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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Received from a well-read friend: Four articles about Monsanto. Can a gene that already exists naturally be patented? Can an animal be patented? Can a plant be patented? Can a Human being be patented? What are the limits? An example: A gene for increased height is found in humans. By attaching this gene to a virus (which is only a packet of DNA surrounded by a coating of RNA) that carries it to the egg cells of a woman, the woman stands an increased chance of producing taller offspring. Such a genetic manipulation would be very popular among people who come from short families or among races of people tending toward smaller body types. Can that gene or the simple process of attaching the gene to a virus (which can occur naturally) be patented? Could all tall people have to prove that they are not the products of this patented process? Once the gene is in the familial gene pool, would tall decendents of the first woman to receive the gene through the patented process have to pay royalties for the use of that gene? What if there is an introduction of the naturally occurring gene in the gene pool by, say, a tall father or mother from a family of naturally tall people? How could they prove that their height is not the result of an introduced gene? Or would the gene for height be patented regardless of it's source? We are at a point at which science, law, and ethics are being challenged as never before. What should be done to ensure the ethical use of the law in regard to scientific advances? Where do we draw the line between Nature and commerce? When a scientific process is clearly beneficial to humans (such as a vaccine against a devastating disease), should any commercial entity have the right to control the use of that process for commercial profit?

At the same time that the profit motive over-rides human concerns in the development of beneficial scientific applications, we have also to look at attempts to stop the development, research, and/or distribution of beneficial systems in order to protect the profits of commercial entities that would be lowered by the application of a more advanced or beneficial process. The use of alternative energy sources is one such example. Cars can be made that do not pollute and that do not use scarce resources. Yet established technologies are successfully preventing the introduction of such vehicles. This is the other side of the coin in regard to scientific change. Research into the development of inexpensive mechanisms for delivering energy from the sun is not supported because sunshine cannot be patented or controlled. What can an individual do to bring about changes that would benefit all of Humankind?

I personally do not see punishing commerce as a solution. At least, not at this stage. How can commerce be rewarded with increased profits without limiting benefits to the whole species? In other words, how can Monsanto make a profit by giving away beneficial technology? If we look at the natural world for examples, we can see that the worker bees, ants, or termites benefit by NOT passing on their own genes, but by assuring that the new generations are cared for and protected. We see that individual Bufo marinus toads do not benefit by exuding a toxic substance when they are attacked. They still die. But in their own deaths, they either kill the attacker or make the attacker so sick that it will avoid attacking other Bufo marinus toads. In this way the individual protects the species. Some plants and animals develop a symbiotic relationship with other plants or animals which benefits both. Wouldn't you rather buy products from a company that helps people rather than one that hurts people? Perhaps, that is the answer. Perhaps you have a better idea!

These are not simplistic problems with simplistic solutions. "Feel good" speeches and laws won't solve these complicated issues. Are there any real thinkers out there who would care to respond? I'll publish any well expressed letters, comments, or articles you care to send. The more, the better.

The following is the email I received from that thoughtful friend:

Monsanto has something important in common with both Captain Ahab
(from Herman Melville?s 1851 novel, Moby-Dick) and the Nazi regime.
Each represents a strange combination of rationality and madness. As
I?ve written elsewhere, Melville?s captain has an utterly irrational
obsession with the White Whale, but his suicidal pursuit of that
creature draws upon years of technical expertise and deliberate
planning. He and his men on the ship Pequod were supposed to be
hunting as many sperm whales as possible, in order to harvest oil ,
but the whales, and therefore the oil, were being depleted at a rate
far faster than their natural replenishment. And just when the
commercial rationale for hunting the whales became untenable, along
comes Ahab the damaged genius on his hunt for Moby-Dick, this time
for revenge, not oil. Ring a bell?
Like Ahab, the Nazis were bent on death in a way that failed to distinguish between their own murderous ambitions and the cultic yearning for suicide that helped to draw them into an unwinnable war Ð one which the Nazis lost because they failed to secure Russian oil reserves in Baku. Scarce resources were still being diverted to the strategically useless death camps long
after it became unmistakably clear, even to the stupidest Nazis on the team, that the war would end in defeat. The avowed motive for Hitler?s genocidal expansion into the territory of the Slavs and others was "Lebensraum," room for living, not totally different from the American Manifest Destiny with its smallpox blankets. But the big difference was the Nazi?s cool efficiency, the bizarre prominence of rational calculation in the midst of the most irrational depravity. What Himmler had, that Custer did not, was the combination of bureaucracy, technology, and an ideology of transgressive, taboo-breaking, hubristic scientism . There?s that tolling bell, again.
Monsanto is pursuing a rational policy of the maximization of profit. Like all bureaucracies, its internal organization works by conducting ethical responsibility away from individual actors. You can sell your own mother to perdition, provided your uniform (with a pay-stub in the pocket) shows that the person responsible is not really you: it?s the corporate person. Left to work its designs, Monsanto will extend and maintain its control over the world?s food supply - just at the moment when grain stocks and yields are falling farther short of demand, and Peak Oil and Gas begin to close in on the kitchen table. Large scale famine would be difficult to avoid. How can they permit themselves this behavior? By narrowing their focus on the wrong object (profit), and keeping it there no matter what. -- JAH]

Patenting a Pig
From AxisofLogic.com

By Paul Harris
Aug 6, 2005, 18:39


In a report released August 2, 2005, Greenpeace has alerted the world, and thereby God, to the fact that Monsanto is about to challenge God?s patent rights to his creationsÉ again. This time, it?s the pig.

Canadian readers might remember the plight of Percy Shmeiser, a Western farmer who lost a Supreme Court battle against Monsanto in 2004 over their genetically modified canola seed. People the world over have sat up and taken notice.

Shmeiser?s troubles began in 1997. He was routinely spraying herbicide along a ditch and discovered that some of his canola plants appeared to have become herbicide resistant. It turned out that his canola had been contaminated by pollen from Monsanto?s patented herbicide-resistant canola that was being grown in a nearby field. Shmeiser wasn?t impressed to find his canola tainted but he continued with his normal crop cycle, which includes harvesting and replanting some of the seed from his field. He also sold some of the seed he gathered.
In 1998, Monsanto sued him for patent infringement. They alleged that he had acquired and
planted their patented seeds without obtaining a license from them, and that he then sold his harvested seed and further infringed their patent. Ultimately, Monsanto had to take Shmeiser all the way to the Supreme Court where, in a stunning 5-4 decision, Monsanto earned the right, for themselves and all other corporations, to patent life. The issues the court had to decide were whether genetic patents were valid and with what scope, how exactly would such a patent be infringed, and whether contamination caused by an outside party imposes obligations on the party contaminated.

Shmeiser argued that it should not be possible to patent life. Period. Further, since he never sprayed his crop with Monsanto?s product Roundup, he had not taken advantage of the herbicide-resistant quality of the crop and never benefited in any way from the presence of their patented material in his fields. In other words, he argued that since he didn?t exploit their invention, he could not have infringed Monsanto?s patent. He also argued that he was an innocent bystander: patented material "passively and inadvertently" mixed with his personal property and he should not be held accountable to the patent holder for that. The court sided with Monsanto on all points and created a huge problem for grain producers. Farmers say that cross-contamination from Monsanto?s products is wide-spread and uncontrollable. Essentially, the court has made individual farmers liable to Monsanto for crop contamination created by Monsanto.

Beyond the absolutely absurdity that 'life? can be patented, Monsanto is not a newcomer to such controversial attempts to purchase the rights to Mother Nature. Nor are they shy about trying to control every bit of food we eat. They are also responsible for something called 'terminator? technology in which they sell you seed for a certain crop. The crop grows normally but is sterile and can?t produce seed. The idea is that you then have to buy more seed from Monsanto in
order to plant the next crop. In effect, this upsets a balance that has existed over many millennia where farmers have traditionally grown crops and harvested some of the seed to produce the next crop. Crop planting from harvested seed appears to be what nature intended when these crops were domesticated many thousands of years ago. But by manipulating just a small gene within one of these crops, they are no longer part of the natural heritage of this planet: they are the private property of Monsanto.

Worse for Canadians, it appears the Government of Canada may be complicit in assisting Monsanto to develop these terminator crops. What possible value this can provide to the world, other than Monsanto shareholders, is beyond comprehension. These so-called 'suicide seeds? strike a hard blow at the many millions of scratch farmers around the world who have existed for millennia by harvesting and replanting the crops that nature gave them. They are increasingly finding themselves in the clutches of this monolithic corporation whose sole purpose appears to be to find a way of ensuring that no food is grown that is not owned by Monsanto.

Greenpeace?s release of August 2 reveals that Monsanto has applied for patent rights in more than 160 countries for The Monsanto Pig. The documents were filed in Geneva in February 2005 at the World Intellectual Property Organization. The language in the patent applications is sufficient vague that Monsanto is clearly seeking patent not only on the methods of breeding pigs, but on the actual act of breeding and the offspring of said breeding. Here?s what they?re doing: Monsanto?s patent application (WO 2005/015989) describes in very general terms methods of swine crossbreeding and selection, types of artificial insemination and other breeding methods, all of which are already in use. Monsanto?s 'invention? is the particular combination of these elements which they claim is designed to speed up the breeding cycle to make the animals (known as products) more commercially profitable. According to Greenpeace, Monsanto isn?t seeking only a patent on their Ônew? method, they?re seeking also to patent the actual pigs which are produced by this method. Naturally, that would then give them a patent on all the little piglets and bacon that followed.

In another application (WO 2005/017204), Monsanto refers to pigs in which a certain gene sequence related to faster growth is detected. This same sequence has been noted in mice and humans and is a variation on a naturally occurring sequence; Monsanto did not invent it. But they are trying to patent it.

If the patents are granted, Monsanto would be legally able to prevent pig breeders from breeding pigs whose characteristics are described in the broad and vague patent claims. Or pay royalties. Or go to jail. This appears to be Monsanto?s first step toward acquiring ownership of the animal kingdom. They have aggressively pursued already ownership of various grain and vegetable crops with the same kind of manipulative patent application language. This company used to make its money through agrochemicals; but in recent years they have aggressively bought up seed companies and they now hold a wide range of broad patents on seeds, most of which are Genetically Modified Organisms.

Monsanto has even tried to claim patent rights on traditionally bred wheat from India and soy from China, with the patent claims attempting to apply not only to the seed but to all uses of the plants and harvest from those seeds. It is evident that they are trying to wrap up the whole food cycle as their personal property, to be resold to those able to afford Monsanto?s price.

Canada?s Supreme Court made a mistake: the very premise that a corporation can own 'life?, that it can take ownership of something that has developed through evolution merely by placing some obscure gene marker in it is patent nonsense (forgive the pun). But the corporations will run with this, and they will vigorously pursue malefactors through the legal system in an attempt to crush farmers.

In light of the efforts of other corporations to sew up ownership rights to the world?s water, it is but a small leap to seeing the very basics of our existence in the clutches of a few faceless corporations. We would do well to recall that central control of food and water has been a standard tool for political and social control throughout much of our history. We could ultimately be seeing the merging of the entire global food and water supply into just a few hands. And it is not much of a reach to see food and water wars on the horizon. No one will give a damn about oil, the fight will be over much more basic needs.

In the end, the corporations will lose because billions of people are not going to die of thirst and starvation because some foolish court rules that they don?t have the right to eat or drink. They will take what they need, and life will degenerate into a fierce fight for survival. It?s hard to imagine God being happy about all of this and it is surprising that he has not taken Monsanto to court for infringing his invention rights. But maybe he figures this is all our own stupid fault and we deserve it; we?ve done it to ourselves.

Monsanto's Big Deal
Published on Food
First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
Authors: Karl Beitel
and Nick Parker
February 9, 2005


Monsanto's announcement of their plans to purchase Seminis, the largest fruit and vegetable seed producer in the world, was quickly followed by a statement that Monsanto does not intend to apply biotech to develop these seeds-at least not yet. This is a curious assertion from a dominant biotech company. Biotech crops and food remain unpopular throughout much of the world. In the United States, biotech corporations successfully fought labeling and slipped the foods into grocery stores, knowing that these products would likely have been rejected if consumers had a choice.

Europeans actively oppose genetically engineered (GE) foods to the point that major grocery chains in the European Union have vowed to remove GE ingredients from their name-brand products. Subsequently, biotech corporations have increasingly turned to the developing world to find additional markets for GE foods. Even there resistance builds. The biotech industry promotes GE foods by claiming these technologies will help break the cycle of hunger and increase food production. These claims are not supported by available scientific evidence. Tests run by the University of Nebraska, and in Australia and Argentina, discovered significant drops in production associated with the switch to biotech crops on the order of 10 to 30 percent. But what if production increases are not the only reason biotech companies invest in GE foods?
Many have argued that the real motive driving the development of GE seeds is expanding control over the food system. Biotech crops are not only a profitable patented product in and of themselves, they are also a vehicle to sell other products. Monsanto sells "Roundup Ready" soybeans as a proprietary package in which GE seeds are conveniently mated to their Roundup pesticide. Farmers, who raditionally save seeds each year, are prohibited from doing so with these GE seeds, which must be purchased anew each growing season.

Now Monsanto plans to acquire a seed company and conventionally breed the seeds. No biotech. Despite this, it is doubtful Monsanto is retreating from the biotech frontier. The world's food system is quickly consolidating. Five corporations control 90 percent of the global grain market while five supermarket chains control most of the global retail trade. Monsanto knows that consolidation of the global food system in the hands of a small number of corporations is likely to continue. Wall Street analysts believe Monsanto's future is dependent on the success of GE seed development. Increasing its share of the proprietary seed market will allow Monsanto to exercise significant control over the food we grow and eat. They already control most of the biotech soy and corn markets. Now they've extended that reach to the global seed market. What this means is you and I, not to mention the farmer, will have less choice over what we eat and grow as Monsanto's grip on the seed supply tightens. And, if the labeling issue in the United States is any indication, we will be less informed as a result. There can be no free consumer choice when one company controls so much of the seed, and, by extension, when so few companies own so much.

The Monsanto purchase has yet to be approved while anti-trust issues are investigated. We face a crucial juncture on the direction our food supply will take. This Monsanto deal certainly favors a course that those concerned with food security, equity, and real consumer choice would do well to oppose.

Nick Parker is the Media Coordinator and Karl Beitel is the Policy Analyst at Food First.

Warming hits 'tipping point': Siberia feels the heat
Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday August 11, 2005
The Guardian


It's a frozen peat bog the size of France and Germany combined, contains billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas and - for the first time since the ice age - it is melting. A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the
rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.

Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres - the size of France and Germany combined - has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.
The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.

The discovery was made by Sergei Kirpotin at Tomsk State University in western Siberia and Judith Marquand at Oxford University and is reported in New Scientist today. The researchers
found that what was until recently a barren expanse of frozen peat is turning into a broken landscape of mud and lakes, some more than a kilometre across. Dr Kirpotin told the magazine the situation was an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming". He added that the thaw had probably begun in the past three or four years.

Climate scientists yesterday reacted with alarm to the finding, and warned that predictions of future global temperatures would have to be revised upwards. "When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable. There are no brakes you can apply," said David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. "This is a big deal because you can't put the permafrost back once it's gone. The causal effect is human activity and it will ramp up temperatures even more than our emissions are doing."

In its last major report in 2001, the intergovernmental panel on climate change predicted a rise in global temperatures of 1.4C-5.8C between 1990 and 2100, but the estimate only takesaccount of global warming driven by known greenhouse gas emissions. "These positive feedbacks with landmasses weren't known about then. They had no idea how much they would add to global warming," said Dr Viner.

Western Siberia is heating up faster than anywhere else in the world, having experienced a rise of some 3C in the past 40 years. Scientists are particularly concerned about the permafrost, because as it thaws, it reveals bare ground which warms up more quickly than ice and snow, and so accelerates the rate at which the permafrost thaws. Siberia 's peat bogs have been producing methane since they formed at the end of the last ice age, but most of the gas had been trapped in the permafrost. According to Larry Smith, a hydrologist at the University of California, LosAngeles, the west Siberian peat bog could hold some 70bn tonnes of methane, a quarter of all of the methane stored in the ground around the world. The permafrost is likely to take many decades at least to thaw, so the methane locked within it will not be released into the atmosphere in one burst, said Stephen Sitch, a climate scientist at the Met Office's HadleyCentre in Exeter. But calculations by Dr Sitch and his colleagues show that even if methane seeped from the permafrost over the next 100 years, it would add around 700m tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, roughly the same amount that is released annually from the world's wetlands and agriculture. It would effectively double atmospheric levels of the gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming, he said.

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said the finding was a stark message to politicians to take concerted action on climate change. "We knew at some point we'd get these feedbacks happening that exacerbate global warming, but this could lead to a massive injection of greenhouse gases. "If we don't take action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social, economic and environmental devastation worldwide," he said. "There's still time to take action, but not much."The assumption has been that we wouldn't see these kinds of changes until the world is a little warmer, but this suggests we're running out of time."

In May this year, another group of researchers reported signs that global warming was damaging the permafrost. Katey Walter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told a meeting of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that her team had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia. At the hotspots, methane was bubbling to the surface of the permafrost so quickly that it was preventing the surface from freezing over.

Last month, some of the world's worst air polluters, including the US and Australia, announced apartnership to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the use of new technologies. The deal came after Tony Blair struggled at the G8 summit to get the US president, George Bush, to commit to any concerted action on climate change and has been heavily criticised for setting no targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Worst Midwest drought in years is wilting crops
By Scott Kilman
The Wall Street Journal


"We're getting to the point where the plants don't have much flowers left. It's not good news." - Agronomist Bill Wiebold

The worst drought across the east-central United States since 1988 is shrinking potential harvests of corn and soybeans, and slowing commercial shipping on some rivers. The dry spell, now in its fifth month, is blistering productive farmland and draining tributaries that feed the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Those are crucial pathways for hauling commodities such as salt, petroleum products and cement-making materials to Midwest cities. Several barge operators are reducing their loads to keep vessels from scraping the bottom. The move is threatening to slow the delivery of building materials to some construction projects in Chicago and could snarl the movement this fall of newly harvested crops. If river levels don't rise soon, the U.S. grain industry "will have significant delays," said Royce Wilken, president of American River Transportation Co., the barge unit of Archer Daniels Midland Co. So far, the economic fallout from the prolonged drought isn't as broad as the impact of the 1988 dry spell, which shrank the U.S. corn harvest by 31 percent and sped the consolidation of American farms. The swath of affected land this time is much narrower than it was 17 years ago. Moreover, the economic damage from the drought is being partly offset by a marked easing of a drought across the northern Plains that baked farms and ranches for more than five years. Most economists, for example, expect the rate of overall food inflation to cool this year, largely because of weakening cattle prices.

The Midwest state hardest hit by the drought has been Illinois, typically the nation's biggest producer of soybeans and the second-largest producer of corn, behind Iowa. Much of Missouri has suffered, except for the northwest part of the state. Kansas' corn and soybean crops also have been hit, though not as hard as Missouri's. Kansas biggest crop, wheat, has been harvested, and it is estimated at 384 million bushels, up from 314 million bushels last year. In Illinois, much of the state has received less than half of its normal rainfall since March. According to state authorities, tens of thousands of Illinois farmers already have lost one-third of their potential crops, which is worrying merchants in farm towns across the state. A survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 55 percent of the Illinois corn crop was in very poor or poor condition last week, as well as 34 percent of the soybean crop and 74 percent of Illinois pastures.

"We're putting off as many spending plans as we can," said John Ackerman, a 44-year-old farmer in Morton, Ill., who had wanted to buy a chemical sprayer for his apple orchard but isn't.

"It's amazing how one bad year can set you back." Managers of many Illinois grain elevators, which buy crops from farmers and sell to processors, are resigning themselves to lower grain volumes and profits. Minier Cooperative Grain Co. in Minier, Ill., has tabled plans to invest in new grain storage tanks. Production of corn nationwide should fall 16 percent this year, to 9.9 billion bushels from last year's record harvest of 11.8 billion bushels, mostly because of drought damage in Illinois, eastern Iowa and Missouri, said Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co., a commodity forecasting concern in Chicago. In Missouri, the corn crop is about shot, said Bill Wiebold, extension agronomist with the University of Missouri-Columbia. Wiebold said that while some northwest Missouri growing areas fared better because of rain, much of the rest of the state was suffering. "Corn yields have been hurt considerably," Wiebold said. Initial projections were that yield losses could run 30 percent to 40 percent, but Wiebold said it will be more than that.

Missouri soybeans also are suffering, he said. Soybean plants will reset blossoms several times trying to set pods if pollination does not occur the first time. But Wiebold added, "We're getting to the point where the plants don't have much flowers left. It's not good news." Wiebold said some areas of the state were looking at a 50 percent decrease in yields. In Kansas, row crops such as corn and soybeans also are being affected by a lack of moisture, although not quite as much as in some other states, said Eldon Thiessen, director of Kansas Agricultural Statistics. "Missouri is experiencing a more severe drought than we are, but we are deteriorating," he said. Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels have declined at least 10 to 12 percentage points a week over the past three weeks, he said. Nevertheless, Thiessen said that 54 percent of the Kansas corn crop currently is in good to excellent condition and 58 percent of the soybean crop is in good to excellent condition. But, he said, if the dry weather continues, "it will have some negative effects."

U.S. companies use corn for everything from sweetening soda pop to making ethanol fuel to fattening hogs and chickens for slaughter. Based on current conditions, Stewart Ramsey, an economist at Global Insight Inc., said he expects U.S. soybean production to fall 10.8 percent, to 2.8 billion bushels from last year's record harvest of 3.14 billion bushels. The shrinking harvest forecasts are fueling worry on Wall Street that Midwest-based grain processors will have fewer crops to process next year and that meat companies such as Tyson Foods Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc. will see their costs of feeding livestock climb. A Smithfield spokesman said there weren't any drought-related problems so far at its hog farms. A Tyson spokesman declined to comment on the drought's effect on costs, although he noted that the company's grain costs during the nine months ending July 2 were lower than the year-ago period.Helping to offset the Illinois-centered drought is that many fields in places such as Nebraska, Minnesota and western Iowa are thriving. And across the northern Plains, a five-year drought is fading. Many Montana farmers, for example, are reaping record yields from their wheat fields this summer. Pasture conditions are improving enough there and across the northern Plains for many ranchers to think about rebuilding their cattle herds. Likewise, the reservoirs in Montana and the Dakotas that feed the Missouri River are slowly refilling. The upshot is that commodity analysts are projecting that corn and soybean harvests this year should still be relatively large, just not a repeat of last year's records. Most economists expect food prices to climb at a slower rate than the 3.4 percent increase of last year, which was the biggest increase since 1990, when retail food prices climbed 5.8 percent. Michael J. Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo & Co., said he expects U.S. food prices to rise between 2.5 percent and 3 percent this year. Ramsey, the economist at Global Insight, said he expects an increase of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Phase Transition

You'll love this:

"The iterating of these lines brings gold;

The framing of the circle on the ground

Brings whirlwinds, tempests, thunder and lightning."

--MARLOWE, Dr. Faustus

"The ceaseless motion and incomprehensible bustle of life. Like the motions of dancing figures in a brilliantly lit ballroom into which you look from the dark night outside and from such a distance that themusic is inaudible . . . . Life may appear senseless to you."

--GUSTAV MAHLER (describing a sensation that he tried to capture in the third movement of his Second Symphony

From CHAOS: MAKING A NEW SCIENCE by James Gleick , Part 6, Universality

It happened that Feigenbaum was listening a lot to Mahler and reading a lot of Goethe, two romanticists. Goethe had been doing a lot of studies of color and did not agree with Newton about the true description of color. He was more interested in the perception of color than in the mathematical explanation. Goethe wrote: "With light poise and counterpoise, Nature oscillates within her prescribed limits, yet thus arise all the varieties and conditions of the phenomena which are presented to us in space and time."

Anyway, it only gets better. A great read!

The real message is that knowledge is itself a chaotic system feeding upon itself. The simplest example that I can think of is the relationship between Tycho, Keppler, and Gallileo and Newton. Without Tycho Keppler could not have formed his mathematical calculations and without these neither Gallileo nor Newton would have been able to form their theories and calculations and experiments. Yet Tycho depended on older "science" , superstition, and religion. Keppler, too, was driven by religion. There is a sort of science in religion. That is not covered in this book, but is clear to anyone studying the formation of the modern sciences, literature, music, and art.

To me science is another form of that central unnamed human specialty that gives rise to language, music, art, dance, religion (or magical thinking), and literature. Find that gene! It may also be the center of self-consciousness. We know that the anthropoid apes exhibit self-consciousness and to a lesser degree language and art. That could be said to be a phase transition from consciousness to self-consciousness. Is the human complexity simply a matter of amplification? Hmmmmm.

I wish I could stop thinking about all this and think about what I need to do to get ready for my visit to Florida. I wish I could be PRACTICAL! The family says the problem with my mother?s father was that he was a dreamer - a poet and play write and an actor. He had a very hard time being practical and earning money to keep the family fed! My grandmother, on the other hand, was brilliantly creative in finding ways to make junk into useful items or art and to find PRACTICAL solutions to everyday survival problems. If they had been rich and had spoken English instead of Yiddish, they would probably have become a famous creative couple. Part of the turbulence of life -

"Big whorls have little whorls

Which feed on their velocity,

And little whorls have lesser whorls

And so on to viscosity."


Aaaagg! I?ve got to stop this dream-think! There are solvable problems to be solved! But they are so boring!!!

On another thought, I am not disorganized. I may seem chaotic, but if one studies everything I do and think and dream for my entire lifetime, one will assuredly find the strange attractors and the underlying order.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The brave little country of Costa Rica is the only hold-out against CAFTA. President Pacheco, after months of waffling, finally sent the treaty to the legislature for approval. But the people of Costa Rica are very much against turning their country into a banana republic for the benefit of greedy corporations in the United States just slavering over the possibilities of stripping Costa Rica's natural beauty and its constitutional protections in order to enrich their own pockets. On November 18, 2005, at least 20,000 people marched in a demonstration against the "TLC" as CAFTA is called in Costa Rica. More demonstrations are in the works. This single issue could decide the next presidential election. The Costa Rican Libertarian Party is, so far, the only political party to come out against the TLC. If popular former president, Oscar Arias, does not see his way clear to declare opposition to the TLC, his chances of re-election will be greatly diminished. If he joins the anti CAFTA forces now, he will become the next president. Now is the time for letters and phone calls to Mr. Arias to let him know how the people stand!

Friday, September 23, 2005

IRC Americas Program | The Price of Going to Market

IRC Americas Program | The Price of Going to Market

¡CREAME, TICOS! El TLC es otra palabra para explotación. ¡OSCAR, mire a esto y click en el acoplamiento para ver la información muy importante para el futuro de Costa Rica!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Americas Program | Commentary | CAFTA: A Treaty Tied by Chains

Americas Program | Commentary | CAFTA: A Treaty Tied by Chains

People of Costa Rica, read what TLC will force on Costa Rica. Click on the link shown above.

La Gente de Costa Rica, lean qué TLC forzará en Costa Rica. Click en el acoplamiento demostrado arriba.

(DV) Engler and Martinez: Oiled Again

(DV) Engler and Martinez: Oiled Again

And if you think you've heard all the terrible problems with the TLC (CAFTA), I'll bet you haven't read about this! Click on the above link to find out how TLC will destroy our tourist industry!

¡Y si Usted piensa ha oído todos los problemas terribles con el TLC (CAFTA), yo apostaré que usted no ha leído sobre esto! ¡Click el acoplamiento antedicho para descubrir cómo el TLC destruirá nuestra industria turística!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Words of Advice to Costa Rica Tourist

I've recently been hosting a number of new visitors to Costa Rica and have heard a great many questions and suggestions from them. So I thought I'd pass along some information that might be useful to new visitors.

Although Costa Rica is very close to the equator and is, therefore, considered to be a tropical country, it is also a country blessed by beautiful high mountain ranges. With altitude comes cooling. A visitor to Costa Rica, therefore, who plans to visit a beach area or an area of lowland rainforest and ALSO plans to visit a volcano or a cloudforest or other higher altitude area needs to be prepared for both HOT and COLD temperatures. Even if the days at a mid level forest like mine are warm, the afternoons and nights (especially during the "green" season) can get very chilly.

Another thought along the line of clothing is that even in the so-called dry season, a visit to the cloud forest will be wet. You will need a rain parka or umbrella or other rain gear.

Shoes are an important consideration. You can cheat on other clothing to keep costs down, but you should be sure to have the most comfortable shoes you can buy. If you will be doing any hiking or walking through wooded areas, you'll need good walking shoes that completely enclose your feet. This is not only a matter of comfort, but of avoiding biting ants, prickly plants, barbed wire that has been hidden by overgrowth of plant life, and the like. On the beaches and in town you can wear comfortable sandals. Good ones will help you do any hiking along the beaches that you may want to do. If you come during the rainy season, you'll probably want to have high rubber boots for hiking through forests. The mud here can be VERY slippery and sucking. The boots will also protect you from the rare possibility of a snake bite. Most of the very poisonous snakes that you might alarm as you hike will strike at the area between the foot and the knee. They say it is also best not to be the third person in line during a group hike. The first person passing by alerts the snake. The second person gets it angry. The third person gets the bite. Since big rubber boots take up a lot of space in a suitcase and can be a bother to pack, most people just plan on buying a pair of boots when they get here and giving them away to a deserving farm worker before you leave. They're fairly cheap. (the boots - not the farm workers)

You'll also need a sun hat. You can buy one on your first day in San Jose or bring one with you. And don't forget to bring a small tube of sunblock for your first day or two until you can buy a larger supply to be used up or left behind again when you leave. Packing light has many advantages.

Depending on the time of year, you'll want to get a supply of a good insect repellent. Aside from mosquitos (called "zancudos" here) there are small biting flies that hang around low plant growth and especially coffee plantations. Gringos call them "coffee flies." Some of the Ticos I know call them "bocones" which means big mouths. I guess that's because the fly is so tiny, but it leaves a hole in your skin bigger than it is. Avoiding certain mosquitos is also a health concern. There is one species of mosquito that carries Dengue Fever (also referred to as "bone break fever".) Nothing like having the worst case of the flu you've ever experienced to ruin a vacation!

When hiking in wooded areas it is wise to wear socks, long pants, and a long sleeved shirt - even if it's really hot and humid. They will provide you with both sun and insect protection to a large extent.

If you are planning to spend your whole time at some luxurious resort, you won't have to be concerned about ruining your clothes. But if you are like most tourists, planning to do "the nature thing," you should consider bringing old clothes with you - not your best shirts and designer jeans.

If you will be traveling on a tight budget, consider the wonders of bus travel. You can check out a website called www.costaricabybus.com. If you do your planning early enough, you can even buy the book with all the most important bus connections and schedules listed in it along with many helpful hints. Personally, I think bus travel is a lot safer and easier than renting a car and trying to find your way around. (A recent newspaper article claimed that two cars and hour were stolen in Costa Rica!)

Well, that's about enough for this section. I'll have more in another post.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Will the "people" of the United States override their politicos and the big money operators to demand an end to the war in Iraq? Is there enough people power to force impeachment proceedings?

I received the following item in my email today. What do you think?

He Can't Hide in Crawford, He Can't Hide in Washington

With support for his war in Iraq plummeting and a massive protest against the war looming, Bush has been forced to do a little "work" this week. The White House has announced that he will take a break from his five-week vacation for a "five-day push" to try to shore up support for the war. But now the tide has turned decisively against his administration's criminal war - and there is no going back. This powerful sentiment has been stated most firmly - not by the loyal opposition of the Democratic Party, but from the people themselves. The Democrats have taken to the airwaves to announce that they support even more troops going to Iraq! It is the people that have mobilized to stop the war and it is the people who are mobilizing to force Congress to introduce articles of Impeachment against George W. Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and their partners in war crimes.

While Bush tries to hide at his ranch in Crawford for five weeks, pretending world opinion isn't against him, reality is bearing down. And when he returns to the White House, that reality will appear in front of him in a massive display on the streets. His advisors have said that he won't meet with Cindy Sheehan (who rode to Crawford in a bus emblazoned with "Impeachment") because, according to the Washington Post, "he does not care to meet with protesters or to reward them." The fact is, he and his administration can't hide. The tide of opposition is overwhelming them, along with their arrogant plans for conquest abroad and destruction of civil rights at home.

ImpeachBush and VotetoImpeach members are organizing contingents from around the country to be at the White House on September 24 to join in the huge antiwar protest and march. We have learned that the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, which is organizing the antiwar protest at the White House, has obtained permits to rally on both sides of the White House and has secured the first march permit in years to go on Pennsylvania Avenue directly in front of the White House! If you haven't made your transportation arrangements yet, you can go the national transportation page set up by A.N.S.W.E.R. (with whom we're coordinating transportation) to get your bus tickets or find out about cars and vans coming from your area. You can easily buy NY to DC tickets online and if you are already organizing transportation, you can list it on the national board. Let's make the Impeachment call resound throughout Washington. Let's fill the streets with our yellow and black t-shirts and signs.

Harsh New USA Credit Card Rules Take Effect

If you have a credit card from the USA, you had better plan to pay it all off now according to this post on Heidi Allen's blog!

Many ex-pats living in Costa Rica have credit cards from the U.S.A. We use them to withdraw money from our bank accounts in the US via automatic teller machines and for making purchases over the Internet such as airline tickets, medications, and a myriad of other products not available here. If Ms. Allen's blog information is correct (and it appears to be well documented), we had all better plan to pay off our USA credit cards and find alternatives ASAP. Visa and MasterCard credit cards can be issued by Costa Rican banks. The banks I have consulted, however, require that you have a certificate of deposit or "plazo fijo" for at least 120% of the credit card limit. For example, if you have a plazo fijo for $1000 (the minimum), you can get a credit card with a limit of 80% of that, or $800. Without the plazo fijo your only alternative is to find a "fiador" who is a person with enough money in the bank in the form of a plazo fijo who will guarantee payment of the debt. There is a considerable amount of bureaucratic red tape involved in the transactions.

Does anyone out there know whether it is possible to get a recognized credit card from a European country or from Panama? What are our possible alternatives?

Now that it appears Costa Rica will be changing all of its financial and social welfare structures to meet the requirements of CAFTA, what affect will that have on our savings and checking accounts, our debit cards, and the possibilities of getting credit cards?

Please use the comment board on the bottom right of this page to give information, ask questions, clarify, etc.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

What Bloggers Need to Know About $$$$$$

The title of this blog is a link to a story appearing on Yahoo News. As i have been saying, "the blog's the thing!" - the current means of rapid communication of ideas, complaints, kudos, and PR. There are now millions of blogs. Keeping track of them all and of the information contained therein is becoming an industry of its own. Refer, for instance, to my own blog story "Computer Nerds of the World - Unite!" in the May 22, 2005 archive.

Read all about it Print Story: Bucks for blogs on Yahoo! News">here

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Waste Not - Want Not

I received a referral to this site from another blogger and I think it's a very hopeful sign and an inspiration.

Since the Calle El Cedro Comite has been formed and will part of a larger citizens organization on the municipal level charged with finding, obtaining financing, and contracting for services and projects to benefit our neighborhood and our municipality in the areas of infrastructure improvement, health, and safety; I was intrigued by some of the Google ads for battery recycling and tire recycling that appeared on the page. At this point in time we have no recycling program here and our landfill is getting full of some really bad stuff. We could turn waste materials into income producers for the neighborhoods and the municipality itself! Anyway, the ideas are very exciting. We certainly need to do something with all the garbage we produce!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Cheaper Labor Does Not Guarantee Jobs

The thinking has been that large corporations seeking ways to maximize profits and minimize costs are relocating to countries where the labor is to be had very cheaply. The news item below, however, belies this conventional wisdom. More than a cheap and plentiful labor force is required. To complete in the modern world, third world countries and developing nations need to invest in much better education and opportunities for learning. Costa Rica has very few, if any, free lending libraries, for example. This discourages reading and lowers the perceived value of books and education. Learning by rote is another Costa Rican educational flaw. Teachers must be allowed more flexibility in their teaching techniques and children need to be taught not only "facts" but more importantly how to think. Creativity, questioning, and logic are all far more important to a future work force than memorizing dates. Why bother memorizing something that can be easily referenced on the Internet or in a book. The trick is in learning that the information exists and is accessible should one need it.

NEWS of the WEIRD - Current News

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


For those of you who have been following the CAFTA/TLC articles on this blog, here is the latest.

My daughter sent me this letter she received from the director of the Texas Fair Trade Coalition:

As you?ve probably heard by now, we lost the CAFTA vote late Wed. night
217-215. Our collective hearts are broken, but we've not lost hope because,
although the fight is over,* the tight vote exemplifies indisputably that THIS

The vote did NOT win on its merits--it took one of the ugliest political battles
ever to secure it as well as egregious violations of democratic procedure. Bush
visited the chamber that day (with Cheney) for the first time in TWO YEARS, he
was so afraid of losing this vote as it was conjectured to be the final nail in
his "lame duck" coffin.

Proof in the pudding: "If we had not moved forward on CAFTA, it would have
undermined the U.S. position, which has been to lead the fight for
globalization," -- Calman Cohen, president of the business-backed Emergency
Committee for American Trade.

All in all, CAFTA is a fairly insignificant trade deal in terms of real changes
in trade policy; it will certainly tighten the U.S.'s ability to enforce
intellectual property rights in member countries, especially for pharmaceutical
companies to gain even greater protection against generic, and certainly will
create yet MORE mechanisms to exploit workers and the environment (and open
more doors for such here, while exporting jobs and diminishing democracy), but
it does little to improve our economy in terms of decreasing tariffs (80% of
imports from these countries are already duty-free) and increasing exports to
those countries (which is a tiny fraction of our export economy). It is merely
the leverage by which the corporate globalization model keeps it current course
or not, if the tight margin of victory and the politcal battle that led to it
proves to stop like-deals in their tracks.

Also of note is how much the vote shook up the Democratic Party. Even though the
Democratic Leadership Council supported CAFTA, the party line was that CAFTA's
passage was akin to handing the President a major political (albeit shameful)
victory. Thursday, House Minority Whip leader Nancy Pelosi was so incensed at
the outcome, that she called a special party meeting to put the 15 Democrats
that voted for it on the hot seat. "Committee reassignments" were rumored to
be on the table for these folks. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the Senior Chief
Deputy Minority Whip, admitted "some of my friends cast their votes for special

27 Republicans voted against it (Ron Paul our only TX rep.)-- MANY more wanted
to, but were pulled away during the disgusting display of breaking arms "into a
thousand pieces" -as was commonly noted. Republicans held the vote open past
the 15 minute deadline, for 47 more minutes, to pull in 8-10 'errant'
Republicans. Pelosi accused House leaders of turning the House floor into an
episode of "Let's Make a Deal," charging that ethics rules were broken. The
Washington Post said, ?The last-minute negotiations for Republican votes
resembled the wheeling and dealing on a car lot.?

Some "nay" votes were even changed to "aye" after the arm-twisting...but if all
votes that were already cast were counted at the 15 minute mark and if at that
time, all uncast votes were cast according to leanings, we would have won
221-214. :(

There were 2 key Republican votes NOT cast--2 that had committed to "nay"s--due
to some suspicious excuses about not making it back to the House in time
because of a storm (over 3 hours earlier) and that a vote cast was not
registered because of a "deactivated voting card" (Jo Ann Davis of VA, and
Charles Taylor of NC respectively); both most likely cases of trying to have it
both ways.

In terms of TFTC, we only lost 2 of our targets: Ortiz and Hinojosa, having
succeeded in winning Gonzalez, Cuellar, Edwards and Jackson-Lee. So along with
Cuellar's "aye" vote, we'll see LOTS of opportunity for organizing in south
Texas around fair trade issues. Although the model is broken, we have our work
cut out for us as we continue fighting AFTA, FTAA and more expansion of the
model through the WTO...although the WTO General Council closed its meeting
this past Friday in Geneva without any real progress so it looks like CAFTA's
passage didn't create any real momentum in this regard.

We should note too--that this vote is not so much about politics as it is about
people; and to the people of Central America and the Dominican Republic, we are pained and saddened at what this loss means for you, and will stand by you as we move forward to build a new, workable, global model that favors people over profit.

We are currently working on after-math strategy. Stay tuned and meanwhile, feel
free to call your Congressperson to THANK them or ask what they got in exchange
for selling their constituents out (and report back to us if you do either!).

Many thanks for your support,
Lesley and the staff and interns at Texas Fair Trade Coalition.

NYTimes article:
http://www.citizenstrade.org/pdf/ nyt_houseapprovesfreetradepact_07282005.pdf

Public Citizen statement: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=2002

*(3 CAFTA countries still need to ratify it: Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Dominican
Republic-there's a small chance for a little more resistance there)

Please contribute to our efforts by donating online today!


Lesley Nicole Ramsey
Director, Texas Fair Trade Coalition
1405 Montopolis Drive
Austin, TX 78741
Tel: (512) 472-1915
Fax: (512) 389-2899

The only hope now for COSTA RICA is that it does not become a part of this fiasco. It will do so much harm to our beautiful country while doing nothing advantageous. CAFTA is known as the TLC here. If Costa Rica becomes a signatory to this duplicitous treaty, it will immediately be exploited by gold and petroleum interests in the United States. It's beaches and moutains will be ruined. The health of its citizens dangerously jeapordized, tourism will plummet, and Costa Rica will lose its territorial rights! Click here for the previous post regarding how CAFTA will allow off-shore drilling for oil on our most beautiful beaches and the unchecked mining of gold by foreign interests. For Central America and the Caribbean CAFTA equals EXPLOITATION. There is no other way to express this.

Click here to read this excellent article from the Americas Program for more information.


Saturday, July 30, 2005

WSJ.com - Lawyers' Delight: Old Web Material Doesn't Disappear

WSJ.com - Lawyers' Delight: Old Web Material Doesn't Disappear

Guardian Unlimited | World Latest | Congress Report: TSA Broke Privacy Laws

Guardian Unlimited | World Latest | Congress Report: TSA Broke Privacy Laws

From a Christian Bishop - Are we entering a new dark age?

A New Dark Age Begins

Several years ago, in a column about the harassment, removal and silencing of Roman Catholic scholars like Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff, Charles Curran and Edward Schillebeeckx by that church, I referred to the leader of this "Inquisitional" mentality, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as "the pit bull of the Vatican." Little did I realize that this church's leadership would elect this man Pope and install him as Benedict XVI. That action sent a signal throughout the world that we are entering a new "Dark Age." On many fronts this mentality, which has been building inside religion for at least forty years, has finally broken into our full awareness.

We saw it in a document published a few years ago, written by the same Cardinal Ratzinger, in which the Vatican declared there to be only one true religion, namely Christianity, and only one true expression of Christianity, namely the Roman Catholic Church. The gentle Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), who opened that church to the accents of the 20th Century, must have turned in his grave. Ratzinger's document went on to counsel R oman Catholic ecumenical representatives never to refer to other Christian bodies as "sister" churches for that implied some tacit recognition of their legitimacy. This attitude, the hallmark of authoritarian anti-intellectualism that historically has produced religious wars and persecution, is now installed in the Papacy itself. It signals the dimming of reason and suggests that Catholic Christianity has returned to the mindset of the Inquisition.

Rome is not alone. A Danish Lutheran bishop has recently removed one of its most creative clergy, Pastor Thorkild Grosboell, from his parish near Copenhagen by charging him with heresy. To charge one with heresy implies that the charging authority possesses the truth of God. Another Danish bishop, seeing this as a public relations disaster, sought to smooth over the conflict by offering Pastor Grosboell another chance to resume his ministry, but only after a public interrogation in which the bishop read parts of the Creed developed in the fourth century and demanded that Pastor Grosboell declare, with a "yes" or "no" answer that he believes that these words have captured the eternal truth of God. That is "Dark Age" theology.

We see the same mentality almost every day when various evangelical spokespersons, such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or R. Albert Mohler go on national television to express their opinion that the words of Scripture are the inerrant word of God. Their comments are frequently in the service of opposing evolution. All of these gentlemen either ignore the last two hundred years of biblical scholarship or they are not aware of it. Their rhetoric does little more than give aid and comfort to uninformed members of local school boards in the less well educated and less cosmopolitan parts of our nation who thrive on a lack of knowledge and who want to carry us back intellectually to the 1920's, so that once again we might put learning on trial and convict it as we did in the Scopes Trial in Tennessee. One wonders when the historicity of Adam and Eve might begin to be defended again by the current ecclesiastical mentality. The Bible is so often used to perfume both ignorance and prejudice.

If one had any doubt about this developing religious darkness, an op-ed piece that appeared on July 7, 2005 in the New York Times removed any lingering questions. This article, written by the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn, suggested that evolution was "not compatible with Catholic doctrine." This author, no secondary figure in the Roman Catholic Church, served as the editor of the official 1992 Catechism of that Church. Earlier in his career this man had actually defended the literal historicity of the Book of Genesis. Adam and Eve here we come! Though the Vatican did not officially authorize this editorial, it is well known that Cardinal Schoenborn and Benedict XVI are very close friends and in that Church such events are never unplanned or accidental.

Cardinal Schoenborn's argument was intriguing as he first tried to undermine John Paul II's words spoken in 1996 that "Evolution is more than a theory." Secondly, he sought to drive a wedge between what he called the Theory of Evolution articulated by Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution that is held by those he called "The Neo-Darwinians." According to the Cardinal, the distinction was that evolution "in the sense of a common ancestry might be true," but evolution as "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection is not." Perhaps he does not recognize that the full title of Charles Darwin's 1859 book was "The Origin of the Species by Natural Selection." The implication was that anything that disagrees with or challenges the true faith of the Catholic Church could not be truth ipso facto. That is the typical claim found in all imperialistic religious systems. Clearly an alliance is emerging between the Vatican and the "creationist" wing of Protestant fundamentalism.

Evolution, let it be said clearly, is no longer a debatable theory. DNA evidence has made it very clear that all of life is deeply and historically interconnected. Medical science assumes the truth of evolution in all that it does. The vast majority of the scientific world no longer salutes the primitive idea that a supernatural deity who lives above the sky has guided evolution to the glorious end of humankind and that it will go no further. Yet frightened religious leaders now interpret that to be an assault on their image of God. These leaders are unable or unwilling to embrace the fact that God for most Christians is a human creation that got frozen in a pre-modern form. The religious anxiety of our day stems from the fact that this definition of God is dying. Conservative Roman Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants appear to know that in the depths of their souls and so they seek to use authority in the task of divine artificial respiration. Former Christians also appear to know that much more consciously. That is why the fastest growing religious movement in the western world is the Church Alumni Association.

The crisis to which these data point is real. I, for one, am not interested in being a part of a Christian Church that has to defend its faith against the insights of new knowledge. Any God who has to be protected from new truth cannot possibly be God. If the only alternative to the traditional view of God, that portrayed the deity as a supernatural theistic Being who invades the world periodically in miraculous ways to accomplish the divine purpose, is to say that there is no God, then I find that a healthier solution. That, however, is not the only alternative. I seek the God beyond the gods of men and women, beyond the gods of church and religious systems. I seek the God who is not bound by those antiquated creeds and dogmas that were hammered out in a world that no longer exists. If Cardinal Schoenborn wants to assert that anything that conflicts with Catholic doctrine cannot be true, or if Protestants insist that all truth is ultimately defined by the inerrant words of a 3000 year old book, then we are back to the time when the Christian Church condemned Galileo. Christianity lost that battle and it will lose this one as it marches headlong into the marginalized existence that leads to an inevitable death.

What the fundamentalists, both Catholic and Protestant, do not appear to embrace is that evolution by natural selection is only the tip of the iceberg that threatens their narrowly defined religious system. Once the Darwinian principle of evolving life is fully understood, the old idea of an original creation that is both good and finished is doomed. The post-Darwinian scientific world almost unanimously views creation as an ongoing, unfinished process. Therefore the suggestion that there ever was a "fall into sin," becomes nonsense, and the doctrine of 'original sin' collapses. The story of Jesus as God's invasion of the world to rescue us from this fall becomes inoperative. One cannot fall from a perfection one never had. One cannot be rescued from a fall that never happened. One cannot be restored to a status one has never possessed. Inevitably, as this theological house of cards falls, we become aware that the traditional way of understanding baptism as the washing away the sin of the fall, or the Eucharist as a reenactment of the moment when the divine rescue was accomplished on the cross also become meaningless. The idea that salvation was accomplished in the shedding of Jesus' blood becomes barbaric. Neither Cardinal Schoenborn nor the Protestant "creationists" appear to understand any of these implications in their shallow analysis of Darwinian thought. It is a sad day for enlightened people when the leaders of major parts of the Christian Church seek to reassert Catholic authority or scriptural certainty by herding us back into the ignorance of yesterday.

The Christian Church has a choice to make. It will either engage the thought of the contemporary world or it will die. The early signs are that this Pope and the Church he represents have decided to cast their lot with the mindless fundamentalism, which is today the public voice of Protestant Christianity. This means that they are willing to allow their children to be shielded from truth and insight because the God they worship is simply too small to be God for the 21st century. A Christian Church ushering in a new Dark Age has no future.

This frightening specter becomes very real when we recognize that this is the kind of Christianity encouraged by members of the Bush administration. They too are engaged in an assault on both intelligence and learning. They deny global warming, they oppose stem cell research, they are closed-mindedness about end of life issues, they express uninformed negativity about homosexual persons and they attempt to blur the line between church and state.

The clouds are darkening. The fundamentalists are now allied with the Vatican and the present administration has given this mentality credibility by embracing it. Is it any wonder that I fear for the Christianity that has long nurtured me and for the country that I love.

— John Shelby Spong

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Forming of a Neighborhood Committee

The dirt road that serves us is again in terrible shape. The heavy rains of the wet season have taken their annual toll. The small rocks (not gravel) we purchased last year and spread on the mudiest areas are practically all washed away from the slopes and the nice filling and leveling that the men who live on this street did last year is ruined. Deep new ruts and holes have appeared. So once again, our neighborhood mover and shaker went to the city hall (the "muni") to talk to the man in charge of street repairs. A meeting for all the people living on this road was called for this afternoon. Despite heavy rains and a chill wind, eight of us managed to make it to the meeting. We all sat around on the lower wooden supports of a small shelter hugging ourselves to keep warm while we decided to get the city engineer out to assess the cost of the use of the leveling machine owned by the city and for the small rocks we would need to put down and then to take up a collection from all the residents. Again the men would meet to do the hard labor of spreading the rocks. The big news, though, was that there will be municipal money available in 2006 for community committees (comites) who apply for it in order to repair and maintain streets and for other community health and safety projects. So we formed ourselves into a comite. First we needed to decide on a name for our street. Because the whole area we all now live on was once part of a company called Hacienda El Cedro, we decided to call the street El Cedro. The cedro tree is a very large hardwood tree used in construction and in making furniture. The Calle El Cedro Comite needed five officers. I volunteered to be the vice president. I have to admit that I accepted that post because it seemed to be the one requiring the least work! Everyone at the meeting signed the membership list and we will go around to all the other residents getting them to sign up as well. The more, the merrier. Then one of the neighbors who works at the muni volunteered to take all the information and the list of names in to get the ball rolling toward making our comite official. Wow! A street name! What's next? Numbering the houses for street addresses? Naw! Too radical. But we were all thinking BIG when the meeting broke up. We have dreams of getting the street recognized by the national geographic institute to put us on the map. We even talked about getting drainage ditches in and keeping them weedfree as an anti-dengue fever measure. A couple of the men want the street measured and made consistent with the law for the minimum size of the street so we'll all know exactly where our property lines are along the road. Linda Vista is modernizing. Soon we may not even need a four-wheel drive vehicle to navigate the street. Wouldn't that be something?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Mystery Bug Identified

I finally got an identification for the strange bug with the gear or wheel on its back. It is a wheel bug. Why didn't I think of that? Here is some info. I pulled off bugguide.net.

They are beneficial as predators on other insects, especially caterpillars. They are larger sized true bugs in the family Reduviidae, genus Arilus - there are a bunch of photos in the guide here... http://bugguide.net/node/view/259/bgimage
… L. M. Ames, 20 May, 2005 - 3:07am

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hey! Here's Another Interesting Blog

This blog is both entertaining and MAKES SENSE! Making sense is almost a lost art it seems. Check out http://www.pointlesswasteoftime.com/monkeysphere.html.

And Now For Something Completely Different . . .

Need a change of pace? Tired of trying to save the world? Take a break - check out this weirdly funny blog: angrychimp.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Lost Liberty Hotel

I love it! Politicos and judges who can't see the consequences of their actions on the rights of others should be forced to eat their own rules! Let's support this effort and find out how the judge feels when his ruling has a direct affect on his own little world!

Freestar Media

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Independence Day, USA

Economic Independence Day

By David Morris, AlterNet

Posted on July 1, 2005, Printed on July 1, 2005


Tens of millions of Americans will celebrate this 4th of July in the

conventional way: saluting the flag, marching in parades, and consuming

large quantities of beer and hotdogs. Our political leaders will urge

us to demonstrate our patriotism.

But perhaps some of us could take a few moments to ponder what

patriotism meant to those who took the considerable risk of declaring

war on the mightiest nation on earth. And how they went about declaring

and defining their independence.

Many events led up to our formal declaration of independence. But the

pace quickened when, on a cold December night in 1773, a band of

colonists forced their way onto three ships docked in Boston Harbor and

dumped more than 90,000 pounds of tea into the sea.

As Thom Hartmann points out in his excellent book, "Unequal

Protection," the colonists' actions were as much a challenge to global

corporate power as they were a rebellion against King George III.

The ships were owned by the East India Company, a vast corporation with

significant economic power over Britain's colonies around the world.

The company had suffered large economic losses, in part because of a

boycott of their merchandise by the American colonies. That represented

a significant loss of revenue to the British government as well.

Thus, in 1773 the British Parliament passed the Tea Act. The Act

exempted the East India Company from paying taxes on tea sold in the

colonies. The aim was to enable the company to undercut the prices of

small competitors, all of whom were subject to the tax, and drive them

out of business.

The British government and the East India Company were betting that the

lure of cheap tea would overpower any sense of solidarity among the

colonists. They were wrong. The colonists continued to support

independent merchants and boycott East India tea.

Britain retaliated by closing Boston's harbor to trade until the city

paid for the lost tea. The British also converted formerly elected

offices in the Massachusetts government into crown-appointed positions,

restricted town meetings unless their agendas were approved by the

royal governor and required Bostonians to house and feed British


Britain's actions inspired the 13 colonies, for the first time, to work

together. The first Continental Congress met in New York City in the

fall of 1774. The representatives passed resolutions asking the

colonies to raise militias. And they called for an organized boycott of

all British goods.

This last was a key development. The colonists understood that

independence could occur only if they had the capacity for economic

self-reliance. They could claim political authority only if they had

the economic, productive capacity.

Before we declared our political independence we declared our economic

independence. All things English were placed on the blacklist.

Frugality came into fashion. Out of the First Continental Congress in

New York came the embryonic nation's first Chamber of Commerce. Given

the current policies of the Chamber, it might be useful this July 4th

to recall its first campaign slogan, "Save your money and you can save

your country."

Bostonian Sam Adams, the fiery leader of the movement, knew that

frugality was not enough. To become truly independent, America had to

produce at home what was previously imported from England.

Members of Boston's Whig Party demonstrated their patriotism by nursing

tea leaves and mulberry trees in their gardens. New England farmers

were exhorted to convert their oak plains into sheep pastures and

produce enough wool to clothe every American. Colonists were urged to

abstain from eating lamb or mutton in order to encourage American

woolen manufactures.

In less than a year the boycott had so disrupted Transatlantic trade

that thousands of British workers lost their jobs.

Faced with this economic insurrection and the rising level of violence

in the colonies, Britain declared war. On July 2, 1776, the colonies

declared their independence. The Declaration of Independence was

adopted two days later.

When our nation was born, we understood the relationship between

political independence and economic independence. Benjamin Franklin

offered this bit of sage advice to the former colonists. "The man who

would trade independence for security usually deserves to wind up with


Our current leaders have ignored Franklin's wisdom. Today we have a

President who, surrounded by 100 American flags, ardently proclaims his

patriotism. But it is a patriotism that Sam Adams and Thomas Jefferson

and Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry would have found unfathomable and

even, perhaps, treasonable.

The United States is now the world's largest debtor. Two thirds of our

oil is imported, up from a third when OPEC first exercised its

collective power and precipitated the first oil crisis in 1973.

Our corporations have displayed their form of patriotism by fleeing our

soils and supplying us from foreign shores. As a result our trade

deficit is at all-time levels. China is now using its enormous

storehouse of American dollars to buy key U.S. productive assets: IBM,

Maytag and soon, perhaps Unocal. That last bid turned a few heads in

Washington. But just a few days ago, the White House gave the green

light for a British company to purchase a key U.S. supplier of military

hardware to the Pentagon.

The President has just asked Congress to ratify a new free trade

agreement that will aggravate our slide into dependence. He

passionately supports an omnibus energy bill that does virtually

nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

On July 4, 2005, amid awe-inspiring displays of fireworks, our

corporate and political leaders will celebrate Independence Day. Then

on July 6 they will get back to work, designing and implementing

policies that make us ever more dependent.

The brave members of the Boston Tea Party wouldn't call them patriots.

Neither should we.

David Morris is co-founder and vice president of the Institute for

Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnnesota and director of its New

Rules project.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Blair's Take on the Downing Street Memos

The Associated Press story below gives another view of the Downing Street Memos. Are his remarks consistent with other documents and information? There are logical loopholes. Can you find them? Can you explain them? Where should the people of the United States go from here? A recent poll showed that almost half of the population is now in favor of impeachment. Lying to Congress is an impeachable act. Is there enough proof of willfully misleading Congress to impeach? What's YOUR take?

Print Story: Blair 'Astonished' by Coverage of Memos on Yahoo! News

Thursday, June 30, 2005

USGS Earthquake Hazards Program: Earthquake Report: PANAMA-COSTA RICA BORDER REGION

USGS Earthquake Hazards Program: Earthquake Report: PANAMA-COSTA RICA BORDER REGION

WHOOPS! We just had another "temblor." It seemed to last forever, although, I'm sure it wasn't all that strong. A couple of small objects got knocked off countertops. The walls have a few more cracks added to them. The birds were scared sh__less! The concrete apron around the house looks like someone is trying to chop it up into several smaller squares with spaces in between. One of the cracks on the north side spiderwebbed - first going from north to south and then out to east and west. That's the way the quake itself felt, too. The apron is separated from the house on a part of the west side. Most of the damage seems to be on the north side. Since I have a large number of giant cockroaches living in glass containers at the moment, I can say definitely that Archimandrita tesselata, the giant Peruvian or peppered cockroach, does not become more active or show signs of agitation prior to an earthquake. My birds and those of a neighbor who has a veritable zoo of animals, however, did start screaming before the humans felt the quake. But only by seconds. There was a thunder storm in progress at the time and that added to the general ambiance of TERROR. Fortunately, the actual length of the quake was probably less than two minutes, so we (Martin and I) were able to go around soon checking for damage and breakage and calming the animals. Linda, the Siberian husky, was howling and Bonnie, Linda's daughter, was whining and pawing frantically at the gate of her "perrera" or kennel. Since it was raining heavily, we did not attempt to walk the entire property to check for earthslides, damage to Nogui's house, the state of the chickens, and the crops. Everything seemed pretty calm, though. I called John and Gerri Whittle (the friends with the zoo) because this would have been their first biggie in their new house. I was a bit worried because the house is built on two levels on a hillside. But they assured me there seemed to be only minor damage equivalent to mine. Nothing major, thank goodness. The electricity didn't go out as it had in the Christmas eve earthquake of 2003 and my office remained intact. A veritable miracle considering the chaos it's in with papers stacked high on every surface. After the 2003 quake which did a lot of damage in the office, I had a special piece of furniture built to house a lot of my "stuff." It is attached to the wall and is very well built. I also bought a metal two-door cabinet for supplies and that held everything in check. I do occasionally learn from experience.

Refer back to my article on earthquakes and volcanoes in the 05/15/2005 archive for more information about earthquakes and resources.

About Me

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I live on the Pacific slopes of the Talamanca mountain range in southern Costa Rica. My adult children live in the United States. I have a Masters Degree in Gerontology but have worked as a migrant laborer, chicken egg collector, radio broadcaster, secretary, social worker, research director, bureaucrat, writer, editor, political organizer, publicist, telephone operator, and more. My hobby of photography has garnered some awards.

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