Peak History

historyWe live in a country whose citizens — make that residents — are increasingly averse to complicated thought, indifferent to veracity, and reductionist in their thinking (every thing and every thought and every person is and must be either one kind of thing, or another kind of thing, no additional choices allowed). In such a country history has few friends.

History is too hard. You have to find out what happened, and then you have to figure out the context of the events — what led up to them and what followed — so you can tease out their significance for your time and place, and even after doing all that it may not be clear. Far easier to decide first what history means, and look up a few facts to “prove” it. Works for Fox News. And what they have made of journalism, we are making of history. Continue reading

The SNAP of Doom

Famine, as visualized by sculptor Rowan Gillespie on Custom House Quay in Dublin, Ireland. Famine is what hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham is really talking about in his latest investor letter. (Photo by William Murphy/Flickr)

Famine, as visualized by sculptor Rowan Gillespie on Custom House Quay in Dublin, Ireland. Famine is what the food stamp program prevents. And the food stamp program is showing signs of breaking down. (Photo by William Murphy/Flickr)

There are stories that confirm our worries that the whole industrial system is about to come apart; and then there are stories that scare the crap out of us because they indicate that the collapse is ongoing and accelerating. This is one of those latter stories, one of those pre-apocalyptic cracks of doom that, like thunder, tell you it’s time to get ready. A Google search this morning finds no mention of this story in the industrial media, but it rages in the alternative sources (many of whom are weaving it into their previously established conspiracy theories as a deliberate act, not another triumph of  ineptitude). Continue reading

The War on Hemp

hemp meme

The Internet went nuts over this meme the other day. Obviously we gotta grow more hemp. Do it, and you’ll go to jail.

It is one of the first crops cultivated by humans, and was a staple crop for the American colonies. It requires less water than  most crops, and no pesticides at all, to grow, and while growing it detoxifies soil and sequesters CO2. Its seeds are a superfood, yielding highly nutritious flour, bread, cereal, “milk”, oil and protein additives — as well as fuel, paint, ink and cosmetics. Its fast-growing stalk yields one of the strongest and most useful fibers known, used in superior paper, canvas, ropes, insulation, cardboard, clothing, shoes and plastic — plastic that is, by the way, biodegradable. This one plant can provide many of the products an industrial society needs, sustainably, while drastically reducing pollution, energy consumption, deforestation, fossil fuel use and providing income for millions of farmers (in places like West Virginia, where glum people sit around in fertile hollows mourning the death of coal).

So, of course, planting, harvesting, or even studying hemp is mostly illegal in the United States and has been for decades. Continue reading

Lies, Damned Lies, and News Reports

cell phone news

An earlier, more temperate report on cell phones and cancer has supposedly been eclipsed by a newer, better one. But wait.

“U.S. Leads Globe in Oil Production for Third Year.”

“Major New Study Reveals Cellphone Radiation Causes Cancer.”

These are just two examples of headlines that circled the world in the past week, subtracting from the sum total of human knowledge. Of course there were others: the “violent, chair-throwing riot” at the Nevada Democratic convention that turned out to have involved no violence, no chair-throwing and no riot; the long, dumbfounded pause when a group of pro-gun people were asked a hard question by Katie Couric, a pause that in reality was neither long nor dumbfounded. And on and on.

How are we to fulfill our responsibilities as informed citizens  (I know, it’s a quaint concept) when the information we get is consistently wrong and/or incomplete? For starters, it helps to understand the nature of the problem — in this case the dumbness and dumberness of American journalism. First Rule: when something is happening either because of stupidity or a conspiracy, always assume stupidity. These people aren’t smart enough to maintain a conspiracy. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 3: Saving the Montagnais

Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J., a contemporary of Fr. Le Jeune quoted here, at work saving souls of Ojibwas in the western Great Lakes. (Wikipedia Photo)

Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J., a contemporary of Fr. Le Jeune quoted here, at work saving souls of Ojibwas in the western Great Lakes. (Wikipedia Photo)

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without modern technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

During the same time that the unfortunate Montagnais people of what is now Quebec were being economically transformed and then ravaged by the juggernaut fur trade, in what we could call the Beaver Bubble, they were also being spiritually ransacked by the Catholic Church. In both cases the outcome was ugly, but offers lessons in what must not be sold, or lost, or given away if a people is to persevere.

You don’t have to look very far into the records that exist pertaining to Native North Americans before you realize that the writings consist in the main of the writings of Catholic missionaries, most of them Jesuit. You can’t help but wonder; how did it happen that there were so many Catholic missionaries in the New World wilderness? Continue reading

Bayer and Monsanto: A Match Made in Hell

08 Übersicht Buna + Montan

The I.G. Farben/Bayer complex near Auschwitz, where enslaved Jews worked on products including the nerve gas used to execute them. (Wikipedia Photo)

What could be a more fitting ceremony for our entertainment during these last days of the industrial age than the joining in unholy patrimony of two of the most evil corporations in the history of humankind? And what could be more symptomatic of the state of knowledge during our present Twilight of the Mind than the fact that the nature of their evil is not only not mentioned in the reporting of their union, but is relatively difficult to discover even if you Google it. I refer of course to the announced intention of Bayer, the aspirin company, to buy Monsanto, the Roundup company.

Monsanto’s crimes are familiar, especially to those who have been hanging around these pages. See, for example;

Bayer has been far more successful in sanitizing its record, which is far longer and far worse. It was a founding member of the German chemical giant I.G. Farben, not in 1925 as Wikipedia and other sources say in some places, but in 1893. The significance of that laundering of the historical record will soon become apparent. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 2: Mourning the Montagnais

The way it used to be for the Montagnais, circa 1550; hide clothing, wood and hide canoes, stone-tipped weapons and tools. Thanks to the French fashion trade, things were about to get a lot better for them. And then, way, way worse. (Photo by Ben Christi/skyrock.com)

The way it used to be for the Montagnais, circa 1550; hide clothing, wood and hide canoes, stone-tipped weapons and tools. Thanks to the French fashion trade, things were about to get a lot better for them. And then, way, way worse. (Photo by Ben Christi/skyrock.com)

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

In North America in the 16th Century, the people known as the Montagnais (the French called them that, “Mountaineers,” the tribe called themselves “Innu,” the People) were among the first to fall before the European juggernaut. Their story became a template for almost all the other tribes on the continent, and in some important respects is eerily like our own unfolding story. Continue reading

Windfall: When Renewable Energy is not Sustainable

wind turbine down

After 19 years of facing the wind, this German turbine fell to it. It’s starting to happen a lot.

Industrial Masters of the Universe have long since learned what to do when the fickle public embraces a product or concept that was previously anathema; they embrace it like an Anaconda getting ready to eat a pig. Thus they learned to love “organic” stuff, and “natural” chemicals and even “renewable” energy. As soon as they learned that customers would line up to buy $3 million turbines, that the government would subsidize up to 70% of the cost, and that the public would love them for doing it, it was game on. Now, however, accumulating costs and negatives are beginning to indicate game over. Continue reading

US Climate Migrations About to Begin

Too close for comfort: rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico are turning the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, into the first U.S. climate refugees. (Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr)

Too close for comfort: rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico are turning the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, LA, into the first U.S. climate refugees. (Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr)

Does the Congress know about this? The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in January approved grants of about a billion dollars to communities in 13 states to help the deal with climate change — a problem that according to a majority of the leaders of Congress, and a majority of the members of the Senate, does not exist. Among those grants was one for $48 million to help move an entire Louisiana community to higher ground as rising seas obliterate its land. This is a first for America. It is hardly the last. Continue reading

They’re Parking the Trains. And the Ships and Planes and Trucks…

(Image from Google Earth)

The train to nowhere. (Image from Google Earth)

 

It’s a picture that’s worth a thousand choruses of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Here in the Seventh Straight Successful Year of the Recovery from the Great Recession, tucked into a corner of the Arizona Desert, is a line of parked Union Pacific locomotives. It was discovered on Google Earth, so it is, as they say, visible from space. There are 292 of them, baking in the sun like so many dinosaur skeletons, in a line stretching almost five miles. They, and the people who used to run them, are now “excess capacity” for one of the country’s largest freight haulers. In this, the Seventh Straight Successful Year of the Great Recovery. Continue reading