"Ethos" Documentary Examines "Conscious Consuming"

by Lana Lynne on 1.31.11

"Is there something inherently wrong with the human race?" So asks the new documentary "Ethos," which examines the various social, political, environmental and economic problems confronting our world. The film delves into Monsanto and corporate America, the war in Iraq, climate change and the corporate-controlled media, aiming "to look at the flaws in our systems that allow these things to happen and the mechanisms that actually work against us."

From the website, ethosthemovie.com:

Ethos lifts the lid on a Pandora's box of systemic issues that guarantee failure in almost every aspect of our lives; from the environment to democracy and our own personal liberty: From terrifying conflicts of interests in politics to unregulated corporate power, to a media in the hands of massive conglomerates, and a military industrial complex that virtually owns our representatives.

"Ethos" is hosted by Woody Harrelson and written and directed by Pete McGrain. It features interviews with Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Richard Pearl, Chalmers Johnson, Charles Lewis, Michael Moore and more.

You can watch "Ethos" for free at ethosthemovie.com. Check out the trailer below and spread the word!

Giroux and the Corporate University

by Lana Lynne on 1.27.11

In the interest of keeping critical thinking alive in higher education, and maintaining awareness of corporate colonization of the university system, check out Henry Giroux's recent article, "Beyond the Swindle of the Corporate University." Calling to task those academics who, in Giroux's view, have retreated from utilizing the university as "a democratic public sphere and a crucial site for learning how to think critically and act with civic courage," Giroux points out a number of examples of how higher education has fallen prey to corporate and political influences:

This [the role of academics] is particularly disturbing given the unapologetic turn that higher education has taken in its willingness to mimic corporate culture and ingratiate itself to the national security state. Universities now face a growing set of challenges arising from budget cuts, diminishing quality, the downsizing of faculty, the militarization of research and the revamping of the curriculum to fit the interests of the market. In the United States, many of the problems in higher education can be linked to low funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state and the lack of faculty self-governance, all of which not only contradict the culture and democratic value of higher education, but also makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university as a place both to think and to provide the formative culture and agents that make a democracy possible. Universities and colleges have been largely abandoned as democratic public spheres dedicated to providing a public service, expanding upon humankind's great intellectual and cultural achievements and educating future generations to be able to confront the challenges of a global democracy. As the humanities and liberal arts are downsized, privatized and commodified, higher education finds itself caught in the paradox of claiming to invest in the future of young people, while offering them few intellectual, civic and moral supports.

Many thought-provoking comments follow the essay. Some applaud Giroux's line of thinking; others criticize it for being needlessly apocalyptic. Of the latter, one commenter felt Giroux's perspective is highly "conservative" and urges people to look at change positively, pointing out how universities were once under the tutelage of the church and the province of the wealthy. Being under a corporate thumb hardly seems better, yet perhaps there is something to be said for looking at the situation with a mind for change.

So, what say thee? What does, or can, the future hold for the ivory tower?

Your Health and Health Data

by douglas reeser on 1.23.11

There's a new video up from the TedMed series that makes the case for more accessible personal health data. Thomas Goetz, the executive editor of Wired Magazine, and author of "The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine" explains how health-related behavior change can be accomplished through making people feel like they can actually take action and make change. Much of this feeling comes from having access to and a greater understanding of our own personal health data.

To further enhance a sense of greater understanding of our own health, Goetz also presents a new proposal being developed that will use a "Drug Facts" chart for pharmaceutical drugs- similar to the "Nutrition Facts" charts found on every package of food in the US. While there might be some potential in the idea, I don't see the "Nutrition Facts" charts making much difference in the US, where obesity rates remain among the highest in the world, and many of the leading health problems remain diet related. Overall, the talk is a bit too problem-oriented for me, without really examining some of the roots of the problems being addressed - are the various poor health outcomes experienced across the US and around the world truly due to a lack of understanding? Perhaps, and it is refreshing to see the call for change when it comes to how we interact with our health data, and ultimately, our own health.

Dave Eggers' 'Zeitoun': A Perfect Storm

by Lana Lynne on 1.16.2011

"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." (Abraham Maslow, Abraham Kaplan, or, if you prefer, Mark Twain)

Having just finished reading Dave Eggers' historical nonfiction book, Zeitoun (2009), which chronicles the lives of the New Orleans Zeitoun family during and after Hurricane Katrina, I find myself returning to the above opening quote of the book, mulling over the myriad ways the people involved in the story, as well as the political and social structures, were guilty of over-reliance on a familiar tool. The book tackles many of the U.S.'s social ills, the most transparent being the militarized response to Hurricane Katrina. But the way the Zeitouns' story dovetails with both the war on terror and the wake of Katrina creates a heartrending landscape of a Muslim family caught in this swirling storm of wars, prisons, patriotism and prejudices.

It's difficult to single out one disturbing detail without making it seem like it's more disturbing than all the rest, so take this as a disclaimer that Camp Greyhound is only one of many extremely disconcerting situations that arose in New Orleans during Katrina's aftermath. Camp Greyhound was a temporary prison built at the Greyhound and Amtrak station two days after Katrina hit the city. It was built out of chain-link fences by prisoners from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, the largest prison in the country (with the terrible history of being built on a plantation once used to breed slaves). Over 1,200 people were incarcerated in Camp Greyhound after the hurricane, including Abdulrahman Zeitoun. If ever there was a case of mistaking a new problem for an old one, the race to build and populate Camp Greyhound was it, as Eggers calmly points out:
This complex and exceedingly efficient government operation was completed while residents of New Orleans were trapped in attics and begging for rescue from rooftops and highway overpasses. The portable toilets were available and working at Camp Greyhound while there were no working bathrooms at the Convention Center and Superdome a few blocks away. Hundreds of cases of water and MREs [meals ready-to-eat] were readily available for the guards and prisoners, while those stranded nearby were fighting for food and water.
If you haven't read Zeitoun yet, I highly recommend it not only for the window it provides into an important (and already fading?) moment in U.S. history, but also for Eggers' superb writing. Many social and political problems underlie and propel the story, but the lives these problems affect breathe through Eggers' storytelling ability.

Profits over Hunger: Plenty of Food, but Costs are Too High

by douglas reeser on 1.11.11

Food riots have once again come across the headlines, as a substantial increase in food prices has recently led to riots in Algeria, Tunisia, India, China, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. The immediate future does not appear to offer any relief, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) just released a policy brief warning of a "food price shock". The FAO lays blame on a number of factors, including extreme weather events, demands for food commodities from the energy sector, and a growing dependence on export zones among other things. An article in Forbes looks into further details:

The global food situation doesn’t look too promising, as floods in Australia and excessively hot weather in Latin America harm harvests, upward pressure is mounting on prices. According to the FAO, a basket tracking the wholesale cost of food commodities such as wheat, corn, rice, vegetable oils, and meats, has already topped 2008’s peak values. And, as the USDA cuts its global grain supply outlook, soybean, corn, and wheat prices have spiked, nearing or passing 30-month highs.
This rise in prices, however, is not due to simple measures of supply and demand. At play is the insatiable drive for corporate profit. An article from the IPS notes that Cargil, the world's largest agricultural commodities trader, tripled its profits in 2010, and explains how a drive to buy up farmland internationally has led to a sharp increase in many local food markets, especially those in poor countries that increasingly rely on imports. Meanwhile, organizations like the World Bank keep pushing for increased production for export for international markets, further limiting that amount of land under cultivation for local markets. This puts people in poor nations at further risk of food insecurity. The IPS article explains:
Under the guise of investing in agriculture, huge amounts of money are being offered to debt-ridden countries in exchange for long-term leases to their foodlands. "Our research shows that the most fertile lands are being secured. There are huge issues around governance and corruption in this land grabbing," said Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based policy think tank on social, economic and environmental issues.
More than 100 billion dollars has been invested in buying farmland since 2008, mainly in Africa by foreign companies and foreign-state owned industries, according to GRAIN, a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers. This massive investment hasn't yet translated into more food availability.
Meanwhile, in its recent policy brief on the issue, the FAO calls for the creation of "safety nets" for times like these, when market volatility leads to price spikes in food staples. This does little to address the root of the problem, and serves to normalize and approve of such global profiteering by the corporate elite.

Read the entire IPS article here>>>

Read the entire Forbes article here>>>

Photo Credit: the Business Insider; Activists shout slogans as they hold portraits of India's ruling Congress party President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a protest against hike in prices of essential commodities in Hyderabad, India, Monday, Jan. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A)

Consumption Junction: The Bee Decline Worsens

by lana lynne on 1.8.2011

Last month, an EPA document leaked to a Colorado beekeeper shed light on the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder that has been plaguing honeybees since at least 2006. The document, dated November 2, 2010, details how the pesticide clothianidin, produced by the German agrichemical mogul Bayer, was found to be toxic to honeybees:
Clothianidin's major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct ... risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.
This memo comes on the heels of Bayer's request to expand the use of clothianidin to cotton and mustard. The EPA granted Bayer full registration for clothianidin on corn and canola last April. The EPA's response to the leaked document, as well as a thorough time line of the story, can be read on Tom Philpott's nicely detailed article on grist.com.

Meanwhile, we learned more recently that bumblebees are joining the ranks of the waning honeybee population. According to the Guardian, four species of bumblebees have seen their populations drop by 96% in only a few decades. So far, the decline is thought to be from a combination of disease and low genetic diversity.

It remains to be seen whether the bee decline is a case of genocide by corporate colonization -- if not entirely premeditated, then certainly not prevented by chemical corporations. As the demand for pesticide-free growing increases, artificial pollinators could quietly take pesticides' place.

Check out a preview of the documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, which has scheduled screenings nationwide:

Vanishing of the Bees - Trailer from Bee The Change on Vimeo.

Happy New Year!

by douglas reeser on 1.2.2011

We at recycled minds would like to wish all of our readers a healthy and happy 2011. As always, we appreciate your visits, your comments, and your time spent reading our work.

We are excited about our continued work on our new columns here on RM - a feature started late last year - and look forward to bringing more in-depth articles, continued sharing of interesting work from around the web, and overall further development of the site. We'll be adding more photos to our "picture show", and more documents to our Scribd Library, and will continue searching for new ideas to share with you.

As always, we welcome your contributions, suggestions, and participation - send us an email to share your thoughts!

Finally, we are seeking to add a "Guest Blogger" column in 2011. If you are interested in submitting a piece here, please get in touch with your topical idea and a little background information about yourself.

Thanks again and Happy 2011!!