The Christmas Goose

 

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and had it published in 1843, the Christmas goose was a traditional feast, and turkey was an uncommon replacement. Goose was relatively inexpensive and plentiful, and turkey was quite the opposite in Europe at least, where it was not native. After Scrooge, the rich man, has metamorphosed into a warm, charitable human being, he makes a gift of a turkey to the family of his clerk, Tom Cratchit. At the time, a gift of a turkey for Christmas dinner was considered quite an upgrade over goose.

Mixed Greylag & Canada Goose flock, Netherlands
A mixed Greylag and Canada geese flock in a farm field in The Netherlands in February 2011. Photo by Uwactieve. During winter, geese often feed in farmers’ fields, gleaning grain fallen among the stubble of the harvest.

 

Now the tables have turned, so to speak. Turkeys raised on factory farms have become cheap to buy for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but since they have been bred for size and other characteristics, such as being able to withstand close quarters, flavor has been lost in the breeding. Roast goose, meanwhile, has been largely neglected in Western culture over the past 100 years. At the same time, Canada goose (Branta canadensis) numbers have exploded, to the point they are now nuisances in many urban and suburban areas across North America and even western Europe, where they have been both introduced by people and settled by way of natural migration in the past several centuries.

Canada goose populations have followed a curve similar to that of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), another once common North American animal that European settlers hunted to such low numbers by the early twentieth century that conservationists took measures to curtail hunting and preserve and protect both species. From that low point in the early twentieth century, Canada geese and white-tailed deer have rebounded to numbers higher perhaps than they were before Europeans migrated to North America. Both species have adapted so well to modern urban and suburban development, liking and even preferring some human-made habitats over undeveloped country, that many people now consider them pests, and even expanded hunting seasons cannot keep up with controlling their booming numbers.

Branta canadensis (35852362071)
Canada geese have found well-tended parks and golf courses with water features to be ideal habitats year round, making long migrations unnecessary. Photo by Marta Boroń.

Some municipalities in North America hire hunters to cull Canada geese and white-tailed deer, donating the meat to food banks. It’s an interesting development that in 150 years goose has once again become the roast meat at the center of holiday dinners for some poor folks like the Cratchits. They are perhaps eating some of the same Canada geese that have been pestering the rich folks on their golf courses, though naturally the municipalities paying to cull geese to help feed the poor would only do so on public lands, such as public golf courses and parks, and not on privately owned golf courses, since everyone knows rich people don’t believe in government assistance for anyone but themselves.
— Izzy

 

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Like Sheep to the Slaughter

 

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away,
Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air.
You better watch out!
There may be dogs about!
I’ve looked over Jordan and I have seen;
Things are not what they seem.

What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel.
What a surprise!
A look of terminal shock in your eyes!
Now things are really what they seem;
No, this is no bad dream.

— The first two stanzas of the song “Sheep”, by Pink Floyd, from their 1977 album Animals.

 

The first slave auction at new amsterdam in 1655
The First Slave Auction in New Amsterdam [New York City] in 1655, an illustration by Howard Pyle (1853-1911), published in 1917 after his death. Slave or master, master or slave, it has been ever thus.

Why listen to or read reports from corporate media outlets about what the comedian Michelle Wolf said at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, April 28, when C-SPAN has the entire video of her speech available so that you can make up your own mind about it?


Warning: foul language; also, self-congratulatory shills.

There has never been an age when information was as freely available in relatively open societies such as ours, and yet people out of laziness, habit, or ideology continue to rely on corporate media to relay news to them. Corporate media has a bias, though, and ultimately that bias has less to do with left or right than it does with green, as in the color of American currency. The part of Ms. Wolf’s remarks that the corporate media objects to most has nothing to do with what she says in the first sixteen minutes, largely about Supreme Leader, his incompetent administration, and the morally or legally corrupt officials in it, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but about her criticisms of their ethically bankrupt empowering of this administration for the sake of lining their own pockets. There are reaction shots of stuffed shirt audience members either stony faced or sour pussed in disapproval throughout Ms. Wolf’s remarks, but in the last three minutes, and especially the last minute, when she takes it up a notch, the reaction shots show media and administration types alike shooting daggers at her from their eyes. You know then she was speaking the truth, and that they weren’t going to report that part of her speech if they could avoid it.

Brit Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute band, in an excellent performance of “Sheep” from 2015 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

But allowing lazy, dishonest media to get away with reporting like that are lazy, dishonest citizens who don’t care about the truth. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Criticizing the media is easy really, like shooting fish in a barrel. Who swallows the bait when they boost the weapons of mass destruction myth as reason for invading Iraq? Who goes along meekly when the corporate media repeats the lie from the powers that be that the banks and other financial institutions who nearly destroyed the economy in 2008, and did destroy the livelihood of millions of citizens, are too big to fail and require a bailout from the same people they screwed? Who listened and watched enraptured as the corporate media gave more coverage to a reality TV star presidential candidate in 2016 than any other candidate, regardless of substantive discussion of real issues? Who?

— Ed.

Who was born in a house full of pain?
Who was trained not to spit in the fan?
Who was told what to do by the man?
Who was broken by trained personnel?
Who was fitted with collar and chain?
Who was given a pat on the back?
Who was breaking away from the pack?
Who was only a stranger at home?
Who was ground down in the end?
Who was found dead on the phone?
Who was dragged down by the stone?

— The last stanza of the song “Dogs”, by Pink Floyd, from their 1977 album Animals.

 

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Shave and a Haircut

 

Two bits! There, that feels better now, doesn’t it? A sense of completion and the comfort of familiarity. The phrase “two bits” indicates twenty-five cents specifically, and can also mean something cheap generally. The digital currency bitcoin apparently derives its name from the old fashioned uses of “bit” to indicate parts of a dollar or other currency. At the current exchange rate of around 15,000 dollars to one bitcoin, however, a bitcoin itself represents anything but parts of a dollar. Quite the opposite.

From the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the irresistibility of finishing off “Shave and a haircut, — —-“.

The record high valuation of bitcoin may not stand for long, and in six months one bitcoin may be worth 30,000 dollars or it may be worth 150 dollars. No one knows for sure, and that’s what is fueling a lot of argument and speculation. High amounts of speculation in the market are what inflates a bubble, and the question with bitcoin is whether it is indeed a bubble and when it might burst. That generates more speculation. More small investors buy into the market. Historically what has happened in such cases is that something happens, a large investor or two gets spooked, dumping shares on the market, a selling panic ensues as everyone tries to get out of the market while the watch the value of their investment plummet, and that’s it, the bubble burst.

Bitcoin or something like it will be around for as long as there is an internet and a demand for a monetary barter system which is decentralized and doesn’t involve significant charges going to middlemen such as banks or credit card companies. As more people use digital currency and more merchants accept it in transactions, the volatility of its valuation will settle down. Tulips are still around, after all, and people still value them, just not to the unrealistically high degree they did when the bulbs were novel. The long term problem with digital currencies generally, and bitcoin in particular, will be in decreasing the horrendous energy demands of mining them and, to a lesser extent, processing transactions. The electricity demands of mining bitcoin are now equivalent to those of Serbia, and will soon be on a par with Denmark’s electricity use.

Discussion of whether the current valuation of bitcoin represents a bubble often refers to Charles Mackay’s 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and particularly to Chapter 3, “The Tulipomania”.

Much of the mining occurs in China, using electricity generated by coal-fired power plants. At a time when combating the effects of global warming is becoming a top priority, the mining of bitcoin could present an ecological catastrophe when it reaches the same level of energy consumption as that of the entire industrialized world, as it is predicted to do in the early 2020s. The digital currency genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no stuffing it back in. That leaves two options, or a combination of both – finding more energy efficient ways of mining digital currency, or using more environmentally friendly energy sources, such as solar.


The solar energy option is immediately attractive because it would help defray installation costs of solar arrays more quickly and because poorer countries, which are generally nearer the equator and hence in sunnier climes, could see income from a source that is neither environmentally nor socially destructive the way production of sugar or other cash crops has been for them. Puerto Rico, the United States territory that recently had its conventional power grid devastated by Hurricane Maria, could benefit by rebuilding with the intention of using solar energy at least partially for the profitable production of digital currency. Surplus energy from the arrays built with money from bitcoin mining would power homes and businesses at subsidized rates for people who could not afford it otherwise in very poor parts of the world. Smaller, locally owned solar arrays would be a better way to produce power because of the inefficiency of transmitting solar power long distances either in the form of direct current, or after inverting it into alternative current. Decentralization of the means of production would also serve to keep power and money in the hands of locals.

De Waag Bitcoin
Bitcoins accepted at a café in Delft, The Netherlands, in 2013. The Netherlands became a center of the tulip trade in the seventeenth century during “The Tulipomania”, and remains a primary grower of the bulbs to this day. Delft lent its name to a particular kind of pottery and the shade of blue it is renowned for, which has also been applied to some flowers bearing the same shade of blue. Photo by Targaryen.

Should you invest in bitcoin? That depends on your outlook. In the currently volatile market, investing in bitcoin should be treated like gambling. In other words, don’t invest any more of your government backed (in the United States the currency is actually backed by the Federal Reserve System, a private institution of the banking industry, though it is insured by the federal government) currency than you can afford to lose. For some people that can be quite a lot, but for most people that would amount to very little.

Should you get involved in bitcoin mining and processing of transactions? At the current valuation of bitcoin, that could be quite profitable. Tomorrow its valuation could drop below the cost of the electricity required to mine it. At any rate, the “mining” simile is somewhat inaccurate, since in a comparison of the digital currency market to real world mining, the people with computer equipment engaged in its production and in the processing of transactions are actually more like the merchants in a nineteenth century American mining town who sold goods to the miners who were hoping to strike it rich.

The opening scene of Powaqqatsi depicts working conditions at the socially and environmentally disastrous Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil. This 1988 film by Godfrey Reggio, with music by Philip Glass, is the second in his Qatsi trilogy of meditative documentaries.

A very few of those miners struck gold, and most went bust, while the merchants usually did consistently well, a few becoming household names still known today, like Levi Strauss. If you do get involved in bitcoin “mining”, it might help to connect the equipment to a solar array rather than the conventional power grid, because then when the bubble bursts and the valuation of bitcoin drops to the floor, you can possibly still operate at a profit when others cannot, or at the very least you will have an inexpensive, environmentally friendly source of power for your other ventures.
― Techly

 

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Why Worry

 

“Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher.”
― from Ray Bradbury’s 1957 novel Dandelion Wine.

There is no end to the availability of advice, how-to manuals, and chemical poisons to help gardeners rid their lawns and garden beds of crabgrass and dandelions, two weeds most prevalent in late spring and early summer. Are they weeds? Only the individual gardener can say. If the gardener lives under the watchful eyes of a homeowners’ association, the association will say.

Field of dandelions (5659006546)
A meadow full of dandelions in The Netherlands; photo by Alias 0591 from The Netherlands. A meadow full of crabgrass would not be nearly as beautiful.
The guidelines of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) state that a pest is what the gardener says it is, whether plant or animal, and that each gardener has a tolerance level for pests. Those with zero tolerance spend a fortune and a lot of time pouring poisons on crabgrass and dandelions in an effort to eradicate them. Have they been eradicated? Maybe on a few tiny patches of the planet which are now toxic spill zones.

 

Mow high! That’s the cry which often goes unheeded because some folks don’t like walking through tall grass. Mowing high really does help desirable grass compete with weeds like dandelion and crabgrass, however, and if the grass is kept healthy with applications of compost and lime, so much the better. The main thing is to keep bare spaces to a minimum, because those are the places where weeds can move in and start to take over. Keep the applications of synthetic fertilizers to a minimum, or do without the stuff altogether, because in the long term they contribute to soil toxicity.

What’s a conscientious, organic (or mostly so) gardener to do then in the good old summertime when there are patches of crabgrass and dandelions in the lawn? Well, if an hour’s worth of hand weeding once a week won’t take care of the situation, maybe that mostly organic gardener could consider turning some of that lawn on the property over to some other purpose, so that it’s more manageable. Either way, the situation calls for a more relaxed tolerance level, especially in the summer. A suggested tolerance level would be one that calls for lying in a hammock under a shade tree, drinking from a cool glass of dandelion wine, reading a good book (see above), and listening to the peaceful sound of the crabgrass growing.
― Izzy

From 1988, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, by Bobby McFerrin, with Robin Williams and Bill Irwin along for the clowning.

 

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How Green Was My Astroturfing

 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) net neutrality rulings of 2015 are under attack from – surprise, surprise! – Ajit Pai, the former attorney for Verizon and new FCC chairman. Mr. Pai calls the rollback of Title II regulations “Restoring Internet Freedom”. It’s clear Mr. Pai has read and understood his Orwell. Part of the niceties involved in rolling back the Internet Service Provider (ISP) common carrier regulations of Title II that Mr. Pai and his Republican allies in Congress and the White House want to have happen are invitations for public comment on the FCC website. It turns out, however, that when the FCC isn’t complaining about John Oliver inciting his viewers to inundate the FCC website with comments in support of Title II, they are ignoring the questionable origin of comments against Title II from citizens whose identity may have been hijacked by the very companies they pay for monthly internet service, companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.

 

Astroturfing is nothing new in politics, but to ignore the obvious signs of astroturfing in a letter writing or email campaign to government regulators or congresspeople signifies a set agenda that is not to be swayed by emails or letters of varying opinions. The fix is in, in other words. It’s clear from FCC Chairman Pai’s previous public comments what his opinion is on Title II and net neutrality, and now that the FCC board has a Republican majority, his opinion is likely to become policy. It is hypocrisy then for the FCC to invite public comment and ignore for whatever reason the comments it’s board doesn’t want to hear, even though they are genuine, while accepting the clearly astroturfed comments originating from industry insiders.
Ajit V. Pai headshot
Ajit V. Pai, new Chairman of the FCC.

Lewis Black in a concert in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, after the 2008 financial meltdown, comments on capitalism, greed, and how the United States government handled the crisis. In the end, there were no repercussions to the wealthy for the damage they inflicted on the working and middle class people who pay their way year after year. Warning: foul language.

 

Chairman Pai has remarked that in the 90 day public comment process, the FCC will not ” rely on hyberbolic statements about the end of the internet as we know it, and 140-character argle-bargle, but rather on the data.” Presumably the FCC chairman will then be ignoring the considerable amount of 140 character argle-bargle generated by his boss, the Argle-Bargler-in-Chief. Would that it were so. The reality is that the new FCC Chairman and the new President and the new Republican Congress appear to be in perfect agreement on rolling back Title II common carrier regulations for ISPs, and there’s little that ordinary citizens can do to stop them. Try John Oliver’s solution or the one from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and good luck to you, but in the future pay attention at the ballot box once every two to four years, and every day remember not to buy into the “fruit from your tree” delusion.
― Techly

 

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