John Browne’s Resurrection and Climate Change

Ever heard of Lord John Browne, Baron Browne of Madringly?

In May, 2007, Lord Browne abruptly resigned as CEO of the oil company BP, after he was outed by a tabloid newspaper. With tales of a greedy lover juicing up the media, he decided to throw in the towel. It cost him $30 million in stock options and retirement benefits.

Up to that point, John Browne had been a company man, a lifer, who joined BP in 1966 as an apprentice and worked his way to the top. He was there when British Petroleum became BP, and turned the company into the fourth largest corporation in the world. He stayed out of the limelight, partly to hide the fact that he was gay.

Although professionally respected, Browne was privately the butt of jokes and speculation. He was small in stature, and employees who didn’t like him nicknamed him “elf,” short for evil little f_____.

He was also ridiculed by peers — for embracing climate change.

“Climate change is an issue which raises fundamental questions about the relationship between companies and society as a whole, and between one generation and the next.” John Browne, 2002.

At a time when other executives called global warming a hoax, he rebranded BP as “Beyond Petroleum,” supported the Kyoto climate treaty, vowed to cut BP’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10%, and invested $500 million in solar power.

11340466246_4576c4faaa_k

Lord John Browne, behind the podium to the right of Tony Blair, 2006 Climate Change conference organized by The Climate Group, hosted by BP. Photo Credit: The Climate Group, courtesy of Flickr.com


Environmentalists were skeptical, saying BP’s green makeover was a cover for an unflattering environmental track record. The $500 million dedicated to solar power, for instance, was dwarfed by the $8.4 billion spent in 2004 for oil exploration and production. The company joined those who lobbied hard to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
Grizzy bear, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Judith Slein, courtesy of Flickr.com

Grizzy bear, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Judith Slein, courtesy of Flickr.com

Instead of pretending to go green, said others, Browne should have been paying more attention to maintenance.

Above, 2005 explosion at a BP Texas refinery, killing 15 and injuring 170. Also under Browne’s watch: 2006 pipeline failure Prudhoe Bay, which spilled millions of gallons of oil.

BP’s stock value sank. John Browne was exposed, and eased out.

Oil executives were by then acknowledging that the cheap and easy oil was gone, but they weren’t interested in wind and solar. The consensus was that demand would rise ad infinitum, and that the smartest thing to do was invest heavily in the oil that is difficult, dangerous and dirty to extract. Browne’s successor at BP, Tony Hayward, doubled down on fracking, tar sands extraction and deep water drilling.

“Some may question whether so much of the [energy] growth needs to come from fossil fuels, … but here it is vital that we face up to the harsh reality …  we still foresee 80% of energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030.” Tony Hayward at MIT, 2009.
4773815181_6732bf673f_b

Deep Water Horizon oil spill. Photo credit: DVIDSHUB, via Flickr.com. After the 2010 Deep Water Horizon spill, BP was banned from bidding on new leases in the Gulf of Mexico for four years.

Meanwhile, John Browne moved on with the same vigor he’d demonstrated at BP. He encouraged gay entrepreneurs and published a book, The Glass Closet. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, installed as President of the Royal Academy of Engineering. He kept his hand in the oil business too.

Cuadrilla protestors

T.V. coverage of protests over fracking by Cuadrilla Resources, of which Browne is Chairman. Photo credit: Gwydion M. Williams, courtesy of Flickr.com

Fast forward to 2015.

The bet on dirty oil was wildly successful. World oil production rose from 85.1 million barrels per day in 2005 to 92.9 million in 2014, and profits were, for awhile, staggering.

But — surprise. Prices today are half what they were a year ago, and may not rise again anytime soon. Energy Information Administration (E.I.A.) predicts “slower demand will continue for the next decade.” One of the reasons? People everywhere are waking up to the threat posed by climate change.

Oil companies have laid off workers. Shell dropped plans for a petrochemical plant in Qatar. Chevron set aside a proposal to to drill in the Arctic seas. Norway’s Statoil changed its mind about drilling in Greenland.

Of course, this could all change if prices climb again. Still, we have a pause, a breather in the mad dash for oil.

And Lord Browne? Whether or not he was serious in 1999, he’s still sounding the alarm about global warming. Climate science is settled, he recently declared, but “this conclusion is not accepted by many in our industry, because they do not want to acknowledge an existential threat to their business.”

resource extraction

“Resource extraction” in Texas. Photo Source: Amy Youngs, courtesy of Flickr.com

The battles continue. Old school oil executives vilify Browne, as do environmentalists, but my, how things have changed.

Eight years ago, one of the most powerful executives on the planet was trying to hide his sexual orientation, and climate change was mostly relegated to the back section of the papers. Now executives, congressmen and sports stars are proudly coming out; and climate change has moved from the back to the front pages. The world oil market is flooded, partly because — who would have guessed? — demand has slowed.

Is John Browne courageous or opportunistic? Does it matter? More important: Are we finally ready to begin the painful process of weaning ourselves from oil?

Farm versus Factory: Battles for open space

Where are the fights over land use in your part of the world?

IMG_1762

Seavey Loop farmland. In the fog: a proposed addition to the city of Springfield, Oregon’s, growth boundary. Agricultural land would be rezoned as industrial.

Cities are required by law to incorporate enough land to accommodate future growth. In accordance with the law, the next town over from mine is proposing expanding its boundary. The proposal swallows up farmland in several regions.

c7d1687ab230c0ceab6f3d2d82dd0893

One of the businesses looking to expand if Seavey Loop property is rezoned. Photo source: No Industrial Pisgah

It has set off a firestorm of criticism, particularly in one area with several small farms, that borders an arboretum visited by about 500,000 people a year.

209d6a457d7bd8da4eae11e40ce01e56

Photo source: No Industrial Pisgah

City officials say that the arboretum, waterways and most farmland will be protected. Farmers, hikers and residents cry foul.

Fights like these are going on everywhere.

“We are like people living in the penthouse of a hundred-story building. Every day we go downstairs and at random knock out 150 bricks to take upstairs to increase the size of our penthouse. Since the building below consists of millions of bricks, this seems harmless enough … Eventually — inevitably — the streams of vacancy we have created in the fabric of the walls below will come together to produce a complete structural collapse.

When this happens — if it is allowed to happen — we will join the general collapse, and our lofty position at the top of the structure will not save us.”  Daniel Quinn, “The Danger of Human Exceptionalism”

With economic growth a priority and population growth on a steady upward trajectory, it’s inevitable that we’ll chip away at forests and farmland.

file0001656339207

Still, many are willing to question, and push back.

Proposed-UGB-expansion-UPDATED

Proposed expansion area marked in red. Photo Source: Friends of Buford Park

As discouraging as it may seem, small-scale fights like these help everyone think about and remember how important open space, clean water and the survival of other species is.

IMG_1769

Farm land, industrial land, from Mt. Pisgah arboretum.

Have you been involved in land use planning? Have you worked to save open space, or to change zoning for or against industrial use?

Nature, Nurture, Free Will and Edward O. Wilson

What is free will, and do we have it?

In February, 1978, members of the International Committee Against Racism interrupted a talk by biologist and Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson. They ran on stage, yelling “Racist Wilson you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” and threw water at him.

IMG_1706

E. O. Wilson (Painting — National Portrait Gallery)

Wilson is a naturalist and an entomologist, specializing in ants (technically a myrmecologist — considered the world’s leading expert). In 1975,  he published a book called Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. In it, he showed how natural selection influences not only the physical form of animal’s bodies, but also their behavior. No problems there.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the last chapter, however, he proposed that natural selection also shaped human behavior. He predicted that a new science, “sociobiology,” would connect physical sciences and social sciences, to help us finally understand ourselves. He was critical of some of his Harvard colleagues, including John Rawls, a revered philosopher, whose 600-page A Theory of Justice had sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

“We … look in vain at current academic philosophy for the answer to the great question, the great riddle. … Professional, secular philosophy long ago gave up trying to answer the overall question, what is the meaning of life? Most of the history of philosophy is strewn with the wreckage of theories of the conscious mind. [W]hat science promises, and has already supplied in part is that there is a real creation story of humanity, and it is not a myth. It is being worked out, and tested and strengthened, step by step.” April, 2012, lecture by Wilson, “The Social Conquest of Earth.”

Critics shot right back that Wilson didn’t know what he was talking about. His ideas flew in the face of much of what we thought about reason. It stank of the kind of thinking that brought us forced sterilization, concentration camps and other horrors (hence the protestors at Wilson’s speech). If our biology determines our actions, wasn’t that the same as saying that we do not have free will?

Wilson wasn’t, and isn’t, a proponent of eugenics, a mass murderer or a racist. He has written dozens of books and essays on human behavior, philosophy, natural science, and is a Pulitzer Prize winner. His work and theories deal with, as he readily admits, unsettled questions, and he also admits he might be wrong.

His theories are hotly debated to this day by writers, psychologists, geneticists, philosophers like Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins.

415684328_d659b2085e_o

E.O. Wilson and Bill Clinton, 2007. Photo Source: Class V on Flickr

His big idea, however, that science will help us understand ourselves — has held up. Every, day neurobiologists, geneticists and social psychologists learn more about how brains work, changing our perception of why we behave the way we do.

Even more important is Wilson’s certainty that understanding the biology of behavior will help us finally see how we depend on the physical world, on our environment. This, in turn, will help us reverse our part in the destruction of ecosystems all over the globe.

Unknown

But — do we have free will? The protestors at Wilson’s 1978 lecture probably felt that standing up for their beliefs was an exercise of free will. Probably the millions of protestors who marched in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack did too. But was it?

My reactions to the protestors holding up “Not Afraid” signs? Pride, inspiration, fervor, indignation — emotions. Here was something black and white, the murder of innocents, defense of free speech. YEAH!

16228420881_81410ca24f_k

Photo source: Gwenael Piaser on Flickr

I’ve since learned that the French leaders who marched in those protests aren’t exactly proponents of free speech. My response changed to — what was I thinking?

That’s the thing. I wasn’t. My gut feelings hijacked my thoughts. But does that mean my thoughts are always dictated by emotions?

Reading Wilson’s work, and criticism of it, makes it clear that the question of free will is more complicated than most of us lay people can comprehend. There may not be a yes or no answer.

“[T]he … rules of moral reasoning will probably not prove to be aggregated into simple instincts such as bonding, cooperativeness, and altruism. Instead the rules will most probably turn out to be an ensemble of many algorithms, whose interlocking activities guide the mind across a landscape of nuanced moods and choices.” (Atlantic Magazine, 1998, “The Biological Basis of Morality”)

But there is big lesson from Wilson, and his water-throwing detractors: we live in a time when we are going to have to hear a lot of difficult truths about ourselves, and make big changes we don’t want to make. We will have to fight the impulse to shut down the voices of people we don’t want to listen to. Whether that’s a decision we make of our own free will, or because we simply feel it’s right, doesn’t really matter.

“Science faces in ethics and religion its most interesting and possibly most humbling challenge. … Blind faith, no matter how passionately expressed, will not suffice. Science, for its part, will test relentlessly every assumption about the human condition and in time uncover the bedrock of moral and religious sentiments. … The eventual result … will be the secularization of the human epic and of religion itself. However the process plays out, it demands open discussion and unwavering intellectual rigor in an atmosphere of mutual respect.” April 1998, The Biological Basis of Morality.

Are you an E.O Wilson fan? What do you think about free will?

Further reading:
Consilience, E.O. Wilson
The Social Conquest of Earth, E.O. Wilson
“Some potential contributions of sociobiology to moral psychology and moral education” 

Keystone Pipeline: Sound off Sunday

Your chance to sound off about a hot button issue.

What do you think about the Keystone Pipeline? Why has it become such a lightning rod?

Do these facts change your opinion?

Keystone XL:

Keystone is a multi-phased project. Several sections have already been built and are in use. The Keystone XL pipeline that is under consideration and the subject of controversy is the last of four phases.

Oil extracted from the tar sands/oil sands in Alberta, Canada is called bitumen. At 57 degrees fahrenheit it is as hard as a hockey puck. It must be warmed or diluted before it can be piped. Extraction is energy intensive.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline crosses an international border. Approval depends on a finding by President Obama’s administration that construction will be in the national interest. Proponents say it will help the economy and lessen dependence on oil from hostile suppliers. Opponents say it will worsen global warming, and that spills will cause environmental damage.

220px-Athabasca_Oil_Sands_map

Image Source: Wikipedia

Existing pipelines: Three segments of the pipeline are already in use: (1) Hardisty, Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska and Pakota, Illinois. (2) Steele City to Cushing, Oklahoma, and (3) Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas. The controversial route more or less duplicates the Hardisty to Steele City route, but is shorter (see green line on map, runs through Baker, Montana).

Keystone-pipeline-route

Image Source: Wikipedia

Several additional pipeline routes to carry oil across Canada are being planned; and, a pipe parallel to an existing line from Hardisty to Wisconsin, has been proposed.

Spills: Over the last ten years, 4.1 million gallons of petroleum and hazardous liquids have been spilled each year in pipeline accidents, causing an average of two deaths per year. Property damage: $263 million annually. The Keystone Phase 1 pipeline, which opened in 2009, has had 12 reported leaks. In 2010, over a million gallons of Canadian diluted bitumen spilled from a pipeline into the Kalamazoo River. As of Aug. 2013, Enbridge Corporation, the company that built and maintains the pipeline, had spent more than $1 billion to repair and mitigate the damage. Cleanup is still underway.

Train transport: The number of train shipments of bitumen-derived oil has increased exponentially in recent years. Transporting by train is more dangerous than by pipeline.

Train accidents involving oil transport in 2013:

  • July, Lac Megantic, Quebec: Oil train derailed and seventy two tanker cars exploded and burned. Forty seven people died. Forty downtown buildings were destroyed. Cleanup estimate: at least $200 million.

    massive-explosion-rocks-quebec-town-after-train-carrying-crude-oil-derails

    Lac Megantic, Quebec Image source: CTV

  • Oct., Gainford, Alberta: Four rail cars carrying crude oil and nine carrying liquified petroleum gas derailed in Alberta. The fire burned for days.
  • Nov., Aliceville, Alabama: Crude-oil tanker train derailed and burned. Released up to 750,000 gallons of oil.
  • Dec., Casselton, North Dakota: 20 cars in a train carrying crude oil ignited after colliding with a derailed grain train near Casselton, N.D., sending up a fireball and spilling an estimated to 476,000 gallons of oil.

Environmental impact of bitumen vs. ordinary oil: From shale to tail pipe, bitumen releases 17 to 20 % more carbon into the atmosphere than regular gasoline.

Jobs: temporary jobs (one year or less, full and part time) 42,000. Permanent jobs: 30 to 50.

Scribbler’s view: It was a surprise to learn how much of the Keystone Pipeline is already finished, how common pipeline spills are and how much oil is transported by rail. Tar sands oil extraction is more dangerous and dirtier than I thought, and more of a done deal.  

The last phase of the XL project will probably be approved. Even if it isn’t, stopping the construction of the pipeline will not end the extraction, shipment and burning of bitumen-derived oil from Canada. At most it would increase costs. This is a symbolic fight, a line in the ‘sand,’ and rallying point to organize fights against practices which worsen climate change.The legacy and value of the controversy will be new political alliances, and that the fight has brought the issue to the headlines. 

How do you think Congress and the President should/will resolve the Keystone controversy? 

Resources

http://archive.onearth.org/blog/dont-believe-the-fantasy-job-claims-keystone-xl-is-not-in-our-best-interest

http://www.nprberlin.de/post/what-you-need-know-about-keystone-xl-oil-pipeline

http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/221135.pdf

http://www.factcheck.org/2014/03/pipeline-primer/

Attention all eaters: Five things to know about new food safety rules

IMG_2846

Have you ever written to a government agency on an issue you care about?

If you’re interested in local farming, and minimal use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, now is a good time to write to the The Food and Drug Administration.

Unknown

In 2011, the FDA updated its food safety regulations with the most comprehensive overhaul in seventy years, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). They are still working out the kinks. Anyone with an opinion is invited to comment before December 15, 2014.

Here are the new rules in their entirety. If you don’t have time to wade through all of that, Scribbler is here to help.

About fifty years ago, we made a U-turn in how we grow food. We introduced nitrogen fertilizers and new practices that allowed us to exponentially increase the amount of food we produce.

file7581274473609

We are a long way, however, from understanding how best to grow food for billions of people. Scientists are discovering practices that encourage microbial activity in the soil, and are healthier and safer than some of the chemical-based practices most farmers use.  Until we know more, farmers who work and experiment with soil, water conservation, composting and organic methods need to be allowed — encouraged — to continue.  The new FDA rules will make that difficult. Some farms could inadvertently be put out of business.

Here’s what’s important for organic and small farms:

1. Farms vs. Facilities 

When food producers get big enough, the FDA stops defining them as “farms” and starts calling them “facilities.” The new rules update standards that facilities, i.e., large institutions, must comply with. Farms have separate requirements, designed for smaller operations.

The new definitions of what qualifies as a facility and what is a farm are fuzzy. For instance, small farmers who work jointly to store and package what they produce, or who have plots of land that are not contiguous, might be inappropriately classified as facilities.

According to laws passed by Congress, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSA’s) are farms, not facilities, but the FDA rules don’t make that clear. Small farmers who decide to, say, add a U-pick strawberry business that brings in $5000, might find themselves subject to rules requiring putting together and maintaining an expensive Food Safety Plan. To understand what that means, have a look here.  The plan could cost more than the income from the strawberries.

file5591253226186

2. Due Process

Legal remedies and processes need to be clarified. If a grower’s status is changed, say a “farm” gets classified as a “facility,” there is no requirement for prior notice, leaving farmers no opportunity to correct the problem. The agency also  doesn’t have to list reasons for a change in status, and there is no clear path to appeal the FDA’s decisions. All these issues need to be addressed.

3. Soil Amendments 

The words “compost” and “manure” don’t appear in the new food safety rules, but they are in the subtext. Here’s a good breakdown of new rules governing soil amendments. Basically, the FDA is trying to prevent crops from being contaminated with bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli. The trouble is, the new FDA rules conflict with those of the Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. There is disagreement about how long compost tea and manure fertilizers must be cured before they can be applied. The science is not clear. The National Organic Program, which was adopted after many months of research and public comment, in cooperation with the National Organics Standards Board (part of the USDA), should be the standard.

file000204086651

4. Water

Water is different everywhere, and the quality needed for safe drinking and swimming, is not the same as what’s needed to safely grow food. The FDA is proposing narrow rules that set one standard for all water use, both recreational and farming. This will lead to over-use of chemical water treatments. The rules need to be flexible to accommodate water in different geographical areas, and for different kinds of water use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

5. Sound off

It’s not just mega businesses that control what happens in Washington. When enough people speak up, policy makers respond. Witness the influence of the Tea Party, and the delay of Keystone Pipeline. The FMSA itself is being revised because of a huge response from the public. If you want to send a comment or statement to the FDA, here are instructions. Several sites also have templates and more information. See The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and the Friends of Family Farmers.

 Do you follow the ins and outs of rule-making about how we grow food? Have anything to add about the FDA’s new proposals?

Additional Resources: 

http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/small-farms-tech-report/centersfcfs_comments_fsmareproposal_11.19.14.pdf

http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/node/175900

http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/fda-publishes-new-food-safety-rules/

http://www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org/?p=3736

http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/speak-out-today/

http://www.youngfarmers.org/a-re-focus-on-food-safety/

http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/learn-about-the-issues/manure-and-compost/

Voter Turnout

How was voter turnout in your state for mid term elections?

IMG_1707

Feeling patriotic. Just returned from a visit to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.

Oregon’s was darn good.  69.5 per cent. Not everything went the way Scribbler deigned it should, locally or nationally, but I’m a patient woman.

In most states, turnout was low.

What’s Oregon’s secret?

Exciting ballot measures. $8 million was spent to support a measure requiring that GMO foods be labeled, much of it from out of state. $20 million was spent in opposition to the measure, most of it from out of state.  Yay Citizens’ United. We were buried in hyperbolic ads and flyers.

Also on the ballot: a top two (as opposed to party system) voting initiative.

And, a measure to legalize marijuana …

Voting in Oregon, which is by mail, is easy and encouraged. Does it help? Maybe some. Washington, however, also votes by mail and turnout there was down.

Ballot_Box_No_6

Voters who don’t mail in time, drop ballots off at special boxes. Photo source: Lincoln County Voter Info.

How do we compare to other countries?

140410_indianelections

Image source: NPR, Diane Rehm Show

In national elections we flounder somewhere around 60th.

How do other countries do it? Some hold all elections, national and local on one day. Some impose a fine on people who don’t vote (Uruguay and Singapore), or automatically register everyone to vote (France and Sweden). None of those happening here anytime soon.

What do you think about voting by mail? Is there controversy about voting and voting rights in your state? Should we do more to encourage voting? If so, what?

Is this who we are?

What do you feel about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay?

In 2001, thirty-year-old Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab was in Kabul, running a food import business.

When 9/11 brought war to Kabul, Dhiab, his wife and four children left Afghanistan for Pakistan, hoping for safety. He was picked up by the Pakistani police. They turned him over to the American military, probably for a bounty. He was not charged with any crime. Dhiab was transferred to the prison at Bagram Airbase in June 2002. Two months later he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.

American taxpayers pay $2.7 million per prisoner per year  to keep Guantanmo running. Of the 149 prisoners still there, 79 are cleared for release.

Camp_x-ray_detainees

Photo Source: Global Issues

Dhiab was cleared for release in 2009.

Four years later, he joined other detainees in a hunger strike protesting their incarceration without charge.

Prisoners who are judged to be dangerously underweight are force-fed. If uncooperative, they are “forcibly extracted” from their cells, strapped down, a tube jammed down nose and throat. The procedure often causes choking and vomiting.

One U.S. Navy nurse at Guantanamo has refused to administer force-feedings, calling the practice a “criminal act.”

Guantanamo Bay Facility Continues To Serve As Detention Center For War Detainees

A restraint chair used to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Source: The Guardian

In 2013, Dhiab  filed a legal challenge to the force-feedings (Dhiab v. Obama).

This month, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rejected a Department of Justice’s bid to hold Dhiab’s hearing in secret, and in a separate decision ruled that videos showing Dhiab being force-fed, be released to the public.

The Department of Justice has appealed.

Guantanamo-Gladys-Kessler

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed the DOJ’s bid to seal Dhiab’s hearing. Image source: Legal Times blog

Dhiab, now 44 and confined to a wheelchair, waits. The Uruguayan government offered to resettle him and five other prisoners, but the transfer is mired in politics, both American and Uruguayan.

His wife, Umm Wa-el writes:

More than a decade has passed since Abu Wa’el was taken from us in the night. I had just given birth to our fourth child; our other children were just toddlers. My husband is a kind man and a superb cook. I miss the dishes he learned to prepare in his father’s restaurant. He is guilty of no crime, has never been charged, and was told by President Obama five years ago that he would be released from Guantanamo.

This year has been one of the hardest to be without him. Last July we were still living in Syria. The civil war forced us to leave for Lebanon, and then to seek shelter in Turkey. I tried to rejoin my family in Jordan but was immediately taken in for questioning at the border and refused entry because of Abu Wa’el’s detention at Guantanamo. The stigma travels. We’ve made it back to Istanbul now. I’m proud that the children are registered in school, and that their teachers tell me that they have already caught up in their studies.

I had to do all that alone. Abu Wa’el is nearing his 13th year at Guantanamo Bay. When I speak to his American lawyers, I can tell that they are shocked and appalled by his case. I’m not so shocked. I was a teacher in Syria. The government locked me up twice in the past just because of Abu Wa’el’s detention, so I know what it means when politics disregards the law.

Excerpted fromThe Obama Administration Must Let the American People See Footage of My Husband Being Force-Fed in Their Name” 7/15/2014

 

 

In a May 23, 2013 speech, President Obama stated: “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? … Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”

President Obama’s legal team is debating now about whether a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” applies to U.S. military prisons overseas. In 2005 President Bush said it did not apply, that torture overseas in prisons or by the CIA was legal. As a senator Barack Obama supported legislation making it clear that cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners was not legal, anywhere. Since becoming President, however, he has never declared his position on the treaty ban.

What do you think? Have you been following Abu Wa’el’s case, or of any of the other Guanatamo prisoners? Seen any of the protests supporting the detainees?

THE LIBRARY

When was the last time you visited a public library?

re_eugene_3

Stairway of our library, looking up. Photo source: WBDG

Fifteen years ago, ours was packed to the gills and falling apart. For every new book purchased, one had to be discarded because the storage area was full.

People fought for years over whether to build a new library. No one reads. Waste of taxpayer’s money. The Internet will make libraries obsolete. Boondoggle.

Finally, voters approved a bond. A new library was completed in 2002.

re_eugene_1

Photo source: WBDG

People line up at the door every morning before it opens. Kids fill the teen and children’s wings after school, on weekends and during vacations. The 100 computers are in constant use.

The Internet has made libraries better. Librarians spend less time doing chores and more time helping people.

Billy-Collins-EPL

Poetry reading by Billy Collins at the Eugene Public Library. Photo source: Poetry Loft

The only braille printer in town is at the library.

Book groups can check out sets of books.

IMG_1558

There are DVDs, puppets, music CDs, community classes, concerts, resources for job hunters, electronically searchable microfiche, tax forms. The library provides online access to to e-books, audiobooks, consumer reports, magazines, homework help, genealogy websites. It puts on over 1000 programs a year.

Bummed out about the state of human kind?

Support the library.

AIA_ALA_51-10_grand_stair_down_reduced

The library stairs, looking down. Photo credit: Eckert Photography

How is your library doing? 

Wise Ones Correspond About Monsanto and GMO’s

Where do you stand in the GMO debates?

Oregon (my home state) and Colorado, will vote this fall on whether or not genetically modified foods should be labeled.

 

Oregon_GMO_Right_to_Know_logo

The vote is not, of course, about labeling, but about how easy it should be for people to opt out of the grand GMO experiment.

In 2012 and 2013, Pepsi, Monsanto, DuPont, General Mills, Kellogg, Dow, BASF, Cargill, ConAgra, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Hormel, Syngenta, Bayer, and other corporations donated $68 million to defeat similar labeling measures in California and Washington.

It’s no wonder. Eighty percent of the foods produced by these companies contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Also, these companies no doubt would like to keep the focus on whether or not to label, rather than on whether or not messing with the gene pool and saturating the soil and water with glyphosate is a good idea.

The issues aren’t simple. Genetic engineering is credited with saving the papaya industry, and almost all of the sugar beets in the US are genetically engineered — how that happened is a whole other story.

Scribbler relies heavily on friends and family to help untangle sticky wickets like this. Professor M and Judge A, who are in their mid 80’s (and request anonymity), agreed to share part of their e-mail discussion on the subject.

alabama-old-men471x317

Aug. 22

M –

I feel hornswoggled, bamboozled, deceived. Monsanto, in its latest reincarnation, proposes to become a universal ag. extension agent, advising its customers how to cash in on carbon credits.

They will do this by farming with new GM products while using carefully selected, superficial, organic methods; methods to reduce but not significantly eliminate environmental, biological and soil degradation. Run-off, water pollution and erosion caused by glyphosate, pesticides and manufactured fertilizers will be less troublesome. Promise! A little improvement will be better than none, I guess, but hardly worth further experimentation on us by bio-fuel manufacturers, junk food producers and cattle feeders.

As before, Monsanto has produced zero science that proves its products (as distinguished from sound agronomy), will benefit yields or crop quality beyond a few years. Soil improvements it promises are likely to be near the surface rather than deeper down where needed. Great PR though.

Most countries outside the US are not buying this latest, cynical ploy and there has been vigorous opposition here also. But Monsanto is now too big in the US to fail? Right?

Have a pastry made with GM flour. Protect yourself against agent orange.

*

August 23 2014. 8:35 PM

A –
We agree the world is going to the dogs. They made the catastrophic error of not letting you and me run it when we were younger.

Monsanto has indeed significantly replaced the ag. schools in dealing with the farmers. Not quite sure why. They cost much more, but maybe they also more often deliver what the farmer wants?

Data on CO2 impact of deforestation in today’s Economist. Not as bad as I thought. Comparable to international flying, such as we do next week. Much less than auto use.

M

 *

August 23, 2014,. 10:04 PM

M –

I expect you will enjoy your flight even more now that Monsanto will take care of your plane’s CO2.
What a brilliant marketing tool: use faux extension agents to sell product! Much better than writing mortgages for people with no money.

A

Monsanto at Oregon State University? Using organic methods? Hiring themselves out as — expensive — extension agents?

Clearly more investigation is called for.

Where have your inquiries on GMOs led you?

 

 

The NSA’s best excuse ever to play War Craft

463146_2

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

What do you think about Edward Snowden’s release of classified documents?

Go ahead. Sound off. The National Security Agency couldn’t possibly be listening.

Whatever your feelings, you have to admit, Snowden got people talking. Other whistle blowers using legal channels were forced to give up their careers, and aren’t exactly household names.  William Binney, a 30 year NSA veteran who tried to raise red flags, was greeted one morning by FBI agents pointing guns at his head as he stepped out of the shower. Who has heard of William Binney?

Snowden at least got noticed.

My favorite revelation: the NSA’s decision to target online games.

Unknown

Is that a camera in your cleavage?

A 2008 NSA memo warned that virtual games might seem innocuous, but actually, they are a “target-rich communication network” allowing intelligence suspects “a way to hide in plain sight.” Because terrorists, like gamers, assume fake identities and make financial transactions, online games “are an opportunity!” Agents adopted avatars (make believe characters), collected data and communications, and attempted to recruit informers.

gathering-intelligence

Check out Pro Publica’s slide show on NSA, CIA and British spying in online games

So many agents were playing online games, one memo declared that “deconfliction” was needed so that spies wouldn’t spy on each other.

Second_Life_weddin_1113885c

Happy ever after on Second Life

Was the mission successful? Were terrorists found using Second Life or World of War Craft to launder money and plot bomb attacks? No.

There will be a flurry of media stories about Snowdon this month when Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer and, until October 13, 2013, journalist for the Guardian, releases his book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Security State.

Expect more fun and games.

“I want to spark a worldwide debate about privacy, Internet freedom, and the dangers of state surveillance. I’m not afraid of what will happen to me. I’ve accepted that my life will likely be over from my doing this. I’m at peace with that. I know it’s the right thing to do. I want to identify myself as the person behind these disclosures. I believe I have an obligation to explain why I’m doing this and what I hope to achieve.

“I only have one fear in doing all of this, that people will see these documents and shrug, that they’ll say, ‘We assumed this was happening and don’t care.’ The only thing I’m worried about is that I’ll do all this to my life for nothing.” Edward Snowden 

 

What’s your favorite leaked secret from the NSA documents? Do you play online games? If so, have you noticed any suspicious characters hanging around?

Read more:

World of Spycraft: NSA and CIA Spied in Online Games

Spies Infiltrate a Fantasy Realm of Online Games

Xbox Live among game services targeted by US and UK spy agencies
NSA and GCHQ collect gamers’ chats and deploy real-life agents into World of Warcraft and Second Life