Agent Orange Corn

SUBHEAD: Dow-AgroScience seeks USDA approval of GMO corn that is immune to 2-4-D.  

By Lucia Graves on 26 April 2012 for Huffington Post - 

[IB Editor's note: Dow Agro-Sciences leases several thousand acres of Gay & Robinson land between Pakala and Hanapepe Heights for GMO corn experimentation. Are they using 2-4-D near the populated areas of the westside of Kauai?]

Image above: Doemostrators against Doe-AgroSiences Agent Orange Corn. From (

A new kind of genetically modified crop under the brand name of "Enlist" -- known by its critics as "Agent Orange corn" -- has opponents pushing U.S. regulators to scrutinize the product more closely and reject an application by Dow AgroSciences to roll out its herbicide-resistant seeds.

The corn has been genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D, an ingredient used in Agent Orange that some say could pose a serious threat to the environment and to human health. Approval by the United States Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency would allow farmers to spray it far and wide without damaging their crops, boosting profits for the agribusiness giant.
Dow and its allies have insisted that their product is well tested, while industry regulators have so far overlooked critics' concerns.

"This is going to be a solution that we are looking forward to bringing to farmers," Dow's Joe Vertin told Reuters.

More than 140 advocacy groups have participated in a letter writing campaign calling on U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reject Dow's regulatory application for the herbicide and herbicide-resistant crops, submitting more than 365,000 missives ahead of a public comment period that ends April 27.

"The scientific community has sounded alarms about the dangers of 2,4-D for decades," wrote opponents in their letter to Vilsack. "Numerous studies link 2,4-D exposure to major health problems such as cancer, lowered sperm counts, liver toxicity and Parkinson's disease. Lab studies show that 2,4-D causes endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, neurotoxicity, and immunosuppression."

Some farmers have argued that the new herbicide, a combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate -- the active ingredient in Monsanto's bestselling Roundup weed killer -- is necessary to combat weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate alone.

Glyphosate has also come under considerable public scrutiny in the wake of scientific findings that demonstrate the chemical causes birth defects in the embryos of laboratory animals. Health professionals contend that 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), an ingredient in the Vietnam War-era defoliant that's been blamed for public health problems both during and after the war, poses its own risks.

Agricultural consultant Steve Savage accused Dow's opponents of resorting to scare tactics, writing on his blog, Applied Mythology, that what the victims of Agent Orange "don't deserve is to have their tragedy exploited in an irresponsible way."

While most the the public health problems associated with Agent Orange have been attributed to a different ingredient, (2,4,5-T), as well as to dioxin contamination -- a number of studies have indicated that 2,4-D has significant health risks, too, according to Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, and Mae Wu, a health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Many studies show that 2,4-D exposure is associated with various forms of cancer, Parkinson's Disease, nerve damage, hormone disruption and birth defects," said Hauter in a statement. "USDA must take these significant risks seriously and reject approval of this crop."

Thirty-five medical and public health professionals professionals have signed on to a letter to the USDA warning of health threats that could accompany the huge an increase in 2,4-D use that is expected to result from approval of the genetically engineered seed.

It isn't just scientists who have concerns.

"Farmers are on the front lines of this potential chemical disaster," said Iowa conventional corn and soybean farmer George Naylor in a statement. He added, "I'm also very concerned about the further pollution of the air and water in my community."


Killing the Natives

SUBHEAD: Studying the ecology of the systematic extinction of life by industrial civilization.  

By Sandy Krolick on 27 April 2012 for Nature bats Last -  

Image above: Hernando de Soto attempts to frighten Inca chief Atahualpa with an impressive display of horsemanship. The Incas did not have horses and when they first saw the mounted Spanish Conquistadors they thought that man and horse where one animal. From (
As Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega summarized, it seems the USA was “isolated” — a regular persona non grata — at the Summit of the Americas last week in Columbia. Nor were our military and Secret Service ‘dicks’ very good sports themselves at the Pley Club there in Cartagena. It seems they wanted a reduction in the bill for services rendered. But that is not the only country in the Americas where the now globalized and increasingly rapacious tendencies of a dis-integrating Western curriculum are unwelcome.
A single superhighway built from Sao Paulo to Brasilia deprives an entire rain forest of its autonomy; [the beasts] killed or driven off and the natives coerced into compliance. The fact is, there remains little wilderness anywhere that does not have its resources scheduled on somebody’s industrial or real estate agenda… (Roszak, Wasteland, 16)
It was 1972 when Theodore Roszak wrote those words in his scathing critique of modern industrial society, Where the Wasteland Ends. He wrote this for a generation that was charged with overturning the applecart, halting the chaos, stopping the beast in its tracks.

It was my generation, but I never fully understood the call back then. It is now forty years later and Roszak’s observations and prophetic words continue to ring true, finding validation after ugly validation. Now, for a larger part of humanity it has become a race against the illusion of time, driven by the self-propagating demands of an industrial civilization gone wild, and its underlying logic — the Curriculum of the West.
I do not know if we should call this is a foot race, a tractor-pull, or a Formula One Grand-Prix event. But what I do know is that this race to the end of the world — the one fixated on profits, progress, and predomination — is coldly, callously, and ravenously taking down every ecological niche, all biodiversity, and every alternative culture in its path.

 One of the more recent tragedies of this race is a small indigenous tribe occupying a humble but lush piece of rain forest along the banks of the Tabasara River in Panama — the Ngabe tribe. Glenn Elis, a filmmaker for Al Jazeera news, tells the story of this Central American people trying to save a small parcel of pristine nature, their home, in the face of new dam construction and a hydroelectric project that will serve principally to enrich wealthy Panamanian politicians and industrialists.
Here the Ngabe have carved out a little piece of paradise for themselves, and I saw at once why they are fighting so hard to protect it. There is an open air school where children are taught in the Ngabe language, which is vital if their unique culture is to survive. And I enjoyed a continuous stream of hospitality as we talked into the early hours under a night sky unblemished by light pollution.

The following morning Ricardo[my host] gave us a guided tour of the village, explaining the close bond between his people and nature. I was taken a short distance to the riverbank where a little girl showed us a colony of Tabasara Rain Frogs, one of the rarest species in the world, which are found nowhere else on the planet. If the government has its way, all this will be flooded and the frogs will disappear.
Yet a few miles downstream from Kia, the massive construction site of Barro Blanco [dam and hydroelectric facilities] is an ugly blot on the landscape. As the enormous dam takes shape, armed guards patrol the perimeter to keep the villagers away. When the dam is complete the village of Kia will be lost.
From Kia I travelled northwest to visit Ngabe villagers who had already lost their community. They had been made homeless by another hydroelectric project last year, when the mighty Changuinola River was dammed. Here I met Carolina. Her house had been built on higher ground than those of her neighbours in the village of Guiyaboa, but it was still not high enough. The village now lies deep underwater and all that can be seen is the roof of Carolina’s house, jutting out of the water like some incongruous monument. She told me that she and countless others had received no compensation for loss of their land, crops or housing.
I traveled on through Chiriqui province, the scene of the crackdown, and met and interviewed survivors and the relatives of those who had been killed by the police. I found it hard to understand why they had died. All the Ngabe had been asking for was an opportunity to talk to the government — a concession that the authorities had to make in the end anyway. It is not surprising that, away from the glitzy skyscrapers of the capital, a terrible sense of injustice and resentment is simmering below the surface.
Back in Panama City, Jorge Ricardo Fabrega, the country’s powerful minister of government, agreed to meet me and explain the government’s side. He admitted that things could have been handled better at Changuinola, but insisted that during the recent crackdowns the police had behaved very professionally. He was keen to underline the importance of hydroelectric energy for Panama’s booming economy and then stated categorically that nothing would be allowed to stop the Barro Blanco project going ahead.
“There’s one thing that I have to make clear,” he said. “We’re not going to cancel Barro Blanco. The Barro Blanco project is under construction and it will continue.” As I listened I thought of Ricardo and the other villagers whose future was being decided by the minister and his friends.
By now news had got around that a filmmaker from Al Jazeera was in the country and someone discreetly passed me a lengthy document detailing the government’s future hydroelectric plans. It was an eye-opener. The sheer number of the projects is startling; if they all go ahead they will surely produce far more electricity than Panama will ever need, no matter how dynamic or fast growing its economy. Which begs the obvious question: What will they do with all this power?

Alongside each project listed were the names of the company directors involved – a roll call of Panama’s wealthiest families. It was not difficult to put two and two together. Electricity is a commodity like anything else and if there is spare capacity it can be sold to energy-hungry consumers in neighbouring countries. Someone, it seemed, was going to get very rich. Unsurprisingly, that document has never been made public. (Panama: Village of the Damned, Al Jazeera)
Such stories are not new, but they seem to surface now with far greater frequency, as indigenous tribes or villages that have already been pushed to their limits desperately struggle for survival. Certainly, there have been centuries, even millennia of invasion, exploitation, and destruction of indigenous lands and peoples throughout the world. From Australia and New Guinea to Siberia, Africa, and the Americas, the heedless and blood-filled march of this warped civilization (even in its pre-industrial phase) has picked up its pace as essential natural resources continue to be depleted or poisoned.

Yet, it is not only indigenous human communities that have suffered at the hands of colonizers, contractors, capitalists, and captains of industry alike; it is the sensitive ecosystems and biodiversity of the planet that suffers as well, impacting all life on earth. The bioregions which are home to native Americans, Australian aborigines, New Guinea Highlanders, and tribal peoples around the globe have experienced the heavy hand of our civilized and civilizing armies, our rapacious entrepreneurial businessmen, as well as other merchants of death, including our own imperialist settlers.

Yet, we dare to call those indigenous populations the barbarians.
Look at the Khanty people of the northern Siberian taiga located in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District of the Russian Federation. Originally persecuted under Stalin’s regime during the nineteen-thirties, this nomadic people’s very survival was again threatened in the earlier part of this century by large Russian corporations like LukOil, backed-up by federal legislative mandates.

Oil exploitation on Khanty land subsequently polluted their forests and lakes, killed the reindeer herds and scared off other local game. The Khanty were forced to relocate to ‘National Villages,’ away from their sacred ancestral hunting grounds, becoming dependent upon the Federal administration and the very companies that exploited them. Not unlike the forced dislocations of Stalin’s regime. Yet, in fact, we have to look no further than what our settlers, governments, and armies did to the American Indian populations over the course of five hundred years.

Stories like these are repeated from the Ecuadorian rain forests to the Niger Delta, from tribal villages in West Papua, New Guinea, to the Dongria Kondh of Eastern India, and the Yanomami of Brazil.
This is happening in Russia, Canada, the Philippines, Cambodia, Mongolia, Nigeria, the Amazon, all over Latin America, Papua New Guinea and Africa. It is global … A battle is taking place for natural resources everywhere. Much of the world’s natural capital — oil, gas, timber, minerals — lies on or beneath lands occupied by indigenous people,” says Tauli-Corpus. (The Guardian, ‘We are fighting for our lives and our dignity’)
It is an all-out war for resources, and in large measure, nations and oligarchs are taking aim at lands still occupied by indigenous tribes that have already been pushed to the margins. This is exemplified, closer to home, in the Koch (brothers) Industries’ theft of oil on Native American lands in the 1980’s and 90’s, where we may see the uglier complexion of this rapacious beast. And such activities are only accelerating globally.

 We understand, of course, that such acceleration is a direct response to the rapid depletion of essential resources (e.g., oil, water, land) brought on by this culture’s unrelenting march of destruction, consumption and exploitation — a march only supercharged by industrialization and capitalism, the shining stars of the Western Curriculum.
The saddest part of this forced extinction event is that these very peoples — tribes whose ancestors survived over so many centuries and millennia — would still stand the greatest chance of survival after our civilization collapses, if we only allowed them the breathing space to live now. But, our political and business leaders are seeing to it that nothing living survives the unfolding holocaust as they themselves flail about recklessly in a rapidly vanishing environment — and most especially, not the natives.


Beyond Zero Emmisions

SUBHEAD: What's wrong with Big Green Tech is that is simply allows us to continue on devouring the Earth.  

By John Isaacs-Young on 29 April 2012 for Automatic Earth -  

Image above: Rendering of proposed Sahara Forest Project, in Jordan which uses solar power to create clean water and electricity for agriculture. From (

The Green House is that venue at our local folk festival here on Australia's Sunshine Coast where environmental and related issues are promoted and work-shopped. There was a new presence this year at Woodford, an organization calling itself Zero Carbon Australia 2020 - Beyond Zero Emissions. These folk seemed to be very organized and had been given the large booth at the entrance to the venue. They promoted their cause with vigor on and off the program and were actively seeking recruits for a grass roots army for their campaign. Their 'not for profit' outfit is an example of Big Green Tech in action.

The session I attended, where Zero Carbon told their story, was conducted by a young lady who had learnt her stuff and she held our attention, delivering the blueprint for the transition to a completely de-carbonized Australian economy by 2020. Hundreds of experts are involved, she told us, and when the plans are complete, they will be handed over to corporations to implement. I was very impressed by the boldness of the vision, the quality of the research. And completely unconvinced of its legitimacy or the likelihood of its ever getting up.

One of the key components of the plan involves the progressive replacement of all existing coal and gas fired power stations with large scale wind farms and solar thermal plants that involve vast acres of mirrors and the storage of heat energy in liquefied salt. These two, wind and solar thermal, are considered old, reliable and proven technologies. In the large format envisioned, they will provide base power in support of our national electricity grid into the future. The grid however will have to be upgraded and extended with the east and west coasts of the continent connected.

The national grid - that darling of our centralist planners, big energy companies, investors and climate change activists - , works now, but how viable is it likely to be into the future?

In his essay 'Money verses Fossil Fuel', David Holmgren, the co founder of Permaculture, sets out a position that challenges much of the strategic logic behind current mainstream climate change activism. He describes the moneyed interests supporting the alternative energy agenda as more problematic than the miners and polluters themselves.

"The out of control power of money and markets is leading us more rapidly towards the collapse of human civilization than the short-comings and impacts of any specific activity or technology including the burning of fossil fuels."

Climate activists are right to be concerned about the big polluters and about finding alternative, non polluting technologies, for generating electricity. But the cleanliness of the technology is one thing - size, resilience and who owns it turn out to be just as significant. Can we or should we, like the Zero folk, be attempting to maintain or increase our current levels of power generation? Should we continue to buy into the debt/growth based model that is part and parcel of big centralize systems? Can we afford to look at the world through a single issue window and hope to come up with anything like a clear understanding? David Holmgren:

"And many environmental activists have failed to grasp the importance of energetic limits to the wider human project in the quest for politically acceptable solutions to the climate dilemma."

Amongst the big operators in the global economy are those who accumulate wealth by exploiting the natural world directly and those who make it big-time by 'clever', more abstract means, in the market place. These two groups are mutually inter-dependent but also constantly at war with one another. Both of them are deeply committed to the debt based growth model and the creation of larger and larger systems with each jostling for the controlling high ground. But both groups are in fact losing control and both are now hell bent on self preservation. Only the big fish survive in the current economic climate and the path to survival is through merger and acquisition, financed by more debt.

But as Ashvin Pandurangi points:

"The largest institutions are clearly the least flexible to 'new and unexpected' conditions that will arise: and therefore are the most acutely vulnerable to "black swans" and systemic shocks on the tightropes stretching across every line of latitude from the North to South Pole. Look out below!"

'Big' is increasingly vulnerable and economies of scale and the laying off of workers is increasingly, obviously, counter-productive. The very survival process is hastening the demise of the system as a whole. Of the two groups, however, David Holmgren sees the 'clever' group, those not involved directly in exploiting the earth for profit, as the more imminent threat to life as we know it. These folk are more involved with wild speculative bubbles and complex schemes involving massive leverage. Holmgren again:

"Our money and markets are the most complex products of this deeply ingrained faith in human 'brilliance' (hubris). And just as their foundational beliefs are incomplete, so is their expression extremely dangerous."

After the so called green shoots of recovery, the signs are here again of a liquidity crunch in the asset markets. In fact, the situation looks much worse than 2008, when there was still a store of faith to draw upon. That faith has been drained away by feckless regulators and authorities who failed to address any of the root causes of the crisis or bring anyone to account.

Instead they have been spreading, layer upon layer, thin-as-air-funny-money, over the top of the symptoms. Anyone who has paid the least bit of attention knows that these 'magic money layers' have proved to be anything but magic. Not only are the root causes still with us (too much debt, vast regional financial imbalances) but they have grown steadily throughout the intervening period.

As Nicole Foss explains:

"... our vulnerability to the consequences of debt is extremely high at the moment. The scale of that debt is staggeringly large. The global credit hyper-expansion has been decades in the making… we should be in for the largest economic contraction in several hundred years, and it will be global."

The trouble with deleveraging is that once it gains momentum, money is sucked out of the system through massive debt default and falling asset values. There will be no money around to fund new projects and no one who has it will be willing to lend it. As demand falls, and with it prices, investment in the energy sector in general is likely to dry up.

An effective transition to a big-system, carbon-free economy will no longer be possible under these circumstances. Because these conditions are already underway, the likelihood of realizing this 2020 dream becomes more and more remote. On the other hand, carbon emissions may well drop owing to reduced demand and without the help of climate activists or big 'green' corporations. Nicole Foss once more:

"One of our consistent themes at The Automatic Earth has been not expecting solutions to come from the top down. Existing centralized systems depend on dwindling tax revenues, which will dry up to a tremendous extent over the next few years as economic activity falls off a cliff and property prices plummet."

Hello Zero Carbon grass roots converts! You all seem well intentioned and genuinely concerned folk. I like your technology. How about bringing it down to my town? With your help we'll set up a small scale, solar thermal, molten salt plant in my back yard. What do you say? A community scale power plant and grid, owned locally, that supplies only its immediate locale is part of a very different story to the one that you are currently championing.

Around here we are looking for a resilient decentralized system that is not owned or funded by mad bad corporations and does not want to grow beyond its means. The only problem I can foresee is that here on the Sunshine Coast, the sun does not shine all that often. I don't know how much salt we could melt.

"Climate activists in particular", says David Holmgren, "tend to focus on the fossil energy industries as the 'enemy' (both for generating greenhouse gases and funding climate change denial), but naturally see any parties accepting the new climate agenda as allies. I believe that many of the global players promoting the climate agenda are as dangerous as those denying that agenda."

One has to choose one's battles. Why go after big polluters, guns blazing, when deleveraging is already moving against them. Why make common cause with governments, central planners and corporations who sound like environmentalists but are really growth junkies, for whom our one earth is just too small. Step back a moment, allow deleveraging to do the fighting for you, then throw your weight behind a truly worthy cause - like community building and localization. Soon enough, the effects of peak oil will also be fighting on the side of the environment to lower carbon emissions.

There are reasons why a smooth and easy transfer to a green energy economy is unlikely to happen merely because it's a good idea. One cannot, for example, overestimate just how psychologically committed we are to the context into which we are born and have lived. The age of cheap easy energy has been our age and whether it continues to advantage us or not, the underlying assumptions upon which it was built are fundamental to our lives and identities, almost like breathing. Only at the edges do some of us start to question the under-pinning stories. We are not converted so easily, even to sensible ideas; Intellectually perhaps, but not profoundly.

Ilargi at The Automatic Earth:

"It's high time we begin to understand to what extent the interests of the politicians and bankers and CEOs that we allow to make our decisions for us (read against us) differ from our own. But since our education system and media have denied the very existence of any such difference all of our lives, this understanding will be very hard to come by for 99% of the 99%."

Even in the face of the disintegration of the world as we know it, we will tend to want to cling to our big-system world and demand that it be fixed. Most of us will continue to lend our support to those who claim to be able to bring it back. Those who enjoy or have enjoyed positions of power are even more invested and will be relentless in their efforts to rebuild the big systems. Time and again this will look like it is going to work, only to fail again. Eventually we will get the idea. There will be a shift in values and a different way of doing things.

Nicole Foss: "We have already seen cuts to services and increases in taxes and user fees, and we can expect a great deal more of that dynamic as central authorities emulate hypothermic bodies. In other words, they will cut off the circulation to the fingers and toes in order to preserve the core. This is of course, a survival strategy, from the point of view of the core. But it does nothing good for the prospects of ordinary people, who represent the fingers and the toes."

Transposing this general comment on the economy to the national electricity grid, you can see that when ordinary consumers have difficulties paying their accounts then there is less revenue and reduced capacity for grid maintenance. When sections of the grid are not maintained, outlying customers lose service. This is the nature of big systems. They work in orderly, abundant times but are otherwise loaded with inefficiencies and grave vulnerabilities. Not only that: big systems are sitting ducks for cyber or physical attacks on hardware.

Nicole Foss: "The job of national and international politicians in contractionary times is typically to make a bad situation worse as expensively as possible, as they attempt to rescue the dying paradigm that has conveyed so much personal advantage in their direction. That paradigm is one of centralization - the accumulation of surpluses from a broad periphery at the centre of power."

Anyone who is a little familiar with how the exponential function operates within our growth model or what complexity theory tells us about mature systems under stress knows that our current way of doing things is no longer working and all attempts to fix it can only make it less functional. The Zero Carbon plan for the national power grid is of course, one of many attempts to enliven, improve or save an imperial scale technology.

Nicole Foss: "Such systems cannot be responsive within the time-frame that would actually matter in a financial crisis, where risk is cascading system failure, potentially in a short period of time. Everything they might do is too complex, too expensive and too slow to do much good. If we expect top -down solutions we will be disappointed, and more to the point we will be unprepared to face a period of rapid change. By the time we realize that the cavalry is not coming, it may well be too late to do anything useful."

No, don't join a pie in the sky green effort to keep the growth cycle expanding when in fact it is already into its contractionary phase. It simply won't work.

Nicole Foss: "Fortunately, other strategies exist beyond attempting to preserve the unpreservable. What we must do is to decentralize - to build parallel systems to deliver the most basic goods and services in ways that are simple, cheap and responsive to rapidly changing circumstances."


Elegy for Gary

SUBHEAD: The Heartland is a place so dire that you want to race shrieking from it and forget what you saw there.

By James Kunstler on 30 April 2012 for -

Image above: A blast furnace at the Gary US Steel works in its heyday in the 1940's. From (

A few weeks ago I flew to Chicago, hopped into a rent-a-car, and navigated my way on the tangle of interstate highways to the now mostly former industrial region in the northwest corner of Indiana just off lowest Lake Michigan between the towns of Whiting and Gary.

The desolation of human endeavor lay across the land like nausea made visible, but more impressive was how rapid the rise and fall of it all had been.

Not much more than 150 years ago this was a region of marshes, dunes, swales, laurel slicks, and little backwater ponds of the huge lake. The forbidding flat emptiness of the terrain made it perfect for running railroad track, and before long much of the heavy industry that epitomized the modern interval opened for business there, downwind from the pulsating new organism called Chicago.

The storied steel mills of Gary are gone, and the numberless small shops and sheds that turned out useful widgets exist now, if at all, as ghostly brick and concrete shells along the stupendous grid of highways.

The one gigantic enterprise still going was the BP oil refinery, originally the Standard Oil operation, a demonic jumble of pipes, retorts, and exhaust stacks that sprawled over hundreds of acres, with flared off plumes of leaping orange flame from gas too cheap to sell lurid against the Great Lakes sunset in a lower key of rose and salmon pink. The refinery was there to support the only other visible activity in region, which was motoring.

In a place so desolate it was hard to tell where everybody was going in such numbers on the endless four-laners. Between the ghostly remnants of factories stood a score of small cities and neighborhoods where the immigrants settled five generations ago.

A lot of it was foreclosed and shuttered. They were places of such stunning, relentless dreariness that you felt depressed just imagining how depressed the remaning denizens of these endless blocks of run-down shoebox houses must feel. Judging from the frequency of taquerias in the 1950s-vintage strip-malls, one inferred that the old Eastern European population had been lately supplanted by a new wave of Mexicans.

They had inherited an infrastructure for daily life that was utterly devoid of conscious artistry when it was new, and now had the special patina of supernatural rot over it that only comes from materials not found in nature disintegrating in surprising and unexpected ways, sometimes even sublimely, like the sheen of an oil slick on water at a certain angle to the sun. There was a Chernobyl-like grandeur to it, as of the longed-for end of something enormous that hadn't worked out well.

Yet people were coming and going in their cars from the welfare ruins of East Chicago to the even more spectacular tatters of Gary, where the old front porches are disappearing into prairie grass and the 20th century retreats into the mists of mythology. For a while, I suppose, people were interested that the Michael Jackson nativity occurred there, but that, too, is a shred of history now merging with the fabled wendigo of the Wyandots and the fate of the North American mastodon.

You might draw the conclusion that driving cars is the only activity left in certain parts of the USA. Many of the ones I saw in this forsaken corner of the Midwest were classic beaters occupied by young men in pairs searching, searching, searching. It takes a certain special kind of mental bearing to persist in searching such a place for something that is not there.

I was never so glad to get out of a place than those hundred-odd square miles of soured American dreamland. I was driving too, along with everybody else, on the Dan Ryan Expressway (US I-94), and for about 20 miles or so, from Pullman to the West Loop, the traffic barely pulsed along, like the contents in the terminal portion of the human gastrointestinal tract. This is what remains out in the Heartland of our country: a place so dire that you want to race shrieking from it and forget what you saw there.

I have a feeling that its agonizing return to nature - or what's left of nature - will not be mitigated by anything Barack Obama or Mitt Romney might propose to do. I wouldn't want to be around when the driving stops.

 See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Shattered and Shuttered 6/1/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Waking Up & Walking Away 1/18/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Things Fall Apart - Slowly 8/12/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Detroit returns to Wilderness 12/15/08


GMO Skull & Crossbones

SUBHEAD: Will California GMO labeling have its day in court? If so will food companies to it everywhere?  

By Kurt Cobb on 29 April 2012 for Resource Insights -  

Image above: Glass bottles with raided glass skull and Crossbones identifying poison - in this case tincture of iodine. From (
It appears as if organizers have gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot in California which would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Of all the efforts to date to mandate such labeling, this initiative seems most likely to succeed in a state known for its health consciousness and its widespread organic agriculture (which doesn't permit genetically engineered crops).

But passage of the California initiative would almost certainly lead to a court battle as major producers of genetically engineered seeds seek to have the new law invalidated. We know this because the Monsanto Company, the largest purveyor of genetically modified seeds, threatened the state of Vermont with a lawsuit should its legislature pass a genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling bill. Though passed 9 to 1 by Vermont's House Agriculture Committee, the bill is likely to die because the legislature goes out of session shortly, too soon, it seems, for the full House to act. Next door Connecticut is moving a similar bill, the fate of which remains open.

Labeling is an existential issue for the GMO industry. Where labeling exists, there is virtually no demand for genetically modified foods. Consumers do not want them. Why? Because the industry cannot demonstrate any benefits for the consumer. The only benefits--large profits drained from farmers locked into the treadmill of buying new GMO seed every year--accrue to the companies. With no demonstrated benefits and lots of questions surrounding the safety of GMO foods, consumers are choosing to play it safe wherever they can knowingly make choices through labeling. It turns out that GMO labeling would be the equivalent of putting a skull and crossbones on a food package or piece of produce, and the companies know it.

That's why in any lawsuit aimed at striking down a GMO labeling law, the companies will seek to limit their argument to a procedural one, namely, that food labeling is the purview of the federal government. (They may also say such a labeling requirement violates their free speech rights. But I doubt if this will fly since governments, state and federal, already enforce many labeling requirements on food.)

The GMO companies will want to focus on the procedural issue of federal supremacy in food labeling for two reasons. First, those companies have a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress and know that it will never pass any GMO labeling requirements. Second, the companies desperately want to avoid any discussion of the substantive issue of "substantial equivalence," the notion, coined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that GMO crops are basically the same as conventional crops and therefore do not require any special testing for safety.

This is where it gets interesting because it is precisely here where the anti-GMO advocates find themselves on firmer ground. In any legal challenge to GMO labeling laws, those defending the laws could use a legal process called discovery to unearth documents and question officials and scientists at the various companies. What unreleased feeding studies might the defenders find in company files that would contradict the industry's claims? What failed research might they uncover that would shed light on the dangers of GMOs? In addition, there would be no reason why the defenders couldn't also call independent experts to testify about why GMOs really are different from conventional plants and animals, and therefore warrant a label. Who knows? We might even be treated to juicy testimony from an industry whistleblower about falsified test results. This is just the kind of high-profile discussion the GMO industry wants to avoid.

Here is a preview of what we might expect if such testimony were allowed:

When the question of GMO crops first came up at the FDA, the agency's scientists concluded that GMOs were, in fact, different enough that they should be tested in the way that new drugs are tested before approval. These scientists were overruled by the Clinton administration, and the widespread introduction of GMO ingredients into food began.

Since then, independent research has been hard to come by. The GMO companies fund much of the world's agricultural research and therefore can threaten to withdraw support from an institution whenever research--even that funded from other sources--might threaten the industry. In addition, the companies deny most researchers--read: those who can't be counted on to toe the party line--access to so-called "isogenic lines (conventional and Roundup Ready plant lines that are otherwise genetically identical)." Doing so would allow scientists to test whether the claimed benefits of the genetic alterations are significant or could possibly create drawbacks or dangers.

Despite this there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that, at the very least, GMO crops should undergo extensive safety testing before being released for use. And, there is further evidence that associated practices such as the profligate use of the pesticide glyphosate--known commercially as Monsanto's Ready Roundup used on genetically altered Ready Roundup tolerant plants to make chemical weeding easy--may be changing soil flora so that crops are much more susceptible to "sudden death syndrome," a fungal disease that rots the roots of plants. In addition, the pesticide may not be breaking down in the environment the way its maker says it does. Instead, it appears to linger and build up in the soil. Because glyphosate ties of up nutrients in the soil, it makes crops grown on land saturated with the pesticide less nutritious and more subject to the buildup of toxins.

It is difficult to say who would prevail in a court battle over GMO labeling, one that would almost certainly go to the Supreme Court. Although the current right-wing justices have shown deference to states in most of their opinions, they have also abandon principle whenever sticking to it would inconvenience large corporations--their love of which they announced most prominently in the so-called Citizens United case which has opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate money in politics.

When much of the world is essentially off limits to you because of labeling, when in the very large U.S. market more than 90 percent of the people say they want labeling, when a Google search for the industry's leading company, Monsanto, reveals "evil" as its first suggested additional search term, the only way you can win is to cheat. Buy state legislators, buy Congress, buy the courts (if you can), stack the government with former employees, lie to the public again and again.

The one thing that the GMO industry does not want is a discussion in the clear light of day of what it is doing and what it is suppressing. And, that is what the upcoming battle over the California GMO labeling initiative and, if it passes, the subsequent court case are going to provide.

P.S. One of the things the GMO lobby is going to claim in the California labeling fight is that requiring labels in just one state will drive up food costs. They will argue that this is because of the added costs of two labels for each product containing GMO ingredients and the costs of segregating properly labeled products bound for California from those going to the rest of the country. I have a simple fix for this: Put the California-compliant label on all products containing GMOs regardless of destination!

I'm preparing to be astonished should the food companies follow my suggestion.


It Pays to Stay Home

SUBHEAD: Staying home has to be one of the most unpopular ideas in America, where travel is king.  

By Gene Logsdon on 25 Aoril 2012 for The Contrary Farmer -  

Image above: Photo of Sara Boden with lambs in "Back to the Land". From (
One of the unsung advantages of being in love with a garden or a farm is that the lover doesn’t mind staying home and by doing so, saving gobs of money. In fact most of us land lovers much prefer to stay home. A back forty even as small as an acre can be an exciting, fascinating adventure into the farthest reaches of the earth.

The great entomologist, Jean Henri Fabre, spent much of his life making amazing discoveries about bugs on the few brushy acres behind his house and writing about them. With 30 acres, I never want for a changing world to travel through, a journey not far in miles but almost infinite in terms of material wonders and splendors deep down into the earth and high up into the ever-changing beauty of the sky.

Staying home has to be one of the most unpopular ideas in America where the whole culture embraces faraway travel as essential to happiness. Many of us don’t really have homes that can provide as much enjoyment as travel promises. Rather than spending our money to acquire such a property, we are taught to buy such enjoyment with far away travel.

Perhaps what we need is proper publicity. To advertise traveling at home, a documentary could open with unbelievable close-ups of ants herding and milking aphids on an apple tree, a raccoon destroying a bluebird house, a hawk dive-bombing a mouse, a flint arrowhead sticking out of a creek-side cliff. Then a roll of drums and a voice sonorously introduces the docudrama: “Today we are going where no explorer has gone before— YOUR BACK FORTY.”

Also, in earlier times, a home could not electronically provide all the connections with the outer world that now make travel almost obsolete. You can visit just about everything now in your living room. It may be true that nothing beats seeing a tourist attraction in person, but today you can get really close-up and intimate sights and insights into such attractions on the Internet without being strip-searched.

Just this Sunday, my dear friend, Wendell Berry, was speaking in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and will be receiving at the John F. Kennedy Center today (Monday), as I write this, the National Endowment For The Humanities Award, the highest honor given by the government in this field. I was able to watch and listen to him from our living room, closer and more vividly on our computer screen than if I had been there in the audience.

Another advantage of being a farmer, if not a gardener, is that you can often use your work as an excuse not to attend meetings and social affairs you do not want to attend anyway. We used to have big, loud family gatherings at my grandparents’ house on holidays.

Along about four o’clock in the afternoon, I would assume my standard, long-suffering countenance and with a sigh say that I had to go home and milk the cows. Everyone understood. The cows had to be milked. Poor Gene. Poor Gene would then shuffle, downcast, out the door but with a big inward smile. At least I knew the cows were not going to get in an argument over politics.

Another time, not so many years ago, I politely declined an invitation to give a speech faraway. I hate to give speeches and am not very good at it anyway. The fellow who was inviting me protested. “You aren’t going to give me that guff about how airplanes are environmentally destructive, are you?” he said. “That plane is going to fly here whether you are on it or not.”

“I can’t come because we will be lambing at that time,” I said, which happened to be the truth.

“Oh!” he said, much more contritely. “I understand.”

Even pulling lambs has its advantages.


KIUC Power Play Meeting

SOURCE: Ken Taylor ( SUBHEAD: Unelected President Bissell to appoint staff as voting members of elected Board Committees.  

By Michael Shooltz on 24 April 2012 in Island Breath -

[IB Editor's note: This is a raw effort by the old guard at KIUC to nullify the recent election that resulted in a moderately progressive majority on the board of directors. Bissell is stacking the committees with non elected appointees. What a shame.]

Image above: David Bissell introduces new voting staff to KIUC Board Committee. Actually this is a scene from stage play of "Enron" by Lucy Prebble. From ( Mashup of Bissell's head on Enron executive and new KIUC logo by Juan Wilson.

Just home from today's KIUC Board/CEO meeting. Lots of good testimony. Some enthusiastic sign waving before hand. And lots of "more of the same" in terms of testimony from concerned citizens in the face of a clear commitment by KIUC to "roll out" the smart meters.

I want to let you know about a startling (to me) event that occurred late in the meeting (around 6:00 PM) when the Board got to item 15 on it's agenda for the gathering....."New Business".

In the agenda handout item 15a is called, "2012 Staff Member Appointments to Board Committees (Admin Action Item) I think that by that time there were only four members of the community still present at the meeting. This item was about the "staff" (i.e. David Bissell) having the right to appoint members of his staff to the various Board Committees. That was startling enough.

But part of the discussion included the possibility that these staff members of KIUC that would be appointed to the Board of Directors Committees would have VOTING RIGHTS on the committees. What?!?!?

We the members of the KIUC Coop are already struggling to get our viewpoints expressed to, and acted upon by our Coop. The ONLY voice we currently have is through electing the Board Members to their three year terms and hoping that their votes represent our opinions. The membership of each committee is already formed by the sole authority of the Chairman of the Board.

This years Committees are already slanted against the so-called progressive minority (5-4) with never more than one of the minority on any Committee. One of the existing Board Members made the comment that it doesn't matter if staff gets to vote in committee because all of the decisions are made by the votes of the full Board of Directors which the staff would not have voting rights on.

However, I understand that last year Ben Sullivan was quite frustrated with his inability to get his suggestions in front of the full Board for consideration due to the fact that he couldn't even get them voted out of his committee.

So, if all of a sudden, members of the Staff, who have not been elected to the Board by we the members, and who are beholden to their boss for their paycheck, are assigned to a committee and given a vote on matters in the committee, the minimal voices of "we the people" in the running of our Co-op, will have been even more seriously diluted.

Our voting in elections for Board Members will become somewhat meaningless. Since members of the staff are already always available to share their expertise and opinions with the members of the Board of Directors, there seems to be no other purpose for the idea of assigning staff to Board Committees other than blatantly further skewing the voting process within the power structure at KIUC. Fortunately Board Member Pat Cegen spoke up about his concerns about the Board being the elected representatives of the members.

When Chairman Tacbian read the bylaws regarding this maneuver it sounded as if the appointed Staff members would have voting rights. But Legal Counsel Proudfoot stated that the bylaw was ambiguous and that the Board should study them further and then make their decision as to whether or not the staff should have voting rights.

Of course, since the current make up of the Board of Directors is already skewed in favor of the management perspective, it seems pretty likely that they would favor this new wrinkle which would strengthen their hold on all decision making.

At the break I spoke with one of the Board Members, who shall remain nameless. When I asked, "Wow, what was that all about?", the Board Member responded, "Now you see how the power works around here."

I suggest that any who might have concerns about this issue speak out loudly and clearly on this issue before a final decision is made. It might not do any good, but it will shine some Light on the dark.

James Tokioka's agenda

SUBHEAD: The Kauai representative is an employee for Time-Warner and votes regularly in their interest as Hawaii legislator.  

By Elaine Dunbar on 27 April 2012 in Island Breath -  

Image above:Mashup of Oceanic Time-Warner sign by Juan Wilson From (

 Letʻs start focusing on electing real legislators with genuine integrity and removing the ones that are warming benches and lining pockets. I have been of the opinion for a long time that James Tokioka (Representative) is an unworthy legislator and basically sits there to reap benefits for his personal agendas. Letʻs not forget the time he switched parties to run and be elected. There are quite a few other deadbeats and they know who they are but will make the most of their borrowed time in those seats until we start mobilizing.  

But this recent disclosure takes the cake.

It would be prudent for all to remember when elections roll around and/or a recall might be in order. It would be good to get in the practice of doing recalls to remind these so-called legislators that these positions are not for the betterment of their lifestyles but public service.

mage above: Jimmy Tokiolka (R) and Ron Kouchi (L) are frequent collaborators. They stand with Kauai Economic Opportunities CEO MaBel Fujiuchi (C) this March. From (

 Here is an article by Ian Lind on Tokioka's possible conflict of interest:

Does a $50k-$100k job with Time-Warner create a conflict of interest for legislator?

Here’s a question about the Legislature’s web site: When members of the House or Senate disclose a conflict of interest, is there a record of that conflict which is accessible to the public?

The question occurred to me after a recent post about the bills impacting Olelo and the other community access television providers. I wondered whether Kauai Rep. Jimmy Tokioka had publicly disclosed his new job with Oceanic Time Warner, which creates at very least the reasonable perception of a conflict of interest. And I wondered if that information would be easy to locate.

Tokioka filed an amended financial disclosure with the State Ethics Commission on July 25, 2011, to report getting a job as business manager, Kauai operations. for Oceanic Time Warner Cable. His disclosure lists a salary in the $50,000-$100,000 range. That’s more than his legislative salary, possibly considerably more.

Tokioka is a member of the House Finance Committee, which ended up as the sole referral for HB2874, one of the cable bills that has stirred up controversy. The status page for the bill indicates Tokioka voted in favor, along with the majority of the committee. Tokioka reportedly has also been active behind the scenes seeking support from key colleagues in pushing cable-related bills forward.

Oceanic, which often finds itself at odds with the community access corporations funded by its franchise fees, is seen as a key interest behind these cable-related bills.

Jay April, president of Akaku: Maui Community Television, recently emailed the organization’s supporters:
With Testimony running 100 – 1 against House Bill 2874, which would freeze Community Television funding on all island for five years, the House Finance Committee voted unanimously to PASS the bill with amendments. The language of these amendments are not yet available. Significantly, even though the hearing on this measure was not announced until 9:30PM on Friday night for a Monday morning meeting, scores of people showed up to testify passionately in opposition and hundreds more written testimonies like yours were received by the committee also in opposition…
Even though otherwise funded DOE was the intended beneficiary of a totally undefined plan that would steal PEG monies to buy laptops for schools, they didn’t even bother to show up. This is a bill nobody wanted with Hawaii Public Television and DCCA also weighing in against it. Nobody, that is, except for cable giant, OceanicTime Warner
The sole testimony IN FAVOR of this bill was submitted by TIME WARNER, whose spokesperson clearly misrepresented the facts of how public access TV is funded in oral comments before the committee. Evidently, Time Warner’s testimony is worth more than any 100 of you.
Here’s what House rules say about conflicts.
60.5. If the member has a conflict of interest in legislation, the member shall disclose to the presiding officer (the committee chair or the Speaker, depending on where the vote is taking place) the conflict of interest prior to voting on that legislation. For the purposes of this rule, a “conflict of interest” means that the legislation affects the member’s direct personal, familial, or financial interest except if the member, or the member’s relative, is part of a class of people affected by the legislation.
60.6. If a member is uncertain as to whether a conflict of interest exists, the member may request a ruling from the presiding officer by giving notice and disclosing the direct financial interest to the presiding officer prior to voting. When making a determination in cases where a portion of a measure may place a member in a conflict of interest, the presiding officer shall give due consideration to the context of that portion as it relates to the overall purpose of the measure. If the presiding officer determines that a conflict exists, the presiding officer shall recognize the conflict and honor the member’s request to be excused from discussion, debate, and voting.
If a conflict is declared on the House floor, it will eventually show up in the House journal. But is there any public record of a conflict disclosed in committee? If not, is this something that needs to be addressed?


Okinawa breathes easier

SUBHEAD: Japan pays to relocate 9,000 US marines off Okinawa to Guam, Australia and Hawaii.  

By Robert Burns on 26 April 2012 for Huffinton Post - 

Image above: 2008 Japanese demonstration in Okinawa after US marine accused of raping 14 year old girl. in 1995 three Marines were accused of raping a 12 year old girl. From (  

[IB Editor's note: Oh great! The reason the US military wanted to relocate thousands of Marines to Hawaii was because they produced too much noise, pollution, crime and social dislocation in Okinawa.]

About 9,000 U.S. Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa will be moved to the U.S. territory of Guam and other locations in the Asia-Pacific, including Hawaii, under a U.S.-Japan agreement announced Thursday.

The move is part of a broader arrangement designed to tamp down tensions in the U.S.-Japan defense alliance stemming in part from opposition in Okinawa to what many view as a burdensome U.S. military presence.

It also reflects a desire by the Obama administration to spread U.S. forces more widely in the Asia-Pacific region as part of a rebalancing of U.S. defense priorities in the aftermath of a decade of war in the greater Middle East.

The agreement was outlined in a joint statement issued Thursday night by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and their Japanese counterparts.

Citing an "increasingly uncertain security environment" in the Asia-Pacific region, they said their agreement was intended to maintain a robust U.S. military presence to ensure the defense of Japan.

"Japan is not just a close ally, but also a close friend," Panetta said in a separate comment. "And I look forward to deepening that friendship and strengthening our partnership as, together, we address security challenges in the region."

The joint statement made no mention of a timetable for moving the approximately 9,000 Marines off of Okinawa. It said it would happen "when appropriate facilities are available to receive them" on Guam and elsewhere.

Under the new agreement, about 10,000 Marines will remain on Okinawa, which has been a key element of the U.S. military presence in Asia for decades. The U.S. also has a substantial Air Force presence on Okinawa.

"I think we have made some progress and this plan offers specific and forward-looking action," said Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, who added that Japan wanted to "reduce the burden on Okinawa."

Japan, including Okinawa, is a linchpin of U.S. strategy for deterring aggression in the region and for reinforcing the Korean peninsula in the event North Korea attacked South Korea.

The Obama administration believes the new agreement with Japan will make the alliance more sustainable, while also giving the Marines more regional flexibility.

Between 4,700 and 5,000 Marines will relocate from Okinawa to Guam, according to a U.S. defense official who briefed reporters on some of the details before the agreement was official announced in Tokyo and Washington.

The remainder of the 9,000 who are to relocate from Okinawa will move to Hawaii or be part of a rotational presence in Australia and elsewhere in the region, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was previewing the official announcement.

The official would not say how many would be moved to Hawaii. Earlier this week, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he expects around 2,700 Marines will be shifted there.

Of the $8.6 billion estimated cost of relocating Marines to Guam, Japan agreed to pay $3.1 billion, the official said. The total cost includes an unspecified amount for possible construction of new training ranges in the Northern Mariana Islands that could be used jointly by U.S. and Japanese forces, he said.

The agreement also calls for a phased return to Japanese control of certain parcels of land on Okinawa now used by the American military.

The shift of Marines from Okinawa to Guam has been in limbo for years because it was linked to the closure and replacement of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Okinawans fiercely oppose Futenma and believe the base should simply be closed and moved overseas or elsewhere in Japan. The U.S., however, has insisted that Japan find a Futenma replacement on Okinawa.

That issue remains unresolved.

Although many Okinawans welcome the reduction of troops, they believe their main island still has too many bases on it, and say the military presence causes congestion, leads to military-related crime and increases the possibility of civilians who live near the facilities being injured in accidents such as helicopter or aircraft crashes.

The whole dispute over the U.S. military presence on Okinawa has its roots in the 1995 kidnapping and rape of a schoolgirl by three American servicemen. Top U.S. government officials publicly apologized for the crime, but tensions continued to grow despite a strong desire by Tokyo and Washington to maintain their historically close military and political alliance.

The accord was timed for completion and public announcement before Japanese Prime Minster Yoshihiko Noda's scheduled visit to Washington on Monday for talks with President Barack Obama.

Tha Medium Iz Tha Msg

SUBHEAD: Despite the technology; what we have here is a failure to communicate. By Linton Weeks on 26 April 2012 for NPR - ( Image above: Commuters immersed in their smartphones ride the subway in Beijing. From original article. t is the weirdest thing. There are more ways than ever to communicate with people, yet it sometimes seems like it is more difficult to connect — and stay connected — with anyone.

Should you shoot off an email? Tap out a text? Post a private message on Facebook? Write on their Facebook wall? Skype, poke, ping or conjure them up on a digital tin can phone?

And once you reach someone, you wonder: Is he paying attention? How do you know? Even with the techno-ease of countless communication devices, conversations can still be troublesome. Questions are asked and answered out of order. Instructions and directions go half-read. Meetings are botched. Feelings are hurt.

Nowadays, you can reach out to touch someone and not even get close. Some folks don't check their phone messages. Some don't have answering machines on their home telephones. More and more people consider home phones, and land lines of any stripe, anachronistic.

So how do you get in touch with someone?

The first instinct, says Hannah Shatzen, a senior at the University of Virginia, "is to always text a person. If they don't answer, you can catch them on G-chat or Facebook chat. If they don't answer there, you can Facebook message them and see if they'll answer later. You also have the option to tweet at someone and tell them what you want to say. And if all else fails, you can call them."

Is it maddening to have to try so many ways? Not at all, Shatzen patiently explains. "There is never a time when I can't get in contact with someone. Everyone is constantly connected."

Cue the sound of a home telephone ringing and ringing and ringing ...

Multiple Avenues

A recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reveals that texting is the favorite form of communication among young people ages 12 to 17. Some 63 percent use texting to chat with others every day. About 39 percent call and receive calls on their cellphones; 29 percent swap messages on social network sites — such as Facebook and Twitter — and 22 percent send instant messages.

Only 19 percent talk on land lines every day and just 6 percent exchange emails.

There are so many options. And that energizes people like Debbie Weil.

"The beauty of social media is that it does in fact create multiple avenues to reach someone," says Weil, a techno-evangelist and founder of Voxie Media, a Washington-based publishing services company for business writers. "One usually knows the preferred message to reach a friend — email, text, phone. But if you're trying to reach a potential business contact — even someone 'famous' — you now have so many ways to do it."

For example, Weil says, she is able to contact once-unreachable famous people by posting comments on their blogs, by mentioning their names in posts on her own blog, by directing tweets their way, by posting Facebook comments, by looking people up on LinkedIn and through other methods. "This is a godsend as far as I'm concerned," she says.

Of course, celebrities can be finicky.

* Actor Johnny Depp doesn't use phones. "I just don't like them ... being reachable all the time," Depp tells Access Hollywood.

* Actor Jessie Eisenberg, who played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, admits on AOL that he doesn't use Facebook.

* And Isabelle Fuhrman, a star of The Hunger Games, prefers to not text. "I think the more communication we have, the more misunderstanding there is," the 15-year-old tells "You can text someone with the best intentions and they'll ask why you're mad at them, when you're not. I don't like to text; I use it to make plans with people, but I prefer to call. You can hear the intonation in their voice and you can really connect to them. Skype and video chat is even better."


But many people are frustrated by the dizzying possibilities. And reaching someone is sometimes only the beginning of the problem.

Often with various digital communication devices, we feel connected with — and disconnected from — other people at the same time.

Sure. It happens in face-to-face encounters as well — in office meetings or boring classrooms, for example. But people who study interpersonal relations say that ever-evolving communication technology is changing the very nature of human interaction.

Joanne R. Gilbert, a professor of communication and new media studies at Alma College in Alma, Mich., says, "What I have seen in the last five or six years is an erosion in students' ability to focus, and even their ability to engage in face-to-face interaction. Students themselves notice this."

Just this semester, she says, "my communication majors discussed the fact that homework is much more of a challenge for them than it was a couple of years ago, because while doing homework, they are simultaneously texting, and sending and receiving messages on Facebook, while listening to music and looking at various websites. We discuss the illusion of multitasking and the enormous amount of recovery time it takes to focus on a single task."

Tamara Wandel, who teaches communication at the University of Evansville in Indiana, says Twitter-jitters are not confined to young people. "I know plenty of middle-aged men and women incapable of sitting with a friend for a coffee without tweeting that they're sitting with a friend for coffee," she says. "So in that way we are always in touch but in a more superficial way."

The blizzard of communication options also "introduces an interesting power dynamic, says Mary Stairs Vaughn, a professor of communication studies at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. "For example, I can gain the upper hand by not responding to a text right away or appear pathetic by constantly updating my Facebook status."

In everyday interaction, Vaughn says, "we constantly try to manage others' impressions of us. Asynchronous, text-based communication allows for much more selectivity in the presentation of self. For example, a texter can be purposefully evasive in flirting and back out if the flirting isn't reciprocated."

Before our very eyes, Vaughn says, the realms of interpersonal communication and mass communication are converging. People today have the opportunity to "brand" themselves via Facebook status updates and tweets, Vaughn says, "so now instead of talking to each other, they're more likely to read about each other."

As Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, writes in a recent New York Times essay: "We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship."

Tha Medium Iz Tha Msg

Technology has its own demands, however.

Kate Kamber, a student at the University of Virginia who is Shatzen's roommate, describes the dilemma pretty well. "If you have a crush on a boy, should you text him/call him/tweet him/Facebook chat/message/G-chat/tag him in a photo?" she asks. "There are so many more mediums for communication than there used to be."

She remembers fondly only a few years ago being able to easily reach her fourth-grade boyfriend on his family's land line.

Invoking Marshall McLuhan's famous quote, "The medium is the message," Kamber says that in contemporary American culture, "the problem is not how to best contact someone for the sake of contact, but rather the problem is how to contact someone in a medium where the intended message can most accurately be conveyed."

Symptomatic of the age we live in, technology offers hopeful solutions to problems caused by the very same technology. BlackBerrys, iPhones and other supersmart devices are constantly being updated to knit many of our disparate communication methods into one easy-to-use gizmo or application — not so much a killer app as a healer app.

But there are always other techno-advancements lurking in the wings. At MIT's Media Lab, for instance, researchers are developing communication devices for the living room that focus on "remote co-presence," allowing us to laugh and chat and "be together" regardless of where we are.

And that, of course, is the ultimate challenge of all human interaction — mediated or not. To be successful and meaningful, it should draw us all closer together, not drive us farther apart.


Fundraising Extremis

SUBHEAD: What do we have to do around here to get the uber-rich to save the world? By Dmitry Orlov on 24 April 2012 for Club Orlov - ( Image above: Koch Brother look-alikes Ralph Bellamy (L) and Don Ameche (R) pick up homeless man to see if they can "save" him in movie Trading Places, 1983. From ( There are some important projects that need to be up and running starting like yesterday, because they are key to human survival. Unfortunately, they cannot be funded in the usual ways because of the warped nature of market economics and global finance, which dictates that the only goal of investing money is to make more money. The project of averting disastrous outcomes is not a money-maker, per se, and does not get funded. But shipping in millions of plastic orange Halloween pumpkins from China every year is a sure bet, and so the free market prioritizes orange plastic pumpkins above doing what is essential to keep us all alive. The invisible hand of the free market, it turns out, is attached to an invisible idiot.
A good example of this sort of project is shutting down nuclear power stations before the electric grid goes down and they all melt down à la Fukushima Daiichi, poisoning land and sea around them for thousands of years. The electric grid is indeed going down: the rate of power supply disruptions has been increasing exponentially in the US. Just recently a large and important piece of central Boston went dark because of a transformer explosion. The response was to roll in diesel generators to provide emergency power.
The transformers within the grid tend to be old, sometimes decades old, are at this point only built overseas, and, since they are expensive, there aren't too many spares sitting around. As this infrastructure ages (as it does, and will continue to do, since there is no money to update it) such incidents increase in frequency, putting greater and greater pressure on already scarce and expensive diesel supplies. Already in many places emergency diesel generators are run not just in emergencies, but to fill in gaps in the power supplied through the grid during peak load hours. Diesel is already used for sea and land freight, as well as for most other heavy machinery, and there is not much of it to spare anywhere in the world, so the idea of replacing the electric grid with local diesel generators runs into a very serious problem almost immediately. In fact, looking at the many reports of diesel shortages around the world, it already has.
An extended blackout is fatal to a nuclear power plant. Without a grid to power, the reactors have to be shut down, but they still need to be cooled in order to avoid a meltdown. The power to run the cooling pumps comes from the power plant itself, or the electric grid, or, if both are down, from, you guessed it, diesel generators. There is usually only a few days' worth of diesel on hand; beyond that, cooling water boils out, the zirconium cladding of the nuclear fuel assemblies catches on fire, and the whole thing melts down and becomes too radioactive to even go near, never mind clean up.
Worse yet, most of the 100 or so nuclear power plants in the US are full of spent fuel rods. The spent fuel is no longer potent enough to generate power, but a lot of it is still quite hot, and so the rods are kept in pools of water, which has to be circulated and cooled to keep it from boiling away. The spent fuel contains decay products that span the entire periodic table of elements, many of which are both radioactive and toxic. If the water boils away, the fuel rods spontaneously combust, blanketing the surrounding countryside with a plume of radioactive and toxic products of nuclear decay. The solution is to fish the rods out of the pools, put them into dry casks, and place the casks deep underground in geologically stable formations away from seismic zones. This is a slow and expensive process, for which there is currently no money.
Another, associated and equally important project, is in helping populations, especially those in developed countries, transition to a life without much electricity. In most places, some combination of technologies based on renewable sources of energy needs to be put into place to provide electricity for illumination and communications (the only uses for which electricity is critical). In addition, passive and concentrating solar installations can provide thermal energy for domestic and even some industrial uses. This, again, is a large-scale, expensive project, requiring a high level of funding over an extended period of time. It is also not expected to be any sort of money-maker: nobody will want to pay to have their multi-kilowatt domestic electric system replaced with a few LED lights and chargers for portable electronics, and go back to washing dishes and clothes by hand in solar-heated water. They'd rather just stay comfortable, and then, when that is no longer possible, just sit silently in the dark wearing dirty clothes.
And so, where would all of this money come from? Certainly not from governments: they are too busy bailing out the banks and finance companies that provide the politicians with their political campaign funds. That only leaves private individuals, so let's examine them as a potential source of this critical funding.
Taking the United States as an example, and going up the economic food chain starting from the bottom, we have the downtrodden: the various victims of slavery, genocide, economic exploitation and racial and ethnic discrimination that made this country great. Let's just call them “the poor people.” They serve a key function in society: that of making the slightly less downtrodden worker drones feel superior, thinking “at least we are better off than they are” and continuing to labor for a pittance. Funding large projects is not one of the functions of either of these population groups, although they may be tapped to provide labor, and they do buy an awful lot of lottery tickets. Most of them are either destitute, or poor, or surviving paycheck to paycheck, mired in debt.
Next we have the much smaller group of people who do have a non-negligible net worth. Since the term “middle class” has become all but meaningless, let's just call them “the rich people.” This group is shrinking every day, as more and more people come to measure their wealth not by how much then own but by how much they owe. If you think that savings and debt are diametrically opposed, you may be right, in a strict sense, but only if you ignore the essential purpose of money for the rich people, which is to make them feel rich. To feel rich, they need two things. The first includes all sorts of accoutrements of being rich: flashy cars and clothes, latest gadgets, women with large silicone breast implants, ski vacations and so on, and it doesn't matter too much whether these are procured by spending money or by running up debts; they feel rich either way, or at least richer than someone else they can look down upon, which is all that really matters. The second includes the abstract and addictive thrills of handling large sums of money, be they theirs or borrowed; the purpose of money is to make more money, and the purpose of debt is to make more debt. Parting with their savings to avert disaster and accept a more humble way of living will not make them feel rich in either of these ways.
Image above: Don Ameche (L) and Ralph Bellamy (R) try and explain commodity futures to Eddie Murphy in movie Trading Places. 1983. From ( Lastly, we have the über-rich: those who have simply too much money. People like George Soros or Bill Gates make a big deal of their philanthropy, promoting democracy or fighting malaria; couldn't they help? Theoretically they could (they certainly have the money) but we have to understand what they are. They are vampires. They suck not our blood, literally, but our time and our toil. We get a “living” and an increasingly empty promise of retirement (once we are too old to be useful to them) on an increasingly devastated planet; they get everything else. The way they confiscate our wealth varies—Soros stole people's savings by speculating in currency markets; Gates charged a “Microsoft tax” by foisting on the world a buggy, bloated and insecure operating system with the complicity of the US government; the Waltons who own Walmart did it by shipping US jobs to China while driving small businesses in the US out of business. But the way they extend their largess does not vary: its purpose is to make them look like they are good men. To gain some perspective on what that means, here is a poem by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Slavoj Žižek:
The Interrogation of the Good
Step forward: we hear
That you are a good man.
You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.
You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?
You are honest, you say your opinion.
Which opinion?
You are brave.
Against whom?
You are wise.
For whom?
You do not consider your personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend.
Are you also a good friend of the good people?
Hear us then: we know
You are our enemy.
This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall.
But in consideration of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.
The über-rich thus have two functions in society. The main function is to suck wealth out of the Earth and out of humanity as efficiently as possible. The ancillary function is to spit some of it back out in a way that makes them look like the Earth's and humanity's benefactors. But there is a problem with this balance of payments: in order for the Earth and humanity to derive a net benefit from their activities, they would have to spit out as much, if not more, as they suck in. In the process, they would cease to be über-rich; in effect, they would cease to exist.
And here we come to the crux of the argument. The only possible sources of funding for our project of making the planet survivable for future generations are the über-rich, but in the process they have to cease to exist. Brecht's approach is both simple and dramatic, but a more humane option can be imagined. There is a certain point in time when people are particularly malleable when it comes to the question of disposing of their money: on their deathbed. Lying in extremis, one inevitably ponders the fact that “you can't take it with you,” thoughts of a potentially unpleasant world beyond death begin to bedevil the mind... With the right sort of persuasion, dramatic results are often achieved by priests, heads of nonprofits and other mendicants. It is at this point that a pitch for saving what's left of the planet may succeed.
Imagine our über-patriarch lying in extremis. Arrayed before him are his various (ex-) wives (in a Western harem the wives are spaced out in time as well as in space, to abide by the local bigamy laws) and their various children, all waiting for their bit of the legacy. There is the leathery old harpy who came first, the now wilted trophy wife who tried to hold it together with facelifts and implants and Botox, but now looks like a partially deflated balloon animal, and the pretty but sociopathic young nymphomaniac that's been keeping him (and his bodyguards) company of late. They are all hideous in their hypocritical concern for his well-being/wish for his speedy death. The children are hideous in their own way: all practiced at the healthy sibling rivalry in who can do the absolute least to appease the daddy-monster and avoid being disowned. Maybe somebody becomes suspicious that the old ogre will leave all the loot to his favorite, and the favorite is found in the wine cellar, choked to death with a silk scarf. There is a reason why posh English-language writers write so many murder mysteries, and it's the same reason that landscape painters paint so many trees: it's what grows there.
But then a group of dignified and austere gentlemen arrives and asks for an audience. They are all bona fide members of a secret society with which our ailing patriarch is well acquainted, and they lay out a plan: his legacy is to be added to their war chest, which will be used to wage total war to win a survivable future. He will die so that the Earth may live. The lawyer is summoned, the Last Will and Testament is hastily amended and signed, and the patriarch expires in bliss.
And if that doesn't work, then there's what Brecht suggests.