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Thank you anonymous benefactor who has gifted me a subscription to dkos for next year. I posted this diary several weeks ago regarding a story I wrote originally here, but was recently published on elephanjournal.com, and you responded with a gift subscription to me in return.

I have no way of knowing who you are so the only way I know how to thank you is by posting a diary and hoping you read it. Your kind words about my story and your generosity has humbled me and reminded me--during these times when we REALLY need reminding--that there are still amazing people out there with kind hearts expecting nothing in return for their kindness.

So, to keep this spirit going, I'm going to pay it forward and gift another kosmanaut a subscription to this great site.

Peace and health to you and everyone else in 2014!

Discuss

Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 04:50 PM PST

Thank You

by Methinks They Lie

About this time last year I posted the diary below titled, "A Brief Moment In Deep Time" and the rescue rangers picked it up and hung it in the community spotlight. Many thoughtful comments were posted and I walked away with a general feeling of goodwill after it dropped off of the list. Well months go by and farming is busy work, yadda yadda, and now that winter is here farming slows down a bit (only a bit here in the Central Valley of California, we grow year round) so I finally had enough time to revisit the story and decided to submit it to elephantjournal.com.

Well to my surprise the editors there liked it and wanted to publish it so they urged me to do some editing to bring it down in length, and I did, and viola! it's now published over there and I've already received a really nice comment about it and I just wanted to say thank you.

It was because of this community, the rescue rangers, and the positive response here that drove me to try and submit it somewhere else and now it's published! Thank you tireless rescue rangers, and thank you dkos community. I've always struggled with my self-esteem in terms of being a "writer" and I don't think I would have submitted this story to be published had it not received the warm welcome here that it did. So, if you're so inclined, give it a read. The original is below. The shorter version is here: One Moment In Deep Time

Personally I think the edited version is a better version. Being forced to cut away at my work forced me to get to it! The title changed a bit, of course, and the tone and flow changed as well, but I am proud of it and think it makes for a tighter read now.

Thanks again y'all.

                                       A Brief Moment In Deep Time

Mojave twilight.
Mojave twilght--All photos taken by Methinks They Lie (a.k.a Ramblings Over Earth)
While walking slowly through the Mojave desert I found what looked like part of an old desert tortoise's shell, sun bleached and chalky, broken into pieces that fit together like a puzzle in large geometric shapes to form what might have been the bottom plate of his shell. Who knows how old he was when he died. He didn't keep track, I'm sure. But we do, and he could have been 100 years old when he took his last step. A noble desert traveler returning to dust, being carried off on the wind, the whispering desert wind.

At twilight the red and purple sky of the sinking desert sun played backdrop to the yipping of coyotes off on an opposing ridge, the wind would sometimes stir and the sound it made through the Joshua Trees was like a whisper of the cool air. If I listened closely enough, and with a mind settled like snow on a frozen lake, would I hear what it had to say? Could the wind talk? I like to think it can, but only if we listen, which we're not likely to do anymore.

I had lost my way. I used to have a mindfulness practice but it went by the wayside some time ago and there's nothing that feeds the drama wheel of modern American society than mindlessness and a blindspot to self awareness. I was caught up, "in the web" or like a fly in vaseline, mind like a "monkey mind" the Buddhists say, darting this way and that with no control, carried on the waves of emotion like a feather in a whirlpool, slowly dropping, but quickening as the swirl sank further.  

I wonder if some of my lack of awareness, my decreasing attention span and scattered mind, might be because the internet is rewiring our brains. Making us less able to concentrate. Less able to pay attention, to listen, to be present. Throw in cell phones, texting, earbuds...and now here you have one culture hellbent on doing something other than whatever it is they're presently doing (like just sitting, waiting, eating).

For a long time I had a mindfulness practice and have done residential meditation retreats in silence, practicing for 7 days starting at about 6 am and lasting until about 10 pm each night. I have studied eastern philosophy (Taoism, Buddhism, Yoga, etc) for over 18 years. But I had let my practice go by the wayside. And it showed.

I was caught in the stream like a fish getting hooked on every single thought my mind wanted to entertain me with, and so I was on autopilot as a result. Drifting along. My mind like a drunk on an open dance floor barely standing but trying to follow each white dot that spun on the floor from the magical disco ball above. So to the desert I went.

To re-wire my brain. To take it back from the busyness of the modern world. Meditation can change our brains, reclaim what is I think our ancestral heritage (and right) to silence, peace, calm. To a collected, concentrated and equanimous mind.

When my mind has been as active as it was it takes some time to settle down and become quiet. I knew this from years of practice so I was patient. Eventually my mind gave up trying to get my attention, the dramas in my head slowly fading away, the constant chatter, the simulacra it must rehearse for some supposed future event that always never happens as my mind plans it, yet it never learns from this and continues to try and prepare for a future it will never understand.

And that first instant when it finally shuts up and all I have is the warm sun, the endless blue sky and the monzogranite boulders beaming light from the quartzite gems embedded in them, that first instant of silence is like a great massage of the soul, like a giant exhalation casting off the fetters of a tense and stressful grip, releasing me into a timeless moment that most cultures before us probably knew, like the Hopi, or the Lakota, or the Mojave.

Along with the listening I watched. I took slow walks, sat often out in the open desert, scanning the silence, the desert floor for a rock that moves slowly. I've never seen a desert tortoise but I know that from a distance it looks like a rock. And then it moves, surprising the unsuspecting witness, taking its time. Slow time. Deep time.

The desert tortoise has patiently plied the Mojave Desert for centuries, eons really, with little care about getting anywhere at all. Its sense of time must be very different than ours. We seem to view it as some sort of contest, or race, to get in as much as we can in as little time as we can and we're sure keep track of it all. We have watches, clocks, countdown clocks, timers, alarms, hours, minutes, seconds, nano-seconds....but we've lost the sun as a result. And the moon. We've lost the rhythm of it all. We've lost a sense of time that is grand, that is slow, that is quiet.

Most of what drives our lives now, most of what we acquire, the "stuff", all of the activity that fills the gaps between the activities we've already taken on, the new car, the new house, a different job, facebook, texting, tweeting.....all of it is racing towards us, or us to it, in order, in my view, to avoid one thing: Boredom.

So I sat in the desert and experienced boredom to its fullest. I watched as my mind wanted to hike, or bike, or run, or surf the internet, or climb, or DO SOMETHING damnit other than just sit there, and I became comfortable with boredom again. I think I briefly sank into slow time, deep time, and I imagined that when all of my "stuff" is stripped away, all of my busy body activities are removed, that the peace I felt was something that was a genetic right I inherited, that all humans inherited, and that somehow we've managed to push it away. I think it is a tragedy that we've lost a sense of a right to just do nothing. No agendas. No deadlines. No schedules. No time.

I think that if we were to ask the desert tortoise how he deals with boredom he would look at us with confusion (sadness really) and wonder what in the world it was we were talking about. It's like when the Dalai Lama was asked about self hate and he didn't understand the question. When it was explained what self hate was and that many Americans experience it, he became very sad and shook his head. He couldn't understand such a thing. Self hate was not a concept in the Tibetan culture so to him this foreign phenomenon seemed alien, and tragic.

I imagine the desert tortoise reacting the same way to a question about boredom. I see him shaking his head, slowly lifting himself with his stout legs, and walking off at a measured, deliberate pace, picking his way through sage and cactus with no specific destination in mind nor schedule to meet. I would watch him until he disappeared, which would take a long time, to grant him the respect an old sage deserves, a desert wanderer with nothing to accomplish. No one to impress.

I think that we fear the quiet actually, we fear slowness, we fear "nothing to do." In our culture if you're not doing something you're lazy. We boast of working 70 hours a week, one upping each other in some strange competition to see who can accumulate the most stress per pay period. It's odd really when you think about it (if we ever think about it at all). We created the wheel, then we jump on it and run and run and run trying to catch up to some abstract "dream" that is uniquely American (of course) and if we just run faster we'll catch that dream and live it. Like those blissful people you see in anti-depressant commercials. They found the dream. Why haven't you?

Early in the morning I would search for bobcat. They would be hunting the deer mouse, or the jackrabbit in those early hours, but mostly I saw raven. Two black forms up in the deep blue desert sky one cawing, gurgling an almost heinous sound, and then back to cawing. Maybe he was telling the desert tortoise to rise. The sun is fast approaching old friend, come out and take your rightful place among us. The desert tortoise would be too smart to listen to raven knowing he was trying to trick him, for raven is a predator and not much of a friend to the desert tortoise. So he would stay in his burrow until February or March, waiting for the cold nights to pass and lengthening days that bring higher temperatures under the hot sun.

I imagine that in spring, from raven's perspective up there, he can see rocks down below that slowly start to move. The desert coming alive, slow rocks shifting in no particular order, no sensed pattern, no goal in mind. Patient desert wayfarers that thank the morning sun and move on slowly toward no place but this place. Right here. Right now.

I followed the desert tortoise's pattern of stirring when the sun was warm, retreating when it dropped behind the Little San Bernardino Mountains. We never did see a desert tortoise over those five days in the Mojave because they are dormant now in their burrows. But still I searched. Their numbers are falling and it is not so easy to spot them as it used to be. Another threatened species to add to the list, their habitat shrunk due to human encroachment, they are now confined mostly to the Mojave and Sonoran Desert.

They've come so far, through time, deep, geologic time only to arrive to a shrinking world around them. The closing in of their world brought about by a species with a sense of time that thinks in terms of accumulation, consumption, a single generation. A species that has things to do, promotions to achieve, sales targets, retirement homes to erect. And they have very little time to do it, it seems, the way they race around like they do, the tortoise must think. What's the rush? I imagine him asking. Who is chasing them?

The human species is but a brief moment in deep time, a mere blip in the scale of geologic time so in terms of planetary seniority, we are the greenhorns. You would think we would show a little more respect to those who came before us. To those who've scaled deep time slowly, patiently, arriving here in this moment after many, many centuries of existence so that we may bow to them in reverence and maybe even learn something from them, and yet.

And yet.

At night the stars in the desert sky arc over like those quartzite gems in the boulders on the desert floor and twinkle in blue, orange, yellow and red pulses...the only thing piercing the dark silence is the occasional rumbling jet high above racing towards another landing. Then another takeoff. Then another landing. The desert tortoise waits below the earth, deep down, patiently as he does, for the changing tide, the warming soil, the golden rays increasing intensity to beckon him out. Come out old friend, I imagine the sun saying to the tortoise, Come take your rightful place among us. And when this happens months from now in spring, this time the tortoise will listen, trusting the old sun, thanking him for his warm embrace as he slowly emerges from his winter burrow. And then, just as the heat of the desert floor shimmers in the distance, when the raven whirls above in dark angles, the rocks will begin to move. Slowly. Just as they have for centuries. Just as they have for eons of deep time past.

Fiery Mojave Desert sunset.
Fiery Mojave Sunset
Epilogue

Five days of desert solitaire and I think I've recharged somewhat. I came out of the desert with a wish to approach this next year a little differently than the last. I want to react less and respond more with a sense of compassion, empathy, connectedness. I want to listen more, speak less. I want to appreciate downtime and not try to fill it with "stuff." I want to stop trying to "save time" and spend time instead. I want to experience more peace, right now, in this moment without having to look for some activity to fill the time between the activity. I want to be present and be okay with "now" and let "what will be" come to me as it surely will, dressed very differently than what my mind would like to predict and daydream and rehearse about.

I want to honor the disappearing desert tortoise and just slow down. Make space. Rest. This is my hope for the entire world actually, but especially for us here in America. I wonder how many of the problems we face as a culture, as a species, would be solved if we all just slowed down a little. Took our time. Spent our time. Here's to a slower New Year. I hope.

*note--Below are some more photos I took while in the Mojave. Jump over the orange tumbleweed to take a gander if you like. Peace and blessings to you and may your 2013 greet you like the warm desert sun: Slowly and with a warm embrace.

Continue Reading
Say a starry eyed city slicker shows up to the farm talking about wanting to work outdoors, with nature, and flowers, and staying in shape and wanting to get back to some romanticized version of some theoretical idea of what farming is, and suppose they want to quit their office job, buy some land, and sit on the front porch chewin' on a piece of straw listenin' to the "kayoats", and say they want to work on your farm for a while so they can "learn the ropes." You know who I'm talking about (ahem, what? Not me!). Well tell that person, "Why sure, why don't you come back tomorrow and we'll get you started." Now you know it's going to rain tomorrow and you know you'll be harvesting carrots so why have them start today? Right?

They show up, of course, bright eyed and nearly winded from the excitement of it all, and it's raining (as predicted!) and you hand them a digging fork and you send them out to the far field, that one waaayyyy over there about an 1/8 of a mile away and you tell them we need 120 lbs of carrots, cleaned, bunched 6 a piece, all pretty looking. They'll have to walk the carrots back to the packing shed because it's too wet to bring any equipment into the fields. Now you watch them as they bound off with glee because they're farming now (!) and to hell with that stupid office job and they're gonna farm and be happy and .....now keep an eye on them throughout the morning. Look at their face (if you can see it under all that mud) and you watch as their clothes begin to sag from the rain (no rain gear), their backs begin to hunch over a little, and you check in with them with some verbal contact to make sure they're still able to form complete sentences and know what day it is and who the President is and all that.

Encourage them of course, give them some positive feedback (even though you know you're gonna have to send in some reinforcements to pick up the slack), put a smile on your face and go about your business. About noontime call him in to the packing shed and tell him that's all for today. Nice work. Hope to see ya tomorrow morning.

Now you know where I'm going with this. Either he/she shows up tomorrow or not. But the important thing is done. You've done the most compassionate thing you could ever do for that person by trying to disabuse them of any idyllic notions they may have of what farming is early on so they can get back to their comfortable (and well paid) lives. Nice job, now pat yourself on the back.

Here's the complicated part which you have no control over and you'll never know if this is what did it. "It" being what caused this person to come back the next day (sorer than they've ever been despite that monthly gym membership). This person could have been out there cursing himself, cursing the carrots, hurling demeaning epithets at the mud, wondering why in the hell carrots were so damn cheap and shouldn't they be priced like ten times what they are I can't believe people do this....and then it happens. Out of the corner of his eye something catches his attention and he notices a jackrabbit go bounding off into the bushes and he thinks to himself, "Wow, look at the size of those ears!" And truly, they are magnificent ears. And nearly everyone who sees a jackrabbit for their first time has this same reaction. But just then, as if on cue, here comes the tailess bobcat leaping not far behind in impressive bursts, trained on the jackrabbit with laser-like intensity, following each turn with incredible precision until he too disappears into the bushes, (the white rump being the last thing you see on a bobcat) and then, as if nature wrote the script just for our hapless newbie--because, it seems, she has a curious sense of humor--a redtail hawk shrieks above as it whirls in the gray sky casting an unshakable punctuation mark to it all. Right there, just right there is where the hook is set. Our newbie farmer is coming back tomorrow no matter what. There's no changing it.

Despite your best intentions the universe has its ways and when that newbie shows up tomorrow you'll never know why and depending on your disposition at the time you'll either shake your head in disbelief, or nod at them when they arrive in a sort of "I think I know" sense (or maybe inside joke sense?). Pat them on the shoulder and send them off to do something easy, like...like...well, just find them something to do that involves flowers or lavender or, my personal favorite, basil. They earned it. And besides, it might be a while before they see another bobcat.

Discuss

Digging in the dirt. Primal. Evocative. Soothing. Despite the rain got up off the couch (down with a cold), slipped on the rain gear, rode the farm bike out to help harvest sorrel, arugula, spinach and other veggies (even oranges!) for the farm CSA. Nose running. A sneeze here a sneeze there. No matter. I was outside. Digging in the dirt.

Rain stopped, sun came out, jacket off, time to move irrigation piping dragging it down field. Realignment of rows to make the farm road bigger for tractor turn arounds. Slowly my energy level starts to rise. Another bag of popcorn taken home, grown on the farm, spirits rising further, sitting in the sun before I head west to farm school for the evening. Big ranch classroom. Lots of horses around. A sunset to watch over the coast mountains. Hawks soaring above. Golden rays through palm trees, valley oaks, olive trees. What cold? It's not going to keep me from these things. These things make me stronger, this cold doesn't stand a chance.

Hummingbirds now screech screech screeching, sun intensifies, I can feel my immune system calling in reinforcements. Sun is my protector. I use it instead of NyQuil. Truck door slams, a wheezing ensues. A familiar wheezing, laborer pulling cord, the machine choking to life, three more pulls and the engine screams to full blast. The hummingbirds stop. The jays alight and take off for cover somewhere else. The engine whirs a high pitched yell as the laborer guns the throttle, black smoke pierces the blue sky, three more revs just to make a point, the machine slings over his shoulder, the blowhole in his hand, sloshing gas tank and now the cloud of dust whipped into the air, this way, that way, doesn't matter as long as things are flying around it seems. Leaves flying about from one place to another, some make the intended spot, others don't.

Revving more now dust cloud soaring the laborer moves a pile of dirt and leaves and tissue and a soda can and twigs and ladybugs and cigarette butts from one part of the yard to another part, some of it into the street (who cares?), some of it into the neighbor's yard. Melancholy moon now in the sky the quiet killed the laborer and his machine work to "clean up" someone's yard who's at work, not here to hear this deafening scourge, to see what they've paid someone to do.

Three more times I will hear this at three more houses. Everyone paying cheaply leafblowers to blow around things in their yard. Rakes are so 20th century. Work is a thing of the past. Machines will do it for us. Laziness. Sloth. Torpor. While the owner of the company rakes in the cash by doing this his little machines, these backpacked devils of pollution, spew more carbon per hour than......well here:

In 2000, the California Environmental Protection Agency found that a half-hour of leaf-blower usage produced enough carbon monoxide to equal 440 miles of driving at 30 miles per hour.
And all that dust, all of those fine particles kicked up and around suspend themselves in the air and contribute to poor air quality as particulate matter. This is the stuff that wreaks havoc on those with asthma, and worse:
Particulate matter (PM) has been implicated as being responsible for a wide variety of adverse health effects that have been shown in epidemiological studies to contribute to premature deaths (Pope et al. 1995).
But the scourge on the land, air and water (and our health) are only one part of the costs we bear while the owner of the landscaping (or leafblower) company buys a new house, a boat, the chalet in the mountains. Wealth must be accumulated you see by a few while society pays the true cost of these machines. No one seems to care anymore that our soundscape (let alone landscape) is ravaged by this hissing, spitting, cacophony of machines that invade our neighborhoods because of some weird fascination with perfect grass, square hedges, leafless (and lifeless) dirt. Quiet and peace be damned. Profit above all else.
Do we hear these things anymore or are our lives so filled with noise now that nothing seems to faze us? Are we so frantically attached to our busyness, our constant chatter (tweet this, chat that, text me text me text me!) that we no longer care that our neighborhoods sound like sawmills? Like standing next to a 500 pound mosquito with bad gas?

Some communities have had enough. Some have banned gas powered leafblowers. Imagine having to use a rake. A RAKE (!) by god. Imagine having to work again. Having to use our muscles. To stay fit. To stay healthy. To be outside, staying limber, talking to our neighbors (shutter!). Imagine that. Imagine quiet. Imagine valuing the sound of hummingbirds. The sound of wind, real wind, whirring through the trees. Imagine the stench of these machines being relegated to the owner of the company's house who wishes to foist this mess on us for his precious, precious profit. Imagine measuring the costs of things in terms larger than mere cost per gallon to operate.

Some people buy priuses, shop at organic groceries, send checks into the NRDC and pat themselves on the back for being such green stewards of the earth and then turn around and pay someone else to take care of their yards (while they're conveniently not there) who in turn sends in troops armed with belching, bleeding, stinking machines that in one pass over their Elizabethan era landscape all of those carbon offsets they purchased go puffing up in smoke. Up in smog. Up in 120 decibels of rage, impotence, and fear.

Imagine a time when we're enlightened enough to look back on this era and laugh at ourselves (both for our folly and for our obvious ignorance). Imagine a system where we tax the owner of the company who uses these machines to account for the true costs of his actions.

Imagine quiet. Imagine clean air. Imagine sanity. Is it too late for that?

Discuss

This graph is disheartening:

Kind of pisses me off really. In a disappointing kind of pissed.

Now I know Obama has done a lot on the "green" side of things, like the EPA gas mileage standards improvement, like doubling alternative energy production. But his lands records, as illustrated above, is really, really sorry. I mean, worse than Bush? Come on Obama. Maybe he will significantly improve in his second term. We'll see.

But for now people like former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt have to go to Washington and give a speech arguing for policies to protect our public lands when really, it should just happen. Like it did under Reagan. Or George HW. Bush, or like it did with Clinton. Or like it did under George W. F-ing Bush.

Look at that graph again.

Sad. Shameful. Disappointing.

Now for those of us who would cry out, "Yeah but republican congress! Or yeah but Obama can't do anything!" Look at that graph again and then look up who controlled Congress during those times. Yes this Congress is different, in a very "different" sort of way. But Obama, as President, can do something administratively that doesn't require this whacko Congress' approval. Just like that graph shows above, he can go around the 12 year olds of the 113th. George W. F-ing Bush did more to protect public lands using administrative powers than Obama has thus far.

Shameful.

What Bruce Babbitt is calling for is a new policy that would set aside one acre for public lands protection for every acre Obama opens up to drilling.  Obama has opened up over 6 million acres of public land to oil and gas drilling in just 4 years.

Or as Secretary Babbitt pointed out today at the National Press Club:

Under George H.W. Bush, conservation ran neck and neck with oil and gas.

Under President Clinton, conservation moved ahead.

Then, under President George W. Bush, conservation fell far behind, with the oil and gas industry taking down 7.5 acres for every acre of permanent conservation.

So far, under President Obama, industry has been winning the race as it obtains more and more land for oil and gas. Over the past four years, the industry has leased more than 6 million acres, compared with only 2.6 million acres permanently protected. In the Obama era, land conservation is again falling behind.

Sometimes pictures are better at getting the point across:
As Babbitt points out, the Oil and Gas Industry is winning the race to take over our public lands, but Obama has the power to change the outcome and ensure that our public lands are protected and should be viewed for their worth more than a mere resource to exploit:
Therefore, I am proposing today that the President adopt a common-sense principle: for every acre of land leased to the oil and gas industry during his tenure, one acre must be permanently protected for future generations. It's that simple: one to one.

This 'One-to-One principle' will ensure that the conservation of our public lands is on equal ground with energy development. The principle will ensure that tourism, hunting, fishing are on equal ground with the interests of oil and gas companies. And it will ensure that our responsibility to future generations and to the climate is on equal ground with the pressures and needs of today.

Now, how can the President right the balance between development and land conservation by the end of his second term, and achieve that one-to-one balance?
He can begin by committing to make up the deficit of the past four years by placing an additional 4 million acres of land into permanent protection. And going forward he should then, too, commit to place one additional acre into permanent protection for each acre leased out to the oil and gas industry.

Babbitt, in his prepared remarks, points out that the President has a very clear path to protect our public lands that has been used by previous Presidents, such as Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. Please read Babbitt's prepared remarks to see how Obama can achieve these goals without (or with) the approval of the current "congress" (if that's what we must call them).

Obama's "All The Above" stance towards energy production doesn't seem to include public land protection. But it sure does include a lot of "Drill Baby Drill."

He can change his lasting legacy on our public lands. It's up to him to make a course correction over the next 4 years. Hopefully someone will show him that graph up there and that will light a spark. Hopefully that graph above is embarrassing enough that someone will bring it to the attention of the President.

Link to the policy proposal On Equal Ground.

Discuss

A new report released by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine reveals some sad news for Americans. We're not #1 anymore folks. In fact, we're dead last, at least in terms of life expectancy among wealthy nations.

Many factors contribute to our lower life expectancy, but the researchers involved have at least one plausible reason, among many, why our life expectancy ranks as the worst among rich countries. Being a curious cat, I wonder what that reason is....

“The prevalence of firearms in the United States looms large as an explanation for higher death rates from violence, suicidal impulses, and accidental shootings,” read the recent study, based on a broad review of mortality and health studies and statistics.
Make no mistake, there are other causes for our decline in life expectancy that the researchers point out:
In addition to the impact of gun violence, Americans consume the most calories among peer countries and get involved in more accidents that involve alcohol. The U.S. also suffers higher rates of drug-related deaths, infant mortality and AIDS.
But, "They estimated that homicide and suicide together account for about a quarter of the years of life lost for U.S. men compared to those in those peer countries." And guess what weapon is involved in those homicides and suicides by a LARGE majority? Right. Guns.
The report's authors were particularly critical of the availability of guns. 'One behavior that probably explains the excess lethality of violence and unintentional injuries in the United States is the widespread possession of firearms and the common practice of storing them (often unlocked) at home,' reads the report. 'The statistics are dramatic.'"
When you consider the fact that we have the highest gun ownership rates among our peers (89 guns for every 100 Americans), and that we own about 35-50% of all the civilian owned guns In The World, well then it should come as no surprise that we also have a gun death problem as a result.
The United States has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents, says the report, that also reviewed Canada, Japan, Australia and much of Western Europe. None of the 16 other countries examined in the study came anywhere close to that figure. Finland, which is said to have slightly more than two violent deaths per 100,000 residents, was closest to the US in the table.
None of the other countries even came close. I guess we ARE exceptional after all.

Homicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in America for those aged 15-24 and most of those homicides, again, involve guns.

But here's the part that sticks out. Use this information the next time the NRA or any other gun manufacturer supporter says "we don't have a gun problem, we have a violence problem, or a video game problem, or a Hollywood problem":

The researchers said there is little evidence that violent acts occur more frequently in the United States than elsewhere. It's the lethality of those attacks that stands out.
(Emphasis mine)

More guns, more death. Pretty simple equation really. We don't seem to be more violent than our peers and yet, more of us die as a result of more guns being available to us when we decide to get violent.

This is not just a moral issue, which alone should be enough for a sane society to realize it has a problem. It's also an economic issue, which should appeal to those "fiscal" conservatives and to anyone who feigns an interest in our nation's economic well-being:

The nation's health disadvantages have economic consequences. They lead to higher costs for consumers and taxpayers as well as a workforce that remains less healthy than that of other high-income countries.
Again, there are many factors leading to our declining life expectancy--including poverty, eating habits and our not-so-#1 healthcare system--but I found it interesting that the compilers of this 378 page report thought it necessary to highlight the role guns are playing in our life expectancy decline. We have a problem and it shows. It's time we acted like a civilized society and address our last place standing among our peers.
*note-- To be clear, I was raised in a house full of guns. As a teenager I shot many guns and was given my first rifle at about age 14. As an adult I decided to not posses guns for many reasons. I don't think it's too much to ask that gun owners be limited to single action weapons and that high capacity clips are no longer available to them. If you can't hit what you're trying to hit while hunting with a single action rifle or shotgun, well then I'm of the mind that maybe you should take up something else. Or do some more target practice. But I will not bow down to the illogical viewpoint that for me to live a life where I feel safe and secure, the only way to live is in fear, where I'm expected to pack heat every time I go to the grocery store because that's the only way to live in a civilized culture. That if we just had an armed guard in every classroom well then America will surely be "exceptional." We don't have to live that way. We don't have to live like it's the 1800's and the OK Corral is just a part of life. No civilized (and sane) culture lives that way.  
Discuss

While the pros and cons of the Fiscal Cliff deal continue to swirl in the pool of the American body politic, and the debate rages on even here in an orangy and "robust" fashion, here's one nugget of good news that relates to the deal and affects all of our lives in a positive way, regardless of your leanings on the deal:

Wind-turbine installations are poised to exceed natural gas-fueled power plants in the U.S. for the first time this year as developers race to complete projects before a renewable energy tax credit expires.
Wind power installations are exceeding hydro-fracked backed natural gas installations (as well as coal) for the first time in our history and it's because of a tax credit that was set to expire on December 31st if a deal could not be brokered.

New wind capacity reached 6,519 megawatts this year, so far beating natural gas and coal, and the reason we, as a society, were able to clear our air a little more, reduce CO2 emissions, offset another rural drinking water aquifer poisoning, maybe reduce another mountain top removal, is because of a tax credit that encourages wind generation that utilities took advantage of and would like to continue to do so.

The tax credit offers a 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour incentive to utilities for 10 years for installations completed before January 1. Here's another case where the government can encourage changes in our society that lead directly to better health outcomes, longer lives, clearer skies, and cleaner drinking water.

It was thought that if the tax incentive expired and went over the Fiscal Cliff (along with other things that people depend on) well then this was a possibility:

Unless Congress extends the incentive, wind turbine installations may fall 88 percent next year to as low as 1.5 gigawatts, New Energy Finance forecasts.
I don't know about you but I enjoy clearer skies, cleaner drinking water, full mountains with their tops still on them, and power generation that has a very small ecological footprint.

As this article notes, the uncertainty over whether or not the tax incentive would be renewed had negative effects on industry jobs and product orders for companies that manufacture wind turbines and their parts. Hopefully, now that the deal has passed, more stability will be seen in the wind energy sector and utilities will start to order more turbines again putting people back to work and cleaning up our energy production at the same time.

Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Alaska, Shell Oil's exploratory drilling rig Kulluk ran aground on the southeast of Sitkalidak Island, stranded with over 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and oil-based lubricants on it. This is the same drilling rig Shell Oil boasts will explore the Arctic Ocean for oil, an effort so far that has been wracked with numerous safety and environmental violations. The strait where the Kulluk sits, run aground, is home to an endangered species of sea lion, over 250 bird species, and the Kodiak brown bear.

The more we do as a nation to move towards a cleaner power generation paradigm and the more we offset Big Oil, Hydro-frackers, and mountain whackers I see as a victory. A victory not just for us. But for our planet. For fish, for animals, for poor rural residents who are powerless against hydro-frackers and mountain whackers who degrade the landscape and poison ground and drinking water around them.

To be as balanced as I can, one critic of extending the wind generation tax incentive was Exelon Corp. Know who Exelon Corp is? Well they're the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the U.S. Seems as though Exelon doesn't like how wind is cheaper than most other energy options and although ALL energy sectors (ESPECIALLY nuclear) receive subsidies, they think for some reason that wind should stop getting a subsidy and being so darn competitive:

"At this juncture, wind power can and should stand on its own in competing with other clean energy alternatives," the company said in a statement.
And:
Some utilities oppose the plan, noting that the strength of installations shows wind can survive without subsidy, according to Joseph Dominguez, a senior vice president of Exelon Corp. (EXC), the largest owner of U.S. nuclear power plants.
I'm sure Exelon considers "clean coal" as "clean" energy, or natural gas, or nuclear as "clean energy." But I'm fairly certain there are a few people in the world who would argue otherwise. No, what Exelon's gripe boils down to is that wind drives down energy prices for consumers, which is good for America, but that means Exelon won't make as much money because the energy market is too competitive for its liking.  
Though Exelon is also a major wind-farm operator, it opposed the tax credit for distorting energy markets and driving down margins at competitive power producers.
And in a Free Market System, dontcha know, when things get too competitive the Big Boys start complaining. Now, to be fair, Exelon is also involved in wind power generation, so they at least have the facade of being an objective critic. But by far their biggest holdings are in in nuclear power. They also own coal fired plants as well. They have a few horses in this race, but there's at least one horse they've thrown a lot of money into (hint: nuclear). I think this quote shines brightly the hypocritical (and ironic) position Exelon put itself in opposing the extension of the wind energy tax incentive:
It’s worth noting the irony of Exelon, a large nuclear plant operator, complaining about a production tax credit. Since 2005 new nuclear plants have been eligible for a production tax credit of $18 per megawatt-hour. This, of course, is on top of at least $185 billion in federal subsidies the nuclear industry has received since 1947.
So if Exelon wants to suggest that wind power should stop receiving subsidies or help from the government so that it "stands on its own", well then I'm of the mind to say, Why stop there? Let's let the Free Market play out then. Remove the subsidies from nuclear, from coal, from natural gas, and Big Oil. Let's see how this ends up. I'm guessing that Exelon might not think like I do. I'm guessing they want that sweet, sweet cake and the cookies too.

Anyhoo, here's one part of the Fiscal Cliff deal (extension of the wind energy tax incentive) that I think is very positive. And part of my New Year's intentions is to be more positive. To look for the positive news in the world and spread it. The market for negative news is pretty well saturated and we could all use positive news every now and then to inch the balance a little more towards positivity. May the wind be at our backs (and pushing those turbines)!

peace,

MTL (a.k.a. Ramblings Over Earth)

Discuss

Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 08:30 AM PST

A Brief Moment In Deep Time

by Methinks They Lie

Mojave twilight.
Mojave twilght--All photos taken by Methinks They Lie (a.k.a Ramblings Over Earth)
While walking slowly through the Mojave desert I found what looked like part of an old desert tortoise's shell, sun bleached and chalky, broken into pieces that fit together like a puzzle in large geometric shapes to form what might have been the bottom plate of his shell. Who knows how old he was when he died. He didn't keep track, I'm sure. But we do, and he could have been 100 years old when he took his last step. A noble desert traveler returning to dust, being carried off on the wind, the whispering desert wind.

At twilight the red and purple sky of the sinking desert sun played backdrop to the yipping of coyotes off on an opposing ridge, the wind would sometimes stir and the sound it made through the Joshua Trees was like a whisper of the cool air. If I listened closely enough, and with a mind settled like snow on a frozen lake, would I hear what it had to say? Could the wind talk? I like to think it can, but only if we listen, which we're not likely to do anymore.

I had lost my way. I used to have a mindfulness practice but it went by the wayside some time ago and there's nothing that feeds the drama wheel of modern American society than mindlessness and a blindspot to self awareness. I was caught up, "in the web" or like a fly in vaseline, mind like a "monkey mind" the Buddhists say, darting this way and that with no control, carried on the waves of emotion like a feather in a whirlpool, slowly dropping, but quickening as the swirl sank further.  

I wonder if some of my lack of awareness, my decreasing attention span and scattered mind, might be because the internet is rewiring our brains. Making us less able to concentrate. Less able to pay attention, to listen, to be present. Throw in cell phones, texting, earbuds...and now here you have one culture hellbent on doing something other than whatever it is they're presently doing (like just sitting, waiting, eating).

For a long time I had a mindfulness practice and have done residential meditation retreats in silence, practicing for 7 days starting at about 6 am and lasting until about 10 pm each night. I have studied eastern philosophy (Taoism, Buddhism, Yoga, etc) for over 18 years. But I had let my practice go by the wayside. And it showed.

I was caught in the stream like a fish getting hooked on every single thought my mind wanted to entertain me with, and so I was on autopilot as a result. Drifting along. My mind like a drunk on an open dance floor barely standing but trying to follow each white dot that spun on the floor from the magical disco ball above. So to the desert I went.

To re-wire my brain. To take it back from the busyness of the modern world. Meditation can change our brains, reclaim what is I think our ancestral heritage (and right) to silence, peace, calm. To a collected, concentrated and equanimous mind.

When my mind has been as active as it was it takes some time to settle down and become quiet. I knew this from years of practice so I was patient. Eventually my mind gave up trying to get my attention, the dramas in my head slowly fading away, the constant chatter, the simulacra it must rehearse for some supposed future event that always never happens as my mind plans it, yet it never learns from this and continues to try and prepare for a future it will never understand.

And that first instant when it finally shuts up and all I have is the warm sun, the endless blue sky and the monzogranite boulders beaming light from the quartzite gems embedded in them, that first instant of silence is like a great massage of the soul, like a giant exhalation casting off the fetters of a tense and stressful grip, releasing me into a timeless moment that most cultures before us probably knew, like the Hopi, or the Lakota, or the Mojave.

Along with the listening I watched. I took slow walks, sat often out in the open desert, scanning the silence, the desert floor for a rock that moves slowly. I've never seen a desert tortoise but I know that from a distance it looks like a rock. And then it moves, surprising the unsuspecting witness, taking its time. Slow time. Deep time.

The desert tortoise has patiently plied the Mojave Desert for centuries, eons really, with little care about getting anywhere at all. Its sense of time must be very different than ours. We seem to view it as some sort of contest, or race, to get in as much as we can in as little time as we can and we're sure keep track of it all. We have watches, clocks, countdown clocks, timers, alarms, hours, minutes, seconds, nano-seconds....but we've lost the sun as a result. And the moon. We've lost the rhythm of it all. We've lost a sense of time that is grand, that is slow, that is quiet.

Most of what drives our lives now, most of what we acquire, the "stuff", all of the activity that fills the gaps between the activities we've already taken on, the new car, the new house, a different job, facebook, texting, tweeting.....all of it is racing towards us, or us to it, in order, in my view, to avoid one thing: Boredom.

So I sat in the desert and experienced boredom to its fullest. I watched as my mind wanted to hike, or bike, or run, or surf the internet, or climb, or DO SOMETHING damnit other than just sit there, and I became comfortable with boredom again. I think I briefly sank into slow time, deep time, and I imagined that when all of my "stuff" is stripped away, all of my busy body activities are removed, that the peace I felt was something that was a genetic right I inherited, that all humans inherited, and that somehow we've managed to push it away. I think it is a tragedy that we've lost a sense of a right to just do nothing. No agendas. No deadlines. No schedules. No time.

I think that if we were to ask the desert tortoise how he deals with boredom he would look at us with confusion (sadness really) and wonder what in the world it was we were talking about. It's like when the Dalai Lama was asked about self hate and he didn't understand the question. When it was explained what self hate was and that many Americans experience it, he became very sad and shook his head. He couldn't understand such a thing. Self hate was not a concept in the Tibetan culture so to him this foreign phenomenon seemed alien, and tragic.

I imagine the desert tortoise reacting the same way to a question about boredom. I see him shaking his head, slowly lifting himself with his stout legs, and walking off at a measured, deliberate pace, picking his way through sage and cactus with no specific destination in mind nor schedule to meet. I would watch him until he disappeared, which would take a long time, to grant him the respect an old sage deserves, a desert wanderer with nothing to accomplish. No one to impress.

I think that we fear the quiet actually, we fear slowness, we fear "nothing to do." In our culture if you're not doing something you're lazy. We boast of working 70 hours a week, one upping each other in some strange competition to see who can accumulate the most stress per pay period. It's odd really when you think about it (if we ever think about it at all). We created the wheel, then we jump on it and run and run and run trying to catch up to some abstract "dream" that is uniquely American (of course) and if we just run faster we'll catch that dream and live it. Like those blissful people you see in anti-depressant commercials. They found the dream. Why haven't you?

Early in the morning I would search for bobcat. They would be hunting the deer mouse, or the jackrabbit in those early hours, but mostly I saw raven. Two black forms up in the deep blue desert sky one cawing, gurgling an almost heinous sound, and then back to cawing. Maybe he was telling the desert tortoise to rise. The sun is fast approaching old friend, come out and take your rightful place among us. The desert tortoise would be too smart to listen to raven knowing he was trying to trick him, for raven is a predator and not much of a friend to the desert tortoise. So he would stay in his burrow until February or March, waiting for the cold nights to pass and lengthening days that bring higher temperatures under the hot sun.

I imagine that in spring, from raven's perspective up there, he can see rocks down below that slowly start to move. The desert coming alive, slow rocks shifting in no particular order, no sensed pattern, no goal in mind. Patient desert wayfarers that thank the morning sun and move on slowly toward no place but this place. Right here. Right now.

I followed the desert tortoise's pattern of stirring when the sun was warm, retreating when it dropped behind the Little San Bernardino Mountains. We never did see a desert tortoise over those five days in the Mojave because they are dormant now in their burrows. But still I searched. Their numbers are falling and it is not so easy to spot them as it used to be. Another threatened species to add to the list, their habitat shrunk due to human encroachment, they are now confined mostly to the Mojave and Sonoran Desert.

They've come so far, through time, deep, geologic time only to arrive to a shrinking world around them. The closing in of their world brought about by a species with a sense of time that thinks in terms of accumulation, consumption, a single generation. A species that has things to do, promotions to achieve, sales targets, retirement homes to erect. And they have very little time to do it, it seems, the way they race around like they do, the tortoise must think. What's the rush? I imagine him asking. Who is chasing them?

The human species is but a brief moment in deep time, a mere blip in the scale of geologic time so in terms of planetary seniority, we are the greenhorns. You would think we would show a little more respect to those who came before us. To those who've scaled deep time slowly, patiently, arriving here in this moment after many, many centuries of existence so that we may bow to them in reverence and maybe even learn something from them, and yet.

And yet.

At night the stars in the desert sky arc over like those quartzite gems in the boulders on the desert floor and twinkle in blue, orange, yellow and red pulses...the only thing piercing the dark silence is the occasional rumbling jet high above racing towards another landing. Then another takeoff. Then another landing. The desert tortoise waits below the earth, deep down, patiently as he does, for the changing tide, the warming soil, the golden rays increasing intensity to beckon him out. Come out old friend, I imagine the sun saying to the tortoise, Come take your rightful place among us. And when this happens months from now in spring, this time the tortoise will listen, trusting the old sun, thanking him for his warm embrace as he slowly emerges from his winter burrow. And then, just as the heat of the desert floor shimmers in the distance, when the raven whirls above in dark angles, the rocks will begin to move. Slowly. Just as they have for centuries. Just as they have for eons of deep time past.

Fiery Mojave Desert sunset.
Fiery Mojave Sunset
Epilogue

Five days of desert solitaire and I think I've recharged somewhat. I came out of the desert with a wish to approach this next year a little differently than the last. I want to react less and respond more with a sense of compassion, empathy, connectedness. I want to listen more, speak less. I want to appreciate downtime and not try to fill it with "stuff." I want to stop trying to "save time" and spend time instead. I want to experience more peace, right now, in this moment without having to look for some activity to fill the time between the activity. I want to be present and be okay with "now" and let "what will be" come to me as it surely will, dressed very differently than what my mind would like to predict and daydream and rehearse about.

I want to honor the disappearing desert tortoise and just slow down. Make space. Rest. This is my hope for the entire world actually, but especially for us here in America. I wonder how many of the problems we face as a culture, as a species, would be solved if we all just slowed down a little. Took our time. Spent our time. Here's to a slower New Year. I hope.

*note--Below are some more photos I took while in the Mojave. Jump over the orange tumbleweed to take a gander if you like. Peace and blessings to you and may your 2013 greet you like the warm desert sun: Slowly and with a warm embrace.
Continue Reading

Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 09:18 AM PST

The New American Arms Race

by Methinks They Lie

100,000 Americans wounded or killed each year by guns. THIRTY 9/11's each year. Where's the outrage from the right attacking this evil menace in the homeland? Why isn't Glenn Beck cowering in the corner, fearful that the devil has taken over?

According to the Brady Campaign, which advocates gun control, around 100,000 Americans are wounded or killed by guns each year. One of its studies showed US murder rates are almost seven times higher than rates in 22 other populous high-income countries who have similar rates of lower level crime. The same study showed that America's firearms homicide rate is almost 20 times higher.
For years now the argument coming from the rightwing and the NRA in this country concerning gun violence has been the same, choreographed message handed down verbatim: Just buy more guns.

Every time another tragedy happens, like at Virginia Tech, or Aurora, CO., or.....the response from the rightwing and the NRA is, Just Buy More Guns.

Just Buy More Guns. That's all they say. And if someone brings up the idea that more guns won't help the situation and actually might lead to more injuries and death, well then the response from the rightwimg and the NRA is: 2nd Amendment. Or, insanely enough, god.

States across America have passed laws allowing more and more conceal and carry laws, often using gun violence as a reason, arguing once again, if we just had more guns well then this kind of horrible act (mass shootings) wouldn't happen.

Now they're trying to pass laws allowing guns into our schools because again, more guns means less violence to this side of the barren mind.

[_BLANK__] number of guns are sold in this country each year. Yeah that blank is on purpose because we don't know how many are sold because the gun industry doesn't report their sales. How convenient. The only thing we can go on is the FBI's background check numbers but that doesn't tell us how many guns are sold. So we just have to estimate. Let's go to a gun group to see what they say:

The $4 billion firearms and ammunition industry stands apart from other industries that are struggling in the slow economy. Demand for guns has continued at a robust pace since late 2008.
YEAH!!! Slap each other on the back. Sorry. We we're looking for info about gun sales in America:
Indicators such as background-check statistics, firearms production and importation, firearm-retailer surveys and on-the-ground reports from retailers nationwide reveal that interest in firearm ownership is high. "More and more Americans are choosing to exercise their Second Amendment rights, and they are doing so in a safe and responsible manner," said NSSF President and CEO Steve Sanetti.
Safe and responsible manner. Right. Anyway, notice anything? Yeah, no numbers on sales. Even the gun, ahem, (pause, deep breath) enthusiasts don't know.

A not so small portion of this 4 billion dollar industry is funneled to the NRA, which is really nothing more than the marketing arm of the gun manufacturers. Even the Koch Bros have their hand in the pot. How much? Again, we don't know. Because they won't tell us. That alone should be an indicator that the sum is great.

Tens of millions of dollars (at least) are being funneled into the NRA who in turn, use it to scare its claimed 4 million members about some fantasy government gun raid that's just about to happen any day now and if you don't send in your dues you can kiss your precious guns goodbye.

They also use this money to lobby lawmakers at the state and national level to relax gun laws and make it easier for anyone to go and buy a gun (increasing sales for the gun manufacturers they represent). The money is used to inject into our conversations following mass shootings the idea that we just need more guns America. Just buy more guns. Because, god.

The NRA and the gun manufacturers they represent want each and every American to stockpile weapons of mass shootings. That's their dream. That's their goal. Profits demand it.

This is how they have orchestrated the New American Arms Race. They create the problem and then magically they have the answer to it: Just buy more guns America. They will certainly play the same tune following the tragedy in Newtown CT. They've already started in with this insanity. The answer, god fearing Americans, to these increasingly horrible tragedies is always very simple.....more guns. And if that message starts to fail for them, well then, 2nd Amendment.

The "amend" in amendment should probably be used to clear up that grammatically incorrect amendment and set things straight. (In my opinion if we absolutely must have guns in this country well then one shotgun per citizen ought to do it. No more handguns, no more semi-automatic, no more combat style high volume clips, no more sniper rifles, no more AR-15s, just a shotgun or single action hunting rifle. If you need anything more than that you're either not a hunter or you are a fetishist. For the latter I suggest seeking a good therapist.)

It's time to take down the NRA. It's time to take down the gun manufacturers. it's time to take down the rightwingers who parrot the more guns talking points and relegate this cesspool of ignorance into the political wilderness. We need to hang the shame of the NRA and the gun manufacturers around the neck of the republican party and drown it in the proverbial bathtub.

Please Join this group here at dailykos.

Call your legislator. Sign this petition to tell Obama to take on gun control for christ sake.

But more importantly don't let the gun manufacturers' talking point that we just need more guns go unanswered. Fight back. And be bold about it. Enough is enough. It's time to take the fight to them. We will not let them continue their arms race against America.

Discuss

Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 09:02 AM PST

You People

by Methinks They Lie

I came into dailykos back in 2008 looking for a place to keep track of the Presidential election and hang out with like-minded folks. What I found were some rabble rousers, old beatniks, techies, environmentalists, dirty hippies, statisticians, pundits, comedians, activists, more dirty hippies, scientists, poets, writers, astro-physicists, charlatans, misfits, artists, teachers, preachers, philosophers and dreamers. My kind of people.

Early on I jumped in and commented here and there, published a few diaries every now and then, took a few breaks, but always I came back. This was the place to be if you wanted to know what was going on in the world, not just the political world, but the bigger (and sometimes more important) world. The diversity of talent and viewpoints and level of knowledge and expertise I found here I could not find anywhere else.

Next thing you know I'm checking it every morning. And when I get home. Not just during elections mind you, but everyday I come here to see what's goin' on. And I ALWAYS find something interesting to read about.

My last few diaries have hit the right notes for some people on this site and now, this morning, I awoke to this email:

Congratulations! An anonymous benefactor has purchased you a one year gift subscription to Daily Kos.

Message from An anonymous benefactor:
I really appreciate the excellent diaries you've been publishing, and look forward to seeing more. Happy Holidays.

I can't tell you how that makes me feel inside, but it's kind of like someone taking your feely section inside your chest and throat and giving it a great big hug, with a dash of humility, a pinch of embarrassment, but a whole lot of sunshine beaming through so that I feel warm and well, part of an amazing, compassionate, caring and considerate community that I have yet to see replicated elsewhere in the blogosphere.

This place is truly unique folks. We need this place. And now that I see the site without ads for the first time it is somewhat "soul-cleansing" as Hunter pointed out. That alone, my anonymous benefactor, has boosted your karma, which judging from your kindness, doesn't seem to need the boost at all.

So, to you, the one who took that amazing step and gifted me a subscription to this incredible site, I say thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are EXACTLY the reason people like me come to dailykos and stay.

Originally I came here for the politics, but I stayed for the community. Let's keep this going. Our side is winning. Truth will always defeat lies. And this site is a great counterweight to all the beltway silliness the American public has been subjected to for decades. This site is, as Markos wanted to do, crashing the gate. And they can't stop us. Not now. Not tomorrow. Or the next day.

Let's continue to make the Joe Scarboroughs and Liebermans of the world squirm in their pampered seats. I have been gifted a subscription so the pressure is on me to do my part. And I will try as best as I can.

And I know you will too. Because it's the reason I stayed in the first place.

Continue Reading

Dear friends, meet Earl Butz:

He's the one on the right. You may have never heard of him but he has had a profound and lasting impact on your life. Nixon and Butz might be having a chat about Watergate in that photo and later Butz will show Nixon his wood carving of two elephants fornicating, which in all seriousness Butz was fond of doing (see below). But given the imprint Butz left behind on America's deteriorating health and woeful agricultural system you should know a little something about this man.

In 1971 Nixon appointed Earl Butz to be Secretary of Agriculture, narrowly passing Senate confirmation by a vote of 51-44, which is worth noting because it wasn't common for cabinet nominations to be this close in the Senate at the time. Senate democrats had reservations regarding Butz's close ties to corporate agribusiness and as it turns out, their reservations were healthy. There is probably no single figure nor decision made that has had greater impact on our highly inefficient food system or to the physical health of our citizens than the appointment of Earl L. Butz to head the Department of Agriculture.

If you ever wonder how or why we got here:

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
Then you can point at least one finger towards Earl L. Butz (you pick the finger).

Earl Butz was Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon and then Ford after Nixon resigned in shame and was considered the republican party's path to wooing the farm vote ("Farmers Vote For Nixon, Save your Butz!"). He was an irascible figure, sharp tongued, and an uncompromising, forceful Secretary that had lasting impact on our agricultural system but was eventually forced to resign 1 month before the 1976 Ford/Carter election due to a racial comment Butz made. Butz wasn't afraid to offend anyone and offend he did including Pope Paul VI, housewives that have, “such a low level of economic intelligence,” and yes, he was known to pull from his desk that wooden carving of two elephants fornicating I mentioned above to show visitors that he was in fact the GOP's savior to the farm vote (the joke being that he was "producing" more republicans).

Classy guy.

But Butz's lasting, and some would argue his most revile, offense was to the small family farm that was the backbone of our nation's agricultural system for nearly 300 years. When Butz took over as Secretary of Agriculture he pushed the "get big or get out" paradigm that has had dramatic effects on the American farming landscape and on how we, as a culture and society, produce and consume our food. He took the New Deal policies created during the Great Depression to protect farmers from dramatic price drops and increasing farm foreclosures and stuck a pitchfork in it. "Plant fence row to fence row" he admonished farmers, don't worry about the excess production, we'll sell it to Asia. And they did (Russia to be exact), and so was born the globalization of our food system and, well, as the title of this diary suggests, the 2000 mile tomato. One immediate effect of Butz's plant "fence row to fence row" push was environmental. Marginal land was put into production leading to loss of shelterbelts and wetlands, and erosion increased, leading to runoff and pollution of streams and waterways.

But something else would happen as a result of this mad push towards gutting the small family farm and boosting corporate mega-farms:

Urged on by Butz and buoyed by high grain prices, millions of Midwestern farmers spent the 1970s taking on debt to buy more land, bigger and more complicated machines, new seed varieties, more fertilizers and pesticides, and generally producing as much as they possibly could.

Then, in the 1980s, the bubble burst. By that time, farms were cranking out much more than the market could bear, and prices fell accordingly. Meanwhile, interest rates had spiked, making all of those loans farmers had taken out in the ’70s into a paralyzing burden. Farm incomes plunged and tens of thousands of farms went under. Butz’s great policy change had given rise to the deepest rural crisis since the Depression.

Where have we heard this tune before? Seems to escape me.

As small farms went under, bigger farms gobbled them up, getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. In the 1930's there were about 6.5 million farms in America. In 2010 there were about 2.2 million. WWII had a slight effect on the number of farms in America but just know that in 1950 we still had roughly 5.5 million farms to count on for our food. And to give you an idea how these new farms differed from the old they gobbled up, I give you this comparison:

In 1900, almost all farms – 98 percent – had chickens, 82 percent grew corn for grain, 80 percent had at least one milk cow, and a like percentage had pigs. Given those numbers, it's obvious that most of the farms were diversified, growing all of those items.

By 1992, only 4 percent of farms reported having chickens, 8 percent had milk cows, 10 percent had pigs and only 25 percent were growing corn. Most of the farmers who were producing these commodities produced only one or two crops or livestock items. Of the 17 major farm commodities, the average farm in 1900 produced five of them; in 1992, the average farm produced less than two.

Lack of diversity, in any system, be it animal species, plant species, market competition, etc., is an unhealthy situation. These bigger farms began to produce one, maybe two crops on larger and larger acreage. And I'm sure you can guess what those two crops mostly were/are: Corn and Soy. Fence row to fence row. Corn and soy. Bigger and bigger machines were developed to plant, cultivate, and harvest these crops and as the mechanization creeped in, humans got pushed out. Fewer and fewer people began to raise fewer and fewer crops on larger and larger acreage. This is mono-cropping on U.S. steroids and it's the reason the family part of the family farm dissolved as the need for human help was replaced by machines and the younger generations left and never came back.

Now all this corn and soy has to go somewhere and the industrialized food manufacturers were all too happy to swallow it up and churn it out into something (high fructose corn syrup for one). That something is what you find on the shelves of most grocery stores in America. Go down any aisle in your grocery store and pick any random packaged "food" item off the shelf and read the ingredients.

You can thank Archer Daniels Midland Corporation (and a select few others cough-Cargill-cough cough) for that. We can probably "thank" them for a lot of our current health problems plaguing our culture right now. Butz's dream of cheap food produced on a grand scale has been realized. But one man's dream is another's nightmare.

What about that tomato you mentioned?

Ah yes. The 2000 mile tomato. It is estimated that food in the U.S. now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table. No doubt one of the great "successes" that Butz and corporate agribusiness would point to if someone were to ask them how they've helped improve farming in America. But, not being an economist mind you, I see this as an incredibly inefficient way of doing things.

Here, lettuce understand this more clearly:

"We are spending far more energy to get food to the table than the energy we get from eating the food. A head of lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley of California and shipped nearly 3,000 miles to Washington, D.C., requires about 36 times as much fossil fuel energy in transport as it provides in food energy when it arrives," Halweil said.
Sound efficient to you? If you've eaten a tomato this week, or a canned/jarred tomato more precisely, chances are it came from the Central Valley of California. The Central Valley is the largest producer of canned tomatoes in the world. In fact, some call the Central Valley the breadbasket of the U.S. as it supplies 1/3 of all the produce grown in the country. Whether you're in Maine, Topeka, or San Francisco, odds are you've eaten some food from the Central Valley this week.

This should seem amazing right? A tomato traveling 2000 (or 3000) miles to a snowy little town so that Americans can eat out of season? A testament to progress(!) I'm sure Butz would argue. And it only cost $1.29! CHEAP!

Well it's cheap only when a whole bunch of costs are swept under the rug or ignored entirely in this grand bargain. No one factors in the carbon footprint of this little tomato shivering in the snowy northeast. No one seems to price in the fact that to ship our food such long distances and keep it so cheap we use migrant labor who 43% of our nation thinks we should send back to Mexico not realizing that Jesus really did provide their food.

And what about the oil subsidies that keep fuel unrealistically cheap, or the crop subsidies that encourage over production of commodities (corn, coy, cotton and wheat), or all of the small family farms pushed out in this mad rush towards "economies of scale for everything!" mentality that only values something if it is large, cheap, and makes a very few people very, very wealthy while the vast majority of folks keep struggling.

Or what about the fact that tomatoes for this kind of food system are now bred to work better for the machines that harvest them rather than for the humans that eat them or to be square in shape so that they stack better for transport and at the supermarket. Let's not factor in the lack of taste and increase in water content (priced by the pound of course). And don't worry that our own USDA's studies have shown that our food has become less nutritious over time since the 1950's. And don't mention, when we're talking about how "cheap" our food is, that tomatoes manufactured for this kind of so-called efficient food system are picked green so they ripen during transport or are sprayed with ethylene to encourage them to ripen just before display, and are most often waxed to retain moisture and prevent bruising, again, because of the long transport they endure.

Now don't get me wrong. I like tomatoes as much as the next fella. Come to the Central Valley in summer and come see the thousands upon thousands of acres of tomatoes and you'll know how important they are to the large farms here. And some will claim that the machines that have been developed to harvest tomatoes by the thousands (with a technological sophistication that almost rivals the Mars Rover) have actually created jobs instead of eliminate them. And indeed they have. But those jobs have moved from the farm and into the manufacturing plant where the tomatoes are processed. Think assembly line here. Shift after shift of thousands of tomatoes on conveyor belts making their way into pasta sauce, ketchup, and Chef Boyardee.

No culture in the history of our species has produced or consumed food in such a magnificent and damaging way. It is both impressive and depressing and ultimately may not be sustainable in terms of destruction of soil and water and in terms of remaining so cheap over the long-term. This kind of food system is certainly not one you should rely on in times of trouble:

"The farther we ship food, the more vulnerable our food system becomes," said Worldwatch research associate Brian Halweil, author of "Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market."

"Many major cities in the U.S. have a limited supply of food on hand," Halweil added. "That makes those cities highly vulnerable to anything that suddenly restricts transportation, such as oil shortages or acts of terrorism."

Richard Nixon's legacy is deeper and more complex than some might think (hell, he signed the legislation that led to the creation of the EPA). And while some might argue that Watergate is his worst contribution to American society I would argue otherwise. For me the appointment of Earl L. Butz to Secretary of Agriculture had a more profound and devastating effect on America that lasts to this day.

But we can change it.

Buy local. No, really. Buy local. I know this is the latest rage and let's hope it sticks but buying local is probably the single biggest thing you can do right now to reduce your carbon footprint. I know it's hard for a lot of Americans to do this at their local grocery store but farmers markets are on the rise and CSA's continue to grow nationwide.

Eat in season. Try it. I'll bet you ten thousand dollars you'll end up liking it. In my last diary I wrote about how it seems we are genetically predisposed to enjoy gathering and harvesting our own food. Well it seems the same could be said for eating in season. Long before the interstate highway system, cheap gas and Earl Butz we Americans ate in season. Of course canning and food storage techniques allowed us to extend our food well beyond its harvest but no one could argue that our lives, in many respects not just food, were more cyclical and danced with the rhythm of nature in a way we seem to have lost in our detached modern world.

Once you start eating in season you'll see what I'm talking about. It's December and I'm enjoying squash, potatoes, turnips, beets, chard, kale, broccoli...all coming out of the earth right now and all as fresh and nourishing as can be. I'm about tomato'd out, which is good since we mowed the tomatoes a couple of weeks ago so we don't have any right now. But I can tell you come spring I'll be looking forward to those dry-farmed tomatoes we can get here that are packed full with flavor! Eating in season allows you to appreciate what nature has provided at the time it is provided and gives you something to look forward to just when you've gone long enough without something to miss it. And eating in season gives you the freshest most nutritious food you can eat. Bar none. Again, it seems nature works with us to provide us with healthy food as long as we're willing to pay attention and listen.

Another way to eat in season and locally is to grow a garden. Don't have the space? See if a neighbor does or maybe there is a community garden near you, or you can search here to see if there is anyone in your community with some extra yard space looking for a gardener.

Lastly, we absolutely have to do something about the inequity of farm subsidies as doled out in the farm bill. Most subsidies go to a very few, very large corporations.

Most subsidy dollars go to the country’s largest operations in less than 50 congressional districts.
There have been attempts to shift some of those subsidies from corn, soy, cotton and wheat over to encourage and help organic, sustainable and local agriculture but the dominance and power of corporate agribusiness ensures these efforts are stalled at every turn. Take one look at the make-up of the House Agriculture Committee and then see how much each of those members receive in contributions from Big Ag and well, enough said.

But let's not kid ourselves. This system of "cheap" food pushed by Butz and his corporate agribusiness associates is not really cheap at all. We Americans pay the real costs of food one way or another:

As of the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, taxpayers fund 60 percent of farmers’ insurance premiums through a subsidy to private companies. They also cover a sizable portion of the insurance industry’s costs to run these programs. (In this drought- and heat-ravaged year of 2012, crop insurance payments alone are expected reach $20 billion to $25 billion, up from approximately $1 billion in 2000.)
Those numbers don't include the commodity subsidies to Big Ag, totaling $6 BILLION in 2010 alone with the top 10% receiving 62% of the subsidies. And remember, commodities are things like corn, soy, cotton and wheat. Specialty crops, things like broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, etc., you know, real food, get virtually no help at all from the federal government. The commodity subsidy system is so flawed that cotton farmers in Texas who won the lottery and became millionaires still collect cotton subsidies.

Add to that the increased health costs our society has incurred as a result of high calorie, low nutrient food and you start to see that we are all paying dearly for Earl Butz's so-called "cheap food." We can either pay our farmers to grow fresh, nutritious, local food for our communities, or we can pay our doctor (and Big Ag). The question is, Which will it be?

Peace,

MTL    (a.k.a. Ramblings Over Earth)

Discuss

When I was a kid I roamed where I liked playing with friends, riding bikes, and building forts in the dirt. Times were different then I guess. We didn't have soccer practice or band or cell phones nor the near lock up children experience today when it comes to playing outside. Or maybe it was because my family was poor and that's why I didn't have soccer practice or band. But I remember I wasn't the only kid playing outside all over creation until the sun went down. Seems like most of us did back then.

I can understand why parents won't let their kids play freely today. I get it that they don't want their kids too far out of sight (or maybe they do and just don't tell anyone about it). But I'm afraid all of this keeping kids busy doing other things or making sure they don't stay outside too long and get themselves dirty is having a negative effect on our children's health. It's not just me that feels this way. So does science. Jump over the orange dirt pile to follow me along this dusty path.

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