Monday, July 27, 2009


Corporate Stealth

First, a confession. I'm writing this in a coffee shop. I spend a lot of time reading and writing in them. Worse, in Cambridge where I live, I frequent the Clone Street branch of Café Chain. In the absence of viable independent alternatives, it has become my default local, lent distinctive charm by the friendly and appallingly paid young people who work there. Right now, however, I'm in one of the many "locally-owned" coffee shops that dot North American university towns. Ironically, in many parts of the nation that invented gonzo multinational chains, it has long been possible to find sturdily unique cafes, independent bookstores, artisan-run bakeries and farmer co-operatives.

But perhaps not for much longer, and not because the local is inevitably pulverised by the global. On the contrary. Starbucks' new stealth strategy sees it "rebranding", or de-branding, stores to give them different names and more local "community personality". A victim of its own success—161 branches within a five-mile radius in Central London and the famous promise to open a new one every fortnight— Starbucks has been hit by the recession and, in different ways, both by the turn to less expensive caffeine hits and a reawakening of interest in local economies. Even before the downturn, its legendary CEO, Howard Schultz, fretted about what he called the 'watering down of the Starbucks experience' and the loss of 'the soul of the past' in 'the warm feeling of the neighborhood store'.

Nothing, obviously, that couldn't be sourced and commodified in due course. The transformation of the quirky, the unique and the countercultural into mainstream commodity culture is not new, and Starbucks is hardly alone in enacting this relentless corporate logic. As the ubiquitous HSBC adverts insist, global success is dependent on exploiting local knowledge and cultures. Coca-Cola came to India in the 90s waving the national flag and insisting, in local languages, on its indigenity; McDonald's succeeds in Asian countries by serving variants of local cuisines. Don't be too surprised if fast-food joints begin to cater to the "slow food" movement, just as gigantic petroleum corporations now sport bright "green" logos.

What can be done, and is it an issue? If every human desire, including a commitment to the distinctively local can be repackaged with such global panache, perhaps this is further evidence of the futility of resisting the gigantic enclosure that is corporate globalisation.

Then again, we might reflect on how we enable corporations to play stealth games with our expectations. While consumer activism has undoubtedly brought about some limited good in relation to environmental and trade justice concerns, sometimes change itself seems to have dwindled into a set of consumer choices whereby fairness, for instance, is just another "option". Starbucks' conscience-soothing "fair trade" range invited the question of whether everything else it – and others with similar options – had on offer was tacitly unfair trade. While there is a real debate to be had about whether consumer campaigning for "fair", "green" and "local" choices offers limited or substantive change, the truth is we have lost the ability to imagine economic alternatives to neoliberal fundamentalism. The more the focus remains exclusively on market excesses and abuses, the less we think about the inbuilt flaws of corporate globalisation.

Of course, when dissident alternatives enter the discussion from areas such as Brazil and Venezuela, where there have been concerted efforts to reclaim the local from private corporations, they too are subject to rebranding as "lost regions", troublespots that threaten the stability of the world mocha order. Conversely, there is admiration for India or China when the local is appropriated, privatised and patented, actions that have worse consequences for the vegetable-cart vendor and small farmer than for coffee shops and bakeries in affluent countries. As long as we place our resolute faith in a global economic system that has shown itself to be rickety and ruthless, we remain susceptible to believing "the world is flat", a world where, Thomas Friedman notes happily, our "choices get reduced to Pepsi or Coke – to slight nuances of taste, slight nuances of policy, slight alterations in design". Is another world still possible?

Source - Guardian

Sunday, July 26, 2009


GMO Lobbyists

Genetically modified foods are not safe. The only reason they're in our food supply is because government bureaucrats with ties to industry suppressed or manipulated scientific research and deprived consumers of the information they need to make informed choices about whether or not to eat genetically modified foods.

Now, the Obama Administration is putting two notorious biotech bullies in charge of food safety! Former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor has been appointed as a senior adviser to the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner on food safety. And, rBGH-using dairy farmer and Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff is rumored to be President Obama's choice for Under-Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety. Wolfe spearheaded anti-consumer legislation in Pennsylvania that would have taken away the rights of consumers to know whether their milk and dairy products were contaminated with Monsanto's (now Eli Lilly's) genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).

Please click here to send a message to President Obama, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (oversees FDA) demanding Michael Taylor's resignation, and letting them know that you oppose Dennis Wolff's appointment.

About Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor is a lawyer who has spent the last few decades moving through the revolving door between the employ of GMO-seed giant Monsanto and the FDA and USDA. Taylor is widely credited with ushering Monsanto's recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) through the FDA regulatory process and into the milk supply -- unlabeled. A Government Accounting Office (GAO) investigated whether Taylor had a conflict of interest and or had engaged in ethical misconduct in the approval of rBGH. The report's conclusion that there was no wrongdoing conflicted with the 30 pages of evidence that Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) described as proof that "the FDA allowed corporate influence to run rampant in its approval" of the drug.

Taylor is also responsible for the FDA's decision to treat genetically modified organisms as "substantially equivalent" to natural foods and therefore not require any safety studies. The "substantially equivalent" rule allowed the FDA to ignore evidence that genetically engineered foods, including soy, are in fact very different from natural foods and pose specific health risks.

In November 2008, Tom Philpott reported that Taylor was among President-Elect Obama's "team members" looking at energy and natural resources agencies, including USDA. In March 2009, President Obama announced the creation of a White House Food Safety Working Group to improve and coordinate the government's approach to the nationwide food safety crisis. Agri-Pulse reported that Taylor was "the leading candidate to staff the White House [food safety] working group." While anti-GMO activists, including the Organic Consumers Association, protested -- OCA members sent 13,435 letters to USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack, who co-chairs the Food Safety Working Group with HHS Sec. Sebelius -- Taylor laid low. He was nowhere to be found at the White House Food Safety Working Group's May 13th Listening Session. But, the rumor proved true. On July 7, 2009, the FDA announced that Taylor had joined the agency as senior adviser to the commissioner.

As Philpott describes in a July 8th article, Taylor's food safety agenda is to "shift much more of the burden for funding food-safety operations to the state and local level" and to promote HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) systems where the points in a process that pose the most risk are identified and “fixed” with remedies like ammonia washes and irradiation. Taylor's approach -- putting a few bandaids on an industrialized food system gone wrong -- is in direct conflict with organic practices and is likely to unduly burden small producers.

Taylor has long been hostile to real food safety. While working as a lobbyist, Taylor authored more than a dozen articles critical of the Delaney Clause, a 1958 federal law prohibiting the introduction of known carcinogens into processed foods, which had long been opposed by Monsanto and other chemical and pesticide companies. When Taylor rejoined the federal government, he continued advocating that Delaney should be overturned. This was finally done when President Clinton signed the so-called Food Quality Protection Act on the eve of the 1996 elections.

Taylor is featured in the documentary, The World According to Monsanto, which you can watch on OCA's Millions Against Monsanto page.

About Dennis Wolff

Dennis Wolff is the Secretary of Agriculture for the State of Pennsylvania. Wolff also is a dairy farmer and owns Pen-Col Farms, a 600-acre dairy cattle operation. Wolff has championed agribusiness interests as Pennsylvania's Secretary of Agriculture, including banning local dairies from marketing their products as free of Monsanto's rBGH. Wolff is a member of the Agriculture Technical Advisory Committee to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO has been largely credited with forcing so-called "free trade" on farmers and consumers around the globe, undermining national sovereignty and food safety. Finally, Wolff was a strong proponent of the "ACRE" initiative (Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment), which gives the Pennsylvania state attorney general’s office the authority to sue municipalities over local farm ordinances deemed to exceed state law, depriving communities the right to ban toxic sewage sludge, factory farms, and GMOs.

Aside from having absolutely no experience in meat inspection, the chief food safety responsibility of the USDA, Dennis Wolff should be rejected for any post within the Obama Administration for the hostile position he has taken, as Pennsylvania's Agriculture Secretary, against consumers' right to know what is in our food. According to the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Wolff:

* Tried to ban all labeling of dairy products that didn't use genetically engineered growth hormone (rBGH or rBST). This was an outright violation of freedom of speech of the dairy processors and the farmers who supplied them.

* Said that consumers were "concerned or confused" about the labeling and said his department received "many calls" about it. Yet when a New York Times reporter asked him about this, Wolff couldn't provide any surveys showing consumers were confused and could not come up with the name of ONE CONSUMER who had complained.

* Held one meeting of the so-called Food Labeling Advisory Committee and said they recommended the labeling ban. Yet the committee never voted on anything and never made any recommendations specific to dairy. Moreover, the group most affected by the rules and most opposed to them, the PA Association of Milk Dealers, was never even invited to the meeting.

Source - Organic Consumers


Ambassador Of Fruit

SEPTEMBER 13, 2006, was Esmaeil Fallahi Day in Idaho. No one told Fallahi in order to surprise him. He spent the day digging holes and picking grapes and apples on his farm, and then he went to a party that he thought was being held for his birthday and was read the governor’s proclamation acknowledging his “career-long dedication to enhancing fruit crop production.”

Fallahi is a visionary pomologist, a fruit scientist, a species of practical rapturist whose reputation in tree fruits and stone fruits is international. Since 1989, he has lived in Parma, Idaho, west of Boise, where he is a professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Idaho and director of the university’s pomology program—his title is Tree Fruit and Small Fruit Physiologist. With the help of his wife, Bahar, he grows novelty fruits on fifty-nine acres of sloping land near a drive-in—at night he can see the movie from the fields. Under his guidance, farmers in Idaho have begun raising fruits that never grew in Idaho before. His ambition is that the farms around him will one day resemble the orchard he remembers from his grandfather’s ranch in the mountains north of Tehran.

Fallahi is fifty-four, with black hair and brown eyes, a broad, flat nose, and a square jaw. When he arrived in Parma, the high desert land and the climate brought his homeplace to mind—“mountainous, very cold in the winter, and a beautiful spring,” he says. Despite having thousands of acres of orchards, the territory produced nothing like the diversity of fruit that his grandfather had, even though his ranch was only several hundred acres. Potatoes are Idaho’s dominant crop. Onions come after them, and apples after onions. The fruit farmers in Idaho relied heavily on apples, and on only a few kinds—Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Rome, a variety used mostly in juices. In addition, some of them grew plums and peaches. Fallahi thought, Am I missing something? Why are they not growing more fruits? “Then I answered myself,” he says. “What are the chances these growers have been to Iran and seen what they can grow?”

From attending international fruit conferences in the late 1980s, he was aware that China was growing more and more of the kinds of apples that America grew, with the intention of overtaking the world market and flooding the American one. Fallahi felt that Idaho growers needed to protect themselves. He suggested they raise Fuji apples, a valuable Japanese variety that was being grown in Washington State but not in Idaho. The farmers said that America’s hegemony was invincible. Furthermore, they said, Idaho was too cold for Fuji.

To refute them politely, Fallahi planted Fuji apples at his farm at the university in 1990. They had more flavor than the types the growers raised, and they were more robust, so they took storage better. A few growers began planting them.

The last year that America grew the world’s most apples was 1993. China has grown the most ever since, and its advantage is insurmountable. By 1999, the Chinese were delivering so many Red Delicious apples to America, and charging so little for them, that growers in Idaho began tearing out their orchards. They sold the trees for firewood, or burned them in the fields in conflagrations that looked like pyres. Many growers planted Fuji, while others sought to diversify their farms even further.

On Fallahi’s grandfather’s ranch, there was a waterfall, and beside it a few rows of grapes were twined around the trunks of poplar trees. When his grandfather was elsewhere on the ranch, Fallahi would climb the poplar trees and eat the grapes. “In Idaho, I start asking myself this question that makes everyone think this Persian guy is crazy,” he says. “I think, This is the same climate. Why don’t they grow table grapes here?” The fruit farmers said, “Too cold.”

“I asked, ‘What is the chance of cold?’ They say, ‘Once every ten years we get very bad cold, and Snake River freezes.’ Okay, the whole agriculture is gamble, particularly fruit. You have the danger of frost and freeze, but you have the danger of not having enough cold as well. With peaches if you don’t get enough cold, your fruit becomes pointed, like bullet—call it sheep-nose peach. I tell them what they know: during the winter, tree fruits need enough chilling hours—between thirty-eight and forty-two degrees—to satisfy their need for dormancy. Then they need gradual spring to set a good fruit, and summer of warm days and cool nights to grow it. Cool nights concentrate sugar, which makes flavor. Also, in late summer, as cooler nights get longer, the trees and vines add color to their fruit, which makes them more desirable. So we have all the best features for growing grapes, and if chance of cold is one out of ten years we are as risky as anywhere else.”

The farmers remained unpersuaded, so Fallahi planted his own grapes, twenty-six varieties in all, also in 1990. “For my own heart, for my own curiosity,” he says. “I was coming to see them Saturdays late, training them, talking to them, babysitting them.” Nowhere in his budget was there money to stake the vines properly, so they grew crooked. Each area of his farm is identified as a block. Fallahi calls his original grape block Orphan Block. Observing his results, a few growers planted vineyards on their empty apple land. “These were the grandfathers that were tired of paying for things that don’t make money,” he said.

A big potato farm in Idaho might have five hundred acres of potatoes (the farm itself would be larger but a portion of any farm, typically 20 to 25 percent, lies fallow each year). A big onion farm is a hundred to two hundred acres, and a big fruit farm might have eighty to a hundred acres—although the two largest, which specialize in apples and also have peaches, are close to a thousand. One hundred and forty-nine growers in Idaho raise apples on 5,705 acres, approximately nine square miles. Currently, forty-three growers plant about six hundred acres, nearly a square mile, with table grapes (there were zero acres of them before Fallahi arrived), the bulk of which find their market within the state, or in the Pacific Northwest. To reliably supply supermarket chains and stores such as Wal-Mart, Fallahi figures three thousand acres are necessary.

The most widely grown variety is Alborz. Working with breeders in Idaho, Fallahi developed Alborz, which he named for a group of mountains in northern Iran. It is a slight variation, called a sport, of a California variety called Flame—Alborz is more tolerant of cold than Flame is. The other 15 percent of the acreage is accounted for mainly by Emerald, which was developed in California but isn’t grown there; Jupiter, which was developed at the University of Arkansas; and an Australian grape called Ralli, also called Annahita, which Fallahi named for his daughter. When a fruit is in its trial stage, it receives a name. Ralli was called Annahita for its trial and, in Idaho anyway, the name stuck. Among the grapes Fallahi grows are two, Medi Hani and Bidonet, which he brought as cuttings from Iran in 2004, then had certified by the USDA to be free of disease, but no one else can grow them until he releases them. They will be the first fruits this century to be introduced from Iran. Bidonet is seedless. To make grapes grow larger, farmers spray them to make them retain water, but Medi Hani grows large naturally.

If Fallahi can establish grapes widely in Idaho, he has in mind other, more novel fruits to advocate, the bulk of which thrive in Iran. “White-flesh peaches and pear of kings,” he says. “Certain nectarines. White apricot. It grows only in eastern region of Iran, almost on the border of Afghanistan. Different types of berries—honeysuckle, a small berry in Iran which is different plant from here; zoghal akhteh, which is size of a small grape. There is a bush between gooseberry, blueberry, and cherry, if you can visualize. Another called medlar, which is from the Pome family. And a sour cherry called albalo, which has more flavor than the sour cherry here; it makes an excellent juice and eats fresh. Also definitely pomegranates. If you go north in Iran to Caspian Sea, there are forests of pomegranates, pears, and plums. Thousands of these fruits are sold by the roadside; the sellers hold them toward you as you pass. On the southern shore of the Caspian Sea are cold regions, as cold as Idaho, where pistachios grow. What I am thinking is that if I can bring them here I wouldn’t be surprised to see them thrive—almond, too.”

Idaho fruit farmers have a high regard for Fallahi as a scientist. They take his advice on what to plant, when to water, how to fertilize, when to spray and which sprays to use, whether chemical or organic, how to thin, and when to harvest. “There isn’t anyone else like Essie in Idaho agriculture,” Steve Bair, the president of the Idaho Horticultural Society, says (the growers call Fallahi Essie). “If he wants to try something, we give him the trees because it’s him behind it.” At Fallahi’s suggestion, some growers have planted dwarf trees, as Fallahi’s grandfather did. Dwarf trees bear fruit in three years, rather than the four or five that larger trees require; they have smaller root systems, so they need less water; more can be planted in an orchard, since they take up less room; and they tend to produce dense concentrations of fruit. In addition, the fruit they bear can be harvested from the ground, which means fewer farmhands falling from ladders, and that the fruit itself is less likely to be bruised in being picked. Jerry Henggeler, whose family is the second-largest fruit grower in Idaho, told me, “When we see Essie talk up a program, we know it will be reliable. We have confidence.”

FALLAHI’S MOST ARDENT COLLABORATOR is an elderly farmer named Ron Mann, who lives in Payette, near the Oregon border. On sixteen acres, Mann raises 110 varieties of fruits, among which forty are innovative. He farms organically and sells most of what he grows to health-food stores and at farmers’ markets. His most successful fruit is a grape called Sweet Shelley, whose flavor is as emphatic as a berry’s. Mann took up farming in retirement. Before that, he worked as an executive at Boeing and for President Reagan in the White House. He moved to Idaho to develop new flowers. “I wanted to take the daisy and give it a scent,” he told me. “The daisy has a pungent odor, and I wanted to convert that. All I could find for land, though, was orchards, and that slowed me down—I had to make a living growing fruit.”

Mann and his wife, coincidentally named Shelley, live surrounded by crop rows that appear to converge at their house, as if holding it hostage. Their front yard is a vineyard. Fallahi drove us into the backyard, where Mann, who is tall, white-haired, and wiry, held a screen door open. In his other hand he had a pamphlet about sea buckthorn. “It’s a thorny plant that’s grown wild in northern Iran and is used to separate borders on hedgerows,” he said. His voice was soft and raspy. “The fruits are loaded with vitamin C.” Fallahi said that as a boy he was stuck in the knee by a sea buckthorn, and he raised his pant leg to show us the scar. “Nobody in the U.S. has an orchard of sea buckthorn,” Mann continued. “I’m the first. You extract the juice and mix it with apple juice, and it’s the healthiest juice we know of.” He handed me the pamphlet, then led us through the kitchen, where we said hello to Shelley, a tall, dignified woman wearing a red dress (it was Sunday and I assumed she had worn it to church), and into the living room, which had a picture window that looked out on rows of grapes.

Mann deplored the decline in apple farming caused by the Chinese. “The tomato industry, the strawberry industry are disappearing, too,” he said. “Because of Essie, we’re looking for things that can keep a farmer alive. My topsoil is nine feet deep. There isn’t a rock out there. It’s good soil—you can grow anything.” Fallahi said this was true.

“What we’re trying to do, Essie and I, is we’re determined that we’re going to build the industry back up with alternative fruits.”

Mann then led us out the back door. There were blue hills in the distance, and clouds above them. He pointed to a row of trees. “That’s a new red walnut from Essie,” he said. “The meat’s red. I’ve got a block of those, about twelve trees. I’ve got a new filbert nut that’s this big”—with his thumb and his index finger he made a circle about the size of a golf ball.

Walking stiffly, like a marionette, Mann led us to the edge of a field that was thickly planted with bushes. “My sea buckthorns,” he said. Fallahi took a knife from his pocket and cut stalks of rhubarb from a patch beside us. He stepped backward into a row that appeared to be empty. “That’s just been planted,” Mann said, and Fallahi jumped and spread his feet, like a child playing hopscotch.

A rooster crowed. Mann picked up a shovel that was leaning against a shed and dug some dirt. He cupped some with his palm and smelled it. A disk of it clung to the end of his nose, like flour. He held it forward for me to smell. “It just smells good, doesn’t it?” he said. I agreed that it did.

ALONG INTERSTATE 84 in western Idaho, Fallahi’s influence is abundant in the form of vineyards, and it is diverting to sit beside him as they pass and think that if he hadn’t come to Idaho and if Idaho hadn’t reminded him of Iran, there wouldn’t be vineyards there at all. It is not unusual for an innovative crop to take hold in a region because one farmer tries it and has success and the others imitate him. What is unusual is for someone to have a vision of what a landscape might foster and for that vision to be both radical and subversive and then to insinuate it into the collective imagination and watch it begin to take hold.

Another fruit that Fallahi hopes to spread from his farm is Asian pear, a round pear, grown in Iran, whose appearance will also alter the landscape because its blossoms are white, like apples, but a white so insistent that it is almost shiny. A third fruit he is ambitious for is quince, which also has a white blossom, but one that is almost twice as big as the apple blossom.

Fallahi goes to Iran about once a year, usually to visit university agronomy programs. He wishes he could bring back more cuttings, but the state of relations between the countries makes any agricultural exchange of material very complicated. The only other cutting he has been able to bring to America is a walnut called a paper shell walnut, which he brought in 2000, and which has a shell so thin that it can be cracked by a person’s fingers. Mostly Fallahi gets stock from crop geneticists and nurseries around the world.

On the outskirts of Parma, Fallahi has a lab that he built from two mobile homes he bought in Boise with a passage to connect them. The lab is bordered by thirty-five species of rose, which Fallahi tends. Each fruit that Fallahi grows, he and Bahar test for flavor, starch, sugar, size, and minerals. Some of the implements they use are sophisticated, and some are ones that Fallahi built, because the available machines were too expensive. In one case, he built, from cheap gun parts, a gauge to test the force necessary to separate a fruit from its stalk, which helps decide the best moment to harvest; a ready-made gauge would have cost nearly a thousand dollars.

About half a mile from the lab, past a sign that says PARMA ROD & GUN CLUB, is a gate and a sign that says UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO POMOLOGY PROGRAM. Beyond the gate lie seventy-nine acres of research ground for potatoes and onions, tended by other scientists (the university has fourteen positions in potatoes; Fallahi’s is the only one in fruit), and eighty-five acres for fruit, twenty-six of which lie fallow at the moment. On them, among other fruits, Fallahi grows currently eighty-two kinds of grapes, seventy-six species of peaches, ten varieties of quince, ten persimmons, eight Asian pears, six apples, four figs, three mulberries, two jujubes, two walnuts, and one version of pomegranate. No other farm in America replicates Iran as emphatically as this one.

I drove from his office to the farm with Fallahi one day in his pickup truck, and we bumped over a cattle grate and along a gravel and packed dirt road before stopping beside a row of peach trees. Each tree was about ten feet tall and had been pruned severely, so that two arms grew from its trunk, giving the tree the shape of a V. A row of them looked like a row of slingshots. The topmost branches met with the branches of the rows beside them. “This design gives a much higher density per acre,” Fallahi said. “And most light penetration through the canopy, which gives a larger, redder fruit.”

Fallahi got out of the truck. Spreading his hands, he said, “Come harvest time, with such a system, I am not looking at a tree but at walls of fruit.” Little black flies buzzed around us and landed on the pages of my notebook. The hillsides were green, and the ravines were brown. We walked down the road, scuffing pebbles and raising dust. Fallahi called out the names of crops. “This is pluot,” he said. “Combination of plum and apricot. They call it dinosaur egg. I have fourteen trees. We need to replicate enough material to be statistically reliable, which usually is twelve to fourteen trees. A typical trial is six or seven years, to see how it grows and what is the quality of fruit for Idaho soil and climate. Some we have twelve years. This group we started in 2000. When we’re done, we’ll take out most of the trees to make room for new trials, but leave some for growers to see on field days, which is when we open the farm for anyone who wants to come and see what we’re growing. This is different varieties of quince, which is the apple family. These are about nine feet and mature—we planted them in 1999. The trial is done—these are for demonstration. A lot of backyard growers are raising quince, but the commercial-scale growers, they’re still looking at it, like most of these fruits. These trees are pistachio, from Iran. These are about four feet—they were planted last year—but they’ll reach about fourteen. And these are persimmon. These are mature, about eight or ten feet. They grow fast—we planted them three years ago. It’s unheard of to have persimmon in Idaho, because it’s colder than its typical range. In China, in Iran, persimmon makes wonderful jam and jelly. If I had to pick one exotic fruit that I think will succeed in America, I think it is persimmon.”

We came to another orderly row of trees. “This is snow giant peach, which they love in the Oriental market,” Fallahi said. “It has a white flesh. I have about two acres, altogether nine hundred trees. I need that many for all the different trials. A fruit like peach, with so much importance in the market, we do more trials than for more experimental fruits. We’re doing blossom-thinning experiments, crop-load adjustment—how many branches we need to leave per tree to get best-quality fruit and optimum yield. We planted them in 2000, and I think we’re done next year. This is jujube, which is from the same family as the tree that it is believed Christ was crucified on. In Iran it gets very small, but here I get fruits the size of a small apple, very sweet.” We came to some trees with bands of white paint on the trunks. “To protect from sunburn,” Fallahi said. “For young trees until they develop shade. Otherwise, they crack.” He stopped by some mulberry trees, about fifteen feet tall. “They grow to about forty, but we try to keep them to eighteen,” he said. “We planted them in 2000.” In the trees were magpies, black and white and the size of crows. I could see one staring at me through the leaves. “For grapes we put nets over the vines, but otherwise we share with the birds,” Fallahi said. At the next block, he told me, “This is paper shell walnut that you can crack with the tip of your finger. I brought this from Iran myself. I have twelve trees, planted in 1999. We have just in the last two years started getting fruit—we call nuts fruit. We’ll keep them several more years, because they take longer to mature.” Grasshoppers scattered at our feet. Beside a row of tin cylinders about six inches tall, from which the tops of some plants were sticking out, Fallahi said, “Pomegranates, just planted.”

Facing us then was a vineyard with twisted vines. “This is Orphan Block,” he continued. “My original block of grapes. I worked on this block for twelve years. You see the gnarled trunks going zigzag.”

We walked back to the truck. It was just after noon. On the way out of the orchard, Fallahi stopped by the rows of peach trees. He said that sometimes he wished that he grew only wheat. “Wheat you have one planting, three months to raise it, and that is it,” he said. “With fruit, you worry about gopher in the winter, mouse damage under the snow. During bloom time, you’re worried about freeze-frost damage. Your worry after that is hail, then sun damage. In the fall, if your nights are warm, you pray for cooler nights, to get better color. Then you are just praying that your October frost doesn’t come early. On top of that, people buy fruit with their eyes. They are demanding a perfect-looking fruit, and that is a problem for all growers, because the only way to do it is to spray, which is expensive. When I see these apples or peaches in the fall, though, I forget everything. The summer when you are chasing labor—do you get enough workers? Being tense about everything in research, writing, and the funding—what if next year they cut the beautiful experiment I have? I can’t tell a vine or a tree, ‘Excuse me, can you stop growing one season, because federal doesn’t have money to give me.’”

We drove slowly past the rows of peaches, as if reviewing troops. “In eighteen years of work, I’ve taken zero years of vacation, zero sick leave, and no annual leave whatsoever,” Fallahi said. “There are hours that I go in the orchard in the sunny day or in the evening and hear the bees, and that’s like music to me. I have written for myself in Farsi about description of season and flowers, and how light goes through the yellow and red clusters of grapes and plums, and how the sun is leaving for the day in the fall.”

A pickup truck passed us, trailing a plume of dust, and Fallahi waved to the driver. “We can go eat something now,” he said.

FALLAHI’S MOTHER HAD HOPED he would be a doctor. A widow, she had brought up nine children, and Fallahi was reluctant to disappoint her. He left for college in Tehran in 1968 to study medicine. At the end of each of his first three years, he secretly took the exam to enter agriculture school and was admitted. Fallahi says that he will never forget the look that his mother gave him when he told her that he was finally resolved to study fruit. “In Persian, the word for horticulture, the immediate impression is that you are carrying a shovel on your shoulders like an old dirt farmer,” he says. “How can I explain to my relatives that my son is going to be a dirt farmer after all this education?” she asked. Slowly, she relented. He started college again, studying agronomy, in 1972. His thesis, which described three hundred varieties of Iranian apples and two hundred pears, is still accepted as definitive.

When Fallahi graduated from college, a single position was available for a student from Iran to study for a master’s degree in pomology in America. Fallahi scored highest on the national exam. He received invitations from Cornell, the University of California at Davis, and Washington State University; he chose Washington State, in Pullman, because the university would also accept his wife.

Fallahi was pleased that the streets in Pullman were not as crowded as those in Tehran, and that he no longer needed “ten thousand signatures on documents to do anything.” The informality in America was complicated for him, though. “Three months, even four months after I arrive, I was calling my adviser ‘Mr. Dr. Larsen,’” Fallahi told me. “Formality in Iran is extremely respected. I would not call you by your name; I would call Mister, or Engineer, or Excellency, or whatever you have as title. But here Dr. Larsen was Fenton. They kept telling me, ‘Don’t say Mr. Dr. Larsen,’ but I couldn’t stop. It seemed impolite.”

To attend classes in English, Fallahi had to learn to read from left to right. He took notes in Farsi and in English, and translated his textbooks, line by line, into Farsi. “For every one hour, I was studying four,” he said. In 1979, having been accepted as a doctoral candidate at Cornell, Michigan State, the University of California at Davis, and Oregon State, Fallahi chose Oregon, “because Dr. Mel Westwood, who wrote the bible of pomology, Temperate-Zone Pomology, taught there.” Fallahi finished his doctorate as the Iranian Revolution commenced. He had always assumed that he would go back and forth between work and research in Iran and America, but after the revolution, he said, “everybody in the U.S. was considered to be an outsider.” From then on, he began telling people that he was from Persia, hoping that they wouldn’t know it was Iran.

After Fallahi completed his doctorate, in 1985, he worked briefly in Oregon and Washington before going to the University of Arizona, where he worked mostly on citrus and on strains of peaches adapted to grow in the desert. Arizona was too hot for his liking, and in 1989 he and his wife moved to Idaho with their two children, Annahita, who is twenty-two and doing bio-medical research at New York University, and Arzhang, who is twenty-six and studying medicine at the University of Washington.

THE GRAPE FARMER in Idaho tends to be someone who has never farmed before. To show me a representative vineyard, Fallahi drove me to Emmet, about half an hour from Parma, to see one that belonged to a man named Mike Medes.

Until a few years ago, Medes had sold real estate in Boise with a partner, then he sold the partner his half of the business. His neighbor in Emmet owned an apple orchard that he hadn’t watered properly; all the trees had died. He offered Medes the orchard. Medes is sixty-one, and he grew up in Minnesota. He bought the orchard and began looking for something to do with it. Through the state agricultural extension service, he took “chicken classes and beef classes,” he says, but felt nothing for either animal. From another farmer Medes heard that Fallahi was giving a fruit-growing presentation, so he thought, Maybe I’ll go fruit. At the presentation, Fallahi showed a slide of himself holding two clusters of grapes, “like trophies,” Medes said, and he decided to have an organic table-grape vineyard.

Medes’s vineyard, the Rocky Fence Vineyard, occupies the lower range of a hillside. A light rain began to fall as we arrived. Fallahi drove slowly along the rows and, before long, we saw Medes at the far end of a row, on a tractor that was towing a trailer with a horizontal propane tank about the size of a water heater on it. By each wheel of the trailer, a pipe extended like a tailpipe toward the ground, and at the end of each pipe was a flame; the flame singes the tips of the weeds, which shocks the plant sufficiently such that it dies. Medes waved to Fallahi and stopped when he reached us. He was thin, with an oval face, red hair, wire-rimmed glasses. He greeted Fallahi as “Professor Doctor.” Then he asked how to prune the vines. While Fallahi went to his truck to retrieve a pair of clippers, Medes said, “He’s gone over this with me before, but I want to hear it to reassure me. After three years of investment, you really don’t want to do the wrong thing.” Fallahi walked down one of the rows and began quickly snipping off clusters, letting them fall to the ground. Medes winced. “It’s like cutting dollar bills from your vines,” he said. “It’s not for the timid.”

Fallahi advanced down the row, and Medes followed him. By the time they returned, the rain was falling harder. There were little drops of water on Fallahi’s glasses. Another pickup truck arrived, driven by a farmer named Greg Bogle. Fallahi had asked Bogle to join us. His vineyard was about forty-five minutes away, in Weiser. Bogle is in his early thirties, tall and thin, with a round face. He and Medes had never met. Bogle asked if Medes had sunk all the poles at the ends of his trellises by himself, and Medes said that his son had driven about two thousand of them. Then we decided to get out of the rain.

Medes left his muddy shoes at the back door to his house. “To keep the floors clean,” he said.

“It’s not that you pray five times a day?” Fallahi asked, taking off his shoes.

“Don’t most people who farm pray five times a day?” Bogle asked.

In the kitchen, we sat at a long table that had a tablecloth on it. “This is a big year for me,” Medes said. “Year five. Curtain time. Showtime.”

Fallahi and Bogle nodded.

“Three years of learning. If I was a good farmer, I could have made money my fourth year,” Medes added.

Bogle said that he was in his second year at his new vineyard. Before that, he had had a vineyard near Boise, which produced for two years, and before that he and his wife had owned a pizza parlor.

“I just jumped into it,” Medes said. “I figured I had enough savings for three years, then I ran out of money, so my wife is working—she’s at the elderly agency in Emmet.”

Then Medes said he was having trouble with bugs.

“You need to get some chickens in your vineyard,” Bogle said. “They eat bugs like mad.”

“Leaf hoppers is what I have,” Medes said.

“You get a little bandy chicken, they can go through hundreds and hundreds a day,” Bogle said.

“Well, you know, I’m a graduate from chicken class,” Medes said. “I went to chicken school.”

“You need poultry,” Bogle said.

A typical vineyard is dirt and vines. I hadn’t seen any with chickens in them, so I asked Bogle if I could see his. The next day, Fallahi and I drove northwest from Parma to Weiser. In addition to passing vineyards whose owners Fallahi advised, we passed plastic-flower shrines for car wrecks; fields of mint you could smell (“For Colgate toothpaste,” Fallahi said); torn-up fields where Fallahi said simply, “Red Delicious”; a sign for Psycho’s Salvage; and a field of sheep with a llama. Then Fallahi took a road to the top of a mesa and drove along it, passing farms until, after a few miles, we came to Bogle’s farm on a broad piece of flat land.

Bogle was in his yard by a fence that enclosed about sixty chickens and two geese. The ground in the pen was hard and bare, and there was a depression filled with water, like a wading pool. Two dogs hung around him. I asked how he’d got the idea to use chickens.

“It started because we wanted to have a cover crop,” he said. “The old way of thinking is you want to keep your weeds out, because they compete with your plants for nutrients. But weeds help your water stay underground, according to studies I read. You get a higher yield; plus, you water less often, so you save money. We started looking at wouldn’t it be nice to put something in there that would eat that cover crop down. Goats will do it, but goats are aggressive as to what they want to get at. They’ll mark off things and defend them.”

“So you got chickens?” I asked.

“Sheep,” Bogle said. “We’ll do orchard grass for a cover crop, then run sheep in the vineyard, an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. The lambs eat your orchard grass, and at the end of the year they go to auction, so you only have to support a certain number over the winter.”

“And the chickens?”

“They eat grubs and bugs,” Bogle said. “Cutworms and earwigs and those little spidery-looking things that get up on your grapes—I don’t know what they’re called.”

“Thrips?” Fallahi said.

“Maybe,” Bogle said. “The other big issue for us is deer,” he continued. “They prefer the leaves, but they’ll rip the grapes and tear them up. Elk, same thing. You might not think there’d be a lot of elk here, but there are tons,” Bogle said, turning to scan the horizon. “We listen to them bugling in the winter. Coyote is the other problem.”

“They eat the chickens?” I asked.

“And the sheep,” Bogle said. “Plus they’ll eat grapes. You wouldn’t think they would, but coyotes love grapes—they’ll cherry-pick your grapes right out of your vineyard.”

“Anything take care of that?”

“Pomeranian dogs,” Bogle said. “They’re hell on coyotes.”

“Pomeranians? The little fluffy toy dogs?”

“Did I say Pomeranians?” he asked. “I meant Great Pyrenees.”

“The big white ones.”

“Exactly,” he said. “I’ll put a couple of those in, and with them, I’ll have a couple of geese as noisy alarms. What the dogs miss, they’ll pick up. The geese will also protect the chickens from the dogs.”

“I didn’t know they’d do that,” I said.

“When they’re raised with them, they will,” Bogle said. “They take on that protector’s sense—the way guys with sheep, they’ll stick a llama in the field, because they help protect your sheep. You annoy a llama and not only will it spit at you—it’ll stomp you.”

Fallahi and I got in his truck then and followed Bogle’s truck to his vineyard. His plants were young and low to the ground, and most of them were enclosed by white cones about six inches tall. The cones are called grow tubes. Bogle said he needed them because many of his neighbors raise wheat, and the chemicals sprayed on wheat poison grapes. “If the chemicals drift, the tubes will protect the grapes,” Bogle said. “These people have been growing wheat here for years, and I don’t feel I can come in as a new neighbor and say, ‘Stop spraying, you’re interfering with my vineyard.’”

Fallahi said he thought that Bogle’s vines might need water. He got down on his knees and dug a few inches into the ground, filling his palms with powdery soil. Bogle took a wrench from his truck bed and walked across the farm road to his irrigation fixture and gave it a few turns. Streams of water began to issue from poles above the vineyard. “What I envision is vineyards spread out all over here,” he said to Fallahi when he returned. “How beautiful would that be?”

From Bogle’s vineyard, Fallahi and I drove around the countryside looking at fruit ranches where Fallahi’s presence could be seen in the fields planted with dwarf trees or with crops that Fallahi had suggested. We drove for miles along two-lane blacktop roads, and the only people we passed were driving tractors.

Fallahi lamented that there were no fruits ready to taste. “You must come back in the fall,” he said. It seemed almost to pain him that he couldn’t share with me his pleasure in the harvest.

We drove up into orchards belonging to the largest fruit grower in Idaho. Fallahi pointed at some hazy hills in the distance and said they were Oregon. At the top of a hill, the grower had a grass-strip runway for his plane. The landing strip was surrounded by cherry trees. Beneath many of them were propane fruit cannons firing to frighten the birds off the cherries. The cannons made a sound like a small-town fireworks display. Fallahi said that the birds appeared to have grown accustomed to them. They seemed to anticipate the blast and to rise from the tree just before the cannon went off and to settle just after. From the hilltop, you could guess, now and then, which cannon was about to fire by a mist of black forms, like pepper grains, rising from a tree. While I was watching for them, Fallahi walked into the orchard. A moment later, he came back, extending a hand toward me, making me think of the fruit sellers he had mentioned by the roadside in Iran. His palm was filled with cherries, and he was smiling.

“I found an early variety for you,” he said. “Chelan, instead of our regular Bing.” We ate the cherries and listened to the cannons firing.

Source - Orion Magazine

Sunday, July 19, 2009



When the Honduran military overthrew the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya two weeks ago there might have been a sigh of relief in the corporate board rooms of Chiquita banana. Earlier this year the Cincinnati-based fruit company joined Dole in criticizing the government in Tegucigalpa which had raised the minimum wage by 60%. Chiquita complained that the new regulations would cut into company profits, requiring the firm to spend more on costs than in Costa Rica: 20 cents more to produce a crate of pineapple and ten cents more to produce a crate of bananas to be exact. In all, Chiquita fretted that it would lose millions under Zelaya’s labor reforms since the company produced around 8 million crates of pineapple and 22 million crates of bananas per year.

When the minimum wage decree came down Chiquita sought help and appealed to the Honduran National Business Council, known by its Spanish acronym COHEP. Like Chiquita, COHEP was unhappy about Zelaya’s minimum wage measure. Amílcar Bulnes, the group’s president, argued that if the government went forward with the minimum wage increase employers would be forced to let workers go, thus increasing unemployment in the country. The most important business organization in Honduras, COHEP groups 60 trade associations and chambers of commerce representing every sector of the Honduran economy. According to its own Web site, COHEP is the political and technical arm of the Honduran private sector, supports trade agreements and provides “critical support for the democratic system.”

The international community should not impose economic sanctions against the coup regime in Tegucigalpa, COHEP argues, because this would worsen Honduras’ social problems. In its new role as the mouthpiece for Honduras’ poor, COHEP declares that Honduras has already suffered from earthquakes, torrential rains and the global financial crisis. Before punishing the coup regime with punitive measures, COHEP argues, the United Nations and the Organization of American States should send observer teams to Honduras to investigate how sanctions might affect 70% of Hondurans who live in poverty. Bulnes meanwhile has voiced his support for the coup regime of Roberto Micheletti and argues that the political conditions in Honduras are not propitious for Zelaya’s return from exile.

Chiquita: From Arbenz to Bananagate

It’s not surprising that Chiquita would seek out and ally itself to socially and politically backward forces in Honduras. Colsiba, the coordinating body of banana plantation workers in Latin America, says the fruit company has failed to supply its workers with necessary protective gear and has dragged its feet when it comes to signing collective labor agreements in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras.

Colsiba compares the infernal labor conditions on Chiquita plantations to concentration camps. It’s an inflammatory comparison yet may contain a degree of truth. Women working on Chiquita’s plantations in Central America work from 6:30 a.m. until 7 at night, their hands burning up inside rubber gloves. Some workers are as young as 14. Central American banana workers have sought damages against Chiquita for exposing them in the field to DBCP, a dangerous pesticide which causes sterility, cancer and birth defects in children.

Chiquita, formerly known as United Fruit Company and United Brands, has had a long and sordid political history in Central America. Led by Sam “The Banana Man” Zemurray, United Fruit got into the banana business at the turn of the twentieth century. Zemurray once remarked famously, “In Honduras, a mule costs more than a member of parliament.” By the 1920s United Fruit controlled 650,000 acres of the best land in Honduras, almost one quarter of all the arable land in the country. What’s more, the company controlled important roads and railways.

In Honduras the fruit companies spread their influence into every area of life including politics and the military. For such tactics they acquired the name los pulpos (the octopuses, from the way they spread their tentacles). Those who did not play ball with the corporations were frequently found face down on the plantations. In 1904 humorist O. Henry coined the term “Banana Republic” to refer to the notorious United Fruit Company and its actions in Honduras.

In Guatemala, United Fruit supported the CIA-backed 1954 military coup against President Jacobo Arbenz, a reformer who had carried out a land reform package. Arbenz’ overthrow led to more than thirty years of unrest and civil war in Guatemala. Later in 1961, United Fruit lent its ships to CIA-backed Cuban exiles who sought to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs.

In 1972, United Fruit (now renamed United Brands) propelled Honduran General Oswaldo López Arellano to power. The dictator was forced to step down later however after the infamous “Bananagate” scandal which involved United Brands bribes to Arellano. A federal grand jury accused United Brands of bribing Arellano with $1.25 million, with the carrot of another $1.25 million later if the military man agreed to reduce fruit export taxes. During Bananagate, United Brands’ President fell from a New York City skyscraper in an apparent suicide.

Go-Go Clinton Years and Colombia

In Colombia United Fruit also set up shop and during its operations in the South American country developed a no less checkered profile. In 1928, 3,000 workers went on strike against the company to demand better pay and working conditions. At first the company refused to negotiate but later gave in on some minor points, declaring the other demands “illegal” or “impossible.” When the strikers refused to disperse the military fired on the banana workers, killing scores.

You might think that Chiquita would have reconsidered its labor policies after that but in the late 1990s the company began to ally itself with insidious forces, specifically right wing paramilitaries. Chiquita paid off the men to the tune of more than a million dollars. In its own defense, the company declared that it was merely paying protection money to the paramilitaries.

In 2007, Chiquita paid $25 million to settle a Justice Department investigation into the payments. Chiquita was the first company in U.S. history to be convicted of financial dealings with a designated terrorist organization.

In a lawsuit launched against Chiquita victims of the paramilitary violence claimed the firm abetted atrocities including terrorism, war crimes and crimes against humanity. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said that Chiquita’s relationship with the paramilitaries “was about acquiring every aspect of banana distribution and sale through a reign of terror.”

Back in Washington, D.C. Charles Lindner, Chiquita’s CEO, was busy courting the White House. Lindner had been a big donor to the GOP but switched sides and began to lavish cash on the Democrats and Bill Clinton. Clinton repaid Linder by becoming a key military backer of the government of Andrés Pastrana which presided over the proliferation of right wing death squads. At the time the U.S. was pursuing its corporately-friendly free trade agenda in Latin America, a strategy carried out by Clinton’s old boyhood friend Thomas “Mack” McLarty. At the White House, McLarty served as Chief of Staff and Special Envoy to Latin America. He’s an intriguing figure who I’ll come back to in a moment.

The Holder-Chiquita Connection

Given Chiquita’s underhanded record in Central America and Colombia it’s not a surprise that the company later sought to ally itself with COHEP in Honduras. In addition to lobbying business associations in Honduras however Chiquita also cultivated relationships with high powered law firms in Washington. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Chiquita has paid out $70,000 in lobbying fees to Covington and Burling over the past three years.

Covington is a powerful law firm which advises multinational corporations. Eric Holder, the current Attorney General, a co-chair of the Obama campaign and former Deputy Attorney General under Bill Clinton was up until recently a partner at the firm. At Covington, Holder defended Chiquita as lead counsel in its case with the Justice Department. From his perch at the elegant new Covington headquarters located near the New York Times building in Manhattan, Holder prepped Fernando Aguirre, Chiquita’s CEO, for an interview with 60 Minutes dealing with Colombian death squads.

Holder had the fruit company plead guilty to one count of “engaging in transactions with a specially designated global terrorist organization.” But the lawyer, who was taking in a hefty salary at Covington to the tune of more than $2 million, brokered a sweetheart deal in which Chiquita only paid a $25 million fine over five years. Outrageously however, not one of the six company officials who approved the payments received any jail time.

The Curious Case of Covington

Look a little deeper and you’ll find that not only does Covington represent Chiquita but also serves as a kind of nexus for the political right intent on pushing a hawkish foreign policy in Latin America. Covington has pursued an important strategic alliance with Kissinger (of Chile, 1973 fame) and McLarty Associates (yes, the same Mack McLarty from Clinton-time), a well known international consulting and strategic advisory firm.

From 1974 to 1981 John Bolton served as an associate at Covington. As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under George Bush, Bolton was a fierce critic of leftists in Latin America such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Furthermore, just recently John Negroponte became Covington’s Vice Chairman. Negroponte is a former Deputy Secretary of State, Director of National Intelligence and U.S. Representative to the United Nations.

As U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985, Negroponte played a significant role in assisting the U.S.-backed Contra rebels intent on overthrowing the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Human rights groups have criticized Negroponte for ignoring human rights abuses committed by Honduran death squads which were funded and partially trained by the Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, when Negroponte served as ambassador his building in Tegucigalpa became one of the largest nerve centers of the CIA in Latin America with a tenfold increase in personnel.

While there’s no evidence linking Chiquita to the recent coup in Honduras, there’s enough of a confluence of suspicious characters and political heavyweights here to warrant further investigation. From COHEP to Covington to Holder to Negroponte to McLarty, Chiquita has sought out friends in high places, friends who had no love for the progressive labor policies of the Zelaya regime in Tegucigalpa.

Source - Information Clearing House

Friday, July 17, 2009


Forget Shorter Showers

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.

Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”

Or let’s talk waste. In 2005, per-capita municipal waste production (basically everything that’s put out at the curb) in the U.S. was about 1,660 pounds. Let’s say you’re a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You’re not done yet, though. Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I’ve got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States.

I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.

So how, then, and especially with all the world at stake, have we come to accept these utterly insufficient responses? I think part of it is that we’re in a double bind. A double bind is where you’re given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and withdrawal is not an option. At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one—if we avidly participate in the industrial economy—we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world—none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.

Besides being ineffective at causing the sorts of changes necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet, there are at least four other problems with perceiving simple living as a political act (as opposed to living simply because that’s what you want to do). The first is that it’s predicated on the flawed notion that humans inevitably harm their landbase. Simple living as a political act consists solely of harm reduction, ignoring the fact that humans can help the Earth as well as harm it. We can rehabilitate streams, we can get rid of noxious invasives, we can remove dams, we can disrupt a political system tilted toward the rich as well as an extractive economic system, we can destroy the industrial economy that is destroying the real, physical world.

The second problem—and this is another big one—is that it incorrectly assigns blame to the individual (and most especially to individuals who are particularly powerless) instead of to those who actually wield power in this system and to the system itself. Kirkpatrick Sale again: “The whole individualist what-you-can-do-to-save-the-earth guilt trip is a myth. We, as individuals, are not creating the crises, and we can’t solve them.”

The third problem is that it accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers. By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.

The fourth problem is that the endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide. If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.

The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned—Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States—who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

Source - Orion Magazine

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Circumcision & Human Behavior

Medical doctors adopted male circumcision from religious practice into medical practice in England in the 1860s and in the United States in the 1870s. No thought was given to the possible behavioral effects of painful operations that excise important protective erogenous tissue from the male phallus. For example, Gairdner (1949) and Wright (1967), both critics of male neonatal non-therapeutic circumcision, made no mention of any behavioral effects of neonatal circumcision.[1] [2]

The awakening

Other doctors, however, were beginning to express concern about the behavioral effects of male circumcision.

Levy (1945) studied the behavioral effects of various operations, including circumcision, on young children.[3] He found that children who had undergone operations experienced an increase in anxiety and various fears, including night terrors, fear of physicians, nurses, and strange men. The oldest age group exhibited greater hostility and aggression. Levy compared their behavior to that of soldiers who suffered from what was then called "combat neurosis," and now recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder. Anna Freud (1952) pointed out that operations on the genitals, such as circumcision, would cause "castration anxiety."[4] Cansever (1965) tested Turkish boys before and after circumcision.[5] Cansever reported severe disturbances in functioning, including regression in behavior, and withdrawal of the ego as protection against outside threats. Cansever also observed various anxieties, including castration anxiety. Foley (1966) noticed that circumcised men are more likely to be biased in favor of circumcision.[7] Moreover, he said that circumcised men are more likely to engage in "problem-masturbation" but non-circumcised men were equally unlikely to engage in "problem-masturbation." Grimes (another critic of non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision) (1978), apparently unaware of the research described above, sounded an alarm:

"In contrast to the sometimes dramatic somatic responses of the neonate to operation without anesthesia, the psychological consequences of this trauma are conjectural. Psychoanalyst Erik Erickson has described the first of eight stages of man as the development of basic trust versus basic mistrust. For the baby to be plucked from his bed, strapped in a spread eagle position, and doused with chilling antiseptic is perhaps consistent with other new-found discomforts of extrauterine existence. The application of crushing clamps and excision of penile tissue, however, probably do little to engender a trusting, congenial, relationship with the infant's new surroundings."[8]

Behavior during unanesthetized circumcision

Gunnar et al. (1981) studied the relationship of system cortisol levels to behavioral state. Gunnar et al. report that, as system cortisol rises, infants increase wakefulness and crying.[9] Malone et al. (1985) report that infants show little change in behavior due to limb restraint (of the type used for circumcision).[10]

Porter et al. (1986) report that newborn infants who are undergoing unanesthetized cirumcision emit cries of extreme urgency.[11] The studies, carried out with the aid of computer spetrographic analysis, show that infants who have been circumcised vocalize their anguish with higher pitch, fewer harmonics and shorter cries. The most invasive procedures produced the most urgent cries, as judged by observers. Porter et al. (1988) report that vagal tone decreases as the pitch of the cry increases.[12]

Gunnar et al. (1988) report that infants decrease distressed behavior when given a non-nutritive pacifier, although system cortisol does not decrease.[13]

Behavior immediately after unanesthetized circumcision

Studies show that circumcision affects the sleep of newborn boys. Emde et al. (1971) studied the sleep of boys who had had a non-therapeutic circumcision with the Plastibell device.[14] Emde et al. report that non-therapeutic circumcision "was usually followed by prolonged nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep." The authors considered this type of sleep "to be consistent with a theory of conservation-withdrawal in response to stressful stimulation."
Anders & Chalemian (1974) studied the sleep of boys who had had a non-therapeutic circumcision with a circumcision clamp. They report significant increases in wakefulness after circumcision.[15]

Marshall et al.(1979) studied newborn infant behavior using the Brazelton Neonatal Behavior Assessment Scale.[16] The study shows that infants change their behavior for at least 22 hours after circumcision. In a second study, Marshall et al. (1982) showed that circumcised infants kept their eyes closed during feeding or did not feed at all. Marshall et al. considered that mother-infant interaction and bonding was disrupted by the stress of circumcision.[17]

Numerous observers report that circumcision inteferes with the normal feeding behavior of circumcised boys. La Leche League leaders (1981) suggest that circumcision should be delayed for a time.[18] Marshall et al. (1982) found that circumcision interfered with normal feeding behavior.[17] Howard et al. (1994) report that "babies feed less frequently and are less available for interaction after circumcision."[19] Howard et al. report that some newly circumcised babies are unable to suckle at the breast and require formula supplementation. Lee (2000) also comments on the difficulty with feeding that circumcised boys exhibit.[20] Breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for infants and is of key importance in giving an infant a good start in life with optimum mother-infant bonding, health, and well-being,[21] so non-therapeutic infant circumcision should not be allowed to interfere with breastfeeding.

Behavior at vaccination

Hepper (1996) surveys and reports research that indicates memory commences to function in the fetus at about the 23rd week of gestation.[22] Infant memory continues to function through the birth experience and afterward. Anand & Hickey (1987) firmly established that newborn infants have fully functioning pain pathways.[23] When an infant is subjected to a painful and traumatic experience all the necessary factors are present to create posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Boyle et al. (2002) describe the etiology of PTSD:

"A traumatic experience is defined in DSM-IV as the direct consequence of experiencing or witnessing of serious injury or threat to physical integrity that produces intense fear, helplessness or (in the case of children) agitation. The significant [circumcision] pain and distress described earlier is consistent with this definition. Moreover, the disturbance (e.g., physiological arousal, avoidant behaviour) qualifies for a diagnosis of acute stress disorder if it lasts at least two days or even a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if it lasts more than a month. Circumcision without anaesthesia constitutes a severely traumatic event in a child's life."[24]

PTSD is a normal response to an abnormal and terrifying experience. One would, therefore, expect to find PTSD in circumcised boys.

Taddio et al. (1995) compared the behavior of circumcised boys with the behavior of girls at the age of 4 to 6 months when vaccination with DPT occurred. Taddio et al. report that circumcised boys demonstrate a much greater response to the pain of the vaccination than do girls.[25] In a second study, Taddio et al. (1997) compared the behavior of circumcisied boys with the behavior of non-circumcised boys at vaccination. [26] Similarly, the circumcised boys demonstrated a greater response to the pain of vaccination than did the non-circumcised boys. Taddio et al. commented:

"It is, therefore, possible that the greater vaccination response in the infants circumcised without anaesthesia may represent an infant analogue of a post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by a traumatic and painful event and re-experienced under similar circumstances of pain during vaccination."[26]

Taddio et al. suggested that the pain of circumcision "may have long-lasting effects on future infant behaviour."[26]

Circumcision of boys is nearly universal in the Philippine Islands for cultural reasons. Ramos & Boyle (2001) studied the psychological effects of circumcision in Phillipine boys. They report a high incidence of PTSD in these boys. Sixty-nine percent of boys who had been circumcised by the traditional "tuli" Philippine ritual circumcision and 51 percent of boys who had been medically circumcised satisfied the DSM-IV criteria for PTSD.[27]

Behavior in later life

There is increasing evidence that male circumcision influences the behavior of adult males. Menage reports PTSD after genital surgery.[28] More specific to male circumcision, Rhinehart reports finding PTSD in adult males in his clinical practice in which the stressor was neonatal circumcision.[29] Rhinehart lists symptoms of:

* a sense of personal powerlessness
* fears of being overpowered and victimized by others
* lack of trust in others and life
* a sense of vulnerability to violent attack by others
* guardedness in relationships
* reluctance to be in relationships with women
* defensiveness
* diminished sense of maleness
* feeling damaged, especially in the presence of surgical complications such as skin tags, penile curvature due to uneven foreskin removal, partial ablation of edges of the glans and so on
* sense of reduced penile size, a part cut off or amputated
* low self-esteem
* shame about not "measuring up"
* anger and violence toward women
* irrational rage reactions
* addictions and dependencies
* difficulties in establishing intimate relationships
* emotional numbing
* need for more intensity in sexual experience.
* sexual callousness
* decreased tenderness in intimacy
* decreased ability to communicate
* feelings of not being understood[29]

Van der Kolk (1989) reports that persons who have been traumatized have a compulsion to repeat the trauma and to find new victims on which to re-enact the trauma they suffered.[30] This may apply with full force to victims of circumcision. The circumcision of an infant is a way to reenact the trauma of circumcision.[31] The compulsion to circumcise is very strong and has resulted in unlawful batteries and abductions to circumcise an unwilling victim.[32] [33] [34] [35] [36]

There is some evidence that adverse experiences in the perinatal period (from the 28th week of gestation through the first seven days of extra-uterine life) cause self-destructive behavior in adult life.[37] [38] [39] [40] Circumcised males may tend to be more self-destructive, but more research is needed to verify the effect traumatic non-therapeutic circumcision has on self-destructive behavior.

The condition of the male phallus impacts a male's feeling of well-being. A phallus diminished by the loss of the erogenous foreskin to circumcision necessarily adversely affects one's feelings about one's self, resulting in uncomfortable feelings of low self-esteem. There is, therefore, a strong tendency to deny that any loss occurred. Minimization of the loss is a common defense mechanism; ridicule of the subject is another. Persons who have lost body parts must grieve their loss.[41] Failure to grieve and accept the loss puts one in permanent denial of loss.[42] Many men who have been circumcised do not want non-circumcised males, including their own sons, around to remind them of their irreversible loss. For these emotional reasons, as Foley (1966) observed, there tends to be a strong irrational bias in favor of universal circumcision among circumcised males.[7] Many fathers who were victims of neonatal circumcision, for the reasons described above, adamantly insist that any male offspring be circumcised.[24] This phenomenon has come to be called "the adamant father syndrome." Circumcision, therefore is a repeating cycle of trauma in which circumcised infant males grow up to be adult circumcisers.[31]

Behavior of circumcised medical doctors

Medical doctors in Australia, Canada, and the United States practiced circumcision in the twentieth century, so these nations have a heavy proportion of circumcised men, some of whom become medical doctors. These circumcised male doctors share the same bias in favor of male circumcision as do other circumcised males.[7] [31] [43] Male doctors who were circumcised as infants are more likely to recommend circumcision of infants to parents.[44]

The Australian Paediatric Association recommended non-circumcision—genital integrity—in 1971;[45] thereafter, the incidence of circumcision among Australia's newborn plummeted.[46] At the present time, in regard to genital integrity status, Australia is, in effect, two nations, one of which has mostly circumcised men and the other that has mostly intact men. The dividing point is the year 1978, because the incidence of genital integrity among newborn boys rose above 50 percent in that year.[46] The ever-increasing percentage of genitally intact younger men in the population is causing increasing anxiety and distress among some older circumcised males. There now is a peculiar phenomenon happening in Australia, where one sees middle-aged men trying to restore Australia's medical practice back to that which prevailed before 1971. This is, of course, an attempt to defend the culture-of-origin and is carried out for the emotional reasons described here, although, as Goldman reports, pseudo-scientific reasons are advanced .[31]

Behavior of circumcised medical authors

The high proportion of circumcised males in the medical community create a distorted, biased medical literature.[47] Goldman (1999) writes:

"One reason that flawed studies are published is that science is affected by cultural values. A principal method of preserving cultural values is to disguise them as truths that are based on scientific research. This 'research' can then be used to support questionable and harmful cultural values such as circumcision. This explains the claimed medical 'benefits' of circumcision."[31]

Hill (2007) writes:

"The medical literature on circumcision is voluminous and contentious. Circumcised doctors create papers that overstate benefits and minimize harms and risks. When these doctors publish such claims, other doctors come forward to refute them....The result is an unending debate driven by the emotional compulsion of circumcised men."[43]

Female doctors from a circumcising culture of origin have been known to contribute pro-circumcision pieces.

Most American medical editors are circumcised men. They share the pro-circumcision bias of other circumcised men. They tend to select papers for publication that conform to their bias. The literature, therefore, is filled with pro-circumcision papers written by circumcised doctors. The behavior of these circumcised doctors has served for a century to prolong the practice of a nineteenth century surgical operation that has no medical indication and is injurious to infants and children.

Behavior of medical societies

Medical societies in the English-speaking nations have a high proportion of male members (fellows) who are circumcised. The societies that represent medical specialities that practice circumcision have found themselves unable to adequately address the problem of circumcision and to repudiate this harmful, outmoded practice.

Goldman writes:

"Although medical committee members highly value rationality, a rational and objective evaluation of an emotional and controversial topic like circumcision can be difficult. It is suggested that the potential psychological and social factors surrounding the practice of circumcision could affect the values and attitudes of circumcision policy committee members, the attitude toward evaluating the circumcision literature, and the publishing of circumcision literature itself. If the members are polarized, the process of negotiating to arrive at a consensus statement could introduce additional psychosocial factors that could affect the final policy."[48]

Dr. Goldman published the two articles cited here in the United Kingdom and Canada, not the United States. This may be a testimony to the bias and censorship present in the medical literature of the United States.


All of the behavioral changes described in this paper are negative, unfavorable, or maleficial in nature. No positive, favorable, or beneficial behavioral changes have been found.

The English-speaking nations have a high proportion of circumcised males and, therefore, a high proportion of psychically-wounded males. A society containing so many psychically-wounded males cannot be as healthy as it should be. The United States has clung to circumcision even after Australia and Canada have rejected circumcision of infants. Consequently, the United States has the highest proportion of circumcised males to intact males and the greatest injury to society.

The best way to stop the cycle of trauma is to stop circumcising infants.[31] [42] Non-traumatized intact infants usually do not grow up to become circumcisers, so the cycle of trauma would end.

Additional Reading

Miller A. Appendix: The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness. Anchor Books (Doubleday) New York, 1991.
Goldman R. Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma. Boston: Vanguard Publications, 1997.
Fleiss P, Hodges FM. What your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision. New York: Warner Books, 2002.
Ritter TJ, Denniston GC. Doctors Re-examine Circumcision. Seattle: Third Millennium Publishing Company, 2002.

1. Gairdner D. The fate of the foreskin: a study of circumcision. Br Med J 1949;2:1433-7.
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2. Wright JE. Non-therapeutic circumcision. Med J Aust 1967;1:1083-6.
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3. Levy D. Psychic trauma of operations in children: and a note on combat neurosis. Am J Dis Child 1945;69:7-25.
4. Freud A. The role of bodily illness in the mental life of children. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 1952; 7:69-81.
[Full Text]
5. Cansever G. Psychological effects of circumcision. Brit J Med Psychol 1965;38:321-31.
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6. Richards MPM, Bernal, JF, Brackbill Y. Early behavioral differences: gender or circumcision? Dev Psychobiol 1976;9(1):89-95.
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7. Foley JM. The unkindest cut of all. Fact 1966;3(4):2-9.
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8. Grimes DA. Routine circumcision of the newborn: a reappraisal. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1978;130(2):125-29.
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9. Gunnar MR, Fisch RO, Korsvik S, Donhowe JM. The effects of circumcision on serum cortisol and behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology 1981; 6(3):269-75.
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10. Malone SM, Gunnar MR, Fisch RO. Adrenocortical and behavioral responses to limb restraint in human neonates. Dev Psychobiol 1985;18:435-46
11. Porter FL, Miller RH, and Marshal RE. Neonatal pain cries: effect of circumcision on acoustic features and perceived urgency. Child Dev 1986;57:790-802.
12. Porter, FL, Porges SW, Marshall RE. Newborn pain cries and vagal tone: parallel changes in response to circumcision. Child Dev 1988;59:495-505.
13. Gunnar MR, Connors J, Isensee, Wall L. Adrenocortical activity and behavioral distress in human newborns. Dev Psychobiol 1988;21(4):297-310.
14. Emde RN, Harmon RJ, Metcalf D, et al. Stress and neonatal sleep. Psychosom Med 1971;33(6):491-7.
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15. Anders TF, Chalemian RJ. The effects of circumcision on sleep-wake states in human neonates. Psychosom Med 1974;36(2):174-9.
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16. Marshall RE, Stratton WC, Moore JA, et al. Circumcision I: effects upon newborn behavior. Infant Behavior and Development 1980;3:1-14.
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17. Marshall RE, Porter FL, Rogers AG, et al. Circumcision: II effects upon mother-infant interaction. Early Hum Dev 1982; 7(4):367-74.
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18. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 3rd ed. Franklin Park, IL: La Leche League International, 1981: 92-93. (ISBN 0-912500-10-7)
[Text Extract]
19. Howard CR, Howard FM, and Weitzman ML. Acetaminophen analgesia in neonatal circumcision: the effect on pain. Pediatrics 1994;93(4):641-46.
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20. Lee N. Circumcision and breastfeeding. J Hum Lact 2000;16(4):295.
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21. Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 2005;115(2):496-506.
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22. Hepper PG, Fetal memory: Does it exist? What does it do? Acta Pædiatr (Stockholm) 1996; Suppl 416:16-20.
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23. Anand KJS, Hickey PR. Pain and its effects in the human neonate and fetus. New Engl J Med 1987;317(21):1321-9.
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24. Boyle GJ, Goldman R, Svoboda JS, Fernandez E. Male circumcision: pain, trauma and psychosexual sequelae. J Health Psychol 2002;7(3):329-43.
[Full Text]
25. Taddio A, Goldbach M, Ipp E, et al. Effect of neonatal circumcision on pain responses during vaccination in boys. Lancet 1995;345:291-2.
[Full Text]
26. Taddio A, Katz J, Ilersich AL, Koren G. Effect of neonatal circumcision on pain response during subsequent routine vaccination. Lancet 1997;349(9052):599-603.
[Full Text]
27. Ramos S, Boyle GJ. Ritual and medical circumcision among Filipino boys: evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder. In: Denniston GC, Hodges FM, Milos MF (eds) Understanding circumcision: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to a Multi-Dimensional Problem. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2001: pp. 253-70.
[Full Text PDF]
28. Menage J. Post-traumatic stress disorder in women who have undergone obstetric and/or gynaecological procedures. J Reprod Infant Psychol 1993;11:221-28.
29. Rhinehart J. Neonatal circumcision reconsidered. Transactional Analysis J 1999;29(3):215-21.
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30. van der Kolk BA. The compulsion to repeat the trauma: re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism. Psychiatr Clin North Am 1989;12(2):389-411.
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31. Goldman R. The psychological impact of circumcision. BJU Int 1999;83 Suppl. 1:93-103.
[Full Text]
32. Anonymous. Man killed for not going to circumcision school. SAPA, South Africa, Monday, 27 June 2005
[Full Text]
33. Anonymous. Man forcibly circumcised as crowd watches. The Nation, Nairobi, Kenya, 23 August 2002.
[Full Text]
34. Vusi Mona. A bit mundane and a little more light. [opinion] City Press, South Africa, 13 July 2002.
[Full Text]
35. Anonymous. 'Spy' cut up about initiations. African Eye News Service, 27 August 2002.
[Full Text]
36. Anonymous. Take boys home, parents urged. South African Press Association (SAPA), 3 July 2002.
[Full Text]
37. Salk L, Lipsitt LP, Sturner WQ, et al. Relationship of maternal and perinatal conditions to eventual adolescent suicide. Lancet 1985;i:624-7
38. Jacobson B, Eklund G, Hamberger L, et al. Perinatal origin of adult self-destructive behavior. Acta Psychiatr Scand 1987;76(4):364-71.
39. van der Kolk BA, Perry JC, Herman JL. Childhood origins of self-destructive behavior. Am J Psychiatry 1991; 148;1665-71.
40. Jacobson B, Bygdeman M. Obstetric care and proneness of offspring to suicide. BMJ 1998; 317:1346-49.
[Full Text]
41. Maguire P, Parks CM. Coping with loss: surgery and loss of body parts. BMJ 1998;316(7137):1086-8.
[Full Text]
42. Denniston GC. An Epidemic of Circumcision. Third International Symposium on Circumision, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, May 22-25, 1994.
[Full Text]
43. Hill G. The case against circumcision. J Mens Health Gend 2007;4(3):318-23.
[Full Text PDF]
44. LeBourdais E. Circumcision no longer a "routine" surgical procedure. Can Med Assoc J 1995;152(11):1873-6.
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45. Belmaine SP. Circumcision. Med J Aust 1971;1:1148.
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46. Young H. Circumcision in Australia.
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47. Fleiss PM. An analysis of bias regarding circumcision in American medical literature.In: Denniston GC, Hodges FM, Milos MF. (eds) Male and Female Circumcision: Medical, Legal, and Ethical Consideratons in Pediatric Practice. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 1999: pp. 379-402.
48. Goldman R. Circumcision policy: a psychosocial perpective. Paediatr Child Health 2004;9(9):630-3.
[Full Text]

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Mistaking The Map For The Territory

1. Vol Is Hungry, We Must Feed Vol

PN: The corporation is not a recent phenomenon; it goes back hundreds of years. What is the origin story of the corporation? Where did it come from, and what is it, exactly?

DR: The corporation is the result of two innovations: the creation of centralized currency, and the creation of the chartered monopoly. In the late 1300s the upper classes -- the aristocrats, the people who had been feudal lords -- were becoming less wealthy relative to real people. As the merchant class and people in towns were producing and doing, the relative wealth of the aristocracy was going down, and this was a problem; the aristocrats wanted to continue the system that had been working for them for the last 500 years wherein they didn't have to "do" anything to be rich. So they hit upon the idea of passively investing in other people's industries.

Suppose I am the monarch. I want to make money through your shipping company; how do I get you to let me invest? Well, I use what power I have as a monarch to write up a charter, which means I give you a monopoly in a certain area, and you give me 30% of the shares in the company. The chosen merchant avoids competition and gains protection from bankruptcy, while the king receives loyalty, because the merchants' monopolies are based on keeping him in power. He doesn't mind if a *few of the merchant class are as rich as he is, as long as he is able to get still richer as a result.

But this was not the promotion of free-market capitalism. It was the promotion of monopoly, non-market capitalism! It was locking into place a set of players and a set of systems that had nothing to do with the free market. And it changed the bias of these merchants away from innovation; in other words, from "how do I innovate and maintain my competitive edge" to "how do I extract wealth from the realm that I now control?"

Then they're going to be very conservative because they'll want to maintain what they have and not risk wrecking it.

Conservative in that sense, but rapacious in another. Say I'm now in charge of the Colonies. What I want to do is extract their wealth; I want to prevent the people who live in the Colonies from creating any value for themselves. If the colonists are going to grow cotton, that's fine, but they're going to use MY seeds, my agricultural tools, they're going to use everything from ME. If you are a farmer you're allowed to grow the cotton but you have to sell it to ME at my prices. You're not allowed to make fabric out of that cotton! Fabricating is creating value. And then you're going to -- what? You're going to make it into clothes? Those are clothes you could have bought from me! No, no, no, you must give all the cotton to me, I'll put it on my ship and bring it back to England, then the king's other chartered monopoly, the clothes manufacturer, will make it into clothes, and then I'll ship them back and sell them to you -- at a profit.

So it's all export crops?

Right. And anything else I will shoot you for.

And they did!

And they DID.

2. Single-handedly Rehabilitating the Middle Ages

So for about three centuries, the middle and merchant classes were doing really well. Towns that had been in shambles since the fall of the Roman Empire and had lived under strict feudalism were finally coming into their own. This all hinged on the use of local currencies -- grain receipts -- through which people transacted. They were what we would now call "demurrage" currencies that were earned into existence. Towns ended up creating more value than they knew what to do with! They started investing in their infrastructure and their windmills and their water wheels; and also in their future in the form of cathedrals and other tourist attractions.

Are you saying these towns funded the cathedrals themselves? They didn't get money from Rome?

They did not. The Vatican and central Rome did NOT build the cathedrals. The funds came from local currency, which was very different than money as we use it now. It was based on grain, which lost value over time. The grain would slowly rot or get eaten by rats or cost money to store, so the money needed to be spent as quickly as possible before it became devalued. And when people spend and spend and spend a lot of money, you end up with an economy that grows very quickly.

Now unlike a capitalist economy where money is hoarded, with local currency, money is moving. The same dollar can end up being the salary for three people rather than just one. There was so much money circulating that they had to figure out what to do with it, how to reinvest it. Saving money was not an option, you couldn't just stick it in the bank and have it grow because it would not grow there, it would shrink. So they paid the workers really well and they shortened the work week to four and in some cases three days per week. And they invested in the future by way of infrastructure -- they started to build cathedrals. They couldn't build them all at once, but they took the long view -- with three generations of investment they could build an entire cathedral, and their great-grandchildren could live in a rich town! That's how the great cathedrals were built, like Chartres. Some historians actually term the late Middle Ages "The Age of Cathedrals."

They were the best-fed people in the history of Europe; women in England were taller than they are today, and men were taller than they have been at any point in time until the 1970s or 80s (with the recent growth spurt largely the result of hormones in the food supply). Life expectancy of course was still lower; they lacked modern medicine, but people were actually healthier and stronger and better back then, in ways that we don't admit.

That was right before the corporation and the original chartered monopolies were created, before central currency was created and local currencies were outlawed. When everything gets moved into the center, things began to change.

It seems like the Dark Ages were not perhaps so "dark?"

Yes, I think that's disinformation. I'm not usually a conspiracy theorist about these things, but I think the reason why we celebrate the Renaissance as a high point of western culture is really a marketing campaign. It was a way for Renaissance monarchs and nation-states, and the industrial age powers that followed, to recast the end of one of the most vibrant human civilizations we've had, as a dark, plague-ridden, horrible time.

Historically, the plague arrived after the invention of the chartered corporation, and after central currency was mandated. Central currency became law, and 40 years later you get the plague. People got that poor that quickly. They were no longer allowed to use the land. It shifted from an abundance model to a scarcity model; from an economy based on annual grain production to one based on gold released by the king.

That's a totally different way of understanding money. Land was no longer a thing the peasants could grow stuff on, land became an investment, land became an asset class for the wealthy. Once it became an asset class they started Partitioning and Enclosure, which meant people weren't allowed to grow stuff on it, so subsistence farming was no longer a viable lifestyle. If you can't do subsistence farming you must find a job, so then you go into the city and volunteer to do unskilled labor in a proto-factory for some guy who wants the least-skilled, cheapest labor possible. You move your whole family to where the work is, into the squalor, where conditions are overcrowded and impoverished -- the perfect breeding ground for plague and death!

3. There Is A God, And He's On All The Money

The money that the king was releasing, what was that based on? The other currency was based on grain, it's a direct relationship to how much grain there is, and as the grain degrades, the currency degrades . . .

The king's currency? It was actually not even gold: king's currency was based in the king's imprimatur. It was coin of the realm because his face was stamped on it.

That's kind of abstract.

It is. And because people don't believe in that abstraction, because they're used to grain receipts being based in something real, precious metal was required for the king's currency -- silver, gold; they had to use something that was considered valuable so people would believe!

Fast-forward to the 1970s. After four or five centuries of people believing it, Nixon realized that people now DO believe, so the currency can be taken off the central metal and just be based on belief. That's when they started putting "In God We Trust" on paper money, when it was taken off the gold standard!

That hadn't always been on there?

No, it was on coins, but it wasn't on bills. Because finally, belief is all that's left.

4. Let's All Be Independent Together

How does idea of the individual fit into these other developments?

Corporatism, with its promotion of competition between individuals over scarce resources and money, laid the ground for individualism and for a heightened concept of the self. I'm a media ecologist, I look at media and society as an ecology in which changes in one area reflect changes in another. The notion of the individual was invented, re-invented, in the Renaissance. This is part of why it was a re-naissance, a re-birth of old ideas, the rebirth of Greek ideals. The the Greek notion of the individual, which was always "the individual in relationship to the state," the citizen, was recast as "the individual."

The first individual in Renaissance literature was Dr. Faustus, who represented the extreme limits of greed. This was the new man, not a citizen of the city-state but an individual who has his own perspective on the world. We get perspective painting in the Renaissance, which meant the individual was a self-sufficient being whose point of view is important; we get reading in the Renaissance, which meant that a man can sit alone in his study and have his own relationship to the Bible, instead of gathering in the town square or the church, having the Bible read to him by a priest, as part of a congregation. So on the one hand it was this beautiful celebration of individual consciousness and perspective, but on the other it was all in the context of a new economy, one in which individuals were in competition against one another for scarce jobs, scarce resources, scarce land, and scarce money.

Everyone is going to ask, but what about the artists? So: what about the artists?

Historians say that one of the great things about the Renaissance were the patrons who could patronize a great artist. But before the Renaissance you didn't need a "patron" in order to be an artist! You could actually live in a town and do some stuff and be a great artist. The Renaissance model of commerce and arts was not a pre-existing condition of the universe. Yes, the Vatican could commission some basilica to be painted, but . . . I'd be interested to see what Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo would have been like had they not been part of a centralized bureaucracy, but instead been independent little homespun artist guys. They might have been better artists, you never know.

So now we have individuals and corporations as we know them.

The king's currency, centralized currency, is monopoly currency; demurrage currencies were declared illegal by the king. Why? First, centralized currency is easier to tax. Second, the king could remove gold from the currency whenever he wanted, he could basically suck the value out of it at will. And finally, because this is a currency based in scarcity, everyone has to compete for it. It's a way to help people who have money be powerful just for having money -- not because of what they can spend, but because of what they can hold.

So money becomes a resource.

It becomes a resource in itself. Actually it's a resource once-removed, literally a derivative, the first derivative. Centralizing turns money from a representation of something real into a derivative asset class. We live in this derivatives-based economy today, it has trickled down to us in the form of central banking. Now most people believe that the way to fuel an economy is for a bank to inject money, and the way to start a business is by borrowing from the bank. The way that money comes into existence is it is literally lent into existence. But for every dollar that is lent into existence, for every dollar you earn, there's a negative on the balance sheet somewhere.

So there's debt right at the beginning?

It IS debt, the money we have IS debt. Here's how it works. You start a business by borrowing $100K from the bank. This means that you're going to have to pay back say, $200K or $300K to the bank in 10 years when your loan is up. Where does the other $200K come from? It comes from someone else who's borrowed $100K from the bank! And where are they going to get that? Either they go bankrupt, because they can't pay it back, or they borrow another $200K from the bank. And then that has to be paid back, plus interest. So now they've borrowed $300K total and might have $900K to pay back.

The money supply has to grow as a function of interest. The rate at which we do business and make profit is actually driven and determined by the debt structure of the company rather than supply and demand. This is what Adam Smith was actually talking about. Adam Smith was NOT a free market libertarian, he was not a corporate industrialist the way the Economist or the Wall Street Journal likes to paint him. Smith said that economies only work in scale, they only work locally. He was living in a world where everyone was a farmer, and he hated corporations as much as he hated central government, because he knew that an interest-based economy does not ultimately work. And that is because debt is not actually a product! There's nothing there. Nothing. Yet that's what it was made for. The debt-based economy was invented so that people with money could get richer by having money, that's what it's FOR. I'm not saying it's evil, it was an idea. But, it doesn't actually work. If the number of people who want to make money by having money gets so big that there are more people existing that way than actually producing anything, eventually the economy will collapse.

It sounds like a big Ponzi scheme.

It IS a Ponzi scheme! None of the companies we're looking at as companies are what they are, they're all just the names on debt. GM is a name on debt, Sony's a name on debt.

The New York Times . . .

. . . is a name on debt. They're all publically-listed, traded companies with these P/E ratios; there are the issued shares, and then there's the actual business: those two things aren't the same. The shares are actually more a drag on the system than they are an investment in the company. There's all this debt to pay back.

5. Corporations R Us

Debt has an emotional component as well, in the sense of, you're going to owe me, and you're going to owe me forever. So, better get busy!

Slowly over time, as corporations attempted to extract more and more value from people, both as workers and as consumers and ultimately as shareholders and investors in our own 401k plans, we all basically outsourced our lives. I outsource my job to a company. I outsource my consumption to a company, I go to Wal-Mart, I go to Costco. I outsource my investing and savings to companies, I give it to Citibank, instead of the local banker or my credit union or my restaurant or my children or my cathedral. All of our interactions have been mediated by corporations -- you don't work for me and I don't work for you.

Let's talk about different kinds of value. Right now we have money, we measure everything by the little green metric. But there are other kinds, we all know that, there are personal relationships, there are other ways of measuring value . . .

We have different ways of experiencing value, but it's really hard to measure those. I feel that in the current environment, what people could or should be valuing makes them nervous, makes them anxious.

What kind of stuff?

Sitting with a friend . . . OK, I'll sit with a friend as long as I have my Paxil or something, because it's almost like we've been acculturated to be desocialized.

We have been!

I can spend time with you because we're doing work, right?

Right, it's productive.

Productive -- and we can measure it on the tape! Is it still turning? [yes]

You're saying money is not value-neutral.

Not only is money not value-neutral, but our money is not money-neutral. Our currency is not the only money. There are other kinds of money, just like there are different kinds of media out there, and they all encourage different behaviors. Computers encourage certain kinds of behavior, television encourages certain kinds of behavior. A gold-based money encourages certain kinds of behavior, a centralized currency encourages certain kinds of behavior, and a demurrage local grain-based currency encourages certain other kinds of behavior. The kind of behavior that our money encourages, intentionally, by design, is: hoarding. This is currency that earns interest over time so you want to hoard it and not spend it. And that's OK if you need that tool.

But maybe that shouldn't be the only thing in the toolbox.

It's like we only have a hammer and it's really hard to put in screws. Centralized currency is really, really good for competition, it's really, really good for big companies. Wal-Mart and Citibank can get money more cheaply; the bigger you are, the closer you are to the storehouse. And the big guys don't want local currencies, they don't want bottom-up value creation, work-based money, money that is worked into existence instead of borrowed into existence, because that reduces their monopoly over the means of exchange.

The problem with defining ourselves by our jobs or socialism or by economic class is that we're not just our economics, we're not just our money.

Right, I create value, but the value I create for my community is not just say, as a baker. It's not just as a tailor. It's also as the guy who brings those funny jokes to the party, the guy who has that beautiful daughter . . .

And it's not just ONE thing and it's not measurable in just one way.

6. Home Sweet Home Depot

From the 1920s to the 1970s an iconography was developed that turned corporations into our heroes. Instead of me buying stuff from people I know, I actually trust the Quaker Oat Man more than you. This is the result of public relations campaigns, and the development of public relations as a profession.

Did the rise of PR just happen, or did they have to do that in order to prevent things from getting out of control?

They had to do that in order to prevent things from getting out of control. The significant points in the development of public relations were all at crisis moments. For example, labor movements; it's not just that labor was revolting but that people were seeing that labor was revolting. There was a need to re-fashion the stories so that people would think that labor activists were bad scary people, so that people would think they should move to the suburbs and insulate themselves from these throngs of laborers, from "the masses." Or to return to the Quaker Oats example, people used to look at long-distance-shipped factory products with distrust. Here's a plain brown box, it's being shipped from far away, why am I supposed to buy this instead of something from a person I've known all my life? A mass media is necessary to make you distrust your neighbor and transfer your trust to an abstract entity, the corporation, and believe it will usher in a better tomorrow and all that.

It got the most crafty after WWII when all the soldiers were coming home. FDR was in cahoots with the PR people. Traumatized vets were coming back from WWII, and everyone knew these guys were freaked out and fucked up. We had enough psychology and psychiatry by then to know that these guys were badly off, they knew how to use weapons, and -- this was bad! If the vets came back into the same labor movement that they left before WWII, it would have been all over. So the idea was that we should provide houses for these guys, make them feel good, and we get the creation of Levittown and other carefully planned developments designed with psychologists and social scientists. Let's put these vets in a house, let's celebrate the nuclear family.

So home becomes a thing, rather than a series of relationships?

The definition of home as people use the word now means "my house," rather than what it had been previously, which was "where I'm from.'" My home's New York, what's your home?

Right, your town.

Where are you from? Not that "structure." But they had to redefine home, and they used a lot of government money to do it. They created houses in neighborhoods specifically designed to isolate people from one another, and prevent men in particular from congregating and organizing -- there are no social halls, no beer halls in these developments. They wanted men to be busy with their front lawns, with three fruit trees in every garden, with home fix-it-up projects; for the women, the kitchen will be in the back where they can see the kids playing in the back yard.

So you don't see the neighbors going by. No front porch.

Everything's got to be individual, this was all planned! Any man that has a mortgage to pay is not going to be a revolutionary. With that amount to pay back, he's got a stake in the system. True, he's on the short end of the stick of the interest economy, but in 30 years he could own his own home.

7. Freedom Isn't Free

Let's talk about technology. In terms of administering a shared goods-and-services system, the internet might be a good match. But it also seems that the internet, and machines and technology in general, can stand in place of actual relationships, and can be a stumbling block. How do you negotiate between those ideas?

The word that describes digital for me is discrete. For example, take sounds. With an actual sound, no matter how hard we zoom in, it's still a real thing. There's still more fidelity, more information to be found. If I scan or sample it, I've now translated that sound in the real world into a number. Something that was an event, in nature, in the world, is now a number. It's a derivative of reality. That number encapsulates as many metrics and as much information about the sound as I'm capable of including, and I can then make copies of the number and manipulate them. So there's greater choice in that way. But the only things the number can reproduce about that sound are the things I've told it to reproduce.

It only knows what it's supposed to measure.

The reproduction process also involves a sampling rate, which necessarily leaves stuff out. Even if the sampling rate is so good, so super-mp3, that it's beyond my conscious hearing, there is still space between the samples. Just like a fluorescent light; there's space between the flashes.

Now the question is, for all intents and purposes, is it the same, or not? I would argue that for many intents and purposes, it is the same, but for ALL intents and purposes, it is NOT. It is a re-creation of a thing, and an approximation, and without even getting spiritual and talking about prana and chi and everything else, there IS a difference.

In high school when I needed to do a research project, I would go to the library to find a book. I couldn't help but see the 20 other books on the shelf nearby, I had to read 20 spines before I found mine. And in reading those 20 spines I would see stuff I wouldn't have found otherwise, and I might get ideas for my paper randomly -- not by predetermined choice! I would see them by virtue of the fact that some librarian who was alive before me made a decision, by virtue of legacies and input and real life messiness. Whereas when I'm in the digital realm and I know the book I want, I type it into Google, and it's there. And nothing else.

This discrete freedom of choice sounds like a very controlled environment. I wonder how much real freedom that is?

Right, what are my range of choices? And who's giving me that range? People are utterly unaware of that. So when I look at technology I say well great, people have the ability to write online, but they don't, most of them, have the ability to program. In other words we can enter our text into the little blog box, but we aren't thinking about the biases built into a daily blog structure, which are towards short, daily thoughts, not introspective . . .

Or look at online communities. I'm going to become friends with another person who owns a 2004 red Mini with a sunroof, like mine, rather than with my neighbor who happens to have a different car; I'm going to look for that perfect affinity. But that's not a real relationship, that's my digital relationship, which is discrete! Discrete communities end up groping towards conformity of behavior really quickly.

That's why it's a consumer paradise, because it really does celebrate the idea of increasingly granular affinity groups, increasingly granular product choices.

8. The Derivative Life, An (Un)Reality Show

An over-arching theme I found in the book is how the common-sense stuff of our reality, the economy and money and shopping and working, is really science fiction; we don't live inside a "natural" economic structure -- we made it up.

It gets very much like Baudrillard in a way. We lived in a real world where we created value, and understood the value that we created as individuals and groups for one another. Then we systematically disconnected from the real world: from ourselves, from one another, and from the value we create, and reconnected to an artificial landscape of derivative value of working for corporations and false gods and all that. It is in some sense Baudrillard's three steps of life in the simulacra.

So by now, as Borges would say, we've mistaken the map for the territory. We've mistaken our jobs for work. We've mistaken our bank accounts for savings. We've mistaken our 401k investments for our future. We've mistaken our property for assets, and our assets for the world. We have these places where we live, then they become property that we own, then they become mortgages that we owe, then they become mortgage-backed loans that our pensions finance, then they become packages of debt, and so on and so on. We've been living in a world where the further up the chain of abstraction you operate, the wealthier you are.

9. The Way Out

So since this is a system we created, we can create something else?

Right, that's what open-source was supposed to be about. I believe that every realm of human experience and design is ultimately open-source if we choose for it to be. That's why I got interested in religion and money, because those seemed to be the two areas that people would not accept an open-source premise. Religion -- of course it isn't, those are sacred truths! But I would argue that Judaism was actually intended as an open-source religion. I've written a book about that, called Nothing Sacred, which was and still is controversial. Because if the Torah is open for interpretation, if it's this beautiful, myriad, hypertextual, hyperdimensional document that it is, then the whole thing is up for grabs: what happens to the real estate, the Israeli state?

Money of course is the other big area, it's still the one thing they won't let you print.

You've seen the dual currency idea from the Middle Ages coming back in certain places?

We've seen it coming back for 10 or 20 years now in places like Ithaca, New York, and Portland, Oregon; little places with alternative communities and hippies and weirdos and Grateful Dead parking lots and things like that. They could try local currency because people were weird enough to go for it.

More recently, after the economic downturn in Japan, dual currencies started to take hold in the non-"alternative" community. Everyone had time, but no one had money. Everyone was willing to work, but there were no companies they could work for. And since the only way we know how to work is to outsource our employment to a company, things looked bad.

One of the main needs people had was getting health care to their grandparents and great-grandparents who lived in towns far away. No one could afford home health care for them -- people to bathe them, walk them around, give them their shots, their IVs, their bedpans. So if you can't afford the service what can you do? What they did was set up a non-local complementary currency system where you would volunteer a certain number of hours of work to take care of an old person where you lived. You would acquire credits, and then someone who lived near your grandparents would take care of them for the credits you paid. There was no money involved! The currency was literally worked into existence. Even after the economy improved and people got their health insurance back, old people preferred the health care workers who were coming from the real people rather than the ones that came from the companies.

Now it's starting to hit places in the US where things are especially bad -- Detroit, Lansing, Cleveland -- these are towns that have resources in people, land, old factories. They have time, they have energy, but they don't have money and they don't have any corporate interest. So what can they do? Make a local currency, start doing things for each other. I'll fix your car, and you do something for me.

And it's easy! When I talk to economists, or when I talk to bankers, they all say, "well that doesn't work, you need a bank to go in and invest in a community for it to happen." Actually -- you don't. You don't need the bank.

Promoting bank-lent businesses is basically saying that you don't believe in sustainable business models yet. Any business that started with the bank is not a sustainable business model, because it's already in the debt/interest track. This is where Obama is still confused. He should say, "Look, I realize the economic crisis is real, there are mortgages and loans and we're going to work on that. But the more important thing right now is, rather than spending $5 trillion of your great-grandchildren's money on these bankers that screwed up, let's see how can we spend a teeny bit of money and reeducate communities about real economic development and sustainability."

Source - Reality Sandwich