Sunday, May 25, 2003

Food and Health and Manipulation, er, Hope

That phrase (minus the Manipulation) was a part of Monsanto's promotional materials for a while. It's since been replaced with "Imagine". Jeanne d'Arc over at Body and Soul has posted
a story about the AIDS relief bill which was passed by the Senate on May 16, 2003. Apparently "our" representatives in congress continue the push to cram genetically modified food down the throats of people in Africa. She writes:

I'm hardly an expert, so if anyone wants to take exception to this characterization, be my guest, but my impression is that the safety of GM food seems pretty well established, the environmental impact and the effect on the local agriculture (and, long-term, on local economies as a whole) a lot less so. There are reasons to accept GM food and there are reasons to be wary of it (plenty of American farmers are wary), but almost nobody is arguing the case on its merits.

I don't know that the saftey of GM food has been established. I'm not an "expert" either and I've not been keeping up with this for the past year but the last reading I did left plenty of doubt in my mind. A part of the problem with GMOs and food safety is illustrated by the case of "Starlink" corn which was not approved for human consumption. It was approved for feeding animals but it found it's way into the human food supply in 2001. Our food supply is, apparently, not as organized as it should be. As long as some foods are considered safe for livestock but not humans I think we'll need better safegaurds to ensure that the two do not mix.

I don't think we can make blanket statements about the safety of GMO foods. The general attitude of the FDA (and other agencies) has seemingly been that GMO's are safe until proven guilty. Shouldn't it be the other way around? I'm going to look into it further but my impression is that they're far more lax about food saftey that we realize.

On the subject of GM, environmental impact and agriculture, the process whereby GM has been introduced is a real mess. Just take a look at how Bovine Growth Hormone, rBGH, was brought into play in the 1990's. rBGH and GM generally have been adopted too quickly and with little public debate. An interesting sidenote concerning rBGH and the media is the case of Jane Akre and Steve Wilson. In many ways it's a problem with technology generally. It seems to me that any democratic society should rigorously debate the adoption of new technologies, especially ones which could have such far reaching impact as genetic modification. Yet this did not happen in the U.S. The media hardly discussed it. Instead multinationals like Monsanto, Novartis, and DuPont forged ahead and the U.S. regulatory agencies let them. Just as with food safety, the EPA seems to take a stance that genetically modified organisms are innocent until proven guilty. Of course, the problem with this is that once organisms are introduced into the ecosystem they cannot really be contained.

Multinational corporations do not generally function for the benefit of ecosystems or human health. That's a fundamental flaw of capitalism and unfortunately the flaws of capitalism are not widely discussed in our society. Nor are the intentions of corporations when they push new products and technologies.

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Saturday, May 24, 2003

To benefit the Iraqi people?

Help me out here. I'm trying to remember, trying to understand; why did we just beat up Iraq?

Was it a continuation of the "war on terrorism"? Was it to remove "weapons of mass destruction"? Was it to remove a dictator and create democracy? Thanks to Jeanne D'Arc at Body and Soul for pointing to this article at the Christian Science Monitor. According to that article there is increasing evidence that "between 5,000 and 10,000 Iraqi civilians may have died during the recent war, according to researchers involved in independent surveys of the country."

That would make the "Iraq war" "the deadliest campaign for noncombatants that US forces have fought since Vietnam." It also puts civilian casualties far beyond the 3,500 that died in the first Gulf war. Of course this number doesn't include the many people that are likely to die because people's needs are not being met after the war. Hospitals are not even close to being stabilized nor are food needs being met. What about the radioactive wastes left behind? Just as with the first Gulf War, tons of depleted uranium bullets now liter the Iraq landscape.

Some might argue that it's American-based multinationals that stand to benefit. Call me crazy but I think that may have been the plan all along.

For a continuing discussion check out salon.com has set up a new blog, Iraq Democracy Watch.

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Thursday, May 22, 2003

It's those little details...

"When the guy from the White House tells you to take your tie off, you don't ask why." --Brian Bosma, Indiana House Republican, minority leader, who, while attending a speech by President Bush, was asked to remove his tie so audience members would look like ordinary people.

Time Magazine, May 26, 2003.

You gotta love juicey little tidbits like this. Gotta make sure all us ordinary folk feel at home with "our" president. Gee, thanks fellers for being so thoughtful.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Scale of Democracy

Thanks to Jon Lebokowsky I found Adina Levin's post discussing the dynamics of scale and democracy. She writes that "The "lobbying-and-marketing" approach isn't just an elitist power-grab by special interests. It's a practical response to a scaling problem. Representative democracy is a solution to the problem of aggregating decision-making power. The "lobbying and marketing" strategy is a solution to aggregating the power to influence decisions. The Sierra Club and the NRA can get hundreds of thousands of people to donate, vote, and contact representatives."

Social ecologist Murray Bookchin has proposed a democracy of the municipality which would shift decision making away from Washington D.C. It's a radical proposal and calls into question our acceptance of the nation state as a required entity. His idea, greatly simplified here, is to think of democracy as a participatory process which begins in the neighborhood and then builds up to the city level and from there to a regional level through a process of confederation.

It's interesting to think about in these times when many would argue that citizenship is dead or dying and has been replaced, to a great degree by consumerism; a gradual, but fundamental shift that is not healthy for democratic process.

What Bookchin and others have called for is actually a deep cultural shift as well as a political shift. The machine as it currently functions is not democratic and I'd argue that it's incapable of democracy. It would be like asking a common kitchen toaster to fly accross the room. That's not going to happen because toasters are not designed to fly. Similarly, the social, political, and economic systems of the U.S. are not governed by democratic process nor are they designed to cultivate it. It's really about the management of people and resources by a fairly small group of people who function behind the facade of "representative" democracy.

Of course there are times when it's pretty obvious that we're not living in a democracy, or even a democratic republic. If we want a democratic society we will have make fundamental, radical shifts to the many layers of our lives. It's not just about government. We need to examine the purpose and practice of our "educational" systems. What about the influence of corporations, which are private tyrannies, over public policy? How does car centered city planning affect the use and experience of public space? How is techonolgy being used? Who decides which technologies are used? Is the corporate media system really informing people or selling to them? Who controls the media system? What does it mean to be a citizen? What are the responsibilities that go along with citizenship? Is it possible to have a more direct relationship to public policy? Should democracy extend into the economy?

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Saturday, May 17, 2003

George Bush went AWOL

Okay, so Georgie boy waged a war against a nation that couldn't defend itself using a pretext that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the U.S. Have they found those weapons? Of course not. Will they find them? Probably not. Did they get Saddam? No, just like Osama bin Laden he seemed to disappear into the countryside. Did over a thousand innocent Iraqi's die? Sure did.

So the "war" against Iraq "ends" and flyboy Georgie lands a jet on an aircraft carrier for his grand finale. "Our" fearless leader. Nevermind the fact that he went awol for over a year. That's right, Bush's military records show that he did not report for Guard duty for a year or more from 1972 - 1973.

What a joke this guy is. Check out GW Bush Went AWOL for more info and links to articles found in the mainstream press.

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Thursday, May 15, 2003

Playing Card Deck for U.S. Regime Change...

This is great. A playing card deck which shows the way to regime change in the U.S. The deck is a 55 most wanted list of those responsible for crimes against Iraq and is modeled on the deck issued by the Pentagon a few weeks ago.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

My day job...

Is painful. But damn, I guess it's better than most I've had. In a strange way I've actually been looking forward to going in lately. I think that's because it's a lower stress environment than my home life has been lately. I work at the Memphis Literacy Council and I'm happy to be working at a place that isn't about making a profit. It's great to see people helping each other on a daily basis. Though I suppose I'm frustrated. Much of the work I do is repetetive: data entry. I'm a total fucking office dork and it get's old. Damn, I've been there for 5 years and that's longer than any other job I've ever had. Sometimes the urge to quit is overwhelming but thet I wonder where I'd want to work and I can't think of any job situation that would be better. Maybe I just lack creativity.

I suppose that in many ways it's an ideal situation. My pay is a little low but the work is not too demanding and leaves me with plenty of energy for my real passions... whatever the hell they are. This is the direct opposite of Sue who's cleaning people's houses and is utterly exhausted after working or Renae who's wating tables and who comes home with her back aching.

Here's something most folks are amazed to hear: the national illiteracy rate for adults is around 25%. That's 1 in 4 adults. The rate in Memphis is a little higher. I'm happy that places like the Literacy Council exist in most cities and and that most of them offer their services for free or at very low cost. It's a shame though that less than 1% of those who are illiterate use these services on a regular basis. I'm amazed at the way people are able to adapt to life without the ability to read.

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The Matrix

Okay, being the consumer geek that I am I went out last night and bought the Matrix DVD. I'm suprised I hadn't bought it before but really wanted to watch it again before going to see part 2 which is, of course, out this week.

Am I the only one who sees just a hint of serious societal critique in the Matrix? Of course what's stated in the movie is fairly surface level. We're not talking a deep analysis here. If you want that in a movie check out Mind Walk which is really amazing. But what is implied in the Matrix could be the stuff of many late night discussions. Specifically, when Morpheus is defining the Matrix for Neo. He describes it as being the big fat lie that is our lives. Not just any lie but the fundamental deception which has been carefully created to keep us sedated so that we will serve as an energy source for others that will profit from us. This is easily applied to the current "system" in which the corporate media is owned by (or own) other multinational corporations. This system, or matrix, surrounds us from birth to death. It seeks total control over the minds of supposedly "free" people and does so without being seen. It is the air that we breathe. It is most developed in the United States where the media seems to be the most invasive and where televisions have been the most consumed for the longest period of time.

What is the truth which is obscurred by the matrix? At it's most basic it is that we are not free as we are told we are. The matrix is designed to hide the ways in which we are merely tools which are used by those in power to increase the power that they have. It is a never ending struggle. They have control but not complete control. As long as there are people who protest, who write words such as these they will lack complete control. Perhaps the internet is helping in the breakdown of their control. It seems that it's almost certainly true. But their control is not just measured in what people are thinking, it's what they are doing. Resistance against the matrix is about the mental activity as well as physical activity: protesting, building community-based counter-institutions, and direct action which takes many different forms.

Of course, in the end the movie itself is just a thread in the matrix it is describing.

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Frustrations with BellSouth FastAccess DSL

It's a real bummer that Directv DSL went out of business this past fall. In one year of service with those folks we had maybe 2 outages for a total of less than 1 hour. An added bonus was a static ip address which made connecting remotely much easier. Their service was the best I've had yet.

Enter BellSouth FastAccess which is almast as bad as Road Runner was. For starters, the signal drops out several times a week. These outages usually only last a few minutes but sometimes up to several hours. Very annoying. Another kicker is what they apparently do to discourage do-it-yourself home networking. From the start we've had problems posting from certain online forms or email services such as yahoo or hotmail. These problems only occurr when working through our Asante or Linksys router. A direct connection to the modem works fine for all pages and services. Why? Evidently Bellsouth throws a wrench in the works by requiring that data packets be smaller than what the router normally uses in some instances. This is not a problem that can easily be fixed or even discovered by the typical home user. I discovered a solution after many google searches and finally a post to the Asante support forums.

There is a solution though it's a pain in the ass and I've not been able to get it working on all of the computers on our home network which range from Windows XP to Mac OS9 to Mac OSX. Each computer has to be configured to limit the size of it's MTU (maximum transmission unit). The two machines easiest to configure were running OSX. I did a search for configuring MTU in Apple's KBase and came up with this article. Pretty straight forward use of the terminal and the pico text editor to create a script and a file as well as altering another. Though it is described as an "advanced procedure" most anyone could do it if they simply follow the directions. Took me about 10 minutes to do both computers.

As of this writing the XP computer is still not properly configured. I downloaded a recommended shareware program, NetTweak Pro, installed and configured it but with no success. In fact I can no longer access the web on that computer. Nor have I found a solution for reconfiguring the OS9 computer.

Seems like Asante and other router manufacturers could allow for this kind of setting in the router? Perhaps future router firmware updates will include this feature.

Music

Ah.... it amazes me how much music can shift my reality. We don't just listen to music, we use it. I suppose that's obvious but I hadn't really thought of it that way till tonight.

Listening to Azure Ray right now... so sweet and kinda sad too... but comforting at the same time.

Current favorites: Virgin Suicides soundtrack, Asian Dub Foundation, Morcheeba, Poi Dog Pondering,1 Giant Leap soundtrack, Leonard Cohen, and They Might be Giants.

For the geeks out there... the new Apple iPods are pretty sweet. I sold my 5 gig to Brandon and bought the new 10 gig last week. Smaller and lighter though supposedly less battery life... 8 hours instead of the former 10. It's nice to have the added ability to use text notes... I could see lots of potential there. The backlit buttons are pretty nifty. Overall it seems more sensitive to touch than the older iPods and I'm not quite use to that yet. I'm finding that it's easier to accidentally push buttons... hopefully it's just a matter of adjusting.

One last note, Apple's iTunes and the iPod now support the AAC file format which supposedly increases quality and allows for smaller files. I've encoded a few cd's with it but hell, I don't really notice a difference in quality. Since the files are smaller I suppose it makes sense to go with the new format.

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Monday, May 12, 2003

The FCC makes me sick

According to Zeldman: "On 2 June 2003, the FCC proposes to remove laws that prevent any single company from owning every TV channel or newspaper in your city. If these regulations change, a company with a right- or left-wing agenda could eliminate your access to opposing views. One with no political agenda could eliminate intelligent programming and replace it with sewage that sells ad time. Don't let one conglomerate control what you and your family can watch, read, or hear. See this or that and contact your representative."

Funny thing. The reason for the FCC's existence is to regulate the airwaves in the public's best interest. Time and time again they have violated their own mission and demonstrated that they are far more interested in the creation of media monopolies.

Am I the only one that thinks that any country which claims to have a government by the people for the people also needs a media which is by the people for the people? Of course we all know that this is a government increasingly by the corporations for the corporations so it's no surprise that one of it's agencies would increasingly act in the interest of corporations.

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Sunday, May 11, 2003

In a funk

I've been having a difficult time lately. Strange how life can be so wonderful and really yucky all at the same time.

Lately living at deCleyre is kinda like swimming in sandpaper. I'm feeling overwhelmed by people. Relationships can sometimes seem so difficult. Maybe I just need a vacation from my life, some time out of Memphis. Why is it so hard for folks to get along? Why is communication so difficult? Why are we so quick to be defensive? What must we do to be comfortable with communication about communication?

On a positive note, the first screening of Weaving Community went really well. I didn't promote it at all so the turn out was small which I'm okay with. There were a few people that didn't show that I hoped would but I'll get over it. I was able to get more feedback and will do some final editing sometime in May or June. Basically I need to bring it down from 95 minutes to something like 80 minutes. I think I'll try to show it again in August and I'll actually promote that showing.

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