Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Oxen at the Intersection: Review

A Collision (or, Bill and Lou Must Die: A Real-Life Murder Mystery from the Green Mountains of Vermont), by pattrice jones (2014, Lantern Books)


This book is a page-turner. Jones is an excellent writer. She provides not only a history of the whole fiasco of the plan to kill rather than retire the oxen Bill and Lou, and the efforts to save them, but also a concise overview of the mythologies, intersections of power relationships and prejudice, and psychologies that came into play. It is both a valuable case study for social activists and a good introduction to the holistic anti-oppression perspective of eco-feminism.

Regarding the case itself, Jones seems to betray some personal rancor over what can well be seen as "hijacking" of the issue by others not directly involved (Jones' sanctuary had been approached by concerned alumni). Critiques of some of those are warranted, but they probably wouldn't have mattered if there was more direct "face-to-face" interaction, which Jones notes as perhaps the biggest shortcoming. However, she doesn't acknowledge the difficulty of direct action in this case: Poultney is rather far from everywhere as well as unfamiliar to almost all of the activists involved. And rights activists in Vermont simply do not go against the farming industry. Even the abuses revealed in late 2009 by HSUS at Bushway Packing, an "Animal Welfare Approved" slaughterhouse where organic dairy farms sent their male calves to be turned into veal, made barely a ripple. In another case in the late 2000's, a jogger in Greensboro noticed a pile of dead and dying animals on a farm, alerted authorities, and – nothing happened. As in these cases, the media, when they paid attention at all, only helped to support the "right-to-farm" viewpoint and discourage questioning of what farmers actually do to their animals.

One interesting and damning aspect of the Green Mountain College farm program is revealed in the book regarding their treatment of animals. Jones describes Princess, a cow who was given to them from someone who had bought her from an "agricultural college". It was clear that Princess had been abused (beyond the "normal" routines of animal ag), and Jones had written about her just before the Bill and Lou affair began, not knowing what college she had come from. When the campaign to save Bill and Lou began, people at the college recognized Princess and accused Jones of a concerted campaign against them. Jones also describes the visit of a couple of her colleagues during an open house at the college, where they saw a calf with so many burrs around his penis that he couldn't easily urinate. That calf was later sold, no questions asked, on Craig's List, with the stipulation that the buyer never reveal where they got it – which appears to have been a condition for saving Princess as well. As Jones points out, the head of the college farm program is a mathematician. It is an extension of his own hobby farm, with the added inexperience (and callousness) of college students. The animals seem to be neglected and abused and then disposed of, without acknowledgement, when they become too much trouble. As Jones also notes from the visit, the college garden was smaller than the one at their sanctuary. And as satellite pictures show, the college's acres of meadow are far from enough to sustain more than a very few animals (for meat, that is; used for produce, they could in fact feed quite a few humans). In other words, the farm is a sham, but worse, the animals are treated like toys for these very unserious dabblers.


Princess

Back to the problem of direct communication, as Jones makes clear, the bottom line was that the college was not at all open to discussion, even within their own walls. They were determined to prove a point, their authority, their "mastery". Closed off as they were, then, it was clearly the chaotic clamor of the social media–fired campaign to save Bill and Lou that at least saved Bill (whose actual fate, however, remains a mystery; for that matter, the actual fate of Lou also remains a mystery). And as Jones notes, it was the uncontrolled barrage of telephone calls to nearby slaughterhouses that stopped the original scheduled plan to turn both of them into hamburgers.

Jones also mentions her doubts about the effectiveness of gory photos and videos of animal abuse and suffering in the fight for animal rights. I agree. People are already desensitized and, as the "conscious carnivore" pushback shows, actually relish the fact that a life is sacrificed for their passing enjoyment. As the chef in Peter Greenaway's film "The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover" observes, people like to feel that they are eating death. Shocking pictures only serve to reinforce the very viewpoint we are attempting to change. As with the picture of the Green Mountain College student grinning maniacally in a hand-scrawled "Death to Chickens" T-shirt holding a dead rooster up by its legs, or the students screaming at protesters that even though they're "vegetarian" they were "excited" to eat Bill and Lou, the people who need to be persuaded away from harming animals are more likely to embrace the imagery, to fling it back defiantly. Disturbing pictures can be effective – if they are used effectively for specific messages and/or to specific audiences, not for indiscriminate shock value.

Anyhow, this book is a stimulating and inspiring read, an insightful analysis of the mostly failed effort to save these two lives. It is also very nicely typeset.


Last known photograph of Lou and Bill, Nov. 10, 2012.
Lou was reportedly killed before dawn of the next day.

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

My Struggle, Book Two

I smiled. She smiled. Around us all was perfectly still, apart from the occasional whoosh as the wind gusted through the forest. It was good to walk here. For the first time in ages I had some peace in my soul. Even if snow lay thick on the ground everywhere and white is a bright color, the brightness didn’t dominate the terrain, because out of the snow, which so sensitively reflects the light from the sky and always gleams, however dark it is, rose tree trunks, and they were gnarled and black, and branches hung above them, also black, intertwining in an endless variety of ways. The mountainsides were black, the stumps and debris of blown-down trees were black, the rock faces were black, the forest floor was black beneath the canopy of enormous spruces.

The soft whiteness and the gaping blackness both were perfectly still, all was completely motionless, and it was impossible not to be reminded of how much of what surrounded us was dead, how little of it all was actually alive and how much space the living occupied inside us. This was why I would have loved to be able to paint, would have loved to have the talent, for it was only through painting this could be expressed. Stendhal wrote that music was the highest form of art and that all the other forms really wanted to be music. This was of course a Platonic idea, all the other art forms depict something else, music is the only one that is something in itself, it was absolutely incomparable. But I wanted to be closer to reality, by which I meant physical, concrete reality and for me the visual always came first, also when I was writing and reading, it was what was behind letters that interested me. When I was outdoors, walking, like now, what I saw gave me nothing. Snow was snow, trees were trees. It was only when I saw a picture of snow or of trees that they were endowed with meaning. Monet had an exceptional eye for light on snow, which Thaulow, perhaps technically the most gifted Norwegian painter ever, also had. It was a feast for the eyes, the closeness of the moment was so great that the value of what gave rise to it increased exponentially, an old tumbledown cabin by a river or a pier at a holiday resort suddenly became priceless, the paintings were charged with the feeling that they were here at the same time as us, in this intense here and now, and that we would soon be gone from them, but with regard to the snow, it was as if the other side of this cultivation of the moment became visible, the animation of this and its light so obviously ignored something, namely the lifelessness, the emptiness, the non-charged and the neutral, which were the first features to strike you when you entered a forest in winter, and in the picture, which was connected with perpetuity and death, the moment was unable to hold its ground. Caspar David Friedrich knew this, but this wasn’t what he painted, only his idea of it. This was the problem with all representation, of course, for no eye is uncontaminated, no gaze is blank, nothing is seen the way it is. And in this encounter the question of art’s meaning as a whole was forced to the surface. Yes, OK, so I saw the forest here, so I walked through it and thought about it. But all the meaning I extracted from it came from me, I charged it with something of mine. If it were to have any meaning beyond that, it couldn’t come from the eyes of the beholder, but through action, through something happening, that is. Trees would have to be felled, houses built, fires lit, animals hunted, not for the sake of pleasure but because my life depended on it. Then the forest would be meaningful, indeed, so meaningful that I would no longer wish to see it.


· · · · · · ·


I got to my feet and trudged down to the road, from where you could see the whole district. The fertile, moisture-green fields between the mountainsides, the wreath of deciduous trees growing beside the river, the tiny village center on the plain with its handful of shops and residential blocks. The adjacent fjord, bluish green and totally still, the mountains that towered up on the other side, the few farms, high on the slopes, with their white walls and reddish roofs, their green and yellow fields, all gleaming in the bright light from the sun that was sinking and would soon disappear in the sea far beyond. The bare mountains above the farms, dark blue, black here and there, the white peaks, the clear sky above them, where the first stars would soon appear, imperceptible initially, like the color was vaguely lightening, then they became clearer and clearer until they hung there twinkling and shining in the darkness above the world.

This was beyond our comprehension. We might believe that our world embraced everything, we might do our thing down here on the beach, drive around in our cars, phone each other and chat, visit one another, eat and drink and sit indoors imbibing the faces and opinions and the fates of those appearing on the TV screen in this strange, semi-artificial symbiosis we inhabited and lull ourselves for longer and longer, year upon year, into thinking that it was all there was, but if on the odd occasion we were to raise our gaze to this, the only possible thought was one of incomprehension and impotence, for in fact how small and trivial was the world we allowed ourselves to be lulled by? Yes, of course, the dramas we saw were magnificent, the images we internalized sublime and sometimes also apocalyptic, but be honest, slaves, what part did we play in them?

None.

But the stars twinkle above our heads, the sun shines, the grass grows and the earth, yes, the earth, it swallows all life and eradicates all vestiges of it, spews out new life in a cascade of limbs and eyes, leaves and nails, hair and tails, cheeks and fur and guts, and swallows it up again. And what we never really comprehend, or don’t want to comprehend, is that this happens outside us, that we ourselves have no part in it, that we are only that which grows and dies, as blind as the waves in the sea are blind.


—Karl Ove Knausgård, My Struggle, Book Two (Min Kamp 2 [2009], translated by Don Bartlett)

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Vermont's Greenhouse Gas Emissions

According to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, in 2011, Vermont’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were approximately 8.11 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent. This represents a return to 1990 levels.
  • 46% of those emissions were from transportation
  • 32% from residential / commercial / industrial fuel use
  • 10% from agriculture
  • 5% from electricity consumption
  • 4% from various industrial processes
  • 3% from waste in landfills
Note that electricity consumption is a very minor contributor (granted, that’s due in large part to the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, which is closing down later this year; but it’s also due to the predominance of hydro, especially that imported from Québec). So it seems all the more stupid to wreck the state’s ridgeline ecosystems to erect strings of giant wind turbines, which at best amount to little more than merely symbolic greenwashing anyway, or to pave acres of open fields with solar panels.


Wind turbine platform and road, Lowell Mountain - photo by Steve Wright

Also see: 
How many cows is wind energy equal to?
Vermont’s Rumsfeld Strategy [bombing the wrong targets]

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Global Warming: a contrarian view

Here are some contrarian thoughts:

Considering the persistence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (centuries), it could be that the warming we have seen through the 20th century is the accumulated effect of increased coal use in the 19th century to power the "industrial revolution". And the slowing down of warming seen in the past decade or so could be due to the move from coal to oil in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century a hundred years ago. And with increasing efficiency and use of natural gas instead of oil over the latter half of the 20th century, along with the curbing of ozone-destroying CFCs and powerfully warming HFCs, we should continue to see a moderation of the warming trend (at least of what can be attributable to anthropogenic carbon dioxide). However, that moderation would be threatened by continued renewed growth of coal use in China and India (to cheaply power their "development") and the continued burgeoning of animal agriculture (which, among other things, emits methane, a greenhouse gas with 20 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide, and drives the clearance of carbon-capturing forests), not to mention of the human population itself.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ozymandias, the Wind Power King

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “A vast and headless trunk of steel
Stands in the desert. Near it on the sands,
Half sunk, the shattered arms doth lie and peel
A twisted skin from antinatural bands
That tell its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped in this lifeless thing—
The hands that fed it and the hearts that bled.
And on the pedestal in letters spare:
‘My name is Ozymandias, wind power king:
Look on my work, ye mighty . . . and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

(with profuse apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelley)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Melatonin in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Aim  The aim of this study was to investigate melatonin-related findings in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorders, not otherwise specified.

Method  Comprehensive searches were conducted in the PubMed, Google Scholar, CINAHL, EMBASE, Scopus, and ERIC databases from their inception to October 2010. Two reviewers independently assessed 35 studies that met the inclusion criteria. Of these, meta-analysis was performed on five randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, and the quality of these trials was assessed using the Downs and Black checklist.

Results  Nine studies measured melatonin or melatonin metabolites in ASD and all reported at least one abnormality, including an abnormal melatonin circadian rhythm in four studies, below average physiological levels of melatonin and/or melatonin derivates in seven studies, and a positive correlation between these levels and autistic behaviors in four studies. Five studies reported gene abnormalities that could contribute to decreased melatonin production or adversely affect melatonin receptor function in a small percentage of children with ASD. Six studies reported improved daytime behavior with melatonin use. Eighteen studies on melatonin treatment in ASD were identified; these studies reported improvements in sleep duration, sleep onset latency, and night-time awakenings. Five of these studies were randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover studies; two of the studies contained blended samples of children with ASD and other developmental disorders, but only data for children with ASD were used in the meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found significant improvements with large effect sizes in sleep duration (73min compared with baseline, Hedge’s g 1.97 [95% confidence interval {CI} CI 1.10–2.84], Glass’s Δ 1.54 [95% CI 0.64–2.44]; 44min compared with placebo, Hedge’s g 1.07 [95% CI 0.49–1.65], Glass’s Δ 0.93 [95% CI 0.33–1.53]) and sleep onset latency (66min compared with baseline, Hedge’s g −2.42 [95% CI −1.67 to −3.17], Glass’s Δ −2.18 [95% CI −1.58 to −2.76]; 39min compared with placebo, Hedge’s g −2.46 [95% CI −1.96 to −2.98], Glass’s Δ −1.28 [95% CI −0.67 to −1.89]) but not in night-time awakenings. The effect size varied significantly across studies but funnel plots did not indicate publication bias. The reported side effects of melatonin were minimal to none. Some studies were affected by limitations, including small sample sizes and variability in the protocols that measured changes in sleep parameters.

Interpretation  Melatonin administration in ASD is associated with improved sleep parameters, better daytime behavior, and minimal side effects. Additional studies of melatonin would be helpful to confirm and expand on these findings.

Daniel A. Rossignol and Richard E. Frye
Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, Volume 53, Issue 9, pages 783–792, September 2011
DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2011.03980.x

Also look for the upcoming review article: “Melatonin and the Circadian System: Contributions to Successful Female Reproduction” by Russell Reiter et al., Fertility & Sterility, Volume 102, Issue 3, September 2014: “The central circadian regulatory system is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The output of this master clock is synchronized to 24 hours by the prevailing light-dark cycle. ... The cyclic levels of melatonin in the blood pass through the placenta and aid in the organization of the fetal SCN. In the absence of this synchronizing effect, the offspring exhibit neurobehavioral deficits. Melatonin protects the developing fetus from oxidative stress.” DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.06.014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Not Wind: an open letter

To whom it may concern:

This is a brief representation of the reasons industrial-scale wind is a destructive boondoggle that only fools – or worse – would approve.

Unlike “conventional” power sources, wind does not follow demand. As the Bonneville Power Authority in the Pacific Northwest of the USA has shown, the relationship between load and wind generation is essentially random (www.wind-watch.org/pix/493). That means that wind can never replace dispatchable sources that are needed to meet actual demand.

The contribution of wind generation is therefore an illusion, because the grid has to supply steady power in response to demand, and as the wind rises and falls, the grid maintains supply by relying on its already built-in excess capacity.

That is also why meaningful reductions in carbon emissions are not seen: because fuel continues to be burned in “spinning reserve” plants which are kept active to kick in when needed for meeting surges in demand or, now, drops in the wind. Denmark’s famously high wind penetration is possible only because it is connected to the large Nordic and the German grids – so that Denmark’s wind power actually constitutes a very small fraction of that total system capacity. To make further wind capacity possible (despite a public backlash that has essentially stopped onshore wind development since 2003), Denmark is now building a connection to the Dutch grid.

Another reason that meaningful reductions in carbon emissions are not seen is that the first source to be modulated to balance wind is usually hydro. This is seen quite clearly in Spain, another country with high wind penetration: The changes in electricity from hydro are an almost exact inverse of those from wind (https://demanda.ree.es/generacion_acumulada.html). This is also seen in the USA’s Pacific Northwest (http://transmission.bpa.gov/business/operations/Wind/baltwg.aspx).

Finally, on systems with sufficient natural gas–powered generators, which can ramp on and off quickly enough to balance wind’s highly variable infeed, wind forces those generators to operate far less efficiently than they would otherwise. It is like city versus highway driving. According to several analyses (e.g., www.wind-watch.org/doc/?p=1568), the carbon emissions from gas + wind are not significantly different from gas alone and in some cases may be more.

And again, whatever the effect, wind is always an add-on. The grid must be able to operate reliably without it, because very often, and often for very long stretches of time, wind is indeed in the doldrums: It is not there.

And beware the illusion of “average” output. The fact is that any wind turbine or group of turbines generates at or above its average rate (which is typically 20%–30% of the nameplate capacity, depending on the site) only about 40% of the time. Because of the physics of extracting energy from wind, the rest of the time production approaches zero. About one-third of the time, wind production is absolutely zero.

As an add-on, therefore, its costs are completely unnecessary and wasteful. And even if, by some miracle, it were a reliable, dispatchable, reasonably continuous source, its costs would still be enormous – not only economically, but also environmentally. Wind is a very diffuse resource and therefore requires a massive mechanical system to catch any useful amount. That means ever larger blades on ever taller towers in ever larger arrays. And the only places where that is feasible are the very places we need to preserve as useful agricultural land, scenic landscapes that are so important to our soul (and to tourism), and wild land where the natural world can thrive.

Besides the obvious damage to the land of heavy-duty roads for construction and continued maintenance, huge concrete platforms, new powerlines, and substations (while making no meaningful contribution to the actual operation of the grid) and the visual intrusion of 150-metre (500-ft) structures with strobe lights and rotating blades, there are serious adverse impacts from the giant airplane-like blades cutting through 6,000–8,000 square metres (1.5–2 acres) of vertical airspace both day and night: pulsating noise (including infrasound which is felt more than heard) that carries great distances and disturbs neighbors (especially at night, when there is a greater expectation of – and need for – quiet), even threatening their physical health, pressure vortices that kill bats by destroying their lungs, blade tip speeds of 300 km/h that also kill bats as well as birds, particularly raptors, many of which are already endangered, and vibration that carries through the tower into the ground with effects on soil integrity and flora and fauna that have yet to be studied.

In short, the benefits of industrial-scale wind are minuscule, while its adverse impacts and costs are great. Its only effect is to provide greenwashing (and tax avoidance) for business-as-usual energy producers and lip-service politicians, while opening up to vast industrial development land that has been otherwise fiercely protected – most disturbingly by many of the same groups now clamoring for wind.

Industrial-scale wind is all the more outrageous for the massive flow of public money into the private bank accounts of developers. It is not surprising to learn that Enron established the package of subsidies and regulatory “innovations” that made the modern wind industry possible. Or that in Italy, the Mafia was an early backer of developers. It is indeed a criminal enterprise: crony capitalism, anti-environment rapaciousness, and hucksterism at its most duplicitous.

After decades of recorded experience, there is no longer any excuse to fall for it.

 ~~
Eric Rosenbloom
President, National Wind Watch, Inc. (www.wind-watch.org)

Mr Rosenbloom lives in Vermont, USA, where he works as a science editor, writer, and typographer. He has studied and written about wind energy since 2003. He was invited to join the board, and then elected President (a wholly volunteer position), of National Wind Watch in 2006, a year after it was founded by citizens from 10 states who met to share their concerns about the risks and impacts of wind energy development. National Wind Watch is a 501(c)(3) educational charity registered in Massachusetts.

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