Friday Night Fun and Culture: Joni Mitchell, “Mingus”

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What Makes Mostly Anonymous Radical Feminists Either Radical or Feminist, Especially When They Sound More Like Undercover Operatives?

This bothered me the first time around back in the 1970s.

It bothered me when I was turned away from a Rape Counseling Center after I had been brutally raped and barely escaped being murdered.

The cops were more concerned with whether I was legally female because my vagina had been surgically constructed.  You see even though I was vaginally raped it didn’t count if I wasn’t born with that vagina.

Even though I was torn and bruised it didn’t count because the guy didn’t cum in me.

So like other women the police abused me and acted like I really wasn’t raped and besides which, as far as they were concerned, unless I was assigned female at birth raping me wasn’t really rape.

My TS/TG friends weren’t much help either.  Mostly they were too loaded to care.

I was a good feminist.  I read the books.  I went to the demonstrations.

But apparently the women that ran the Rape Crisis Center were of the same opinion, I couldn’t be raped and they couldn’t help me because I had not been assigned female at birth.

Her’s the kicker though.  I was still woman enough to go to those demos.  I was still woman enough to be part of the Women’s Building.  I was still woman enough to take the photographs and do the layout work.

Being working class and having grown up bullied I had to eat bitter and keep my mouth shut about my personal oppression, while those with all the privileges money can buy, the cars, the education, talked about how oppressed they were.

I had been part of SDS, I had hung out with a couple of members of the Black Panther Party, I had been educated about the nexus of oppressions that include race and poverty.

I had remembered Huey P. Newton’s speech addressing sexism and homophobia within the movement.

I realized how much I missed the days when an analysis of race and class went along with analyses of sexism and the oppression of LGBT people.

TS/TG folks we were mostly on the outside looking in.  Good enough to do the shit work but not welcome at the party.  Welcome as a token but never fully accepted.

I wasn’t the only woman in that position.  We know the names of those who were outed and trashed.  Recently Jenn Burleton came out as having performed at MWMF.

There were others.

After the defeat of ERA and the rise of the ultra right wing a lot of the anti TS/TG crap died down.

Of course so did Olivia Records.  The Radfem trashing of Olivia Records and Sandy Stone took its toll on a woman owned and run music collective.

But the Radfems considered that a small price to pay for the trashing of Sandy Stone.

Oddly I have never heard them criticize Phyllis Schlafly or Concerned Women of America with any where near the same vehemence or with the same abusive language they use on TS/TG people.

Initially they attacked us for our perpetuating oppressive feminine stereotypes.  Then they discovered that only a fraction of TS/TG women are into the commercially peddled brand of femininity.  Turns out an awful lot of us aren’t “traditional women” at all.  Something that should be expected given the limitations placed on heterosexual marriage for post-SRS TS people in many locations. Or until recently, near universal marriage prohibitions for pre-op TS/TG women to men or pre-op TS/TG men to women.

The Radfems are lying when they say TS/TG people do not challenge sex/gender stereotypes. We were born challenging them and we live our lives challenging them.

The Radfems are either lying or ignorant when they claim we were not socialized as women or men.  Every child cis or trans is socialized from the cradle into the gender role expectations of their culture. One would have to be totally isolated from culture to not be socialized by culture.

I’ve waded through Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex twice and parts of it more than twice.   I have learned the version I read is somewhat abridged and not translated word for word, yet I have the feeling from other works of de Beauvoir that the translation I have read is accurate enough for me to get the gist of her thinking.

Socialization isn’t education and it isn’t indoctrination. It is more a dance we all learn, hence the root word “social”.  TS/TG people are part of society.  We learn the gender role of our core sex/gender identity the same way everyone else does.  If we are less fluent at it it is because so many of us have been severely abused  for expressing our grasp of the appropriate gender role behavior during our childhood while cis people have been nurtured in that expression.

We become like a person who decides they want to learn to play a musical instrument as an adult.  It is unfair to judge someone in the learning process to someone with years of practice.

The Radfems cite violence against women as reason for their abusing women who were assigned male at birth, as though transkids were not abused from the cradle.  As though the number of murders of TS/TG women isn’t out of proportion to their numbers in society.

When I listen to the rhetoric of the self appointed “Radical feminists” I find myself wondering, what exactly is supposed to be radical about their ideology.

They aren’t attacking the military industrial complex.

They aren’t attacking the prison industrial complex.

They aren’t, in so far as I can tell, basing any of their thinking in the teachings of Marx/Engels/Lenin/Trotsky/Mao, of Goldman/Kropotkin/Bakunin/Luxemberg/de Clyere.

I don’t see any real linkage with radical women from my era.  I haven’t seen any citing of Bernadine Dohrn or Ulrike Meinhof, instead they cite Mary Daly, an academic in a conservative Catholic University.

Radical as an adjective always requires an additional adjective or noun to modify it.  In the case of “Radical Feminist” what would seem an obvious connection with generally progressive i.e. left wing feminism isn’t so obvious.

Somehow the RadFem demand for sex segregated public space doesn’t seem all that compatible with Second Wave feminists integrating sex segregated bars like NYC’s McSorley’s Old Ale House on Aug 10, 1970 or with the protests lead by Martha Burk targeting sex segregationist policies of the Augusta National Country Club a few years ago.

Progressive feminism has taken positions that both decry rape and sexual assault of women in the military while demanding the right for women to be integrated into all positions within the military.

That plays poorly with the Radical Feminist position of demanding sex segregated spaces.

What comes off as weird is the attacking TS/TG people.  Raymond’s book was itself pretty contradictory.  Transsexual women were to be condemned for reinforcing sexist stereotype at the same time they were to be condemned for being pretty much identical to not only many straight feminist women but to many lesbian feminists.

I never understood how my having an operation to feel at one with my body was colonizing or trying  possess the body of another.

First time around I became very alienated.  There weren’t all that many TS/TG women who were part of any political movements much less the lesbian feminist movement.

I gravitated towards the lesbian S/M group Samois, the only group that actively welcomed transsexual women.  I already had a black leather jacket from my affinity to punk rock.

After the attacks on Sandy died down, women’s book stores that carried Pat (now Patrick) Califia’s Sapphistry and Samois’ Coming to Power were attacked by the same crew of self appointed Radical Feminists.

It always seemed to me that Radical Feminists were using some very fringe issues to tear apart feminist/activist organizations and destroy struggling feminist and lesbian feminist enterprises.

Years before in the 1960s and early 1970s I had been part of SDS and the radical new left centered in Berkeley. We used to think we were being paranoid when we thought our organizations were being infiltrated by the police, FBI and paid informants. We were stupid for thinking we were paranoid, there was a right wing government organization named COINTELPRO dedicated to destroying the anti-war / anti-racism movements.

Now there are so many organizations spying on people, it is as though the corporations/governments of the world have devised a SantaClauseGodStasi machine that knows everything.

Do I think they would run a new version of COINTELPRO?

You bet your ass I do.  The RadFem number worked so good (in conjunction  other forms of attack) on stopping Second Wave Feminism without the blow back the original COINTELPRO received, I wouldn’t put it past the powers that be to run it again.

Or maybe this resurgence of “Radical Feminism” is another false flag right wing operation like the anti-abortion “Susan B. Anthony List.”

Gender Transition and Its Discontents

From Huffington Post:


Over the years there have been salacious media reports about transgender women who choose to revert back to living as men, what we call detransition. Detransitioning happens very infrequently, but when it happens to someone who is or has become a public figure, such as Don Ennis most recently, the story takes on a scandalous air. Misinformation gets bandied about, both by the person involved and the media reporting on the reversion in gender assignment. When that happens, all of us suffer, but the trans community suffers the most. These stories trivialize our lives and the efforts we make to live them fully and authentically.

Let me start by saying that I believe that in an ideal society it shouldn’t matter who you are or how you live gender-wise. It shouldn’t matter whether you transition or detransition, and each person should have the right to self-determination to make her own choices. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

Trans persons, like gay persons, are “born that way.” While the younger generation is now claiming space between genders or negating gender entirely, I will focus only on what most Americans see as the trans experience: persons raised as boys who become women, and those raised as girls who become men.

The most important fact needed to understand this process of physical and gender transition is that the sense of oneself is innate. It does not suddenly transform as we grow, or change with puberty. It is not determined by clinging mothers or distant fathers. It matters not that Mom wanted a girl and got a boy, or that Dad punished his son for dancing. Our sense of self is inborn, and that is to be expected with a sexually reproducing species. Variations in sexual orientation, choices about procreation and the like are irrelevant for this discussion.

So while we may be raised as boys, our brains have told us we’re girls, and vice versa. The process of gender transition aligns the body and social life with the mind. It is, in a very profound respect, coming home. The process has been beautifully described by women such as Jenny Boylan and Joy Ladin.

But while this is a homecoming, it’s the most difficult homecoming one can attempt. Society generally does not understand or support such violations of gender behavior and role. As a result, even young trans children suffer from the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When you add in struggling that persists for years, and in many cases decades, you have people confronting a huge challenge. We often colloquially call the resulting condition “culturally induced stress disorder,” modeled on PTSD.

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See Also:

Everything Transgender in NYC: Transitioning and Reverting back, a Media Frenzy

An Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC

From The Fry Chronicles:

By Stephen Fry
August 7th, 2013

Dear Prime Minister, M Rogge, Lord Coe and Members of the International Olympic Committee,

I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.

Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma. Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics. The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”.

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it. I know whereof I speak. I have visited Russia, stood up to the political deputy who introduced the first of these laws, in his city of St Petersburg. I looked into the face of the man and, on camera, tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing. All I saw reflected back at me was what Hannah Arendt called, so memorably, “the banality of evil.” A stupid man, but like so many tyrants, one with an instinct of how to exploit a disaffected people by finding scapegoats. Putin may not be quite as oafish and stupid as Deputy Milonov but his instincts are the same. He may claim that the “values” of Russia are not the “values” of the West, but this is absolutely in opposition to Peter the Great’s philosophy, and against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonised by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy in the motherland that has suffered so much (and whose music, literature and drama, incidentally I love so passionately).

I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.

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Canadian Olympians to march in Vancouver gay pride parade as Sochi outrage grows

From The Globe and Mail:

Published Friday, Aug. 02 2013

Canadian Olympians will march in the Vancouver Pride Parade this weekend in a display of solidarity with the gay community that would land them in jail or kicked out of next year’s Sochi Olympics.

Alpine skier Mike Janyk and snowboarder Mercedes Nicoll, both members of Canada’s 2006 and 2010 Olympic teams, will join thousands of marchers in the 2010 Olympic city, adding their voices to the growing outrage over Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Foreign competitors and spectators at the 2014 Sochi Olympics will have to abide by a new Russian law banning “gay propaganda.”

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said on Thursday any athletes or visitors to the Winter Olympics found breaking the law would “be held accountable”.

Foreigners can be deported from Russia, in addition to being fined up to 100,000 roubles ($3,000) or held for up to 15 days.

“Seeing what’s going on in Russia it does feel really cool to at least stand up and hopefully have a few people take notice of that,” Janyk told Reuters. “The opportunity came up to go in the Pride parade as an Olympian and I thought, oh that’s a great idea and then all this other stuff came up and it is even more important now.”

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Russia: Judge bans Winter Olympics gay Pride House

From Gay Star News:

Russian court rules that Pride House at 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics is ‘extremist’ and could provoke ‘social-religious hatred’

By Andy Harley
15 March 2012

A judge in Russia has backed the ban imposed by the authorities on organising a ‘gay Pride House’ for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Plans for the Pride House were formulated by Russian gay activists following the 2010 Games in Vancouver, which featured a very successful Pride House.

But the dreams of repeating the success of Vancouver were scuppered last year when the Russian Ministry of Justice refused the registration of the NGO set-up to organize Pride House.

This week, a court backed the decision of the Ministry of Justice official in Krasnodar.

‘The aims of the organization contradict the basics of public morality and the policy of the state in the area of family motherhood and childhood protection,’ said Svetlana Mordovina in her ruling.

The judge continued: ‘The activities of the [Pride House] movement leads to propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation which can undermine the security of the Russian society and the state, provoke social-religious hatred, which is the feature of the extremist character of the activity.

‘Moreover it can undermine the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation due to the decrease of Russia’s population.

‘Such aims as creating an understanding of the necessity to fight against homophobia and the creation of positive attitudes towards LGBT sportsmen contradicts with the basics of public morality because they are directed towards the increase of the number of citizens of sexual minorities which breaches the understanding of good and evil, good and bad, vice and virtue,’ Mordovina concluded.

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Inside the Shocking DEA Scandal — Global Surveillance Tools Used to Help Arrest Americans for Small Crimes

From Alternet:

“We are talking about ordinary crime” says the reporter who broke the story, not “national security crimes.”

By Amy Goodman, Ethan Nadelmann, John Shiffman
August 6, 2013

The U.S. Department of Justice has begun reviewing a controversial unit inside the Drug Enforcement Administration that uses secret domestic surveillance tactics — including intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency — to target Americans for drug offenses. According to a series of articles published by Reuters, agents are instructed to recreate the investigative trail in order to conceal the origins of the evidence, not only from defense lawyers, but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges. “We are talking about ordinary crime: drug dealing, organized crime, money laundering. We are not talking about national security crimes,” says Reuters reporter John Shiffman. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says this is just the latest scandal at the DEA. “I hope it is a sort of wake-up call for people in Congress to say now is the time, finally, after 40 years, to say this agency really needs a close examination.”

The following is a transcript from a Democracy Now! interview. This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form: 

Amy Goodman: The Justice Department has begun reviewing a controversial unit inside the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that uses secret domestic surveillance tactics, including intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency, to target Americans for drug offenses. According to a series of articles published by the Reuters news agency, agents are instructed to recreate the investigative trail in order to conceal the origins of the evidence—not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges. DEA training documents instruct agents to even make up alternative versions of how such investigations truly begin, a process known as “parallel construction.”

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the Reuters investigation.

Press Secretary Jay Carney: It’s my understanding, our understanding, that the Department of Justice is looking at some of the issues raised in the story. But for more, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.

Amy Goodman:  The unit of the DEA that distributes the secret intelligence to agents is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. The unit was first created two decades ago, but it’s coming under increased scrutiny following the recent revelations about the NSA maintaining a database of all phone calls made in the United States. One former federal judge, Nancy Gertner, said the DEA program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the NSA has been collecting domestic phone records. She said, quote, “It is one thing to create special rules for national security. Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”

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See Also:

Huffington Post: DEA Special Operations Division Covers Up Surveillance Used To Investigate Americans: Report

Raw Story: Secretive Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) unit told to cover-up massive spy program used to investigate Americans

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The Surveillance State Is as Strong as Ever

From Truth Dig:

By Bill Blum
Aug 4, 2013

Don’t let the acquittal of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning on aiding the enemy charges or the temporary asylum Russia granted to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden fool you. With American embassies and diplomatic missions on high alert across the Middle East and North Africa, the surveillance state remains as strong as ever, supported by leaders of both political parties and bolstered by a growing body of constitutional law crafted largely in secret by the federal court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

This isn’t to minimize Manning’s limited victory or to underestimate the impact of Snowden’s efforts to avoid extradition. Under Section 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, aiding the enemy is the rough equivalent of treason (as defined in Article III of the Constitution). Like treason, it carries a potential death sentence, though in Manning’s case military prosecutors sought only a life term.

Still, Manning faces up to 136 years in prison after being convicted on 19 other charges, including six violations of the Espionage Act of 1917. In all likelihood, his sentence will be less than that, but he’ll still probably spend decades behind bars. A similar fate no doubt awaits Snowden should he one day fall out of favor with his Russian hosts and be returned to the U.S.

The harsh treatment of whistle-blowers will likely continue into the foreseeable future in pace with the needs and expansion of the surveillance state itself. In the aftermath of last month’s defeat of a proposed amendment to the Patriot Act that would have placed new limits on the National Security Agency’s ability to track phone records, there is little on the political horizon to halt the expansion.

Legally too the avenues for challenging the surveillance state are dwindling under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Established in 1978, the court is a unique judicial body, consisting of 11 U.S. District Court judges appointed to serve staggered seven-year terms by the chief justice of the Supreme Court without Senate confirmation. All of the surveillance court’s current members were appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts. Ten are Republicans; nearly all have had legal experience working in the executive branch of the federal government or as prosecutors.

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Meet the Town That Was Swallowed by a Sinkhole

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Time magazine catches on to the childfree movement, misses the green angle

From Grist:

By Lisa Hymas
Aug. 3, 2013

The childfree trend is experiencing its biggest mainstream-media moment ever thanks to Time’s new cover story: “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.”

(And the magazine gets kudos for using the word childfree, preferred by those who don’t want children, as opposed to childless, which is more appropriate for people who want kids but don’t have them.)

Writer Lauren Sandler notes that an increasing percentage of Americans are bypassing parenting:

The birthrate in the U.S. is the lowest in recorded American history, which includes the fertility crash of the Great Depression. From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which there’s data, the fertility rate declined 9%. A 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s. Even before the recession hit, in 2008, the proportion of women ages 40 to 44 who had never given birth had grown by 80%, from 10% to 18%, since 1976, when a new vanguard began to question the reproductive imperative. These statistics may not have the heft of childlessness in some European countries — like Italy, where nearly one-quarter of women never give birth — but the rise is both dramatic and, in the scope of our history, quite sudden.

She discusses the immense social pressure to have kids, and some of the upsides for those who resist that pressure. For starters, the financial upsides. Consider “the sheer economic cost of raising a child — for a child born in 2011, an average of $234,900 until age 18, according to the USDA, and $390,000 if your household earns over $100,000.” And the cost of taking time off from work to raise kids: “The opportunity costs for an American woman who gets off the career track could average as high as $1 million in lost salary, lost promotions and so on, economist Bryan Caplan says.”

And then there’s the sense of freedom, as articulated by one childfree woman:

“I get to do all sorts of things: buy an unnecessary beautiful object, plan trips with our aging parents, sleep in, spend a day without speaking to a single person, send care packages to nieces and nephews, enroll in language classes, go out for drinks with a friend on the spur of the moment,” says a happily partnered woman named Jenna Johnson, a Virginian who lives in New York. “I know all of this would be possible with kids, but it would certainly be more complicated. My plans — professionally, daily, long-term, even just for vacation — are free from all the contingencies that come with children.”

But the article misses one big part of the story: the green angle. Choosing not to have children is by far the biggest step an American can take to limit the size of his or her environmental footprint. I wrote about this at length a couple of years ago, while introducing the acronym GINK: green inclinations, no kids. To recap:

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The Third Carbon Age

From Tom Dispatch:

Don’t for a Second Imagine We’re Heading for an Era of Renewable Energy

By Michael T. Klare
August 8, 2013

When it comes to energy and economics in the climate-change era, nothing is what it seems.  Most of us believe (or want to believe) that the second carbon era, the Age of Oil, will soon be superseded by the Age of Renewables, just as oil had long since superseded the Age of Coal.  President Obama offered exactly this vision in a much-praised June address on climate change.  True, fossil fuels will be needed a little bit longer, he indicated, but soon enough they will be overtaken by renewable forms of energy.

Many other experts share this view, assuring us that increased reliance on “clean” natural gas combined with expanded investments in wind and solar power will permit a smooth transition to a green energy future in which humanity will no longer be pouring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  All this sounds promising indeed.  There is only one fly in the ointment: it is not, in fact, the path we are presently headed down.  The energy industry is not investing in any significant way in renewables.  Instead, it is pouring its historic profits into new fossil-fuel projects, mainly involving the exploitation of what are called “unconventional” oil and gas reserves.

The result is indisputable: humanity is not entering a period that will be dominated by renewables.  Instead, it is pioneering the third great carbon era, the Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas.

That we are embarking on a new carbon era is increasingly evident and should unnerve us all. Hydro-fracking — the use of high-pressure water columns to shatter underground shale formations and liberate the oil and natural gas supplies trapped within them — is being undertaken in ever more regions of the United States and in a growing number of foreign countries.  In the meantime, the exploitation of carbon-dirty heavy oil and tar sands formations is accelerating in Canada, Venezuela, and elsewhere.

It’s true that ever more wind farms and solar arrays are being built, but here’s the kicker: investment in unconventional fossil-fuel extraction and distribution is now expected to outpace spending on renewables by a ratio of at least three-to-one in the decades ahead.

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23 Gallons a Day from One Cow? Industrial Agriculture Engaged in Extreme Breeding

From Alternet:

Breeding livestock for profit comes at the huge expense of an animal’s ability to live a natural life.

By Jill Richardson
August 3, 2013

In 2010, the reigning record holder produced 72,170 pounds in a year, or 23 gallons a day. This is milk we’re talking here. Over the last century, the average dairy cow increased production by a factor of eight.

These days, farm animals are highly efficient and productive. The meat chickens grow to market size at record speed, the layers lay more eggs than ever before, and the pigs have more piglets than the pigs of yesteryear. And those piglets? Their lean bodies grow more quickly to reach market size.

Some of these modern agricultural wonders are thanks to management: growth hormones, lighting, feed, and (for dairy cows) more frequent milkings play a role. But a lot of it is breeding. The cows of 1913 and 2013 could be kept under the same management and fed the same feed, and the modern cow would produce far more milk.

Breeding animals to exaggerate traits humans find useful is hardly new. After all, that’s how domesticated animals came to be domesticated in the first place. A look at the variety of chicken breeds kept by small farms, hobbyists, and backyard chicken owners shows just how much humans have successfully meddled in chicken genetics. You can find chickens adapted to living in hot weather or cold weather, chickens that make great mothers, chickens with exceptional egg-laying abilities, particularly meaty birds, or “ dual purpose” birds that provide plenty of meat but lay a decent amount of eggs as well. You can also find birds that satisfy more frivolous purposes, like being cute or funny-looking or laying blue eggs.

But in the last century, industrial agriculture has taken animal breeding to an extreme, often breeding animals to emphasize one trait at the expense of the animal’s ability to live a natural life.

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Hog Farms Battling to Contain Deadly Virus

From The New York Times:

Published: August 4, 2013

ANNAWAN, Ill. — The outside world is not allowed in a sanitized and isolated pig farm here, not far from the Iowa border.

Visitors must shower before entering, scrubbing from head to toe, trading their street clothes for disinfected coveralls that have never left the premises. Everything inside the temperature-controlled barn housing 3,000 sows has been blasted with antiseptic.

“We do a better job than some hospitals,” said Dr. Matt Ackerman, a veterinarian who works with the farm.

Strict protocols have kept the operation, one of 10 swine facilities run by Great Plains Management, safe from a virus spreading across the country this summer, killing piglets by the thousands and distressing hog producers in 16 states.

But those same precautions have not worked everywhere. A Central Indiana farm that Dr. Ackerman also works with was among the first to lose piglets to the virus in May. “If it gets in, you can’t stop it,” Dr. Ackerman said. “We filled wheelbarrows with dead pigs.”

The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which is deadly only to young pigs and poses no food safety risks or danger to humans, appeared in the United States for the first time last spring in Ohio and within weeks had spread to four other states.

The outbreak led to a flurry of lab testing and a survey of the industry to determine how the virus had entered the country, comparing supplies and feeds in an effort to find a smoking gun. Farmers are cross-referencing vaccine and semen distributors, even the brands of plastic pipettes they use to inseminate sows, desperate to contain a threat that has made the industry feel increasingly vulnerable.

“It’s anybody’s guess at this point,” said Lisa Becton, director of swine health information and research at the National Pork Board, which is spending $800,000 for research into the virus.

First surfacing in Britain more than 40 years ago, the virus has spread throughout Europe and Asia. It has caused problems most recently among pork producers in China, where a 2012 strand of the disease was 99.4 percent similar to cases now found in the United States, according to researchers.

Researchers in the United States are working on a vaccine for the virus, which is passed through fecal matter and resembles transmissible gastroenteritis, another pig-to-pig illness that American farms have at times encountered. Symptoms include severe diarrhea and vomiting, and mortality rates can reach 100 percent for pigs less than a week old. Older swine will be sick for days but most likely recover.

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The Chemical Industry Divides an Environmental Coalition into Disarray

From Truth Out:

By Peter Montague
Sunday, 04 August 2013

The environmental movement has been campaigning since 2005 to modernize US chemicals policy, an uphill battle. The greens have done everything by the book – written a model law, built a national grassroots coalition and dispatched lobbyists to Capitol Hill. Now, however, the chemical industry has executed a classic “divide-and-conquer” maneuver, casting the greens into disarray. If the present momentum continues, Congress could end up passing a chemical reform bill that’s far worse than what we’ve got now.

What we’ve got now is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA, pronounced Tosca) enacted in 1976 and not revised since.

As the New York Times described it, “[TSCA] purports to regulate potentially harmful chemicals in industrial and consumer goods, like plastic bottles and children’s pajamas. But the law is better known for its failures than for its successes. Of roughly 85,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States, [since 1976] only 200 have been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and fewer than a dozen – including polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin and hexavalent chromium – have been restricted.

“After a federal appeals court denied the EPA the authority to issue new limits on asbestos in 1991 (22 years ago), the agency all but abandoned its efforts to enforce the law, even as evidence of health problems from exposure to a range of chemicals in consumer products has piled up,” the Times wrote.

TSCA works like this: New industrial chemicals are presumed to be safe. Ninety days before selling a new chemical, a manufacturer must notify EPA. At that time, the manufacturer must divulge any toxicity data it has for the chemical. If there’s no toxicity data, there’s nothing to divulge – a powerful incentive to avoid safety testing. EPA then has 60 days to approve the new chemical or to demand more toxicity data. But EPA’s demand for more data must be supported by substantial evidence that new information is warranted by an “unreasonable risk” to public health or the environment. Obviously, this is a catch-22: Without evidence of harm (or safety), EPA has no power to demand studies that might show harm (or safety). So every year, on average, 700 new chemicals enter commercial channels untested for effects on human health or the environment. That’s TSCA in a nutshell. (For more on US chemicals policy, see here, here, and here.)

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