Archive for August, 2008


Speeches schmeeches. The political light at the end of the tunnel is a coal miner’s lamp.

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

I like Juan Cole and rely on his Informed Comment. He’s pretty on the ball. But I was a little disappointed to see him describe Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s recent speech at the Democratic convention as possibly “the most important address on energy given so far by an American politician.” (He includes video of the speech. To make it even easier on you, I’ll do it too.)

(And here’s the text of the speech.)

To Cole’s credit, he does also say, “Now if only someone could get him off this liquefied coal kick.” That’s rather something of an understatement.

Maybe Cole thinks so highly of Schweitzer because he takes his cue from Daily Kos—a hotbed of Schweitzer support. And hey, I think it’s pretty danged cool that Montana’s got a proud Democrat as governor and I think there’s plenty about Schweitzer to support. Maybe it helps that Cole was following the Sierra Club’s lead in praising Schweitzer’s speech. Even still, if Schweitzer’s speech is the top of the game for U.S. politicians to date, we are so far from where we need to be it’s a little scary, and I’m a little baffled that Cole and the Sierra Club would give the speech such strong kudos.

I commented on Cole’s blog in reaction to this, but wanted to say it more clearly and out in the open. Here’s my comment:

It’s not just that he’s such a promoter of liquified coal—which would undermine any and all progress we made by avoiding use of that barrel of oil. It’s his philosophical starting point. “We face a great new challenge…a world energy crisis that threatens…our very way of life.” Where have I heard that before? Oh, right, from Dick “not negotiable” Cheney. That’s is precisely why Schweitzer promotes liquified coal.*

“Our” way of life is the problem. “Our” way of life requires more energy than it is possible to provide in a responsible, secure, clean, or economical way. Not every aspect of “our” way of life, of course. But too many aspects are built upon a blind assumption that we will always have seemingly unlimited cheap energy available. Just like the rich kid who never had to really work to achieve financial success, “our” way of life is a spoiled way of life, when it comes to energy. When there’s not enough energy to keep us happy, we just complain to Mommy and Daddy government, and they go give out corporate subsidies to encourage more extraction of fossil fuels, they go shove nerdy gadfly climate scientists into the corner, telling them “I don’t have time for your mumbo jumbo—my kid needs a 48 inch plasma screen TV and by God, he’s gonna get it!”

When a prominent politician is wise enough and brave enough to speak that truth to the American people on national TV, then maybe I’ll be willing to think of it as “an important address.” (I don’t require that the politician be obnoxious in their rhetoric, the way, I admit, I have a little bit been.)

*Okay, the other reason is that he’s Montana’s governor, and it’s his job to promote anything that will help create new jobs and bring more money into the state. At least, that’s the way governorships are designed these days. Consequences be damned, and all.

Now there was a truly useful statement made at the DNC on this topic. (Maybe more than one, but I only saw a smattering of the speeches.) Al Gore was the only one I saw who didn’t target the boogie man of “foreign oil,” but the power behind the throne, our dependency “on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels.” (Emphasis added.) Here’s his speech.

(Here’s the text of the speech.)

I don’t nominate Gore’s speech to fill the shoes that Cole described, “the most important address on energy given so far by an American politician.” Gore isn’t a politician any more, so he doesn’t have the same pressure on him—the way Schweitzer definitely does from his own in-state coal lobby.

But just as Robert Kuttner argues in Obama’s Challenge on economic issues, that a “transformative president” is one who can be “teacher-in-chief,” telling the American people hard truths and explaining to us the realities we must face and embark upon to deal with those truths, we need politicians who can be transformative leaders on the energy-and-climate issue. We need them to be leaders while they are in office, not only after they retire from elective politics.

The speech that makes a difference? We’re still waiting.

[Photo courtesy of the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.]

Slow Food Nation ’08: “Woodstock of food”

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

This Labor Day weekend, our friends at Slow Food USA are putting on a huge event in San Francisco to showcase the country’s diverse local foods. The four-day event aims to remind us of what we lost when we industrialized our food supply—”a food system that is sustainable, just, and delicious”—and holds out the hope that the future of our food just might be found in our past.

A swarm of 40,000 to 50,000 locavores will descend on San Francisco this Labor Day weekend to attend Slow Food Nation, a four-day extravaganza of teach-ins and tastings that’s being billed as a kind of “Woodstock for gastronomes.”

I’d rather go to a Woodstock for garden gnomes, myself — at least those Lilliputian lawn ornaments share my fondness for front yard farming. Gastro gnomes, on the other hand, sound like elitist elves who are overly fond of artisanal cheeses and grass-fed beef. Do we really need a celebration of such highfalutin culinary novelties at a time when high fuel and food costs are making it harder for people to keep their pantries stocked with even the most basic staples?

Well, yes, we do, because we need to remember that the fresh, unadulterated, minimally processed, locally produced foods that Slow Food Nation is showcasing were our pantry staples, before the military-industrial complex annexed our food chain a half a century or so ago in the name of progress.

Our great-grandparents would be flabbergasted to learn that grass-fed milk in glass bottles bearing the local dairy farm’s logo is now a rare luxury item available to only the affluent few who are willing to pay $4 for a half-gallon of milk.

Back in the day, our breads were fresh-baked and free of high fructose corn syrup, and our eggs and bacon came from chickens and hogs that rolled around in the dirt and saw the light of day. The word “farm” still evokes nostalgic pastoral images for most Americans, but there’s nothing even remotely benign or bucolic about the fetid, brutal factory farms that supply us with most of our meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products today. And unmasking this unsavory reality is as much a part of Slow Food Nation’s agrarian agenda as dishing out local delicacies.

So don’t be distracted by the aroma of wood-fired focaccia wafting from the Fort Mason Center “Taste Pavilions”; Slow Food Nation has the potential to spark a crucial dialogue about where our food comes from, how it’s grown, and why all that matters. With forums featuring the good food movement’s marquee names, including Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle and Eric Schlosser, this Alice Waters-sponsored shindig could be the watershed event that puts America’s foodsheds on the map.

Don’t know what a “foodshed” is? Don’t worry, nobody else does, either — the word is still so obscure it hasn’t earned an entry on Wikipedia. It means, essentially, the area through which food travels to get from the farm to your plate. That would have been a pretty short trip a few generations ago, but in this era of globalization, our foodshed now encompasses the whole world, more or less.

This far-flung food chain has enslaved us with a false sense of abundance, turning the produce aisles of our supermarkets into a seasonless place where you can find berries and bell peppers all year round. But this apparent bounty diverts us from the fact that industrial agriculture has actually drastically reduced the diversity of the foods that our farmers grow.

As small and mid-size farms got swallowed up by the massive monoculture operations we now call “conventional,” the varieties of fruits and vegetables grown on those farms got whittled down to just those few that shipped the best and had the longest shelf life. Breeders chose to focus on species of livestock and poultry that fatten up the fastest, such as big-breasted but bland Butterball turkeys so top-heavy they can’t reproduce naturally and have to be artificially inseminated. For this we give thanks each November?

Read the whole article here.

The Man Who Hated Work: A Labor Book for Non-Labor Folks

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Labor Day is coming up, and I can’t think of a better time to revisit the story of a giant of the Labor Movement, Tony Mazzocchi.

The folks at Talking Points Memo‘s TPMCafe recently put Les Leopold‘s The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi at the top of their list of books about the labor movement that non-labor folks can identify with.

From the Leftword blog:

It’s always hard to know what book to recommend to liberal friends looking to understand the labor movement, since you want a book that has frames of reference that non-labor folks can identify with, yet gets to the meat of what unions are about. So my new first choice may be The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi, a book that will introduce them to a labor leader they may not understand existed, one who fought for civil rights in the workplace before anyone had heard of Martin Luther King Jr., who as a leader of unions in defense industries actually led labor opposition to nuclear testing and the Vietnam War, who built a labor-environmental alliance with Ralph Nader and others around pollution in the workplace, and whose history within his union, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) can give a wonderful sense of the internal life of the best of labor institutions.

His story, from the 1940s when Mazzocchi left the army as a veteran and high-school drop-out to this decade when he finally passed on from terminal disease, still fighting on behalf of workers suffering from post-911 cleanup illnesses, is not necessarily typical, but he was hardly an aberration either, as evidenced by the broader labor and progressive coalitions he built in his lifetime. And what is true is that the history in which he was embedded is often forgotten by even most liberals, whose views of labor are constricted to myths and stereotypes rather than understanding the rich mosaic of union life that Mazzocchi was a vital part. Jump to below the fold for a selection of stories on Mazzocchi, but I urge you to read the book.

Read the whole review here.

Three Recipes for Dried Tomatoes

Friday, August 29th, 2008

It’s sad to say, but already summer seems to be (sigh) winding down. And I’m sure that, just like me, you’re thinking the same thing the average red-blooded American is thinking: What am I going to do with all these fresh, home-grown, organic veggies? Well, now’s the time to start thinking about…preserving!

Let’s get the ball rolling with these fine recipes for dried tomatoes.

The following recipes are from Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning by the Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante.

Tomatoes Dried Naturally

  • Tomatoes
  • Almond oil (or another mild oil)
  • A clean rag
  • Drying apparatus
  • A glass jar

Tomatoes are by far the vegetable most often preserved by drying in various forms.

We prefer to use the ‘Beefsteak’ variety, a pulpy tomato with fewer seeds.

Peel the tomatoes. (If this poses a problem, soak them for a few seconds in boiling water.) Cut them lengthwise (from bottom to top) into slices approximately 1/4-inch thick and remove the seeds. Place the slices on a clean rag to absorb the juice. Oil the dryer screen lightly, preferably with mild almond oil, so that the slices will not stick. When the slices are dry on one side, turn them over; they will be hard when dry. Store the tomatoes well packed in a glass jar.

To use, pour one cup of boiling water over one-half to three-quarter ounces of dried tomatoes per person, and leave them to soften for a few minutes. Add a teaspoon of olive oil, season to your tate, and serve with a purée or a grain dish. We also add these tomatoes to grains or vegetables that are nearly done cooking.

Odile Angeard, Cognin


Stuffed Dried Tomatoes in Oil

  • Tomatoes
  • Parsley
  • Garlic
  • Anchovy fillets (optional)
  • Fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • Oil
  • Drying apparatus
  • A glass jar

I dry my tomatoes in a solar dryer, cut in half and seeded (easily done with a small spoon). When the tomatoes are dry, stuff a little finely chopped parsley and garlic between the two halves. If you like, add an anchovy fillet, or a basil leaf. Place the reassembled tomatoes in a jar and cover with oil. These are delicious added to a salad during winter.

Anonymous


Sun-Dried Tomatoes in Oil

Variation 1:

  • 4 lbs. tomatoes
  • 1 lb. coarse salt
  • Oil
  • Drying apparatus
  • Gauze
  • A clean, dry cloth
  • Glass jars

Choose very ripe, small, oblong tomatoes. The Italian variety “Principe Borghese’ is an excellent drier, as are many smaller plum or “paste” tomatoes.

Cut the tomatoes in half, place them on a tray set in the sun, add salt, and cover with gauze to protect from insects. During the day, turn the tomatoes over twice; at night, bring them inside to protect from moisture.

A few days later, when you see that they are very dry but not totally dehydrated, remove some of the salt with a clean, dry cloth. Put the tomatoes into jars and cover them with approximately three-quarters of an inch of oil over the tomatoes, coming up to three-eights of an inch below the rim. Close the jars tightly and store them in a cool place. In Italy, tomatoes preserved in this manner are eaten as hors d’oeuvres, with no additional preparation.

Marie-Christine Martinot-Aronica, St. Dizier

Variation 2:

  • Tomatoes
  • Vinegar
  • Hot peppers, mint leaves, or whole garlic cloves (optional)
  • Oil
  • Drying apparatus
  • A glass jar

Choose tomatoes that are firm and completely intact, preferably plum tomatoes. Cut them in half lengthwise. Allow them to dry on trays in the sun, bringing them in whenever it is humid, and in at night to avoid dampness. When they are dry, soak the tomatoes in warm vinegar for twenty minutes. Drain and put them in a jar, alternating layers of tomatoes with one or two hot peppers, mint leaves, or whole cloves of garlic. Press well to allow any air to escape, and then cover with oil. These tomatoes will keep for a very long time. We eat them as hors d’oeuvres or with rice, pasta, meat, or fish.

Babette Cezza, Vergt

Madeleine Kunin at the DNC: “Character and Patriotism”

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Former Governor of Vermont and author Madeleine Kunin (Pearls, Politics, and Power) continues her coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The cameo appearances by ordinary citizens were as interesting as the speeches by the extraordinary elected officials. There was Barney Smith, wearing a red and white plaid shirt, who described how his job had been shipped overseas. He got the best laugh of the night when he said he wanted a President who cared as much about Barney Smith as Smith Barney.

A nurse said,”Let me tell you what happened to me,” and described how her family had achieved the American dream, buying a house, educating their children, until one day, when both she and her husband became seriously ill, they lost their insurance, they couldn’t pay the bills, and they lost everything. She had voted for Reagan, Nixon and both Bushes, she announced, and today, she was a Democrat.

Certainly these stories were carefully scripted; nevertheless, they struck a realistic chord because they reflected the lives of many Americans who were not on stage in the Mile High stadium, but at home, watching the convention on TV.

The warmest welcome was given to Vice President Al Gore who expressed what everyone thought; how things would have been different if he had won in 2000: no war in Iraq, no failing economy, and, of course, no denial of global warming. He had a good one-liner. Referring to another four years of Bush-Cheney, he quipped “I believe in recycling, but this is ridiculous.”

When Barack Obama made his much anticipated appearance, he walked on to the stage with a natural grace as if he had anticipated this moment all of his life. It was his first introduction to millions of American voters, but for convention goers, he had, on this fourth night, become a familiar figure. He met his biggest challenge–to synthesize his usual inspirational words with a practical bread and butter agenda of what he would do as President.

He also said what he would not do. He would not attack his opponent’s character or patriotism, thereby, revealing his own character and patriotism.

The theatre of the grand finale was breathtaking. Rockets shooting up in the air, red, white and blue confetti falling down. No Democratic convention is likely to do the traditional balloon drop again.

Barack Obama had the biggest, most inclusive convention night in Democratic history. He also managed to pull this unprecedented night off without a hitch, thanks to the choreography of his staff and the hundreds, or more, law enforcement officers. I was impressed until we tried to get on a bus to get back to our hotel. Pure chaos ensued, a reminder that this was a Democratic event after all.

But that was only a footnote to a convention that showcased the Democratic Party, a party more diverse than any in history. I don’t know how many delegates were African Americans and Hispanics, but by any measure, they were present in extraordinary numbers. Fifty-one percent of the delegates were women; 49 percent men.

Read the whole post here.

Video: Iraq Veterans Against the War Stage a Protest at the DNC

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Jesse McDougall, the Web Editor here at Chelsea Green, captured this footage of Iraq Veterans Against the Iraq War protesting at the Democratic National Convention in Denver today.

I captured this video on the second day of the Democratic National Convention. Iraq War Veterans are staging these roaming protests around Denver. It’s extremely jarring to see them in person.

Williams College to Honor Dean Cycon with Medal

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Dean Cycon, founder of the fair trade coffee company Dean’s Beans and author of Javatrekker: Dispatches from the World of Fair Trade Coffee will be presented with one of six of the college’s prestigious Bicentennial Medals on Saturday, September 6 at their annual Convocation ceremony.

Established in 1993 on the occasion of the college’s 200th anniversary, Bicentennial Medals honor members of the Williams community for distinguished achievement in any field of endeavor.

Our heartiest congratulations go to Dean. As Bill Harris, president of Cooperative Coffees said, “He was fair trade before fair trade was cool.”

Fifteen years ago, Dean Cycon formed the company Dean’s Beans as a model of how a commodity could be grown, processed, and sold in ways that are environmentally sensitive, economically fair, and return a profit. He buys organically grown beans from farmer cooperatives throughout the world and roasts them in the company’s facility in Orange, Mass. Profits are shared with the farmers and company employees and are invested in community development projects in the farmer’s regions. He also pressures coffee chains to increase the percentage of their offerings that have been produced in ways that are environmentally and socially responsible. The company has received Best Practices Recognition from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and a Sustainability Award from the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Read the whole story here.

Madeleine Kunin and Day Three of the DNC

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Former Governor of Vermont and author Madeleine Kunin (Pearls, Politics, and Power) continues her coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The difference between being there, at the Democratic convention in Denver, with thousands of cheering, sign waving delegates, and watching the convention unfold on television, is of the mass surge of emotion which is overwhelming. There was no separation between what I felt, and what the crowd felt. The result was euphoria, which may or may not be realistic, but for the moment, I was swept away by speaker after speaker, cheering until I was hoarse.

Bill Clinton did what everyone hoped he would do, saying the words they had been waiting for:” Barack Obama is ready to lead this country,” And the delegates gave him what he had been waiting for, their love and forgiveness for any transgressions he may have committed during this bitterly fought campaign. “I love you,” he said, and they loved him. American flags waved wildly and the cheering continued, it seemed, forever. Tonight he finally came to terms with the reality of Barack Obama’s triumph. Sixteen years ago, he reminisced, “They said I was too young and inexperienced to be commander-in-chief. Sound familiar?” The parallel was unmistakable.
“Barack Obama is on the right side of history,” he acknowledged, without a hint of reluctance.

If unity is what the Democrats were looking for, they got it. The roll call vote was not expected to yield any surprises, and yet it did. The timing was exquisite. At just the right moment, New Mexico yielded its place in the alphabet to Barack’s state of Illinois, which yielded its place to Hillary’s state of New York. Senator Charles Schumer yielded his place to Hillary Clinton. It was she who clinched the nomination for Barack Obama by asking for a suspension of the rules to nominate her one time rival by acclimation. The crowd roared “Aye”, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi went through the motions of asking for a vote, and suddenly, the most important task of the convention was accomplished. We had elected the nominee.

Read the whole post here.

Video: “Manifest Hope”—An Exhibition of Art Inspired by Barack Obama

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The Guardian UK‘s Steve Bell visits Denver and takes a tour through Manifest Hope, an exhibition of art inspired by Barack Obama.

Pieces range from the iconic (Shepard Fairey’s “Hope”), to the comedic (the “Rumble in the Jungle” restaged with Obama-as-Ali standing victoriously over a battered McCain-as-Foreman), to the, ah, “interestingly sexual” (um…yeah).

Matthew Stein: 12 Steps to Sustainability and the Emergency Survival Kit

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Author Matthew Stein (When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency) recently spoke to Deborah Lindsay on “Tomorrow Matters,” a green talk show out of Monterrey, CA. In this interview, they discuss the “12 Steps for Making the Shift to Sustainability,” as well as the right way to prepare for a potential catastrophic event—everything from ice storms and wildfires to terrorist attack and (worst case scenario) nuclear winter.

Listen to the interview here.

And if worse does indeed come to worst, and we fail to make the shift to sustainability—if whatever we choose to do turns out to be too little, too late—if a disaster strikes and the government drags its heels while the local infrastructure utterly collapses…. Well, you know the Boy Scout motto. Here’s Matthew Stein again, showing you exactly what you need to Be Prepared for an emergency in this video from Peak Moment Television:


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