Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hell Bent

I spent the wee hours of the morning slogging through the backlog on my email account. Most of it was messages from various organizations bringing my attention to yet another ill wind -- herds of bison on the verge of slaughter simply because they are bison -- packs of wolves in danger of extermination simply because they are wolves -- millions of acres of old growth forest being slated for clear cut. Isn't our inadvertent damage bad enough? Do we have to deliberately, with malice aforethought, annihilate everything that is wild, everything that is beautiful and free?

While I was fretting, exasperated with the powers that be and their seemingly insatiable need to rape, plunder and exterminate, another day dawned. A dazzling, wonderful, day -- wild in its own way, and free. I walked out to my neighbor's dock. I was in my pajamas and it was cold. The air smelled of salt and fish. A lone seagull flew silently overhead. And the sun came up as it always does. My camera couldn't capture the beauty, but I made an attempt all the same.

We have been given such an incredibly magnificent world on which to spend our lives. Why are we so hell bent on its destruction??

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's What Should be on the News but Isn't

Okay, so the American economy is on a roller coaster ride. Palin is still making speeches. Madonna is getting divorced. But did you know that:

Over the past six months, China, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other nations have been buying and leasing huge quantities of foreign land for the production of food or biofuels for domestic consumption. It's a modern day version of the 19th-century scramble for Africa.

This year's bubble in food prices – driven by financial speculators, biofuels and compounded when some countries halted food exports to ensure their own supplies – led to pain for nations dependent on imports.

Alarm bells rang, with many governments alerted to what might lie ahead as climate change and soil destruction reduce the supply of food on the world market. The result, a huge international land grab, raises many troublesome issues.

So what? Well --

The investors will want a quick return. They will practise an industrial model of agriculture that in many parts of the world has already produced poverty and environmental destruction, as well as farm-chemical pollution.

Furthermore, many local communities will be evicted to make way for the foreign takeover. The governments and investors will argue that jobs will be created and some of the food produced will be made available for local communities, but this does not disguise what is essentially a process of dispossession. Lands will be taken away from smallholders or forest dwellers and converted into large industrial estates connected to distant markets.

Ironically, these very small communities may have a key role to play in helping the world confront the interlinked climate and food crises. Many such communities have a profound knowledge of local biodiversity and often cultivate little-known varieties of crops that can survive drought and other weather extremes.

Scientific studies have shown that farming methods that are not based on fossil-fuel inputs and are under the control of local farmers can be more productive than industrial farming and are almost always more sustainable.

More articles on the land grabs here, and if you're into graphics, there is a map here.

Okay, now what about all that piracy in the news? Want to hear the side that isn't getting told? 'We consider ourselves heroes' - a Somali pirate speaks:

I am 42 years old and have nine children. I am a boss with boats operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

I finished high school and wanted to go to university but there was no money. So I became a fisherman in Eyl in Puntland like my father, even though I still dreamed of working for a company. That never happened as the Somali government was destroyed [in 1991] and the country became unstable.

At sea foreign fishing vessels often confronted us. Some had no licence, others had permission from the Puntland authorities but did not want us there to compete. They would destroy our boats and force us to flee for our lives.

I started to hijack these fishing boats in 1998. I did not have any special training but was not afraid. For our first captured ship we got $300,000. With the money we bought AK-47s and small speedboats. I don't know exactly how many ships I have captured since then but I think it is about 60. Sometimes when we are going to hijack a ship we face rough winds, and some of us get sick and some die.

We give priority to ships from Europe because we get bigger ransoms. To get their attention we shoot near the ship. If it does not stop we use a rope ladder to get on board. We count the crew and find out their nationalities. After checking the cargo we ask the captain to phone the owner and say that have seized the ship and will keep it until the ransom is paid.

We make friends with the hostages, telling them that we only want money, not to kill them. Sometimes we even eat rice, fish, pasta with them. When the money is delivered to our ship we count the dollars and let the hostages go.

Then our friends come to welcome us back in Eyl and we go to Garowe in Land Cruisers. We split the money. For example, if we get $1.8m, we would send $380,000 to the investment man who gives us cash to fund the missions, and then divide the rest between us.

Our community thinks we are pirates getting illegal money. But we consider ourselves heroes running away from poverty. We don't see the hijacking as a criminal act but as a road tax because we have no central government to control our sea. With foreign warships now on patrol we have difficulties.

But we are getting new boats and weapons. We will not stop until we have a central government that can control our sea.

Or how about what we are doing to the foodchain in our oceans?

For decades the Soviet Union was the only country to harvest krill. Krill mince became a Polish and German speciality in the 1970s, and in the Far East krill is still eaten, with a premium paid for females carrying extra fat. But the biggest krill market has always been as animal feeds and aquaculture.

“If ever evidence were needed that we’ve fished our way down the food chain, then here it is,” said Willie Mackenzie, of Greenpeace’s oceans campaign. “Krill is the basis of the Antarctic food web, on which fish, seals, penguins and whales all rely.”

He added: “It’s simplistic short-termist spin to refer to krill fishing as sustainable when there are huge gaps in knowledge of the species’ life history, population dynamics, and the impacts that climate change is having on its abundance.”

Is there any part of this world that is safe from human greed? Do we not understand that what we are doing is unsustainable and that we must change our ways or die, taking much of the world down with us? How are we going to find the answers when we aren't even asking the right questions?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Significance of Color

Barack Obama is a black man who has just been elected President of the United States. I did not realize the significance of this until yesterday as I was watching the election coverage. Of course, I had been aware of his skin color all along, but it had never mattered. I saw Obama as America's best hope to address the many grave problems that face us. That, and nothing more.

But yesterday, his color suddenly mattered. I saw him through the eyes of the black Americans who had lined up for hours to cast a vote for one of their own, something many of them never thought they would live long enough to do. I saw him through the eyes of the young, black male who said that Obama is an inspiration to him and who seemed to realize that while race and poverty may still matter, they are no longer excuses. I saw him through Reverend Jesse Jackson's eyes as he stood in stunned silence amidst the tumult of Grant Park, tears rolling unchecked down his face. I saw him through the eyes of Reverend Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the joyous celebration at Ebenezer Baptist Church surged around her. I saw him through the eyes of the black pundit on CNN who choked up when he said that the words, "You could grow up to be President one day," are now true for all Americans.

And I saw him as the new face of America and how that will resonate in countries where people do not have lily white skin. I saw him as the new face of America and how that will resonate in countries where people, despite their lily white skin, have been distressed by a consistent display of American arrogance and by America's broken promise. I saw him as a symbol of unity both within America and across the world.

The final count as of this morning is Obama 52%, McCain 46%. Obama was not elected by minorities, but without them, he could not have won. Obama was not elected by college kids and first-time voters, but without them, he could not have won. Obama was not elected by soccer moms and NASCAR dads or by retirees living in Florida, but without them, he could not have won. It took all of us. We stood together and we elected a President we can be proud of.

But this President has more challenges ahead of him than any other President in history. He acknowledged them himself in his acceptance speech, "For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair."

And close to half a nation that voted, some with passion, fear, and hatred, against him.

Long live President Obama.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


And now we begin, not just a new chapter, but a whole new book of American history.