Relying on California for Food

SUBHEAD: Grocery prices keeping getting higher: How high will they go? Nobody knows for sure, not even the MANB, the state agency charged with monitoring produce prices.

By Alan D. Mcnaire on 30 December 2009 in Big Island News -  
(http://www.bigislandweekly.com/articles/2009/12/30/read/news/news02.txt) 



 
Image above: The Central Valley of California in better days. From http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/potd/2006/11/death_valley_national_park.php 

 
Hawaii's food prices have soared over the past few years. Fresh loaves of unsliced bread that used to cost a dollar at KTA's bakery are now $2.79. The cost of everything, from almonds to strawberries, have risen, often drastically. And they're likely to go higher in the coming months, thanks to factors including a major drought in California's central valley, reduced rainfall in (Big Island's) Waimea "vegetable belt" and increased fuel and shipping prices. How high? There's no way to predict, because the state's agency that monitors produce prices and imports has been shut down.

The Hawaii State Department of Agriculture's Market Analysis and News Branch (MANB) was abolished earlier this month as a cost-cutting measure. It was a tiny agency -- eliminating it saved the state only three full-time positions and one half-time job -- but it served an important function. Since 1946, the MANB had been collecting wholesale data on fresh fruits and vegetables and disseminating that information to wholesalers, farmers and decision-makers.

One of its duties was to track fruits and vegetables coming into the state and shipments from the neighbor islands into O'ahu. The abolition of the MANB comes at a time when the Legislature has been struggling to increase the state's food independence. Earlier this year, it passed HB 1271, which was designed to "Ensure Hawaii is energy and food self-sufficient and sustainable to the maximum extent feasible," only to have the bill vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle. Now the state may be unable even to measure whether Hawai'i is making progress toward food sustainability, or is becoming even more dependent on crops raised elsewhere.

One Hawaii Department of Agriculture (DOA) official, who preferred to remain anonymous, noted that while the cutting of DOA inspectors has gotten press attention, an inspector could be trained in six months. An agricultural statistician would need much more time to be brought up to speed. And trained people weren't all that was lost. "All the relationships that have been built since 1946 -- that's gone," he lamented.  

 
Image above: Sand dunes in California's Death Valley. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sand_dunes_in_death_valley.jpg
   
California Dust Bowl? 
The Weekly found out about the loss of the MANB when we called the Department of Agriculture to find out what effect a drought, now in its third year, in California's Central Valley might have on Hawaii's food supplies. A DOA spokesperson told us that because of the budget cuts, they couldn't give us an answer. An article entitled "The New Dust Bowl" in the November-December issue of the investigative journal, Mother Jones, noted that California "has long boasted the world's richest agricultural economy, reliably producing more than a quarter of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables. But it's done so in defiance of ecological reality." 

 "It now appears that water-wise, 20th century California was an anomaly, a relatively wet period in the midst of a historical cycle of severe drought," noted the article. Climate change also was playing a role: "By the end of the century, scientists predict, Central California could experience temperatures rivaling Death Valley's and face the loss of 90 percent of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the region's main water source." 

The article describes a desolated region where 85,000 houses are in foreclosure, 35,000 jobs have been lost, hordes of unemployed farm workers wait for hours for food handouts, and farmers are simply giving up on their farms: 

Almond and fruit orchards are being uprooted for firewood and thousands of acres formerly planted in wheat, vegetables and other crops have returned to desert. Some of that doomed produce was almost certainly bound for Hawaii. In the MANB's Nov. 4 Honolulu Wholesale Market Report -- the last that the agency issued before it was shut down -- shows nearly all of the imported fruits and vegetables listed came from California. The only exceptions were some potatoes from Washington and Idaho, some Washington apples and some Central and South American bananas. 

he California drought was interrupted briefly in October, when the remnants of a tropical storm actually caused flooding in some farm areas. But the long-term forecast remains bleak. On Dec. 9, the California's Department of Water Resources released an initial allocation of only 5 percent of the water it was contracted to supply to state water projects, which furnish water to 750,000 acres of farmland and 25 million residents. 

That initial allocation was the lowest figure ever, according to Western Farm Press, which noted that the DWR had initially released 15 percent in 2008, and had eventually released only 40 percent. (Westernfarmpress.com is one of the better sources of up-to-date information for California agriculture. Most of the stats available at the California Department of Food and Agriculture's own site date back to 2007 or earlier.) 

 "The initial allocation figure reflects the low carryover storage levels in the state's major reservoirs, ongoing drought conditions and federally mandated environmental restrictions on water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect endangered fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta," Western Farm Press reported, noting that the populations of four endemic delta fish were at all-time lows. 

There were a few bright spots, despite the drought. Tomato production was up, for instance; apparently as production fell in some drought-struck regions, new producers started up in areas that still had water. The Central Valley is also Hawaii's main supplier for another vital foodstuff -- rice. California has half a million acres of rice under cultivation. Here, at least temporarily, the news is good: Western Farm Press reported in November that the California rice crop was 8 percent larger than last year's, and that crop yields were up 192 pounds an acre. 

But unlike some other crops, rice was near the head of the line for water allocations. That may change in the future. A Sept. 8 Los Angeles Times editorial chastised the Legislature for not doing more to curb agricultural water usage; it called for farmers to "move away from growing such water-intensive crops as cotton, barley and rice."  

Other challenges 
Lacking its own figures, a Hawaii DOA spokesperson recommended that we contact the island's produce suppliers directly to get answers to our questions. We tried to reach a number of grocery chains and wholesalers; all but one either said their information was proprietary or simply didn't return our calls before deadline. 

The exception was Michael Quanan, the produce manager for Suisan. Quanan said his company got about 65 percent of its produce from California, and he thought the drought was raising prices here. But so, he maintained, were a number of other factors, including vog, reduced rainfall in Waimea, increased shipping costs and a lack of competition in the air freight business. "If there were more wide-body direct flights, maybe shipping would be less expensive," he said, noting that "Now it's just United Airlines that have the wide-body into Kona... 

This time of year, there are a lot of bumped containers -- passengers fly before freight, and sometimes our crates just don't come." The cutback in the number of state agriculture inspectors is also adding to costs; he said; his drivers were having to wait an extra half an hour to 45 minutes before shipments were released at the airport. 

Meanwhile, at least in Kona, the company's fruits and vegetables were sitting out on the hot tarmac, since there was no covered receiving facility. With all its farmland and its numerous farmers' markets, the Island of Hawai'i is, of course, better off in terms of food sustainability than is O'ahu. And according to Quanan, individual consumers here might be less affected by California's drought problems than are the island's resorts. 

Local farmers, he said, were often geared toward selling at farmers' markets, and often can't supply the volumes of produce that the hotels require. "Right now with all the big hotels, they push local first, but with the local shortage, they have to go with the California market," he said.  

Another expense is irradiation. 
Many Big Islanders know about that local papayas go through an irradiation facility to kill pests before they can be flown to the mainland. Far fewer probably know that produce such as turnips and radishes must be irradiated before it comes here. Right now, says Quanan, there's only one facility in San Diego that can perform that irradiation. 

"After you tack irradiation and the freight, you're talking at least five bucks a pound," he said. So there are a lot of uncertainties about our continued supply of imported food, especially from the Golden State. With no one at the Department of Agriculture to keep tabs on that supply, the uncertainties grow even larger.

Astyk's 2010 Predictions

SUBHEAD: A 2009 scorecard and the year ahead. Practice losing farther, losing faster.

Image above: Illustation from United Kingdon online crystall ball. From http://www.future-forcast.co.uk/crystal-ball

By Sharon Astyk on 30 December 2009 in Casaubon's Book - (http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/2009/12/2010_predictions_practice_losi.php)

The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster

- Elizabeth Bishop

I suddenly realized that my sense that I had time to do my end of year wrap up was rapidly becoming incorrect - New Years is tomorrow, of course, but somehow it snuck up on me. I tried to enlist my family in helping me with this project, but Eric flatly refused to have anything to do with it (his comment was "I can't decide whether it would be more unpleasant to be wrong or right, and in that case, the only good choice is to shut up."), and the boys' predictions ranged from the purely personal and highly unlikely (Four year old Asher's "I'm going to turn into a butterfly!") to the bizarre ( Eight year old Simon's "Humans will encounter snortlepigs.") to the perhaps a little too mundane (Six year old Isaiah's "I'm going to take my pants off and run around the room.") So no help there.

So let's get down to brass tacks, but before I do, let me post my standard, official New Years Predictions disclaimer which goes like this: "I don't think everything that comes out of my ass is the high truth, and neither should you." Remember what you are paying for this wisdom, and value it accordingly.

And if you were valuing my last year's predictions about that much, well, you got your money's worth. After an astonishing degree of correctness in 2008, I got cocky and predicted a much faster decline than we've actually seen. I was way wrong.

2009 Scorecard

So how did I do this past year? Let's take a look (note, I've edited these a bit for length, you can see the originals at the above link, as well as how I did in 2008):

1. Some measure of normalcy will hold out until late spring or early summer, mostly based on hopes for the Obama Presidency. But by late summer 2009, the aggregate loss of jobs, credit and wealth will cause an economic crisis that makes our current situation look pretty mild.

This would be my big old screw up - I figured that even the huge cash infusions of the bail out couldn't hold out against the massive loss of assets, and I was wrong. I'm still a little bit impressed (in a horrified sort of way) the way crazy accounting tricks, the mortgaging of our future for short term gains and crazy lies have been deployed. Back in December, I really wouldn't have guessed that the Obama administration would go as far as it has in selling us out to the corporations. I still don't think the problem is at all fixed, but I was definitely wrong about the pace of things, because I overestimated the ethical considerations of the new administration. I shoulda known better - mea culpa.

2. Many plans for infrastructure investments currently being proposed will never be completed, and many may never be started, because the US may be unable to borrow the money to fund them. The price of globalization will be high in terms of reduced availability of funds and resources - despite all the people who think that we'll keep building things during a collapse, we won't. We will have some variation on a Green New Deal in the US and some nations will continue to work on renewable infrastructure, but a lot of us are going to be getting along with the fraying infrastructure, designed for a people able to afford a lot of cheap energy, that we have now.

I think I called this one. Back last winter much was being made of the potential of national health care, of our investments in Green Jobs and major programs designed to benefit the little guy. What did we actually get - the crappiest possible national health care, largely to the benefit of the insurers, a lot of roadwork to nowhere, and cash for clunkers.

3. 2009 will be the year that most of the most passionate climate activists (and I don't exclude myself) have to admit that there is simply not a snowball's chance in hell (and hell is getting toastier quickly) that we are going to prevent a 2C+ warming of the planet. We are simply too little, too late.

I got this one too, sadly. Oxford held its 4 degree conference and Copenhagen put the nail in the coffin of real climate activism. Multiple studies released revealed that even with the most ambitious plans (and no country is enacting the most ambitious plans) we'd fail to keep below 2 degrees. We now know that we're going to pass the critical point. And it doesn't suck any less than I thought it would.

4. 2008 will probably be the world's global oil peak, but we won't know this for a while. When we do realize it, it will be anticlimactic, because we'll be mired in the consequences of our economic, energy and climate crisis. Lack of investment in the coming years will mean that in the end, more oil stays in the ground, which is good for the climate, but tough for our ambitions for a renewable energy economy. Over the long term, however, peak oil is very much going to come back and bite us all in the collective ass.

This one we can't answer yet. There are still people I trust making the case for 2010 and still people calling out 2005. The difference between them, however, is pretty small. Certainly, though, the IEA confirms that A) We will be seeing peak oil again and B) Lack of investment is a biggie. We'll call this one undetermined as of yet.

5. Decreased access to goods, services and food will be a reality this year. Some of this will be due to stores going out of business - we may all have to travel further to meet needs. Some will be due to suppliers going under, following the wave of merchant bankruptcies. Some may be due to disruptions in shipping and transport of supplies. Some will be due to increased demand for some items that have, up until now, been niche items, produced in small numbers for the small number of sustainability freaks, but that now seem to have widespread application. And some may be due to deflation.

I jumped the gun again. We've seen some of this, but not enough to be significant. I was wrong.

6. Most Americans will see radical cut backs in local services and safety nets. Funding will simply dry up for many state and local programs.

Yes, but not as acutely as I expected. The enormous federal bailout put money into state coffers that allowed them to defer their problems - so far, California while effectively bankrupt, for example, hasn't actually defaulted, and New York is still holding on. My prediction that state unemployment coffers would be overwhelmed was right, but the federal government did step in, as I also predicted. Some service disruptions have occurred, particularly among the poor and disabled, but they haven't been as widespread as expected.

7. Nations will overwhelmingly fail to pony up promised commitments to the world's poor, and worldwide, the people who did the least harm to the environment will die increasingly rapidly of starvation. This will not be inevitable, but people in the rich world will claim it is.

Called it. This is precisely what happened.

8. We will finally attempt to deal with foreclosures, but the falling value of housing will make it a losing proposition. Every time we bring the housing values down to meet the reality, the reality will shift under our feet. Many of those who are helped will end up foreclosed upon anyway

Yup. The much-vaunted foreclosure program failed to work for a whole host of reasons and most people who were helped ended up in foreclosure. Got this one.

9. By the end of the year, whether or not we will collapse or have collapsed will continue to be hotly debated by everyone who can still afford their internet service. No one will agree on what the definition of collapse actually is, plenty of people will simply be living their old lives, only with a bit less, while others will be having truly apocalyptic and deeply tragic losses. Some will see the victims as lazy, stupid, alien and worthless, no matter how many there are. Others will look around them and ask "how did I not see that this was inevitable?"

Yes and no. I think most people would agree we haven't collapsed, although a minority looking at our situation would argue that we have, we just haven't noticed yet. But I do think that the mainstreaming of a language of collapse is occurring - I see more and more ordinary people asking "how bad can it get?" That said, however, I think that the bailouts have done a great deal to (falsely) convince people that things are better than they are and that we can continue on as we are. And yes, there's a lot of hostility towards the poor - and a lot of sudden realizations that we're one of them.

10. Despite how awful this is, the reality is that not everything will fall apart. In the US, we will find life hard and stressful, but we will also go forward. People will suck a lot up and retrench. It will turn out that ordinary people were always better than commentators at figuring out what to do - that's why they stopped shopping even while people were begging them to keep buying. So they'll move in with their siblings and grow gardens and walk away from their overpriced houses, or fight to keep them. Some of them will suffer badly for it, but a surprising number of people will simply be ok in situations that until now, they would have imagined were impossible to survive. We will endure, sometimes even find ways of loving our new lives. There will be acts of remarkable courage and heroism, and acts of the most profound evil and selfishness. There will be enormous losses - but we will also discover that most of us are more than we think we are - can tolerate more and have more courage and compassion than we believe of ourselves.

I think I got this one right, maybe more right than most of the others. In the good news we saw 8 million new gardeners last year. We saw more people cutting back and saving more. We saw a new shame about conspicuous consumption. Trusting people to mostly be people turns out to be the best bet of all.

Not an official numbered prediction, but I claimed that 2009 would be the year that we officially "collapsed" - not into Mad Max or cannibalism, but in which things we expect to work, we assume will always remain the same stopped working. I was wrong about that. I think we came very close to having that happen, but deferred the collapse. How long did we defer it? That's the big question. I don't think it is possible to put it off inevitably - at some point the bills come due. I made the mistake of thinking that most people in power might prefer to pay the price sooner, and have the price be smaller. In retrospect, I have no idea why I thought that. We've decided, as usual, to put off until later what is unpleasant to deal with today.

In 2008, I got about 8 1/2 out of 10 right. This past year I'd say 5 1/2 out of 9, with one (the year of the oil peak) still up for grabs. We will reconvene come next December to figure out how I did this year. But here's my list for the coming year:

I've decided to call this year "The Year of Losing Faster" - because I think the theme of this year and the coming decade will be loss - loss of economic stability, loss of dreams and expectations, loss of the ability to predict how much food and energy will cost you, loss of normalcy in every respect. We put off our troubles - but they are coming back, and are not lighter for being put off.

2010 Predictons

1. 2010 will mark a (probably dramatic) resumption of the economic crisis, which will not be short or pleasant. I keep pointing out that the two most recent deep economic downturns (1971-1982, 1929-1941) both lasted more than a decade, and I think this is most likely a fair translation of the current hype of "jobless recovery" and "low growth rates." The reality is that we're not going to experience a major economic recovery anytime soon, and I'd be somewhat surprised if we didn't see a substantial further downturn.

2. We will face deflation, probably simultaneously with fluctuating and sometimes extremely high (at least in relationship to people's ability to pay) prices for food and energy, which will confuse people who think that "inflation" means "higher prices." This will not change the fact that we are having deflation.

3. The trend towards growing your own, small home livestock, and home food preservation will continue to grow and expand - people who never thought they would know the word "compost" or touch a chicken will do so - and love it. Local food producers, on the other hand, may find that people are starting to cut back on organic, more sustainable food due to budgetary cconstraints as the "jobless recovery" turns out to be "long term joblessness."

4. A basic conflict between generations will begin to emerge and simmer as younger people realize that the concentration of wealth in the baby boomer generation isn't going anytime soon, and youth joblessness rises, and people realize that their expectations are less than their parents'. I doubt that this conflict will emerge in any dramatic way in 2010, but I think its groundwork is being sown right now and this will shape the politics of the next decade.

5. There will be a fragmentation of mostly fairly unified fronts among climate change activists and scientists as we are forced to deal with the revelations of last year - that we're not going to stay below 2 degrees. It will become increasingly uncertain how to respond and what to advocate for, and people will begin dividing up into camps much more dramatically than in the past.

6. Either the economic crisis or some other crisis (swine flu mutates, new climate change related disaster, military conflict with somewhere that most Americans can't find on a map... whatever) will give the US an excuse to take climate change mostly off the table as a subject. We're too busy! This is too important! Monies promised to poor nations will not be delivered.

7. Surging in Afghanistan won't help. (Ok, I needed one gimmee ;-)).

8. As I've been predicting for years, most of our energy and ecological crisis will show up as further economic blows. That is, it won't be a question of whether the grid fails or we run out of gas, but whether you can buy gas. The most likely reason you will lose power is because your utility company disconnects you. The need to respond to and clean up the next natural disaster will push everyone's resources just that much further. Peak oil and climate change will hit us hard in the next year and the coming year, but they will look like money worries and tight budgets and cut services and growing poverty, not like being underwater - at least mostly.

9. At least one very dramatic, totally unexpected game changer will come up, and change the terms of the discussion entirely. (Hey, I needed one risky one that makes me look good if it comes true ;-))

10. Most people won't look at 2010 as the year it all went to hell. But looking back from 2015 to 2005, they will know that somewhere in there, it all went to hell, and well, this was right there in the middle.

Happy New Year, everyone - I wish for all of you that all my bad predictions are wrong!

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Kunstler's 2010 Conclusion 12/28/09

Airport Attack on Gene Pool

SUBHEAD: Environmental radioactivity will fall more heavily on some than on others.


By Albert Bates on 29 December 2009 in The Great Change - 
(http://peaksurfer.blogspot.com/2009/12/airport-droids-attack-human-gene-pool.html)
 

Image above: Collage of Pamela Anderson in airport x-ray machine. From http://www.blogiversity.org/blogs/cstanton/archive/2009/10/14/controversy-over-naked-x-ray-at-airport.aspx  

If it's something that's going to improve safety, then I don't have any problem with it, I have nothing to hide."
— Ashley Houston, 32, as she waited for a plane in Phoenix (Reuters)
If you were against transhumanism before, perhaps you should give it another look. Our bodies are the product of a billion years of nature’s evolutionary processes, but the War on Terror is about to irrevocably corrupt our gene pool, causing untold immune system and other genetic damage to future generations, and possibly rendering the DNA coding that we are based on unacceptably toxic. We may need to port our intelligence to a machine, or to cyberspace, if “human” intelligence is to survive in today’s toxic environment.

While Homeland Security has installed Backscatter Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) into airports while successfully avoiding an environmental impact statement, and the Justice Department is now fighting FOIA requests for technical specifications (filed by EPIC, Electronic Privacy Information Center), we already know that backscatter radiation may interfere directly with DNA. Although the ionizing radiation is small, the terahertz waves the machines generate do more than show your private parts to the screener. They have been found to “unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication.”

Radiation waves occur naturally in the environment, and we’re hit with them all the time. But should we bombard ourselves with them unwillingly every time we want to board a flight? Initially the machines were supposed to be voluntary. Suddenly they are not. The TSA issued a blog saying:
“Backscatter X-ray technology uses X-rays that penetrate clothing, but not skin, to create an image. Millimeter wave technology uses sensors to collect millimeter wave energy to measure the difference in radiated energy relative to each object against a common background (the human body produces these signatures in typical screening applications) to construct a composite image. “For comparison purposes, the X-ray dose received from the backscatter system is equivalent to the radiation received in two minutes of airplane flight at altitude (.04 millirem by backscatter [2 scans] compared to .0552 millirem for two minutes of flight). “The [non-ionizing radio frequency] energy projected by the system is 10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission (.00000597 mW/cm2 for millimeter wave technology compared to 37.5 mW/cm2 for a cellphone).”
We don’t know about you, but whenever we hear a government agency use these kinds of comparisons we check our wallet. Backscatter X-rays are nothing like the cosmic radiation we get at high altitudes, flights included. Nor is background radiation — or cellphone radiation — safe, thank you very much. Medical science already knows how much terahertz radiation is safe for the body to absorb: none. You can think of it like sunlight — a little may be fine while a lot, you frequent flyers, may be deadly.

However, where ionizing radiation is concerned, there is something called the superlinear dose response that wrecks that sunlight analogy. Middling range exposures are fine because they destroy the cells they hit. Low range exposures are far deadlier, because DNA is mutated but the cells survive to divide. Our genome is smaller than that of an ear of corn, with about the same number of genes as an earthworm. DNA’s secrets are not just in the genes, but in the way the code is arranged. In the human cell, certain chemical bonds are crucial to the integrity of the genetic code and breaking just a few of these bonds may endow the code with a permanent alteration.

When a mutated gene is responsible for regulating normal cell growth, an uncontrolled proliferation of damaged cells, or cancer, can develop. When mutation occurs in the procreative cells or in the developing embryo, birth defects can result. When mutation occurs in the blood-forming tissue, impairment of the immune response system can result, and this can increase susceptibility to an entire spectrum of human disease.

Radiation is therefore said to be mutagenic (cell-mutating), carcinogenic (cancer-causing), teratogenic (birth-defect inducing), and immuno-suppressing (resistance-impairing). All of these effects, which begin at a submicroscopic level, remain invisible for extended periods of time until they reach observable proportions.

The latent period may be decades in the case of an incipient cancer, or it may be centuries in the case of a genetic effect. Even where the risk is very slight, if the population to be exposed is very large — several billion air-traveler-exposures annually — the epidemiological burden is overcome and real deaths result. Far more deaths, it may be (we won’t know as long as FOIA immunity reigns) than deaths from terrorist air hijackings.

Most predictive models also make the assumption that the exposed population is homogeneous. In fact, there are subgroupings for susceptibility in the population, and equal radiation exposure can increase disease by five to ten times in the more susceptible groups over the less susceptible. All men are not created equal, and the burden of environmental radioactivity will fall more heavily on some than on others, depending on their genes. Children are very vulnerable. Fetuses even more so. As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has acknowledged,
“Because our present state of knowledge precludes all possible meaningful quantifications of the relative radiosensitivity of a given individual, it is true that persons are not necessarily equally ‘protected’ by current federal regulations designed to protect the general population as a whole.” - Jeannine Honicker v. United States of America, et al.
One concept of the genetic mutation process put forward by the National Academy of Sciences employed a line of nucleoproteins in a normal sequence something like this: AGT-AGT-AGT-AGT-AGT-AGT-AGT.... In this model the DNA code is read and transmitted in groups of three proteins. Consider what happens if the sequence is disturbed, such as when a speeding terahertz wave dislodges one protein in the chain. The entire sequence is thrown off until two counterbalancing breaks occur that throw it back into correct order. Until then it is read: AG-TAG-TAG-TAG-TAG-TAG-TAG....

Suppose the AGT sequence was for brain cells, but the TAG sequence was for stomach muscles. You could get something pretty weird happening. It may have been from mutations such as these that all of us evolved. As a species, we arrived at our present form by selection of favorable mutations and elimination of unfavorable mutations, which is not to say it was a pleasant process for those individuals with the unfavorable mutations.

The rate of genetic translocations in humans caused by ionizing radiation and estimated in the current the scientific literature ranges from 24 to 1,330 translocations per unit of radiation (rad) per million live births per generation. It takes on the order of 100 generations to eliminate each unfavorable mutation from the genetic pool, whether it is for a fruit fly or a baboon. Biostatistician Rosalie Bertell has suggested that elevation of the background level of mutagens in combination with mutations which interfere with normal reproduction could result in sudden species extinction, which, if the species is humans, by the time we recognized the threat, we could be powerless to counter.

The US Supreme Court has marked this territory with a bright line. Where rights to be protected are clearly enumerated, are “so rooted in the traditions and conscience of the nation as to be ranked as fundamental,” or are “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,” so that failure to protect them would mark a departure from first principles, federal authority should be conditioned upon the demonstration of an overriding interest of compelling importance, the absence of less damaging alternatives for meeting that interest, and some method of limiting or restricting the scope of the excursion and redressing the injustice created.

Over the past decade, in the United States alone, we’ve had sixteen million flights that got to their destinations without incident for every flight that was victimized by crime. Should we punish the millions of safe passengers to deter the one criminal? Should we sacrifice our future genetic heritage for the sake of an abstract, and likely unobtainable, perfection of our “security?”

How we define security matters. We should force ourselves to thoroughly examine alternatives in the future before embarking upon any new governmental encroachments, or putting new wrinkles on old encroachments, that carry species-ending health implications. And Mr. Obama, tear down that secrecy wall.

America the Traumatized

SUBHEAD: How 13 events of the decade made us the post-traumatic-stress-disorder nation.

By Adele M. Stan on 30 December 2009 in AlterNet -  
(http://www.alternet.org/story/144791)


 
Image above: Baby New Year in the arms of Father Time. 
 


It's been one helluva decade, even though we've reached the end without knowing what to call it. Some have tried "the aughts," others the "double-Os." I'm content to simply call it over. To mark its location in the great march of history, I've taken to calling it the millennial decade, after the great numerological transition it heralded. Yet for describing its character, nothing comes closer than the Decade of Trauma -- American trauma, that is.

Here in the home of the brave, we've endured a decade that shattered nearly every notion of what it meant to be an American, whether you live on the left or the right. And so we shout. Or hide. Or startle too easily.

In America today, it seems we all have a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder, as evidenced by our increasingly vitriolic political environment, where reality is denied and histrionics run riot. Anger, we're told, is the natural reaction to trauma; in people with PTSD, the anger is out of control. By that measure, the millennial decade has brought us 10 years of PTSD politics -- with no end in sight.

From the Tea Party madness, the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to vote for any piece of legislation drafted by Democrats, the misuse of the filibuster in the Senate to all but break the institution, and the outsized rage on the left toward the Obama administration for simply behaving as politicians do, our national politics have moved beyond the bounds of extreme partisanship into the realm of mental illness.

This breaking of the national psyche was bound to happen; it's been decades in the making. American exceptionalism -- the idea that we are somehow better and more blessed than any other people on the face of the earth by dint of our own hard work, ingenuity, innate goodness and superior democracy -- was bound to fail as our nation, like every other before it, found itself caught in the grinding wheels of history.

Rooted in denial, the doctrine of American exceptionalism edits out of the American story the sins against humanity that created our nation: the genocide of the people who were here before the Europeans came, and the building of the nation on the backs of involuntary laborers who were tortured, abused and even killed for their trouble. Once you ditch that, it becomes easier to look past the other unpleasant realities of our history, be it our neo-colonialism throughout the world, which helped to build our economy, or the enduring practices of racism and sexism. But denial almost invariably leads to trauma, when on one day, or in one decade, the decay that denial fostered summons home the demons set loose through willful ignorance to do their fright dance before one's very eyes.

The 2000 election, 9/11, Enron and WorldCom, Afghanistan, Iraq on a lie, Abu Ghraib, the USA Patriot Act, Guantánamo, Katrina and near economic collapse: each of these -- and many, many others -- challenged our sense of national identity, giving the lie to who we thought we were, and compromising a sense of safety, however delusional, that we once enjoyed. No longer were Americans exempt from the perils that face other nations.

Even the decade's great culminating moment, the election of Barack Obama, beautiful though it was, rocked the nation, provoking revulsion on the right and an unsustainable ecstasy on the left -- extremes of emotion that do not speak well to the emotional stability of a people.

The decades that led us here were fraught with their own traumas. The '60s were convulsive; the '70s unnerving. The '80s and '90s brought a backlash against the changes wrought by the two previous decades. People of my generation saw, as children, three of our greatest national leaders gunned down. We saw dogs and fire hoses turned on people peaceably assembled to petition the government for redress. Women took to the streets, demanding a reordering of society, and ultimately, a reconfiguration of the family. We watched our nation at war in close-up video while young people filled the streets in protests. Gay people made themselves visible in vigils and rallies shown on the nightly news and in adorably cute sitcoms. We viewed it all in wood-paneled family rooms, our Swanson dinners before us on TV trays.

We saw a president resign in disgrace, and the taking of American hostages by an Islamic state. Yet, despite the upheaval, at the passing of each crisis we managed to stuff the genie back in the bottle -- or so we thought. Our belief in our democracy somehow prevailed in our thinking. Civil rights, centuries too late, were eventually won through the legislative process. The Vietnam War ended. Women emerged from the confines of the home. The assassination of one president and the resignation of another were succeeded by orderly transfers of power.

History being history, the story of the millennial decade is, in many ways, about the very same things that characterized the decades that ushered it in: racial strife, the renegotiation of gender roles, our nation's place in the world, declining economic fortunes, ugly wars and unconstitutional actions by the government. But this decade offered one critical difference; the disorderly world was no longer contained within a glass tube in a wood-paneled bunker. It sneaked up behind us and whacked us in the head.

The Numerology of the End-Times
It didn't help that the 2000s came upon us with a handicap conferred by Western numerology. Throughout the Christian Bible, three is a heavy number, and here we are, at the dawn of the Third Millennium, measured from the presumed date of the birth of Jesus the Christ, who is one-third of the Holy Trinity, who died at the age of 33, only to rise again on the third day.

It really doesn't matter what religion you were raised in, or whether you were raised in one at all; America is culturally Christian, and this numerology is written into the DNA of all Christian nations. Hence the popularity of religio-conspiracy tales such as The DaVinci Code and "National Treasure," or the apocalyptic fantasies of the Left Behind book series.

The new decade made its entrance under the threat of a terrorist act planned for the United States. Two weeks before New Year's Eve, authorities arrested Ahmed Ressam at a Canadian border crossing, where customs officials found bomb-making materials in his car. Ressam's target, intelligence officials said, was Los Angeles International Airport. Other cites, it was said, were in the terrorists' sights, as well. The Millennium Plot, they called it.

Celebrations for the great turning of the millennial wheel took place amid a backdrop of jitters; city officials across the nation talked of suspending New Year's events. In Washington D.C., a debate took place over whether a planned fireworks display was appropriate, in light of the threat.

The brave decided to party like it was 1999.
Win, Lose or Draw
The millennial decade got underway in America in the midst of a presidential campaign. Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, both scions of political families, faced off in a hard-fought contest that appeared to end in a draw. When the polls closed, the electoral college map featured several states that offered no clear winner, an outcome that had never occurred in the television age.

The drama dragged on for more than a month, culminating in an action by the Supreme Court that history will likely judge to have been unconstitutional.

The impact of this election on the American psyche was, I believe, profound; regardless of one's political orientation. A large part of the narrative of American exceptionalism hinges upon our belief that we are a self-governing people. However weak we may have felt in the face of corporate malfeasance or government overreach, we still clung to the notion of our collective power as a people through the use of the ballot box.

After the 2000 election, the ballot box was exposed as an arbitrary measure, its verdict determined by hanging chads and poorly organized ballots. Still, however imperfect, it was the expression of our will -- until the Supreme Court stepped in and ordered a halt to the recount taking place in Florida, the last state to determine a winner.

The Supreme Court essentially overruled the State of Florida's right to see its disorderly election to a conclusion, throwing the election to Bush and stomping on the states' rights conservatives so championed until the high court intervened to grant them the presidential candidate of their choice. A subsequent study found that Gore won the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes.

Powerlessness, writes Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard Medical School, is the central experience of trauma. The source of our power as a people is our electoral system, which was revealed to be either broken or a joke. Even those who supported Bush likely experienced something deeply unsettling in the six weeks before the Supreme Court rendered its verdict, when Republican congressional staffers were sent to the Sunshine state to disrupt the recount with riotous tactics, and chaos reigned in the political sphere.

When the decision finally came on December 12, 2000, it came not from the people, but from the very judiciary the right so despises.

And we weren't even through the decade's first year.

Terror From the Skies
If the American people weren't traumatized by the breakdown of our democracy in 2000, they surely were by the events of September 11, 2001, when four commercial aircraft were commandeered by al Qaeda terrorists, successfully taking down the World Trade Center in New York City -- the leading symbol of America's domination of the global economy -- and leaving a gaping hole in the Pentagon, the symbol of America's military might. The fourth plane, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, was apparently headed for the U.S. Capitol building, the symbol of America's representative democracy.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the attacks. In New York, bodies tumbled from the sky as workers in the Trade Center towers leaped to their deaths in order to escape the flames.

Any people subjected to such a fearsome sight would rightly be traumatized. But America's trauma was exacerbated by the myth of our own exceptionalism -- the belief that such things don't happen here -- as well as the media's endless repetition of the video loops of the planes hitting the Trade Center towers.

In the mind of a traumatized person, the reliving of traumatic events often recurs in regular flashbacks, keeping alive the terror and sense of powerlessness caused by the original event. In the wake of 9/11, we didn't need our own minds to hit the replay button; the media did it for us, setting us up for a decade of unconstitutional horrors that went virtually unchecked with the acquiescence of our traumatized populace.

We didn't think twice when our nation invaded Afghanistan; after all, the reasoning went, al Qaeda, a non-state actor, was based there. We barely blinked when the USA Patriot Act -- a legislative repudiation of the Bill of Rights -- passed with the votes of Democrats and Republicans alike, allowing the federal government to detain, without charges or warrants, virtually anybody it cared to, all in the name of national security. Only one Democratic senator voted against the bill: Russell Feingold of Wisconsin.

In 2002, amid revelations about the role of the Roman Catholic Church in a massive cover-up of sexual crimes against children by a number of priests, and the Enron and WorldCom corporate scandals, the Bush administration began banging the drum for an invasion of Iraq. Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, we were told, that an unscrupulous dictator was bent on using against us.

Very few in the political opposition actually believed the claims made by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell in early 2003, but almost no one dared to defy them. In March, the United States invaded Iraq, with the permission of congressional majorities in both political parties. Only a few would dare, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on America's "homeland," to risk looking like wimps.

Suffering neglect at the hands of one's caretaker, psychology textbooks tell us, can sometimes result in psychological trauma. If you view our elected officials as caretakers of a sort, we were indeed neglected.

Our own dissociation from the passage of the USA Patriot Act speaks to our collective trauma; even those of us who were hell-bent against it failed to organize a fight. As our constitutional rights were put through the shredder, we threw up our hands.

It wasn't until the country went to war that the left organized massive protests. But the media's failure to fully report on the widespread anti-war sentiment served to further demoralize many. The only ones not looking away, it seemed, were the Bush administration and the organs of the permanent government, such as the FBI and the National Security Agency.

Play It Again, Uncle Sam
April 2004 brought us the horrifying images of prisoner torture--some of it highly sexualized -- by U.S. soldiers and contractors of detainees held at the U.S. prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and the destruction of any real claim to America's moral superiority among nations. Photographs leaked to the news media included one of a pyramid of naked male prisoners and one of a naked male prisoner with a leash around his neck, held by a small, female soldier, Private Lynndie England. One of the most infamous photos depicted a prisoner outfitted in a hood and made to stand on a box with wires attached to his extremities, part of a psychological torture scheme to make him believe he was about to be electrocuted.

America's sins were now exposed to the world, and to her own people, compounded by the fact that our leaders lied to us with assurances that the U.S. did not torture its detainees.

We were now completely unmoored from the safe harbor of our belief in our fundamental goodness as a nation, with no one trustworthy in charge of anything that mattered. We were utterly abandoned.

In the midst of another presidential election, we grappled with this truth. With the 9/11 attacks still fresh in our minds, we remained a traumatized people, now broken and stripped of our identity.

In its bid to retain power, the Bush administration played what the media termed the politics of fear or the politics of terror, but in truth it was the politics of trauma. The 9/11 attacks were invoked repeatedly, most notably at the Republican National Convention, held in a locked-down New York City, where an entire evening was devoted to a 9/11 tribute designed to manipulate convention-goers and TV viewers into seeing the current president as heroic in the face of attacks whose probability he had been warned of, a warning he did nothing to address at the time he received it.

At the time, I chafed at the media's description of Bush's campaign tactics, writing:

The politics of fear is based around ideas such as these: that homosexuals are out to recruit your children, that God will punish the nation for its sins, that the family is broken when women have power, that membership in the United Nations demands the surrender of our nation's sovereignty. In short, the politics of fear exploits the trepidation innate in humans when facing change of any kind, and tweaks it to a twitchy pitch in times of great social change.
The politics of trauma is another beast entirely, based as it is, not on fear of the unknown, but the exploitation of something atrocious that has already occurred, the fear that it will happen again, and the psychological toxins produced by experiencing the atrocity.
Put another way, our 9/11 trauma was invoked as a means of disempowering us. And it worked -- well enough, anyway.

Just as the media looked away when hundreds of protesters were rounded up in New York that week and illegally detained in a makeshift jail on the Chelsea Pier, they also lost their nerve after the election returns rolled in, leaving behind their own reports of shenanigans at the polls and in the counting-rooms of Ohio, where another election may have been stolen. Had Ohio been called for Democratic candidate John Kerry, he would have won the election.

Even Democrats wanted no part of an inquiry into the long lines at polling places in Ohio that served African-American neighborhoods, or the eviction of the media from a county building where votes were being counted. Only Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., dared to conduct an inquiry, which was promptly ignored.

Such was the defeat of the American people that we allowed this to happen with barely a passing glance. This is the way traumatized people behave at the hands of an abuser -- by playing dead, dissociating, or slipping into denial at the injustice that has been done to them.

By the year's end, reports began to surface of torture at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But George W. Bush and his meglomaniacal Vice President Dick Cheney would have another four years to prostrate a nation that was already on its knees.

Hurricane Katrina and the Lie of Racial Comity
One tenet of American exceptionalism is that it claims to worship the heterogeneous nature of our society, and the belief that anyone can make it in our nation if he or she just tries hard enough. Along the way, after the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, we told ourselves that we were on the path to redemption for a past rife with racism.

After Hurricane Katrina barreled up a man-made waterway in New Orleans on August 29, 2005, yet another myth -- one fundamental to our own self-concept -- was battered. Despite warnings that the levies protecting one of America's oldest cities were about to give way, the president looked away. The federal government failed spectacularly to respond to a city under water, a city inhabited largely by African Americans.

The ugliness of our nation's racialized past is never far from the surface in New Orleans, an ancient trading post that was a major port of entry for African slaves, who were sold at its markets. The rhythms of New Orleans are distinctly African, and it is the birthplace of America's highest form of indigenous music -- jazz. The religion of the place is laced with voodoo, a syncretization of West African and European Christian beliefs. For these reasons -- all reminders of the involuntary labor that built this nation -- more than a few wouldn't mind seeing New Orleans fall into the Gulf of Mexico.

Within days after Katrina hit, it became apparent that something was terribly wrong. There was no food or water in the Morial Convention Center, where as many as 20,000 had gathered for refuge at the direction of city officials. Television captured the desperation: children begging for help, mothers begging for food for their children. If national television crews could find their way there, we wondered, then why couldn't federal emergency responders?

You know the rest of the story. I retell just enough to remind you of what it felt like to watch that: helpless. It's hard to imagine a sensation more disempowering than helplessness. And powerlessness, you'll recall, is the central experience of trauma.

We'll never know how many people died on the Gulf Coast as a result of Hurricane Katrina: many bodies are believed to have washed out to sea. In February 2006, documented deaths were tallied at 1,300, with another 2,300 reported missing.

Economic Meltdown
An ancillary to the doctrine of American exceptionalism is the belief that every generation of Americans will do better economically than their parents did before them. It's a ridiculous notion if you really think about it -- the cycles of economic history utterly defy it -- but one that enables the American propensity for building economic bubbles. In the 2000s, we built a big one, and today we suffer the effects of its bursting with a mighty pop.

The apparent prosperity of the early years of the decade was built on a lot of fake money (what we call credit), much of it invested in real estate, which was said never to lose value. (Did anybody bother to phone back to the '80s, when real estate values took a dive?) The deregulation of the financial industry, begun under President Bill Clinton, encouraged the creation of all manner of financial instruments -- some that were gambles animated by complicated formulas, others that allowed you to use the equity in your home as a line of credit, still others that were mortgages with adjustable rates on homes granted to buyers who could not afford them. The junky mortgages were then unloaded by their creators, lapped up by other financial entities eager to take on those debts for their promised returns.

By 2006, housing values began to dip, and the returns on that debt began to slide. By 2007, the housing bubble was on the verge of bursting. In 2008, in the midst of yet another presidential campaign, it did.
An Historic Vote
And what an election it was. The contest for the Democratic nomination lasted far longer than any in recent memory, with the two candidates left standing after Super Tuesday each representing a potential "first" for the country: If the Democrats won, the next president would either be a white woman or an African-American man. The contest drew a division between the party's two most stalwart activist constituencies, the feminist and civil rights movements. Many black women felt themselves both ignored and torn between the two candidates.

When Barack Obama emerged as the Democrats' pick, American exceptionalism both found expression in his story and a test in his candidacy. The narrative of American exceptionalism, begun in Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, hinges on the idea of our nation as one hospitable to immigrants. Yet Obama's exotic name provoked an hysterical conspiracy theory based on right-wing allegations that he was not born in the U.S., and was therefore ineligible for the presidency. This theory lives on today, even though authorities and reporters have authenticated his Hawaii birth certificate.

In September 2008, the stock market crashed, all but ensuring the election of America's first black president, as his Republican opponent, John McCain, was associated in the public mind with all that had gone wrong under George W. Bush. Our traumatized republic had at last reached its tipping point. While Obama's core supporters were wild about him, his majority was secured by many who voted for him reluctantly.

Before we had an African-American president, it was easier to believe we had, as a nation, largely put that old racist past to bed. Obama's election hit the nation like a thunderclap, shaking the nuts from the trees. For those on the right, the election of America's first black president was yet another trauma added to the string that had piled up over the course of the decade. On the left, the elation felt by a constituency traumatized by the authoritarian and oligarchical excesses of the Bush years was bound to deflate when the new president was revealed to be both human and a politician.

Take a Deep Breath
So, here we find ourselves, on the brink of a new decade, traumatized, at odds with each other, constituencies shattering within constituencies. Just when you thought the Republican Party could move no further to the right, the Tea Party movement emerges, its adherents full of rage and convinced that their way of life will be brought to an end with the election of the new president, whom they see as foreign and threatening. And so he is given the same attributes as threats of the historical past: He's a socialist, a fascist, a communist.

"The thoughts or beliefs that people have to help them understand and make sense of their environment can often overexaggerate threat," reads a brief from the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. "Often the individual is not fully aware of these thoughts and beliefs, but they cause the person to perceive more hostility, danger, or threat than others might feel is necessary."

The left is no less traumatized, its various constituencies now at odds over the health care bill, with some turning their sense of threatened destruction back on the president with an exaggerated sense of betrayal.

Whether denying the reality of the president's birth certificate or the votes required by a filibuster-happy Senate, both sides in our political dialogue are at work creating their own, closed-universe realities.

Untreated PTSD, according to Raymond B. Flannery, a clinical psychology professor at Harvard Medical School, can lead to "increased industrial accidents, social and community disorganization, lost productivity, and intense psychological distress. The toll in human suffering is enormous..." In other words, unless we deal with this, America's Decade of Trauma may just be the opening act to a cataclysmic century.

I recommend we begin the new decade with a sort of national intervention, where we stop and breathe for a minute, slowly and evenly, and then review the events of the last decade, and think about how each of them made us feel. That's what the therapists would have us do.

But wait -- there's more. According to the sages at Helpguide, PTSD therapy also entails "identifying upsetting thoughts about the traumatic event -- particularly thoughts that are distorted and irrational -- and replacing them with more a balanced picture." Of course, all this hinges on admitting we have a problem and wanting to address it.

Never mind. We're Americans. Problem? Who's got a problem?
See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Name for a Decade 12/28/09

Survivalism Lite

SUBHEAD: They call themselves 'preppers.' They are regular people with homes and families. But like the survivalists that came before them, they're preparing for the worst.

 By Jessica Bennett on 28 December 2009 in Newsweek - 
 (http://www.newsweek.com/id/228428) 



 
Image above: A photo of Kauai's north shore for Hawaii Preppers Network. From http://www.hawaiipreppersnetwork.com




Lisa Bedford is what you'd imagine of a stereotypical soccer mom. She drives a white Tahoe SUV. An American flag flies outside her suburban Phoenix home. She sells Pampered Chef kitchen tools and likes to bake. Bedford and her husband have two young children, four dogs, and go to church on Sunday. But about a year ago, Bedford's homemaking skills went into overdrive.

She began stockpiling canned food, and converted a spare bedroom into a giant storage facility. The trunk of each of her family's cars got its own 72-hour emergency kit—giant Tupperware containers full of iodine, beef jerky, emergency blankets, and even a blood-clotting agent designed for the battle-wounded. Bedford started thinking about an escape plan in case her family needed to leave in a hurry, and she and her husband set aside packed suitcases and cash. Then, for the first time in her life, Bedford went to a gun range and shot a .22 handgun.

Now she regularly takes her two young children, 7 and 10, to target practice. "Over the last two years, I started feeling more and more unsettled about everything I was seeing, and I started thinking, 'What if we were in the same boat?'" says Bedford, 49. Bedford is what you might call a modern-day survivalist—or, as she describes it, a "prepper." Far from the stereotype of survivalists past, she owns no camouflage, and she doesn't believe that 2012—the final year of the Mayan calendar—will be the end of the world. She likes modern luxuries (makeup, air conditioning, going out to eat), and she's no doomsayer.

But like the rest of us, Bedford watched as the housing bubble burst and the economy collapsed. She has friends who've lost their homes, jobs, and 401(k)s. She remembers Hurricane Katrina, and wonders how the government might respond to the next big disaster, or a global pandemic. And though she hopes for the best—the last thing she wants is for something bad to happen—she's decided to prepare her family for the worst. "We never set out to go build a bunker to protect ourselves from nuclear fallout; I have no idea how to camp in the wild," Bedford says, laughing. "But as all of this stuff started hitting closer to home, we [wanted] to take some steps to safeguard ourselves."

In the past, survivalists and conspiracy theorists might go out into the woods, live out of a bunker, waiting (or sometimes hoping) for the apocalypse to hit. It was men, mostly; many of them antigovernment, often portrayed by the media as radicals of the likes of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In the late 1990s, Y2K fears brought survivalism to the mainstream, only to usher it back out again when disaster didn't strike. (Suddenly, unused survival gear began showing up in classifieds and on eBay).

A decade later, "preppers" are what you might call survivalism's Third Wave: regular people with jobs and homes whose are increasingly fearful about the future—their paranoia compounded by 24-hour cable news. "Between the media and the Internet, many people have built up a sense that there's this calamity out there that needs to be avoided," says Art Markman, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Texas who studies the way people think. And while they may not envision themselves as Kevin Costner in Waterworld—in fact, many preppers go out of their way to avoid the stereotypes that come along with the "survivalist" label—they've made a clear-eyed calculation about the risks at hand and aren't waiting around for anybody else to fix them.

"I consider it more of a reaction than a movement," says Tom Martin, a 32-year-old Idaho truck driver who is the founder of the American Preppers Network, which receives some 5,000 visitors to its Web site each day. "There are so many variables and potential disasters out there, being a prepper is just a reaction to that potential." That reaction, of course, means different things to different people. Some prep for economic disaster, while others prep to escape genetically modified foods. An organic farmer could be considered a prepper; so might an urban gardener.

Some preppers fear putting their names out in public—they don't want every desperate soul knocking down their door in the event of a disaster—while others see it as a network they can rely upon were something horrible to happen. Some preppers fear the complete breakdown of society, while others simply want to stock up on extra granola bars and lighter fluid in case of a blackout or a storm. Hard-core survivalists might think of preppers as soft; "Eventually, the Chef Boyardee is going to run out," jokes Cody Lundin, the founder of the Aboriginal Living Skills School, a survival camp based out of his home in Prescott, Az.

But prepping, says Martin, is just a new word for a very old way of life. "You don't have to have a survival retreat loaded with guns secluded in the wilderness to be a prepper," adds David Hill Sr., 54, a former jet mechanic who runs the Web site WhatisaPrepper from his home in rural West Virginia.

"There are many people who live in urban and suburban areas who don't own guns who also identify themselves as preppers." Researchers say that interest in survivalism can often be a barometer of social anxiety; and in many cases, says sociologist Richard Mitchell, it can be a response to modern stress. If that's true, it's no surprise we're seeing an uptick in it now: from climate change to the economy, swine flu to terrorism, the current state of the world is enough to make even the biggest cynic just a little bit worried.

As U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano reminded us in a recent speech at the American Red Cross, 90 percent of Americans live in an area where there is moderate or high risk of natural disaster. "I think what we're experiencing is a kind of generational panic attack," says Neil Strauss, the former New York Times writer whose latest book, Emergency, is about how to survive in a disaster. "We were born in a good time.

We experienced booming technology and rising stock prices. And then all of a sudden, 9/11 happened, Katrina happened, the economy plunged. And it's like the rug being pulled out from under our feet." While there's no scientific data to track survivalism's recent growth, some preppers have speculated it's reached a level not matched in decades. Emergency-supply retailers say they're seeing business boom; the Red Cross has had a surge in volunteers over the past year (up some 160,000 over 2008), and there are networks of preppers—from Prepper.org to the Suburban Prepper, to Bedford's own blog, "The Survival Mom"—sprouting up all over the Web. FEMA's new head under Obama, Craig Fugate, has encouraged Americans to get in touch with their inner survivalist, and his organization recently launched a "Resolve to be Ready" campaign encouraging Americans to make preparedness part of their New Year's resolutions.

"I think what people have come to realize is that [organizations like ours] can't always be everywhere we need to be as quickly as we need to be," says Jonathan Aiken, a spokesman for the American Red Cross. "So I think the messaging has changed, from FEMA on down, that in the event of an emergency, people need to be prepared to take care of themselves for a couple of days until the rest of us can come out and get to you."

Government has always played an active role in emergency preparedness. Nuclear-raid drills were part of everyday life for school children in the 1950s and '60s, and building bomb shelters was encouraged because of the nuclear threat. In 1999, the government set up a $50 million crisis center to deal with the computer threats posed by Y2K, and after 9/11, residents were pushed to stock up on plastic and duct tape to seal their homes in the event of a biological attack.

But in 2010, as we enter the new year under an elevated threat level, the problems at hand can seem insurmountable and unknown, to the point that even Barton M. Biggs, the former chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, warns in his 2008 book that we must "assume the possibility of a breakdown of the civilized infrastructure." Where that leaves preppers is struggling to fill the void. "We want people to understand that preparedness is an individual's job, too," says Joseph Bruno, New York City’s commissioner of emergency management, where polling has shown that more than 50 percent of residents are thinking about preparedness—up from just 18 percent in 2004. "I'm a newsaholic, and that probably feeds some of this," says Bedford. "But I like to think that if we're prepared, it's one less family the government has to worry about."

In the end, what it all boils down to, at least for the preppers, is self-reliance—a concept as old as the human race itself. As survival blogger Joe Solomon pointed out in a recent column, during the Victory Gardens of WWII, Americans managed to grow 40 percent of all the vegetables they needed to survive.

"My mother's parents had a 10-acre garden, and my grandfather worked at the dairy farm next door," says Hill, the former jet mechanic. "They worked by raising their own food, they had their own chickens, they canned vegetables, and my grandfather fed a family of 12 like that." But in the modern world, he says, many of those skills are easily forgotten. Today, our food comes from dozens of different sources. Most of us aren't quite sure how electricity gets from the wires to our stoves. We use debit cards to buy a can of tuna and we wouldn't have the slightest idea how to filter contaminated water. We are residents of the new millennium; we simply haven't needed to prepare.

So for the moment, people like Bedford are reteaching themselves lost skills—and in some cases, learning new ones. Bedford has read up on harvesting an urban garden, and is learning to use a solar oven to bake bread. She is ready with a pointed shot in the event she ever needs to hunt for her own food. And until then, she's got 61 cans of chili, 20 cans of Spam, 24 jars of peanut butter, and much more stocked in her pantry; she estimates she's spent about $4,000 on food supplies, an amount that should keep her family going for at least three months. Now, even if something simple goes wrong, like a paycheck doesn't go through, "we don't need to worry," she says.

Bedford knows it all might sound a little nuts—and she's careful about how much she reveals, and to whom. But she believes that in times of uncertainty, what she's doing is simply common sense. As for the rest of us, isn't it a little bit crazy not to prepare?


Larsen's Beach Celebration

SUBHEAD: Keep Larsen's Beach open to the public. Historic Hawaiian Coastal Trail threatened too.

 
Image above: A view looking north at Larsen's Beach. From http://queenyellowsun.wordpress.com/2009/10/19/stop-larsens-beach-access-trail-being-cut-off  

By Isa Maria on 29 December 2009 for Island Breath -

  Dear friends, As I understand it, the final decision granting permission to fence off all public access to the historic coastal trail to Larsen's Beach is imminent. There have been meetings between landowners, ranchers leasing the land, and lawmakers which have been closed to the public, and we have not been allowed a public hearing. The permit to build the fence has been granted based on false information, such as claims that there is no wildlife (such as monk seals and albatross), archaeological sites, historic significance, or important limu gathering tradition at Larsen's. Last night a small group of us decided to create a grassroots public hearing by holding a gathering at Larsen's beach this Saturday. This will be an opportunity for us all to show our support for the public right to beach access. Please participate in any way that feels right to you. Expect media and police attention. We will hold strong to our commitment to practice Aloha. Attached is the announcement. Fact sheet to follow. Mahalo,  

WHAT:
Larsen's Beach Access Celebration Get the facts. Voice your opinion. Support public access.  

WHERE:
At Larsen's Beach. At the end of Larson's Beach Road, off Moloaa Road, off Kuhio Highway; Moloaa, Kauai, Hawaii  

WHEN:
Saturday, 2 January, 2009 Family Beach Party all day Rally 1:00pm - 3:00pm  

CONTACT:
Isa Maria email: isamagic@gmail.com phone: (808) 652-6139

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Kaakaaniu Beach in Danger 11/10/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Keep Kaakaaniu Beach Access 10/28/09

Iranian protests deepen

SUBHEAD: They are among the most vibrant and imaginative civil disobedience campaigns anywhere in the world.

By Josh Levs on 28 December 2009 on Cable Network News - 
(http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/12/28/iran.protests.streets/index.html)

  
Image above: AFP photo of woman being beaton on street of Teheran by security forces on 12/27/09. From http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/12/29/iran.protests.larijani/index.html  

In the middle of a loud, violent brawl in Tehran, Iran, anti-government protesters manage to corner a handful of riot police who were sent to combat them. As the crowd pushes the police against a wall -- with screams coming from all directions -- a protester points his finger at them. "Why are you doing this?" he yells.

One of the police -- the only one whose helmet is off, his face apparently bloody -- responds. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry." The other police stand still, trapped by the crowd's grasp. Then the protester says something else, in one of the most telling signs of the historic anti-government rebellion sweeping through the streets of Iran.

He demands that the police call Ayatollah Khamenei -- the supreme leader of the nation's hardline Islamic government -- a "bastard." Reports including photos from the scene indicate the incident took place Sunday. Are you in Iran?

Share your photos and video and tell us what's going on. The video, leaked to the world via YouTube despite a widespread crackdown by Iran's government, is a sign of what is under way in the country: an unprecedented groundswell that shows no sign of abating, six months after a disputed presidential election started it all.

n the latest series of clashes that sparked over the weekend, eight people were killed, according to Iran's Supreme National Security Council -- making it the deadliest incidents since June. The fighting came on the anniversary of Ashura, a major Shiite Muslim Holy day that provided a critical religious backdrop.

Ashura marks the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammed, as a martyr. Large crowds pour into streets each year for the observance. Some demonstrators over the weekend compared Khamenei to Yazid, the caliph who killed Imam Hussein.

As the country's religious leaders called for arrests of protesters, the demonstrators asked how the government would dare to round up people who had gathered for events marking the religious occasion. Still, hundreds were arrested. One of the country's national security officials called openly for demonstrators to be rounded up and carted off. Videos posted online from Tehran show protesters with their heads covered in blood, in some cases requiring help walking from fellow demonstrators.

Witnesses said members of the Basij, the government's militia, were smashing protesters on the head with their batons. Two other gruesome videos show protesters in the streets who appear to have just been killed. The videos also seem to show a growing fearlessness, a fierceness among the demonstrators that has people around the world asking whether the revolt will one day spell the end of Iran's Islamic republic.

 CNN's Reza Sayah, an Iran native who covers the region, called it an unprecedented uprising, presenting "the most significant challenge" the Islamic republic has faced since its government came to power through a revolution 30 years ago. "Its strength, its power over these past 30 years has been repression, has been intimidation of anyone who's dissented," but the government hasn't managed to quell this rebellion, Sayah said.

"And you look at this opposition movement, and you have to ask yourself how. They don't have a strong leader. They don't have a structure.

They don't have an organization. But somehow they manage to mobilize and move out." Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, D.C. -- a public critic of Iran's hardline government -- told CNN's "American Morning, "I think this may actually turn out to be a breaking point. What we've seen here is how the opposition, six months after the fraud in elections, still have a lot of fight in them.

I think they've taken the Iranian authorities by surprise. They're still coming out in huge numbers, and morale seems to be stronger amongst the opposition than among the security forces at this point. "This could very well end up being one of those indicators that this is not just going to end -- this is going to go for something that can be causing a dramatic change, not only in Iran but in the region as a whole." The Iranian government presents a very different story.

Through state-run media, the government has insisted that security forces have not killed anyone. The state has also said it believes some of the videos may have been staged in order to make the government look bad.

The English Web site of state-run news agency IRNA led Monday with a story about Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, planning a visit to Tajikistan.

Of about 20 headlines on the main screen of the Web site, none mentioned the protests. Iran's media blackout made it difficult to verify accounts that leaked out. Among the stories getting a great deal of attention around the world Monday was a suggestion that the body of Iran's opposition leader's nephew, who was among those killed over the weekend, had disappeared.

The reformist Web site Parlemannews reported Sunday that Saeed Ali Mousavi, nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, was among the dead. Iran's state-run Press TV quoted unnamed police officials as identifying one of the dead as "Seyyed Ali Mousavi."

On Monday, Parlemannews said the body had disappeared. While such details could not be confirmed by CNN, it was clear that government actions in general against the protesters were fueling the protests -- not just among young Iranians seeking change, but among some older Iranians who once supported the Islamic regime.

On Saturday evening, a pro-government mob barged into a mosque where former president and reformist leader Mohammad Khatami was speaking. Khatami's supporters fought back, and word spread throughout the country.

Khatami is a respected cleric, a former elected leader. The protests also came as Iranians were mourning the Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a key figure in the 1979 Iranian revolution. Montazeri went on to become one of the government's most vocal critics.

Robin Wright, author of the book "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East," told CNN on Monday that while Iran's opposition is fragmented, the various groups have come together.

"This is a very important moment in Iranian history, and it is probably time to start asking whether Iran's uprising could become a Berlin Wall moment," Wright said in an interview with CNN's "American Morning." She added, "It's not just an issue of the sporadic protests once or twice a month... It's also one of the most vibrant and imaginative civil disobedience campaigns anywhere in the world."

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Rooftop Revolution in Iran 6/21/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Iranian Regime Change 6/23/09

More than Just a Good Movie

SUBHEAD: James Cameron's Avatar delivers a powerful message of connectedness with Mother Nature.

 
Image above: Matte painting contest submission of jungle landscape on planet Pandora by Avatar movie fan, Aleksey Golovchenko (aka Hardy Guardy), From http://mattepainting.org/vb/showthread.php?t=6206 or visit http://b2bh.com  

By Mike Adams on 26 December 2009 in NaturalNews.com -  
(http://www.naturalnews.com/027810_Avatar_James_Cameron.html)

 If you see just one film this holiday season (or even this year), make it James Cameron's Avatar. It's a powerful, inspiring film that demonstrates movie-making at its best, and it delivers a crucial message for our time: That all living beings are connected and that those who seek to exploit nature rather than respect it will only destroy themselves.

Much of the press about Avatar has focused on the special effects, the motion capture and the 3-D presentation. These are modern filmmaking marvels, for certain, but the film succeeds for a far more important reason: Its story -- and its message.

Others have reviewed the film in a more critical light; notably Alex Jones who sees it as more of a propaganda piece (http://www.infowars.com/alex-jones-...). But I see the film differently, and I think it carries a strong, positive message. (Spoiler alert: This article discusses some of the plot elements of the film.) With Avatar, Cameron has delivered a fast-paced fantasy adventure that weaves together a stream of powerful themes that are so important to our modern world that they extend far beyond the world of fictional film: Issues like corporations destroying nature for profit, the lack of respect for living creatures, and the failed policies of "military diplomacy" that the USA continues to pursue.

 The themes in Avatar reflect the greatest challenges of our modern world, and the message of Avatar is both deeply moving and highly relevant to the future of human civilization. Not many who view Avatar will understand all this, of course.

To the younger crowd, Avatar is simply a cool action-adventure film with a compelling love story that makes it a great date flick. But to those who've been around on this planet a little longer, the story of Avatar is a far important story of good versus evil, war versus peace, destruction versus healing and isolationism versus interconnectedness. This depth of sensitivity to life is rare to find in any film these days, much less a blockbuster feature film, but that's what makes Avatar so truly remarkable. It speaks to viewers at many different levels, intertwining the core themes of human mythology in an extremely tight, fast-paced screenplay that doesn't let a second go to waste.

 That's classic James Cameron, of course: Cutting scenes, dialog and seconds out of the film until it becomes a polished, tightly-presented story that transports you into the on-screen world and doesn't let go of you until the credits roll. It's an emotional story, too. Much like Titanic, Avatar convincingly pulls you into the minds and hearts of the key characters, delivering an authentic emotional connection with the on-screen characters even though their skin is blue.

 Colonialism
The overriding theme of Avatar is one of western Colonialism, where western nations use their military might to invade lesser developed countries, terrorize their people and pillage their lands for valuable natural resources. And yet these acts of military imperialism are always justified by the imperialists. As the top military commander says in the film in response to the natives resisting their lands being pillages, "We'll fight terror with terror!"

It remains the standard operating procedure of any military imperialist nation. Invade whatever country you wish, and if the locals fight back, condemn them as terrorists and use that as an excuse to turn up the heat with even more bombs and weapons.  

Gaia and the interconnectedness of nature
 One of the more interesting elements in Avatar is the neural connection fibers that each living creature is born with on the planet. Animals, humanoids and even the trees have these neural connection fibers, allowing all living creatures to "plug in" to each other's neural networks. Once connected, they can feel each other's emotions and thoughts. They are, in essence, operating as one single being with expanded sensory awareness.

This plot element is largely thought of as fiction, but in reality, it is merely a representation of something that's very real in our world. The interconnectedness of all living systems through methods that science hasn't yet identified. Although science won't admit it, there does exist some medium of communication between living things right here on planet Earth. Plants, for example, really do talk to each other through their roots and other sensory systems.

The study of this field of science is called Plant Neurobiology, and the world's top research facility is the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology in Italy. There, it has long been established that plants are, in fact, intelligent. (http://www.wired.com/science/discov...) Recent research actually demonstrates that plants communicate over their own "chat networks" where important information is exchanged about what's happening in their immediate environment. (http://www.physorg.com/news10994483...)

The world depicted in Avatar also demonstrates the healing power of Mother Nature as the key character Jack Sully has his consciousness transferred from his broken human body to his much stronger alien body through the help of a healing tree (into which all the natives are neurologically plugged in, too).

The concept of Gaia is also unleashed in the film, although it's never referred to as Gaia. At one point in the film when all hope seems lost for the natives, Jack Sully prays to Gaia to help save them, at which point the female character Na'vi says, "[Mother Natutre] doesn't take sides. She only maintains the balance of life." This demonstrates a much deeper understanding of the role of nature than most modern humans grasp.  

Avatar and the Amazon Rainforest

Much of what takes place in Avatar could be described as a very accurate reflection of the struggle between petroleum companies and the indigenous populations of the Amazon rainforest. As someone who lives in Ecuador full time, I am particularly aware of some of the local details of this struggle. It is essentially the same setup as Avatar.

Native people live in harmony with the environment, respecting the life around them, and then a western corporation shows up and destroys their ecosystem, poisons the people and exploits the land in order to mine it for valuable natural resources.

The people fight back and they're met with military force. This reflects the very modern story of the indigenous Ecuadorian Indians versus Chevron and its oil drilling agenda. Read more about this conflict between Chevron and the people of the Amazon here: http://chevrontoxico.com/  

Fighting back
What's satisfying about Avatar, of course, is that the natives fight back. Rather than allowing their lands to be destroyed by corporate greed, they fight the imperialists with intelligence and a network of willing animals operating via land and air -- animals who ultimately allow the natives to defend themselves against the invaders.

Here's where Avatar really becomes fiction, because in the real world, spears usually aren't victorious over bullets. And hoards of large bullet-proof animals don't stampede to your rescue. But that's Hollywood, and it makes for a great story even if it's not an accurate reflection of what happens in our world.

 There's a level of violence in Avatar, but it's not gratuitous, bloody violence. It's not gore, and the military action violence that takes place in the story always moves the story forward. James Cameron never uses violence solely for the sake of violence -- he uses it in the film as a crucial part of the story.  

Technology and emotions
The reason Avatar works is because the technology has advanced enough for CG (computer graphics) to accurately capture and render the subtleties of facial expressions. As human beings, we are hard-wired to read and interpret subtle facial expressions as emotional content, and without the subtleties, computer-animated characters look stale and plastic. But thanks to the remarkable technology that Cameron has applied to Avatar, facial expressions are convincingly carried through the computer-rendered alien characters (no doubt with a fair bit of 3D modeling work to help augment the motion capture).

The result is a level of human authenticity (in alien-looking characters) that has never been achieved before... in any film! Remember, though, that technology alone never makes a great film. It's the story that really makes it work. Technology just makes the story convincing.

 Go see Avatar
If you love nature, and you love to see beautiful alien worlds depicted in breathtaking scenery, go see Avatar. If you love action films, or a touching romance, or science fiction, go see Avatar. In my opinion, it is easily the best film of the year, and perhaps even the best film of James Cameron's career. It also delivers a message that feels right at home to NaturalNews readers:

The love of nature, the interconnectedness between all living things, and the victory of good over military might. Avatar is much more than an action flick. It's much more than a love story, too. In my view, it's an urgent message for our modern world where many of the atrocities committed by the human invaders in Avatar are being carried out right now against our own planet.

When it comes to planet Earth, after all, humans are the imperialists. We have destroyed much of the natural habitat on our planet; we've poisoned the rivers and oceans; we've polluted the sky and burned up much of the planet's natural resources. In our quest for more energy, more consumption and more profit, we are stupidly destroying our own planet... and destroying our own future in the process. We are, in effect, both the invaders and the natives on this planet, and through our misguided collective consumption, we are destroying our own land, our own trees and our own home.

And because life is so delicately interconnected, in destroying our own planet, we are only destroying ourselves. This is one of the many messages that Avatar delivers. Go see the film yourself to catch the rest.


 
Video above. Back-story about Pandora (not movie trailer) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBGDmin_38E  


See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Blue Christmas 12/21/09