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Links With Your Coffee - Thursday

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  • Don’t think it’s smart to swear? STFU, it's not as bad as you think

  • The Next Question You Beg May Be Your Last

    I want the cup.

    begthequestion.jpg

  • Darwin Got It Going On
    The lights go down. The room fills with music — a pulsating hip-hop rhythm. And then, over the music, you hear the voice of Richard Dawkins reading a passage from “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin: “Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction. For only thus can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed.”

    So begins one of the most astonishing, and brilliant, lectures on evolution I’ve ever seen: “The Rap Guide to Evolution,” by Baba Brinkman.


  • Study spikes organic food environment claims
    Tim Benton, who led the study published in the journal Ecology Letters, said: “Our results show that to produce the same amount of food using organic rather than conventional means, we’d need to use twice the amount of land for agriculture. As the biodiversity benefits of organic farming are small, the lower yield may be a luxury we can’t afford, particularly in the more productive areas of the UK.”

    Professor Benton said that previous studies, which claimed that organic fields contained up to twice as much wildlife as ordinary fields, had failed to compare like with like. They had tended to study organic farms with small fields and lots of hedges and woodland and compare them with more open landscapes.

    Professor Benton’s research, supported by the government-funded Rural Economy and Land Use Programme, also found that isolated organic farms made little difference to the level of biodiversity. Greater benefits were detected where there were clusters of organic farms.

    The researchers concluded: “Organic methods may be a useful part of the land management mix for the less productive parts of the UK, particularly if policies can encourage farmers to co-ordinate activities to maximise the benefit to wildlife across a larger area. However, given the lower yield and the limited biodiversity benefit of organic farming, it isn’t sustainable to promote it as the best or only method of agriculture. To meet future demands of food production, we will need to keep farming our most productive areas in the most intensive way we can — and potentially offset that by managing some of our remaining land exclusively as wildlife reserves.”




 

Comments

As far as I have been able to tell in my three years in Spain they don't have any taboos when it comes to foul language. Those seven words George Carlin talked about are commonly heard here spoken by just about everyone. Oddly, the fabric of Spanish society doesn't seem to be ripping at the seams.

P.S. Organic food is for sissies. I only eat inorganic food. It's delicious.

Spanish in general is like that, I think. There's no "explicit lyrics" on my Joaquín Sabina CDs IIRC.

"assume the conclusion"

Yeah, I know the correct meaning, but have to say that I never know quite how to use the phrase in a sentence.

I am not sure how such a fallacy "begs" the question, rather that it completely avoids the question and runs from a real discussion.

The word choice would make much more sense if, as the commenter suggests, the meaning was ,"A statement that invites being questioned (challenged)".

Someone just used the phrase wrong at a training I am at.

Re: "begs the question"

I prefer to use the term "that is question begging" and avoid the construction "begs the question" altogether. And if I judge that my audience won't get it (maybe because they are not native speakers) I'll use "that's circular". Maybe not as precise, but it is fine for informal discussion.

Being a philosophy major, I too want that mug.

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I'm surprised at your lack of balance on the organic farming and GMO controversies that you've been posting content on lately. For an alternate view of the recent UK study, see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article7118420.ece

Thanks for the link I hadn't seen it. I've you see articles by other members of the team please send me the link.

It's interesting that he doesn't say that organic farm production is equal to conventional methods only that it is highly productive.

It looks like what we have here are two scientists looking at the same data and emphasizing the points they agree with. It's hard to tell which view is more balanced everyone has their personal biases. I don't why you think I'm anti-organic I think there are many valuable things to be learned from organic farming. My only objection is that I don't think we can feed the worlds people using only organic methods. I'm no friend of big agri businesses, but there is a difference between seeing value in GMOs and being a friend of Monsanto.

It is one thing to criticize the Monsantos . But the view that everything big is all bad is nothing but cynicism, it assumes the worst, with no thought fairness. It is reasonable to be skeptical but many friends of organic farming have lost all perspective on the issue.

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From the current article in the NYT comments section (http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/invasion-of-the-superweeds/), two interesting comments. I guess I want to add that we need to be wary when it comes to issues that involve the kind of sums of money that biotech and big ag is handling. Maintain a healthy paranoia with issues that involve this sort of profit margin; you seem fully duped. It's a bit surprising.

terrabrockman Midwest May 6th, 2010 9:50 pm

By inviting two industrial farmers and two writers (plus one agronomist) to enter this “Room for Debate,” the editors have set up a false, misleading, and damaging dichotomy. On the one hand, the chemical-industrial farmers state that we cannot live without glysophate and other toxic pesticides. On the other hand, the writers say we need to move to an ecological model of agriculture.

This false “point-counterpoint” leads to a not-very-instructive or productive “farmer” vs. “agri-intellectual” (the latter a term sneeringly used by Blake Hurst in a previous piece of his) debate.

But this debate is NOT about farmers vs. writers, conservative vs. liberal, or rural vs. urban. It is about moneyed interests (the chemical and biotech companies) who want to continue to reap vast profits by keeping the status quo on the one hand. And it's about common sense -- which will benefit all, farmers and nonfarmers alike, on the other.

Corporate interests are the voices we hear behind the farmers chosen to respond in this "debate." I

The crucial voice missing from this debate room is that of farmers who have seen the unacceptable costs (ecological and economic) of the “arms race” model, have stepped off the chemical-biotech treadmill, and are now raising all manner of crops with no synthetic chemical “inputs.”

I’d like to briefly channel that missing farmer voice -- the voices of my brother Henry, my sister Teresa, and dozens of my neighbors, many of them 3rd and 4th generation Illinois farmers. These farmers saw how chemical inputs affected their bottom line, as well as the health of their soil, their children, and themselves. Having seen the futility of the chemical-dependent model, they moved away from dependency and toward an independent, economically viable farming system in which chemical pesticides play no role, and in which they were not beholden to corporate interests.

Yes, there is life, more abundant life, after glyphosate. And yes, it’s more work. But you can look at “more work” as “job creation” -- a way to reinvigorate rural economies, and a way for family members to stay employed on the farm, and pass the farm on to the next generation.

The moneyed interests (I've read that Monsanto makes some 2 billion a year on Round-Up alone, and many times that on their crops modified to be resistant to RoundUp) have done a great job convincing university ag professors and farmers alike into thinking there is no way to control crops without chemical herbicides.

But common sense and research (and the experience of my farmer neighbors) have shown how affordable, accessible techniques including crop rotation, cover cropping, and cultivation prevent crop loss to pests without the use of any synthetic pesticides. These farmers maintain yields comparable to chemical based ag while increasing soil quality and fertility and building topsoil, not losing it to erosion as the chemical-biotech side claims.

The PR budgets of the moneyed interests have convinced nearly everyone, including the two farmers in this debate, that “organic” farming processes are ineffective and the results pitiful. Of course, they are paid handsomely to say so.

But it is not so. And unless farmers have access to the truth about the reality and benefits of non-chemical-dependent farming, all of us will remain captive to an unacceptably expensive industrial system that benefits the few at the expense of the many, depends on a steady stream of tax-payer welfare, and harms our health, particularly the health of the unborn.

Common sense says that glyphosate and other agrichemicals are biocides – designed to kill life. As Nicholas Kristoff wrote in his piece on chemicals and cancer in today’s Times: “Some 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and they include Democrats and Republicans alike. Protecting ourselves and our children from toxins should be an effort that both parties can get behind — if enough members of Congress are willing to put the public interest ahead of corporate interests." Kristof goes on to quote one of the recommendations from the report of the President's Cancer Panel: "Give preference to food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and growth hormones."

I urge the NY Times and all readers to seek out and listen to the voices and experiences of non-chemical-based farmers. Talk with them. Walk their fields. Eat their products. They will assure you that there is life after glyphosate – ecologically and economically intelligent life that is good for everyone, farmers and nonfarmers alike.

37. Sara North Dakota May 6th, 2010 9:50 pm I'm seeing this up close and personal. I live in the bread basket of the USA. The big farmers are getting bigger and the little farmers have all but disappeared. Some are farming 40 quarter-sections of land - this is 10 square miles of land, six- thousand-four-hundred acres - and in order to get everything they plant harvested, they put these chemicals in to make it grow, chemicals to kill the weeds, chemicals to kill the bugs, chemicals and chemicals to kill the plant so it dries down so it can go through harvesting machines. Its still too wet to store, so they use chemicals and fumigants to stop the mold and fungus that grows in grainaries on grain that is too wet to store. In order to use their huge machinery they burn every little pothole that holds water and a few spindly trees and fill them in so they don't have to drive around it. These potholes, by the way, are natural little sponges that soak up the run-off chemicals and filter them out before they hit the aquifer where we get our drinking water - about 20 feet down. They use something called anhydrous ammonia, a product that is so toxic that if you contact it with your fingers it will suck the water out of them, and if you breathe a small amount of it for any length of time it will kill you. This is to add nitrogen to the soil. While this deadly gas is adding nitrogen it kills all the little flora and fauna and nematodes that used to break down plant wastes in the fields and turn them into fertile soil, Well, no longer. There are no earthworms left either, so the soil is not aerated. The soil cannot even rot the straw from the summer's crop, so that is burned off in great black clouds, further killing the little bugs necessary to make good black dirt. What you are left with is fine, light-weight, sandy material that is devoid of any character at all, and is fit only to serve as a carrier for more chemicals and to hold up plants while they suck it in. It blows for miles in a good wind, which there is a lot of here in North Dakota, and there are no tree rows anymore to slow the wind because they've torn them out to make way for the big machinery. The big farmers are sucking up a disproportionate amount of the farm subsidies everyone outside of the farm belt hates, and well you should, because the people who need them aren't getting them, and the big ones who do are all buying second homes in Arizona. I'm 53, and I'm glad I won't be around in 50 years when these sins all come home to roost. In the meantime, maybe Monsanto can come up with a use for pigweed. My neighbors hate my dandelions and I don't care.

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