mm223: Pigs, bees, fish — the dangerous ways we set our table

December 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The lavish supplies of cheap food we take for granted in the U.S. are far more costly than we’ve understood. Two stories in NYTimes this weekend provide disturbing evidence on several fronts. Michael Pollan authored the first, where he analyzed a pair of stories.

Staph infection and pig farms

The incursion of staph infection into the world at large from the general confinement of hospitals is distressing. In fact,

MRSA, the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria … is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

One formerly understood that staph has mutated to develop resistance to antibiotics due to the overuse of antibiotics in the hospital setting, and thus is difficult to combat there. The victims of the resistant infections are generally the weak and elderly patients.

Now, there is disturbing evidence that the massive use of antibiotics in the ubiquitous ginormous feedlots might be causing staph to mutate outside hospitals.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at least 70 percent of the antibiotics used in America are fed to animals living on factory farms. Raising vast numbers of pigs or chickens or cattle in close and filthy confinement simply would not be possible without the routine feeding of antibiotics to keep the animals from dying of infectious diseases. That the antibiotics speed up the animals’ growth also commends their use to industrial agriculture, but the crucial fact is that without these pharmaceuticals, meat production practiced on the scale and with the intensity we practice it could not be sustained for months, let alone decades.

This is all still guesswork on the part of researchers, as neither the FDA nor the livestock industry seems that interested in examining the issue.

Scientists have not established that any of the strains of MRSA presently killing Americans originated on factory farms. But given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not. When, in August, the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition asked the Food and Drug Administration what the agency was doing about the problem of MRSA in livestock, the agency had little to say. Earlier this month, though, the F.D.A. indicated that it may begin a pilot screening program with the C.D.C.

The implication for the long-term costs of the inexpensive meat the world (except of course the 20% who are starving) takes for granted if a relationship is established between MRSA and CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation, a new acronym for MUDGE) is definitely disturbing. As is, of course, the fact that MRSA has overtaken AIDS as a killer in the U.S.

Bees, again

This space has taken some note over the past several months of the honeybee story (here, here and here): the bees have disappeared; do we really know why? Michael Pollan has some significant observations, and relates the issues with the bees to that of the pigs.

The second story is about honeybees, which have endured their own mysterious epidemic this past year. Colony Collapse Disorder was first identified in 2006, when a Pennsylvanian beekeeper noticed that his bees were disappearing — going out on foraging expeditions in the morning never to return. Within months, beekeepers in 24 states were reporting losses of between 20 percent and 80 percent of their bees, in some cases virtually overnight. Entomologists have yet to identify the culprit, but suspects include a virus, agricultural pesticides and a parasitic mite. (Media reports that genetically modified crops or cellphone towers might be responsible have been discounted.) But whatever turns out to be the immediate cause of colony collapse, many entomologists believe some such disaster was waiting to happen: the lifestyle of the modern honeybee leaves the insects so stressed out and their immune systems so compromised that, much like livestock on factory farms, they’ve become vulnerable to whatever new infectious agent happens to come along.

Due to the massive scale of agriculture in California, source of so much of the food grown in this country, the state has, by necessity, become an importer of itinerant bees.

In 2005 the demand for honeybees in California had so far outstripped supply that the U.S.D.A. approved the importation of bees from Australia. These bees get off a 747 at SFO and travel by truck to the Central Valley, where they get to work pollinating almond flowers — and mingling with bees arriving from every corner of America. As one beekeeper put it to Singeli Agnew in The San Francisco Chronicle, California’s almond orchards have become “one big brothel” — a place where each February bees swap microbes and parasites from all over the country and the world before returning home bearing whatever pathogens they may have picked up. Add to this their routine exposure to agricultural pesticides and you have a bee population ripe for an epidemic national in scope.

So, pigs and bees have become industrialized. The law of unintended consequences has gone to work, also.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Michael Pollan – Agriculture – Disease Resistant Staph – Concentrated Animal Feed Operations – Sustainability – New York Times

a disturbing Chinese fish story

The final element of today’s food fright is also a Times story.

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters

By DAVID BARBOZA

FUQING, China — Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Fuqing is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.

But that growth is threatened by the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply.

“Our waters here are filthy,” said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

Okay, let me count: eels, shrimp, tilapia, sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff including pesticides, veterinary drugs and pesticides. The food we want seems swamped by all the stuff we want no part of, but we don’t get to choose. After all,

Environmental problems plaguing seafood would appear to be a bad omen for the industry. But with fish stocks in the oceans steadily declining and global demand for seafood soaring, farmed seafood, or aquaculture, is the future. And no country does more of it than China, which produced about 115 billion pounds of seafood last year.

China produces about 70 percent of the farmed fish in the world, harvested at thousands of giant factory-style farms that extend along the entire eastern seaboard of the country. Farmers mass-produce seafood just offshore, but mostly on land, and in lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs, or in huge rectangular fish ponds dug into the earth.

The U.S. imports 80% of its fish; the Chinese produces 70% of the world’s supply of farmed fish. China is huge, ambitious, and often very primitive in its safety surveillance. This is an ugly combination.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters – New York Times

Let’s review:

  1. Some scientists are convinced that pig and other livestock agriculture can kill us, because the overuse of antibiotics in CAFO settings could cause the mutation of antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.
  2. Honeybees have been worked so hard in the service of agribusiness that some scientists believe that the stress made them less resistant to bee-killing viruses and parasites.
  3. Chinese aquaculture (a wetter form of agribusiness) is producing massive quantities — the overwhelming majority of the globe’s farmed product — of fish contaminated by sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff and veterinary drugs and pesticides.

To paraphrase Will Rogers, it’s not what you pay for food, but what it costs you that counts. I don’t think that we can afford inexpensive food.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm217: Potpourri — Romney, alternative energy, Stockhausen

December 9, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

When MUDGE can’t decide which of several topics he’s most interested in discussing with faithful reader, he doesn’t decide at all (leaving that to The Decider, I suppose); rather, he enters SASB mode:

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We’ve quoted Steve Chapman previously here at Left-Handed Complement (here and here, for example). He’s on the editorial board of our home town paper, the Chicago Tribune, and writes for Reason magazine.

Pretty conservative guy in a very conservative environment. But, left-handed as I am, I find myself agreeing with Chapman surprisingly often.

chitrib

Romney flunks a religious test

Steve Chapman | December 9, 2007

Mitt Romney is worried about religious intolerance. He fears religious and nonreligious people will unite to punish him because of his Mormon faith. He thinks it would be much more in keeping with America’s noblest traditions if Mormons and other believers joined together to punish people of no faith.

On Thursday, Romney showed up at the George H.W. Bush Library in College Station, Texas, to announce that even if it costs him the White House, his Mormonism is non-negotiable. That came as a relief to those who suspected he would defuse the issue by undergoing a Methodist baptism.

Like John F. Kennedy, who said in 1960 that the presidency should not be “tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group,” Romney said there should be no religious test for this office. “A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith,” he said.

Chapman continues by illustrating Romney’s misreading of U.S. history and the intent of the authors of this country and its Constitution.

He ignores evidence that the framers thought otherwise. The Constitution they so painstakingly drafted contains not a single mention of the Almighty—unlike the Articles of Confederation, which it replaced. A 1796 treaty, ratified by the Senate and signed by that very same John Adams, stipulated that the U.S. government “is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Romney flunks a religious test — chicagotribune.com

Now, as much as MUDGE is likely to cast a vote next November for a Democrat, one imagines that Steve Chapman will not.

However, Mitt Romney apparently will not get his vote:

In the end, though, Romney accomplished what he set out to do in this speech. Henceforth, no one can possibly justify voting against him because he’s a Mormon. Not when he’s provided so many other good reasons.

shortattention_thumb2[6]

nytimes

Efforts to Harvest Ocean’s Energy Open New Debate Front

By WILLIAM YARDLEY | Published: December 8, 2007

NEWPORT, Ore. — Chris Martinson and his fellow fishermen catch crab and shrimp in the same big swell that one day could generate an important part of the Northwest’s energy supply. Wave farms, harvested with high-tech buoys that are being tested here on the Oregon coast, would strain clean, renewable power from the surging sea.

They might make a mess of navigational charts, too.

“I don’t want it in my fishing grounds,” said Mr. Martinson, 40, who docks his 74-foot boat, Libra, here at Yaquina Bay, about 90 miles southwest of Portland. “I don’t want to be worried about driving around someone else’s million-dollar buoy.”

A hot-button topic, alternative energy sources have appeared in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© several times (wind power here, hydro power here).

The concept of using living natural processes (rather than fossilized ones) is intriguing. But, as seen in the wind power story we discussed, even the free wind isn’t free of costs, monetary and environmental. And the same goes for ocean waves.

“Everyone wants that silver bullet,” said Fran Recht of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. “The question is, Is this as benign as everyone wants to say it is?”

Accompanying the NYTimes story was this intriguing graphic:

powerfromthesea

So, will a forest of anchored buoys interfere with fish and migratory marine mammals? How can it not?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Efforts to Harvest Ocean’s Energy Open New Debate Front – New York Times

Turns out that the concept of NIMBY (not in my back yard) is alive and well several miles offshore Oregon in the Pacific Ocean!

People, everything has a cost. At first splash, power generating buoys seems more benign than most traditional or alternative energy sources.

shortattention_thumb2[6]

Say “Karlheinz Stockhausen” to most people, and, depending on your conversation partner’s degree of social etiquette, you’d be met by responses spanning the scale from quizzical stares to a smack in the jaw.

Yr (Justifiably) Humble Svt’s interest in serious music has been documented in the space several times (among them: here, here, here and most hilariously, here).

Yes, Karlheinz Stockhausen was a musician, a composer actually, and there was a time in MUDGE‘s young life when I was quite smitten with his ground-breaking compositions.

He died this week.

nytimes

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Influential Composer, Dies at 79

karlheinzstockhausen4

By PAUL GRIFFITHS |  Published: December 8, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen, an original and influential German composer who began his career as an inventor of new musical systems and ended it making operas to express his spiritual vision of the cosmos, died on Wednesday at his home in Kuerten-Kettenberg, Germany. He was 79.

Stockhausen was a pioneer of electronic music, at a time before Robert Moog made it simple to generate the complex sounds that have, thanks to Moog, become a ubiquitous feature of popular sonic culture. When Stockhausen began to chart a new course in European serious music in the early 50s, electronic music was pieced together, tone by tone, channel by channel, an agonizing arduous process.

At one time, I had recordings of his music from that era, but I hadn’t encountered them for sometime before my vinyl collection was ceded to my musical MUDGElet No. 3.

The classical music radio station in my town (and how many people can say that phrase these days?) never ever played Stockhausen’s music. Of course, they are hard-pressed to play music written after 1950, except that of John Adams, the Gian Carlo Menotti of this generation (i.e., feet anchored more in the 19th century than the 20th or 21st). So it’s been quite some time since I visited Stockhausen’s music.

The obituary in the NYTimes tells us that his later life took a most Wagnerian turn.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Influential Composer, Dies at 79 – New York Times

Anyone interested in the topic of serious electronic music can follow this link to the article in Wikipedia.

So that’s today’s potpourri. We all remain hopeful that MUDGE‘s standard attention span returns real soon now.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm206: It’s 10:30pm — Do you know where your tap water has been?

November 27, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

While most of the world frets about the $100/barrel cost of petroleum, another resource shortage has been looming at the outskirts of our attention.

Water.

Our SUVs will grind to a halt without the former.

Life will grind to a halt without the latter.

In many parts of the world the growing shortage [note to self: as a writer, can you live with the contradiction in terms?] of water for agriculture and drinking purposes is already a critical issue. Governments can print money, but the planet’s supply of water is apparently finite, especially the fresh variety.

Which leads us, as in many instances, to California. You’ll remember California, the home of huge redwood forests, spectacular ocean vistas, and once arid deserts now populated by tens of millions of people.

Water is imported into this residential desert from as far away as Colorado, and as the population, and agricultural activity that supports it grows, the potable supply in many cities is insufficient.

Which leads us to today’s story, courtesy as so many are, of the NYTimes.

November 27, 2007

From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone.

But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water — after a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals and ultraviolet light and the passage of time underground.

On that Friday, the Orange County Water District will turn on what industry experts say is the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water to increase drinking water supplies. They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.

The process, called by proponents “indirect potable water reuse” and “toilet to tap” by the wary, is getting a close look in several cities.

It’s a clever system, actually, not directly sending the output of the reclamation project to the taps.

groundwater

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking – New York Times

Water. We’ve covered it here before. It’s a universal theme.

Anyone remember the amazing Polanski/Nicholson/Huston/Dunaway film “Chinatown“? Its plot driver was the 1930s surreptitious provision of irrigation water for the orange groves of the San Fernando valley, now the northern bedroom suburbs of Los Angeles.

In the past, MUDGE was always grateful for living quite near one of the Great Lakes, a seemingly reliable and endless resource.

That was then. Now, between wrestling with states and cities in the dry West that would love to get hold of some of that lovely stuff, and fending off the likes of Nestlé, largest marketer of bottled water in the world, whose facility in Michigan has begun to deplete bottomless Lake Michigan, our Great Lakes-adjacent location is not looking so comfortable.

So, technology might provide an answer, as it might for so many of civilization’s issues.

One solution that out of desperation has been tried in many parts of the world is desalinization, the conversion of salt water (¾ of the planet’s surface, or so we’re told) to fresh. After all, California (the state in question) has many hundreds of miles of oceanfront. However, desalinization turns out to be frightfully expensive, both in dollar terms, as well as, I was interested to learn, in environmental terms as well.

Impacts of desalination include brine build-up, increased greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of prized coastal areas and reduced emphasis on conservation of rivers and wetlands. Many of the areas of most intensive desalination activity also have a history of damaging natural water resources, particularly groundwater.

Desalination: Option Or Distraction For A Thirsty World?

Okay, so I understand it’s a closed system, this Spaceship Earth we all inhabit. Over the course of eons, water cycles through salt and fresh, and the Groundwater Replenishment System called out above is an attempt to provide some of that cyclic advantage, cosmetically at least.

We’ve long taken fresh potable water for granted in the Western world. Our desert west and its growing crisis is only a harbinger.

Like so many of our bedrock expectations, a planet heading for 9billion humans will seismically shift those watery assumptions.

Cheers!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm205: Let them eat: Green Alleys?

November 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Call me an environmentally shallow and sloppy reader, but somehow I’ve missed until now Chicago’s Green Alley initiative. Sloppy because I had to read about Chicago, MUDGE‘s home town after all, in the NYTimes!

nytimes

By SUSAN SAULNY

CHICAGO, Nov. 25 — If this were any other city, perhaps it would not matter what kind of roadway was underfoot in the back alleys around town. But with nearly 2,000 miles of small service streets bisecting blocks from the North Side to the South Side, Chicago is the alley capital of America. In its alleys, city officials say, it has the paved equivalent of five midsize airports.

Part of the landscape since the city began, the alleys, mostly home to garbage bins and garages, make for cleaner and less congested main streets. But Chicago’s distinction is not without disadvantages: Imagine having a duplicate set of streets, in miniature, to maintain that are prone to flooding and to dumping runoff into a strained sewer system.

What is an old, alley-laden city to do?

Chicago has decided to retrofit its alleys with environmentally sustainable road-building materials under its Green Alley initiative, something experts say is among the most ambitious public street makeover plans in the country. In a larger sense, the city is rethinking the way it paves things.

In a green alley, water is allowed to penetrate the soil through the pavement itself, which consists of the relatively new but little-used technology of permeable concrete or porous asphalt. Then the water, filtered through stone beds under the permeable surface layer, recharges the underground water table instead of ending up as polluted runoff in rivers and streams.

Some of that water may even end up back in Lake Michigan, from which Chicago takes a billion gallons a year.

“The question is, if you’ve got to resurface an alley anyway, can you make it do more for you?” said Janet Attarian, the project’s director.

Once upon a time, Chicago proudly characterized itself as “the city that works.” Haven’t seen that self-congratulatory slogan lately.

Why? A public school system, that despite some pockets of (mainly charter school) competency, leaves far too many of its students, yes, behind.

Why? A police department that, after years of rebuilding a professional reputation, has recently displayed some alarmingly “Dirty Harry” characteristics.

Why? A public transportation system forced to go begging annually to the state government to bail it out; this year, the state bucket has been missing in action. Draconian service cuts have been narrowly avoided, but the political machinations continue, and the needs of the public for affordable means to get to and from their jobs, is, as always, well down on the pols’ lists of  priorities.

Why? A surface street system whose signaling has seldom been updated since its installation in the 1950s; facilities that are routine in suburban systems such as traffic sensitive left-turn arrows for high volume intersections are the exception.

Why? A trash collection recycling program that was a joke from start to finish, and even the emperor finally had to acknowledge his “blue bag” nudity, and begin two decades late to put in place a realistic program.

Why? A steady stream of city officials and elected ones populating the state and federal prison systems, as “the city that works” basically worked for the politically connected, with kickbacks, sweetheart contracts and the like.

Why? A perfectly useful and manifestly convenient lakeside downtown airport that served corporate and private traffic for more than 50 years until, without input from the City Council or anyone else, construction equipment delivered stealthily destroyed its runway in favor of a park no one knew we needed, late one night!

But, thanks to Mrs. Mayor, we’ve got some grassy roofs, a zillion miles of decorative (if politically sourced) wrought iron fencing around public parks, including the late, lamented downtown airport, and a superficial green sensibility.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

In Miles of Alleys, Chicago Finds Its Next Environmental Frontier – New York Times

This curmudgeon is guessing that, at a minimum, the more than likely politically connected Green Alley contractor is charging the city a considerable premium over the proper rate for its more than likely monopoly status, and somebody deep in the administration is quietly supplementing his grandchildren’s college fund, or supporting his Gold Coast mistress. Green business is Chicago business as usual.

Hey, keep those trains and buses running, Chicago, or your Green Alleys will be serving miles of foreclosed, abandoned bungalows, as homeowners, unable to cheaply commute to their jobs, lose those jobs.

Talk about fiddling while Chicago burns!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm204: Wind power — Ugly, noisy, destructive! Who knew?

November 25, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Twice within a couple of these holiday weekend days the NYTimes has featured stories on power generated by modern wind turbines.

Quite intriguing, really, the theory that power can be produced without burning fossil fuels, without creating 2billion years of hazardous nuclear waste, without the variability of the winter’s snowfall (influenced lately by drought).

Just throw up a few huge turbine blades and let Mother Nature take over.

Well, of course it’s hardly that simple. As the pair of stories make clear, no work of man is without controversy, and wind farms are apparently not as benign as proponents have long claimed.

First, from Sweden:

swedenwind

By MARK LANDLER

MALMO, Sweden — Steadying himself on the heaving foredeck of an inspection ship recently, his face flecked by spray, Arne Floderus pronounced it a good day for his new offshore wind farm.

A 30-mile-an-hour wind was twirling the fingerlike blades of a turbine 380 feet above his head. Around him, a field of turbines rotated in a synchronized ballet that, when fully connected to an electrical grid, would generate enough power to light 60,000 nearby houses.

“We’ve created a new landmark,” said Mr. Floderus, the project manager of the $280 million wind park, one of the world’s largest, which was built by the Swedish power company Vattenfall.

The park, in a shallow sound between Sweden and Denmark, testifies to the remarkable rise of wind energy — no longer a quirky alternative favored by environmentalists in Denmark and Germany, but a mainstream power source used in 26 nations, including the United States.

Yet Sweden’s gleaming wind park is entering service at a time when wind energy is coming under sharper scrutiny, not just from hostile neighbors, who complain that the towers are a blot on the landscape, but from energy experts who question its reliability as a source of power.

So the wind doesn’t blow 24/7/52… who knew? And it turns out that people no more want wind farms next door than they do coal powered generation plants or Three Mile Island. The concept is called NIMBY. Not in my back yard. The elemental conflict between private property rights and the greater good.

NIMBY often wins.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws – New York Times

Our second Times tale comes from Greece:

greecewind4

By JOANNA KAKISSIS | Published: November 25, 2007

THE tiny Greek island of Serifos, a popular tourist destination, depends on its postcard views of sandy beaches, Cycladic homes and sunsets that blend sea and sky into a clean wash of color. So when a mining and energy company floated a plan earlier this year to build 87 industrial wind turbines on more than a third of the island, the Serifos mayor, Angeliki Synodinou, called it her “worst nightmare.”

Greece primarily depends on “brown coal,” a particularly dirty variety that emits much pollution. So wind power has seemed an attractive alternative.

But the huge turbines do catch the eye, and nearby they are considerably noisy.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Debating the Merits of Energy From Air – New York Times

MUDGE‘s first exposure to such objects in any quantity, i.e., a true wind farm as opposed to the occasional country turbine, eye-catching and modern and jarring in a rural landscape though it was, was in Southern California.

Along I-10 just west of Palm Springs is a pass through the mountains featuring what seemed like hundreds of turbines, atop ridges, in valleys, looking like nothing ever seen before. Looked it up today; the farm is called the San Gorgonio Pass, one of several such projects in California. Truly stunning.

But, then again, it’s out there in the desert, next to virtually nothing but the occasional trailer park and chameleon. According to the California Energy Commission, at the time the article was published (2003?), San Gorgonio consisted of more than 2,500 huge turbines.

Breezing along (as it were) the interstate at 79mph, one doesn’t hear them. But they do make a lasting visual impression.

Would I want such an installation in a lake near me? Ugly? Noisy? Destructive?

Given a choice between that, and the nukes that pepper the region that MUDGE calls home (eagerly received by a power-hungry public 50 years ago), can you doubt my response?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm179: Short Attention Span Blogging 29-Oct-2007 edition

October 29, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

shortattention

We do this every so often here at L-HC, when the press of that darned pesky real life intrudes on quality blogging time.

Here are three recent stories that grabbed MUDGE‘s interest, and we hope it will pique yours.

First: What Global Warming?

greenland

nytimes

By SARAH LYALL

NARSARSUAQ, Greenland — A strange thing is happening at the edge of Poul Bjerge’s forest, a place so minute and unexpected that it brings to mind the teeny plot of land Woody Allen’s father carries around in the film “Love and Death.”

Its four oldest trees — in fact, the four oldest pine trees in Greenland, named Rosenvinge’s trees after the Dutch botanist who planted them in a mad experiment in 1893 — are waking up. After lapsing into stately, sleepy old age, they are exhibiting new sprinklings of green at their tops, as if someone had glued on fresh needles.

“The old ones, they’re having a second youth,” said Mr. Bjerge, 78, who has watched the forest, called Qanasiassat, come to life, in fits and starts, since planting most of the trees in it 50 years ago. He beamed like a proud grandson. “They’re growing again.”

When using the words “growing” in connection with Greenland in the same sentence, it is important to remember that although Greenland is the size of Europe, it has only nine conifer forests like Mr. Bjerge’s, all of them cultivated. It has only 51 farms. (They are all sheep farms, although one man is trying to raise cattle. He has 22 cows.) Except for potatoes, the only vegetables most Greenlanders ever eat — to the extent that they eat vegetables at all — are imported, mostly from Denmark.

Everybody knows that global warming is a nefarious invention of Al Gore and every other lefty in the world.

I’m sure that this story is totally fabricated.

Everybody knows Iceland is green, and Greenland is icy.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Warming Revives Flora and Fauna in Greenland – New York Times

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Next: To the moon, China!

nytimes

BEIJING, Oct. 24 — With a regional space race heating up in Asia, China launched its first lunar probe on Wednesday as the Communist Party moved a step closer to fulfilling its ambitions of one day reaching the moon.

Andy Wong/Associated Press

An animated image of the launch of China’s lunar orbiter broadcast on a large screen today in Beijing.

The Chang’e-1 satellite, named after a Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, lifted off at 6:05 p.m. Officials and tourists watched the launching at a site in Sichuan Province, while state television provided coverage to the rest of the nation.

Next thing you know, we’ll be reading that China’s banks are buying into U.S. banks. Oh, wait…

bw_255x65

Bear’s Chinese Pal
It may not be a lifeline, but at least it’s a vote of confidence. On Oct. 23, state-owned Chinese brokerage Citic Securities agreed to invest $1 billion in beleaguered investment bank Bear Stearns (BSC ). Citic will buy 40-year convertible trust preferred securities equal to 6% of Bear’s shares, with the option to boost the stake to 9.9%. In return, Bear will pay $1 billion for six-year convertible debt representing a 2% stake in Citic, with an option to go to 5%. Citic isn’t the only cash-flush foreign institution taking advantage of U.S. bank stocks that have been whacked by the subprime crisis and stagnant earnings. Expect more deals in the months ahead.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

China Sends Its First Probe for the Moon Into Space – New York Times

shortattention

Finally: One Laptop Per Child for India after all?

As noted before, an entire brochure could be developed around our posts on the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …

Here’s the latest wrinkle. India, who originally dissed OLPC (intending, apparently, to adopt a home grown product), has taken a new look, now that OLPC is no longer vaporware.

cnncomtechnology

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) — The so-called $100 laptops for children may make it to India after all.

art.100.dollar.laptop.jpg

Children in a rural, one-room school in the Indian state of Maharashtra are using the computers.

Last year,India rebuffed One Laptop Per Child, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff that created rugged little computers for kids in the developing world.

…. a pilot test began recently in which 22 children in first through fourth grades in a rural, one-room school in the Indian state of Maharashtra are using the computers.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

$100 laptop program still eyes India – CNN.com

This program deserves our support. I’ll repeat my polite request for your attention:

It’s real people. And I’ll repeat my proposal from last time we discussed this initiative:

This is a wonderful cause, and I would think that people who would find a $399 purchase with a 50% charitable component affordable might also wish, as the story suggests, to donate the PC they’re entitled to a (not third world, but certainly third rate) school in this country.

God knows that there are pockets of the third world within these preciously regarded borders of ours, many within our biggest cities. Then it becomes a $399 charitable contribution, serving to further education among the deserving needy in our own country as well as beyond….

As the giving season looms (the pumpkins are almost sold out, after all!), why not add OLPC’s “Give 1, Get 1” to your planning (orders to be taken Nov. 12–26); and as MUDGE recommends, just make that slight adjustment and you can call it “Give 1 (there), Give 1 (here).”

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm169: It’s a Gore-y story

October 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Have to congratulate Al Gore.

One gets the impression that, like many such awards, the Nobel Prizes are subject to public relations campaigns and politicking…

It was inevitable that the Nobel Peace Prize would go to Gore. Historically, the prize has had very little to do with rewarding genuine peacemakers. In 1939, nominees for the prize included such distinguished fighters for peace as Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler. The prize has always been influenced by the exigencies of realpolitik. So, over the years individuals like Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and Willy Brandt received the Nobel. [–Spiked (see below)]

… so it wasn’t exactly out of the blue that Gore was awarded the Peace prize for his work on behalf of environmental awareness.

So, a couple of weeks ago, Gore’s “campaign” to win the Nobel was widely enough known that we picked up on it even in this out of the way nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©.

What was speculation (the Prize) is now fact. And so many other observers are taking a closer look at Gore’s presidential opportunity.

So, two of L-HC’s usual suspects, Salon and Slate weigh in.

salon

What are the odds that Al Gore enters the presidential race?

We put that question this morning to Karen Skelton, who served as Gore’s political director while he was vice president. Her response: “He will not run. Negative odds. He’s got all he needs. He’s a Nobel Prize winner, which means he’s being rewarded for following his passion successfully in a way that’s changed the world. His passion was never politics for the fight, it was for the cause.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

War Room: Political News, Politics News – Salon

slate

Will Al Gore now run for the White House?

By John Dickerson
Posted Friday, Oct. 12, 2007, at 10:43 AM ET

Al Gore. Click image to expand.Al Gore

Al Gore is a winner. Al Gore was right. One of the best things for Al Gore about winning the Nobel Peace Prize is that the sound bites are finally all on his side. For decades the two-term vice president has been championing environmental causes and until recently often received public scorn and derision. Now he’s been rewarded with one of the most coveted prizes on the planet.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

What does the Nobel Peace Prize mean for Gore 2008? – By John Dickerson – Slate Magazine

With the help of an interesting publication out of the UK, Spiked let’s put this prize into some context.

spiked

On Monday, spiked will publish a series of articles on Al Gore, the Nobel and the climate change debate. As a preview, here is Frank Furedi explaining why Gore is a fitting winner of the ‘Nobel Fear Prize’.

When I heard commentators this morning praising Al Gore as a ‘charismatic figure’, I waited around for the punchline. But they weren’t joking.

Somehow, this dull provincial politician suffering from a charisma-bypass has been transformed into a hi-tech twenty-first century prophet – and now he has won the Nobel Peace Prize to boot.

It is hard to tell if the reinvention of Gore is a testimony to the persuasive powers of PowerPoint, or to the collapse of the cultural and political imagination in the West. Probably, Gore’s emergence as a modern-day icon is a result of his ability to personify our culture of fear. He is the ideal spokesman for an era in which virtually every human experience comes with a health warning attached. Now, with his Nobel award, he joins a pantheon of cultural saints, including fellow Nobel recipient Mother Teresa.

A bracing point of view. And welcome.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

And the Nobel Fear Prize goes to… | spiked

And now for some perspective on Gore as a past presidential candidate, from an opinion columnist for the NYTimes.

nytimes

Yesterday began with the gratifying news that Al Gore, derided by George H.W. Bush as the “Ozone Man,” had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The first thing media types wanted to know was whether this would prompt Mr. Gore to elbow his way into the presidential campaign. That’s like asking someone who’s recovered from a heart attack if he plans to resume smoking.

Mr. Gore, who won an Academy Award for his documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and an Emmy for his cable TV network, Current, knows better than anyone else how toxic and downright idiotic presidential politics has become.

He may be one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, talented men in America and remarkably well-equipped to lead the nation, but it’s Mr. Bush’s less-than-curious, less-than-distinguished son, George W., who is president.

There are all kinds of ironies wrapped up in the title of Mr. Gore’s latest book, “The Assault on Reason.”

Especially useful is the comparison with (the even more hypocritical than most of his fellow hypocritical candidates in his hypocritical party) Rudy Giuliani.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Trivial Pursuit – New York Times

And another comparison with Gore’s “successful” opponent in 2000 from the Washington Post…

washingtonpost

By Peter Baker, Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 13, 2007; A09

MIAMI, Oct. 12 — Somehow, it seemed only fitting that at the moment of Al Gore‘s triumph, George W. Bush would spend the day in Florida, scene of the fateful clash that propelled one to the presidency and the other to the Nobel Prize.

What a difference seven years makes. The winner of that struggle went on to capture the White House and to become a wartime leader now heading toward the final year of a struggling presidency. The loser went on to reinvent himself from cautious politician to hero of the activist left now honored as a man of peace.

For the Gore camp, it was a day of resurrection, a day to salve the wounds of history and to write another narrative that they hope will be as enduring as Florida. “We finally have their respective legacies,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a veteran of the Clinton-Gore White House. “Bush earned the Iraq war, and Al Gore earned the Nobel Prize. Who knew Al Gore would one day thank the Supreme Court for their judgment?”

The White House stuck to polite, if restrained, congratulations. “Obviously, it’s an important recognition, and we’re sure the vice president is thrilled,” spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters aboard Air Force One heading here Friday. Another senior official, commenting on the condition of anonymity to speak less diplomatically, said the Nobel Prize is nice, but the presidency is still better. “We’re happy for him,” the aide said, “but suspect he’d trade places before we would.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Feats Divide Pair Linked by Election

A similar perspective from an opinion column in the the LATimes:

latimes

Jonathan Chait

No wonder conservatives are apoplectic – Gore’s fortunes rise as the president’s plummets.

October 13, 2007

When Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, conservatives reacted with apoplexy. Talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, conservative bloggers and other Republican faithful denounced the prize as a fraud….

The defensiveness of Gore’s critics comes because he is the ultimate rebuke to Bush. Gore, obviously, is the great historic counter-factual, the man who would have been president if Florida had a functioning ballot system. More than that, he is the anti-Bush. He is intellectual and introverted, while Bush is simplistic and backslapping.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Al Gore: the anti-Bush – Los Angeles Times

Finally, James Woudhuysen, again from Spiked, takes a most incisive look at the environmental movement itself, in the light of this latest event and symbol of its ascendency into the mainstream of political thought.

spiked

Environmental activists and commentators frequently argue that climate change is the most pressing problem facing humanity, and that if we don’t do something about it the planet will burn up. Yet when planet-sized technological solutions to global warming – also known as ‘geo-engineering solutions’ – are put forward, environmentalists are the first to balk. ‘It will never work’, they say. Why are those who are most concerned about climate change also the most hostile to doing something serious to tackle it?

It isn’t just because such solutions would be ambitious, costly and distant in time; nor is it only because these solutions would carry risks. Rather, environmentalists tend to dismiss geo-engineering because, at root, they are not interested in halting climate change. For many today, both green activists and leading politicians, climate change is a moral and political issue rather than simply a practical problem. They see the ‘issue of climate change’ as a means to changing people’s behaviour and expectations, rather than simply as a byproduct of industrialisation that ought to be tackled by technological know-how. They are resistant to geo-engineering solutions because putting an end to climate change would rob them of their raison d’être.

Here’s a particularly telling point:

Yet it is not particular technologies that environmentalists hate, so much as the whole idea of human ingenuity – the conscious, designing, problem-solving capabilities that distinguish mankind from naturally occurring species. If, as environmentalists claim, mankind means waste and the reckless destruction of finite natural resources, then artificial constructions can only deserve varying degrees of ridicule – partly for the damage they will bring in tow, but mainly for their creators’ outrageous arrogance.

How soft-headed can the Greens get? Keep reading.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Why greens don’t want to ‘solve’ climate change | spiked

So, a refreshing change here for L-HC.

It’s not been our experience in this space to date to have had the occasion to expose the practitioners of political correctness.

PC comes from those drug-addled survivors of the ’60s that now set policy in so many institutions of higher education and non-governmental organizations.

We are reminded, courtesy of Spiked, that the jerks of the right have no monopoly on wrong-headed moral certitude.

But Al Gore, child of those same times, is not a jerk.

And if he restrains himself from the temptations that his stellar year has exposed to him, he’ll remain one of the good guys. Either way, he deserves our congratulations.

Al, direct your energies toward persuading your friends the Greens that technological solutions to our environmental challenges are perfectly appropriate.

Then, perhaps they’ll retire the Peace prize with your name on it.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE