My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Food needs 'fundamental rethink'

Excellent article from the BBC's Science and Environment Reporter Mark Kinver. Please read this and pass it on.

Food needs 'fundamental rethink'

A sustainable global food system in the 21st Century needs to be built on a series of "new fundamentals", according to a leading food expert.

Tim Lang warned that the current system, designed in the 1940s, was showing "structural failures", such as "astronomic" environmental costs.

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

Professor Lang is a member of the UK government's newly formed Food Council.

"Essentially, what we are dealing with at the moment is a food system that was laid down in the 1940s," he told BBC News.

"It followed on from the dust bowl in the US, the collapse of food production in Europe and starvation in Asia.

"At the time, there was clear evidence showing that there was a mismatch between producers and the need of consumers."

Professor Lang, from City University, London, added that during the post-war period, food scientists and policymakers also thought increasing production would reduce the cost of food, while improving people's diets and public health.

"But by the 1970s, evidence was beginning to emerge that the public health outcomes were not quite as expected," he explained.

"Secondly, there were a whole new set of problems associated with the environment."

Thirty years on and the world was now facing an even more complex situation, he added.

"The level of growth in food production per capita is dropping off, even dropping, and we have got huge problems ahead with an explosion in human population."

Fussy eaters

Professor Lang lists a series of "new fundamentals", which he outlined during a speech he made as the president-elect of charity Garden Organic, which will shape future food production, including:

* Oil and energy: "We have an entirely oil-based food economy, and yet oil is running out. The impact of that on agriculture is one of the drivers of the volatility in the world food commodity markets."
* Water scarcity: "One of the key things that I have been pushing is to get the UK government to start auditing food by water," Professor Lang said, adding that 50% of the UK's vegetables are imported, many from water-stressed nations.
* Biodiversity: "Biodiversity must not just be protected, it must be replaced and enhanced; but that is going to require a very different way growing food and using the land."
* Urbanisation: "Probably the most important thing within the social sphere. More people now live in towns than in the countryside. In which case, where do they get their food?"

Professor Lang said that in order to feed a projected nine billion people by 2050, policymakers and scientists face a fundamental challenge: how can food systems work with the planet and biodiversity, rather than raiding and pillaging it?

The UK's Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, recently set up a Council of Food Policy Advisers in order to address the growing concern of food security and rising prices.

Mr Benn, speaking at the council's launch, warned: "Global food production will need to double just to meet demand.

"We have the knowledge and the technology to do this, as things stand, but the perfect storm of climate change, environmental degradation and water and oil scarcity, threatens our ability to succeed."

Professor Lang, who is a member of the council, offered a suggestion: "We are going to have to get biodiversity into gardens and fields, and then eat it.

"We have to do this rather than saying that biodiversity is what is on the edge of the field or just outside my garden."

Michelin-starred chef and long-time food campaigner Raymond Blanc agrees with Professor Lang, adding that there is a need for people, especially in the UK, to reconnect with their food.

He is heading a campaign called Dig for Your Dinner, which he hopes will help people reconnect with their food and how, where and when it is grown.

"Food culture is a whole series of steps," he told BBC News.

"Whatever amount of space you have in your backyard, it is possible to create a fantastic little garden that will allow you to reconnect with the real value of gardening, which is knowing how to grow food.

"And once you know how to grow food, it would be very nice to be able to cook it. If you are growing food, then it only makes sense that you know how to cook it as well.

"And cooking food will introduce you to the basic knowledge of nutrition. So you can see how this can slowly reintroduce food back into our culture."

Waste not...

Mr Blanc warned that food prices were likely to continue to rise in the future, which was likely to prompt more people to start growing their own food.

He was also hopeful that the food sector would become less wasteful.

"We all know that waste is everywhere; it is immoral what is happening in the world of food.

"In Europe, 30% of the food grown did not appear on the shelves of the retailers because it was a funny shape or odd colour.

"At least the amendment to European rules means that we can now have some odd-shaped carrots on our shelves. This is fantastic news, but why was it not done before?"

He suggested that the problem was down to people choosing food based on sight alone, not smell and touch.

"The way that seeds are selected is about immunity to any known disease; they have also got to grow big and fast, and have a fantastic shelf life.

"Never mind taste, texture or nutrition, it is all about how it looks.

"The British consumer today has got to understand that when they make a choice, let's say an apple - either Chinese, French or English one - they are making a political choice, a socio-economic choice, as well as an environmental one.

"They are making a statement about what sort of society and farming they are supporting."

Growing appetite

The latest estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that another 40 million people have been pushed into hunger in 2008 as a result of higher food prices.

This brings the overall number of undernourished people in the world to 963 million, compared to 923 million in 2007.

The FAO warned that the ongoing financial and economic crisis could tip even more people into hunger and poverty.

"World food prices have dropped since early 2008, but lower prices have not ended the food crisis in many poor countries," said FAO assistant director-general Hafez Ghanem at the launch of the agency's State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008 report.

"The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices remain a dire reality," he added.

Professor Lang outlined the challenges facing the global food supply system: "The 21st Century is going to have to produce a new diet for people, more sustainably, and in a way that feeds more people more equitably using less land."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jesus Claus

Both come from a mystical land that many talk about, but no one has ever seen.

Both promise gifts and treasure for good behavior.

Both keep a record of your lifetime of conduct.

Both can always see what you are doing, at any time, anywhere.

Both magically ascend into the sky when the job is done.

What is amazing is that every single child in the world is naturally compelled to ask enough provoking question to dispel the Santa myth before even reaching intellectual maturity. Whereas most adults refuse to ask any questions that undermine their belief in whether or not Jesus is real. For a long time I thought that children were just naturally smarter to ask for their gifts upfront, but in time I’ve realized that children inherently know that not receiving gifts from an imaginary person is not a fair trade for the truth.

It is with that in mind that my wife and I decided, post-theological as we are, to celebrate the myth of Santa with our son Sebastian. We see it as a trial run, practice, for the gauntlet of mythical propaganda to follow. If he can let go of a jolly man giving out candy and toys, then seeing through a world filled with talking snakes, the dead rising like zombies, and the beliefs that the creator of the universe has nothing better to do then worry whether or not people like him, then he should be able easily dispensed with that as fiction too.

In time we hope that our son realizes that the true meaning of this season predates religion, civilization, and humanity itself. It is a celebration of the dark, cold, and slumbering. It is the understanding that everything needs rest, the world will renew, and that life will continue. And in some small part, if we support each other with cooperation and love when times are dark, we will be stronger when the light comes. So maybe, just maybe, if we are good, will get to see our gift in the smile of every independent thinker who has just figured out that Santa Claus is just Jesus for adults.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So Throw Him in Jail Already

So I’ve been taking a break from political writing since the election, but can’t stand by and not say something about this. In an interview with ABC News on Monday, Dick Cheney admitted to war crimes. Not in a roundabout way, not trying to sugarcoat it, and not in a way that is disputable. It was a matter of fact, simple admission that waterboarding happened and that he approved of it.

So what’s the big deal? Let me digress for a minute to bring up a bit of history. I’m going to quote the recent Republican nomination from president, a POW himself, John McCain (Thursday, November 29th, 2007 in a campaign event in St. Petersburg): “… following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding.” That’s right, we’ve actually hung people - within Dick Cheney’s lifetime - for waterboarding. And he just admitted to it. Let me say that again. A sitting Vice President just went on national TV and admitted to a crime that we as a country have killed people for committing.

So where is the outrage? Sure they’re gone in a couple of weeks, but if this remains unpunished it sets a precedent that any crime committed by a president or vice president is legal as long as they say it is. To quote another politician, “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”. Those famous words by Dick Nixon, about his now almost adorable break-in to a Democratic Headquarters in Washington, DC, are currently being used by one of our leaders in favor of illegally torturing someone in the same manner as was used in the Spanish Inquisition.

So what can we do? Well, just because he is leaving office does not mean that he is no longer accountable for his crimes. He is still prosecutable for his actions and needs to be made an example of. We are a country of laws and everyone must obey them. If we are to believe that no one is above the law, our laws must be applicable from the top down. Please take a minute and write your representative. Let them know that you’re outraged. Tell them that you want Dick Cheney held accountable. Tell them that if they really want to show that they stand for change, this would be an excellent place to start.

Write your representative from the Senate

Write your representative from the House

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prop 8 - The Musical

Because, Jesus loves you just as much as Gaylord Seaman III.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Deadly Stampede At Wal-Mart Not Surprising

By: Andrei Codrescu

President Bush told us to go shopping.

Seven years later, Lehman Brothers went under.

In the aftermath, our panicked leaders prophesied doomsday if we didn't immediately go shopping to save America from recession.

And so we went shopping! We so went shopping, in rumbling herdlike elephant masses, we killed a guy who didn't get out of the way fast enough. It's a tragic incident, but by no means meaningless. Shopping is a religion, and some religions demand sacrifices.

The Wal-Mart employee died for us on Black Friday, but have we stopped to think what his sacrifice means? Not at all: We're stampeding right on through to the other side of Christmas. We aren't just shopping: We are saving America.

There were some voices that said on TV that maybe we should start saving instead of shopping. We heard those voices, too, especially when gas was $4, but we seem to have quickly forgotten them. Save what?

The business of America is business. And for you and me, Mr. and Mrs. Citizen Average, that means shopping.

I'm not going to make anything out of the fact that the killer mob stormed Wal-Mart, not Neiman Marcus, because the tragedy could have happened anywhere. Shopping mobs are unstoppable regardless of whether they are after diamond-encrusted slippers or Chinese lawn ornaments. The urge is the same: Get to it before they quit running the sale ads and America goes down.

And now that we are officially in a recession and too tired from shopping to figure anything out, they are making us feel guilty of murder, which we may well be. But we were just following orders.