Beautiful Image: Waterfall

Waterfall

Link: Earth Shots » Uninterupted by Tad Bowman.

Uninterupted by Tad Bowman

This photograph was taken in Cherokee National Forest in North Carolina. I decided to zoom in on a portion of the waterfall because I was intrigued by the converging lines of water. Equipment: Canon EOS 1dsMII, 70-200mm Lens, Tripod

Tad Bowman
www.tadbowman.com

Insights from brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor

One morning, a blood vessel in Jill Bolte Taylor’s brain exploded. As a brain scientist, she realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. She watched as her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness …

Amazed to find herself alive, Taylor spent eight years recovering her ability to think, walk and talk. She has become a spokesperson for stroke recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. In her case, although the stroke damaged the left side of her brain, her recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right. From her home base in Indiana, she now travels the country on behalf of the Harvard Brain Bank as the "Singin’ Scientist."

via Roy Stone

Converting Lawns into Mini-Farms

Kelly Spors at the Wall Street Journal describes how suburban mini-farms are providing fresh produce and supplemental income for enterprising residents.

Link: Green Acres II: When Neighbors Become Farmers – WSJ.com.

Farmers don’t necessarily live in the country anymore. They might just be your next-door neighbor, hoping to turn a dollar satisfying the blooming demand for organic, locally grown foods.

Unlike traditional home gardeners who devote a corner of the yard to a few rows of vegetables, a new crop of minifarmers is tearing up the whole yard and planting foods such as arugula and kohlrabi that restaurants might want to buy. The locally grown food movement has also created a new market for front-yard farmers.

"Agriculture is becoming more and more suburban," says Roxanne Christensen, publisher of Spin-Farming LLC, a Philadelphia company started in 2005 that sells guides and holds seminars teaching a small-scale farming technique that involves selecting high-profit vegetables like kale, carrots and tomatoes to grow, and then quickly replacing crops to reap the most from plots smaller than an acre. "Land is very expensive in the country, so people are saying, ‘why not just start growing in the backyard?’ "

Environmentalists embrace the practice because it cuts the distance — and the carbon dioxide — needed to get food from farm to consumer. It also means less grass to water and fertilize and fewer purely ornamental plants. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly a third of all residential water use goes to landscaping. Why not use it to grow food instead?

But for the neighbors, the new face of farming can have a decidedly ugly side. The sight of vegetable gardens — and the occasional whiffs of manure from front-yard minifarms — is not their idea of proper suburban living. Many homeowners associations ban growing food in the yard, believing it damages a neighborhood’s appearance and may ding property values.

Susan and Greg VanHecke planted a small, 6-foot-by-20-foot vegetable garden in the back of their house in Norfolk, Va., two years ago to help teach their two children to grow and eat more vegetables. Reaping a bumper crop last year, Mr. VanHecke asked the owner of a local restaurant called Stove for whom he once worked as a sous-chef, to buy vegetables. Soon, Mr. VanHecke was making weekly deliveries to the restaurant, averaging about $100 in sales per week. The VanHeckes have added another restaurant customer this year and are tearing up all their backyard flower beds to grow more vegetables.

They’re also trying to figure out how to more easily fit farming into their otherwise busy schedules. Even minifarms take a lot of time, and suburbanites with full-time jobs find themselves a little stretched.

Monsanto: Enemy of the Earth

On Earth Day 2008, I nominate Monsanto as the leading enemy of the earth. (Please leave comments with your nominations for the organizations causing the most damage to Planet Earth.)

Monsanto’s vision of the future are huge fields of crops with no weeds. There are no weeds because the chemical weedkiller Roundup has been sprayed on the fields. My question is: What will years of applying Roundup to the soil do to that land and the surrounding streams?

I have been tracking Monsanto for several years. Their products for agriculture are very damaging to soil, water, and critters large and small, and their bullying tactics against farmers are despicable. Their success has been growing as they round up more farmers who want to produce more crops now without regard for the implications for the future of their land and crops.

Monsanto has been buying seed companies. My wife Ann used to buy the seeds for our organic garden from the Territorial Seed Company until she found out that they sell seeds from Monsanto. Monsanto wants to control food production at all levels!

With a number of key alumni working in the FDA and a surpreme court justice, they have stacked the deck to make sure their tactics are not surpressed. In the past, Monsanto is responsible for contaminating land and streams with thousands of tons of dioxin and PCBs, two of the most toxic chemicals ever produced. Now they encourage farmers to plant their genetically-modified seeds and dump the chemical weedkiller Roundup on their fields.

Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele at Vanity Fair have described the ongoing efforts of Monsanto to monopolize farming and its legacy of contamination of land and rivers. Excerpts below.

Link: Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear: Politics & Power: vanityfair.com.

Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers—anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics.

For centuries—millennia—farmers have saved seeds from season to season: they planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.

Monsanto developed G.M. seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto then patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented.

Indeed not. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism.” In this case, the organism wasn’t even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.

This radical departure from age-old practice has created turmoil in farm country. Some farmers don’t fully understand that they aren’t supposed to save Monsanto’s seeds for next year’s planting. Others do, but ignore the stipulation rather than throw away a perfectly usable product. Still others say that they don’t use Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, but seeds have been blown into their fields by wind or deposited by birds. It’s certainly easy for G.M. seeds to get mixed in with traditional varieties when seeds are cleaned by commercial dealers for re-planting. The seeds look identical; only a laboratory analysis can show the difference. Even if a farmer doesn’t buy G.M. seeds and doesn’t want them on his land, it’s a safe bet he’ll get a visit from Monsanto’s seed police if crops grown from G.M. seeds are discovered in his fields.

Most Americans know Monsanto because of what it sells to put on our lawns— the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup. What they may not know is that the company now profoundly influences—and one day may virtually control—what we put on our tables. For most of its history Monsanto was a chemical giant, producing some of the most toxic substances ever created, residues from which have left us with some of the most polluted sites on earth. Yet in a little more than a decade, the company has sought to shed its polluted past and morph into something much different and more far-reaching—an “agricultural company” dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations.” Still, more than one Web log claims to see similarities between Monsanto and the fictional company “U-North” in the movie Michael Clayton, an agribusiness giant accused in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit of selling an herbicide that causes cancer.

Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. So far, the company has produced G.M. seeds for soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Many more products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output, and it is taking aggressive steps to put those who don’t want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.

By the late 1990s, Monsanto, having rebranded itself into a “life sciences” company, had spun off its chemical and fibers operations into a new company called Solutia. After an additional reorganization, Monsanto re-incorporated in 2002 and officially declared itself an “agricultural company.”

In its company literature, Monsanto now refers to itself disingenuously as a “relatively new company” whose primary goal is helping “farmers around the world in their mission to feed, clothe, and fuel” a growing planet. In its list of corporate milestones, all but a handful are from the recent era. As for the company’s early history, the decades when it grew into an industrial powerhouse now held potentially responsible for more than 50 Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites—none of that is mentioned. It’s as though the original Monsanto, the company that long had the word “chemical” as part of its name, never existed. One of the benefits of doing this, as the company does not point out, was to channel the bulk of the growing backlog of chemical lawsuits and liabilities onto Solutia, keeping the Monsanto brand pure.

But Monsanto’s past, especially its environmental legacy, is very much with us. For many years Monsanto produced two of the most toxic substances ever known— polychlorinated biphenyls, better known as PCBs, and dioxin. Monsanto no longer produces either, but the places where it did are still struggling with the aftermath, and probably always will be.

Monsanto has long been wired into Washington…. William D. Ruckelshaus, former E.P.A. administrator, and Mickey Kantor, former U.S. trade representative, each served on Monsanto’s board after leaving government. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas was an attorney in Monsanto’s corporate-law department in the 1970s. He wrote the Supreme Court opinion in a crucial G.M.-seed patent-rights case in 2001 that benefited Monsanto and all G.M.-seed companies. Donald Rumsfeld never served on the board or held any office at Monsanto, but Monsanto must occupy a soft spot in the heart of the former defense secretary. Rumsfeld was chairman and C.E.O. of the pharmaceutical maker G. D. Searle & Co. when Monsanto acquired Searle in 1985, after Searle had experienced difficulty in finding a buyer. Rumsfeld’s stock and options in Searle were valued at $12 million at the time of the sale.

More posts about Monsanto:

Are you eating Monsanto’s genetically modified crops?

Monsanto’s Government Ties

Monsanto Backs Off Bio-Wheat

Shining a Light on Agribusiness and It’s Poster Child Monsanto

April 10: Scooter’s Birthday

On April 10, 1982, a pretty Siamese cat gave birth to a litter of kittens. The runt of the litter was named Scooter. The owners of the cats gave Scooter to Ann as a gift.

I met Scooter on my first date with Ann in 1991. I was not a cat person, but it didn't take long for Scooter to change my attitude about cats.

Scooter left his physical body soon after his 23rd birthday in 2005. His magnificent spirit lives in my memory. Ann still cries about losing him. He brought us much joy and some tears.

Our three young cats have assumed some of his traits. Sweetie is a great lap cat; in his later years, Scooter stayed in my lap for hours when the weather was cool while I worked at my computer. Blue, a runt herself, loves to play and is very smart, just like Scooter. Missy is a fierce warrior and fears no cat; Scooter loved fighting (and the local vets loved patching him back together).

Here's a picture of Scooter. If you would like to read about his life, click on this link:

http://www.mykesweblog.com/scooter_the_siamese_cat/index.html

Scooter

A Path for Energy Independence

The Oil Drum provides an optimistic view of solar thermal power /concentrating solar power as a cost/effective, clean source of energy in the near future. Excerpts below.

Large scale solar power generation using solar thermal power appears to be the most promising mechanism for generating clean electricty. Click on the link below for details.

Link: The Oil Drum | Concentrating On The Important Things – Solar Thermal Power.

Solar thermal power is often referred to as concentrating solar power, or CSP.

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors combined with tracking systems to focus sunlight which is then used to generate electricity. The primary mechanisms for concentrating sunlight are the parabolic trough, the solar power tower (not to be confused with solar updraft towers) and the parabolic dish. The high temperatures produced by CSP systems can also be used to provide heat and steam for a variety of applications (cogeneration). CSP technologies require direct sunlight (insolation) to function and are of limited use in locations with significant cloud cover.

Solar thermal power plants have been in commercial use in southern California since 1985. An area of desert around 250 km by 250 km covered with CSP power generation could supply all the world’s current electricity demand.

Solar thermal plants can be built in their entirety within a few years – much faster than many conventional power projects. Solar thermal plants are built almost entirely with modular, commodity materials (and thus have short development and construction times) and do not encounter the sort of opposition on environmental grounds that traditional forms of power generation like coal and nuclear face.

One of the key differentiating factors between solar thermal power and solar PV is that heat energy is more easily (and efficiently) stored than electricity, with solar thermal plants often combining energy storage into the design to enable around-the-clock, dispatchable electricity generation.