The last of the troubadours has joined that glorious band in the ether. May they play on.
Every time I saw Pete Seegar perform or performed one of his glory songs, I felt a tear in my soul for the joyous, courageous life he pursued and his undeflectable joie de vivre (even when Dylan went "electric"). It's hard to imagine anyone following in those footsteps today, but thousands (millions?) have been moved to try.
Buoyed by his characteristically soaring spirit, the surging crowd around him and a pair of canes, Pete Seeger walked through the streets of Manhattan leading an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011.
Though he would later admit the attention embarrassed him, the moment brought back many feelings and memories as he instructed yet another generation of young people how to effect change through song and determination - as he had done over the last seven decades as a history-sifting singer and ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser.
"Be wary of great leaders," he told The Associated Press two days after the march. "Hope that there are many, many small leaders."
The banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage died Monday at the age of 94.
. . . He learned the five-string banjo, an instrument he rescued from obscurity and played the rest of his life in a long-necked version of his own design. On the skin of Seeger's banjo was the phrase, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender" - a nod to his old pal Guthrie, who emblazoned his guitar with "This machine kills fascists."
. . . He and Guthrie also toured migrant camps and union halls. He sang on overseas radio broadcasts for the Office of War Information early in World War II. In the Army, he spent 3 1/2 years in Special Services, entertaining soldiers in the South Pacific, and made corporal.
. . . "The sociology professor said, 'Don't think that you can change the world. The only thing you can do is study it,'" Seeger said in October 2011.
. . . "Can't prove a damn thing, but I look upon myself as old grandpa," Seeger told the AP in 2008 when asked to reflect on his legacy. "There's not dozens of people now doing what I try to do, not hundreds, but literally thousands. ... The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place."
Hello to the Pete Seegar millions.
Let's start singing!
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I know I must sound like that "been there, done that" cliché sometimes, but I just have to mention that I showed the video of Dr. Strangelove to my class in Business Administration several months after 9/11/01 because I wanted them to be aware of the history of what could go wrong in war as the U.S. prepared to invade Afghanistan (and later Iraq) and how the hubris of political leaders and the military had been depicted in movies, most brilliantly by Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern with Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones and Slim Pickens, riding that missile! I was a figure of some controversy because of my unpopular seminar-of-40-students teaching style, but I thought it was important to make that statement at that time and in that way. It wasn't my only way of urging my students to think for themselves.
I still think it was a pretty good choice.
By Eric Schlosser
The New Yorker
25 January 14
Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while "Dr. Strangelove" was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George's novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, "Red Alert," was the source for most of "Strangelove" 's plot.
Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of "Red Alert" to every member of the Pentagon's Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war.
Coded switches to prevent the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons were finally added to the control systems of American missiles and bombers in the early nineteen-seventies. The Air Force was not pleased, and considered the new security measures to be an insult, a lack of confidence in its personnel. Although the Air Force now denies this claim, according to more than one source I contacted, the code necessary to launch a missile was set to be the same at every Minuteman site: 00000000.
. . . The security measures now used to control America's nuclear weapons are a vast improvement over those of 1964. But, like all human endeavors, they are inherently flawed. The Department of Defense's Personnel Reliability Program is supposed to keep people with serious emotional or psychological issues away from nuclear weapons - and yet two of the nation's top nuclear commanders were recently removed from their posts. Neither appears to be the sort of calm, stable person you want with a finger on the button. In fact, their misbehavior seems straight out of "Strangelove."
Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, the second-highest-ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command-the organization responsible for all of America's nuclear forces--was investigated last summer for allegedly using counterfeit gambling chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, "a significant monetary amount" of counterfeit chips was involved. Giardina was relieved of his command on October 3, 2013.
A few days later, Major General Michael Carey, the Air Force commander in charge of America's intercontinental ballistic missiles, was fired for conduct "unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." According to a report by the Inspector General of the Air Force, Carey had consumed too much alcohol during an official trip to Russia, behaved rudely toward Russian officers, spent time with "suspect" young foreign women in Moscow, loudly discussed sensitive information in a public hotel lounge there, and drunkenly pleaded to get onstage and sing with a Beatles cover band at La Cantina, a Mexican restaurant near Red Square. Despite his requests, the band wouldn't let Carey onstage to sing or to play the guitar.
While drinking beer in the executive lounge at Moscow's Marriott Aurora during that visit, General Carey made an admission with serious public-policy implications. He off-handedly told a delegation of U.S. national-security officials that his missile-launch officers have the "worst morale in the Air Force." Recent events suggest that may be true. In the spring of 2013, nineteen launch officers at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota were decertified for violating safety rules and poor discipline. In August, 2013, the entire missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana failed its safety inspection.
Last week, the Air Force revealed that thirty-four launch officers at Malmstrom had been decertified for cheating on proficiency exams - and that at least three launch officers are being investigated for illegal drug use. The findings of a report by the RAND Corporation, leaked to the A.P., were equally disturbing. The study found that the rates of spousal abuse and court martials among Air Force personnel with nuclear responsibilities are much higher than those among people with other jobs in the Air Force. "We don't care if things go properly," a launch officer told RAND. "We just don't want to get in trouble."
The most unlikely and absurd plot element in "Strangelove" is the existence of a Soviet "Doomsday Machine." The device would trigger itself, automatically, if the Soviet Union were attacked with nuclear weapons. It was meant to be the ultimate deterrent, a threat to destroy the world in order to prevent an American nuclear strike. But the failure of the Soviets to tell the United States about the contraption defeats its purpose and, at the end of the film, inadvertently causes a nuclear Armageddon. "The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost," Dr. Strangelove, the President's science adviser, explains to the Soviet Ambassador, "if you keep it a secret!"
A decade after the release of "Strangelove," the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system--a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn't be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in "Strangelove," Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.
In retrospect, Kubrick's black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media.
"This is absolute madness, Ambassador," President Merkin Muffley says in the film, after being told about the Soviets' automated retaliatory system. "Why should you build such a thing?" Fifty years later, that question remains unanswered, and "Strangelove" seems all the more brilliant, bleak, and terrifyingly on the mark.
Ready for another Dot-Com-Bazomb?
This month marks the 17th anniversary of Alan Greenspan’s first mention of “irrational exuberance.” It was Dec. 5, 1996. Greenspan was then enthroned as the paterfamilias of our economy, delivering a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Those words, “irrational exuberance,” were meant as a warning to investors, who, at the time (thanks in part to the Internet), were playing day trader with the family savings account. Greenspan, prone to coining neologisms for phenomena in the equities markets, would later mint the wondrously descriptive metaphor “froth in the market.” But that wasn’t until the shit had finally hit the fan.
Where are we now? Barely a decade removed from the dot-com crash, and there are signs that the froth has returned. Have we learned any lessons?
There is a new bubble enlarging before our eyes. You don’t have to take my word for it. “Back East, the Wall Street money is starting to worry that it feels like 1999 all over again. Money-losing technology companies are going public at you’ve-got-to-be-joking prices,” wrote the New York Times’ Nick Bilton before Thanksgiving. “The founders of Snapchat are getting multibillion-dollar offers — and turning them down. Is this time different? Out in Silicon Valley, many insist it is. But for the average investor, there are reasons for caution.”
Beware of this new bubble; it casts a long cultural shadow, unimaginable in the dot-com heyday. You see, the Web in 1999 was still in its infancy. Abroad in Spain, its availability was sporadic, unreliable. Applications were abstractions. Covering tech back then was the drudge work of scribing pieces on infrastructure investments in esoteric things like 3G spectrums. Hardly sexy, especially to a 24-year-old reporter trying to make his mark. So when sexy came, I was all too willing to lionize my share of companies and their market-making potential.
Web entrepreneurs today now enjoy the sine qua non of Internet infrastructure and mobile connectivity that their predecessors from ’99 could only dream of. Investment in the “pipes” of the Internet — combined with the arrival of devices that expedite and encourage access to it (iPhones, iPads) — paved the way for porn to play effortlessly on flip phones, and aided our digital fetishes of all varieties. Want to know the weather? There’s an app. Want a taxi? There’s Uber. Want a doctor? Soon there will be an app for that too.
Still don’t buy it? Imagine spending $3 billion on a Tibetan sand mandala: Buddhist monks construct intricate designs from colored sand – and destroy them once finished, a flourish to underscore the life’s impermanence. Now, in Snapchat, there’s an app for that. (From a Stanford grad, of course.) Once viewed, a message in Snapchat will disappear, much like the drawings in Tibet. Any image, no matter how scandalous it might be, vanishes forever.
This unicorn, Snapchat — which Facebook tried to buy last fall for $3 billion – is all the rage among millennials and punch-drunk techno-hedonists, having grown at a feverish pace. However, despite its exploding user base, the company still doesn’t have an especially compelling answer to one very basic question: How will you make money? Meanwhile, tech reports expound on the “warrior mentality” of its young founder. Hmm …
* * *As a graduate of the media class of the original dot-com crash, I feel much like T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, who declares, “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.”
Well, I want to tell you all that we remain etherized, because our technology today is so enameled in “cool.” We love, of course, the Valley’s Bauhaus aesthetics, clever apps and manifest destiny expansionism. The technology industry is churning out these remarkable inventions at such a torrid pace that Silicon Valley is a de facto appellation that confers automatic cool and prestige.
These days, however, the products are not the end of the story. Newly minted millennial billionaires are willing to deploy their fortunes for activism – political and moral – a theme George Packer examined so well in the New Yorker last spring. And the media, much as in 1999, is more than willing to chronicle their fervor, and their “change the world or bust” coda. Today’s techno-visionaries have another tailwind at their backs that their dot-com predecessors did not: cyber-topians.
Many in today’s financial press are doing a fine job as present-day pasticheurs of dot-com era vanity. But why? Why their reluctance to deliver real, incisive business journalism? Why give a free ride to the Mark Zuckerbergs and Marissa Mayers of the Valley? Well, to put it simply: For these journalists, it’s simply more fun to write “features” rather than do the hard work of writing hard news.
I could, if necessary, refer to the Vogue spread on Mayer in August; the juicy bits about how she made excel sheets to document her favorite cupcake recipes, or how she slips quietly upstairs mid-party, her “CEO exit”; the 3-foot tall frog statues in her backyard (“sprinkled,” the piece goes, with Mozart concertos).
Of course, Vogue could have nested this trivia within a candid portrait of Mayer’s Yahoo tenure, major accomplishments being: redesigning the corporate logo; overseeing the development of what Vogue calls “a gorgeous new weather App”; and the $1 billion acquisition of Tumblr — yet another Web platform without a revenue stream and a vaporous business model, which, in Yahoo’s earnings statements, was revealed to have been valued at around $750 million in goodwill. (In other words: Mayer assessed its potential value at nearly $1 billion.) Unfortunately, goodwill does not sustain jobs. Then again, bad press does not sell fashion magazines.
I could likewise refer to Forbes’ feature on Elon Musk last spring. An ideal way to ensure that you gain entrée for future interview requests with a billionaire is to do a piece that fawns like so:
I ask Musk if he has a dog. Yes, he says, two. But no dish, leashes, or chew toys are in sight.
As he drives to work—his Montblanc aviators, retrieved from the floor of the Lotus-bodied coupe, perched on his nose — we talk about his favorite drives (he favors Highway 1, unsurprisingly), his favorite music (when not rocking to Robbie Williams, he’s more a Beatles-and–Pink Floyd classic-rock man), and his favorite cars (the 1967 Jag E-Type is “like a bad girlfriend — very dysfunctional”).We remain, nevertheless, tantalized by the tinsel of our time’s toys, our neighbor’s new Tesla, by apple-cheeked boy wonders.
Like Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s “Candide,” some claim that we live in the “best of all possible worlds.” We live, it’s true, amid a period of perpetual and impressive disruption that will effect a great many advancements. The nanolennials who will eventually spring from the loins of millennials (will there be enough quinoa and chai left in the world for them?) will have some big shoes to fill if we go on applying Moore’s law to humanity, believing we can ascend Maslow’s pyramid of needs with every new app or software update. To think that with technology we can render the pain from life is folly.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, however, has devoted his entire professional career to disintermediating humankind from inconvenience, the last painful pangs of the analog era. “If you go back in time 18 years, I was driving the packages to the post office myself, and we were very primitive,” said Bezos to Charlie Rose. Soon, our Amazon orders shall arrive by drone.
Yet, having lived through the mad rush to technologize once before, having chronicled that era’s astounding failures, I would now rather we live with the buffer of those painful, precious, uncharted 18 minutes – to ponder, to imagine, to think. Free time, however, being the archenemy, Bezos, I’m guessing, would have us spend those 18 minutes some other way, someplace less taxing on our spirits, hypnotically shopping online, so that we do not have to remember this verse from the Book of Wisdom:
What has been will be again,
What has been done will be done again;
There is nothing new under the sun.
The new world is upcoming.
Genetic Engineering Actually INCREASES Pesticide Use, DECREASES Crop Yield, And May Be Dangerous to Your Health
January 27, 2014
Genetic Engineering Companies Promised Reduced Pesticide Use … But GE Crops Have Led to a 25% Increase In Herbicide UseOne of the main selling points for genetically engineered crops is that they would use substantially less pesticides than conventional crops.
Because of that, and other, promises regarding GE crops, they have taken over much of the food crops in America. For example:
- Monsanto reports that – between 2008 and 2009 – 95% of all sugarbeets planted were genetically engineered to be able to tolerate high doses of the pesticide Roundup
- The USDA reports that 93% of all soy and 85% of all corn grown in the U.S. is an herbicide-resistant GE variety
However, it turns out that GE crops need a lot more herbicides than conventional ones.
- Similarly, around 93% of all cottonseed oil and more than 90% of all canola oil produced in the U.S. is herbicide-resistant GE
Washington State University Charles Benbrook – former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences and, before that, Executive Director of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Research, and Foreign Agriculture, U.S. House of Representatives – published a study showing:
Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. If new genetically engineered forms of corn and soybeans tolerant of 2,4-D are approved, the volume of 2,4-D sprayed [background] could drive herbicide usage upward by another approximate 50%.Science Daily notes:
Largely because of the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds, HR crop technology has led to a 239 million kg (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use across the three major GE-HR crops, compared to what herbicide use would likely have been in the absence of HR crops.
Washington State University explains:
Herbicide-tolerant crops worked extremely well in the first few years of use, but over-reliance led to shifts in weed communities and the emergence of resistant weeds that have, together, forced farmers to incrementally –
Each of these responses has, and will continue to contribute to the steady rise in the volume of herbicides applied per acre of HT corn, cotton, and soybeans.
- Increase herbicide application rates (especially glyphosate),
- Spray more often, and
- Add new herbicides that work through an alternate mode-of-action into their spray programs.
HT crops have increased herbicide use by 527 million pounds over the 16-year period (1996-2011). The incremental increase per year has grown steadily from 1.5 million pounds in 1999, to 18 million five years later in 2003, and 79 million pounds in 2009. In 2011, about 90 million more pounds of herbicides were applied than likely in the absence of HT, or about 24% of total herbicide use on the three crops in 2011.
Today’s major GE crops have increased overall pesticide use by 404 million pounds from 1996 through 2011 (527 million pound increase in herbicides, minus the 123 million pound decrease in insecticides). Overall pesticide use in 2011 was about 20% higher on each acre planted to a GE crop, compared to pesticide use on acres not planted to GE crops.
There are now two-dozen weeds resistant to glyphosate, the major herbicide used on HT crops, and many of these are spreading rapidly. Millions of acres are infested with more than one glyphosate-resistant weed. The presence of resistant weeds drives up herbicide use by 25% to 50%, and increases farmer-weed control costs by at least as much.
The biotechnology-seed-pesticide industry’s primary response to the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds is development of new HT varieties resistant to multiple herbicides, including 2,4-D and dicamba. These older phenoxy herbicides pose markedly greater human health and environmental risks per acre treated than glyphosate. Approval of corn tolerant of 2,4-D is pending, and could lead to an additional 50% increase in herbicide use per acre on 2,4-D HT corn.
“Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and they are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent,” Benbrook said.Forbes points out:
A new study released by Food & Water Watch yesterday finds the goal of reduced chemical use has not panned out as planned. In fact, according to the USDA and EPA data used in the report, the quick adoption of genetically engineered crops by farmers has increased herbicide use over the past 9 years in the U.S. The report follows on the heels of another such study by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook just last year.
Both reports focus on “superweeds.” It turns out that spraying a pesticide repeatedly selects for weeds which also resist the chemical. Ever more resistant weeds are then bred, able to withstand increasing amounts – and often different forms – of herbicide.
GE Crops Have Reduced Crop ProductivityGE food manufacturers also promised an increase in crop productivity. Indeed, that was a giant selling point for GE foods.
That claim has been debunked as well …
The Independent noted in 2008:
Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.Scientific American reported in 2009:
The study – carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt – has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields
Professor Barney Gordon, of the university’s department of agronomy, said he started the research – reported in the journal Better Crops – because many farmers who had changed over to the GM crop had “noticed that yields are not as high as expected even under optimal conditions”. He added: “People were asking the question ‘how come I don’t get as high a yield as I used to?’”
The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.
A similar situation seems to have happened with GM cotton in the US, where the total US crop declined even as GM technology took over.
Last week the biggest study of its kind ever conducted – the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development – concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.
Professor Bob Watson, the director of the study and chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when asked if GM could solve world hunger, said: “The simple answer is no.”
Proponents argue that GM crops can help feed the world. And given ever increasing demands for food, animal feed, fiber and now even biofuels, the world needs all the help it can get.The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote the same year:
Unfortunately, it looks like GM corn and soybeans won’t help, after all.
For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.And Mother Jones pointed out:
That promise has proven to be empty …. [A UCS report] reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, the UCS report concludes that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report finds, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.
The report does not discount the possibility of genetic engineering eventually contributing to increase crop yields. It does, however, suggest that it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agricultural agencies, and universities increase research and development for proven approaches to boost crop yields. Those approaches should include modern conventional plant breeding methods, sustainable and organic farming, and other sophisticated farming practices that do not require farmers to pay significant upfront costs. The report also recommends that U.S. food aid organizations make these more promising and affordable alternatives available to farmers in developing countries.
“If we are going to make headway in combating hunger due to overpopulation and climate change, we will need to increase crop yields,” said Gurian-Sherman. “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”
In a new paper (PDF) funded by the US Department of Agriculture, University of Wisconsin researchers have essentially negated the “more food” argument as well. The researchers looked at data from UW test plots that compared crop yields from various varieties of hybrid corn, some genetically modified and some not, between 1990 and 2010. While some GM varieties delivered small yield gains, others did not. Several even showed lower yields than non-GM counterparts. With the exception of one commonly used trait—a Bt type designed to kill the European corn borer—the authors conclude, “we were surprised not to find strongly positive transgenic yield effects.” Both the glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) and the Bt trait for corn rootworm caused yields to drop.
Potential Health Effects of GE Foods
Monsanto and other GE producers claim GE foods are safe.
But genetically engineered foods have been linked to obesity, cancer, liver failure, infertility and all sorts of other diseases (brief, must-watch videos here and here).
And genetically-engineered meat isn’t even tested for human safety.
But government agencies like the FDA go to great lengths to cover up the potential health damage from genetically modified foods, and to keep the consumer in the dark about what they’re really eating. (Indeed, the largest German newspaper – Süddeutsche Zeitung – alleges that the U.S. government helped Monsanto attack the computers of activists opposed to genetically modified food.)
The EPA recently raised the allowable amount of a glyphosate – the main ingredient in Monsanto’s toxic Roundup – by 3,000% … pretending that it won’t have adverse health effects.
And – as noted above – the EPA is leaning towards approving corn specially engineered to tolerate the highly-toxic herbicide 2,4-D. Ironically, Monsanto has proposed this new “Agent Orange corn” to combat the superweeds caused by the use of Monsanto’s Roundup-ready GE crops.
What could possibly go wrong?