hudson Valley is only about two hours from the city. I figured the only way to know for sure whether foie gras equals torture was to go see it produced for myself. I called a contact at the gourmet food company D'Artagnan, which works closely with Hudson Valley, and asked if I could look around. I'd want to see the force-feeding. And the slaughter. And bring a photographer.

"No problem," came the reply.

In the United States, foie gras production is tiny compared to other animal husbandry. There are four American foie gras farms, and all raise ducks rather than geese, selling not only livers but also breast and leg meat, sausages made with scraps, and down from the feathers. Hudson Valley offers duck testicles and duck tongues, too.

And although Hudson Valley is the biggest foie gras producer in the country, processing 4,000 to 6,000 ducks a week, it raises birds by the traditional model, instead of the industrial one. That means that everything—from the egg hatching to the 21-day force-feeding period and the slaughter—happens on the same farm, tended to by the same workers. So I'd be able to see it all.

When I told Cheever that I was visiting Hudson Valley, she said that I'd be witnessing an elaborate cover-up. "With 150 people living on-site, they can cherry-pick out the disastrously sick ducks," she said. She also didn't believe that the farm force-feeds for only 21 days before slaughtering the ducks. "By the end of the third to fourth weeks, their breathing is strained and their limbs may be lame from infection and injury or fractures, but YOU will not see those birds," she wrote to me in an e-mail.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras is not actually in the Hudson Valley, but in a sparsely populated, rather desolate town called Ferndale in the Catskills region. First stop was the home of Marcus Henley, the farm manager at Hudson Valley, who lives with his wife, Sohnnie (pronounced "Shaun-ie"), on 12 acres, with a black cat, a canary, and some koi. Both are from Arkansas. Henley studied science in college, served in the Army, and then started managing poultry farms in 1983. He came to Hudson Valley in 2001.

On their kitchen table, they'd laid out a spread of products from the farm. There was duck confit, smoked duck breast, deviled duck eggs, duck prosciutto, torchon of foie gras, and foie gras butter—a heart-stopping concoction of rendered foie gras fat and black truffles. The Henleys are 95 percent vegetarian, for health reasons, so this meal was unusual for them.

Henley shrugged when I asked him about the first time he had tried the product. "A boy from Arkansas doesn't get a lot of chance to eat foie gras," he said. I told him that I'd spoken with Cheever, and that she insisted I would not be allowed to see the ducks in the later stages of force-feeding and that the sick ducks would have been removed so I couldn't see them. He laughed. "It's not necessary to do that," he said. "Anyone can come anytime, unannounced. But she says we lie, that we're hiding a horror chamber. We have national-level vets come visit—we have journalists and chefs. How am I going to trick these people?"

Henley assured me that the next morning, when I visited the farm, I'd be able to see what was behind every door. "And there is every possibility that, at some point, we will see a dead duck," he cautioned. The farm has a mortality rate of about 5 percent (from when they're hatched to when they reach 15 weeks, which is when they're slaughtered), so some animals do die along the way—as they do at every farm.

I'm no bird expert, so that night at the hotel, I made a list of the criteria that Dr. Temple Grandin had given me in a phone interview. Grandin is a universally respected animal-welfare expert whose opinions are esteemed by groups as radically far apart as McDonald's and PETA. Grandin cautioned that she hadn't been to a foie gras farm herself, but she would say that "ducks and geese will do a certain amount of gorging—that's natural." She explained that the birds prepare for migration by storing fat in their livers and beneath their skin. "An enlarged liver is not necessarily sick, but it's a matter of how far you push it. Are you overloading the birds' biology to the point where it falls apart? Is the duck so big and distorted that it can hardly walk?" She mentioned that birds do not have a gag reflex as humans do, but that the handlers must be careful not to hurt the birds' esophagi with the feeding tube.

Check for bright eyes, clean feathers, foot conditions, and the level of the smell of ammonia in the barn, she said. The birds won't be hungry, so they wouldn't flock to the feeders, but I should watch to see if they tolerate the feeding or try to get away. And if they do show aversion, I should try to figure out if it's because they don't want to be handled or don't want to be fed.

Both Grandin and Cheever agreed that it was important that I see the ducks in the later stages of force-feeding—if any ducks were sick, it would be these. But Cheever was convinced that the farm wouldn't show me those birds.

The next morning, I drove down the narrow road surrounded on either side with fields blanketed in snow and lit by a yellow moon about to set. The farm was at the end of the road, made up of long, low buildings constructed of lumber and corrugated steel. The structures looked out of date, having been built in the 1950s, but Izzy Yanay, the Israeli-born owner of the farm, said he's unable to put money into improvements until he's free from legal bills, the result of ongoing lawsuits from the Humane Society.

We met up with Henley and started to look around. The first thing I noticed was the lack of tiny cages. Hudson Valley raises its ducks in free-feeding barns until they're 12 weeks old. After that, the birds are moved to the force-feeding barns, but instead of being put into individual cages, they're housed in relatively spacious, open-topped group pens about the size of an office cubicle. In fact, none of the four foie gras farms in the United States currently uses the individual cages that have shown up in industrial farms in Canada and France. Hudson Valley's products are certified "cage-free."

Henley then took me to watch the oldest ducks get loaded into a rolling cart bound for the slaughter room. They waddled to the front of their pens and regarded us curiously. The birds that finished their feeding regime yesterday were the ones being loaded up for the big goodbye, while the others, who were on day 21 that day, were being fed.

The room is lined with four rows of pens that run lengthwise down the barn. There were 11 ducks in each four-by-six-foot pen, which are raised about a foot off the ground; wire mesh forms the floors of the pens, so that duck waste can fall through it into the channel beneath. The place smelled funky, and faintly of ammonia, but not overwhelmingly so. So far, the sights could not have been more different from the horrifying images I'd seen on the Internet.

Henley said that he'd been making some changes on the farm with the help of animal-welfare consultants, including Dr. Ericka Voogd (a colleague of Grandin's) and Dr. Tirath Sandhu, an avian scientist who is retired from the Cornell Veterinary School. One of the alterations could be found in the nurseries, our next stop.

This nursery held four-day-old chicks and smelled woodsy from the fluffy sawdust bedding covering the floor. The flock of yellow babies cheeped and toddled around the warm room. Until recently, the chicks lived on just one level of sawdust, but moisture from their drinking water would drip down into the bedding. At the prompting of the welfare consultants, the farm installed a wire-mesh ramp on one side of the room, leading up to a level wire-mesh floor, where the water nipples are now located. Moisture drips down through the mesh, and the bedding stays dry. Plus, said Henley, "it adds a level of complexity to their environment."

Henley then took us through a door into a similar room, which held nine-week-olds that looked nearly full-grown. The mass of feathers moved as one, scampering away from us as we entered the room. "You have to move slowly, or they'll stampede," Henley told us. We walked slowly out into the center of the room, and it was like parting the sea—but a sea of ducks.

Once the birds hit 12 weeks, they're moved from the growing areas—where they waddle around freely and have windows for natural light—to the group pens, where the 21-day force-feeding begins and the room is lit artificially. (It does seem like a step down in living arrangements.)

We headed back to the buildings where the feeding was taking place. A worker climbed into the pen with a stool and a wooden divider. (Each worker has a group of 320 to 350 ducks that he or she feeds every day during the 21-day regimen; workers whose ducks have low mortality rates and high-quality livers get bonuses.) A tube with a funnel at the top was strung from a wire above, and the worker slid it along into the pen she was about to work in. The birds clustered on one side of the pen, but didn't show nearly as much aversion to humans as the nine-week-olds we had just seen did—the older ducks seemed less alarmed by humans, which is hard to reconcile with if they were being tortured.

The woman sat on the stool, put the wooden divider in the middle of the pen, and reached for the first bird. She positioned the bird's body under her leg, eased the tube down the bird's throat, and poured a cupful of feed into the funnel above. A rotating auger spins in the funnel to make sure all of it goes down the pipe, but the food is delivered by gravity. The birds did not relish being grabbed, but the actual process with the tube didn't seem to bother them much. They sat with the tube down their throat for a very short period of time—about 10 to 15 seconds—without struggling or showing sign of distress. The whole process—pick up, position, feed, and release—took about 30 seconds. I watched the birds closely as they walked away from the feeding. Each waddled calmly away, looking unfazed: no breathing problems, no vomiting, and no trouble walking. Their feathers were fairly clean, and I didn't see any lesions on their feet or bodies.

But these ducks were only on their 12th day of force-feeding, so I asked to see the ducks on their 21st day again—this time, to pay more attention to the details of the feeding. We went back up to the area where we had started from. Some of the cages that were full when we saw them earlier were now half-empty, because some ducks actually go to slaughter earlier than the 22nd day. The feeder feels the base of each duck's esophagus (sometimes called a "pseudo-crop"), where feed is held that has yet to be digested. Birds that haven't digested the last feeding are marked with blue chalk and not fed. If they still haven't digested by the next feeding, they're not fed yet again and are marked with pink chalk and taken with the next batch to be slaughtered.

The birds on their 21st day of feeding appeared very much like the ones at 12 days, but were fatter and had dirtier feathers. The birds are bathed on the second and 10th days of feeding, but Henley said the farm was working with its animal-welfare consultants to find a way to keep the birds' feathers cleaner and thus prevent sores. These birds' reactions to the force-feeding were indistinguishable from those of the 12th-day birds. I looked for the signs that I'd been told would show me that the birds were desperately ill, but these birds, on their 21st day, were not having trouble walking or breathing, they weren't having seizures, and they weren't comatose.

I was at the farm for five hours, all told. I saw thousands of ducks, but not a drop of duck vomit. I didn't see an animal that was having a hard time breathing or walking, or a duck with a bloodied beak or blown-open esophagus. I did see one dead duck. And now I was going to see many more, as I went to the area where they are slaughtered.

Just before they are killed, the birds are hung upside-down (the most common poultry-slaughtering method) and hitched to a moving belt. A breast rub—installed at the suggestion of the animal-welfare consultants—stabilizes the upside-down birds and keeps them calm. Then they're knocked unconscious by a dip in electrified water, and, finally, a man in a yellow rubber suit uses a three-inch knife to make a deep cut in their necks. It all happens very quickly. A stainless-steel tub collects the crimson blood. It's not pleasant, but not as difficult to watch as you might think. And if I can't deal with it, I shouldn't be eating meat.

Soon afterward, I remembered to ask to see the esophagi removed from the slaughtered birds so I could check if they'd been damaged. I was taken past the workers slicing off the garnet breasts and legs and weighing cream-colored livers, and back into the slaughtering room. One worker was slicing off the feet, heads, and necks of the just-plucked ducks and placing those bits into a large garbage bin.

Rick Bishop, Hudson Valley's marketing director, plunged his bare hand into the bin and brought up a floppy, yellowish tube. It was stretchy, smooth, glossy, and thick. He turned part of it inside out, and I looked for abrasions, punctures, and bruises—anything that a layperson could identify as a sign that this esophagus had lived a tortured life. Nothing. I looked at several more esophagi plucked randomly from the bin, and all of them were pale pinkish-yellow and intact—no wounds, no blood, and no bruises or scrapes.

After the inspection, I sat down with Yanay, the owner, in his office. It didn't take much to set him off—animal activists are driving him nuts.

"You say I'm torturing ducks? Well, let's go and see. I invite the whole world to come and see," he said, sounding upset.

So where are the terrible images coming from? Some are from industrial farms in France, where individual cages are common. But Yanay blames bad farm management, not foie gras production itself. "Rats eating ducks?" he said. "You have a rat problem!"

One form of good management, Yanay added, is having each worker responsible for a particular group of ducks. They can track mortality and injuries for each worker—and workers who don't measure up are fired.

Yanay said that his farm is under a microscope, and his legal costs this month were $50,000. The Humane Society has hit the farm with several unsuccessful lawsuits. The latest one—which the New York Supreme Court dismissed, but is now in appeal—accuses the farm (and the New York State Department of Agriculture) of selling an adulterated food product, because, the plaintiffs say, the livers of force-fed ducks are diseased.

The notion that foie gras is diseased liver is often cited by opponents of the food. Cheever's e-mail to me described how, in the later stages of force-feeding, "air sac and lung volumes are compromised, and they begin to show metabolic illness from liver function impairment."

But Dr. Jaime Ruiz, director of Cornell's duck-research laboratory (and who was at pains to note that he did not support or oppose foie gras production) told me, "The farmers that I know here in New York and France handle the birds carefully, not feeding them above the physiological limits of the birds." He also said that he did not think that force-feeding, done correctly, would cause pain and that he does not consider an enlarged liver to be diseased.

I also called Dr. Sandhu, the retired avian scientist who consults with Hudson Valley Foie Gras on animal welfare. "I have been working with ducks all my life, for 30 years," he said. "[Foie gras] is not a disease. It has been shown by experiments that in birds with fatty livers, if you stop force-feeding, the liver comes back to a normal status." I asked him if the liver in foie gras birds was able to function. "Yes," he said. "It still functions normally and removes toxins. The bird is still standing; it is not sitting down. The weight of the liver is not causing the birds to collapse—they are walking and interacting with other birds."

Animal rights' groups often cite a 1998 report on foie gras from the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare. The 93-page report, though eventually concluding that "force-feeding, as currently practiced, is detrimental to the welfare of birds," is not exactly the slam dunk for animal rights' groups that I had been led to believe.

The report does not propose ending foie gras production, but instead puts forth recommendations for improving the way it's done. In fact, a part of the last section reads, "Since foie gras needs to be produced in order to satisfy the consumers' demand, it is important to produce it in conditions that are acceptable from the welfare viewpoint." The committee's suggestions include making sure that the liver size isn't causing distress to the animal, properly training all persons in charge of the birds, and banning the use of small, individual cages.

Meanwhile, the debate is not a theoretical problem for Knife + Fork, a small restaurant on the Lower East Side. Chef and owner Damien Brassel serves foie gras from the Hudson Valley farm, and he's convinced that the product is humane. "They go out of their way to show everyone exactly how it's done," he says, and suggests that the protesters go see it for themselves. Instead, the protesters have been outside his restaurant on the weekends, chanting things like, "Damien Brassel: How many geese have you tortured today?" The other night, Brassel went out to offer them some foie gras, which did not amuse them. "I take it personally," he says. "They're standing out there in leather jackets and Ugg boots." But the protesters' efforts are actually causing Brassel to sell more foie gras—customers have been requesting it, and he's added it to his tasting menu.

For now, protesters haven't been showing up outside Brassel's apartment or threatening his customers. But, as Mark Caro recounts in his book The Foie Gras Wars, due out in March, these tactics have recently been used by activists in Philadelphia. In one case, the general manager of a restaurant recalled that a protester screamed at a customer, "You should die of cancer!" and another restaurateur recounted that protesters would yell, "We know where you live, and we're gonna get you!" Sometimes, the protesters would actually show up in the neighborhood, or a child would come home saying that someone told her that her father murders ducks.

Why are activists so devoted to this issue? Most of the organizations against foie gras also advocate vegetarianism or veganism. If you generally oppose the manipulation of animals for food, you're going to oppose foie gras all the more, because the production does manipulate the animal more than usual. Manipulation does not necessarily equal abuse, though. But it's manipulation of a different sort that is at work in the videos I watched before my Hudson Valley visit. Those images are not representative of the reality at the nation's largest foie gras farm.

The fact that foie gras is delicious is nice, but it is also besides the point. If hanging puppies by their ears and cutting off their paws produced the most fantastic meat imaginable, I wouldn't eat it and neither would you. Just because we eat animals doesn't mean that we don't draw lines about the welfare of the animals we're going to eat. I support humanely raised (not penned) veal, and I buy cage-free eggs. I don't think it's OK to cut the fin off a shark and throw it back into the water. Personally, I would avoid foie gras from the producers in France and Canada that use individual cages. The fact that some industrial farms elsewhere are making foie gras in inhumane ways doesn't mean that all foie gras production is inhumane. You can buy humanely raised chicken, or you can buy chicken that's had a nasty, brutal life. The same goes for foie gras.

If I had seen with my own eyes that Hudson Valley produced foie gras by abusing ducks, this article would have turned out very differently. But that just wasn't the case.