Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The State of Food: Michael Pollan

This author, of last year's outstanding The Omnivore's Dilemma, has an article in the nation's paper of record (the "Magazine," actually), which nicely encapsulates many of the problems with the US industrial food system (and make no mistake, "industrial" is the best term here) and the way we eat. If readers are too consumed with other matters to make it through the book, this article is a nice summation of the topic. Pay particular attention to how the food industry, through its lobbyists and bought-and-paid-for representatives in Congress, manipulates official government recommendations on what should constitute healthy eating. Also particularly insightful is the discussion on why "scientific" findings regarding diet are frequently wrong. Towards the end, Pollan has some rules or suggestions on what to eat (which is what we really want to know, isn't it?):
1. Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims.
3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
5. Pay more, eat less.
6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.
8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden.
9. Eat like an omnivore.
Peruse the article for the explanatory comments. The man really does have a fine perspective on the whole question of what and how we should eat. Since most of the sentient beings in Chaos' world consume food, this is a somewhat burning question (Chaos has always been somewhat of a gourmet, in fact).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Decline of the Empire, Chapter IX: And They Called It Puppy Love

Last week, Chaos sorta ignored the latest sign that the citizens of the world's most frivolous nation have reached new heights of silliness, having been driven crazy by the overabundance of a peak energy environment: a new pill for obese dogs. However, when the phenomenon occurs twice in a fortnight, its time for action, or, at least a few words. Here's the latest: beer for dogs. Chaos thinks that the two events are somewhat backward in time, but at least at present, your pet can sit back on the couch with you and enjoy a cold one, and later, take a pill along with you to mitigate the weight gain. As an example of "peak" everything, this is certainly a fine one, and one can only think things cannot really continue to reach higher levels of absurdity for much longer.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Opposite View: Growth is Our National Religion

Following up on Saturday's post on the importance of geographic differences, here's an unwitting rebuttal, representing the side of unfettered growth, written by the former mayor of San Antonio, now head of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (in other words, the ones behind the sleazy push for toll roads the State Highway Department seems to want so much) (Chaos's commentary appears along with it):

There has been much discussion throughout the community about growth, the need for enhancing our transportation system, toll roads and the role of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority. (Yeah, a lot of people around here don't like the idea of toll roads; wonder why..)

The Alamo RMA was created to work with the community to explore and develop mobility solutions to help keep our region moving forward in the face of continued growth. We are making every effort to ensure that local voices throughout the community are heard in the discussions, evaluations and debate — not only on tolled lanes, but on various other transportation options and improvements. (Those voices are heard, all right, and then they're ignored. And the 'other options'? They don't exist.)

We are here to listen. We are here to work with our partner agencies and, most important, to work with our community to find solutions to today's transportation problems. We need to face the reality that we have seen a dramatic increase in population and a resulting surge in congested roads and highways. (Hmm...increased population and decreased quality of life? Ever heard of that little correlation?)

I wish there were a quick fix. I wish we could expand funding sources for highway construction and maintenance. I wish we could build projects quicker. I wish we didn't have to spend increasing and countless hours each week looking at the car stopped in front of us on our highways and interstates. (Chaos wishes the city wasn't run by delusional pro-growth hacks like this one, who seems to think we can build our way out of an unsustainable lifestyle).

During the next 25 years, an estimated 1 million new residents will be moving into this region. Businesses are moving to San Antonio, bringing with them higher-paying jobs and more opportunities for our city to grow. (Ok, this is the city that wants to rival India for call centers? A million more residents? How many more Mountains of Shame does one community need? And why is growth considered good? A cancer cell is the only entity that enjoys unlimited growth).

More and more residents are looking for new ways to travel throughout the city to ensure quality of life as we work and enjoy all that is San Antonio. Unless something is done soon, we won't be in the position to enjoy the unprecedented growth and prosperity. (Chaos supposes that 'new ways' to travel will include sitting in ever longer traffic jams, because building more freeways will guarantee it. The only people who 'enjoy' the increased growth and prosperity are those who run things...the rest just put up with the mess).

Accelerating transportation projects makes good economic sense. It is important to realize that we can buy more today than we can buy tomorrow in terms of highway project costs. (And we could surely buy a whole lot more than that 20 years ago, so we should have paved over the entire area back then, right?).

There is no silver bullet to solving congestion and no single funding method to address our growing transportation needs. We need new ways to finance, build and maintain roadways. (Ever hear the one about how building new freeways just increases the traffic? Ever been to California?)

I think we all agree that we need a balanced approach to meet these challenges. We need integrated road, rail and bus systems to keep a major metropolitan area like San Antonio moving forward. (This is just simply a lie. No such things exist here, and no plans to make them so. 85% of residents get to work in a single car.)

By having a balanced approach to meet our needs and by considering a variety of funding solutions — from gas tax to tolling — we can keep our community moving forward. (Does 'moving forward' stop when we hit the brick wall of finite resources? How much growth is enough? When does it stop?)

At the Alamo RMA, we are laying the groundwork to help address this coming growth, which also addresses the congestion we see today. (By building more freeways).

We need to be visionary. While we debate change, we ask for your help in embracing new ideas and concepts. We ask for you to be open to finding innovative approaches to transportation and congestion relief. (Toll roads are the only option, despite what anybody says. 'Not driving as much' is never even going to be mentioned.)

In the coming months, we will provide opportunities to hear your input through public meetings and open houses, and we look forward to a continued dialogue. (And then we'll just do what we said we would at the beginning).

Together, we can create roadways that are built years and decades sooner, which will cover their own maintenance, and allow limited state and local funds to be spent on other projects to keep our community moving. (The reason there are no state funds for highways is because the Lege spent all the proceeds from the gas tax on other stuff).

The Alamo RMA, contrary to some assertions, is not simply a "tolling authority." Toll revenue, while controversial — and a stark challenge to the status quo — is an important element into the funding discussions. Yes, we are looking at toll financing as an option to help build roadways. No, that is not all we are about. (Chaos is willing to suspend some disbelief here and would ask the writer to prove it by coming up with a plan for dedicated bike lanes, stopping suburban sprawl, and some light rail, instead of highways).

We are committed to finding ways to bring relief to our community, to helping finish needed projects and to listening and respecting the voices of our community. (When you're in a hole, perhaps it's best to stop digging. What does Peak Oil have to do with highways? Think about it).

At the end of the day, our mission is a simple one — to move people faster, to find new solutions we haven't tried yet, to make use of every tool and resource and to ensure that we solve the problems of today now instead of leaving a burden for future generations. (How about the 'burden' of a planet with species and habitat destruction, polluted water, soil, and air, and disastrous climate change? You might want to address these before mouthing pious platitudes).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Geographic Difference: Peak Oil in Portland

Portland, Oregon, is perhaps one of the most forward-thinking cities in the Empire. To illustrate Chaos' point that geography matters when it comes to addressing the several looming catastrophes projected to begin soon, the city in 2006 commissioned a "Peak Oil Task Force" to address the problem. The draft recommendations are now out, and they provide an interesting glimpse of how a different mindset will produce a vastly divergent response to a problem which is just now only beginning. The report itself is not illuminating as to the issues ( it is all rather mundane, with transportation, food, land use, and social stability discussed) but as an example of the kind of conversation which needs to be happening everywhere in the Empire (but is not), it is fascinating. Imagine such a "conversation" happening in your city. If you can't, be worried.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Response to Catastrophe: The Kumbaya Crowd

All across the Web, in various guises, you will find someone's response to Peak Oil, Global Heating, collapse, environmental destruction, everything but overpopulation perhaps, goes something like this: we all need to get together, and recognize the problem. We need everyone to get involved. The problem demands a unified response, which is __________________. Awareness and education will wake people up. If we all join hands, and sing Kumbaya together, we can make a difference and it will all be ok. As longtime readers may suspect, this is not Chaos' mantra. We will never "get together" on these issues; unity among 300 million Americans, much less 6.5 billion people worldwide, is fantasy. For a fine example of the contrast between the two approaches, check out this article and debate between Jan Lundberg, a bicycle advocate, and Dmitry Orlov, oft-quoted expert on collapse. Chaos supposes one could substitute the terms "idealism" and "realism" for the two points of view in this debate, but it is useful at this moment (or some other time, perhaps, for procrastinators) to consider on which side one falls. For the record, Chaos admires those who aspire to make a difference, but this in no way undermines the opinion that the coming issues will be insurmountable, are manifestations of overpopulation, which no one can or will do anything about, and those who attempt action are merely nibbling at the edges.

The Cluelessness Of Americans: A Weekend Bon Mot

Have a good laugh over this video, in which the Australian reporter impersonates PM John Howard, asks Americans geography questions, and other silly stuff that no one should be expected to know the answer to. Particularly funny when he travels to Texas and asks the residents about invading Krygystan, which he tells people the president has deemed a security risk to the US.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

One Reason We're Number One: Coal

If you ever wondered why the 'great' state of Texas ranks first in air pollution (mentioned here awhile back), you need look no further than this little dissection, courtesy of Rolling Stone (a periodical, which typically concerns itself with entertainment drivel, but usually carries one or two interesting political pieces per issue), which helpfully connects the dots between the massive power corporation TXU, the 'illustrious' governor (called by some, Governor Goodhair), and the hastily arranged construction of many many polluting coal-fired electrical plants. Once again, the state marches steadily and ignorantly back into the past, while the rest of the world (well, except China) goes the other way. Makes a resident proud.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Importance of Hydrogen: Why Humans are Doomed

This somewhat long and technical article (pdf document, click on "articles" on the main page and then "Hydrogen: Life's Maker and Breaker") by Reg Morrison demonstrates in great detail the geneticists argument as to why the human species has no future, well, longterm anyway. Your reward for wading through some of the more difficult passages is a greater understanding of why carbon really doesn't matter in the scheme of things, hydrogen is vital and how the release of methane "burps" will really trash the planet as we know it. It'll also scare you out of your socks.

The Mountain of Shame Continues to Burn

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Mountain of Shame

A few weeks ago Chaos was performing almost-daily ablutions to the God of Exercise, this time on a bicycle, and when rounding a corner came face to face with a large mountain of dead trees, seemingly three or four stories high, in the middle of a field. As amazing as this was, and as a symbol of the local environmental destruction, it was small potatoes for what happened next: someone set it on fire, and it will burn by itself for quite a long time (a year or more) if not extinguished, which of course will cost quite a lot of money (hence the reluctance of various state and local officials to get involved). Much has been made in the local media about "health hazards" of the said burning, but nothing mentioned about what an embarrassing symbol of willfully ignorant environmental disaster this is. The sickening irony is almost perfect: not only do the effects of the destruction of the ground cover (for enabling the building of unsustainable suburban sprawl)linger for years, but the detritus actually further contributes to air pollution. As a further totem of the cluelessness of the local population, this is fine beyond measure. Chaos wishes to have the wit to make this stuff up, but unfortunately, reality is much more bizarre than imagination.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Quote of the Day

You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists. -- Abbie Hoffman

A Nation's Culture: Japan

If there is one lesson Chaos would like to impart to the gentle readers of this blog, it is that the psychological makeup of a nation or region matters, sometimes tremendously in the face of overpopulation and its many manifestations (global heating, peak oil/gas, environmental destruction). Potential solutions are many, and there is no lack of thoughtful scenarios for dealing with such catastrophic forces. The real obstacles to change, however, reside entirely within human minds. Living in an Imperial bubble (or any other kind for that matter) is quite limiting to one's sense of the range of responses that may even now be going on in some far off place. To the point is today's article in the nation's paper of record concerning conservation in Japan. Look well upon it and study the details of that nation's frugality: despite having 40% of the US population, it consumes less than 25% of US energy use. Part of this efficiency comes from new technologies such as fuel cells (government subsidized) and more efficient (and expensive) appliances, but also from simple conservation, which is apparently part of the nation's culture, and can be traced back to the economic destruction of World War II, and Japan's historic insecure status as an importer of energy. To wit: the average size house in Japan is 1188 square feet, a tiny space by US standards. Gasoline is taxed to the tune of $5.20 per gallon. The family featured in the article reuses bath water for other family members and then for washing clothes--note the tone of amazement in the writer, for such things are almost entirely unknown in the US. One would have to observe that the US does not possess the psychological triggers that exist in Japan: there is a legacy of being the world's leading oil producer for decades, larger sizes (houses, cars, people) are favored here, the "cowboy mentality," and many others. The good news about the ratcheting up of entropy in the coming years: human psychology is almost infinitely malleable, and is mostly capable of change. The bad news: massive changes in the nation's culture are unlikely to take root until a crisis erupts. Note that Japan's frugal culture was developed over long periods of time, and further notice that the psychological makeup of Japan features a long term focus largely absent from that of the United States. If one is inclined to feel hopeful about the future of the Empire, imagine the details of just how frugal one's countrymen would have to become, and reflect on the likelihood of such occurring without the compulsion of sudden "drops" in complexity.

A couple of slightly off-topic comments on today's post: recall that European countries also have had very high gasoline taxes for quite some time, and typically use 50% less energy per capita than the US. Also, Japan's birthrate has been quite a bit below replacement rate for quite some time, and its population will be the first to undergo a massive age shift, to be followed by quite a few European nations (and China).

Geography matters, because a nation's culture matters.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Doomer Argument #23

If the American public, 5 years and more after the events of 9/11, still cannot connect the dots between their happy motoring profligate lifestyle and their physical security, really, readers, what hope is there? Forget the crackpot theories of peak oil, global warming, environmental destruction, let's just say we're filling our tanks with freedom, yes? Have a great weekend, readers.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Amazing But True: Overpopulation and Nostalgia

Chaos has long speculated on the human "faulty memory problem" (which is to say, how people tend to forget or minimize negative memories and overemphasize positive ones) and how it contributes to sometimes quite powerful feelings of nostalgia. Chaos has also become aware at the same time that one of the real differences between the past and today is that there are more (much more) people at this very moment than at any time previous. As is sometimes the case, another being has encapsulated this in a most erudite and effective manner, and in the nation's paper of record, no less. The exemplary essay is also a primer on the negative effects of overpopulation (and there are many), and so it is highly recommended for those in the Imperial Bubble who can only glimpse fragments of the issue through the lens of the MSM: (here's an excerpt)

"It is futile to want the old days back, but that doesn’t mean one should ignore the lessons of the visitable past — say, when there were half that number of people in the country. In some important ways life really was better then because of it. The overcrowded, much noisier, more hectic, intensely urbanized and vertical world of the present can seem hostile and hallucinatory to anyone who knew America in a simpler form.

In my lifetime the population has doubled. I’m glad I grew up when the number of Americans was so much smaller. How does one explain to anyone under 50, or to the grateful unfazed immigrant from an overpopulated nation, that this was once a country of enormous silence and ordinariness — empty spaces not just in the Midwest and the rural South but in the outer suburbs of New England, like the one I grew up in, citified on one margin and thinning to woods on the other. That roomier and simpler America shaped me by giving me and others of my generation a love for space and a taste for solitude."

Sadly, the issue is a worldwide one as well, and so there is no escape (or is there? there will be a future post addressing this....) At any rate, this is one well stated and sobering piece of work.