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Saturday, June 29, 2002

Nukes in Space

The physician/activist Helen Caldicott is on CSpan's Book Events this weekend and she gives a powerful one hour presentation on the current arms situation. Her website is here.

She insists that there is no question that the Pentagon currently runs the White House and that nukes in space is numero uno on the general military agenda for the future, with the goal of being able to vaporize enemies from beyond the stratosphere. The following recent articles provide context to this assertion:
US spurns Russia, China's bid to ban arms in space -- Reuters
Russia, China Seek To Ban Space Arms -- Guardian

And on 6/26/02:
US to have single command for nuclear force, missile defence - Hindustan Times
The Pentagon is to create a single military command for US nuclear and missile defenses, as well as a network of early warning satellites and radars, US ...
Also:   Bush approves plan to merge Strategic, Space Commands - Nando Times
Rumsfeld Announces New US Military Command - Reuters
Bush Oks Plan To Merge Commands - Guardian, UK
Pentagon creating a new military command - China Daily

Posted by Richard
6/29/2002 06:19:36 PM | PermaLink

FAIR Takes a Stand on Pledge: Overwhelming Media Bias on the Issue

In the immediate aftermath of an appeals court ruling that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional, nearly all the commentary in the country's leading newspapers criticized the decision. But some of the more alarmist arguments used to defend the phrase "under God" actually tended to support the judges' finding that including it in the Pledge is an impermissible government establishment of religion.

Of the 10 largest-circulation dailies in the country, six had run editorials on the ruling as of June 28; all six attacked the decision. Editorialists called it "a fundamentally silly ruling" (L.A. Times (6/27/02) or an "addled opinion" (Wall Street Journal, 6/27/02). The New York Times (6/27/02) said it "lacks common sense," while the Washington Post (6/27/02) compared it to a "parody." The appeals court "went way overboard," in the opinion of Long Island Newsday; for the New York Daily News (6/27/02), "the sooner this decision is overturned, the better."

Signed columns in the top papers had little more balance. Jeffrey Rosen in the New York Times (6/28/02) criticized the ruling's "polarizing vision." In the Washington Post (6/27/02), Marc Fisher criticized "a court steeped in the arrogance of political correctness."

A column by the Chicago Tribune's John Kass (6/27/02) ran under the headline, "Ruling on Pledge Is a Slap in Face to All Americans." Marc Howard Wilson (Chicago Tribune, 6/28/02) called it "typical San Francisco lunacy" and "misguided grandstanding."

In a twist, the L.A. Times (6/28/02) ran a feature by staff writer Martin Miller, who described himself as an atheist but attacked the non-believer whose lawsuit prompted the decision as "sullen, cantankerous and litigious...intolerant, pushy and self-righteous."

Compared to these harsh attacks on the ruling, supporters were muted. The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne (6/28/02) mustered half a cheer for the decision in an op-ed headlined "Wrong for the Right Reasons." The Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn (6/27/02) noted that he had criticized mandatory recitations of the Pledge in the past, and invited readers to view those columns on his website.

Susan Jacoby in Newsday (6/28/02) narrowly endorsed the opinion as "entirely correct in constitutional terms," although she wished that the Pledge were "a more substantive issue." Libertarian conservative James Pinkerton (L.A. Times, 6/28/02) produced the most robust defense of the appeals court justices, praising their "historical wisdom" (although calling their ruling "poorly thought out").

Though support for the court ruling was limited in the leading U.S. papers, the criticisms of the decision in some ways backed up the court's reasoning. Several critics adopted the position of the appeals court's dissenter, saying that "under God" is not an establishment of religion because it is a "rote civic exercise" (New York Times, 6/27/02), a "harmless civic recitation" (Newsday, 6/28/02) with "such a minimal religious effect" (New York Times, 6/28/02). "God's name is just a frill, a space-filler in the unthinking torrent of much daily conversation," claimed Fisher in the Washington Post (6/27/02).

But at the same time, many opponents of the decision warned that it could provoke a powerful, emotional response from believers. The New York Times (6/27/02) warned that it was "inviting a political backlash," whose effects Rosen spelled out in the paper the next day: "That ruling will almost certainly galvanize Republicans to push for the appointment of conservative judges who will seek to place religion in the center of public life." The Washington Post (6/27/02) noted that the ruling " can only serve to generate unnecessary political battles and create a fundraising bonanza for the many groups who will rush to its defense."

Those are fairly serious consequences for the cessation of a "rote civic exercise." Indeed, the vitriolic attacks against the decision, and the warnings of what Christians and other monotheists might do if the Pledge were not maintained as is, bolstered the appeals court's finding that including "under God" was "not a mere acknowledgment that many Americans believe in a deity" or "merely descriptive of the undeniable historical significance of religion in the founding of the republic," but rather "an impermissible government endorsement of religion" that "sends a message to unbelievers 'that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.'"

Granted, some of the defenders stood up for the Pledge because of, rather than despite, its religious content. "The sentiment that this is a land blessed has been accepted since Pilgrim days," asserted the Daily News (6/27/02). The Tribune's Kass (6/27/02) wondered whether his children will be "jailed for having any dangerous and heretical beliefs, like a belief in God."

The most disingenuous assertions in support of the Pledge status quo related to the purpose of adding "under God"-- an important constitutional question, since church/state separation questions typically hinge on the secular intent of governmental action.

"The pledge, taken as a whole, was not intended to be a coercive prayer, but was designed to promote patriotism, and as such is consistent with the neutrality principle," wrote Rosen (New York Times, 6/28/02). Editorialized the Daily News (6/17/02): "The two words, viewed in the context of the entire pledge, have nothing whatsoever to do with avowing fealty to God."

Yet if one can believe President Dwight Eisenhower, who signed the bill that added "under God" to the Pledge, that is precisely what altering the oath was meant to accomplish. "In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future," Eisenhower announced at the time (Columbus Dispatch, 6/28/02). "From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and every rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."

From: F.A.I.R. June 28th, 2002

Posted by Richard
6/29/2002 08:17:00 AM | PermaLink

Friday, June 28, 2002

G8 and Africa: The Truth about Bono at Last

An amazing piece of television last night on the Canadian news, The National. The show began by highlighting the "remarkable" agreements reached by the G8 leaders with the African continent, in which the reporter Paul Hunter basically issued propaganda for Chretien:
The concern all week has been that the Africa plan would get knocked off the G-8 agenda by other issues. Well that certainly did not happen. The result is what G-8 leaders are calling a landmark document for Africa. This was the day Prime Minister Chretien was waiting for, the final day of the G-8 summit in Alberta where aid for Africa, the issue Chretien wanted as the summit centerpiece dominated the agenda. And so, for the first time, African leaders were invited to the G-8's inner circle. When it was done, a plan from the world's richest countries aimed at helping some of the poorest on earth.

But after all this self-congratulating, the anchor Peter Mansbridge cut to a pretty lengthy live interview with Bono. Bono, of course, has been the Left's public spectacle for the last year or two as he managed to become the current Live Aid Rock spokesman for the anti-globalization generation -- meeting with G8 leaders around the world in his colored specs and leather pants, praciticing Zoo-politics in which it wasn't clear whether or not Bono was more accurately representing the poor or poor Bono. I myself have ripped the aging rocker for turning oppression into a rock-media carnival that appeared quite self-serving.

However, after receiving a special memo from the G8 as to the Africa accord for his perusal, Bono did something rather shocking and unexpected - he slammed the "landmark" G8-Africa agreement as a farce and expressed deep resentment and disappointment.
Mansbridge:Bono, earlier this year, you had hoped that this Kananaskis G-8 could produce the Marshall plan for Africa. You've seen the final communiqu‚ now, is that what you're looking at?

Bono: No. No, I'm not looking at that at all. And it's, there's a lot of people's hopes and dreams, and real work dashed here as far as I'm concerned. And you know, it was an inspired thing, I think of Prime Minister Chretien to have the African leadership present. It was inspired to have as a centerpiece at this year's G-8 but really, what I'm looking at is a lot of rhetoric, a lot of the old numbers just kind of fiddled with. There is, I mean maybe I'm being disingenuous. I'm feeling disappointed. There is some progress here. There is some smart things on the debt they've done looking at debt sustainability in this. There's a little bit more money going around but no, none of the vision we were hoping for. Basically, the scale of the response does not match the scale of the problem.

Mansbridge then asked exactly the question that had to be on everyone's mind -- if Bono in raising hands with Pres. Bush and friends really thought that he was "saving the world," only to have the agreement he'd fought so hard for go by the capital numbers, then didn't he feel the fool? Hadn't he been made a political laughing-stock and shown to be quite naive? Hadn't he "been had?"
Bono: Um, yeah, I might be one of those people. If I'm speaking to you, Peter, next year, and there hasn't been a real historic movement to deal with the problem of AIDS in the world and to deal with a continent like Africa bursting into flames while we all stand around with watering cans, I'm going to feel like I have been had. And worst than that, I'm going to feel like I've been a tourist in other people's tragedies.

So there it was -- the fool and the kings. Sadly, we don't need Shakespeare to tell us which of the two was wiser.

Posted by Richard
6/28/2002 09:09:49 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, June 27, 2002

With God on our Side (Bob Dylan, 1963)

The immortal Mr. Zimmerman never fades out of fashion:

Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I've learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It's them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.

In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I cannot think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.

Posted by Richard
6/27/2002 09:00:33 AM | PermaLink

Irrational and Intolerant, the U.S. Government Bends Deeply to Kiss its own Ass in the Name of God

Our government is starting to sound more and more fascist, irrational, reactionary and intolerant of pluralism -- one thinks back to the governments of other war eras: unity unity unity (in the name of a noble tradition), no matter how much this unity comes at the cost of the other noble American traditions of democracy and justice.

I can only hope that American intellectuals will finally rise to the challenge and have the courage to mouth off in defense of the standpoint of reason issued in the 9th circuit's ruling, instead of just playing the usual puppies and letting this nauseating rhetoric wash through the public mind un-critiqued.

There is no question that it is the history of America to be a Christian nation under God. But this is the ideological baggage of a nation deeply entrenched in a particular worldview. Without saying whether or not the belief in monotheism (or Christianity) is warranted, there can be no denying that references to God are both "religious" and "monotheistic" and that this has since consciously imploded into the suppossedly secular state. In other words, referring to God is meaningless if the assumption is that there is no God and so the current governmental apologetics essentially characterizes all agnostic or atheistic Americans as "unAmerican" and "not part of the grand tradition." Further, in speaking about God, the pledges of state are not speaking about "gods." There is no respect or mention or allegience to any other tradition than the monotheism of European heritage. But this is the same Eurocentric tradition that has attempted to colonize, enslave, and oppress each and every other heritage that has historically differed from it.

Democrats and Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for this reactionary stance that clouds the real history behind the use of "God" in state is the same language that is linked to the "divine right of Kings" which democracy was intended to oppose. Of course, what is really going on here is only so much political courting of that large voting sector that is the non-coastal America. Come voting time, no one, neither Republican nor Democrat wants to be characterized as a "godless" force aligned with "satan." It makes for bad press.

Unfortunately, with anyone half-reasonable or conscious, and certainly anyone with even the slightist historical sensitivity to the issue of God and State, whether he/she be religious or not, this current outrage at the 9th circuit makes for press of an even worse kind. Somebody stop this ride and let me off, I think I'm gonna be sick...

U.S. Court Rules Pledge Unconstitutional (AP)

In an extraordinary show of defiance, virtually the entire Senate showed up for a morning prayer Thursday, heads bowed behind their desks, to affirm that the United State is "one nation under God," after a federal appeals court declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.

"We acknowledge the separation of sectarianism and state, but affirm the belief that there is no separation between God and state," Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie said in the morning prayer, an event usually attended by only a handful of senators.

The Senate floor and partly filled visitors galleries were hushed as Ogilvie proclaimed that "we are one Senate, united under you (God), to lead a nation that is free to say confidently, 'In God we trust.'"

House members who rushed to steps in front of the Capitol on Wednesday to recite the Pledge of Allegiance immediately after the court's decision, planned to pass a resolution later Thursday condemning the ruling.

And President Bush denounced the ruling as "out of step with the traditions and history of America." He promised to appoint judges who would overturn such rulings.

In calling the Senate to order, its president pro tempore, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said Ogilvie would lead "the prayer to almighty God, the supreme judge of the world."

"We are one nation under God. We affirmed that today as Americans, not as Republicans or Democrats, and we did so proudly," said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who on Wednesday called the court's decision "nuts."

"What's next?" Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., asked Thursday. "Will our courts, in their zeal to abolish all religious faith from public arenas, outlaw 'God Bless America' too?"

The House and Senate recite the pledge every morning before starting work — the House since 1988 and the Senate since 1999.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Wednesday that the use of the words "under God" violates the Constitution's clause barring establishment of religion. The ruling, if allowed to stand, would bar schoolchildren from reciting the pledge in the nine Western states covered by the court.

Less than four hours later, senators passed a resolution denouncing the court's decision, which came in a lawsuit filed by a California father who objected to his daughter's being compelled to listen to her second-grade classmates recite the pledge.

"I think we need to send a clear message that the Congress disagrees, the Congress is going to intervene, the Congress is going to do all that it can do to live up to the expectations of the American people," Daschle said.

Other lawmakers, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a potential 2004 presidential candidate, called for a constitutional amendment to make sure the words stay in the pledge.

"There may have been a more senseless, ridiculous decision issued by a court at some time, but I don't remember it," Lieberman said.

For their part, House members gathered on the front steps of the Capitol to recite the pledge en masse — the same place they defiantly sang "God Bless America" the night of the Sept. 11 attacks.

If Wednesday's ruling is not overturned by the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court probably will review the case next year, constitutional scholars said.

The court has flip-flopped on the pledge, first ruling in 1940 that public school students could be forced to salute the American flag and say the pledge. Three years later the court said an individual who doesn't want to salute the flag or say the pledge may refuse.

Experts were split on what the court would do.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said he believed the appeals court ruling would be overturned.

"The Supreme Court would be forced to change its own ceremonial opening ... `God save the United States and this honorable court,'" Sekulow said.

But University of Southern California Law School professor Erwin Chemerinsky said he believed the appeals court was right. "I believe the government can't act to advance religion," he said. "That's what Congress did by putting 'under God' in the pledge."

Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, branded the appeals court decision "ridiculous" and said the Justice Department would fight it. "The view of the White House is that this was a wrong decision," Fleischer said.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Justice Department believed in the right of Americans to say the pledge. "The decision is directly contrary to two centuries of American tradition," Ashcroft said.

The decision was written by Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, whom Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., called an "atheist lawyer."

"I hope his name never comes before this body for any promotion, because he will be remembered," Byrd said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., called for more conservative judges. The 9th Circuit Court is known as the most liberal appeals court in the nation.

Democrats and Republicans have been fighting all year over the pace of the Senate's confirmation of Bush's conservative judicial nominations. Three of Bush's 9th Circuit nominees, Carolyn Kuhl, Richard Clifton and Jay Bybee, have yet to be voted on by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

"This highlights what the fight over federal judges is all about," said Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. "We feel that putting men and women on the appellate courts who would make this kind of decision is bad for America."

Democrats pointed out that it was a Republican, President Nixon, who appointed Goodwin to the appeals court in 1971.

Posted by Richard
6/27/2002 08:45:33 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

The State of Animal Farming in the E.U.

The following story at Vegan Porn -- "Why are battery hens considered less cruel than veal?" -- documents the welfare provided by the EU chicken industry. The EU has decided to become progressive by banning the use of battery cages, that confine the birds to a bare minimum of space, in favor of "enriched" cages by 2012. The new cages are a whopping 10 inches by 10 inches across! Germany has already banned the new cages, and Britain (much maligned for its animal industry practices -- i.e. hoof & mouth and mad cow) is considering it.

This story documents how Britain's biggest food industry giants are teaming up with Oxford University to study how to raise livestock in a natural manner:
London (Reuters) - Satellites will shortly swing into action to track sheep grazing habits as part of a project to design farms that make animals happier.

The Food Animal Initiative combines scientists from Oxford University and farmers funded by British food industry giants supermarket Tesco and burger chain McDonalds UK.

"Animals are every farmer's first priority, so it is important that they're given the best care," rural affairs television presenter John Craven said, launching the project.

Apart from tracking sheep to help redesign fields, the initial phase of the project will encourage pigs to indulge in a bit of satisfying rooting and create shady spots for cows to have their calves in natural comfort.

"Our in using animal behavior to tell us what the animals want," said Oxford University head of Zoology, Paul Harvey.

Of course, this is all a bunch of state and industry propaganda on the Brit's part for the moment. Additionally, and most importantly, in all the treasured words about "giving animals what they want," every researcher or bureaucrat associated with the project has so far failed to point out that animals might just want NOT TO BE BRUTALLY SLAIN, PACKAGED, AND THOUGHTLESSLY EATEN!

Posted by Richard
6/26/2002 08:10:26 AM | PermaLink

Sustainable Supercomputing?

People too rarely talk about the energy costs associated with the computer revolution. Even less do people converse about the amount of actual heat generated in the name of producing said revolution. Instead there is the constant focus upon processing speed and power -- how much data can the machine crunch and how quickly.

But any elementary physicist can tell you that resistance will be a function of processed electricity -- have you held your hand to the back of an imac recently? Of course, one doesn't notice this sitting at one's desk, but if you think about all the heat radiated by computers in the U.S. at once then you can begin to appreciate what is a small part of a large problem: the urban-industrial heating of the globe.

An article in yesterday's New York Times highlights this very issue in a discussion about plans for the world's most powerful supercomputer that are in the works. The following is commentary on the article in the Register which notes an alternative design plan that insists bigger isn't always better:

The way semiconductor design is going CPUs will generate more heat than a nuclear reactor by 2015. This calculation, a side-effect of the world-famous Moore's Law, is known, to us anyway, as the Gelsinger co-efficient. Chipmakers and their suppliers are developing new materials, shrinking the die size and investing in sundry manufacturing techniques to address this hot issue.

But this is not much help to some of the big tin in operation today. Where better to go than Los Alamos, home of the Nuclear Bomb and some absolutely supercomputers. One, a beast called Q, will consume enough energy to power 5,000 homes when it's fully up and running later this year, drawing 3 megawatts for the machine, and 2 megawatts for the cooling system. It lives in the Nicholas C. Metropolis Center for Modeling and Simulation, a three-storey 333,000 sqft structure which incorporates several cooling towers, and cost $93m to build.

On the drawing board for is a 100-teraops machine. "To satisfy its needs, the Metropolis center can be upgraded to provide as much as 30 megawatts - enough to power a small city", the NYT reports.

Compare and contrast with a new Los Alamos supercomputer, the Transmeta-low power CPU- based Green Destiny. "Though Q will be almost 200 times as fast, it will cost 640 times as much - $215 million, compared with $335,000 for Green Destiny". And it doesn't need to live in a $93m temperature controlled, dust-controlled building. It measures two by three feet and stands six and a half feet high.

"There are two paths now for supercomputing," Wu-Chung Feng, the leader of the project told the NYT. "While technically feasible, following Moore's Law may be the wrong way to go with respect to reliability, efficiency of power use and efficiency of space. We're not saying this is a replacement for a machine like Q but that we need to look in this direction."

Posted by Richard
6/26/2002 07:51:54 AM | PermaLink

EPA Says 28 Percent of U.S. Lakes Have Contaminated Fish

Washington D.C.-- More than one-fourth of the nation's lakes have advisories warning consumers that fresh-caught fish may be contaminated with mercury, dioxins, or other chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday.

The EPA said state regulators issued 2,618 fishing advisories or bans in 2001 because of contaminants.

Eating fish that contain high concentrations of mercury, dioxins, PCBs, and other industrial chemicals can be especially harmful to pregnant women and children, according to the EPA.

In 2001, the state advisories covered 28 percent of the nation's total lake acreage, up from 26 percent in 2000, the EPA said. Some 14 percent of U.S. rivers were covered by advisories in 2001, up from 10.5 percent in the previous year.

States that had the most fishing advisories include Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Nebraska, and New Jersey.

Some of the affected waterways include Lake Champlain, Florida's Sarasota Bay, Washington's Puget Sound, and the Potomac River which feeds into Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, the EPA said.

State regulators have several options when contaminated fish are found in a waterway or lake, depending on the chemical and amount. The states can ban eating all fish from a certain area, advise pregnant women to avoid eating a specific kind of fish, or urge consumers to eat smaller amounts of fish caught in a particular section of a waterway.

Details about state fishing advisories were posted by the EPA on its Internet site.

Posted by Richard
6/26/2002 07:23:35 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

More on Managing the Forests

One of the most disturbing results of the great tragedies of the wildfires in Arizona and Colorado has been the easy infiltration of media channels by right-wing government and corporate interests. The language of "forest management" in the name of sustainability has all the ear-marks of the type of media cooptation that has made a career for critics like Noam Chomsky.

While it is true that if logging companies mine all the timber out of forest ecosystems there will be little chance for such large fires (because their will be no wood to burn), it is patently false that allowing "big lumber" into the forests is a "sustainable" strategy. It is also false that "environmentalists" are the cause of the increase in fuel-load on the forest floors over the past 30 years, though the media are now highly complicit in advancing arguments that suggest this logic.

Fire season has barely begun but the terms by which the issue will be characterized and politicized are already far to the right. Less people forget that our nations forests are actually in grave danger of systemic collapse (far from being overgrown), we need to be more than passive consumers of the wildfire stories. As with all media narratives, it behooves each and every one of us to achieve a certain literacy with the language and presentation of the issue such that we can begin to see the forest for the trees.

The following article dated June 24, 2002 typifies the ideological struggle behind the wildfires story:

Hull, activists argue methods of forest thinning
By Thomas Stauffer and Arek Sarkissian II

Gov. Jane Hull said Sunday that the failure to clean out dry, overgrown forests helped create the conditions that allowed the Rodeo Fire to grow so fast so quickly.

Hull said many national forests like the Apache-Sitgreaves need to be thinned through timber cutting or prescribed burns as a means of preventing catastrophic wildfires. And, she said, environmentalists have fought many thinning projects in national forests.

"I've been here 40 years and I've never seen the health of this forest so bad," she said. "The word just does not seem to get back to the environmentalists and the courts who keep us from cleaning up the forests. "Hopefully the message is going forward to Congress to do something about cleaning these forests, something nature did on a regular basis before people were here."

Environmentalists on Sunday agreed with Hull on what should have been done to prevent this fire's severity, but not with whom she's blaming. Environmental groups opposed thinning of forests when it involved cutting down large trees, the groups said, not when it involved intentional burns or the removal of smaller trees to eliminate dense underbrush.

The government has not been committed to thinning out the forest, said Robin Silver, conservation chairman for the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson. "The Sitgreaves has been logged of all its large trees, then cattle replaced its grasslands, promoting even more small trees," said Silver, who labeled Hull as one of the most "anti-environmental" governors in Arizona history.

"It's years of overgrazing, fire suppression, removal of large trees, with no attention to small trees, that make it (the wildfire) all very predictable," Silver said.

Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director of the Sierra Club in Tucson agreed, saying the only thing that has been opposed by her organization was the cutting of large trees, which are the most resistant to fire. "We advocate the cutting of small trees and prescribed burns. Instead of pointing fingers, it would be nice if the governor would stop pointing fingers and work with everyone," Bahr said.

Dale Bosworth, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, said active management of forest lands is key to preventing catastrophic wildfires. "There is a choice. There is a way. We don't have to have this kind of fire burning in the national forest, threatening communities and destroying homes," Bosworth said. "The way is by doing some active management on the land. That way is thinning the forest, getting fire back into these fire-dependent ecosystems."

Posted by Richard
6/25/2002 10:28:42 AM | PermaLink

Monday, June 24, 2002

Germany Writes Animals into the Constitution!

As expected, Germany's parliament voted yesterday to anchor animal rights in its Basic Law, making it the first country in the European Union to give animals constitutional protection.

The measure could lead to new legislation limiting the testing on animals of products such as cosmetics and mild pain-relievers, Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast said.

But Ms Kuenast stressed human rights would take precedence over those of animals.

For years, Conservative opposition parties had fought environmentalists over a constitutional amendment on animal rights, saying it would tie Germany's hands in scientific research and lead to a brain drain.

But a widely criticised ruling by the constitutional court in January, authorising the traditional Islamic slaughter of animals without use of anesthetic, lent new momentum to the animal rights movement. The court then ruled that religious freedoms were protected under German Basic Law while animal rights were not.

This is a historic move on the part of a global industrial power and people everywhere should lend the German government support in this courageous decision. For, as was seen recently in France (and as we know all too well in America), in this age of globalization conferences and world committees state governments appear to be making hard turns to the right. So too in Germany where the conservative right Christian Democratic party is making gains toward governmental control in the upcoming elections by courting big business through neo-liberal policies and by touting an anti-immigration agenda. It goes without saying that if the German right can indeed resurface in the next election, besides its historically unpalatable consequences, we can expect a quick challenge and over-ruling of this consitutional amendment.

Posted by Richard
6/24/2002 09:44:29 AM | PermaLink

Native Americans and Vegetarianism by Rita Laws, Ph.d.

How well we know the stereotype of the rugged Plains Indian: killer of buffalo, dressed in quill-decorated buckskin, elaborately feathered headdress, and leather moccasins, living in an animal skin teepee, master of the dog and horse, and stranger to vegetables. But this lifestyle, once limited almost exclusively to the Apaches, flourished no more than a couple hundred years. It is not representative of most Native Americans of today or yesterday. Indeed, the "buffalo-as-lifestyle" phenomenon is a direct result of European influence, as we shall see.

Among my own people, the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi and Oklahoma, vegetables are the traditional diet mainstay. A French manuscript of the eighteenth century describes the Choctaws' vegetarian leanings in shelter and food. The homes were constructed not of skins, but of wood, mud, bark and cane. The principal food, eaten daily from earthen pots, was a vegetarian stew containing corn, pumpkin and beans. The bread was made from corn and acorns. Other common favorites were roasted corn and corn porridge. (Meat in the form of small game was an infrequent repast.) The ancient Choctaws were, first and foremost, farmers. Even the clothing was plant based, artistically embroidered dresses for the women and cotton breeches for the men. Choctaws have never adorned their hair with feathers.

The rich lands of the Choctaws in present-day Mississippi were so greatly coveted by nineteenth century Americans that most of the tribe was forcibly removed to what is now called Oklahoma. Oklahoma was chosen both because it was largely uninhabited and because several explorations of the territory had deemed the land barren and useless for any purpose. The truth, however, was that Oklahoma was so fertile a land that it was an Indian breadbasket. That is, it was used by Indians on all sides as an agricultural resource. Although many Choctaws suffered and died during removal on the infamous "Trail of Tears", those that survived built anew and successfully in Oklahoma, their agricultural genius intact.

George Catlin, the famous nineteenth century Indian historian, described the Choctaw lands of southern Oklahoma in the 1840's this way: "...the ground was almost literally covered with vines, producing the greatest profusion of delicious grapes,...and hanging in such endless clusters... our progress was oftentimes completely arrested by hundreds of acres of small plum trees...every bush that was in sight was so loaded with the weight of its...fruit, that they were in many instances literally without leaves on their branches, and quite bent to the ground... and beds of wild currants, gooseberries, and (edible) prickly pear." (Many of the "wild" foods Anglo explorers encountered on their journeys were actually carefully cultivated by Indians.)

Many of the Choctaw foods cooked at celebrations even today are vegetarian. Corn is so important to us it is considered divine. Our corn legend says that is was a gift from Hashtali, the Great Spirit. Corn was given in gratitude because Choctaws had fed the daughter of the Great Spirit when she was hungry. (Hashtali is literally "Noon Day Sun". Choctaws believe the Great Spirit resides within the sun, for it is the sun that allows the corn to grow!)

Another Choctaw story describes the afterlife as a giant playground where all but murderers are allowed. What do Choctaws eat in "heaven"? Their sweetest treat, of course: melons, a never-ending supply.

More than one tribe has creation legends which describe people as vegetarian, living in a kind of Garden of Eden. A Cherokee legend describes humans, plants, and animals as having lived in the beginning in "equality and mutual helpfulness". The needs of all were met without killing one another. When man became aggressive and ate some of the animals, the animals invented diseases to keep human population in check. The plants remained friendly, however, and offered themselves not only as food to man, but also as medicine, to combat the new diseases.

More tribes were like the Choctaws than were different. Aztec, Mayan, and Zapotec children in olden times ate 100% vegetarian diets until at least the age of ten years old. The primary food was cereal, especially varieties of corn. Such a diet was believed to make the child strong and disease resistant. (The Spaniards were amazed to discover that these Indians had twice the life-span they did.) A totally vegetarian diet also insured that the children would retain a life-long love of grains, and thus, live a healthier life. Even today, the Indian healers of those tribes are likely to advise the sick to "return to the arms of Mother Corn" in order to get well. Such a return might include eating a lot of atole. (The easiest way to make atole is to simmer commercially produced masa harina corn flour with water. Then flavor it with chocolate or cinnamon, and sweeten to taste.) Atole is considered a sacred food.

It is ironic that Indians are strongly associated with hunting and fishing when, in fact, "nearly half of all the plant foods grown in the world today were first cultivated by the American Indians, and were unknown elsewhere until the discovery of the Americas." Can you imagine Italian food without tomato paste, Ireland without white potatoes, or Hungarian goulash without paprika? All these foods have Indian origins.

An incomplete list of other Indian foods given to the world includes bell peppers, red peppers, peanuts, cashews, sweet potatoes, avocados, passion fruit, zucchini, green beans, kidney beans, maple syrup, lima beans, cranberries, pecans, okra, chocolate, vanilla, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, cassava, walnuts, forty-seven varieties of berries, pineapple, and, of course, corn and popcorn.

Many history textbooks tell the story of Squanto, a Pawtuxent Indian who lived in the early 1600's. Squanto is famous for having saved the Pilgrims from starvation. He showed them how to gather wilderness foods and how to plant corn.

There have been thousands of Squantos since, even though their names are not so well-known. In fact modern day agriculture owes its heart and soul to Indian-taught methods of seed development, hybridization, planting, growing, irrigating, storing, utilizing and cooking. And the spirit of Squanto survives to this day. One example is a Peruvian government research station tucked away in a remote Amazon Indian village called Genaro Herrera. University trained botanists, agronomists and foresters work there, scientifically studying all the ways the local Indians grow and prepare food. They are also learning how to utilize forests without destroying them, and how to combat pests without chemicals.

The trend that moved some North American Indian tribes away from plant food-based diets can be traced to Coronado, a sixteenth century Spanish explorer. Prior to his time, hunting was a hobby among most Indians, not a vocation. The Apaches were one of the few tribes who relied heavily on animal killing for survival.

But all that changed as Coronado and his army traversed the West and Midwest from Mexico. Some of his horses got away and quickly multiplied on the grassy plains. Indians re-tamed this new denizen, and the Age of Buffalo began.

Horses replaced dogs as beasts of burden and offered excellent transportation. This was as important an innovation to the Plains Indians as the automobile would be to Anglos later on. Life on the Plains became much easier very quickly.

From the east came another powerful influence: guns. The first American settlers brought their firearms with them. Because of the Indian "threat", they were soon immersed in weapons development and succeeded in making more accurate and powerful weapons. But they also supplied weapons to Indians who allied themselves with colonial causes. Because it was so much easier to kill an animal with a rifle than with a bow and arrow, guns spread quickly among the Indians. Between the horse and the rifle, buffalo killing was now much simpler.

The Apaches were joined by other tribes, such as the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahos, Comanches, and Kiowas. These tribes "lost the corn", gave up agriculture, and started living nomadic existences for the first time. It wasn't long before their food, clothing, and shelter were entirely dependent on one animal, the buffalo.

George Catlin lamented this fact as early as 1830. He predicted the extinction of the buffalo (which very nearly happened) and the danger of not being diversified. Catlin pointed out that, were the Plains Indians only killing a buffalo for their own use, the situation might not be so grave. But because the great beasts were being slaughtered for profit, they were destined to be wiped out.

It was the white man who profited. There was an insatiable Eastern market for buffalo tongue and buffalo robes. In 1832, Catlin described a wholesale buffalo slaughter carried out by six hundred Sioux on horseback. These men killed fourteen hundred animals, and then took only their tongues. These were traded to whites for a few gallons of whiskey. The whiskey, no doubt, helped to dull the Indian talent to make maximum use of an animal. Among the tribes who did not trade with whites, each animal was completely used, down to the hooves. No part went to waste. And buffalo were not killed in the winter, for the Indians lived on autumn dried meat during that time.

But now buffalo were killed in the winter most of all. It was in cold weather that their magnificent coats grew long and luxuriant. Catlin estimated that 200,000 buffalo were killed each year to make coats for people back East. The average hide netted the Indian hunter one pint of whiskey.

Had the Indians understood the concept of animal extinction, they may have ceased the slaughter. But to the Indians, the buffalo was a gift from the Great Spirit, a gift which would always keep coming. Decades after the disappearance of huge herds, Plains Indians still believed their return was imminent. They danced the Ghost Dance, designed to bring back the buffalo, and prayed for this miracle as late as 1890.

In spite of the ease and financial incentives of killing buffalo, there were tribes that did not abandon the old ways of the Plains. In addition to the farming tribes of the Southeast, tribes in the Midwest, Southwest, and Northwest stuck to agriculture. For example, the Osage, Pawnee, Arikaras, Mandans, Wichitas, and Caddoans remained in permanent farming settlements. Even surrounded by buffalo, they built their homes of timber and earth. And among some of the Indians of the Southwest, cotton, basketry, and pottery were preferred over animal-based substitutes like leather pouches.

Catlin was eerily accurate when he predicted dire consequences for the buffalo-dependent tribes. To this day, it is these Indians who have fared the worst from assimilation with other races. The Sioux of South Dakota, for one, have the worst poverty and one of the highest alcoholism rates in the country. Conversely, the tribes who depended little or not at all on animal exploitation for their survival, like the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw, are thriving and growing, having assimilated without surrendering their culture.

In the past, and in more than a few tribes, meat-eating was a rare activity, certainly not a daily event. Since the introduction of European meat-eating customs, the introduction of the horse and the gun, and the proliferation of alcoholic beverages and white traders, a lot has changed. Relatively few Indians can claim to be vegetarians today.

But it was not always so. For most Native Americans of old, meat was not only not the food of choice, its consumption was not revered (as in modern times when Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving as if it were a religious duty). There was nothing ceremonial about meat. It was a plant, tobacco, that was used most extensively during ceremonies and rites, and then only in moderation. Big celebrations such as Fall Festivals centered around the harvest, especially the gathering of the corn. The Choctaws are not the only ones who continue to dance the Corn Dance.

What would this country be like today if the ancient ways were still observed? I believe it is fair to say that the Indian respect for non-human life forms would have had a greater impact on American society. Corn, not turkey meat, might be the celebrated Thanksgiving Day dish. Fewer species would have become extinct, the environment would be healthier, and Indian and non-Indian Americans alike would be living longer and healthier lives. There might also be less sexism and racism, for many people believe that, as you treat your animals (the most defenseless), so you will treat your children, your women, and your minorities.

Without realizing it, the Indian warriors and hunters of ages past played right into the hands of the white men who coveted their lands and their buffalo. When the lands were taken from them, and the buffalo herds decimated, there was nothing to fall back on. But the Indians who chose the peaceful path and relied on diversity and the abundance of plants for their survival were able to save their lifestyles. Even after being moved to new lands they could hang on, re-plant, and go forward.

Now we, their descendants, must recapture the spirit of the ancient traditions for the benefit of all people. We must move away from the European influences that did away with a healthier style of living. We must again embrace our brothers and sisters, the animals, and "return to the corn" once and for all.

(Rita Laws is Choctaw and Cherokee. She lives and writes in Oklahoma. Her Choctaw name, Hina Hanta, means Bright Path of Peace, which is what she considers vegetariansim to be. She has been vegetarian for over 14 years.)

Posted by Richard
6/24/2002 08:55:50 AM | PermaLink

U.S. Mayors Will Fight Bush Agenda on Nuclear Waste and Global Warming

Madison, Wisconsin, June 20, 2002 (ENS) - The nation's mayors disagree with the Bush administration on a number of environmental issues, judging by the resolutions made at their 70th annual meeting over the weekend. The U.S. Conference of Mayors resolved to oppose cross country nuclear shipments, and to support action on global warming and power plant emissions.

For full text and graphics visit:

By Cat Lazaroff

Posted by Richard
6/24/2002 08:17:24 AM | PermaLink