Google Xistence Can Be Your Second You

This brought a chuckle, and I have to admit, sometimes I wish something like this could finish up my PhD or teach a few of my classes. Maybe someday we'll be able to have two of us. Still it's crazy that something like this could be in our future. For your enjoyment, google xistence:

Food Prices and Ethanol

Without belaboring the point that the food system is completely out of whack, we'd like to share these facts mined from Plan B 4.9: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (NY: Norton, 2009) by

It turns out that more than one quarter of the total grain crops in the U.S. was used for fueling cars last year. This same amount is enough to feed 330 million people. From the ethanol perspective, this amount serves a fraction of the U.S.'s fueling needs (if all the grain crops in the country were converted to ethanol, it would only satisfy 18% of current fuel consumption).

At the same time, the food-to-fuel conversion caused a spike in food prices around the globe, ultimately causing the number of undernourished people in the world to grow to one billion in 2009.

Put yet another way:
The amount of grain needed to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol just once can feed one person for an entire year. The average income of the owners of the world’s 940 million automobiles is at least 10 times larger than that of the world’s 2 billion hungriest people. In the competition between cars and hungry people for the world’s harvest, the car is destined to win.
Information like this has been disputed since biofuels first went into mass production and subsidization. One such argument from 2006 reads:
Another concern is that making ethanol from corn is going to take food away from the world, and that food should be a priority over fuel. While there may be kernels (sorry) of truth to this, we have time before being concerned and time to manage this. Out of last year's corn crop of 11 billion bushels, 16 percent was used for fuel ethanol, 55 percent for animal feed, and less than 7 percent for human food.
To complicate matters, there is evidence that much of the criticism of ethanol use has come from Big Oil, for obvious reasons.

It appears, however, that another year's worth of effects and statistics, like the ones stated above, will help illuminate, in effect, ethanol's beneficence, nonmaleficence, or harm.

Damming the Forest II: More Information on the Controversial New Dam in Southern Belize

Ya'axche conservation trust, co-managers of the Bladen Nature Reserve, have recently released a series of videos on the controversial dam project that has been moving forward in Southern Belize. Many Maya communities rely exclusively on the river to be dammed as their only source of drinking water, and as their sole resource for bathing and cleaning. The videos have some great footage of the river along with people using it. We also see community meetings in which the elected area representative is on camera claiming that he had no knowledge of the agreement between the Belizean government and the company building the dam. Further, no one in the villages on and near the river were notified about the proposed dam. This secret agreement allows the company to own, build, and operate the dam for 15 years with an optional 10 year extension. Fact-finding trips into the reserve have found bulldozers, clearings, and camps being used by the construction company. The company has opened almost 16 miles of roadway into the reserve. Ya'axche is claiming it will fight the dam and take it to the Supreme Court if necessary. The video is in three 10-minute segments, the first of which is posted, with links to the next two following.

Easy, Toxic, and Sterile: Monsanto's Legacy

A few days ago, NPR's program "All Things Considered" did a piece on Monsanto's monopolization of the seed market with their patented Roundup Ready technology -- a genetic modification that has made its way into about 9 out of 10 soybean, cotton and corn seeds. While farmers apparently love the ease and simplicity of Roundup Ready seeds (a spray of the insecticide of the same name kills everything except the plant you want to harvest), they very much dislike the intellectual property rights that Monsanto blankets their seeds with. With every Round-up Ready seed a farmer uses, he or she is contractually bound to not save any seeds for replanting. This is a win-win situation for Monsanto, of course, but much less so for the farmer. In fact, the farmer interviewed in the program admitted that once the Roundup Ready patent expires in 2014, he will do his best to plant his own seeds, simply for the ability to "save back" his own seed (or, plant the seed from what they've harvested). In case you expected any less, Monsanto is indeed ready for Round-up Ready's doomsday. They already have Round-up Ready 2 in the works -- a trait similar to its predecessor, but designed to increase yield as well.

While Monsanto is quite forthcoming in taking over the seed market -- VP Jim Tobin hopes "to have everyone in the soybean business, seed business using the trait" -- the company is less willing to allow research of the seeds to determine their safety for human consumption. Nevertheless, studies are making their way into the public eye, particularly one by French researchers who studied three GMO products: Roundup Ready corn and two strains of Bt corn. Here are the findings, quoted from Grist:
[I]n the three GM maize varieties that formed the basis of this investigation, new side effects linked to the consumption of these cereals were revealed, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant as has been proposed by others [4]. We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal [i.e., kidney] toxicity.
Moreover, an Austrian study found that Monsanto corn causes lab mice to have "fewer and weaker babies," and reports that another recent study points to other dangerous health effects as well:
...a new study -- which had to resort to analyzing data sets produced by studies conducted by Monsanto and another biotech firm, Covance Laboratories, and submitted to European governments because researchers couldn't get seeds -- has found that Monsanto corn impairs rats' kidneys and livers. The "data strongly suggests" that after just 90 days of eating GM corn, rats experienced kidney toxicity and showed effects to their hearts, adrenal glands, spleen and blood cells.
Until Monsanto releases, or is forced to relinquish, its stranglehold on the seed market, it appears difficult to avoid consuming Monsanto seeds. In the meantime, you can sign this petition on to "Get Organ-Damaging Monsanto Corn off the Market."


Helping Haiti

The recent devastating earthquakes in Haiti have brought many of us to tears, and in a certain way, have had a paralyzing effect. We've been hesitant to post here at Recycled Minds, as little else seems quite as important or pressing as the events in the small and troubled island nation. We've decided to collect some trusted and effective organizations and share them with our readers. Please share what you can...

I personally know some of the people that work in and with this organization - they have been caring for Haitian orphans since 2003. Visit them here:

Partners in Health
I've had the pleasure to see founder Paul Farmer speak a number of times, and have always been awed by the work they do around the world - and they started their work in Haiti. Visit them here:

Some other organizations that are working on the ground and can put your donations to good use. Again, please consider helping if you can!

Yele - Donate $5 to Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund by texting "Yele" to 501501 (the $5 will be charged to your cell phone bill) or by visiting

Lambi Fund - Lambi Fund plans for RECOVERY: rebuild grain mills, sugar cane mills, and other economic development community enterprises lost in the earthquake. These buildings are the centers of communities' economic livelihoods.
Visit them here:

Fonkoze - Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Fund Help Fonkoze respond to the urgent needs created by this tragedy and urge others to respond! Visit them here:

Direct Relief International provides medical assistance to improve the quality of life for people affected by poverty, disaster, and civil unrest at home and throughout the world. We work to strengthen the in-country health efforts of our partners by providing essential material resources – medicines, supplies and equipment. Visit them here:

Haiti Action - visit them here:

The Quixote Center in Haiti - visit them here:

Interview with Mumia Abu Jamal on Prison Radio

by douglas reeser on 1.7.2010

We just came across this interview with Mumia Abu Jamal (listen below) conducted by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio in December of 2009 -on the day that marked Mumia's 29th year in federal prison. It's a relatively short talk (~6 minutes), but Mumia touches on a number of important issues. He scoffs at common misperceptions of prison that portray the experience in a way like the popular television show, Oz. Instead he calls prison "a hidden world that is meant to be hidden", and declares that life in a federal prison in the US is akin to Abu Ghraib, the famed Iraqi prison. He describes the US as being in the throes of a "Prison Industrial Complex", in which a new prison is opened every week, and more resources are flowing toward incarceration then things like education and health care. This increase in incarceration is taking place even while crime rates have dropped across the US since the early 1990s. Mumia also references an insightful article, titled "The Penal State in the Age of Crisis", that details these realities, and which you can read at the Monthly Review. He further explains that "whoever owns the media will determine what stories will be told", and the stories of the poor and dispossessed remain hidden and untold. This is why he continues to write and speak out - even after 29 years confined in federal prison. Check out the interview:

Read and learn more about Mumia and his thoughts, and listen to a number of newer and older broadcasts at Prison Radio>>>

If you're using Firefox, divshare does not seem to work, so you can listen to the interview here>>>

Moms and Beards: Adventures in Strange Advertising

I thought I would share something a little different from the norm with this post - and hopefully it will at least bring a smile and some wonderment into your day. Check out this screen shot from that I grabbed a couple of weeks ago, and especially take a look at the advertisement on the right hand side (see the close-up below). What is going on here?! Was this a hacked ad, or just a really bad one? Maybe they're just trying to hit bearded moms with their advertising. Anyway, we found it amusing, and we hope you do too. Enjoy:

Here's the screenshot:

And here's the close-up:

Two Realities: Monsanto and Manos de Mujer

Happy New Year! Foregoing our usual end-of-the-year overview for the moment, this new decade finds us looking forward, and outward, jumping feet first into the news and commentaries that make up the Recycled Minds community of awareness and information.

This first post of the new year highlights two ridiculously contrasting bits of news about food and the environment.

In a recklessly biased article, Forbes honored Monsanto with the title "Company of the Year," arguing that "the vast numbers of farmers who prefer its seeds to competing products, and the resulting $44 billion market value of the company" have earned the agri-giant its accolades. Yes, Forbes noted the global protests directed toward Monsanto, yet the article disregards any anger as public fickleness, pointing to an absurd argument that now people find that Monsanto seeds are "too good." But as a post on points out about the article:
There was no mention of farmer lawsuits, patent law forcing the buying of seeds, pushing out NON GMO farmers, intimidation of scientists, transgenic contamination, test results regarding their BT crops, Indian farmer suicides, deforestation of the Amazon, farmers in Latin America being pushed off their land for soy monocultures, Monsanto in Iraq and Afghanistan, Plan Colombia, government bribes, revolving Washington DC policy, nor pending lawsuits regarding PCBs and the Supreme Court.
On the other end of the spectrum comes coverage by the Interpress Service of Manos de Mujer (Women's Hands), a Colombian NGO that spans 56 villages and is comprised of over 900 local women who are reclaiming their desertified ecosystem -- and in the process, empowering themselves -- through farms and gardens.

One woman, Claudina Loaiza, tells her experience with Manos de Mujer:
"When I left the father of my children, because of his drinking and cheating, I began planting my own fruit and vegetable garden in my yard; this was something I really wanted," Loaiza said, her eyes shining as she introduced her daughter and niece, who work the land with her.

"I'm the kind of woman who'd rather be alone than have a bad man by her side," she said, before going on to describe how she fenced off her one-hectare garden with 144 metres of wire netting.

"I felt, and I still feel, so proud, because we were planting beans, watermelon, plantain, cassava, corn, green vegetables and all sorts of things, without using any weed killers or chemicals, just what we prepared for fertilising and replenishing the soil," she explained.

"In the summer (the tropical dry season), water was rationed, so I'd water each plant a little bit at a time, and that's how I grew these beautiful melons," she said, before specifying to this IPS reporter that she wanted to be described as an indigenous peasant woman.

Enthusiastically she explained how she worked the land using natural techniques, learning, for example, to use cattle dung as fertiliser and cassava and plantain leaves to maintain moisture.

"We used the hoe to check that the soil was humid before spreading the organic fertiliser…We also found that if there was garbage on the ground, the soil would stay dry even if it rained," recalled Loaiza, just one of the 1,100 peasant women involved in the changes in the land and agricultural production brought about by Manos de Mujer.
The article goes on to describe how the small changes these women are making offset the overwhelming larger problems they and the land face: "...the women involved in the project are not discouraged by these 'minor' achievements. Because what's important for them is the knowledge they've gained and the real improvements their efforts have brought to their environment and lives."

In the ongoing drama between corporate agriculture and the land and people that big business exploits, efforts such as Manos de Mujer are inspiring (and hopefully not wishful) examples of ethical cultivation and sustainability.

Read the Inter Press Article, "Women Empowered by Restoring Desertified Land"
Read the ironicly titled Forbes article, "The Planet Versus Monsanto"