Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Food Deserts and Fortifications


A paper in The International Journal of Health Geographics discusses the use of GIS to track the evolution of urban "food deserts":

The findings indicate that residents of inner-city neighbourhoods of low socioeconomic status have the poorest access to supermarkets. Furthermore, spatial inequalities in access to supermarkets have increased over time, particularly in the inner-city neighbourhoods of Central and East London, where distinct urban food deserts now exist.
The problem of spatial inequalities isn't confined to southern Ontario, needless to say. Cervantes goes so far as to suggest that the current food shortage deserves some of the attention that's currently being given to lapel pins and bowling scores:
This is not a temporary problem. It's a long-term, secular (as the economists say) trend. The planet is running out of stuff -- water, land, topsoil, petroleum, atmosphere.
In America, at least, higher food prices may have some connection with the crackdown on immigrant workers, as well as hard-right hysteria over the AgJOBS Act. Still, this is the sort of situation that can trigger mass migration and civil unrest, making border security -- regional, national and local -- more important than ever.

The $20 million prototype for the virtual fence near Tucson may've been scrapped -- along with the law it was supposed to protect and represent -- but the outlook for solid walls and barriers is very promising indeed, especially when it comes to protecting microborders. Whether you're planning "a gated community or an insurgent holding pen," or some convenient amalgam of the two, blast walls are de rigeur in the modern City of Refuge (which will ideally protect us not only from being punished for unintentional killing, but also from being accused of it).

Unfortunately, simply building walls isn't enough to protect yourself from the tired, and the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. You also have to make sure that no one gets around, under, or over them. In that regard, knowledge is power, especially when it confirms what you already believe.
The Drug Enforcement Agency wants to find a small business with a Top Secret security clearance that can snoop on Spanish language conversations transmitted over foreign communications systems and "instantaneously" translate those conversations from Spanish into English....

The translation company would be expected to create online records of "complex foreign voice radio transmissions containing technical terminology, advanced grammar and syntax, and colloquial conversational forms"....
The problem is, when people know they're being overheard, they can use codes, or intentionally spread misinformation, or simply agree to meet up in person. That's why DARPA's Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (HI-MEMS) is so exciting:
These half-bug, half-chip creations — DARPA calls them "insect cyborgs" — would be ideal for surveillance missions, the agency says in a brief description on its website.

Scientist Amit Lal and his team insert mechanical components into baby bugs during "the caterpillar and the pupae stages," which would then allow the adult bugs to be deployed to do the Pentagon's bidding.
The article ends with a joke that has considerably more than a grain of truth to it:
Presumably, enemy arsenals will soon be well-stocked with Raid.
It's easy to imagine pesticides being the first line of defense against these cyber insects, regardless of any collateral damage to "useful" species; one thing DARPA will probably want to do is create hybrids that are immune to common pesticides (particularly in Latin America, where a much wider range of chemicals is used).

At that point, I suppose evildoers would have to clear their confidential meeting places with flamethrowers, or perhaps jamming signals. There's also the possibility that natural predators -- for lack of a better term -- will eat some of these semi-mechanical bugs; they should probably be equipped to deliver an electric shock, or a squirt of some noxious liquid, that'll discourage hungry birds and bats.

Surely none of these problems is insurmountable, given what's at stake in a world that's low on resources (or finds it impractical to distribute them equitably, which amounts to the pretty much the same thing).

In completely unrelated news, Bruce Schneier asks a serious question, and provides a serious answer:
[G]iven a security patch, can you automatically reverse-engineer the security vulnerability that is being patched and create exploit code to exploit it?

Turns out you can.
Frightening, isn't it? There oughta be a law.

(Illustration from The War Illustrated, April 3 1915.)

7 comments:

Halfdan said...

Isn't it funny how people are freaking out about food supplies but no one mentions all the food Americans throw away on a daily basis?

Tlazolteotl said...

they should probably be equipped to deliver an electric shock, or a squirt of some noxious liquid, that'll discourage hungry birds and bats.

If the units are cheap enough, they won't bother...too bad for the birds and bats, alas.

Phila said...

Isn't it funny how people are freaking out about food supplies but no one mentions all the food Americans throw away on a daily basis?

Well, that would involve Blaming America First. Which is forbidden somewhere in the Bible, IIRC.

roger said...

i seem to recall that safeway was found to have higher prices in poorer neighborhoods in oakland than in more affluent areas.

Woody (Tokin' Lib'rul/Rogue Scholar & O'erall Helluvafella!) said...

roger--
yup...higher prices and lower quality stocks...

phila, you almost never fail to alleviate any vagrant shreds of inadvertent optimism which might attend a lovely spring day in el Valle Medio de Rio Grande del Norte...

Phila said...

phila, you almost never fail to alleviate any vagrant shreds of inadvertent optimism which might attend a lovely spring day in el Valle Medio de Rio Grande del Norte...

What can I say? It's a gift.

Burning Zozobra really should've made you immune, though....

Interrobang said...

London, Ontario, huh? That's my hometown. I mean, I live here, right now. I can see why it would be atypical for a Canadian city -- our transit sucks, comparatively speaking; the city isn't really a city as most people would understand it, but rather a loosely-linked congeries of suburban-like areas spread over a vast distance and incorporated into a single municipality; there's an appalling amount of single-use development here (entire neighbourhoods with nothing zoned anything but residential, entire neighbourhoods with no non-residential zoning, all of which is low-density housing, very little mixed-income housing), and most of the city is built in "car scale" as opposed to "human scale." (That is, even if you can get somewhere on the bus, chances are, you're going to have to walk quite a distance to get from the bus stop to where you're actually going because everything's so spread out and surrounded with pristine lagoons of lined asphalt.)

It's a hard city in which to be low-income; I know, because I've been doing it for ten years or so. It's not quite the same as Toronto, which is hard because it's so expensive. London is hard because you really might as well not exist, and not only will most of the people try their damndest to unsee you, the landscape will as well -- noplace much to go if you don't have money, nothing much to do if you don't have money, et cetera.