So, I might be starting my stint as an intern at a local refugee resettlement agency here. After going through the (often-times very long) process of being accepted as a refugee, many people finally find themselves resettling in the Phoenix area. When they first arrive, they get a sparse bit of help directly from the federal government and they begin a process with each state to put them on track to a new life. My task will be to make sure they know the ins and outs of life around these parts.

Earlier this week I sat in on an orientation which including getting people up to speed. The refugees in the room had almost all just arrived within the past week, and many were just beginning to figure things out. Wednesday and Friday I sat in on another, smaller orientation where the group learned about the services they are receiving from the state of Arizona. Before long, I’ll be leading similar orientations to help clients get a feel for what’s going on around them and teaching about state services, mass transit, home rental policies, the justice system, and laws.


A Kitchen with a Different Stripe

Here's the wall when we moved in

This year we’ve been beginning a lot of projects around the house. The completion of the bedroom painting is nigh, and we’ve got a few pieces of furniture in the living room. While some projects have hit hiccups or delays, the kitchen has been moving rather quickly. And so we begin the craftier part of this blog.

Our kitchen doesn’t have much to it, but it’s got a bit of depth. The kitchen goes back, flanked by cabinets and appliances, to a dark purple wall that hangs in the dark under a low ceiling. It’s dark. We’ve been debating what exactly to do with it for quite some time, and finally settled on a novel idea (Kim’s idea, of course): stripes. But to spice it up, we did stripes of the same color instead of the usual dichromatic compliments. Well, almost. We decided to take one color we liked and make alternating stripes of glossy and matte paint. First we primed, and then we scratched our heads at how to make stripes.

I started by painting the heck out of the to-be-matte sections. A few coats of eggshell did the trick. But then, a conundrum. By the way – inexpensive laser levels do not do the trick. We tried that and ended up with slight slants down or faint angles up – and two pinholes in the wall. Not good.

Eventually, Kim cut out some card stock and we had measuring tools that helped keep the tape level. Once the tape was lined up for equal-width beauty we touched a bit more eggshell along the tape to lock in any seepage. It allowed for straighter lines on the finished product, which was wonderful. But before we could get to the finished product, it was glossy time.

Now, the kitchen ceiling is almost finished (it didn’t match the rest of the house’s ceiling, inexplicably), but the kitchen is looking pretty snazzy with this face lift already. Just the paint itself brightens the deeps of the kitchen a lot, not to mention we replaced the original lamp with a little bit of track lighting. The difference between the gloss and the eggshell is more stark than I imagined, but I think it was for the better. We’ve got a bit more to do before we declare the room finished or redone, but it’s definitely on the way there.

Using Maps to Track the LRA

You might be aware that I have a love-hate relationship with trendy activism/development. I’ve always been interested in development, but I’ve been slowly opening my eyes a little more to what actually works and what kinda works and what is actually detrimental. My first foray into what we’ll call “sexy development” was Invisible Children, as most of you know. It’s a pretty sizable tag over on the right, and I was a founding member of the Schools for Schools club at ASU. My relationship with IC has been a close one – it means a lot to me and I care about the crisis in central Africa a lot. To me, IC was the amazing development group that was doing things I had never heard of.

As I grew academically and otherwise, I learned more about what’s happening on the ground in places like Uganda. I realized that lending circles have been going on everywhere for years. I figured out the economics of why in-kind donations are detrimental. I stared the conflict mineral movement in the eye and realized what it’s really done in the DRC. Finally, I realized that IC here and IC in Gulu are very different. Here, it’s the trendy commercial non-profit with the big vans and the MTV-esque movies that started small and grew huge raising money to help people. In Uganda, IC was the small group of naive kids that tried to pioneer forth and finally did what everybody else was doing.

But something happened recently that I thought set IC apart from some of the other trendy activists, and that’s the LRA Crisis Tracker. Invisible Children and Resolve have been working for almost a year to set up radio towers throughout the DRC to establish warning systems and to better track LRA activity. Crisis mapping has become a pretty big field recently, and its use in this region has the potential to be of tremendous help. The information on the mapping tool comes from a variety of sources, including human rights NGOs and journalist reports, and is being updated constantly to give an accurate account of LRA activity and displacement migration. If you’re interested in the LRA or crisis-mapping you should check out the site and peruse the methodology book.

Screen cap of northeastern DRC from today.

Ethical Eating, Or How I Tried to Continue Eating Everything Without Remorse

When it comes to types of diet, I have always been firmly in the omnivore bracket. I have had plenty of friends that run the spectrum of vegetarianism for a variety of health and ethical reasons, but I haven’t really changed much. Taste-wise, I like meat too much and vegetables too little. Health-wise, I still have a hearty metabolism and I keep semi-fit. Ethics-wise, it gets a little fuzzy. I’ll get to a point soon, I promise, but for years I have been aware of the lack of humane treatment of livestock in the farming industry. Kim and I have had plenty of conversations about how meat is made and what kind of food we should actually eat.

I don’t think I’m very close to becoming a vegetarian, but if I had the option I would definitely become an ethical omnivore. This would mean, of course, that I only supported the ethical treatment and humane slaughter of animals. If you raise your cows living in their own waste and you cram chickens into poorly ventilated barn houses, you wouldn’t be seeing my money. If you let your livestock roam freely and killed them humanely, I’d be a consumer. While some think that this doesn’t mean much because I’m still eating a murdered animal, I’ve been a firm believer of nature’s gracing of humans with the means to be omnivores and I know that plants strive to survive just as much as animals even if they don’t have faces. What I’m not a firm believer in is mistreating animals just because you can or just because you’re going to eat them anyways. And so I look to more ethical eating and I find relatively little satisfaction because free range, come to find, means little.

A rigid search for the standards for free-range is relatively fruitless. The term, historically at least, refers to ranchers who allowed their herds to wander without fences – freely. As far as the food industry is concerned, it used to mean farms that kept livestock outside and able to move and perform natural acts – like perching, dust bathing, the like – until it was time for slaughter. But when it comes to the food I eat, what does free-range mean? According to the USDA, it doesn’t really mean much. Evidence A is a pdf with the specifics of a law pertaining to animal welfare:

§ 205.239 Livestock living conditions.

(a) The producer of an organic livestock operation must establish and maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including: (1) Access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of production, the climate, and the environment;

Concerning the National Organic Standards, the USDA had faced the problem of defining what it meant to have “access to the outdoors,” and in a memo in 2002 [PDF] tried and failed to give it an adequate definition:

Access to the outdoors simply means that a producer must provide livestock with an opportunity to exit any barn or other enclosed structure. Access to the outdoors does not require a producer to comply with a specific space or stocking rate requirement. Neither does the requirement mandate that an entire herd or flock have access to the outdoors at any one time nor does the requirement supercede the producer’s responsibility for providing living conditions that accommodate livestock health, safety or well-being.

In other words, “access to the outdoors” means leaving a door open. For some farms, this means a barn house with poor ventilation and no light and packed with chickens wandering in their own filth might have a minuscule enclosed patio with a little bit of sun. And so I continued my search and finally found the words “free-range.” I was exhilarated! It was exactly what I had been looking for all along: the Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms page. That must have a thorough definition of what it means when I buy something that has a “free-range” sticker on it!

Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

Thanks, Government.

Meanwhile, Back at the Blog…

I have been suffering from a bit of writer’s block on this side of the blogging. Or, rather, my life has bit at a bit of a standstill so there is less about which to blog. One thing this blog has been doing, though, is getting a facelift. Backslash Scott Thoughts is almost two whole years old, and it’s been the same template (even the widgets) since day one. Over the last week or so I’ve been revamping the whole thing, top down. In addition to the cosmetic change here, I’ve been blogging at the history blog (which is now available via a handy dandy link up top) about gerrymandering, Ugandan rebels, the Bill of Rights, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Ralph Nader.

But I am doing more than just blogging at home. We’ve been continuing to renovate the house (on which there is a pending post) and I’m going to hopefully begin volunteering with a refugee group soon, something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years now. I’m also not quite finished with the blog makeover, so I’ll continue working on that. Ideally, you will be aghast at all of the amazing things I post in the next few weeks. Until then, enjoy the list of special ingredients.