Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Announcing My New Blog: Graceful Decline

When I started the blog Chickens of Mass Destruction, the title was mostly whimsical, a play, in case you haven't figured it out, on the phrase "weapons of mass destruction." (That phrase itself turned out to be the biggest WMD, leading as it did to a great deal of destruction over the last 8 years.)

My whimsical twist on the phrase encompassed the interests I wanted to write about: food and agriculture, ecology, and politics. There was contained therein the idea that a simple thing like backyard chickens, and the local food movement in general, could also constitute a threat, albeit a gentle and ethical one, to the industrial capitalist system.

With this post I inaugurate a spin-off blog, Graceful Decline. Here I hope to explore the broader political, social, and ecological questions around the decline and fall of the American empire. I'll reserve CMD for food and agriculture issues. Of course these things are all related, so there may be some more cross-posting between the two.

At least some of the time, I will be using John Michael Greer's excellent blog, the Archdruid Report, as a launching point. For the last 6 years he has been laying out a feast for the cerebral cortex, making a strong case that peak oil will spell the end of our civilization, and presenting a sober projection of life after cheap energy.

For Greer it is neither zombie apocalypse nor utopian deliverance, but a middle road of hard choices, hard work, and muddling through as the gargantuan system of complexity we all depend on crumbles. His ideas are steeped in the physical sciences, particularly the limits imposed by ecology and the laws of thermodynamics. He also has a large following of commentators, with interesting insights of their own. Anyone who wants to understand what I am attempting to do here should definitely read the ADR archives, or pick up one of Greer's books. Those that deal with peak oil-related issues are like a distillation of his blog.

In looking at the nature of the empire that the US has built I am also informed by the thinking of Howard Zinn, especially his alternative history classic A People's History of the United States. It has its limitations to be sure, but for understanding the dynamics of power in a capitalist democracy it is compelling and useful. Demagogy, distraction, and divide-and-conquer were favorite tools of the founders, and they are still the mainstays of American politics on all fronts.

I look around and see a system that is committed to growth on a planet of limited capacity. It's like watching a runaway locomotive headed for a sheer drop, and all I can offer is my tiny voice. Please join the discussion, link, share. Add to my voice or try to neutralize it as you see fit...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Civil Authority

I saw this video here. This is Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) agent Jackie Owens attempting to carry out an inspection at the farm of Vernon Herschberger. Like Dan Allgyer in Pennsylvania, Herschberger is in the middle of the national debate over raw milk. In some ways their cases are very similar.

One thing that struck me in watching this video was the civility of the proceedings. While Ms. Owens was clearly frustrated and exasperated that the Hershbergers were not cooperative, she never lost her cool. She did a good job playing the good cop.

This civility was noted in the blog and comments, with various political spins attached, but I want to look at it from a different perspective. (And let's also leave aside the fact that this interaction was recorded, and how that may have changed her demeanor.)

If this is how regulators act when investigating a relatively powerless independent farmer, how do they act toward the big players? Is civil authority sometimes too civil?

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Year and a Day, Give or Take

Wow, has it been that long? Funny how time flies and projects like this get pushed to the sidelines as the focus shifts. Funny too how things come full circle in the fullness of time.

The past few days have brought a couple events that have spurred me to once again take up the proverbial pen and jot down some notes here for your consideration. Also, I plan to get some focus in this blog by narrowing it down to food and agricultural issues.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hunger Money

Rising food prices are one of the main driving forces behind unrest in Egypt. At the same time, drought conditions in China promise to wreak havoc with global wheat supplies.

It seems like bad news doesn't it? But then again, if you're a commodities trader or an executive or stockholder with a food conglomerate, you're probably making a lot of money right now.

If there is any justice in the world, ADM, Goldman Sachs, and all the rest of the hunger profiteers (privateers?), must cease and desist this kind of harmful speculation.

Furthermore they should surrender their hunger profits to help fund sustainable local food programs around the world.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fun with Yahoo! Answers Part III

Okay, this is the last installment of my Yahoo! Answers for the moment. I might make it a regular feature, and also post things I've typed elsewhere in food-related discussions.

An interesting thing about Yahoo! Answers is that it discourages the kind of long threads and back-and-forth debate that happens in other web media. You can only answer a question once (though you can edit your answer). Overall, there are many more limitations on open debate. I don't think this is necessarily good or bad, just different and, for the moment at least, interesting.

So here's a few more:

Fun with Yahoo! Answers Part II

See the background here. Continuing off-the-cuff answers to all kinds of questions on the subject of vegetarianism and veganism on Yahoo! Answers.

Q: My so likes tomato bacon soup. I want to be a vegetarian. Is there a substitute for the bacon that I can use?
He isn't happy that I am choosing to be vegetarian. He said can't you just take out the bacon and eat the soup, but I said no, it permeates the tomato. I am more than happy to make this soup for him with the bacon because being a vegetarian is my choice and I won't tell anyone how to eat, but is there a substitute for the bacon that I can use in the future. I'll make a separate tomato soup without the bacon for myself. Btw-I am very happy deciding to be a vegetarian.
A:  Of course make sure you are making it for him freely and not out of obligation. If you feel any resentment whatsoever kindly ask him to make his own tomato bacon soup! My SO is vegetarian and doesn't usually cook meat for me, but doesn't mind if I do so for myself.

Fun with Yahoo! Answers Part I

This week I've been wasting time trolling the vegetarians over at Yahoo! Answers. Well at least that's what some of them probably think. I think I'm just offering broader perspectives. You see, as a former vegetarian I've read lots of the books, thought through many of the ethical dilemmas, and felt all self-righteous about the Truth of the Vegetarian Way. But I've reevaluated the evidence and come to different conclusions in more recent years.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A New Year

After a couple months off, I figure it's time to dust off the blog, even if I have nothing really important to say. The madness of the world goes on, but my attention has been on more personal matters. It's mid January, the days are getting longer, so my thoughts turn to gardening. What seeds do I need, and where will I get them? What preparation is needed in the garden, and what can I do now?

Fortunately the winter has been moderate in terms of rain and snow, just a little on the cold side, so the soil is not a mudpit. Theoretically I could probably even plant peas right now, but I think I'll wait until March. Besides, the likely designated pea beds have not been dug.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I'm Thankful For...

...with full orchestration and five-part harmony, and 27 8x10 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.

As iconic as turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie is the epic 1967 "song" by Arlo Guthrie, "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," better known simply as "Alice's Restaurant." It's a satirical retelling of how Guthrie avoided the draft and the Vietnam War by having a record for littering. The holiday rooted in Christian humility, enshrined as a national day of unity during the Civil War, became the perfect foil for a statement of protest and dissent.

I'm thankful for this paradox, and many more.

I am thankful that Howard Zinn had the eloquence, courage, and liberty to relentlessly speak truth to power and question the way history is written and taught in the USA. He continued in this pursuit from the 1940's right up until his death this past January 27th at age 87, while on a speaking tour. Thank you, Professor Zinn, for reminding us that the power really does rest with the people, but it's not necessarily through the ballot box that we can best exercise it.

Thank you all for reading, and enjoy this holiday!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just a Few Comments on "A Vegan No More"

Another worthy link via Facebook: A Vegan No More. It's an honest and eloquent testimony to the truth that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the questions of health, nutrition, and morality. It's long, but worth reading through, whatever your current feelings on the issue.

I don't wish to give offense to any of my vegan readers and friends, but I do challenge the unspoken assumption in certain circles that, even if you aren't a vegan or vegetarian, you should aspire to be; that avoiding animal products is a superior choice for health, morality, and sustainability. I used to feel this way, even after giving up on strict vegetarianism, but for the last five years or so I've been a dedicated and proud omnivore. Whatever honestly works best for you...

Though I never had a health crisis in my nearly-vegan days that precipitated a doctor's visit (but if I had had insurance at the time, who knows?), I can definitely relate to Tasha's experiences: hunger despite an overfull stomach, bloating, fatigue, and depression. I don't know how I could manage my current routine of work and family on such a diet. Speaking just for myself, a few ounces of meat or fish, or a couple of eggs fried in butter, lard, or palm kernel oil makes up for a whole heap of starch, fiber, beans, and greens. I still love my rice and veggies, but don't feel a need to stuff myself to satisfy my hunger. Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's the Economy That's Stupid

In my previous post, I mentioned that I thought that seriously curtailing fossil fuel consumption and contracting the economy were the best choices we could make for the long-term future. Today I want to elaborate a bit on that idea.

Many people are in agreement that we should reduce fossil fuel consumption, maybe because of fears of global warming or other types of pollution (the BP disaster is far from over), or a concern that we are headed for a major accessibility crisis, summed up by the term "peak oil."

Most people who are aware of these threats envision living much as we do today, maybe with more attention paid to conservation, simply substituting renewal energy sources for fossil fuels. In this scenario we can continue to grow economically. As the less-developed countries catch up their birth rates will drop, and the total human population will stabilize at a sustainable level.

There are a few problems with this.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Memento Mori: Death, Elections, and the Turning of the Wheel

It's the season of Halloween, Samhain, El Día de los Muertos. In many cultures around the world it is time to meditate on death: the death of the crops at the end of the harvest season, as well as the deaths of our fellow humans. It's time to remember and honor those who have passed from this life, as well as to be mindful of our own mortality.

Not coincidentally, here in the USA it is also election time. Our tradition of holding elections on the second Tuesday in November goes back to our agrarian past when roads were poor, travel slow, and polling places up to a day or two travel from home. In most parts of the country as it existed then, in early November the harvest would be done but the worst of winter weather a safe way off.

It all leads me to ponder the meaning of elections for an empire quite probably in the Autumn of its existence. For America is an empire built on optimism and enthusiasm of a most material sort, and the material is getting scarce. A new global paradigm will emerge one way or the other.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Playing With Fire

In San Bruno, California, a natural gas transmission line exploded last night, creating a 15-foot crater and sending a sea of flame through the neighborhood. 4 are confirmed dead, scores injured--some critically, over 53 homes severely damaged. The city is adjacent to San Francisco International Airport, and early reports assumed it was a plane crash.

Tomorrow marks the 9th anniversary of the tragic, actual, intentional, plane crashes that have left an indelible mark on our national psyche and the world political climate. In response the U.S. invaded and occupied two countries and is still seeking graceful exits. This year, a pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida has been planning to commemorate the anniversary by burning copies of the sacred book of Islam, the Qur'an (note: Quran, Kuran, Koran, are all interchangeable Latin spellings for an Arabic word meaning "recitation"). Ironically, but understandably, the current custodians of the above mentioned occupations are among the loudest critics of Pastor Jone's antics.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Obligatory August Post

Still reading, still working, still raising boys, trying to figure out how to get some gardening in before the weeds take over completely and the window closes on fall crops. Meanwhile the economy continues to piddle along, and the frayed social and political fabric of our country is just a surface ripple of the underlying ecological crisis under our feet. Cheers y'all, and enjoy this different perspective on the bedbug hysteria.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Elephant in the Room

No, I haven't abandoned this blog, but digging through the archives of John Michael Greer's Archdruid Report, and following up on links and recommendations, has put me in serious sponge mode.

I just finished reading Overshoot by William R. Catton. It's still a timely book 30 years after publication, a stark and devastating analysis of the human predicament from an ecological perspective. In a nutshell: we're riding a wave of exuberance that started with the Age of Discovery, got a boost from the Industrial Revolution, and is accelerating straight toward a crash: a major decline in both human population and material standard of living. The timing and exact nature of the crash will depend on many factors, but at this point in time, if you accept certain premises, some sort of crash is unavoidable.