Friday, February 25, 2011

Bittman and GMOs

Mark Bittman, the notorious NYT food columnist/writer, Luddite, elitist, and nauseating proponent of doing your homework and applying rigorous common sense, has been stirring the stew regarding whether we should be notified about the presence of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food, or not.

The stew is bubbling quite a bit, in response. (In case you can't tell, I admire him quite a lot.)

I have something to add to the stew, which is a little crude (and I don't have time to do a re-write) but which is to the point.

Below is an essay I zipped off in October 1999, as a heartfelt response to picking up a Future Farmers Of America newsletter, and finding that what was then being dubbed "biotech"; which includes GMOs, was being presented to high school kids as the certain, and bright, future.

It's a big topic. I'll let the conversation start here. This, incidentally, is my bit mentioned long ago in "once and future topics" on "where have all the mammoths gone?"


Why Biotech Has No Clothes

I’ve noticed a highly disturbing trend recently; the Biotech mavens, pushers, junkies, and corporations have stolen a march on those few of us who would like a little calm discussion before completely destroying the bottle that once held the genie.

If you take a look at any publications aimed at our mainstream agricultural youth, you will find article after article stating that Biotech is our only hope to feed our growing world.

No discussions. Just the flat statement: there is no alternative. Occasionally an interviewee will have the grace to preface the statement with “I believe...” . But what always follows is: “ we simply have no alternative if we don't want people to starve to death.”

And the kids are receiving this wisdom from above quite cheerfully, even willingly passing it on, to those outside the farm community who couldn’t possibly understand the internal necessities and holy mission of the food system.

Population control? Don’t be ridiculous. And shut up about China, they’re still godless communists, and horrifying. Don’t try to tell me they’re just people, like us, struggling to deal with a near impossible problem.

Questions about who benefits from Biotech? Huh? Obviously, corporations would only do what is good for all of us. Why, just look at what wonderful things have already been done for dairy farmers! They’re so much better off now that Biotech has increased milk production; and the vets have so much more work to do, too.

What is happening now is in fact an echo of an earlier phase of human development.

I can hear precisely the same argument going on about 10,000 years ago.

“Our tribe is expanding! We will simply have to hunt more, and longer hours.”

“And with this new tool our hunters have developed, the wonderful Bow, so much more powerful than the quaint old spear-thrower, we can clearly feed all our people!!”

“Look, there’s that herd of mammoths we’ve never been able to harvest before!! After them!!”

Meanwhile, some moron in the background was mumbling “Gee, look at all the grass. And all the grass seed. Sure, a grass seed is smaller than a mammoth, but, there really is a lot of it. I bet we could eat grass seeds.”

Echoes come: “What an amazing, ludicrous idiot! We’ve always been mammoth hunters, and always will be! He’s just a damfool dreamer; no concept of hard reality. Besides, nobody would ever want to eat that stuff; we eat mammoths. Always have, always will. Period.”

Luckily for you and me, once that very last herd of mammoths was eaten, someone remembered this idiot.

We’re in the same place now. We’re about to run out of mammoths (soil and water), the women in the tribe are pregnant, and the mammoth hunters have a new tool. Soon our soil and water can be remembered in museums, right beside the mammoths. And the whole world can look like Iraq, the birthplace of agriculture.



(Being polite and kind people, we will refrain here from pointing out that the wonderful bow, over the years, has killed vastly more men, women, and children, than it ever did mammoths. An excellent tool, the bow; very powerful. Alas that tools have no conscience of themselves; the sharp knife cuts anything; neither knowing nor caring what it cuts, or who is wielding it. So who is the conscience to be for the new Biotech bows? Giant multinational corporations? Ah, well, that’s all right, then! Thank goodness.)

(We will also quietly refrain from pointing out that the “world will starve” statement is a lie, and a myth, used very effectively to make people feel guilty about arguing. The world has a tremendous surplus of food, and will for a long time to come. So much we burn tons of food to fuel our cars; so we can drive to the lake, to play on our jetskis. People do starve; but not because the world has no food for them; they starve for political reasons, and because of a lack of timely compassion. The World is NOT hungry; the World is mean.)

(In fact, while Biotekkies proudly state that they will be able to increase production of crop x by as much as 5%! (gosh) the fact is that in the 3rd World, sometimes 30-40% of each year’s crop production is WASTED. Lost. It rots, after harvest. Due to inadequate storage facilities and systems. Yes, it really is that much; almost never less than 20%. Unfortunately, there is no real money to be made by helping developing nations build appropriate transportation and storage. Nor scientific careers and reputations.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Really Great Britain points the way...

It's the panacea Wisconsin has been pining for. Really Great Britain has come up with THE answer to unemployment, and the budget crisis.

It's an answer Charles Dickens would have applauded. It corroborates so thoroughly his many observations of human nature.

No money to pay for cops? Obviously, then- you should enlist people willing to work, as police- for free. (oh, and, town clerks, postal workers, whatever...)

Ok, actually, the "volunteers" do have some incentive to show up for work. The way they have this rigged, if you want to work as a paid police person someday - then :

"Cash-strapped Scotland Yard, for instance, has instituted a policy mandating that most recruits spend a minimum of one year on the job for free..."

The mind boggles. Really really boggles.

Never mind the obvious fact that "cash strapped Scotland Yard" could have its budget entirely restored by the confiscation of ONE hedge fund manager's annual "bonus"... ("Look, Basil, I've got the little monkeys chanting 'No new taxes! No new taxes!' You've really got to help me look through Machiavelli and see what else we can find!")

I wonders, I does - just how much do you suppose you'd have to bribe an unpaid cop, to look the other way for a few moments?

And I wonders, too - who is going to pay the hospital (or burial) costs, when one of these unpaid volunteers gets themselves hurt in the line of "duty"?

And how dutiful do you think they'll be, on a nasty windy cold night?

And how likely to reach for the gasoline, when after volunteering for "at least a year" - they don't get the real job, after all?

Really Great, Britain.


Tiny minor update: Minnesota, home of politics as gallows humor, has just provided us with a good specific example of what happens to un-employed wanna-be law officers.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

the handbasket accelerates

Sorry to be so quiet; just normal coping with Life, The Universe, And Everything. Stuff like one virus after another, transmitted via kindergarten, and a mare that is a month and a half overdue in delivering her foal, and slogging through out of season thaw mud, and teetering on ice everywhere after winter came back.

And the world is in such a serious state that I just have a hard time writing about everyday stuff. The world is changing. And the change is speeding up. And, in case you hadn't noticed; nobody is in charge.

And, what happens next is really, truly, entirely unpredictable. Maybe, for example, as a result of the exuberance in Tunisia and Egypt, we will have a shooting war in the next few days, in Wisconsin. Right next door to me.

Everything is that unstable; that insane.

It was learning something I hadn't realized about the situation in Wisconsin that motivated me to write this post. I had, I thought, been paying attention; but this little bit of background information had escaped me. It showed up in Gail Collins' NYT column. I read her regularly; and am very fond of her sense of humor, intelligence, and common sense. But the Wisconsin information was not something I expected to find, given the rest of her subject matter; and it hit me very, very hard.

You know, of course, that the newly elected Republican Governor of Wisconsin, along with the Republican controlled state Senate, is trying to pass legislation that will not only cut pay and benefits for the various public employees of the state, but which will also rescind their right to collective bargaining. Making them second-class citizens, with fewer rights than those who work elsewhere. You know, also, that the Democratic Senators have left the state, to deprive the Senate of the quorum needed to pass the legislation; since that was the only tool left to them.

Here was what I did not know, and what I have seen mentioned nowhere else:

"In Wisconsin, the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, wants to strip state employees of their collective-bargaining rights because: “We’re broke. We’ve been broke in this state for years.”

"Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators went into hiding to deprive the Republican majority of the quorum they need to pass Walker’s agenda. The Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald — who happens to be the brother of the Assembly speaker, Jeff Fitzgerald — believes the governor is absolutely right about the need for draconian measures to cut spending in this crisis. So he’s been sending state troopers out to look for the missing Democrats.

"The troopers are under the direction of the new chief of the state patrol, Stephen Fitzgerald. He is the 68-year-old father of Jeff and Scott and was appointed to the $105,678 post this month by Governor Walker.

"Perhaps the speaker’s/majority leader’s father was a super choice, and the fact that he was suddenly at liberty after having recently lost an election for county sheriff was simply a coincidence that allowed the governor to recruit the best possible person for the job. You’d still think that if things are so dire in Wisconsin, the Fitzgerald clan would want to set a better austerity example."

Does that stink? Why yes, it does. Elitist power politics at its very, very worst, most corrupt, most Un-American, most obscene.

And it's being soft-pedaled by our press.

Remember, too- though usually considered a liberal-leaning state, Wisconsin also gave us McCarthy, and Proxmire; two politicians who did vast and enduring damage to the US democracy.

It does seem that the handbasket we are all in- is speeding up, daily.