Here We Go Again

Another American president is trying to find a middle ground between the rock of the right-wing hawks and the hard place of the left-wing pacifists. Another American president is trying to be a little bit at war by dribbling troops into a far place, using borrowed money, to fight and die for no clear purpose. Another American president is trying to stake out high moral ground with both feet sunk deep in the sewer of a partnership with a corrupt government. Welcome to Afghanistan. Continue reading

Learn Your History. Rinse. Repeat.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana

The foreigners came from the sea, amazing us with their guns and ships and numbers. They only wanted one thing, a thing we did not value, and when we asked them why they wanted it, they said it made them rich, and if we helped them find it they would make us rich, too, but if we interfered with them they would kill us. So some of us died, and some of us got rich, with things we had never needed before, things that made life easier, but not much better. And then we ran out of the thing the foreigners wanted, and they went away, and then we could not spend their money that had made us rich, and we could not replace the things that had made life easy, and we could not remember how we had lived before, when we had been happy but not rich. And so more of us died, and the rest of us became beggars and drunks.

The speaker is imaginary, but his description of events is true. Continue reading

Scientists Find Murder Gene

Scientists at the Universal Genome Center, in Burbank, California, say they have identified the human gene that causes people to commit murder.

The discovery capped a three-year, $30-million-dollar research project involving as many as three people poring over the 20,000 genes catalogued in the Human Genome Project (most of them labelled as, and I’m using the technical term of art here, “junk” genes). “Oddly enough,” said Dr. Oscar Able, co-director of the study, “We found it in the Ms.”

As might have been expected, the gene was in the Y chromosome associated with male characteristics. Another oddity, according to Dr. Able, was that the gene was closely associated with another that causes men to name their sons after John Wayne.

The discovery could lead to a cure for murder, according to Dr. Calvin Cain, co-director, who spoke at a separate news conference because he doesn’t get along with his colleague. “We are seeking fundng now,” said Dr. Cain, for a mammoth research project to develop a murder vaccine. “We think we already have a genetic treatment for murder, but it can only be applied after the fact. We think it is effective, but it has some unfortunate side effects.”

When pressed for details about the side effects, Dr. Cain demurred on the grounds that the subjects given the medicine had all died too fast for doctors to determine what was killing them. As a result of these complications, future testing will be limited to people who are within seven days of their execution date, with all appeals denied. “If you are in that group,” said Dr. Cain, “call your doctor and ask if this trial is right for you.”

Dr. Cain said he expected to bring to market a perfected medicine and a preventive vaccine, “within this eon.”

The announcement drew immediate reaction from NORMAL-C, the National Organization for the Restoration of the Murder Lifestyle Choice. “It’s what we been saying all along,” said president John Wayne Johnson from his death-row cell in Texas, “Murder ain’t a choice. Nobody in his right mind would choose to be a murderer. You’re born a murderer. People don’t kill people, genes kill people.”

Later, NORMAL-C issued a news release demanding, on the basis of the new research, that all murder convictions be overturned and the voting rights of convicted murderers be restored, pending the inevitable appeals. “Hey,” said John W. Johnson, “you people elected Bush, twice. How much worse could it get?”

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Monoculture is a form of mass suicide practiced by groups of people who think they are smarter than Mother Nature. The Irish put their faith in the potato, and the potato famine that resulted nearly extinguished them. In vast reaches of the equatorial world, the potato equivalent — the staple food without which life is not sustainable — is the banana.

The banana famine is imminent. A country such as ours, whose economy and diet depends heavily on one plant — corn — should pay attention. Continue reading

Putting the Fox in Charge of the Canary

Even after you have accepted the degree to which money has locked down the American political system, and hence its government; after you realize that there are really no more Democrats and Republicans in American politics, just Moneycrats and losers; it can still be astonishing what Money can do.

In Ohio this year, Big Agriculture decided it was threatened by the pesky people from the Humane Society of the United States who have persuaded several states to moderate the brutal treatment of animals in factory farms — such things as confining nursing sows in cages so small they can neither turn around nor even get up. Widely broadcast videos of the misery and brutality that is routinely involved in providing our beef, pork and poultry have aroused the disgust of enough people that the usual chant of “leave us alone our your food prices will go up,” or “leave us alone or we’ll stop creating jobs,” aren’t working so well any more. Continue reading

Deforming Health Care

Just about a year ago, for the first time in modern American history, voters selected a president who had not been vetted and funded by Big Money. In the euphoria of the celebration, we did not notice for a while that no similar winds of change had blown through the Congress. As a result the drive for health care reform (or was it health care insurance reform? Or both?) by the new president, with the backing of about 70 per cent of the American people, has not only missed the cup, in the parlance of golf, but the green, and cannot be found anywhere on the fairway. They are out among the trees now, looking for its remains. Continue reading

Got Swine Flu? Thank a Swine Factory

Even when the Washington Post gets around to placing the blame for the H1N1 Flu pandemic squarely where it belongs — on industrial agriculture — it does so obliquely, and with the mindset created by the industry’s flacks that prevents us from facing its increasingly dire consequences. Continue reading

Renewable is not Sustainable if it’s Industrial

Renewable is not Sustainable
The electricity industry has embraced the cause of renewable energy sources, primarily wind and sun, so that it can pour gallons of greenwash over its installations and run TV commercials about how it’s helping to save the planet. But the industrialization of renewable energy sources is little  more sustainable than are fossil-fuel-burning plants.
For example: dozens and dozens of multi-billion-dollar solar projects haven been proposed for the desert southwest, where, of course, there is lots of sunshine. But most of the proposals involve using the concentrated heat from the sun to run boilers. A typical proposal, for Amargosa Valley, Nevada, would require 1.3 billion gallons of water per year. Water, as you may know, is not plentiful in deserts.
[“Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water” — The New York Times.]
(It is not widely recognized how thirsty the electricity generating industry is. Providing power to the typical American home requires three times as much water as the household consumes for all other purposes.)
There are many other difficulties attending desert solar plants. You need water, as well, for the hundreds of people needed to build and maintain the plants. You need to build huge transmission lines through thousands of back yards to get the power thus produced to market.
As with solar, the industrial approach to wind energy is to erect giant wind turbines where there is lots of wind and transmit it to market via the grid. First, nothing that requires the manufacture of enormous machines and the erection of huge installations can be regarded as sustainable. Second, the highly variable output of wind turbines poses some extremely difficult problems for the managers of the grid.
What would be both renewable and sustainable when it comes to energy? The answer is simple, though not easy. We have to start, right now, to produce the energy we need where we need it. We need, in other words, to de-industrialize electricity, if we are going to keep on having any.
[For much more on this see also Chapter Six, “Grid Lock,” of my book Brace for Impact now available.]

The electricity industry has embraced the cause of renewable energy sources, primarily wind and sun, so that it can pour gallons of greenwash over its installations and run TV commercials about how it’s helping to save the planet. But the industrialization of renewable energy sources is little  more sustainable than are fossil-fuel-burning plants. Continue reading

The Swine Weed Pandemic

The Swine Weed Pandemic
It’s ironic that while our attention is being directed to the swine flu epidemic, which doesn’t seem to be hurting much of anything, a real threat to our life-support system is crawling out of the wasteland created by chemical-industrial agriculture: the super-pig-weed.
It looks just like the pig weed that corn-, cotton- and soybean-farmers have been fighting in the South forever. It’s big, it kicks the crap put of any crop it’s contesting with, and it’s tough enough to stop a combine in its tracks. The only thing different about the superweed variety is that it can’t be killed by any manmade chemical.
Twenty years or so ago, that wouldn’t have been a threat to life as we know it. But it is now. The reason —  the most successful single promotion of a destructive chemical farming practice ever perpetrated. The winner was Monsanto, which in the 1970s introduced the glyphosate herbicide Roundup, which was less persistent after application and thus less toxic to groundwater and other plant life that many other herbicides. Then, in the mid-1990s, Monsanto introduced Roundup-resistant crops, which had been genetically modified so that Roundup couldn’t kill them.
It solved an old problem of chemical farming. Until then, sprays could kill broadleaf plants, or they could kill grasses, but they couldn’t knock the wild oats out of a wheat field without killing the wheat, or select broadleaf weeds in a soybean field. Now, Roundup could. It killed everything
In about ten years, the application of Roundup went from about eight million pounds (1994) to about 120 million pounds (2005). In 2006, Roundup-Ready crops occupied nearly one-half of the available cropland in the United States.
The inherent flaw in chemical agriculture is that no chemical kills everything it’s supposed to, and every application of a chemical spurs the development of resistant mutants. There are already 16 weed species in the world, nine on the United States, that shrug off Roundup as if it was a spring rain. Pigweed is one of them.
The inherent flaw in industrial agriculture, with its relentless pursuit of the economies of scale (while it ignores the simultaneous and equal concentration of risk), is that when you have ten thousand acres of one thing, a threat to that thing is going be pretty catastrophic. Sustainable farming, by contrast, will grow 20 or 50 things on a hundred acres.
So here we have the corn and soybean and cottonseed farmers of the South who are facing ruination because of pig weed. They are trying applications of four times the previously adequate amounts of Roundup. It’s not working. They are rolling out mechanical cultivators, which have not been seen in these fields for 20 years. The problem here is that sow-and-spray agriculture was so easy, and the farms got so big (10,000 acres-plus is now the norm), that the tractors, implements and manpower needed to go back to mechanical cultivation simply don’t exist.
The pigweed problem emerged as a major threat only this summer. As Arkansas extension agent Ken Smith described it, “In July we began hearing horror stories all over the state. ‘Man, there are ankle-high weeds out there that Roundup won’t even touch.’” This year, the pig weed spread to more than a million acres of cotton and soybeans. Says Smith: “I’ve never seen anything that had this major an impact on our agriculture in a short period of time.”
This winter, farm groups all over the country will be trying to come up with an answer to the spreading plague of pigweed (the most effective control yet devised — hand weeding. Try that on 10,000 acres). Monsanto has promised a vaccine — honest,  they swear they’ll have a chemical answer by 2015.
Here’s what you can count on: the pigweed plague, and the associated accumulating failures of industrial agriculture, are going to hit us all a lot harder that the swine flu.
For a careful description of the spreading pigweed panic, written for the industrial-agriculture press, check out this piece in the Delta Farm Press: “Resistance threatens conservation tillage.”
For a less restrained version, this piece in Grist: “The chemical treadmill breaks down and the superweeds did it.”
And for a more complete explanation of of how we got here, see my forthcoming book Brace for Impact: Surviving the Crash of the Industrial Age by Sustainable Living.

It’s ironic that while our attention is being directed to the swine flu epidemic, which doesn’t seem to be hurting much of anything, a real threat to our life-support system is crawling out of the wasteland created by chemical-industrial agriculture: the super-pig-weed. Continue reading