Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Organic Farming, Meat, and Mendocino County

Jan and I are thinking of moving to Seattle, at the request of Jan's son, my stepson Evan. On the other hand, he can't guarantee that he will stay in Seattle himself. I say this because it brings into question projects like and California Democracy. I seem to be accumulating a large number of questions, although they still swirl about some pretty bedrock answers.

Last night I attended a forum at the Garcia Grange in Manchester, California, a tiny coastal hamlet a few miles north of Point Arena. The forum was sponsored by some Mendocino County organic farming groups, but the panel consisted of the four candidates for fifth district Supervisor. I am not neutral. I am volunteering on Dan Hamburg's campaign committee. The question before the forum was how could more small scale, organic farming be economically successful in Mendocino County. Also, how could we keep the money generated by economic activity in our county. Money tends to get drained out of our economy by the bigger players, who send it back to corporate headquarters, where ever that may be.

We talked about the need to get a slaugherhouse started in the county, preferably in the 5th district. There used to be one. Now, if a farmer (organic or not) wants to slaughter an animal, they have to transport it long distances, or do the slaughter under the regulatory radar. All four candidates, and the entire audience as far as I could tell, agreed that a local slaughterhouse would be a good thing.

This contrasts with the recent argument I had within the Green Party (specifically, within the California delegation to the Green Party of the United States). California's Green Party platform recommends that people "consider a vegan lifestyle." Vegans, for those of you who have not run into these annoying creatures, reject the idea that life is part of a cycle with death. They refuse to eat any animal products, including products that did not kill the animals like eggs, cheese, and even honey. They also won't use animal products; no leather shoes or clothing, etc. Some members of my delegation wanted to take the phrase from the California platform and insert it in the U.S. national Green Party platform. They also want to ban all scientific study of animals.

I put up a fuss, other members of the delegation joined me, and the "vegan" motion was defeated (if passed by us, it would then be considered by the entire national committee). But then the platform committee people started submitting a whole huge stack of revisions (our platform is way out of date). Less and less discussion happened with each proposal; the general attitude was to pass the new planks on to the full national committee, where they can be amended or rejected. Amidst this deluge the vegan plank appeared again, and the exact same people who had rejected it before, now passed it. They were tired of arguing.

Which reminds me of quaint historical phenomena. The Democratic Party, for instance, started having a racial civil rights plank way back when, during the New Deal if not earlier. But it was a sham. The Democratic Party was very dependendent on the South (former Confederate states), where African Americans were not allowed to vote, and all white people voted Democrat, thus assuring that between 1932 and 1969 all the presidents of the United States were Democrats except Dwight Eisenhower. The racist Democrats did not mind the civil rights plank to much because they controlled Congress; there was no possibility that it would be put into effect. President Lyndon Johnson finally forced enough Democrats in Congress to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to change things. It is often said that he did not run in 1968 because of internal Democrat opposition to the Vietnam War. But that was only a secondary reason. The main reason was the alienation of the white racist vote in the South. That is why George Wallace did so well in 1968 (he was a Democrat who sometimes ran as an independent).

The Green Party platforms, both California and National, contain many portions I don't agree with, but mainly it is a question of gray areas. People who write platform planks tend to specialize in those issues, and push for what the rest of us may consider extremes. Just for instance, we have an anti-fluoride plank, which is like having an anti-vitamin plank as far as I am concerned. But Greens tend to love vitamin supplements and hate toxins, and see fluoride as a toxin, not a mineral supplement.

How do I tell the local organic farmers, who are in tune with nature, that a bunch of urban vegans want to shut down their milk, poultry, and meat operations? So far I have not. I'll just keep fighting over the party plank when I get a chance. What is really funny is watching the California Greens chow down at a state convention. They eat meat, and the vegans usually stage a guilt-trip protest. Your are right, we should be vegans, pass the ham, please.

So why am I still in the Green Party? I've thought a lot about changing my registration status to Decline-to-State (Californian for independent) lately. In general the Green Party is right about social justice and the environement. But the real thread holding me to the party is its opposition to war (on the other side, pushing me out, is its nonviolence plank, which I would like to amend to support people's right to self-defense). The Democratic Party wants peace, supposedly, but always delivers war. Voting Green sends a message that I want to dismantle the entire U.S. military apparatus. I really do.

I remind myself that the real, basic problem is human overpopulation. It is a global problem, it is certainly a California problem, and it is getting to be a Mendocino County problem.

We don't have enough water in Mendocino County for our current level of population and agricultural production. We take too much out of our streams, which has hurt the salmon. We really need to only grow foods that can survive mostly from the winter rains. We grow a lot of fine grapes here, but the vines are planted too close together. We need to tear out about 1/2 the grapes so that the vines will need very little supplemental watering beyond the winter rains.

And what we don't need is nuclear power. We don't need iPads. We don't need the Congressmen from Mississippi, Texas and New York telling us what to do. We don't even need the fools in Sacramento telling us what to do. Maybe San Francisco needs all that, maybe Lost Angeles needs all that, but we don't.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Apple Apps Black Turtleneck Policy

Steve Jobs has leaked that he is preparing to announce that all developers for the Apple App Store must wear approved black turtlenecks when "engaged in the process of development."

In a nod to the Open Source community, "for the time being," wearing jeans is not required.

Most App Store developers responded to the announced rumor positively. "I am kind of surprised that there are developers who don't wear black turtlenecks," said senior programmer Ilphred Linukson of iPhony, which makes Apps that allow iPhone users to know the exact geographic location of Steve Jobs at all times.

However, reactions were less positive when programmers learned that Apple is planning a line of RFID tagged black turtlenecks. "I'm just guessing" said well-known Applelogist Sirius Wormhole, "but to enforce the rule requires either video surveillance or some kind of key device like the RFID tag."

There are also rumors circulating in Cupertino that Apple is negotiating to buy "a small DNA sequencing and electroporation startup." This might be intended to improve both programming skills and sense of style by genetically modifying Apple employees.

Apple employees contacted were giddy at the rumor. "I'd love to be more like Steve," was a typical comment.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Adolf Hitler, Peace Maker?

I like bizarre bits of true history, bits that don't fit into how we normally look at historical figures and institutions.

You have to be careful about saying anything nice about Adolf Hitler, mostly because he did not do very much that was nice, and partly because you get attacked as being a simpathiser even if you are just trying to clarify the historical record so people can be objective about history. While I have made it clear in many other essays that I hate Fascism, some one reading this one essay in isolation might miss that point.

I found this historical detail in John Toland's The Rising Sun, volume 1, page 65. In December, 1937, after Japanese troops captured Nanking (see Battle of Nanking), the Japanese government really, really wanted peace with China, which is to say with its leading war-lord, Chiang Kai-shek. They had already made peace with a number of war lords in northern China, and had no intention of making peace with the other claimant to Chinese governance, the Communist Party of China, which back then was actually holding elections in the areas it controlled.

In 1937 Adolf Hitler was busy in Europe trying to unite all German-speaking people into a consolidated German state; he had threatened war but not conducted it. But, for all his racism, Adolf Hitler had friendly relationships with both Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese government headed by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye (or Konoe, according to Wikipedia). In Chiang Kai-shek's case, the German military had been training and advising Chinese troops for decades, and a little war with Japan was a good chance to test weapons and tactics. In Japan's case, both nations were very anti-communist and afraid of Russia (then the U.S.S.R.), and had joined together in the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Had Hitler succeeded, he might have won a Nobel Prize. And having won a Nobel Prize, maybe he would have thought twice before using military force to take back the areas of Poland that had been taken from Germany at the end of World War I.

But probably not. Giving the Peace Prize to Obama did not stop him from escalating the U.S. wars of aggression in Afghanistan or Somalia. Barack Obama, I am pretty sure, likes to think about himself as a peace-loving guy. It is just that like the Japanese leaders of the 1930's, he just wants peace his way. Who doesn't?

Why did Hitler not bring peace to East Asia in 1937? Franklin D. Roosevelt decided it was not in the interest of the United States, and encouraged Chiang Kai-shek to keep fighting. During the relatively pacifist Republican administrations of the 1920's (Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover) the United States had partially disarmed, and during the Depression the military was further weakened by the need to shift the federal budget to New Deal welfare programs. Roosevelt was keen to make Japan and China both part of the U.S. commercial empire; the more they fought, the easier it would be for the U.S. to knock them both over when it became convenient. The more trouble Chiang was in, the more dependent he would be on the U.S.

Hitler did not seek peace because he was a good guy. He wanted the Japanese and Chinese to stop bickering so they could both fight his own arch enemy, the Soviet Union (and Chinese communists). Whether Roosevelt's intentions were good or bad can be debated, but his decision to push China to continue the war meant that China would be torn by war until the victory of the Chinese Communist regime in 1950. Given how demolished China was by 1950, it is remarkable that this year its economy will become the second largest in the world.

In effect in December 1937 Chiang was weak, and had to decide whether he would be a U.S. puppet or a Japanese puppet (a third realistic choice was becoming a Soviet puppet). Being the U.S. puppet, all he got in the end was Taiwan.

Theodore Roosevelt got a Nobel Peace Prize for helping the Japanese and Russians negotiate and end to their war in 1904. Given Roosevelt's belicosity and role in the Spanish American War and the Philippines genocide, apparently there is no barier to highly aggressive past and future war criminals receiving the prize.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Karzai, Obama, and Opium

Lately I keep reading the history of opium from different sources. A lot of this has to do with the Opium Wars (18th century, Britain v. China, with America supporting and benefitting from Britain's victory) which comes up in research for my work-in-progress, The U.S. War Against Asia. This morning, in prepping for the day, I was reading the section on opium in A History of Hong Kong by Frank Welsh. Opium is the world oldest historically known medicine; it actually works (unlike some marginally effective products peddled by pharmaceutical corporations); it and its effective derivatives are illegal without a prescription in the U.S.; prescriptions are hard to come by, as doctors are closely monitored by regulatory agencies.

Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, apparently threatened to join the Taliban. He said it in private, apparently, but surprise, the news leaked out. This sent the Obama administration, and its nut-cracking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, into a panick. On the one hand they think Karzai is just trying to get a better deal from the U.S. On the other hand it is bad for U.S. propaganda, and giving him a better deal would mean having less control over a puppet they want more control over, not less.

I think Hamid Karzai is smarter than you think. He knows that the U.S. has a long history of assassinating or otherwise replacing puppets who seek too much autonomy (see history of Vietnam). He knows he can, with luck, dodge Taliban assassins, or CIA assassins, but almost certainly not both at the same time.

So there is only one reason Karzai would be thinking of joining the Taliban: he knows they are winning the war.

The fact that the Taliban is winning the war is quite remarkable. It is not due to their expertise on the battlefield. According to numerous sources, most of the Taliban can't hit a target at any appreciable distance. Most of them need, but don't own, corrective lenses, a result of the poverty and backwardness of the nation. Using their most commonly available weapon, the Kalashnikov automatic rifle (AK-47), they are unable to precisely line up the two sighting marks with their targets, which requires being able to focus at three distinct distances at once. Kalashnikovs were designed to be reliable, but in achieving that goal they have a lot of play in them. They were designed to spray bullets at close range, not hit targets hundreds of yards away.

So why are the Taliban winning the war? Because the U.S. and its scuzbag allies are foreign invaders! No one likes them, really, not even Karzai and his clan. If the Taliban had folded early on, then Karzai would be just another third world despot hated by his own people. Instead, he is a third world despot shot at by his own people.

The U.S. military used to worry that someone would equip the Taliban with weapons like surface-to-air missiles that would blunt U.S. air power and thus make U.S. ground gunmen far less effective. Apparently now they have to seal the border to prevent eye glasses from getting through. Expect Obama and the Gang to announce soon that Iran is building secret underground factories to manufacture enough glasses for the Taliban to shoot straight. International sanctions will be needed.

Back when Barack Obama was just another sleezy politician lying to people to try to get elected President, I wrote (See Barack Obama: Will He Dick Nixon Us?, July 8, 2008): "The most likely scenario at this point is that Barack Obama will become President. I am capable of hope; I hope he is a good President. But I won't be surprised if he just muddles through like most of our past Presidents. I won't even be surprised if he expands the war and is a failure on domestic issues."

Obama expanded the war, not only in Afghanistan but to Somalia; it has been a mixed bag on domestic issues. The Republicans of course, and the Tea Party folk (many of whom are not to keen on the Republican Party), are Obama's Taliban. Obama loves power as much as any American politician. If he thinks the Tea Party movement is going to sweep the field, don't be surprised if he has a secret meeting with his most trusted advisors and says, "Maybe I should join this Tea Party thing and become its leader." And don't be surprised if word leaks out.

As to opium, we should make it legal to grow opium poppies in the U.S., and make opium (but not morphine or other strong derivatives) an over-the-counter, legal product. That would do more to cut U.S. medical bills than any Obamaesque top-down bureaucratic scheme. The world's oldest effective medicine should not need a prescription.

Monday, April 5, 2010

On Good Works

In the arguments between Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians there are a number of big issues. One is whether the Pope, or whoever happens to be Bishop of Rome, was ever meant by Jesus Christ to be the dictator of the Christian faithful [see Was Peter the First Pope?]. Another is whether during the ritual of Communion the bread and wine are simply symbols, or are actually tranformed into the body and blood of Christ. Today, this year's Easter Sunday, I want to take on the Faith v. Works issue. Protestants, starting with Martin Luther, hold that man can enter Heaven by Faith alone. Catholics hold that people must have faith, but must also perform good works to go to heaven.

The controversy is a good example of people overreacting to a historical situation, and then setting their beliefs in cement. Martin Luther was not the first Protestant (or heretic, if you take the Catholic view); he was the first to live to tell about it. He did not like the Roman Catholic version of good works, which insisted that they consisted of cash payments to the Church. This took a variety of forms, including selling indulgences [see also Catholic defense of indulgences] but the money for all this seldom went to charity. Rather it supported the rather lavish life styles of bishops, cardinals, and the Pope.

Luther reacted by saying that Faith alone determined whether people were in God's grace and got into heaven. On the one hand this was an act of self-denial, for Luther was (or had been) a beneficiary of the heaven-for-sale system.

But Luther had misidentified the problem. The problem was not good works; the problem was the substitution of a system of extortion for a system of good works. And not only did Luther and his Lutherans fail to correct this initial reaction, it became worse with John Calvin and his followers. Protestant sects in the 1500's (most of them) adopted, as a theological position, that people with money had no obligation to give to charity. This, of course, appealed to certain people with money. It was the basis of the Protestant work ethic: work or starve, for there will be no charity for the unfortunate. In the most extreme Calvinist interpretation a man could behave rather badly and still get into heaven solely because he held the correct faith.

While the Catholic Church did little in the way of reforming its theology, during its internal reformation in the 1500's, in response to Protestant criticism, the Church did make an effort to do more genuine charitable work, and has continued supporting its charitable arms to this day. In the United States, Catholic Charities is a big organization.

Many modern Protestant churches have their own interpretation of the good works issue: good works may not be necessary to get into heaven, but they are a basic part of being good humans.

Islam, more than any other religion I know of, emphasizes the donation of money to charity by its wealthier members. This is one reason it is so popular in poorer communities around the world.

For those of us who know there is no heaven and no hell, the question is how we should act here in everyday reality. Most of us see a value in charity. Sometimes it is rationalized in social terms: feed the hungry, and they don't need to steal food. Modern economies have shown us that economic tragedy can happen to almost anyone. Feeding economic unfortunates creates a culture where, if you become unfortunate yourself, you can depend on others to feed you. But most of all, it just feels good to help other people. It makes you feel competent and useful. It is a basic human function; to not be charitable is to not be fully human.

I have met vitriolic American "Christians" who believe that they should not give to charity. The idea that God and Jesus Christ actually prohibit Christians from doing good works is bizarre and must reflect an underlying social or mental pathology.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fundamentalist Christians Endorse One Son Policy

[Antioch, Ohio] The Congregation of Christian Fundamentalists, a global organization whose membership includes many Christian sects that believe that the Bible should be interpreted as literally true on a word-by-word basis, today recommended that Christian families imitate God by having only one child per family, a son.

"We take the literal word of the Bible literally," said Reverend Thudpucker, spokesman for the Congregation. "We do expect a degree of controversy because few Christian Churches have been literalists on this point. It will be up to each individual denomination to ratify this finding."

"God had only one Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said to follow him, and he clearly put an emphasis on ministry, not on family life or procreation. God had no female children. However, he did need the Mary, Jesus's mother, to participate biologically in the creation of Jesus, who thereby was both Man and God and a fit sacrifice to redeem the sins of Mankind. Women have a role in creating the one son per Christian family that we are recommending."

Thudpucker refused to comment on the current controversy about Pope Benedict XVI. "The Catholic Church is none of our business. The Pope and his predecessors just bend and shape the words of the Bible like it's wax, and they have ended up worshipping an Idol of their own making."

Asked about the Biblical admonition to "Go forth and multiply," Thudpucker said: "It says to go forth and muliply until the earth is filled. Which it pretty much is. The example of Christ our Lord was to have no children at all. But Christ is God, so he really did have a Son, himself. So Jesus Christ had one son. It is all there in black in white in English in the Bible. You reporters should try studying that."