Today’s Number


The number of varieties of rice that Dr Debal Deb, a pioneering ecologist committed to working with traditional farmers in eastern India to conserve indigenous seed diversity has managed to save. This short film follows the construction of a new seed bank premises in Odisha, a venture that provides a potent symbol of Debal’s values.

Small-scale traditional farmers and their rich diversity of locally adapted seed varieties are being written out of the story of seed. They are the victims of an aggressive global lobbying effort, designed to convince a world terrified about food security that the corporatization of the global food system, involving transgenic seeds, is the only way to feed the world.

In Debal’s work there is no sense of the superiority of either science or traditional knowledge – the two are seen as mutually beneficial, a complementary pairing.


A New Low

Photo by Felicia Simion

Photo by Felicia Simion

A couple of days ago, in a two year old copy of Granta I read an abbreviated account by Moroccan citizen Ahmed Errachidi of his captivity in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp. Errachidi was a “traded commodity”, sold to the Americans by Pakistanis for the sum of 5000 USD. Although innocent of any crime Errachidi was tortured for nineteen consecutive days then sent to Guantanamo where he was held for over five years, three of which were spent in punitive isolation. Eventually, thanks to the efforts of attorney and human rights activist Clive Stafford Smith and the Reprieve organisation he was released without charge in 2007. His story, and those of many others like him make harrowing reading, bearing comparison with accounts by survivors of the Holocaust or the Soviet gulags.

It was a story that made me feel shocked, sad, and angry at the same time. I had to keep reminding myself  that this was happening now. It’s not the history of a time when the world didn’t know any better, this is the time we live in.  And then, just when I’d concluded that certain sections of the human race couldn’t possibly sink any lower I read this story in the morning paper: CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds

You can read the story for yourself if you can bear it. I’m certainly not going to attempt to reproduce any of it here – it’s likely to suck the lifeforce right out of you if you’re in any way sensitive to the sufferings of other human beings.

But one line in the article really jumped out at me, and as I went about my day kept reappearing in my consciousness as though it was pleading for more attention.  I’d had to read it several times to be certain that I understood the implications of what it said. It was this: “Detainees are not permitted to receive treatment for the distress caused by their torture.”

Isn’t that one of the saddest things you’ve ever read? The suffering summed up in those few words must be indescribable.

There doesn’t seem to be any bottom to this, no point at which the depths plumbed cause those who perpetrate such crimes to stop and say enough is enough. And of all the possible questions that could and have been asked I’m left with just one: Who is to be held to account for what’s been done in that lawless, evil place; the sleek puppets at the top, or the deluded automatons at the bottom of the pile, those who engage in the day-to-day drudgery of torture and imprisonment without trial?

My guess is that top, bottom, and the shadows in the middle who run this game will walk away scot-free, at least until the unlikely dawn of a more enlightened age.

R.I.P. Lou Reed

Here’s one of my absolute favourite Lou Reed moments and, for me the highlight of 1992’s Bobfest. This is a masterclass in how to take someone else’s song by the scruff of the neck and kick it straight into the stratosphere. Alchemy!

Today’s Number

Nine 9

Agrochemical crop spraying in Argentina has increased ninefold, from 9 million gallons in 1990 to 84 million gallons today. Yet the South American nation has a hodgepodge of widely ignored regulations that leave people dangerously exposed, and chemicals contaminate homes, classrooms, and drinking water. Doctors and scientists are warning that uncontrolled spraying could be causing health problems across the nation.


Residents gather to speak on health concerns they have about agrochemicals in the main square of Alvear, in Santa Fe province, Argentina on March 9. In the heart of Argentina’s soybean business, house-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average, as well as higher rates of hypothyroidism and chronic respiratory illnesses. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

See the original article here:  Potential effects of agrochemicals in Argentina      (17 photos)

Unable to zip it

Image by Bob van den Berg

Image by Bob van den Berg

Apologies for the huge gap between this post and the previous one. A whole summer been and gone – just like that!

Not for the first time I’ve been struggling with the notion that this whole blogging business is a complete waste of time. But there are a couple of reasons why I can’t seem to put it out of my head entirely.

One is that I simply feel driven to collate and redistribute those news items and nuggets of information that are relevant to my areas of interest in the best way I can. Another is my discovery that my own awareness of these subjects loses all focus unless I can bring them together in one place. That which previously loomed large tends to become diffused and scattered about amongst all the mundanities that compete for attention.  The act of search and research, followed by the effort of putting things into new words to create a post never fails to sharpen the mind, clarify the opaque, and sweep away the cobwebs. Hardly a revelation to all the other bloggers and writers out there I’m sure, but there you go – we all have to gain insight in our own way.

So here goes then – let’s give it another shot and pick up where I left off – laughing at my current favourite video. You can actually see Jeremy’s mind boggling here as he struggles to stretch it beyond conventional limitations. But give him credit for at least trying!

Wise Fool

Humour is a much underestimated but effective weapon in deflating pomposity, as we can plainly see in the video. But while far from being the first of his kind to poke fun at our ridiculous beliefs and constructions Brand seems to have the knack of getting into close quarters rather than being satisfied taking pot-shots from a distance. Neither does he hide behind “irony” or invented personas. He tends to call a spade a spade, even if we sometimes wonder if it’s actually the same implement that we know and understand.

5ba4c326c420aa3572c6bc4145c6fb5dI doubt that I’ll ever be voting for Russell Brand but I could almost weep with joy at the fact that someone with his wit and edge is willing to stand in plain view, speaking his mind in language that infuriates as much as it entertains. In this he is the archetypal trickster, the mythological wise fool, much of whose power comes from his fearlessness. The trickster takes neither the world nor himself with any degree of seriousness but invariably functions as a catalyst for the actions of others, leaving himself unscathed by the experience and skipping off into the sunset to the next gig. But then I’m sure that Russell Brand knows this story very well.

Science in Action (2)

Two great scientists go head to head in this clip. Self-cancelling algebra, escargot foi gras champignon a la grecque en croute, and my all time favourite golfing scene all in the space of a few minutes – good value!

Today’s Number


Things you should know about Glyphosate

1. It is the best-selling herbicide in the world and the most widely used in Europe. Some 650,000 tonnes of glyphosate products were used globally in 2011.

2. The global market for glyphosate was worth US$6.5 billion in 2008

3. Glyphosate is toxic to all plants – unless they have been genetically modified to resist it.

4. Independent studies of glyphosate have suggested that the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) should be 12 times lower than the level in force in the EU.

5. Studies have shown that glyphosate may be linked to changes in the human hormone system, birth defects and cancer.

6. Glyphosate is combined with other chemicals in weed killer – and these alter the toxicity of the final product, making it as much as 150 times more toxic.

7. The evidence used in the glyphosate approval process in 2002 relied entirely on studies paid for by the pesticides industry, many of which have not been published. Indeed the industry has asked that 130 studies be kept secret.

8. In some parts of Europe (eg UK), glyphosate is sprayed on to crops before they are harvested – to dry the crop out and make it easier to harvest.

9. There are 14 applications for GM glyphosate tolerant crops currently awaiting approval in the European Union. Glyphosate use is predicted to increase by as much as 800% by 2025 if GM glyphosate-tolerant sugar beet, maize and soybean are grown in the EU.

10. Industry studies focus almost exclusively on short-term, high dose animal trials – but real life exposure occurs over the long-term, at low or fluctuating doses.

11. Monsanto produced more than half of the world’s glyphosate in 2012.

12. Maximum Residue Levels in food and feed have been steadily increased – not because of scientific evidence, but because of the growing use of glyphosate in agriculture.

Source: Friends of the Earth, Europe  June 2013

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