Sunday, January 30, 2011

Business as Usual

The Obama administration decided last Thursday not to regulate genetically modified alfalfa.  Good news for Monsanto and the agro-chem people.  Notso for food production oversight, organic farmers or health-conscious consumers.  Caving in to lobbyists, the government has also shelved two proposed workplace-safety rules opposed by business.  'Business' apparently viewed such regulation as "burdensome."  So government will review all proposed regulation and weed out the ones that are "overly burdensome to business".  This is in order to "repair relations with employers and industry."[1]
It appears Monsanto and big business have won again.  The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) was ecstatic, believing this will "help pave the way for new technologies in the pipeline."  Ah yes, the 'ole fast-track GMO pipeline, straight from the lobbyists' coffers to the Administration's decision makers. "Yes we can!!!!" they chant, echoing Obama's former campaign slogan, since replaced by "I Decided Not To".

Alfalfa is the fourth-biggest U.S. crop by acreage, 20 million acres of GMO; only about 250,000 acres of alfalfa are farmed organically.  That makes organic farms a minority in the agricultural planting world. And you know how much say minorities get in the scheme of things.  It's not just alfalfa.  The vast majority of corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. are now genetically modified.

Regardless of your stand on the merits (or risks) of genetically modified food, it's got to at least be a tad disconcerting to witness the increasing monopolization of an entire country's food production, ceding control over the choice of what one eats to a few giant corporations, because they need more profits.  They not only want to dictate what kind of crops are planted but restrict the public's choice by refusing to allow GMO products to be labeled as such.  Affixing a label on a food product that indicates it is non-GMO, they believe, hurts business.  Consumers might balk at buying food if they think it's been, well, "altered", or had things like pesticides put into them.
 That's negative thinking, according to Monsanto. If Mother Nature can't produce faster-growing, larger animals for food, an alternative method must be undertaken.  The heck with regulation.  "We don't need no stinkin' regulations", say the BioAgros. "Get used to it. It's the Future."
Europe isn't so sure.  They have to be convinced.  Ergo, send in the bullies.  In 2007, the U.S. "targeted" the European Union over their reluctance to promote and plant genetically modified crops.  It was recommended that a list of countries be compiled for 'retaliation' over their opposition to GMO.  A leaked Wikileaks document shows U.S. diplomats worked directly for GM companies, including Monsanto, to pressure foreign governments to relax regulatory rules. Bribe, pressure, strongarm.  Bullies rule the world today.  And if you don't let them get their way and do what they want, they'target' you, for 'retaliation.'

Crops in the U.S. that are currently genetically modified:

Soybeans, 93%, Corn, 86%, Cottonseed oil, 93%, Sugar Beets, 95% (planting halted in 2010. Now set to go again), Papaya, 80%, Canola oil, 83%, Rice (3 new genes implanted, two from daffodils and one from a bacterium. Forecast to be on the market next year),Squash, 13%.  [2]
They tried putting genes in tomatoes to retard softening after harvesting but it was taken off the market due to commercial failure, which means either it didn't work or nobody would buy it. Fish genes in tomatoes, anyone? My favorite mucking-up-Mother-Nature attempt is the new genetically modified salmon that hurries up what nature intended to take far longer, so now they'll be producing salmon twice its normal size--the operative word here being "normal."

That's why they call them Frankenfish. They're not normal. Skeletal malformations, increased prevalence of jaw erosions and multi-systemic inflammation have been found in GMO fish. Humpback spinal compression deformities, too. Not to worry, though.  They're bigger and fatter. 

"In Chile, where most of our factory-farmed salmon come from, up to 80 percent of the salmon suffer from a condition called 'screamer disease,' where severe facial disfigurements lock their jaws permanently open."[3]

Most people don't see or taste any difference between organic and non-organic foods and think this is all a big hullabaloo about nothing. "I've been eating GMO foods for 10 years," a friend said to me once, "and I'm not dead yet." Ergo, GMO food is safe. "Stop being silly." 

Each to his own choice. The problem is, choice is being taken away from the consumer because the government refuses to label food products that have been genetically modified.  They don't want non-GMO foods labeled as "GMO Free" either, as that has a negative connotation.  It suggests GMO foods are somehow, er, not healthy for you.

So  they want not only to control what you eat but to restrict your choice not to buy GMO products if you prefer not to.[4]

 Imagine:  powerful, cash-dispensing, arm-twisting bullies afraid customers might not want to eat food that's been genetically tampered with.  But it's for your own good, they counter.  It's the wave of the Future!  Disagreement is not tolerated, apparently.  Choice is not an option.  Welcome to the You-Will-Eat-What-We-Say-You-Eat World.

Some are registering their displeasure through humor: 

In the pipeline for the future --
'mystery food'

Ridicule is not going to faze them.  Eating only organic (where you can find it) is very expensive.  Growing your own food helps, but you still gotta "go to the store" for some things.  Insisting that GMO food be labeled as such so consumers can choose not to buy GMO food if they want, should be a basic right.  Right?  In the perfect world, perhaps.

Yum, box-raised, tortured chicken with tomato and trout genes soaked with triple MSG.   Yum, snail broccoli and human-gene spliced potato.

Look, Ma, my tomato has fins.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Neighborhood Haiku

the afternoon sky
latticed and mirrored
still waters reflect

so familiar
this common stretch of the road
known, but ever new

Left by the roadside
and missing one spoke, I see.
Yet it spoke to me.

river caked with ice
no need to step with caution
just to watch it flow

up close I feel it move
this water floeing past me
on its way to Time

A child's wooden house
abandoned, left to rot there.
Every year more age.

shadows on shed wall
three trees converse in the sun,
overheard by none

in the nursing home
two old friends sit side by side
winter can't get in

creatures that take flight
get a birds' eye view of all,
choose to land or not.

*Photos by awyn,  taken in January 2011 at secteur Cap-de-la-Madeleine.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Objects, Places, Memories

 Inside Basilica of Notre Dame,
Montréal, QC

Les Chuchoteuses, [The Gossipers]
by Québec artist Rose-Aimée Belanger,
rue St. Paul, in Old Montréal

Running along the bike path,
ducks nod hello from Lake Champlain


Many thanks to Luis Lazaro Tijerina for allowing me to share these photographs, taken the past few days in Montréal, QC and Burlington, Vermont.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Yes We Can" meets "We Won't Budge"

Chinese President Hu Jintao met with President Obama this week.  I was curious as to what they might have discussed regarding the issue of human rights in China and Tibet, wondering if there'll ever be a press conference even so much as mentioning possible or actual human rights abuses in or by the U.S.  The kind and the degree differ, of course, but abuse is abuse.  Arrest for peaceful assembly, imprisonment without trial, kidnapping, torture, all words associated with abuse of human beings.
Autonomy was promised by the new People's Republic of China to the Dalai Lama and the Tibet government in 1951.  Instead, Tibetans today are prohibited from being schooled in or using their own language, displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama is forbidden, their monasteries have been burned down, their sacred sites destroyed, and their unique culture is systematically being erased. Independent journalists are banned and criticism of Tibet's Chinese rulers is harshly dealt with.[1]  So much for autonomy.

Why aren't Tibetans allowed to study and speak their own language and maintain their own culture?  Being encouraged to cooperate and welcome assimilation with waves of new inhabitants suddenly taking root in your land  is one thing; forcing it through attempts to diminish or eradicate an already long-established identity is quite another.  Kind of like what happened to the American Indian.  The message is the same:  Forget who you were. You are now who we say you are.

Some years ago I joined with a small group of Tibetans speaking out during a visit to Harvard from the former President of China, Chairman Jiang Zemin.  The group had gotten permission to stand on the grounds of a private property to display hand-painted signs calling for the release of Tibetan prisoners of conscience.  The media were everywhere, in anticipation of the motorcade that would pass by, delivering Jiang Zemin to the building in which he was to give a speech.  Minutes before he arrived, a swarm of young Chinese, mostly students holding large, patriotic banners, flags and posters suddenly appeared, positioning themselves directly in front of--and totally obscuring-- the Tibetans on the grassy mound.  In the process, one Tibetan woman was knocked to the ground, her cardboard sign trampled on.  Others were gently elbowed out of the way. In the sky, at that exact moment, a small plane flew overhead trailing a banner that read "Welcome, Jiang Zemin!" 

Someone informed the band of pushy newcomers that this was private property and they had neither requested nor been given permission to use the premises.  They briskly left and assembled, en masse, at another position across the street, at an intersection where another small group of Tibetans and their supporters had been standing.  Four times, a huge Chinese flag was thrust in front of  the Tibetans' signs, making them suddenly invisible, which happened to coincide with when newsmen's cameras pointed in that direction. I happened to be standing on the sidewalk with the Tibetan group.  I tried to engage the young Chinese student standing next to me holding one end of this enormous red flag, in conversation.  She apparently wasn't aware that Tibetans were being imprisoned by China for trying to remain Tibetan.  She attempted to enlighten me as to what she did know.  "The Dalai Lama," she said, "is a wealthy serf owner.  Do you know, he eats the eyeballs of his servants?"

I was completely blown away by this statement, and more so that this young, pretty student believed it with such absolute steadfast conviction.  I was also amazed at the swiftness and precision of the well-organized counter-attack seemingly mounted specifically to keep the voice of the Tibetans from being heard and/or their protest signs from being seen. This experience made a deep impact on me vis-a-vis how the reality of a thing can be hidden and public perceptions manipulated.  But even more than that--it was my first real understanding of what it might mean to have been "brainwashed."

"The Dalai-Lama eats his servants' eyeballs"--said in complete seriousness, accepted as absolute truth, based on what someone had once told her.

Fast forward to today.  Some of those prisoners of conscience are still rotting in Chinese prisons in Tibet, their families forbidden to see them.  More have joined them.  Thousands of arrests, hundreds of detainees and prisoners unaccounted for in 2009. [2].  You won't be able to find out much about them, though, because independent journalists aren't allowed to ask.  So one could say, comparing the then with the now, that things haven't actually improved all that much there, human-rights wise.

China has made its position crystal clear on where it stands vis-a-vis Tibet, the Dalai Lama, Liu Xiaobo, and poets, writers, and journalists who dare to question its behavior. China is not going to budge. When Tibet asked for help way back when, countries that could have helped, turned deaf.  Not  so toward Iraq and Afghanistan, though, where coalitions rushed in to "help" without  being invited.  Democracy to the rescue! I confess to not understanding American government thinking today. For example, Cuba's the enemy, because it's Communist.  But China, which is also Communist, is a business partner, therefore an exception is made.

"Yes we can!" Obama said, over and over and over, before he was elected President, with regard to changing the status quo, righting was he considered wrong.  "We're not budging", China implies, year after year after year, with regard to changing the status quo, continuing a wrong it thinks is a right.  Meanwhile, diplomacy dances while democracy declines.  (Democracy:  government by the people; a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.  Autonomy:  independence or freedom; a self-governing community.  Words.)

I previously mentioned my astonishment at the remarks of the young Chinese student informing me that the Dalai Lama ate his servants' eyeballs.  Listen to this sidewalk exchange that day 14 years ago between a native of Tibet and an Asian bystander, both speaking in broken English, each attempting to explain to the other his views on the then situation in Tibet, which pretty much hasn't changed, except for the worst.

The Tibetan is a "refuge" [he means refugee]; [he has] "no country".  He asks the Asian man if he knows about the burning and destruction of monasteries in Tibet and the killing of monks by the Chinese.  "What monasteries?" the man replies. He has never been to Tibet but he "knows" that that's not true.   As to any murdered monks, that, too, is a disconnect.  "I don't think so," he says, shaking his head.  He hastens to explain that China's presence in Tibet is a good thing, that they "built buildings" there, to which the Tibetan native answers, "We don't need buildings.  We need free--inside; please, we need free inside."  The other man then tells him:  "You want religion?  You want peace?  You have it."   The Tibetan disagrees.  With the Chinese army there, "you can't talk," he says.  "Gun--always gun."  The Tibetans still feel that way today.  What has changed?

It was noisy there that sunny Saturday afternoon in Cambridge, where 5,000 people had gathered to greet President Jiang Zemin, either with cheery welcome or strongly felt protest. There were no arrests and no outbreaks of violence.  I try to imagine such a thing happening today in public protests, where civil discourse among those with whom one's views are not in accord, is becoming rare.  What one mostly hears are shouts and slurs, or sneers and ridicule. Nobody's listening anymore, only screaming and waving fists.   I feel Yeats in the air:

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

Then and Now:

Well,  there were certainly not 5,000 standing there in the cold yesterday trying to get the  powers- that-be (or anyone else) to listen.  Looks like a mere handful, mostly Tibetans in exile. 

[Note:  This is the second time I've tried embedding this particular video, which has appeared under several different titles).  The first one was taken down from You-Tube and removed.]

 The Summit Today

I watched with great interest today's news conference between President Obama and President Hu Jintao, to see what each would say when the question of human rights came up.  I'd hoped for something a little more specific than Obama's rather tepid "Countries prosper when they respect human rights" [3] response given earlier this week.  It's a funny thing about words, and language, and the diffferent ways they can be interpreted.  Here's a summary of what they said, and what the words said to me:

"Freedom of rights transcends cultures and political systems" . . .  "We can agree to disagree." . . . "China is 'evolving' ... "We'll continue to talk."

Hu Jintao:
"China is always committed to the protection of human rights"  . . . We recognize the universality of human rights, but we must take into account certain circumstances when it comes to human rights."  . . . "China is in a crucial stage of reform, a lot still remains to be done.  We will, however, continue to improve rights in China.". [Notice he makes no mention of the Autonomous Region of Tibet, over which China has complete control.]  "China is willing to engage in dialogue" . . . (and he hastens to remind Obama of "the principle of non-interference in each other's ways.")

So what I heard Obama say was:
China is not yet "evolved" enough to realize that human rights transcend cultures and political systems.
We both know we don't agree on this [the human rights issue].
But we're great business partners and we care about the relationship.
We'll keep talking.

And what I heard Hu Jintao say was:
While we recognize that everybody else thinks human rights are important, you have to understand, we are not really bound by that rule.  Our circumstances are different.  We're trying to become a bigger super power right now, lots of crucial changes in the works, some 'reforms'.  Improvement takes time. But we're always willing to talk.  However, we don't want you lecturing us how to govern our country (though we may sometimes find it necessary to instruct you how to run yours).   [I'm basing that on the intense pressure exerted in the past re: what the U.S,. should or should not do vis-a-vis inviting the Dalai Lama for a visit or honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.]

Remember, too, that the U.S. is in hock up to its eyeballs from huge loans from China.  The interest alone is staggering.  No time to shake the applecart and seem ungrateful.  So, besides discussion of strategic alliances with security in mind, deals were struck to bring 200,000 possible new jobs for U.S. workers and $45 billion in trade deals on exports and it's back to business with Business. 

I wonder if in 14 years from now, the leaders of these two, or any other two countries will still be having press conferences reiterating that "Countries prosper when they respect human rights", again agreeing to disagree on actually ever taking concrete action.  ("We'll talk again next year, have another summit.")   Same words, different players, different decade. 

Like the Chinese bystander in the first video, I, too, have never been to Tibet, and like the young woman telling me about the eyeballs, I, too, have heard stories about Tibet.  Our respective stories, however, don't match.  Mine are based on eyewitness accounts, conversations with former Tibetan prisoners of conscience, reports from emigres forced to flee--all of whom were actually there, plus a good deal of fact-checking on the side.   That's neither here nor there, though.  Everybody has his own opinion about a thing, and acts according to it, regardless of the facts.

Or doesn't.  It's the Doesn't part that haunts me sometimes.  I mean, if you have conviction about a thing, you should stand up for it, right? A kind of 'Put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is' response.  Not pretend like just because it doesn't affect you personally, you needn't get involved.  Except, it kind of does, affect you, as fellow planet dweller, if nothing else.  Faraway horrors:   Now them, maybe at some future point, you.  You never know.  "Peace and justice", lofty sounding words, they've become easy labels, often used as an adjective, as in "those peace and justice people", suggesting the speaker sits on the opposite side of the "we/they" fence. 

Sometimes all you can do about a grave injustice, is try to draw attention to it, show it's still going on, all that horrible crap where you get beaten up and tortured and killed just because somebody--can.  And if you can't be there to add your voice to all the other voices speaking out, you make do with what's at hand:  your pen or your computer keyboard.  Ergo, this posting today. 

So to sum up, at today's big summit between the U.S. and China, on the question about human rights, this particular earthperson (yours truly) heard:

(1) Everybody agrees it's a good thing, human rights;

(2) Some societies haven't evolved sufficiently to actually practice what they preach (or having so evolved, don't always find it expedient to support it unconditionally, in every situation--depends on the 'circumstances'); and

(3) We will be talking about this again and again and again, 'til the cows come home.  But it's good we're talking.

and so it goes ...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Belated Gratitude, for those small, enormous words

*Card from an announcement for an exhibit at Harvard University's art museum,  Spring 1995.  Found among some papers retrieved from storage, later buried in a closet.   I used to keep this pasted  to the wall above my typewriter, way back when. The adhesive tape's still affixed.  It won't come off. I had long ago left the church that punished him for disobeying. 

In our darkest times, we, too, dream of "flying over city walls and mountains." Passaging out of the darkness, love still intact, carried forward. The words of this artist,  about a mystic poet, profoundly affected me at the time.

Still do.

Rebels, Soaring

'Disobedient, rebellious, contumacious friar' [1] -
how dare you speak of reform.
Do not shake the foundation,
do not presume.

How difficult to be told what one must
or must not believe,
how, when, where, and of course,
The psychic with the wild hair and blinking eyes
described one past 'other' life
in the 14th century.
You were a monk who left the church,
he said.
You died of the plague.
And something about a green fountain pen
and chosen life-path.

How words from the past
from cardboard, or tellings,
from current scribblings on a wall,
or writings voiced out of context
can still hold you up,
take you forward,
heal -
make you fly again over mountains,
fill up with new air,
be what you are.

How does one thank a long-dead mystic
and the artist who spoke of him
in Those. Specific. Words.
for enabling you to soar
past, above, and beyond,
still carrying that love.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Even the tiniest twig makes its own mark
Even sun-sparkles know cold
Even snow piles show life

*Photo taken outside the front window, Winter 2008.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Meet the New Gang

Over the holidays some of my canine buds at the local SPCA got adopted out. Yay. Saku and Renata and Frip, all off to new homes. Double yay. I will miss Saku especially.

Saturday's my dog walk day, the only time I can get a ride out there and back.  Tomorrow, am going to meet some new ones. So I checked out their doggy bios, sort of a mini pre-introduction. Excuse my quick, condensed, rough translation from the French:

Caleb -- A mixed Lab, male, 3 yrs old, 54 lbs.
"I am a dog very anxious in a new millieu, above all when there's too much stimulation around me. I would like to live in the country."

Kelly -- A Golden Labrador, female, 1-1/2 yrs old, 60 lbs.
"I am a dog joyous and social but I occasionally have bouts of emotion. I sometimes have difficulty to heal my stress and excitation. But with people calm and patient, this little problem passes quickly..."

Booga -- A mixed Boxer, female, 2 yrs old, 65 lbs.
"I am a dog very sociable, curious, affectionate and enthusiastic. I am easy to motivate with treats. If you are into running sports, I am an excellent candidate as a companion."

Ben -- A Rotweiler, male, 1 yr old, 62 lbs.
"I am a young dog who has, unfortunately, a sad history, having been frequently abandoned since I first saw the light of day. I have long been kept outside, without a place, with no exercise or stimulation. I am a good dog, very sweet and calm. I would love to live inside, to take walks, but above all, to discover life!"

Cadeau and Reuben, mixed Caniches, male & female, age 6, 10 lbs.
"We are timid little dogs who have need of time to feel at ease in a new setting. We would like to go to a family with young children. One says of us that we are active. We have a good education."

Lucien -- A mutt, male, 3 yrs old, 52 lbs.
"I adore human contact and caresses. I am quite friendly. If you want a dog for life, I am without a doubt your first choice."

-- A mixed Bassett Hound, male, 2 yrs old, 40 lbs.
"I'm not very sociable, probably because of being left by myself in the past. I'm kind of a gourmand. I'd love to find an understanding family who will just let me adapt to my rhythm."

-- A mixed black & white Lab, female, 3 yrs old, 70 lbs.
"I have a calm nature but tire out easily. Nevertheless I need exercise. I'm searching for a mature, patient person to whom I can give my confidence. I was brought up well."

Patte de Ours (Bearpaw) -- A mixed Bouvier, male, 2 yrs, 40 lbs.
"It is said that I am nice. I love to eat. I'm a little shy around new people. I'd like to find a family who will understand me."

So we humans are not the only ones who are uneasy in new situations and/or need time to "adapt to our rhythms". The blurbs try to be honest. You don't take a pre-owned or abandoned dog home and expect it to adapt immediately (though some do). Amazing that some people actually bring the animal back the next day because "he just had too much energy." Duh. Did you not read my bio? (the dog might say). It says right there, "I can be a bit rambunctious, at first." You didn't give me a chance. (I don't speak Canine but reading dog eyes is not rocket science.)

What a great job that would be, creating descriptive little blurbs about animals up for adoption. You would have to meet them first, of course, to get an idea of their individual personality. Sometimes their name is a clue. For example, a few weeks ago I walked a dog I'd not met before, whose name was "Intensity", and his name was an absolute, complete fit. Oh boy, and then some.  (He liked to chew bush twigs, drag tree limbs inside, and was the most hyper dog I've ever encountered. He's apparently finally been adopted, meaning someone decided Intensity's intensity wasn't a deterrent after all.)

I know, I know, they warned me about this--the animal rescue people, my friends, my mate--of getting too attached. But how can you not? They're so happy to get out of their cages and run in the snow. They see you coming into the room with a leash and they all start barking and jumping up and down: "Take me!! Take me!! Take ME!!!"

The cats have their own way of meeting and greeting. They surround and snuggle up to you, sit purring beside you, climb all over you. I go home afterwards and our cats all come sniffing suspiciously: "Hey. Where you been?!" ha ha.

It is an education, this. I learn something new every time, about animal behavior, what they're feeling, the ways they express themselves, how they communicate. Cats are harder to read, as far as suffering goes. They are good at hiding the fact that they're in pain. That was the case with Lou, who had been hit by a car. We had no idea how severe her injuries were, she gave us no clue, except that she just didn't seem herself.

I was thinking about those creatively crafted little blurbs, written as if the animal itself were speaking. An idea came to me for a short story, about a guy who writes obituaries. Years of doing this and he suddenly snaps, and deviates from the standard form. No one notices at first. Then families of the deceased begin to complain. Management fires him. But not before his latest and last batch of obits hit the local press--and then all hell breaks loose.

So little time to write this week, but if I don't get some of these to-do-writes out of my head, it will explode. If only there were a non-crashable internal backup system, say behind the ears, where one could just pull saved-&-stored ideas out at will, & not have to write them down on paper bags and backs of envelopes that you misplace or throw away by mistake.

Know Your Mug

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fog Morning's Fog Mournings

I see fog on street,
hear foghorn down by river
fogged in in fog's fog