Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guest Report: ALEC Exposed and Warming Up to Climate Change

Jill Richardson is the Food Rights Network Fellow. She is also the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

As the U.S. suffers through catastrophic tornadoes, heat waves, and other climate extremes - no doubt just a small taste of what the climate crisis will bring in the future - polluting industries and the politicians that serve them want to convince you that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is actually a good thing.

Last December, almost like clockwork, Republican legislators in state houses across the nation sounded the alarm about an "out of control" Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). What had the EPA suddenly done to earn such criticism? The EPA had dared to take the first baby steps towards regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

By January 2011, Indiana became the first state to pass a resolution urging Congress to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions (by defunding the EPA if necessary), to impose a two year moratorium on any new air quality regulations, and urging the federal government to complete a study identifying all planned regulatory activity by the EPA and its impact on the economy, jobs, and American economic competitiveness.Between February and May, 13 other states passed similar resolutions (AL, IA, KS, KY, MI, MO, MT, ND, PA, TX, UT, VA, and WY). Six more states had resolutions introduced that never passed (AK, FL, IL, MN, OH, and OK). Because the Center for Media and Democracy has now launched the ALEC Exposed archive, we can now trace the emergence of this rash of legislation to the bill factory know as the  American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

ALEC and Kyoto

ALEC's campaign against any regulation of greenhouse gases began long ago, when the U.S. was in the midst of debating the Kyoto Protocol, an international effort to rein in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to control the climate crisis. In the spring of 1998, ALEC ratified a model resolution for states to pass calling on the U.S. to reject the Kyoto Protocol and banning states from regulating greenhouse gases in any way. With ALEC friend George W. Bush entering the White House in 2001, the energy interests that sit on ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force - easily got their way on keeping the U.S. out of Kyoto.

With a Board of Directors that includes lobbyists from ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries, ALEC's interests in avoiding any regulation of greenhouse gases is easy to understand. ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force is currently chaired by the American Gas Association, an organization that promotes natural gas "fracking," and was previously chaired by Peabody Energy. Other ALEC members include BP America and Chevron.

ALEC also receives substantial funding from fossil fuel interests. It has received at least $600,000 from Koch Industries, between 1997-2009, during which time it fought vigorously against greenhouse gas regulation, which would no doubt help Koch Industries' bottom line as the company profits handsomely from oil and natural gas, so much so that it was named one of the nation's top 10 air polluters in 2010. ALEC received an additional $1.4 million from ExxonMobil since 1998. Both companies, and many more whose funding is harder to trace, are getting their money's worth as ALEC member and Congressional alumni parrot corporate talking points on the dangers of reducing America's GHG emissions.

ALEC and State Climate Change Initiatives

With Kyoto dead in the United States under the Bush administration, ALEC went after what they called "Son-of-Kyoto" legislation: state efforts to regulate greenhouse gases, like the California law limiting CO2 emissions from vehicles by 2009. Simultaneously, they wrote and promoted model bills advocating natural gas "fracking," offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, and nuclear energy.

In addition to individual state laws regulating carbon, regional initiatives sprang up, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in ten Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states and, later, the Western Climate Initiative, which includes U.S. states, Mexican states, and Canadian provinces throughout the western half of the continent. ALEC drew up a resolution for legislatures to pass, urging their governors to pull their states out of these regional initiatives. They had a major success when Arizona Governor and ALEC alum Jan Brewer pulled her state out of the initiative in early 2010.

ALEC and the EPA's "Regulatory Trainwreck"

ALEC and its dirty energy leaders, members, and funders found itself faced with a new challenge when President Obama was elected in 2008 and actual environmentalists were put in charge of the EPA. In 2009, the EPA made its "Finding," that "the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) — in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations." Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA was then required by law to regulate these greenhouse gases.

ALEC launched into hyperdrive. On December 1-3, 2010, ALEC held a policy summit in which it brought its troops in line on the issue of "the EPA's regulatory trainwreck." ALEC sought to frame the EPA's enforcement of the Clean Air Act as "higher prices, fewer jobs, and less energy." The policy summit included a session led by Peter Glaser of Troutman Sanders LLP law firm in which Glaser, an attorney who represents electric utility, mining and other energy industry companies and associations on environmental regulation, specifically in the area of air quality and global climate change, told the crowd that "EPA's regulatory trainwreck" is "a term that's now in common use around town. I think everybody should become familiar with it." (See the video here.) Along with the presentations, ALEC published a report called "EPA's Regulatory Trainwreck: Strategies for State Legislators" and provided "Legislation to Consider" on its site, < For the public, they created the website

ALEC'S Federal Echo Chamber

With friends and alumni at the federal level, ALEC has a ready made echo chamber. At the December 2010 summit, Nebraska Senator and former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns presented a talk called "Opening Agricultural Markets by Restraining the EPA and Expanding Trade." His presentation is not online, but it's not difficult to guess what he might have said. Less than one week later, he appeared on the radio show AgriTalk to comment on the very same subject. "They make the Clinton administration look like shrinking violets on this. I mean, it's just incredible how active this Lisa Jackson and her team has been and it's not positive for agriculture at all, or for the economy."

ALEC alumni and incoming chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) echoed Johanns comments on the same show one week later and used his new power in the House to hold a hearing on "the impact of EPA regulation on agriculture" on March 10, 2011. Meanwhile, in February 2011, Peter Glaser, who led ALEC's Policy Summit session on their anti-EPA GHG regulation campaign, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Energy and Power subcommittee in a hearing on "The Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011." (The vice chair of the subcommittee, Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK), is another ALEC alum.)

To drum up "grassroots" support for their campaign, the Koch Industries-funded Tea Party group FreedomWorks is now working to bring Tea Party activists into the campaign, calling on them to support another bill by Rep. John Sullivan, H.R. 2401: Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011, which is designed to delay the enactment of any EPA regulations of GHGs.

With the Democrats in control of the White House and in the majority in the Senate, thus far ALEC has not been successful in shepherding its legislation through at a federal level. But just last month, it issued a press release congratulating itself for pushing back against "EPA's onslaught of regulations."

ALEC Warms Up to Climate Change in New Orleans

ALEC will be meeting in New Orleans August 3-6. On the agenda is a session titled "Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2." Greenhouse gas emissions and the catastrophic climate crisis that has already begun could not have a better lobbyist than ALEC members and ALEC alumni in Congress. But now that they have been exposed, their meeting will be met with protests.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Food: Kurry Guru Under New Ownership

A version of this article was published in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Monday, July 25, 2011.

Kurry Guru has changed owners.

On July 1 Anja Patel took over the reins of the Indian gourmet a catering and ready-to-eat meals business from Mukta Joshi who moved her family to Birmingham, AL. Joshi plans to establish an Indian cuisine business there.

Patel will continue making Kurry Guru's popular dishes including gobhi gajar matar masala, chickpea curry, rajma masala, matar paneer, Himalayan lentil soup, samosa, roti and spicy nut mix.

She will introduce some new ones like her medium-hot relish that is comprised of 95 percent red bell peppers seasoned with red chili, garlic, lime juice, mustard seed and Indian spices. It goes well with any food as an ingredient, a dip or a relish.

Like Joshi, she plans to conduct Indian cooking classes that will commence in the fall.

Since February, Patel successfully ran her own business, the Sultry Kitchen, through the Can-Do Kitchen, which she modeled after Kurry Guru. She will now operate it under the Kurry Guru name.

“This made for a smooth transition,” said Patel. “Ít’s a good fit and exciting to be able to do it.”

Patel, daughter of well-traveled parents, grew up in multicultural Southern California and was exposed to many cultures and their cuisines.

“Kurry Guru has given me an opportunity to introduce my diverse culinary interest to the Kalamazoo public,” she said.

Kurry Guru’s ready-to-eat gourmet Indian vegetarian foods and snacks are available at Bronson Hospital Cafeteria (601 E. John St.), Harding’s Friendly Market (3750 W. Centre, Portage), Natural Health Center (4610 West Main), People’s Food Co-Op (507 Harrison), Sawall Health Foods (2965 Oakland Dr.) and the Texas Corners Saturday Farm Market in July (Q Avenue and 8th Street).

Meals are made with fresh vegetables, 100 percent extra virgin olive oil and all natural wholesome ingredients without flavor enhancers or preservatives.

For more information about Kurry Guru, call 269-366-8545, or

Travelogue: 100th Anniversary of Machu Picchu Discovery

Light show for anniversary of the discovery of the famous "Lost City" (photo by Daily Mail)


Today, July 25, marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the “Lost City” of Machu Picchu.

Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) and Hiram Bingham
Hiram Bingham III (1875-1956), historian, explorer, treasure hunter and politician “discovered” the city that the Incas had abandoned 400 years before and which the Spanish conquistadors were never able to find.  (He was the inspiration behind Hollywood’s Indiana Jones character.)  About 1,000 people were living there at the time.

Although other explorers had “found” Machu Picchu years before, Bingham was the first to scientifically explore and publicize the place that had been covered in an overgrowth of jungle trees and vines.  The entire April 1913 issue of National Geographic was devoted to his work there. Bingham also wrote about it, notably Inca Land: Explorations in the Highlands of Peru (1922) and Lost City of the Incas, a 1948 best-seller.

Inca stone work

Machu Picchu was revered as a sacred place at a time quite a bit before the Incas “adopted” it as their own.  The five-square-mile complex of palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and about 150 houses arranged around a central plaza was completely self-contained.  It was surrounded by agricultural terraces and watered by natural springs that could accommodate the population that lived there.  Here is an example of the stone cuttings that were fitted together without mortar.  Their construction was well-suited for earthquakes because they could sustain tremors without collapsing.

"These structures, carved from the gray granite of the mountaintop, are wonders of both architectural and aesthetic genius.  Many of the building blocks weigh 50 tons or more yet are so precisely sculpted and fitted together with such exactitude that the mortarless joints will not permit the insertion of even a think knife blade." Source:

There is great speculation about why the Incas built Machu Picchu.  Some say it was an estate and retreat site for Pachacuti and his royal court to relax, hunt and entertain guests.  

Statue of Pachacuti in Machupicchu Pueblo in Peru
  Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (or Pachacutec) was the ninth Sapa Inca (1438-1471/1472) of the Kingdom of Cuzco, which he transformed into the Inca Empire called Tawantinsuyu.  In less than a century the empire had grown from about 155,000 square miles in 1448, to 380,000 square miles in 1528, the year Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors arrived.  In Quechua, the language of the Incas, Pachakutiq means “He who shakes the Earth,” and Yupanqui means "with honor". During his reign, Cuzco grew from a hamlet into the capital city of an empire that within three generations stretched from modern-day Ecuador to Chile (about the size of the eastern seaboard of the United States) and included Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina.  Pachacuti is considered a national hero in modern Peru. During the 2000 Presidential elections, the mestizo Indian population gave candidate Alejandro Toledo the nickname Pachacuti.

Others speculate it was a nunnery or a training center for priestesses, although that theory has been debunked since skeletal remains there were half male and half female. 

Bingham thought it was the birthplace of Inca society but that theory has since been disproved, too, when archaeologists determined that it was Espirtu Pampa, about 80 miles west of the Inca capital city of Cuzco.  Actually, Bingham was looking for Vilcambamba la Vieja, the last stronghold of the Incas before the Spanish conquistadors took over, when he found Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is built on the flat top of a mountain 2,000 feet above the Urubamba River (named the Vilcamayo or Sacred River by the Incas) that encircles the five-square-mile area.  In the center of the plaza was a sundial, the Intihuatana stone (meaning “Hitching Post of the Sun”), that was dedicated to the god, Inti.  It has alignments with the rising and setting of the sun as well as the mountains during the spring (March 21) and fall (September 21) equinoxes, consequently, some scholars see the area as a “sacred landscape.” 

Intihuatana stone (meaning “Hitching Post of the Sun”)
"At midday on March 21st and September 21st, the sun stands almost directly above the pillar, creating no shadow at all.  For a moment the sun is 'tied' to the rock. At these periods, the Incas held ceremonies at the stone in which they 'tied the sun' to halt its northward movement in the sky. There is also an Intihuatana alignment with the December solstice (the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere), when at sunset the sun sinks behind Pumasillo (the Puma's claw), the most sacred mountain of the western Vilcabamba range, but the shrine itself is primarily equinoctial.”

"Shamanic legends tell that when a sensitive person touches their forehead to the Intihuatana stone it opens their vision to the spirit world. Intihuatana stones were the supremely sacred objects of the Inca people and were systematically searched for and destroyed by the Spaniards. When the Intihuatana stone was broken at an Inca shrine, the Inca believed that the deities of the place died or departed.

The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, even though they suspected its existence, thus the Intihuatana stone and its resident spirits remain in their original position. The mountain top sanctuary fell into disuse and was abandoned some forty years after the Spanish took Cuzco in 1533. Supply lines linking the many Inca social centers were disrupted and the great empire came to an end.
Source:  Sacred

Manco Capac and his sister, Mama Occlo
A 2009 study by Giulio Magli, an astrophysicist at the Polytechnic Institute in Milan, Italy, postulated that Machu Picchu was a pilgrimage site and a scaled-down version of a mythic landscape from the Inca religion.  Worshipers could symbolically relive the harrowing journey of Manco Capac and his sister, Mama Occlo, who both rose out of Lake Titicaca to found a great city.   

As legend has it, they were given a golden staff by the Sun, their father, who bade them settle permanently at whatever place the staff should sink into the earth. Through a series of adventures, geomantic resonances, and astronomical correspondences, the site of Cuzco was chosen.  According to the most frequently told story, four brothers, Manco Capac, Ayar Anca, Ayar Cachi, and Ayar Uchu, and their four sisters, Mama Ocllo, Mama Huaco, Mama Cura (or Ipacura), and Mama Raua, lived at the Paccari-Tampu [tavern of the dawn], several miles distant from Cuzo.  They gathered together the tribes of their locality, marched on the Cuzco Valley, and conquered the tribes living there.  Manco Capac had by his sister-wife, Mama Ocllo, a son called Sinchi Roca (or Cinchi Roca).  Authorities concede that the first Inca chief to be a historical figure was called Sinchi Roca (c. 1105-c. 1140).  Thus the foundation for an empire was laid.
Source:  Info Please 

Machu Picchu sits 9,090 feet above sea level and 300 miles south of Lima.  It is one of the most visited places in South America with 250,000 visitors per year.  Four years ago it was voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World in a global Internet poll.

Machu Picchu in 1911 as Bingham found it
After Bingham’s discovery, National Geographic magazine awarded him a $10,000 grant that was matched by Yale University where he was a professor of history and politics.  This money afforded him three more expeditions to the site, which also led to the taking of 44,000 pieces and sparked a long-standing controversy between him, Yale, and Peruvians.  This past March, 366 of those pieces were returned in time for the 100th anniversary celebration.

Seven hundred guests celebrated the anniversary on July 8 complete with a symphony orchestra, fireworks and a breathtaking light show.  To read more and see photos of the celebration, see the Daily Mail story.   

Machu Picchu today

My Experience of Machu Picchu

I visited Machu Picchu in March 1986 as a W.K. Kellogg National Leadership Fellow.  It was a memorable experience, mostly because I felt I touched the hand of God here and understood my smallness compared to the immensity of God’s creation.  Here is an excerpt from my journal.

We arrived in Machu Picchu today and there are few words that can describe it. 

We rode the train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu trekking through the Andes Mountains, which are full of terraced agricultural land.  Sometimes we’d see Indian farmers working, sometimes a village of adobe-brick houses.  The colors were greens of many hues from very different looking plants.

Once we arrived at the train station we were met by the ever-present vendors and it was there I bought my hat, bargaining for $2 down from $3.

The train follows the Urubamba River

 On the train we descended to the Sacred Valley of the Incas and followed the Urubamba River, which is white water with muddy rapids that are so strong that no one has been able to navigate them and live.

Hiram Bingham Highway, a series of switchbacks up the mountain

When we arrived at Machu Picchu, we waited about half an hour to take the bus that climbed its way to the top of a mountain via switchbacks on the Hiram Bingham Highway.  Here, we would find the Lost City—as well as our hotel.

On the way down from the mountain, young boys compete with the bus to see who can get to the bottom first—only they go straight down through the forested area.  If they win, the tourists offer them a propina or tip, which usually amounts to about six cents. 

The mountains are very pointed peaks that thrust themselves straight up into the sky.  The clouds hover around the peaks and luckily for us, the sun was out.  But these clouds move about, changing the face of the unbelievable sight before us.  This is one small valley of the world but I feel dwarfed by their majesty and beauty.  I also feel less focused on myself and instead part of a whole, incredible universe.  I realize that, as a human being, I am certainly not in control of Nature, but a part of it--one small part of it. 

As I walked among the ruins of Machu Picchu I wondered how the Incas managed to remain subservient to God and Nature, especially since they built this fantastic city as a kind of "co-Creator" with God.  Most all of the rocks to build the city were cut from the surrounding mountains but in several places the structures were worked in the existing mountain.  Machu Picchu is an example of God and man working together to create beauty--and a city both.  When this co-creation occurs, a relationship emerges that promotes oneness with each other through oneness in the buildings. (Architecture reflects man’s view of his reality, according to Kenneth Clark in the PBS series, Civilization and Machu Picchu certainly illustrates this co-creation relationship between God and Man.)  However, sometimes, in his hubris, Man forgets that he is a part of the world and not the Creator.  That has led many times to the downfall of even the greatest of civilizations. 

The Incas who built Machu Picchu must have been very reflective people and very much in touch with their environment and their relationship with the gods.

Not one of the Kellogg fellows has been unable to be in awe of our environment before us.  I guess we really are made of clay feet and really do have the potential of being in unity with God/Earth when we experience places like this.  We just seem to work so hard at controlling Nature—or commodifying it—that we often miss or forget its essence and beauty.

I am reminded of the Amish who believe it is necessary to view God’s great earthly wonders because it helps to see His power and glory.  That's why they visit places like Niagara Falls.

The uplift of these mountains is tremendous—it goes straight up.  If you consider that the land was relatively horizontal and then uplifted into mountains, there must have been incredible change--and noise.  Geologically speaking, this area is a wonder.

Machu Picchu is the second oldest civilization that I have visited during the fellowship.  The first was Mexico City, the land of the Aztecs.  Walking among ruins of a once-great civilization affects me.  I try to imagine life here, but more importantly, I realize I'm walking the same trails that others before me walked--and I don't mean the tourists.  In this way I feel connected to history and to a people who created a great civilization.  What incredible people they must have been to build cities like this.

Our archeologist speaker at night said that the Incas are the Greeks of the Americas and should be regarded as such.  He estimated he is six percent Inca and he seemed very proud of it.  This pride was something the fellows would experience a lot as we got to know our speakers and guides.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Green Thing

This story has been circulating on the Internet and I thought I'd add it to my blog.

In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized to her and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."

She was right—our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts—wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right; we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house—not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana .

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

Here are some websites that represent different environmental efforts made by local communities. Please add to the list through the comments section.

Galveston Bay Foundation -- Texas

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: Life Rules--Why So Much Is Going Wrong Everywhere at Once and How Life Teaches Us to Fix It

by Ellen LaConte                       
Green Horizon (2011) 

This article also appeared in Energy Bulletin on Friday, July 22, 2011.

Floods, drought, natural fires, hurricanes, violent storms, massive species extinction, infrastructure collapse, terrorist attacks, starvation, economic disaster, climate change, water shortages, food shortages, soil depletion, war, pestilence and a lack of preparedness for geologic events like tsunamis and earthquakes.

What in the world is going on?

"We've lost sight of the fact that the non-living systems we've created and the natural ones we didn't create share the same planet....and on Earth, Life rules, we don't," says Ellen LaConte, author of Life Rules.

What she is describing is Critical Mass, a term borrowed from nuclear physics, which identifies “a point in time when enough of something has been literally amassed that a spontaneous transformation occurs.” 

Already we are seeing five symptoms of Critical Mass occurring in both rich and poor countries, including our own:  hyper-urbanization, joblessness, poverty, dislocation and disease.

As we emerge from Critical Mass, says LaConte, we will either be on the path to our own extinction or we will evolve to a new consciousness where we conceive ourselves as a part of Life rather than as separate beings above it. 

The culprit in this whole process, she says, is the global economy where humans have “seriously compromised Life’s primary safeguard:  the natural communities and ecosystems that comprise Earth's self-protective, self-healing equivalent of an immune system.” 

As a result, we have unwittingly imposed a disease-like syndrome on ourselves that she compares to HIV/AIDS where all life on earth has the potential of being extinguished— including our own. 

This is sobering stuff to read and it may remind some of James Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia, one of many authoritative sources LaConte summons in her book. 

So, if you are like me, you might be outdoors on a very lovely day enjoying the beauty and wonder of Nature.  Suddenly, you feel a great sadness that it could all gradually disappear not just in our grandchildren's lifetime but in ours!

Thus arises the question:  why do we continue to act so stupidly in the face of impending doom?  

LaConte’s answer is that “the Powers” (the top one percent of the economic pyramid) who are directing and making money on the global economy, are enticing the rest of us to enter the rat race, indulge in “conspicuous consumption,” and use every last resource on Earth. 

To operate the global economy “the Powers” have devised various “funny-money” tools and schemes that delude us into thinking (through the help of the mass media and advertising) we have a bottomless cornucopia of resources available to us—and no negative consequences.  However, in looking at the past 10 years there is enough evidence for us to suspect that this belief is false and misleading:  the 2008 financial crash, the fall of Enron, the huckstering of Madoff, food riots, famine in Somalia, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and 9/11 and other terrorist activities.
LaConte’s account reminds me of Dr. Seuss' classic, The Lorax where Once-ler’s workers cut down every last tree of the Trufulla Forest and used the foliage to knit Thneeds, a garment that, of course, everyone needed.  Unfortunately, the forest-dwelling Bar-ba-Loots not only lost their food supply but they contracted a disease called “the Crummies because of gas and no food in their tummies.” The Lorax tried in vain to warn the Once-ler of impending disaster to the community.  He showed little remorse and then continued to expand his business until all the trees were gone.

The book, written in 1971—the heyday of the environmental movement—is actually based on the story of the overexploitation of Easter Island where the early Rapanui people cut down all the trees in order to transport 887 moai monuments (roll the monolithic human figures carved from rock on logs), into position.  Their small island of Rapa Nui, the easternmost Polynesian island off the coast of Chile, was considered the “end of the world of the living” by the Europeans who discovered it in 1722. 

These two stories serve as a metaphor for our use of oil, the non-renewable resource that is central to running the global economy and which provides the modern lifestyles and accoutrements we enjoy today.  As the easy-to-get oil depletes, we are faced with exploiting oil that is harder and harder to get and therefore comes out at slower rates.  At some point soon, the overall oil production rate will begin to decline. 

Contemplating this fact, even for a moment, is just too painful for most people and it’s certainly not politically expedient.  Just one lone voice in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland), speaks about it regularly and only has the luxury of doing so because he is in a safe seat.  As a result, Americans either curtly turn up their noses in the fashion of Scarlett O'Hara’s “I’ll think about that tomorrow” or they go on optimistically believing that technology will save us. 

LaConte points out that neither our economy nor our technology should be the focus of our attention.  Rather, we should concentrate on changing our hearts and minds about the way we live and work on this planet—and more importantly, we must come to a practical understanding about how we are subject to Life's rules such as:
  • Life is not wasteful.  It does not make things it isn't going to use.
  • Resources are finite and if a species lives beyond its means, it eventually dies.
  • Life's economies employ several methods of accessing solar energy.  The food web is one of them.
  • Life treats resources as a common wealth and Earth as a common inheritance.  No one “owns” or “commodifies” them to sell to others.  Instead, every species prospers in a common trust where all their needs are satisfied.
  • Life's basic unit of economic activity is the community and not the individual.
  •  Communities are made up of a diversity of species each with specialized tasks that all work in concert to support and sustain the community in a self-reliant way in a particular place, through partnership and with purpose.
  • Communication goes on throughout the community and every species participates in the decision-making process.  This is not a pyramidal, hierarchical structure where only the leaders are privy to information and make the decisions.  Rather, this community is democratic and collegial with decisions made at the lowest levels. 
Not a bad system for creepy things like bacteria, which LaConte points out have successfully adapted to Life's rules and survived longer than any other species on Earth.  So, our best bet for human survival is to follow the example of bacteria.

Some people may claim that Life’s rules are “socialism,” but LaConte stoically assures readers that Life is not an ideological or a political enterprise.  Life is real and you either live by its rules or you die.  It’s that simple.

Ellen LaConte
This environmentally-oriented book is written by a woman who has been studying, living and writing on the subject for decades.  Life Rules is one more depressing reminder that we are in deep trouble—and LaConte recognizes that.  So, early on in the book as she digs into the immensity and scope of the problem, she beckons readers to jump to Chapter 14 so they don't lose hope.  In fact, the entire third section of the book illustrates what can be done to stop the Earth’s “bleeding” and what various groups are already doing.   

LaConte also emphasizes the point that the key to change is that we humans form more intimate relationships with Nature and learn her ways.  This is not just about conservation, Outward Bound bonding-with-Nature experiences or shopping at farmers markets, although these things are important.  Rather, this is about living a totally, different life on Earth.  She admits this will be difficult for us to fathom because none of us living today has ever been without oil.  So imagining a world not powered by it makes for some scary scenarios.

On the other hand LaConte reassures us that “we can obey Life’s rules, adopt lifeways that mimic Life’s ways and by that means, live within Earth’s means.”   

LaConte's argument is credible but trying to convince people who think oil will never run out as well as those who remain stalwart cornucopians will also be difficult because we all have a stake in continuing the status quo.

This dilemma prompts some distressing but vital questions.  What do we do to start this change?  What must we give up?  Who goes first?  When do we begin? 

I, for one, find these questions overwhelming even though I recognize the urgency to answer them in my own household, neighborhood and community. 

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book for personal reading and reflection as well as for discussion groups and classroom use because its edginess forces readers to confront their habits in the context of Life’s rules.

We’ve got to get the conversation going about what awaits us in the twenty-first century and Life Rules provides a good starting point.  The book is readable, sincere and instructive.  Now, let’s get to work!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

KNOW "Moveable Peace" Picnic

The 9-foot tall “Peace Mama” puppet
The Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War and the Michigan Sixth District Campaign for a U. S. Department of Peace held a Moveable Peace Picnic and Fundraiser on Saturday, June 18 at the Milham Park shelter.

The celebration featured Kevin “Mr. Peace” Szawala, state coordinator for the Department of Peace campaign. He was raising funds for  Moveable Peace 2011, a statewide summer effort by various Michigan peace groups to promote a culture of peace and social justice. 
KNOW raised $465 for this effort.

Moveable Peace activities include a 10-day peace walk starting from Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Detroit to Lansing in late July, a peace gathering at the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day, participation in the Detroit Labor Day parade and a petition requesting the establishment of a Michigan Commission for Peace & Justice. For more information on the peace activities visit

Festivities also included music by Joe Gump, folk artist Joe Kidd and his Sedition World Orchestra, the rock and blues of Darrin Breil of the New Day Sun band.   

A picnic lunch of hot dogs, brats, salads and desserts was provided..

The activists also raised  $200 for an upcoming Gazette ad calling for a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. 

KNOW peace activists meet for a peace picnic.  In   this Youtube video, organizers explain its purpose.


"Mr. Peace" comes to Kalamazoo to talk about how Michigan peace activists are trying to establish a Commission for Peace & Justice in the state.

Ron Kramer makes an appeal for the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.  KNOW activists are collecting signatures for a petition to present to President Obama.  They are also collecting money for an ad to appear in the Kalamazoo Gazette.  Contact KNOW at

 Here is a Youtube video of Joe Gump's command performance with human musical instruments at the Moveable Peace picnic.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thanks, Betty!

You represented everything that was decent and kind.

You served, even when you didn't want to, with conviction and persistence--and always with vibrancy.

You stood up for women and gave example to speaking your mind.

You carried yourself with dignity and grace always as a wife, mother, dancer and First Lady in sickness and in health.

You are a credit to Michigan par excellence.

Thanks, Betty!

Betty Ford expressing her support for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment on February 26, 1975 in Hollywood, Fl.

 She didn't want to be a politician's wife, but did it anyway.  As First Lady to President Gerald Ford, she did it with style.

Gerald Ford served as a congressman from western Michigan 1949-73, which included 8 years as minority leader.

He was vice president 1973-74 and became president 1974-77.

First Lady Betty Ford and Prince Philip dance during the state dinner in honor of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, July 7, 1976.

Official White House portrait

From David Hume Kennerly, White House Photographer during Ford Administration
"I’ve taken millions of photos during my career, but a hands-down favorite is a shot I took of Betty Ford during her last full day as first lady, on Jan. 19, 1977. Like Mrs. Ford herself, the picture is unique. It goes straight to the heart of who and how she was.

"I was accompanying Mrs. Ford as she strolled around the West Wing of the White House. I took pictures as she said goodbye to the staff members who had worked for her husband, President Gerald R. Ford.

"As she finished her brief tour of the executive offices, we passed by the Cabinet Room. Mrs. Ford poked her head in for one last look. Nobody was there. A mischievous grin appeared on her face; a look I had seen many times, one that usually spelled trouble of the delightful variety. “You know,” she said, “I’ve always wanted to dance on the Cabinet Room table.” I instinctively reached for my camera. This was no idle threat.

"The first lady removed her shoes, bounced up on a chair, then gracefully leaped onto the middle of the oblong table. She deftly dodged the meticulously placed ashtrays and notepads. The Martha Graham dancer inside her unfolded. Mrs. Ford stood dead center beneath the chandeliers, one hand on her hip, the other extended forward. It was a real ta-da! moment. I fired off a few frames. As quickly as she had gone up, she came down, put on her shoes, brushed her hands together and said, “I think that about does it.”

 Former First Lady Betty Ford died on July 8 at the age of 93. Betty Ford was married to the thirty eighth President Of The United States Gerald Ford. Betty Ford who was born with the name Elizabeth Anne Bloomer was a model and dancer before getting married to William Warren. Five years later Betty Ford would divorce William Warren and started a relationship with Gerald Ford that led to them getting married in 1948. Gerald Ford would become Vice President in 1973 and ten months later when President Richard Nixon resigned from office, Ford became president. (He was the one and only president to hail from Michigan.) Unfortunately, Betty Ford struggled with painkillers and alcohol that led her to treatment which led to a lifelong advocacy for those who suffered from substance abuse including the creation of the Betty Ford Center. Betty Ford is survived by her children and grandchildren.

At the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids in 2000
Thank you,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: Against the Machine--Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art, and Individual Lives

This article also appeared in Energy Bulletin on July 10, 2011

For two centuries Americans have willingly and whole-heartedly embraced a modern life that technology has made possible. As a result, we have enjoyed the benefits of speed, efficiency, and access to an exhaustive supply of consumer products.

Meanwhile, we are a stressed out, frustrated, and angry people that has become totally dependent on our technology for our everyday lives. People routinely bang on their computers in a way reminiscent of the first Luddites who hammered at the weaving frames of the smoke-belching factories of Leeds, Manchester, and Sheffield. Nicols Fox in her book, Against the Machine provides an astute and highly fascinating account of how we have come to where we are today and what we sacrificed as a result.

The industrial society that Americans inherited from England, the nineteenth century manufacturing giant of the world, had an irresistible appeal to our young country, as we were busy building an economy and expanding our borders. As a result, technology came to dominate our “thinking, our expectations, and our actions,” says Fox, “in ways that could not have been anticipated and of which we are scarcely aware.”

This odd relationship between human beings and technology was first recognized by English craftsmen in the early 1800s. They objected to the new factories going up in their villages because they feared losing their independence, their community life, and their livelihood. Scorned as backward and anti-progress, the Luddites, who got their name from their made-up folk hero, King Ned Ludd, eventually stopped trying to engage discussion and took out their rage on the weaving frames. A few of them were led away to the gallows for trespassing and vandalizing private property. And so ended the movement.

Curiously, however, Fox notes that the Luddites’ legacy lived on through writers, artists, philosophers, farmers, and iconoclasts who noticed that for all its promises of convenience and efficiency, technology still sidesteps “the complexity and subtlety that is humanness.” Throughout the book she illustrates how technology has shaped the way people live, think, work, and relate to each other today.

The Luddites, Fox emphasizes, didn't shun machines or technology out of hand. Instead, they “[favored] a thoughtful use of appropriate technologies that [did] not damage the relationships we hold dear,” especially those with the natural world. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, American technology and industrialism become tied to capitalism and consumerism in which “all life was being bought and sold,” according to historian E.P. Thompson.

The books’ most notable chapter is devoted to technology’s influence on agriculture and farm life. Fox notes that the people’s relationship to the land, the seasons, the community, and even the soil was completely changed by those advocates of technology who, curiously, stood to gain from the changes: the corporations, the universities, and the government.

In 1930, a group of writers known as the Southern Agrarians, objected to these changes and articulated what was being lost:

"What are the fundamental requirements of a healthy, balanced, and pleasant society? The answer is that we are complex creatures whose fundamental needs are for community and family; love and companionship; a continuing association with the natural world round us, of which we recognize ourselves a part; undergirded by spirituality; enlivened by an artistic tradition that allows the exercise of creativity and imaginations; enriched by an ongoing and shared cultural heritage. All these are more important than our need for consumer goods and gadgetry."

After World War II, the door to “technological exuberance” opened ever wider and the small farmer was declared an anachronism “on his way out, surviving only because he hasn't sense enough to accept the inevitable.”

Fox calls on farmer and writer Wendell Berry who explains that what got lost was the knowledge of the land and soil in exchange for “a totally controlled agricultural environment” and a future of limitless food production. In effect, the farmer abandoned his role as “a husbandman, a nurturer” and became a businessman.

The writing in this book is direct, compelling, insightful, and inspiring. In the last chapter, Fox recognizes contemporaries, including Farming Magazine editor David Kline, for their efforts in seeking simpler lives that control technology rather than the other way around.

Against the Machine is a must-read for people who need a boost for their chosen lifestyle of simplicity, connectivity to family and community, and alignment to nature. Fox provides a bevy of well-researched evidence as well as an examination of where technology has taken us as human beings and as a society. This book will inspire present-day Luddites to continue their struggle for a humane life. King Ludd would have it no other way!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Food News: Leading brands of baby food found to contain arsenic and other toxins

by Sean Poulter
Daily Mail -- UK
posted April 11, 2011

A glass of milk can contain a cocktail of up to 20 painkillers, antibiotics and growth hormones, scientists have shown.

Using a highly sensitive test, they found a host of chemicals used to treat illnesses in animals and people in samples of cow, goat and human breast milk.

The doses of drugs were far too small to have an effect on anyone drinking them, but the results highlight how man-made chemicals are now found throughout the food chain.

The highest quantities of medicines were found in cow’s milk.

Researchers believe some of the drugs and growth promoters were given to the cattle, or got into milk through cattle feed or contamination on the farm.

The Spanish-Moroccan team analysed 20 samples of cow’s milk bought in Spain and Morocco, along with samples of goat and breast milk.

Their breakdown, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, revealed that cow’s milk contained traces of anti-inflammatory drugs niflumic acid, mefenamic acid and ketoprofen – commonly used as painkillers in animals and people.

Read more:
* Leading brands of baby food found to contain arsenic and other toxins
* Evolution in action: The amazing cod that has become immune to Hudson river's toxic chemicals in just 50 years
* Feel like you've had one glass too many? Why vintners are understating alcoholic content on wine bottle labels

Dr Ballesteros said: ‘We believe the new methodology will help to provide a more effective way of determining the presence of these kinds of contaminants in milk or other products.

‘Food quality control laboratories could use this new tool to detect these drugs before they enter the food chain. This would raise consumers’ awareness and give them the knowledge that food is… harmless, pure, genuine, beneficial to health and free of toxic residues,’ he added.
Mackerel in ice in a fishbox awaiting sale at Brixham Fish Market. Image shot 2006. Exact date unknown.

Net result: Compounds manufactured and used by humans are showing up in all parts of the food chain

The tests also found niflumic acid in goat’s milk, while breast milk contained traces of painkillers ibuprofen and naproxen, along with the antibiotic triclosan and some hormones.

The researchers say their new 30-minute test is the most sensitive of its kind. If the findings are true for Spanish and Moroccan milk, they could equally be true for milk produced in Britain and northern Europe.

Last year Portsmouth University scientists found that fish were being contaminated with the anti-depressant Prozac.

The drug enters rivers from the sewer system and tinkers with the brain chemistry of fish, the researchers claimed.

Previous studies have shown that caffeine is released into our waterways after surviving the sewage treatment process.

The hormones from the contraceptive pill and HRT have been blamed for feminising fish, leading to male fish producing eggs.

The effects of antibiotics, blood pressure drugs and cholesterol-lowering drugs on wildlife are also being studied around the world.

See comments from readers at the end of this original article

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lake Village Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Back to nature: Roger Ulrich, founder of Lake Village Homestead Farm in Pavilion Township, tends to chickens in coops next to his home. He created the cooperative to provide a place for people and animals to co-exist with nature.  Photo by Mark Bugnaski, Kalamazoo Gazette
An article based on this story appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Sunday, July 3, 2011.

“You’ve got to experiment, and experiment with your own life!  Not just sit back in an ivory tower somewhere as if your life weren’t all mixed up in it….”       B.F. Skinner, Walden Two
Lake Village in Pavilion Township began as an experiment in “getting back to the Earth.”  Now in its 40th year, it sees no end in sight.

In fact, members of the group believe the Homestead has become more relevant than ever as more and more area people want its free range meat products raised without chemicals, antibiotics or growth hormones and its vegetable crops that are grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides. 

While food production is one important aspect of the farm, Lake Village is much more. 

“It is a place of peace and healing and it provides me with opportunities to learn about connecting to Nature and getting along with all kinds of people,” said Tony Kaufman, 42, Lake Village farm manager. 

It’s also about animal care, politics, business, education, environmental issues.  Kaufman has been living at Lake Village for 20 years.  His 10-year-old daughter, Ella, who was born on the farm, lives with him.

Traci Ulrich Seuss, 48, was nine years old when her family moved to Lake Village and she has lived there ever since.  An avid lover of horses, the certified massage therapist has appreciated the freedom to ride and roam the 350-acre property that is also home to her daughter, Della, 11, and 50 other people of this cooperative community. 

Although by definition, utopia is not a definitive place, Seuss argues that it exists inside a person. 

“I love my life.  It’s perfect,” she said

The man behind the Lake Village experiment is retired WMU psychology professor Roger Ulrich.  Inspired by B.F. Skinner’s novel, Walden Two, he has combined his Mennonite background, Native American spirituality and a love for baseball into a practical philosophy that he sums up in two brief sentences:

“There is no experiment other than the real situation.  Until you get into the earth and grow a real tomato, there is no real education.”

Before he founded the homestead in 1971, the Skinnerian behavioral psychologist used to experiment with rats and pigeons.

“I thought I was doing the right thing for science,” he said.  “This is what was happening at the time, what we were taught to do and what we taught our students.  But it was kind of mean and I stopped torturing animals and apologize to the pigeons and rats that took that pain.” 

His vision of Lake Village was to create a place where people, animals and all of Nature lived together peacefully.

“We have been conditioned as children to see ourselves as different and separated,” said Ulrich as we sat on the deck of his house that overlooks Long Lake.  Chickens clucked one floor below us and a cardinal beckoned Ulrich to put some seed out on the ledge.

One of his most important influences was his contact with Rolling Thunder (1916-1997), a Native American medicine man who advocated for the care of the environment as well as the togetherness and inclusiveness of all peoples.  He and his wife, Spotted Fawn, founded an inter-tribal, inter-racial, non-profit community on 262 acres in northeastern Nevada near Carlin to teach white people Indian ways. 

Ulrich visited Rolling Thunder for a week while he was on his way to a professional psychology conference in San Francisco and it proved to be a life-changing experience. 

“I learned that I’m not separate from Nature,” he said, “even though our culture conditions us as children to see ourselves as different and separate.  I’m one with the squirrel and the blackbird.  I’m an undividable part of all of life.”

Ulrich, who doesn’t define himself by any particular religion, has adopted this “natural spirituality” where he believes that all that’s here was present in the beginning and will never end. 

Ulrich, who will be 80 in August, was born to Mennonite/Anabaptist parents in Eureka, IL, where he learned to live a simple life.  His father was a farmer who used plow horses but whose off-farm income eventually led him to become a John Deere tractor salesman. 

This was a seminal moment for Ulrich—and for America—because it signaled a changed brand of agriculture and a society dependent on oil and consumerism, both of which Ulrich believes are this country’s biggest problems.

“We’re conditioned at birth that we need all this stuff.  We could do well with less,” he said.  “We have to undo what we have been taught even though it’s not easy to turn around a whole culture.”

Ulrich’s Mennonite roots also taught him pacifism, which created a dilemma for him when the Korean War broke out.  Because he had a college education, he chose to enlist in Officer Candidate School in the U.S. Navy.  After a short time there, he found that he didn’t fit the military framework so he asked to be a regular seaman.  For two years he sailed the Mediterranean Sea and coastal areas all around the United States. 

He left the military with many questions about aggression, and this led to a lifetime of research.

“Shooting at people just escalates the conflict,” he concluded.  “You can’t stop aggression through punishment.”

Later the U.S. Navy commissioned Ulrich to conduct research on aggression as a strategy for containment.  However, his report did not conform to the Navy’s assumptions, so it was summarily disregarded and dismissed.

“We live in a country with many blessings because we fight,” said Ulrich.  “I pay taxes to this larger machine that assumes ‘might makes right.’  However, the problems we face are not solved at the human level.”

Consumer products and the means for procuring them has left us not only with air, water and land pollution but with more violent storms, floods and drought, he said.  The increased use of oil is the main culprit.

“We’re in the days of purification where we can’t keep using our scarce resources as we have been,” said Ulrich.  “Nature will determine what comes next and we’ll be a part of it [because we are part of Nature].”

Watching television and flipping on lights contributes to this problem because it takes coal, oil and other resources to generate the electricity, he said.  Lake Village members attempt to be mindful of their use of energy and to seek alternatives. 

Ulrich’s house, for example, is heated with wood and built into an earth berm.  Its abundance of windows brings in natural light.  Eighty percent of the food Lake Villagers eat is either raised or purchased within 100 miles of the farm. 

“You try your best to do what you can do and live a life that you feel will be sustainable.”

But Ulrich also sees consumerism and sustainability in spiritual terms with the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) as a guide not only in our relationships with each other but with the Earth.

“It’s not so much me as a human being as it’s the Earth that is the nurturer,” said Ulrich.  “Our life here is all tied up in the soil, sun, water, air.  The way we treat the Earth is the way we treat each other.”

More Americans are now capturing the essence of taking care of themselves and the Earth such as the Eat Local Kalamazoo group and the organic food movement, said Ulrich. 

“The way plants and animals are treated affects us.  You are part of their life.”

Focusing on raising food more cheaply, efficiently and in greater quantities without considering health issues for humans or the animals, land, water or air is counterproductive to good living.  Current farming practices put animals in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) where they experience stress and pain.

“This makes the animals mentally ill and crazy and when we eat them.  We take on that craziness,” he said.

Actually, scientists are finding connections between people’s food and their susceptibility to medical problems like asthma, autism and diabetes.

Living close to one’s food source is another angle to his natural spirituality, however, Ulrich realizes that not everyone needs or wants to live on a farm to be more intimate with Nature’s cycles and processes.  They can grow a garden or even raise chickens—as is now permitted in Kalamazoo and Portage.  What’s important is that they connect to Nature for good physical, mental and emotional health.

“All is sacred,” said Ulrich.  “We are all part of the life force.”

Ulrich’s philosophy of life also stems from his love of baseball, which inspired him to go to college so he could keep on playing the game.  He subsequently tried out for the Chicago Cubs.  Although he didn’t make it, he played ball all his life including years with the Kalamazoo Warriors senior softball team until he was 76.

Nevertheless, he did find academe engaging and stimulating enough to continue it through to the Ph.D. level.  He taught in the university where he also served as a professor and assistant dean of students at Illinois Wesleyan.  At Western Michigan University, where he stayed for 30 years, he was a department head and a researcher.

Sports taught Ulrich the quality of teamwork to achieve a goal.  He transferred this idea to Lake Village where everyone, residents, animals, vegetables, trees and all living things live together.

Ulrich claims he never planned his life but instead indulged himself in whatever was available to him at the time. 

“Have fun.  Be joyful.  Enjoy the ride,” he said.  “If you can make the ride more comfortable, do it.”

Perhaps that’s the grandest experiment of them all and Ulrich invites everyone to indulge in it!