Seed Saving: Janet Maro in Tanzania

© Ebe Daems
Janet Maro. Source: “Tanzanian farmers are facing heavy prison sentences if they continue their traditional seed exchange”

Really interesting interview about agribusiness and equity with Tanzanian food/farming advocate Janet Maro.

It’s on KUT Austin’s excellent The Secret Ingredient Podcast and it hits on a snaggled aspect of agriculture and aid:

What’s the right framework for food and economic development?

What I’ve learned from communities and firsthand experience in East Africa:

  • When small-scale farming is tied to livelihoods and identity, you can’t just force people out of a farming profession and their farmland without their consent.
  • Likewise you can’t scale up farming alongside investment in grassroots-up economic growth if you don’t allow for international businesses.
  • And you do have to “harmonize” with some of the laws and logistics of the world market.

Now, how you get that done where everyone has the right kind of equity?

Blackface For Good: Only With the Right Foundation?

Is there ever a “right way” for someone to make themselves up in Blackface? Nope.


But is there a difference between (a) the inherently exploitative act of Blackfacing and (b) experimenting with cultural and cosmetic aspects of identity in an equitable, inclusive, constructive, and respectful way? I think the answer to that one is “Maybe“, but I’m a European/American White guy. Continue reading “Blackface For Good: Only With the Right Foundation?”

Don’t Let Yellow Fever Make a Comeback in the USA

The U.S. has not experienced an outbreak of yellow fever in more than a century; the 1905 epidemic in New Orleans that killed more than 430 people was the last. Yet the past 20 years have seen the appearance or reappearance of several other mosquito-borne diseases in this country. (Source)

Why are healthcare and education global issues? It’s not just because epidemics are bad and sick people can’t grow the economy – they can’t buy your stuff or create things you want.

Hints: West Nile virus in 1999; dengue fever in 2001; Zika in 20016. Those are global diseases that hit the USA in recent years (never mind the Spanish Flu that killed ~675,000 Americans between 1918 and 1919).

The point is we want more scientists and more medical tools, not less, when the next epidemics come to the USA. And we want scientists and technology available *on site* where the epidemics start, to fight the problems before they can spread to reach us at home.

Des volontaires luttent contre la grippe espagnole

For the USA, this doesn’t mean the government needs to *give away* education and healthcare. It means that Americans have to invest their money and persistence and creativity into education and healthcare solutions the same way they invest them in anything else that is essential to their happiness, health, safety, and comfort.

Conservatives And Lies They Tell Themselves after #Manchester

I don’t know if Ricochet will post my response to the latest “pitchfork waving townsfolk” article about expulsion and “getting our hands dirty” being the best response to the Manchester attack.

U.K. Police On Alert After the Manchester Attack

I just don’t bloody understand how these folks can see facts pointing to a necessary policy of zero Muslim immigration and mass expulsion. Neither the numbers nor history support that claim.

It’s this kind of moral, scientific, and historical illiteracy that I just won’t accept from anyone who wants to stand as a guardian of “Western Civilization”.

My expanded response to the article “Manchester and the Lies We Tell Ourselves About Terrorism” follows. Continue reading “Conservatives And Lies They Tell Themselves after #Manchester”

Captain Pension Planet

A collection of Pension Funds is using their influence to make a large oil company disclose its “climate-related vulnerabilities”.

“You may or may not believe man-made climate change is real or dismiss the science behind it. No matter. Climate change has arrived as an investment issue.”

I like the True Cost logic of this: How useful is your retirement pension if you collect it in a world that’s less secure, with less food, with more violent weather, less breathable air, etc.?

I don’t want to sound too much like…but can the Market (of ideas, $, etc.) actually work in favor of cleaner energy and environmental sustainability? I think Yes when there is more flow of information and more people able to define their stake in the global economy.

Weird. It’s like, if you have more true inclusion in the market and more open communication, then you get better results.

Why the GOP Loves Science

Republicans on the whole don’t seem “anti-science” so much as “anti-democratization of science”. GOP-leaning Industries like finance, agribusinesses, manufacturing and defense are intensely scientific — imagine the math and precise tools needed to engineer genes and molecules. Likewise science-based is the carefully mapped and calculated redistricting known as “gerrymandering”.

In that sense, being “skeptical” of climate change is really just denying legitimacy to any science coming from outside centralized and industrial interests.

What democratization does mean, in science as elsewhere, is creating institutions and practices that fully incorporate principles of accessibility, transparency, and accountability. It means considering the societal outcomes of research at least as attentively as the scientific and technological outputs. It means insisting that in addition to being rigorous, science be popular, relevant, and participatory.

Will this paradigm hold with how the GOP handles the challenge of promoting STEM education and those science-entrepreneurship mashups like MakerSpaces? Partially. Whatever science the GOP considers important for GOP priorities (e.g. industrial applications, defense) can always be subsidized.

I like the article linked above because it is about patterns. The evolution of scientific practice and thought is inherently part of the same Pattern encompassing trade and communication. It’s a pattern of connectivity, of technology, of exchanging ideas+services+products, and of adaptation. It is an independent and uncontrollable progress, even though it parallels certain civilizations more than others.

Those parallels are coincidental: if the people that became “Great Britain” had occupied a land with different resources (e.g. less metal, coal) and a less defensible geography (e.g. not an island), the Industrial Revolution could have happened in a totally different way and in a totally different society. (Read The Years of Rice and Salt for an example”).

The truth is that power-seeking parties can align themselves with this Pattern and sometimes try to control the flow (i.e. who gets what benefits). But ultimately those who try to go against the Pattern are also the ones who lose their leadership position.

So it’s interesting that, according to the Atlantic article, the GOP attempts to take advantage of the global scientific community’s shift towards more openness and accessibility of results, data, etc. That is not an easy tiger to ride. You can’t easily promote openness and transparency while keeping your own secrets. That’s what the internet has been about — once you give people new tools to communicate and investigate and innovate, you’re stuck with the consequences.

So whether you read history through the lens of the Bible or the Lancet, you know what happens to rulers who try to monopolize unfair control over what people can do, say, and think.

A Nation of North Koreas

It must be isolating to be a state- or national-level politician these days. The whole system seems very friendless and lonely. It’s hard enough for me to do “the right thing” with my oh-so-minor professional and personal decisions — even when I have a generous support network of friends, family, and allies. So it hurts to imagine a life where I’m virtually alone and my decisions directly affect millions.

Hence calling this rant “A Nation of North Koreas” — because all these politicians are lonely, isolated, insecure, and could potentially destroy the lives of everyone around them.

It seems strange to say that politicians are “isolated” when the country is so obsessed with smartphones and social media that our Commander in Chief speaks to the nation with the same Twitter platform (and grammar?) as a teenager.

According to the articles: politicians don’t talk to their colleagues across the aisle (, they don’t talk to their families and spouses ( (, they can’t talk to their own party (, and they don’t even talk to their constituents ( (

Sometimes it seems like the only folks politicians can talk to are people who give them money (

That can’t be healthy. But I can’t write that off as an insidious oligarchic takeover of the government or all politicians being corrupt.

What do ya’ll think? Maybe we need households to “adopt a politician”?

Did Trump Scam Russia’s Putin?

Now that the FBI might be investigating Russian involvement in the U.S. 2016 election, we need to ask ourselves a serious question: Did Vladimir Putin just become another misled investor scammed in a Trump deal?

Buyer’s remorse

Given the shoddy ROI of then-mogul Trump’s real estate deals, Russian President Putin may want to reconsider what — if anything — he bought from the @RealDonaldTrump Administration. Did Moscow make as big a miscalculation dealing with President @RDP as American voters made by voting for him? Did our Ice-to-Eskimo selling Commander in Chief just sell Borscht to the Kremlin?

Seriously. Someone tell me what they think the ultimate benefits are for Russia or what Russia’s ultimate threat is to the USA here, in terms of this being worth the cost (triggering a serious anti-Russia backlash).

Is the @RealDonaldTrump Administration going to make more classified U.S. intelligence data available to Moscow, to the detriment of U.S. allies in Europe, Israel, etc.? Is Bannon going to sell Alaska back to Russia? Is the U.S. going to start importing billions of dollars of Russian oil? Is the U.S. going to provide financial/material support to the Russian military to invade/occupy Eastern Europe, or maybe re-invading Afghanistan?

That first one does seem realistic. Add to it the idea that a Russia-influenced @RDP Administration will weaken NATO: if not by reducing or delaying U.S. financial/material support, then by influencing other NATO members to do the same.

But if those are one’s concerns (they are among mine), then why would either of those matter? What is NATO for, someone like Bernie Sanders might argue, except preparing for military conflicts that NATO’s very existence might be helping create?

And putting this in the context of Russia and the world…Broadly speaking the strategic options for Russia, Putin’s Smiling Autocracy aside, is either (a) translating natural resources (oil, gas, minerals) into more innovation and economic growth outside of those extractive industries or (b) decline and vulnerability relative to neighboring EU and China. It’s hard to imagine how one gets to Option (A) without more cultural and economic engagement with the rest of the world — more trade, more liberalization, etc. Putin’s approach to that will be more like that of similarly autocratic-capitalist China and the Gulf States, but that doesn’t change the overall trend.

So really, it seems like the most substantial reason to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 election is *that there was involvement*, more than what that involvement might yield. It’s the fact that the @RealDonaldTrump crew made shady plans with agents of the Russian government, even if the ineptitude of their schemes reach Bluth-like levels.

Or am I missing something?

Pruitt’s “Prove It”

The “slow burn” crises are more likely to get you killed than the “sudden impact” disasters. Remember the January 2017 revelation that the Titanic was doomed by an undetected fire that critically weakened the hull, long before the iceberg?

EPA Director Scott Pruitt might want to read over that evidence in his spare hours, since he’s obviously not spending his days immersed in climate science and cause-effect logic.

So while his statement isn’t technically wrong when he says “there is disagreement about whether carbon dioxide is the main cause of global warming,” his implication damn well is.

That implication being that this justifies the @RealDonaldTrump Administration’s move to rescind/suspend climate-targeted regulations with budget cuts, pushing “climate change skepticism” messages to the public through the EPA, and new directives.

I can think of a places where this newly launched effort could run aground on reality.

  1. Economic Momentum: A majority of customers in the USA (millennials and baby boomers alike) prefer products/services that are environmentally responsible. Major economic players in the private sector know that climate change can hurt their bottom line more than government regulations. Investment in “clean tech” is rising because sponsors are seeing both financial and ethical returns.
  2. Political Momentum: Not just another dimension to the Economic Momentum (consumers, businesses, and investors also vote). Climate change companions like drought, rising ocean levels, desertification, deforestation make warfare and conflict more likely. They certainly added to the intensity and speed of violence in the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS/Daesh. Any U.S. government interested in preventing/mitigating future conflicts will pay attention to that.
  3. Science: The math and models do show that CO2 is a very significant lever, even if they don’t show it being “the most important.” That isn’t seriously debatable. What you can — and should — debate are the best ways to use that lever, along with other “planet levers”.

Kings of Nothing: Steve King, Geert Wilders, and Western Civilization

“[Dutch Prime Minister candidate Geert] Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
Rep. Steve King, Twitter

“They’re importing a different culture, a different civilization — and that culture and civilization, the imported one, rejects the host culture…They are supplanting Western civilization with Middle Eastern civilization.”
Rep. Steve King, speaking to Breitbart

If I were “Western Civilization” on trial, I would not want Rep. Steve King as my defense attorney. That would be like Ben Affleck defending “Acting”, Guy Fieri defending “Eating Vegetables”, or Kim Jong-un defending “Not Being So Crazy You Make Charles Manson Sound Like Neil deGrasse Tyson”).

Rep. Steve King is correct, if you accept that “Western Civilization” is more of a narrative construct than a real thing — that means if you buy into post-modern thought, narrative constructs, the inherent subjectivity of all human experience (all those being things that Rep. King probably wants to cram into a rocket and blast into the sun revolving around a flat earth).

In that sense, the experience of “Western Civilization” under attack is really the experience of people who are suffering real and perceived harm from changes — “how you feel about the world and your place in it” changes, quality of living changes, “affordability of essential healthcare” changes, “competition for resources and jobs and money” changes, “the old ways don’t work for me anymore” changes, etc.

But Rep. Steve King is scientifically and historically ignorant about “Western Civilization” when measured by his own standards, the instruments & intellectual schools of thought central to (and emergent from) that very same “Western” Tradition:

  • e.g. the Socratic method, Judeo-Christian religion, Newtonian physics, Aristotelian inquiry
  • e.g. the language and numbers of demographics, anthropology, math — measured with the naked eye and augmented with technology

Rep. King is also politicizing that ignorance, something frowned upon by every “Western” icon from Moses to Mr. Winston Churchill.

Let’s set aside for now the idea of “restoring” something that never really existed. As if “Western Civilization” is some kind of older Operating System that we rashly replaced on all of our computers and smartphones, but can reinstall from a sacred backup (somewhere in “the cloud”)…because <SARCASM> an Operating System has nothing to do with the physical constraints of resources, a device’s purpose, the users, etc. </SARCASM>. Keep shoving that punch card into the HDMI slot.

You have to wonder about where Rep. King situates “Western Civilization” in earth’s geography and timeline, and its relationship to everything else. Is this a mashup of Evolution and Eschatology, where nothing precedes WC and nothing but destruction can follow it?

Is WC part of the same demographics of human migration out of Africa, where we now know humans first began working with tools for material function (industry) *and* artistic expression (intelligence)?

Is WC the same unified entity that has fought millennia of wars among itself over land, resources, power, trading rights, religious authority, and sometimes even just pride — including a war that almost ended with mutually assured nuclear annihilation (depending on whether you count the USSR/Russia as a member of “Western Civilization”, which Rep. King might because of their antagonistic engagement with Muslims)?

Is WC as incompatible with “someone else’s babies” as the mammals whose communities must continually bring new & foreign DNA into the gene pool — in order to stay healthy, productive, competitive, and resilient to environmental changes?

Is WC part of the same “host culture” as the Romans were to Judeo-Christianity, a Middle Eastern religious culture that so totally intertwined itself with the Roman Empire that it even today influences patterns of governance, trade, warfare and diplomacy?

Is WC part of the same intellectual history of Perception v.s. Reality as depicted by Greek playwright Sophocles in Antigone, where a mentally damaged tyrant hides his abuse of power and suppression of dissent with a distorted idea of “tradition”?

What would happen if people like Rep. King would really examine “Western Civilization” today on its own terms — as scientifically honest as Galileo, as intellectually critical as a Plato or a Socrates, as concerned with its soul as a Jesus, as mathematically exact as an Einstein, as precisely described as a Leonardo Da’Vinci, as unscrupulously analyzed as a Machiavelli, as economically minded as an Adam Smith, as politically passionate as a Lincoln or a Kennedy or a Reagan?

Then he would have to look at the facts, all of the facts, as they really are now. He would have to use every applicable tool and framework. He would have to factor in the known as well as unknown. He would even have to factor in new theories of the mind and of the history of the earth and the living things that inhabit it.

Then Rep. King would have to look at “Western Civilization” as a narrative in the context of a larger narrative of Life and Luck, where people do really struggle to make good decisions against a world of physical restraints, biological impulses, natural-environmental pressures, cultural influences, institutional obstacles, etc.

Then Rep. King would have to look at “Western Civilization” as a framework or story to describe the experience of a particular self-identifying group that emerges successfully out of unique conditions, conditions that are definitely not totally controlled by that group (there’s a reason the Europeans were so fond of “Divine Providence”, especially when finding North America, a continent so exquisitely abundant with natural wealth and strong ocean barriers against invading armies).

Even if he just wanted to look at the experienced narrative of “Western Civilization”, he would have to admit that underlying the superficial “clash of civilizations” are fundamental patterns of reciprocity and mutually benefit…even if these patterns happen along a long “arc of history” stretching over years of death and destruction and ignorance and cruelty.

If he did that, then he would have to see his Tweets and Breitbart comments as highly questionable (at best) and outright ridiculous (at worst).