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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

War on What?

I've heard the question put forth, "is the BP oil spill Obama's Katrina?" Any such comparison between different historical and political events is bound to bear limited fruit. One can always find interesting parallels, but the lessons will break down over important differences. Whatever role was played by humanity in the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005, the dice were rolled by Nature. The Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent gushing of oil and toxic dispersants are entirely man-made disasters. While Katrina had grave regional implications, the current disaster has global implications that cut to the heart of energy, ecology, and economics.

With that in mind, I am more inclined to ask, "is the oil spill Obama's 9/11?" Of course there are important differences. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, barring some conspiracy theory, were deliberate acts by self-proclaimed enemies of the West. The despoiling of the Gulf was a stupid accident by a network of "friendly" contractors and regulators. 9/11 involved thousands of human deaths. All but 11 of the Gulf deaths, as far as I know so far, have been non-human life forms.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sorry, Mr. Lorax

At the Archdruid Report, where it's the end of the world as we know it, and we feel fine, there are a lot of references made to the 1970's. For it is in that decade, with its energy crises, back-to-the-land movements, and increasing environmental awareness, where we find one of the richest archives of thought, from the practical to the philosophical, macro to micro, on possible paths to a sustainable future.

Eventually the business-as-usual capitalists and neoconservatives won their precursor to "drill, baby, drill," hippies sold out to Wall Street, and pollution became more pervasive if less visible. In the meantime such visionary texts as Small is Beautiful, Muddling Toward Frugality, and The Limits to Growth have gathered dust on the shelf, awaiting the curious and hopefully-not-too-desperate, inviting us to rethink nearly 4 decades of intervening policy. All three are on my short list, either checked out or on hold through my public library.

But until I get to crack open these tomes, I think The Lorax encapsulates pretty well the conflict between growth-dependent industrial capitalism and sustainability. For all it's kid-friendly simplicity it is still a fairly accurate and potent parable for what we have done with our natural resources.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monsanto Goons, Zombie Money, and Backyard Chickens

Lately I've been following lots of interesting stuff on Food Freedom, from heirlooms vs hybrids for Haiti, to the latest developments in synthetic biology, to the promising movements among consumers and gardeners to reclaim their food sovereignty. But somehow I keep getting drawn back to this article by Rady Ananda, as the author and others take issue with my call for civility. It's perhaps gotten a little out of proportion, given that I don't disagree with the outrage behind the article. Just saying that there needs to be a little more nuance for this to be taken more seriously outside the choir.

Let's face it, anyone who is an insider with the New Democrats is going to take a pro-Monsanto position until it is politically unfavorable to do so. That includes a big chunk of Mr. Obama's staff, cabinet, and departmental bureaucracy. In Monsanto v Geertson Seed, Solicitor General Kagan was doing her job, advocating for the position of APHIS and the whole corrupt federal bureaucracy. She is much less involved than the others cited in the article, such as Michael "revolving-door" Taylor, Monsanto attorney when he's not with the FDA, and cousin-in-law to former VP Al Gore. This will be a non-issue in Kagan's confirmation hearings, and not a battle I choose.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Möbius Politics

Is Local Food a left-wing or right-wing movement?

As I scratch a little below the surface of things, the picture of politics as Möbius strip (that's Moebius if your system is limited to ASCII) becomes ever clearer. In other words, if you wander far enough from the political center, either to the right or to the left, the ends of the spectrum meet in interesting and unexpected ways. It's not a new idea to me, and I wouldn't expect it to be original, but manifestations of this dark side of the political moon have been popping up recently like mushrooms in a cow pasture after a 2-day rainstorm.

Case in point: the Local Food movement. What ties together this motley assortment of foodies and farmers, vegans and beef-eaters, libertarians and progressives, devoutly religious and steadfastly secular? A desire for good food. A sustainable food system. And good old American distrust.

Friday, May 7, 2010

E. coli strikes again

This time it's a different strain, E. coli O145, and the contaminated food appears to be romaine lettuce from a processing plant in Ohio, potentially affecting consumers in 24 states. The processor, Freshway Foods of Sidney, has voluntarily recalled romaine products with a "use by" date of May 12 or earlier.

I may be having a change of heart. I think maybe the ban on interstate sale of raw milk is working. How else do you explain the facts? Out of all the E. coli outbreaks reported by the CDC in the last 3.5 years, none are associated with raw milk. Instead all the outbreaks are associated with beef, produce, frozen pizza, or frozen cookie dough. All involve regionally or nationally distributed packaged foods. None involve foods sold directly by farmers to consumers.

So let's not stop with raw milk. Now it's time for Congress to step up and ban interstate sales of all packaged food unless it has been fully cooked, irradiated, and bathed in bleach. Give the FDA sweeping authority to seize the tractor-trailer loads of lettuce and ground beef that traverse our nation's highways every second. Because they have the potential of being contaminated. And because it should be the FDA, not the consumer, who decides what is an acceptable risk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Letter to the FDA

May 4th 2010

John F. Sheehan, Director
Div. of Plant and Dairy Food
Office of Food Safety
Bldg. CPK-1, Rm. 3D-055
5100 Paint Branch
College Park, MD 20740

Dear Mr. Sheehan

I am writing in regards to the investigation of Mr. Daniel Allgyer of Kinzers, PA on allegations of interstate commerce of raw milk. I wish to express my disappointment that the FDA is pursuing this case when there are so many greater threats to public health.

Many of the greatest threats are due to large-scale industrial agriculture, centralized food production and distribution, inadequate testing of new food and pharmaceuticals, and inadequate inspection and enforcement. A few examples: contamination of the food supply with novel substances and organisms, air and water pollution, and loss of ecological and agricultural diversity.

Small, traditional operations like Mr. Allgyer's are part of a robust, diverse, and sustainable agricultural community. The main threats they pose are to those who seek to control and monopolize the food supply.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tea, anyone?

I ran across this little rant that sums up nicely the frustrations felt by many on the left toward the recent climate of public discourse.

From Christian Struzan via Facebook:
YOU WANT TO GET MAD? We had eight years of Bush and Cheney, but now you get mad! You didn’t get mad when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount and appointed a President. You didn’t get mad when Cheney allowed Energy company officials to dictate energy policy. You didn’t get mad when a covert CIA operative got ousted. You didn’t get mad when the Patriot Act got passed.. You didn’t get mad when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us. You didn’t get mad when we spent over 600 billion(and counting) on said illegal war. You didn’t get mad when over 10 billion dollars just disappeared in Iraq. You didn’t get mad when you found out we were torturing people. You didn’t get mad when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans. You didn’t get mad when we didn’t catch Bin Laden. You didn’t get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed. You didn’t get mad when we let a major US city drown. You didn’t get mad when we gave a 900 billion tax break to the rich. You didn’t get mad when, using reconciliation; a trillion dollars of our tax dollars were redirected to insurance companies for Medicare Advantage which cost over 20 percent more for basically the same services that Medicare provides. You didn’t get mad when the deficit hit the trillion dollar mark, and our debt hit the thirteen trillion dollar mark. You finally got mad when the government decided that people in America deserved the right to see a doctor if they are sick. Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, stealing your tax dollars to make the rich richer, are all okay with you, but helping other Americans… oh hell no. AND NOW YOU’RE MAD !

So let me come at it from a different angle. Many of us on the left can sympathize with conservatives' anger. We too want a system that is more fair, efficient, and accountable to the citizenry. We too feel marginalized by the power structure in Washington and get frustrated by what we see as institutional corruption and injustice.

It would be great if we could have civil dialog on these things. Let me then share some thoughts.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Yeah! I figured out how to bypass the oxymoronic Websense filters at work, so I can post to my blog from here! I still can't edit or comment, and I'm working out some of the formatting bugs, so bear with me.

Thank you, iGoogle!

I got your "Drill Baby, Drill" right here!

I've been following the news a bit on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, and the news ain't good. 11 workers are missing and presumed dead. They thought the well was sealed on Friday, but by Monday we learned it wasn't so. An estimated 42,000 US gallons are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico each day. Now the Coast Guard is talking about burning it off. Great! If we don't kill the birds on the shore, we'll get them as they fly over!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pasture vs Pasteur

As reported here and elsewhere, at 5:00 AM on Tuesday, April 20th, two agents from the US Food and Drug Administration, two deputy US Marshals, and one Pennsylvania State Trooper conducted what they described as a "routine inspection" at a small family farm in Lancaster County, PA. The farmer is under investigation for alleged violations of federal public health laws. Specifically he is accused of selling raw milk across state lines.

My purpose in this entry is not to discuss whether this farmer broke the law, but the general question of food safety, food choice, and the controversy over raw milk. Are government officials protecting public health, or are they protecting corporate interests who feel threatened by small independent farms?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pass the Grassfed Butter

There's little love lost between John Robbins ("Diet For a New America") and the Weston A Price Foundation ("Nourishing Traditions"), but as I see it there is a lot of commonality in their messages. Both are concerned with sustainable agriculture, human health, and animal welfare, and both see (or should see) giant agribusiness as the biggest threat to these things. That's also been the constant thread I've followed from being a lapsing and imperfect vegetarian to a confirmed omnivore and "food-aware-ian."

Unfortunately for Robbins, one of his important pillars is the lipid hypothesis, the idea that saturated fat and cholesterol are the major causes of cardiovascular disease. This is looking more and more like a case of incomplete science become entrenched public policy. Perhaps the work of Uffe Ravnskov ("The Cholesterol Myths") shows this best.

Maybe the most compelling part of the Weston Price message is that the diet of our ancestors, the food that supported generations of humanity up until the last few, could possibly be healthy for us and the planet after all. Defining the traditional diet is where it gets a little trickier.

Staying away from the soy-vs-beef debates, but still taking aim at big ag, journalists Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") and Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") teamed up with documentarian Robert Kenner to bring us the 2008 film "Food, Inc." If you haven't thought much about where your food really comes from, this film and these books should change that.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Some of My Pet Heresies

Here are a few links to some of the interesting ideas out there. Views expressed are those of the authors.

The Jesus Puzzle - Did Jesus walk the Earth? Analyzing the new testament through the lens of a classicist, Earl Doherty concludes that the Jesus of Paul and the 1st century Christians was purely a being of spirit, and had little to do with the teacher and healer character who later appears, as a literary device, in the gospels. You've really got to read through the site, or at least the condensed article, to get the full picture.

I see no conflict between this possibility and Christian faith. Clearly it does conflict with literal interpretations of the Bible and important doctrines of many churches. It also conflicts with popular notions of Jesus as a fully human teacher, prophet, healer, seeker, and/or social activist.

Myself I like the fully mythical Jesus. He is freed from the constraints of time, geography, and politics. He becomes like a pagan god, both more universal and more personal than the church version. I don't think this is Doherty's intention, but this makes me much more likely to consider myself Christian (though not exclusively so). I like to think Joseph Campbell would agree.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God - excerpts from the novel by Rebecca Goldstein - scroll down to the appendix for the arguments with rebuttal. Conclusion: you can't logically prove the deity's existence. (Nor can you disprove it.)

Godhead Trilogy by James Morrow - a great series in the genre of fantasy fiction. Takes Nietzsche at his word that "God is dead," and follows the idea to absurd lengths and profound philosophical depths.

Why a Scientist Believes in God - with rebuttals. This old chestnut has been making the rounds on the internet thanks to the popularity of "intelligent design."

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - a brilliant rebuttal to the push to teach "intelligent design" as a scientific theory in schools.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Welcome to CMD

Miscellaneous musings on mind, body, spirit and the multiplicity of experience.

This is not intended to be a personal diary, but to relate what is going on in my head to what is going on in the world, and to invite you to share what's in your head.

I intend to deal with topics that are usually considered taboo for family holiday dinner, such as religion, politics, sex, death, and lifestyle choices.

I think humor can be a great tool for enlightenment, but I'll try not to cross the line into smugness, snarkiness, or condescension. Your perception may vary.

I enjoy playing devil's advocate, both to sharpen my insight and just to keep things interesting. Preaching to the choir has its limits, after all.

I acknowledge I'm not an expert in many things, so please be patient and helpful, and I'll try to do the same.