Friday, January 14, 2011

I Cried Laughing at This

Only in America . . .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

That's Farmin'

What did I learn in my first season [of farming]? . . . That some farm days end in high-fives and others in tears. One night last spring it was the latter, brought on by utter fatigue and some now-forgotten frustration. Our neighbor Steve, who has farmed for nearly all his eighty years, pulled up in his truck as I was indulging in a good weep. He looked at my streaky face, asked no questions, passed a can of ice-cold beer out the truck window and said, 'Well. That's farming.' Then he drove off, to his own evening chores.
The words of Kristin Kimball from a 2005 essay on farming located here. (See more about the unique CSA she and her husband run at Essex Farm here.) I'm currently enjoying her book The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love. There's a short slide-show of Essex Farm with commentary by Kristin Kimball here. Note her comment about people being "hard-wired" to be agrarian. Her Harvard education must not have included the first three chapters of Genesis where the connection between "man" and "dirt" is laid out ("dust to dust").

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

America: At Point of No Return

David Stockman, former budget director for President Reagan, and now self-described libertarian, made some powerful predictions and recommendations concerning America's future in a recent interview. These two are a sample:

"It amounts to a failed opportunity to recognize that we are now at a historical inflection point at which the time has arrived for a classic post-war demobilization of the entire military establishment. The Cold War is long over. The wars of occupation are almost over and were complete failures -- Afghanistan and Iraq. The American empire is done. There are no real seriously armed enemies left in the world that can possibly justify an $800 billion national defense and security establishment, including Homeland Security. . . . Unless you have a profound change in foreign policy, you're not going to have the possibility of a radical change in defense spending. The later follows from the former. This is a profound disappointment that there's not even a debate -- a serious debate about dramatic change in our imperialist foreign policy and war-making establishment in this administration -- allegedly the most left-wing administration that we've had in modern time. I don't have much hope that what needs to be done will be done until it's finally forced on us by a world bond market crisis, which will happen sooner or later. . . ."

"We've reached a point of no return. The size of the government. The massive size of the deficits and the national debt that has been created. The precedents that have been established for bailouts and intervention in every sector of the economy. The K Street lobbying system which totally dominates the Congress. All of these are very unhealthy developments. And I'm not sure how they are going to be reversed or eliminated. It may be a permanent way of life. Then, if it is, it'll be both a corruption of democracy and a serious weakening of the private capitalistic economy."

I think his idea of down-sizing the military is a good one. My only fear is that the Congress would use the money saved to create more entitlement programs rather than paying off our debt. I don't read any smart people who agree with Fed Chairman Bernanke's lack of sheer terror (speaking for the whole administration) at the prospects for America's future. Most people who can add and subtract view the future in very dismal terms -- as if there could never be a collapse or revolution in America when it has happened to every country in history that used a fiat (paper money) currency system and a Keynesian-type approach (growth fueled by debt) to economics.

The most immutable law in the universe seems to be cause and effect, or, in biblical terms, reaping what one sows. It would be just like us to think it could never happen here.

Gunk or No-gunk?

This information is easily obtainable online, but thought I'd post it here as a quick summary in case anyone needs it:

I woke up last Saturday morning with pink-eye in my left eye -- have no idea how I contracted it, of course. Eyeball was red and it felt like there was something in my eye, and it hurt to rub the eye. I knew what it was, but couldn't remember the details, so here's the summary of what I found:

There are two types: bacterial and viral. Bacterial is the kind of pink-eye that glues your eyelid shut overnight with the crusty junk and is pretty uncomfortable. Because it's bacterial, it requires an antibiotic and thus a trip to "the doctor" for a prescription.

The other kind (what I had) is viral -- no itching or crusty junk, just red and mildly uncomfortable. Because it's a virus, it pretty much just has to run its course. But all drugstores carry generic pink-eye drops that will help with the viral kind. Their purpose is not to kill the virus but to do "other stuff" that makes the pink-eye less uncomfortable. I picked up some of these drops early Saturday morning and used them 3-4 times a day on Saturday and Sunday. They definitely helped the discomfort (which was mild to begin with) -- they reduce the feeling of having something in your eye that you can't get out. By Monday mid-day I had pretty much forgotten about it (very little discomfort) -- used the drops a couple time anyway -- and by today things seem about 80 percent back to normal -- just a little pink left.

So -- the flow-chart model would say: If you have a pink eyeball and the crusty gunk around the eye it's probably bacterial and may require an antibiotic. Without the gunk and no itching or pain, it's more likely viral and will run its course. The OTC drops definitely seemed to help, though I don't know how or why.

Gunk or no-gunk -- that is the question.

(No, that's not my eye in the picture -- though that's about how my eye looked.)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tears for America

I couldn't stop the tears from flowing this weekend watching and reading the reports surrounding the shooting of the Arizona congresswoman and other bystanders. As badly as I feel for those killed and injured, and pray for the recovery of the survivors, the core of my grief is for the America that has given rise to these increasingly frequent events. The country has never been perfect, of course—I don't have any such romantic misconceptions. But it seems that, in recent decades, we have changed a lot.

And I don't mean what it seems most commentators are talking about—that it's the vitriolic screeds from the Right and the Left that have created, and are nurturing, senseless acts of violence to convey a political message. The shooting in Tucson was less a political act than a spiritual act; the act of a young man with no moral compass to keep him from veering onto an immoral path.

But how does any modern American find and follow a moral compass, given the schizophrenic, double-minded messages that our culture conveys? The country's lawmakers say "In God We Trust" and fund chaplains for our lawmakers using taxpayer funds, but forbid the same spiritual influences for children and young people in pubic schools or officials in other public institutions.

We hold unaccountable a mother who chooses to kill her infant in the womb yet hold accountable those who kill people outside the womb. While I decry the horror of both, I find it a bit of a double-standard to be horrified at one and not the other when our culture has established dual standards for killing vis-a-vis one's proximity to the womb.

We applaud the commercial success of movies, television shows, and video games that use violence—shooting, maiming, killing—as their drawing card. I know the arguments for using art to portray the human condition, but when young people grow up in a culture that glorifies mayhem as we do, should we be surprised when they decide to to act out the fantasies they have grown up watching? (I was shocked recently to watch the videos, released by the WikiLeaks group, of the U.S. military helicopter attack on a group of "insurgents" in Afghanistan. The videos, recorded in graphic detail by the video cameras on the attack helicopters, recorded the conversations of the pilots and their ground controllers as they moved into position and opened fire from miles away on a small group of men, then did the same when a civilian van arrived to collect the dead. My point: the helicopter pilots' dialogue was akin to teenagers playing a video game—laughter, congratulations, and all manner of machismo overshadowed the sad reality of the loss of life, including injury to two young girls. Yes, it's the fog of war. But it's also war being waged by young adults playing real-time war games with million-dollar weapons after being raised to wage make-believe war in their living rooms with hundred-dollar video machines.)

We write financial checks as a nation that we have no ability to cash, yet are surprised when people write moral checks that overdraw their innate human accounts of morality and integrity. How is one different from the other?

Proverbs 29:18 says, "When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild . . . ."

Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord . . . ."

Those top-tier principles (fill in the details as you will) suggest at the least that we have ignored the importance of a reason to be better than the events this weekend in Tucson suggest we are. It seems that as America, over her three centuries, has moved God to the periphery of her corporate consciousness, man's baser instincts have gained the upper hand. Sad as this weekend's events have been, they at least have caused me to consider any role I am playing in supporting or promoting values that work against what I know is best for the nation as a whole.

Our Daily Bread

I recently watched a most unusual and thought-provoking documentary titled Our Daily Bread, written and directed by Nikolaus Geyrhalter. Filmed in 2005, the movie garnered a half-dozen awards at film festivals in 2005-2006. As a born-and-bred American, I am under-exposed to European sensibilities in many arenas, not the least of which is filmaking. But this film was unique in that it relied solely on the visual art form, beautifully shot, to tell its story in contrast with most films which are filled also with words.

Our Daily Bread is a documentary—but it contains no narration, no interviews, no commentary, almost no words at all. The only verbal content is the low murmurs and occasional conversations of agricultural workers in their settings. The movie visits the production facilities of a dozen or more European commercial agriculture enterprises, both meat and produce, and films what happens there. Its goal is not to shock—there are some scenes shot in meat processing facilities, but not to offend. Rather, the film shows, in silent scene after scene (save for the sounds of mechanized production), what the food INDUSTRY looks like in its automated, commercial, modern incarnation. The word "system" barely does justice to how the organized, detail-oriented Continental conglomerates (the native stock that gives us BMW's and Mercedes, Swiss watches, and high-speed trains that run on time) have made food a commodity that is produced like a, well, like a Swiss watch.

One marvels at the organization until, as the movie progresses, the lack of "life" begins to be worrisome. There are no farmers seen in the movie, only silent, detached workers who monitor systems with a dispassion that becomes a bit depressing as scenes switch from setting to setting.

Europe has a marvelous history and tradition—especially France—of hands-on farming as American apostles like Eliot Coleman have studied and commended, but there was none of that portrayed in this film. Yes, the film is purposefully one-sided—not to deceive, but simply to portray that side of how food for the masses is produced in the modern world.

The film is 90 minutes long. I highly recommend adding it to your Netflix queue and watching it as a means of broadening your perspective on "food" in the modern world. (The official web site for Our Daily Bread is here, along with trailers.)