SDB Evening News Reads for 090911: Fetal Pain, Superinsects and Jobs, so easy a caveman can do it?

Good Afternoon!

The ripples from the Obama “American Jobs Act” speech are still radiating out from DC…I am going to refrain from posting links on anything related to it, and catch you all up on some of the news items that are being overlooked. Dak has a great summary of the Job Act’s details over here: The Devil in the Job Act Details « Sky Dancing

One thing,  I have to get this out of my system:

Job Creation…uh…huh…huh…huh… speech…huh…huh…

(And btw, that was my attempt at laughing like Butthead, at the notion of “job creation” and the term “speech.”)

Okay, have y’all heard that Human Rights is trying to brand itself with a new logo? A New Human Rights Logo, Brought to You By Qaddafi’s PR Firm | Mother Jones

Maybe the idea of universal human rights would catch on if it had a memorable emblem. That’s the idea behind the Logo For Human Rights project, which is currently holding a competition to crowdsource a logo that it hopes, as the promotional email that landed in my inbox yesterday explains, “will become as iconic as the peace sign and serve to advance the global spread and implementation of human rights.”

Sounds like a good idea right? Well, check out what PR firm is handling the publicity:

…the PR firm that contacted me to publicize the event is Brown Lloyd James, which is also in the business of rebranding governments that couldn’t care less about that shiny new logo.

According to records filed with the Department of Justice, in November 2010 the strategic communications agency landed a $5,000-a-month contract in which it “liased” between Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad and Vogue. The resulting glowing profile (since yanked from the Vogue website) described her as “glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies…a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement.” Syria, it claimed, was “the safest country in the Middle East.”

In 2008, Brown Lloyd James signed a contract with a Libyan oil-drilling magnate to help Colonel Muammar Qaddafi clean up his international image. To that end, the firm assisted with an op-ed in his name and “reached out to newspaper editors to discuss placement and proposed edits.” It also helped set up speeches for him at the United Nations and Georgetown University. (However, BLJ noted in its federal filings that it “did not advise on the content or delivery of these speeches.” Highlights of his rambling UN speech included sticking up for the Taliban and suggesting that swine flu was man-made.) The firm reported that the Libyan Mission to the UN reimbursed it more than $1.2 million for “logistical support.” In England, BLJ promoted Qaddafi as “a fascinating contemporary world figure” and arranged for him to give a video address at the London School of Economics.

The agency was one of a handful of PR shops that represented Qaddafi and his family, as Mother Jones has reported. Defending his firm’s choice of clients, BLJ partner Sir Nicholas Lloyd told PR Week UK, “At the time, Libya was recognised by British and American governments. They all did business with Gaddafi.”

Here is the email response the MoJo journalist got when he asked for a statement from the BLJ PR firm:

Working to advance the rights of all is a positive moral value and business practice. It is something we have done for years on behalf of a host of groups and individuals. Whether it was encouraging a better understanding of the groundbreaking role of Al Jazeera in the Arab world, establishing United Nations-recognized days in support of autism and the plight of widows, or supporting the first ever visit of Human Rights Watch to Libya, advancing social progress is at the core of our work. This is why we proudly support the first ever Human Rights Logo, which will create a common language for people around the world to communicate on this important global issue..

I am sorry, but this kind of stuff makes me laugh.  To think that the Human Rights Org didn’t know about their PR firm’s connections to clients who commit the kind of atrocities their organization is against…how ridiculous is that?

Anyway, here is an update to the article reported this morning.  MoJo got this tweet from Human Rights Logo:

“@MotherJones thanks for pointing this out! BLJ helped announce NY event,they’re not part of the initiative. There’ll be no further cooperation.”

Geez, you would think that the Human Rights people would be interested in keeping up with the type of “rights” its PR firm supports…damn!

Speaking of Libya, Clinton is getting some Kudos from Bloomberg: Hillary Clinton Deserves Credit for U.S. Role in Libya: View – Bloomberg

The unsung hero of the Libya drama in the U.S. is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s actions were critical for several reasons. Most important, she overcame Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s caution about using military force in Libya and his reluctance to support an operation led by France and Britain. Clinton also personally managed the unorthodox partnership with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that proved so crucial to joint action to defeat the Qaddafi regime.

Despite the unusual arrangement in which the U.S. was a supporter rather than a leader of NATO’s military operation, she defended intervention before a skeptical Congress and performed the hard slog of daily diplomacy around the world, helping Arab countries, the Europeans and the U.S. work together with a minimum of friction and a maximum of determination.

The op/ed goes on to say:

Based on our discussions with administration officials, as well as the public record, some preliminary conclusions about the decision are possible. First, while we argued for a more active U.S. military role in NATO’s operation, it is now clear that Obama’s unprecedented approach — in which Washington supported, rather than led, a NATO operation — was successful in the end.

Second, by breaking with Gates, Clinton tipped the balance within the administration in favor of action. Without her strong argument to support the Europeans’ call for American help, Washington probably would not have acted. The president’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, was declaring freedom in Libya to be outside the U.S. national interest, and both military and civilian officials in the Pentagon were reluctant to endorse or even opposed U.S. intervention. But Clinton’s push for the U.S. to act in support of Britain and France appears to have been decisive.

In other Clinton news…we knew it was a long shot… that Clinton would take Darth Vader’s suggestion that she challenge Obama.  Clinton: ‘Below zero’ chance at challenging Obama – CNN Political Ticker – Blogs

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says there is a “below zero” chance that she will challenge President Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.

Hillary says she is happy where she is at…and that she is not going to be brought back into politics by anybody.  (que the Vader heavy breathing soundtrack)

“One of the great things about being Secretary of State is I am out of politics,” Clinton said. “I have a big job to do and I am honored to do it everyday.”

When Kosik asked if she would ever get back into politics, Clinton said she had the same feelings.

“I don’t think so. I think I am going to stay focused on doing what I can to make sure that we continue to lead the world,” Clinton said.

There is a new study out that supports what pro-choice people have said about the PLUB fetal pain stance…proving that the PLUB position about fetuses feeling pain at 20 weeks is bullshit! Preemies Feel Pain at 37 Weeks Gestation, Says Study – ABC News

Preemies begin to feel pain around a woman’s 35th week of pregnancy, about two to four weeks before delivery, according to a new study from University College London.

Using EEG, researchers recorded the babies’ brain activity in response to pain, comparing their pain responses from a touch and prick on the heels. The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

“Babies can distinguish painful stimuli as different from general touch from around 35 to 37 weeks gestation — just before an infant would normally be born,” Lorenzo Fabrizi, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The babies, who were 28 to 35 weeks in the womb, showed the same bursts of brain activity for the touch and the heel lance, but babies at more than 35 weeks’ gestation had a greater burst of activity in response to the lance than the simple touch. The findings may explain why babies born prematurely have an abnormal sense of pain, the authors noted, and the findings could potentially affect treatment and care of preemies.

This is science, not some PLUB looking at a video of a fetus “crying” in pain during an abortion.

Over the past six years, six states have enacted fetal pain abortion bans in which it is illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks. Many anti-abortion rights activists argue that fetuses can feel pain in the womb after 20 weeks of development.

“The findings … should help inform the pain perception portion of the abortion debate,” said Dr. F. Sessions Cole, director of the division of newborn medicine at Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis. “Although this study specifically addresses brain wave differences between premature and term infants, not fetuses, after [receiving] painful and tactile stimuli, it suggests that brain maturation required for fetal pain perception occurs in late pregnancy, more than 11 weeks after the legal limit for abortion in the United States.

Of course, I doubt this study will do anything to change the PLUB mindset.  In fact, there is a lawsuit going on now in North Carolina which questions the fairness of those “choose life” PLUB car license plates…The Abortion Debate, Coming to a Bumper Near You | Mother Jones

Anti-abortion lawmakers in North Carolina have passed a bill allowing the state to issue license plates with a pro-life slogan. Drivers can buy the “Choose Life” plate for a $25 fee, and $15 of that will go to so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that seek to deter women from having an abortion. Now the state chapter of the ACLU has filed suit, arguing that the state is violating the First Amendment by not offering plates that include a message in support of abortion rights.

Is it me…or does this license plate look like it is suggesting a Chinese girl as one of the images for choosing life?  I mean, they already have the black fetuses covered with the little boy image, are they going for the Chinese girl fetuses with those slanted eyes and yellow color skin? WTF?

I really don’t care if there are license plates touting anti-alien abduction relief or pro-alien anal probe alertness, but if you got one side of the pro-life/pro-choice controversy getting special licenses, then you need to have it open to all…and let people have their pro-choice plates if they want.

MoJo has also been having a series about Monsanto on its blog written by Tom Philpott.  Here is the latest offering…Monsanto Superinsects Eating Your Corn? Diversify! | Mother Jones

Yesterday I showed that Monsanto’s formidable Bt corn empire, whose domain extends to about 65 percent of corn grown in the United States, appears to be on the verge of being brought to its knees by a humble insect called the corn rootworm. Make that the Bt-resistant corn rootworm.

What to do about it?

One approach, of course, is to do what Monsanto did about its other festering resistance problem: weeds resistant to its flagship herbicide, Roundup. Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, points out that—similar to Bt-resistant rootworms today—Roundup-resistant “supwerweeds” first appeared in isolated fields in the early 2000s, and Monsanto’s first reaction was to deny the problem existed. Yet Roundup resistance soon exploded, and now affects a stunning 11 million acres—and growing—nationwide.

If you have not read any of these post that Philpott is writing, get over to MoJo and read them.

Today, Monsanto deigns to acknowledge the problem—and claims it has the solution: It will engineer crops that can withstand multiple powerful herbicides. This approach could be described as “ignore the problem, let it careen out of control, then dramatically escalate the response with profitable and questionable new technologies.”

There seems to be a new R&D over at Monsanto that Philpott describes as:

…a new genetic technology called RNA interference to, “among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat.” In other words, “forget that our current technology is failing—look at this wonderful technology that beckons!”

In other science news, that fossil found by a little boy in South Africa may be the missing link…New Fossils May Redraw Human Ancestry –

Alexander Joe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Lee Berger with his son, Matthew, and fossils of Australopithecus sediba. Matthew found one of the fossils while chasing his dog.

The discoverer of the fossils, Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, says the new species, known as Australopithecus sediba, is the most plausible known ancestor of archaic and modern humans. Several other paleoanthropologists, while disagreeing with that interpretation, say the fossils are of great importance anyway, because they elucidate the mix-and-match process by which human evolution was shaped.

Jon Hrusa/European Pressphoto Agency

Dr. Berger held a cast of the hand of the fossilized skeleton, with human and ape features, in Johannesburg on Thursday.

Dr. Berger’s claim, if accepted, would radically redraw the present version of the human family tree, placing the new fossils in the center. The new species, in his view, should dislodge Homo habilis, the famous tool-making fossil found by Louis and Mary Leakey, as the most likely bridge between the australopithecenes and the human lineage. Australopithecenes were apelike creatures that walked upright, like people, but had still not forsaken the trees.

I wonder…what would Perry con Galileo Pasta Primavera think of this kind of “science?”

Caveman from 2m years ago may be missing link – Telegraph

Australopithecus sediba, whose remains were discovered in a South African cave in 2009, had a long thumb and relatively short fingers like modern man, and a brain shaped more like that of a human than a chimpanzee.

While it had modern-looking ankles, its heel and shin bones were mostly ape-like. Scientists believe the creature walked upright, but not in the same way as people today.

Until now it was believed that our earliest identifiable ancestors were Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis, fossils found in East Africa. But the newly discovered creature, described in five papers in the journal Science today, is several hundred thousand years older.

Prof Lee Berger, from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said: “The many very advanced features found in the brain and body, and the earlier date, make it possibly the best candidate ancestor for our genus, the genus Homo.” The caves of Malapa, where the fossils were discovered, lie nearly 30 miles north-west of Johannesburg.

Evidence left by the Earth’s magnetic field at the time the creatures died allowed scientists to date the remains accurately to 1.977 million years old.

Yeah, get that…1.9777 million (pinky finger up to corner of mouth) years old!

Let’s have a commercial produced for the unemployed American People that uses Geico’s  famous Caveman advertisement as inspiration.

Jobs…so easy an Australopithecus sediba can do it!

I don’t know, but I am pretty sure the Australopithecus sediba would be able to come up with a plan that would actually work.  What do you all think?

Sunday Reads: Monster Weeds, Taxing the Poor and Beware of Full Moons

Good Sunday Morning!

Yesterday was a very sad day in the music world.  Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home. She was 27 years old and as Dakinikat mentioned in the comments, there have been many other musicians in the past that upon reaching the age of 27,  also left this world too soon.  So here is a link to a series of images and stories… Dead At 27: Nine Artists Gone Too Soon |

An uncanny number of musicians have passed away at age 27, and with the passing of Amy Winehouse today (July 23), the club has unfortunately recieved a new member. Here we reflect on some of the 27 Club’s most notable members: Kurt, Janis, Jimi and Jim may be gone, but none of them are forgotten.

With her heartfelt songs about love and heartbreak powered by her alluring alto vocals, Amy Winehouse‘s prowess laid in her fearlessness to showcase her vulnerability. Unfortunately, the British soul singer’s potential and success were overshadowed by her addiction to alcohol and drugs. As Winehouse sold millions of albums and won numerous awards, Winehouse was personally tormented by substance addiction, eating disorders and destructive relationships, most notably with her husband Blake Fielder-Civil. In May 2011, at the advice of her father, Winehouse checked into rehab. On July 23, two months later, police found the singer dead at her London loft. At the time of the announcement, a cause of death was still undetermined.

Winehouse had an amazing voice, and like so many other musicians, led a tortured life…a self inflicted tortured life. I always thought her singing reminded me of Janis Joplin.  Of course no one had a set of pipes like Janis, but Amy Winehouse had a familiar emotion in her voice. A sadness and deep emotion that comes with a difficult life.  So sad indeed.

This week has been such a difficult one for me personally, and perhaps for many of you as well. I know there was no full moon, but it sure as hell felt like there was.  So maybe this is why the following story jumped out at me this week.  STUDY: After Full Moon, Lions Likely to Eat Humans – International Business Times

That midwives’ tale about crazy and strange “events” happening when a full moon is out isn’t merely a myth.  Now a study coming out of Africa is saying that lions are most likely to eat human beings following a full moon. Lions are predators that hunt most successfully in the dark, which surprises their prey.

The research analyzed records of some 500 lion attacks on Tanzanian villagers between 1988 and 2009, and also the size of lions’ bellies.  The lions killed and ate humans in two-thirds of the attack, and the majority of the attacks  happened between dusk and 10p.m. when the moon is faint or below the horizon.

The findings also revealed 30 percent more attacks in the second half of the moon cycle, also when there was minimal moonlight.


The study suggests that other predators, such as the wolf that comes to mind in association with the moon, may be most dangerous following a full moon when the night is dark.

“The full moon is a reliable indicator of impending danger, perhaps helping to explain why the full moon has been the subject of so many myths and misconceptions,” say researchers.

If anyone lives in an area where lions and tigers and bears roam the streets, beware of those full moons.  So if lions eat more humans during a full moon,  I wonder if that also goes for politicians in Washington, DC?

On to a beast of another kind, monster super weeds are becoming a big problem in farm country.  It may not be radiation that turns these weeds into mutants…it’s genetic engineering.  Monsanto-Resistant Weeds Take Root, Raising Food Prices | Fast Company


For decades, farmers had it relatively easy when it came to weeds infesting their soil: apply herbicides, wait for the weeds to die and grow more crops. Those salad days, alas, are coming to an end.

A new series of studies released by Weed Science this month finds at least 21 weed species have become resistant to the popular herbicide glyphosate (sold as Monsanto’s Roundup), and a growing number survive multiple herbicides, so-called “super-weeds.” The same selection pressure creating bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics is leading to the rapid evolution of plants that survive modern herbicides. If the trend continues, yields could drop and food costs climb as weeds grow more difficult to uproot.

The herbicide resistance issue is becoming serious,” said journal editor, William K. Vencill, in a recent statement. “It is spreading out beyond where weed scientists have seen it before.” More than 11 million acres, up from just 2.4 million in 2007, are now infested with Roundup-resistant varieties. The herbicide, a relatively low-impact chemical since it biodegrades quickly, has ranked among the most popular for farmers since Monsanto introduced its genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops that are unaffected by the chemical, accounting for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.

The article goes on to give an example of these super weeds. Pig weed, which can grow three inches a day and is tough enough to damage farm equipment has grown herbicide resistant…leading to stronger toxic chemical herbicides and extreme plowing, both of which will cause even more damage to the environment.

Personally, I would like to see one of these pig weeds go at it with some of these damn political assholes. Well, there is always the next full moon…it is pretty damn pathetic when the only hope you have for any good to come in these horrible economic times is a giant monster pig weed, going up to Obama and doing its best impression of Rick James.  There may be some of you who do not know what I am talking about…so I give you this.  After you see it, you will “get it.”

Oh, to tell Obama…what did the five fingers say to the face…but even then I don’t think it will “slap” any sense in him.

From Minx’s Missing Link File:  So, this article from the Wall Street Journal was published this week, and it just highlights one of Bachmann’s ridiculous ideals:  Bachmann: Everybody Should Pay Taxes – Washington Wire – WSJ

Republican presidential candidates have been resolutely opposed to tax increases in the debate over the nation’s budget straits, but Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann this week suggested there’s one group that needs to be paying more: poor people who pay nothing now.

At a town-hall meeting Tuesday given by the South Carolina Christian Chamber of Commerce in Columbia, a questioner noted that major U.S. corporations are paying “very few dollars of federal income taxes, if any.” He prefaced his point by saying the Bible advises us to render unto Caesar what Caesar is due.

Ms. Bachmann turned the conversation elsewhere: “Part of the problem is today, only 53% pay any federal income tax at all; 47% pay nothing,” the former federal tax attorney said. “We need to broaden the base so that everybody pays something, even if it’s a dollar.”

Why is it always the ones who have shit loads of dollars, who bring hell on the ones who have absolutely no dollars?

Easy Like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  Here is an interesting look at the big news outlet magnate, Rupert Murdoch, by comparing him to the Orson Welles’s character Charles Foster Kane, who of course was based on William Randolph Hearst. There is a link to listen to this radio broadcast. Enjoy it…Milos Stehlik views Rupert Murdoch through ‘Citizen Kane’ | WBEZ

It is one of the most famous and enigmatic words uttered in film: as he dies, Charles Kane, wealthy newspaper baron, whispers his last word, “Rosebud.” The scene from the Orson Welles masterpiece Citizen Kane, references the name painted on a small sled that Kane had as a child, implying that this was the only happy time in his life.

Kane was loosely based on real-life newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, whose own “Xanadu” is the famous Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California.

In real life Hearst, urged on by his top gossip columnist, Louella Parsons, tried to stop Citizen Kane from reaching the screen. His efforts to condemn the film to oblivion nearly succeeded. Today, it commands mythic status.

Have a fabulous Sunday, and be sure to post some links to things you are reading today.

Follow-up: GM Alfalfa

I wrote about GM Alfalfa several days ago, and wanted to post a short followup.

First, do we really need GM Alfalfa? Probably not. It’s not like Alfalfa is riddled with a weed problem in this country. Michael Pollan points out that 93% of the alfalfa in this country is raised without any herbicides at all. This makes sense, alfalfa as fodder can benefit from the addition of other plants (although not poisonous ones, obviously). My goats thrive on weedy alfalfa. Anyway, GM Alfalfa says Pollan, ‘is a bad solution to a problem that doesn’t exist’.

The Center for Food Safety is going to continue bringing Monsanto to court over GM Alfalfa. ‘by tackling a new angle, Page Tomaselli, staff attorney at the Center for Food Safety, explained Friday at the Eco-Farm Conference. Their strategy will hinge on the “gene flow” risk accepted by the Supreme Court last June as harmful and illegal under current environment protections.’ The Public Patent Foundation is also going to sue Monsanto (or continue suing Monsanto. The foundation has been fighting Monsanto’s patents for a while now). If the foundation succeeds (and it just won a court battle to declare patents concerning human genes invalid), most of Monsanto’s patents concerning living things will be rendered irrelevant. Yes!

The Center for Food Safety has issued a press release pointing out that Vilsack’s decision leaves many problems. Who’s liable if a farmer’s crop is destroyed by GM pollen? Who pays damages? WHo is going to monitor and control herbicide useage on a crop that doesn’t need it, unless it’s ‘Round-Up Ready’? Who is liable for the super-weeds that will result?

From the Department of ‘Of Course, We Should have Known!’ (via Kat) comes this news. Media reports suggest that the reason Vilsack disregarded the comments of 200,000+, the recommendations of Aphis and so on has to do with pressure from the White House. So I wonder, is Obama actually fake? I mean, is he, like, made by Monsanto and the others? Just a gas-bag filled with whatever, maybe Round-Up, and tuned to say certain things that get frat boys excited? I wonder what Michelle, organic gardening proponent that she is, thinks about this? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Just more proof everyone up ‘high’ is bought and paid for by the time they are weaned.

Wikileaks and GMO/GM food, More cables, more fun!

Recently our own Grayslady posted an excellent article about Wikileaks, Monsanto and GMO Corn. She discussed a cable sent in late 2007 from our then Ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, in which he discusses ways to force France and the EU to be more favorable towards the adoption of Monsanto’s GM BT enhanced, Roundup Ready corn. Other aspects of the information in that Wikileaks cable has been discussed in other places, for instance at Huffington Post by Jeffery Smith and at Truthout by Mike Ludwig.

Pendleton, Oregon, 2007

Wheat and Hay Fields near Pendleton, Oregon

What the cable suggested, in part, was publishing a ‘retaliation’ list of places, down to the actual fields, growing GMO foods in Europe in the hopes the fields and crops would be destroyed by activists, ’cause pain’ for officials and hopefully swing GMO acceptance in Europe around. The Ambassador went on to say that France was particularly culpable because scientists in France were attempting to change ‘knowledge’ by studying the effects of GMO products (even the ‘good’ GMO like BT enhanced products). These studies show that the effects of GMO food on those eating it may be more pronounced and drastic than the limited studies done by the FDA and USDA suggest (see for example the studies of Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini, Professor Andrés Carrasco, and others). And for more, see this interview of Jeffery Smith on Democracy Now.

This is very interesting, because a cable sent in 26 October 2007 is the subject of French President Sarkozky’s first visit to the USA, and his meetings with American business leaders, including pushers of GM foods. The cable suggests that the President’s support of more restrictive rules on GM products in France might be politically based and therefore, changeable.

But Wait, There’s more! The cable to France, although receiving a lot of attention because it suggests undercutting the rightful government of our supposed allies and creating civil unrest and ‘pain’, is not the only released cable to mention GMOs and Monsanto’s needs across the world. Over at Eats, Shoots and Leaves there’s a good rundown by Richard Brenneman of some of the cables.

For example, in a cable from 9 April 2009 concerning, in part, African development, one of the points of intelligence to be gathered is the African governments’ and peoples’ reactions to growing and using GM crops. Brenneman rightly asks, why would this be a concern of our State Department, unless our government is actively pushing and supporting Monsanto and the company’s GM stable of crops?

I’m going to drop a final h/t to Rady Ananda at the Food Freedom blog. She wrote about GMO and Wikileaks several weeks ago, and has been right on top of things. She brings forth the case of the food crisis of 2007-08 which wraps up some of the things we at Sky Dancing discuss into a tidy bundle.

In a January 2008 meeting, US and Spain trade officials strategized how to increase acceptance of genetically modified foods in Europe, including inflating food prices on the commodities market, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

Some of the participants thought raising food prices in Europe might lead to greater acceptance of biotech imports.

It seems Wall Street traders got the word. By June 2008, food prices had spiked so severely that ‘The Economist announced that the real price of food had reached its highest level since 1845, the year the magazine first calculated the number,’ reports Fred Kaufman in The Food Bubble: How Wall Street starved millions and got away with it.

The unprecedented high in food prices in 2008 caused an additional 250 million people to go hungry, pushing the global number to over a billion. 2008 is also the first year ‘since such statistics have been kept, that the proportion of the world’s population without enough to eat ratcheted upward,’ said Kaufman.

Remember back in 2007/08 when food prices, especially bread prices, suddenly shot up? I remember being astounded when the price of a bag of hot dogs went from 99 cents to 1.29$ overnight. I figured maybe it was the result of the rise in oil costs going on about then, and perhaps it was, in part. But after reading the article by Kaufman I’m not so sure. There was no crisis in food production at this time. It was simply a manufactured bubble. About that time there were terrible food riots in Mexico amongst 29 other countries, because the price of tortillas had gone up so much people couldn’t afford to buy them. I note that the Mexican government has recently taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again, by buying corn futures to guarantee a flat price.

So, I wonder, how are the big fat cats and the government diddling in our food today? Surely food, at least food, should be relatively safe from bubbles, like electricity, water, and sewage service? Oh wait, those are being commoditized too. Ahd I would like to point out, the price of the bag of hot dogs has not come back down, although the bubble burst… makes ya wonder, doesn’t it?

Note: I’m going to be in and out all today, so consider this something of an open thread. I’m really keen to know what everyone thinks of the Kaufman article. When I read it I was stunned by the lengths to which the greedy people of Wall Street will go to make money.

Small Family Farms: Definition and Some Challenges

Sometimes it seems like the world I think I know is just a falsehood, a play put on by the Powers That Be to keep me pacified, dumbed down, and walking the way they want me to walk.

Take, for example, farming in the United States.  This has always been, in my estimation, an honorable profession.  The nation was founded by farmers wealthy and dirt-scrabble poor.  Farming helped drive the expansion and eventual rise of the nation.  Farming has fed us all.

But when I speak of farming, I have in my mind a certain kind of farm.  It’s not too big; not more than a family can manage.  Maybe it’s several hundred acres or more if it’s a ranch out west running cattle.  If it’s dairy, it’s only got 200 or less cows.  If it’s vegetables it’s growing a main crop and then lots of little crops for the farmers’ family.  Or maybe it’s like my farm, with lots of different vegetables in small amounts, and some goats for milk, cheese and manure.  The animals on the family farm are healthy, happy and living under the warmth of the sunshine in deep green pastures, or roaming semi-free over hot western plains.  You know, the farm looks like all the commercials we see.

A farm is not a CAFO (‘Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation’).  It is not 10,000 chickens or 2,000 pigs, or 5,000 cattle all under the same roof.  These animals never see the light of day.  They are given only square feet to live in.  They are dealt with as though they were pieces of plastic running down an assembly line belt.  That is not farming.  And yet, CAFOs have become the source of much of the meat we eat, much to our shame.

A small farm does not have a ‘manure lagoon‘ which is full of liquid that can be so deadly it will kill you if you fall into it.

The farmer (read manager) of a huge agri-business farm uses satellite positioning and GPS to determine when and where to fertilize and harvest.  The manager ‘drives’ a tractor which can be self-steering (pdf).   Computer monitors sense the condition of the soil, the air, the plants.  These give feedback that tells the manager when to plant, fertilize, harvest.  Anyone can do it, as long as they can read a computer screen.

A farmer walks her acres, strand of grass in mouth, feeling the condition of her plants and soil.

Small farms, traditional farms, don’t grow patented seed.  They don’t grow seed which has been bio-engineered with e. coli (yes, e. coli!) to carry resistance to herbicides.

A true farmer plants traditionally hybridized or open pollinated seed.  She tries to find organic seed if possible.  She uses seed catalogs which source from places other than huge seed houses which are trying to lock up all the genetic potential in plants through patents on common seed genomes.

Small farming is under attack from every side in our world.  It is almost impossible to make a decent living from a family sized farm.  For several generations now often one part of the family has to work off the farm to make it viable.  In my own family, the men worked off the farm and the women farmed.  We are so used to subsidized food, subsidies started in part by FDR to help even out the ups and downs of farming but quickly taken over by big business, that we don’t know what it really costs to grow it.  Believe me, it costs more than 79 cents a pound cabbage.

Dairy farms are under attack.  Recently official prices for milk were lowered to below break even point for farmers.  Thousands left the business, closing up family farms (note that in this article, even 1000 cow dairies, BIG dairies are closing) .  What is left?  Big Agribusiness, of course.

The government, in a scramble to prove to voters that it really does care that food be safe, is legislating and regulating small farming out of existence.  Dairy farms, cheese making operations with actual ties to farms (not Kraft, thank you), CSAs and even backyard vegetable patches are coming under increased regulatory scrutiny. The amount of food borne illness attributable to these operations is infinitesimal,  and yet, that is what is regulated.  Only 1% of food shipments into the country will be inspected, only written warnings, blown off by the egg factories which then recall 1/2 a billion eggs, will be issued.  But you’ll be safe from your neighbors’ eggplant!

Below is the trailer for a new documentary:  Farmageddon