Friday, August 31, 2007

feed your children as told

The following is part of an article run recently at MSNBC. If you are still skeptical as to who runs this country- its citizens, the government, or corporations- just have a read. All emphasis added is mine.

Industry pressure waters down breast-feed ads
Under pressure from infant formula lobby, appointees dilute campaign

By Marc Kaufman and Christopher Lee

In an attempt to raise the nation's historically low rate of breast-feeding, federal health officials commissioned an attention-grabbing advertising campaign a few years ago to convince mothers that their babies faced real health risks if they did not breast-feed. It featured striking photos of insulin syringes and asthma inhalers topped with rubber nipples.

Plans to run these blunt ads infuriated the politically powerful infant formula industry, which hired a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former top regulatory official to lobby the Health and Human Services Department. Not long afterward, department political appointees toned down the campaign.

The ads ran instead with more friendly images of dandelions and cherry-topped ice cream scoops, to dramatize how breast-feeding could help avert respiratory problems and obesity. In a February 2004 letter, the lobbyists told then-HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson they were "grateful" for his staff's intervention to stop health officials from "scaring expectant mothers into breast-feeding," and asked for help in scaling back more of the ads.

The formula industry's intervention -- which did not block the ads but helped change their content -- is being scrutinized by Congress in the wake of last month's testimony by former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona that the Bush administration repeatedly allowed political considerations to interfere with his efforts to promote public health.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating allegations from former officials that Carmona was blocked from participating in the breast-feeding advocacy effort and that those designing the ad campaign were overruled by superiors at the formula industry's insistence.

Political interference?

"This is a credible allegation of political interference that might have had serious public health consequences," said Waxman, a California Democrat.

The milder campaign HHS eventually used had no discernible impact on the nation's breast-feeding rate, which lags behind the rate in many European countries.

Some senior HHS officials involved in the deliberations over the ad campaign defended the outcome, saying the final ads raised the profile of breast-feeding while following the scientific evidence available then -- which they say did not fully support the claims of the original ad campaign.

But other current and former HHS officials say the muting of the ads was not the only episode in which HHS missed a chance to try to raise the breast-feeding rate. In April, according to officials and documents, the department chose not to promote a comprehensive analysis by its own Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of multiple studies on breast-feeding, which generally found it was associated with fewer ear and gastrointestinal infections, as well as lower rates of diabetes, leukemia, obesity, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.

The report did not assert a direct cause and effect, because doing so would require studies in which some women are told not to breast-feed their infants -- a request considered unethical, given the obvious health benefits of the practice.

entire article available here

Thursday, August 30, 2007

coming economic gut punch?

The government said this morning that the U.S. economy grew at a rate of 4% in the second quarter of 2007. However, there’s an awful lot of interesting talk from less official sources. I have to agree with John Michael Greer- that we have wasted our eleventh hour and we might be about to experience some of the painful consequences of our dependence on oil.

Does this mean that we’re finally, for real, at the eleventh hour? That’s the richest and most bitter irony of all. As Robert Hirsch and his colleagues pointed out not long ago in a crucial study, the only way to respond effectively to Peak Oil on a national scale, and stave off massive economic and social disruptions, is to start preparations twenty years before the arrival of peak petroleum production. The eleventh hour, in other words, came and went in 1986, and no amount of pressure, protest, or wishful thinking can make up for the opportunity that was missed then. Listen carefully today and you can hear the sound of the clock tolling twelve, reminding us that the eleventh hour is gone for good.

Here’s a quick round up of charts and articles that all point towards a swift punch in the stomach for the U.S. economy.

Peak Oil is real and in the rearview mirror.

charts from The Oil Drum

Of course that means trouble for automotive America.

chart from Gas Buddy

Why would someone bet a huge amount of $ against the $ system?

From Money Morning,

Insiders trade when they know something. They’re not supposed to, but they do anyway. It’s just a fact of life.

Most of the time, it’s pretty petty-ante stuff, but occasionally a trade comes along that makes even jaded professionals like me sit up and take notice.

Just such a trade surfaced last Wednesday when anonymous parties agreed to buy and sell 120,000 SPY September call options using deep-in the-money strikes ranging from 60 to 95…

Any way you cut it, this is a monster trade because it controls 12,000,000 SPY shares. In fact, at a blended price of $7,500 per option, this works out to a $900 million bet that will play out by Sept. 21, when these options expire…

In essence, this trade potentially suggests that a very large player has effectively sold his or her SPY holdings for cash, without pressuring the market downward. If this is true, whoever placed this trade is essentially betting that the SPY – and, by extension, the broader market – will lose anywhere from 35% to 55% of its value in the next three weeks.

And there’s the current level of instability in the economy.

From Financial Sense,

As we move into September we must keep in mind that historically it is the worst month of the year for the stock markets. Years ending in 7 are particularly nasty as outlined in the July 15th edition of the “Crack up boom” series. With the events this year, it would argue for more turmoil. As outlined in the previous edition of ‘Fingers of Instability’, we are waiting for the cockroaches to emerge into the headlines and in this missive we will put a few “fingers” on them. The turmoil unfolding in the financial sectors of banks and prime brokers has a lot further to run before it will be safe to play on the long side. On the short side however, opportunities would appear to abound.

And this last one sure doesn’t exactly make me want to go out and spend money.

chart from George Ure

Perhaps the U.S. economy (and by default the global economy) will keep chugging along just fine. Maybe I’m just being silly. There is after all plenty to be happy about as the GDP surged ahead this spring… said the Commerce Department.

‘Hug me till you drug me, honey;
Kiss me till I'm in a coma:
Hug me, honey, snuggly bunny;
Love's as good as soma.’

-Aldous Huxley

Thursday, August 23, 2007

fighting over the way we live

Two videos I recently watched have been haunting my dreams. The first is Henry Rollins, "short, gray and angry" in Israel doing his spoken word best about the war. The second is Michael Klare, author of Resource Wars and Blood and Oil giving a great 30 minute talk about how peak oil could very well bring more violence into our world. Klare spells out his concern with a clarity that might make any peak oil activist more concerned about the geopolitical response to peak oil and less concerned about renewable resources, although the two are obviously intertwined. If we're willing to let our President continue a war we know to have been started based on an inaccuracy (or a combination of inaccuracies) are we really going to stop him or others like him from fighting once peak oil makes our energy situation much more apparent to the general population? I certainly hope that we can recognize the unsustainability of our lifestyle and accept changes in the way we live and do so in a peaceful manner, but there are people saying things like, "The American way of life is non-negotiable," which loosely translates, "Kick their ass & take their gas."

Peak oil is very much an issue of social justice. We are already seeing its effects on third world countries and on the poor right here in America. But we must also recognize that we are trading our children to the military so we can drive big cars and eat cheap food from far away.
More oil means more fighting. It's just that simple. And I'm not saying that over night we should condemn those among us who drive big cars or eat food from far away. Many people are unaware of the depth of the connection between oil and our American way of life. I'm saying it's up to those of us who do know to share that message. And I think sharing it by shouting at SUV drivers isn't going to help. We must make changes in our own imperfect lives and then share those changes with others. That is how we can share the message without alienating others. We must make and share change first and foremost because it is the right thing to do, but like Henry Rollins points out, we must also do so because if we do not change and we do not stand in opposition to violence on our behalf- if we do not stop this war over oil- our children will inherit it. And I for one do not want to have to look at my daughter and say, "I'm sorry, I stood by and let the war rage on. Good luck with your depleted, dirty world full of violence."

Step One: Openly Oppose The War

Step Two: Reduce Your Dependency On Oil

Click Here for the Michael Klare Video


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

learn from the fall of rome, u.s. warned

This article is a must read for every American.

Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned

It was published today in the Financial Times. From the article,

The US government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

It goes on to say that,

there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

Who is being interviewed for this article? Mr. David M. Walker, the current comptroller general of the United States. That means he runs the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Here a little from the official website of the GAO.

Mr. Walker is the nation’s chief accountability officer and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO’s mission is to help improve the performance and assure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. GAO has earned a reputation for professional, objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, nonideological, fair and balanced reviews of government programs and operations.

This isn’t some crazed tree hugging hippie. This is the head of what is basically the investigative arm of congress. We know the GAO gets peak oil. The question is, how much louder will Mr. Walker have to shout before enough people start to listen. Does he have the lungs and can we make a change?

I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that civilizations don’t collapse or even decline for just one reason. Jared Diamond, who wrote ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ (2005) points to five factors: environmental degradation, climate change, hostile enemies, lack of support from friendly neighbors, and the way in which a society chooses to respond to these problems. Run through that list again with current events in mind. Ask yourself how we’ve chosen as a nation to respond to these problems.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

growing our own and more on the bullseye diet

It was mainly Peak Oil that drove me out into my garden with a new mission; no longer just to grow a few tomatoes for fun each summer, but in an effort to grow the majority of the food my family eats. I set out a goal of producing more calories than I consume on my own property and within 5 years. I called my project “Growing My Own.” But there were others factors tugging at me, entreating me to take personal responsibility for the needs of my diet.

And I can see now that there are lots of other people becoming interested in local food and they’re doing so for a variety of reasons. Some of them want to avoid the potential health threats increasingly associated with industrial agriculture. You can get your daily update of just what food has been recently recalled as a health hazard by visiting this handy website – the U.S. FDA recall website. The fact that such a site exists is a telltale sign of our increasingly dysfunctional relationship with what we eat. To be sure there have always been local incidents of accidental food poisonings and the like, but now that our system of growing and distributing food is so centralized, the risk of mass contamination from food borne illness is much higher. My favorite example is the recent Castleberry’s Chili recall in which cans were literally bursting with botulism. In the face of all the human health problems swirling around the anonymous origins of industrial food, many people are now opting to get their food from known local sources.

Some people see local food as a social justice issue. It’s becoming more widely recognized that giant food corporations use money, or sometimes much more dubious means, to displace subsistence farmers in developing nations in order to gain access to cheap farmland; and later cheap labor as the displaced farmers now must work for money with which to buy imported food they once grew themselves. Or as my friend George recently put it, “Now, if you'll just sign over your third world natural resources and any infrastructure you have, we'll send you paper which you can trade back to us for food...ain't globalism grand?” Add to that the subsidies embedded in the U.S. farm bill, recently renewed, that hands out millions of tax dollars to huge AgriBizCorps that then undersell struggling farmers in developing nations. It’s easy to see why buying local makes more sense in terms of global social issues, not least among them hunger in the third world.

But there is another more local reason to get your food from close to home; eating in such a way supports local communities. Why on Earth would I send my money half way across the country when I can put it in my neighbor’s pocket? Supporting local farmers through programs like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or just visiting your local farmers market helps share the burden and the benefits of farmers trying to grow food and sell it locally. This is a fast growing trend.

Some people have come to recognize another benefit of eating locally- it tastes better! What’s that you say? You’re store bought tomato tastes like cardboard? Of course it does. It was breed to be shipped long distances and sit on store shelves for weeks; and it has. If you want tasty varieties bred for eating and picked just yesterday and shipped only a few miles, you’ll have to visit more local sources. Maybe even your own backyard.

Other people are worried about the effects of global warming and the coming changes to the overall climate on Earth. Even a steady, gradual increase in global temperature would be difficult to deal with agriculturally speaking but we are likely instead to see a climate system thrown into disorder with wild swings in temperature during the course of individual seasons with some regions experiencing extreme drought while others flood, not to mention bigger storms. Add to this a rise in sea level that will increase the number of people displaced by climatic events and it could be a very tough time to grow food as our global climates changes out from under us. It is no wonder then that some people are seeking to secure their sources of food. And with security increasingly easier to archive as one approaches one’s own home, many people are looking to eat local or even grow their own food as a response to global warming. It’s also worth pointing out that those who look towards local food security as a response to climate change often do so with the knowledge that they are greatly reducing their impact on the warming of the planet by turning away from industrial agriculture. That system of growing food is by the way, responsible for a fair amount of the greenhouse gasses we put off into the atmosphere each year.

I dare say some people are even beginning to think about local food production as an issue of sovereignty. If as a community or a state or even as a nation, you can’t feed your people on your own, then you are beholden to others for one of the most important of human needs. I recently posited that a closer look at the collapse of the Soviet might be more appropriately focused on their need for grain rather than only on their declining oil and natural gas revenues which made it harder for them to buy grain. After all, you don’t have to buy it if you grow it yourself. Individuals and communities of all sizes are beginning to recognize this fact. It’s coming to be seen as an issue of state and national security. I think local food production should be part of local community planning for the very same reason.

So let’s review, we have a highly centralized food system that easily distributes food borne pathogens quickly to lots and lots of people, we increasing use the land base of people in the developing world to cheaply grow our food often at their expense, we line the pockets of far away companies at the expense of our local farmers, we settle for bland food bred to make the long haul across country, we pollute our planet and warm our atmosphere so as to have cheap cumquats when every we want them and we leave ourselves vulnerable to others in terms of meeting one of our most basic human needs, all by not eating local. I think it’s easy to see why people are beginning to reexamine the curious strategy of industrial agriculture.

For me though it was peak oil. My decision to become more self sufficient in terms of food production came from an examination of just how much industrial agriculture depends on oil and other fossil fuels. Global oil production is peaking, in other words there is more oil available at this point in history than there will be ever again. From this high point, worldwide oil production will decline no matter what we do. Likewise a peak in natural gas (NG) will occur within a decade or so. With a little research I discovered commercial pesticides are made from petroleum and commercial fertilizers are made from a feedstock of NG. Not a happy thought when you consider the coming decline in the availability of these nonrenewable resources. And it’s becoming more widely recognized that on average our food travels about 1500 miles from the farm fields to our dinner tables. When I considered the diesel fuel used to truck this food across the country I became even more worried about where my food would come from in the future; and what it will cost.

So my plan was to “Grow My Own” and by doing so to remove myself and my family from a highly questionable system of industrial agriculture. I wanted to work to regain my own food sovereignty for lots of reasons. In other words I decided to garden like mad!

The problem is though that my goal of near self sufficiency in terms of producing all my own food was an extremely difficult if not impossible goal to achieve. Of course in parallel with my idea of growing all of my own food, a gathering movement of other people, fed up with industrial agriculture, was growing in size. This movement now includes all sorts of programs and strategies devoted towards other options for dinner. CSA’s, the 100 Miles Diet, the Slow Food movement, a resurgence in Farmers Markets, all of these practices have taken off and are proving more and more people with an alternative way to eat. I began to participate in some of them. I did this in concert with my efforts to grow more of my food, which has expanded into a cooperative effort to grow food with neighbors in multiple locations. In my neighborhood we are taking over a vacant lot and we are gardening in the sunny backyard of an elderly neighbor. And it has become increasingly clear that while I probably would never be able to grow all of my own food on my own property, there were overlapping system by which I could get healthy food grown nearby in ways that use fewer fossil fuels and produce less pollution.

But being a philosophical sort of person, I needed a conceptual way to organize my increasingly entangled way of thinking about local food. These multiple strategies seemed interwoven and yet I wasn’t always sure where to focus my best efforts. And that is when the idea of The Bullseye Diet emerged. OK so at first I called it ‘Concentric Circles of Eating.’ I know, how geometrically nerdy. But luckily my friend and co-author Sharon Astyk offered up a much more pleasant name and The Bullseye Diet was born.

The idea is to imagine sourcing your food as a good game of darts where the dart board represents your geographical region. A great shot ends up in the bullseye- your own home- eating food you have grown yourself. As you move outwards on the board, your next nearest food source is usually your best bet. How much food can you grow in your neighborhood? How about buying food from a farmer just outside of town? Can you get other foods from your surrounding region? How much can you obtain from within your own state? The idea is that the closer to home- the closer to the bullseye- the better.

Here is Sharon’s introduction to this new mental model of eating.

And here’s a link to audio of her talking to Jason Bradford about The Bullseye Diet and about her upcoming book Depletion and Abundance: The New Home Front, Families and the Coming Ecological Crises

We both thinking existing ways of encouraging local eating, like the 100 Mile Diet, are great and work well within the bullseye strategy. This Bullseye model though places the consumer at the center where she or he recaptures the rightful role of producer. We have been told for so long in this country that we are first and foremost consumers and that notion has become pervasive in our culture. In fact the idea of a nation of consumers has replaced our national identity as citizens, as participants in our own lives and in our civil institutions. All our modern conveniences of entertainment and travel have offered the same concept and in doing so they have removed us as active and important participants in our local communities. We don’t talk with neighbors as we watch our children play each evening. We mainly stare at reality TV. We do not walk or bike where we are going, using our own muscles to get us there. We drive and burn a nonrenewable resource that pollutes our planet. But eating food from far away, this geographical disconnect from the very sustenance that keeps us alive, is at the heart of direct experience and we have given it up as well.

There are many reasons above to begin again to get involved in how and what we eat. Some of them are out of prudence, others out of loyalty and all of them I think out of common sense. But it is this idea of regaining our ability to feed ourselves by putting our own food on the table for our family, it is this idea that I think can jump start a revolution in rejection of excess consumption and the rampant materialism of our age. Moving from a nation of eaters towards a nation of growers will do more than shed our extra weight. It will directly address our reliance on others to do for us what we can do for ourselves and in doing so it will put us back in control of how we live our lives. It could be, dare I say it will be the first step towards a revolution.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

peak oil? tell me more

OK so I was about to share what I think is the best single source explanation of Peak Oil available to date. This combination of two documents by Gail E. Tverberg , contributor at The Oil Drum, includes well thought out explanations of the most frequently offered oppositional questions and it comes complete with graphs and charts. Who amongst us doesn't long for such a document with which to set forth out into our sphere of family, friends and even unknown neighbors in search of others with whom to share the truth! And then I read the latest post from my friend and coauthor Sharon Astyk and realized that even such an excellent document might have flaws based on its universal approach. From Sharon,

…most solutions have concentrated on creating a *single* simple method of explaining peak oil, when what is needed is a highly specialized approach, designed to help people grasp the issue in the most basic terms imaginable. Being a helpful sort, I have undertaken to provide those explanations. Thus, all you need to do is evaluate the person you are explaining things too, and from there, insert the proper explanation.

At which point I realized that her tongue in check approach to explaining this fairly straightforward scientific clarification concerning global petroleum depletion might well serve as the best model. An example of the approach:

-If the Person is a lot like: An Uber-Soccer Mom

The way to explain it is: "Yes, I heard how awful it was that the coach criticized your Christina - I agree, that he was completely out of line to hurt her self esteem like that. Speaking of self-esteem, did you know I've lost 11lbs on the 100-mile diet? I feel great, and I fit into some clothes I haven't worn since Jared was born. All that fresh produce and unprocessed food has been so wonderful - Mike says I look younger too, and it seems to improve my skin. And Jennifer is a lot less hyperactive since we've been biking everywhere. And Lisa is writing her college application essay on the impact of our environmental lifestyle changes. My friend Rita who is a guidance counselor told me that this will really help differentiate her from all the soccer players and school newspaper writers for the people at Yale. Green is the new black, you know."

The solution you offer is: That you will be thinner, happier, sexier and your kids will be smarter if you do this stuff. Oh, and btw, it saves energy too.

Alright so if you want to know how to approach a specific individual I highly recommend Sharon's latest which you can read here:

How To Explain Peak Oil it Anyone

But, least this individualized approach brings you no fruitful results, or if you just don't think that fast on your feet, feel free to use this one-size-fits-all approach.

What is Peak Oil? pdf

Is This a False Alarm? pdf

These two documents really are great. Now go on, write to your Congressperson. Or better yet, share the most important news item of this decade with the people you most care about. They really need to know.