The crazy neighbors discover the internet

confused Back in the 1960s when I was a kid in a small town in Pennsylvania,  there were always a few people known as the  crazy neighbor.  They weren’t dangerous, but everyone in the town knew them. They showed up at town meetings and in local stores ranting about some imaginary threat or conspiracy.

People would listen politely, let them speak their piece and as they would wander off, those in the vicinity would roll their eyes and shake their heads.

Usually they would wander home to write bizarre letters to the editor. Some had mimeograph machines in their basements where they would churn out their screeds to be mailed to hundreds of similar folk.

Today, the modern-day version of the crazy neighbor doesn’t visit local stores or churn out mimeographed tracts. They use the internet.  Their new milieu is the comment boards. Back in the day you wouldn’t engage them because trying to have any sane discussion was impossible and you knew it.

One of the new versions is the anti-GMO crazy neighbor and for some peculiar reason, we give them the time of day, much to the detriment of our own sanity. By engaging them, we give them legitimacy, at least in their own minds. They show up whenever any article is written that might even hint that GMOs might not be the scourge they believe. It’s all one big conspiracy by Monsanto, who, by the way apparently controls the federal government and all their agencies.

While there exists a controversy in this country as to whether psychiatrists too easily dole out anti-psychotic drugs, reading the comments of the anti-GMO crowd makes you wonder whether they are over-prescribing or just prescribing them to the wrong people.  I’ve read a lot of crazy talk on this issue, but a recent flood of comments on the CNN blog Eatocracy seems to have brought out the even crazier neighbors.

The Blog is an occasional one by an Indiana family farmer named  Brian Scott. In addition to his CNN contributions he maintains his own blog, The Farmer’s Life. In his most recent CNN column, My family farm isn’t under “corporate control,” he tries to dispel the misconceptions surrounding farmers’ dealings with the Devil Monsanto.

In the piece he quite nicely explains what it’s like being a farmer who uses Monsanto GM seeds and in the process dispels the myths of the draconian rules Monsanto supposedly inflicts on farmers. He writes,

We get a lot of our seed from big corporations like the so-called “evil” Monsanto, Pioneer and others, meaning I have first-hand experience raising a crop under such an agreement. In hopes of clarifying the matter and fostering honest dialogue, I posted a copy of an actual technology agreement I signed, so others may see how we are able to operate our farm in the manner Dad, Grandpa and I choose.

Brian posted the agreement so people could see exactly what is required of farmers and he doesn’t see it as oppressive.  You would think people reading his explanation would see that what they think they know simply might not be correct.  But you would be wrong.

What followed was some of the looniest stuff I’ve ever read on the issue. A few choice examples follow. Please note, all comments are [sic].

Amy: You have GOT to be kidding me. What a bunch of BS multi-national corporation, new world order, mind control propaganda. Does Monsanto et al think this country is THAT dumb. Ha! Let’s write a story and have a fake farmer tell his story… pro Monsanto. GMO’s are AWFUL. Stay far away!!!!!!!!

Amy: This so-called farmer doesn’t exist. This story is a bunch of bull. Monsanto wrote it, paid big bucks for CNN to put it on their website in hopes that stupid people will go along with it. Not me. I smell a rat.

farmmyass: as big ag’s business is killing the honey bees who we ALL depend on for life. 

Easy E: Agreed. The man is self-deluded, and lacks integrity becauses he’s succeeded in lying to himself for so long he cannot acknowledge reality. It’s a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome as applied to agronomy.

federalreserve: Luther never tried to get a poisonous toad to have sex with a tomato, which is exactly what Monsanto the criminal did.

U.N. Owen: E. Coli is in my body’s environment but to imply that location was not important is absurd. B.T is in the soil putting it where bees fly above the ground is what concerns me. Every time some one writes that B.T. Is in the environment I get a little suspect that maybe that reply is in some play book but it could only be some thing being regurgitated maybe both but not neither.

And this loon was very special:

DLG: Whom are you actually kidding? Lol.. You as a farmer are poisoning the world!!! I live I. A small farm town… And I must say this farm community is the crookedest town!!!, the government CONTROLS you!! The control the price… Stop trying to be the poster boy for Monsanto. You have either drank to much of their kook-aid or gone on one of their fancy trips…Folks on the coasT Wake up!!! Your tax dollars are paying farmers to kill you with chemicals!!!! You are just a statistic in the eyes of Monsanto. TOTAL RUBBISH!

DLG: As an FYI lots of commercial flour is “blended” and enriched there causing it I becoming contaminated with a GMO source I.e. soy flour. Hybridization interesting conversation. You start modifying plants in an matter omething is bound to happen.

Now here’s the thing. For a while now we have been hearing the mantra of Monsanto shill or some variation. There seems to be a new entry into the field, drinking the Kool Aid. This a new one but it seems to be popping up all over the comment boards recently. I guess Monsanto has run out of money to buy shills, so now the tack is farmers like Brian are delusional.

So, where do the crazy neighbors get their information? Some of it comes from their addled minds, much like the small town forbearers. Other ideas come from the activists who are the ideological descendants of those who were cranking those mimeograph machines in their basements.

Today those basement dwellers have a much more sophisticated technology which allows them reach a wider audience thanks to the internet. They have fancy websites which allow them to project an aura of credibility. But, the bottom line is these guys are nothing more than anti-GMO Orly Taitzes. They are names you have read here before, freaks and frauds like Mike Adams and Dr. Mercola who peddle nonsense.

So, the question is, why do we engage these people? It’s an exercise in frustration, enough to drive you to drink before 5pm. You can’t win or even make a dent. Do we have some form of intellectual masochism?

We can’t help ourselves, but I do have a suggestion that might ease the frustration. Go after the sources of their so-called information.  Don’t engage,  per se, but simply put the real facts and evidence out there. It won’t change the mind of the crazy neighbor, but we forget there are people who read the comment sections who aren’t loopy. They are people who may or may not have strong opinions on the issue who are open to actual facts. When they read your responses, they will  see that the person/article you are commenting on is wrong and it will give your information more credibility.

This may be pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it’s all we got.

Vandana Shiva: Brahmin in Shudra clothing

As I was preparing this post, Vandana Shiva, the populist, anti-GMO, environmental darling of the Western liberal /left created a storm of controversy with her tweet that allowing farmers to grow GMOs was like allowing a rapist to rape.

shivatweet

That tweet created a firestorm of controversy.

She’s the so-called physicist turned eco-feminist who is fighting to protect the poor and disenfranchised in Third World countries against exploitation by Western capitalist multi-nationals. Is she?

Her degree in physics is undergraduate and she never worked as a physicist. Yet, she is always touted a being one of India’s leading physicists.   Her bio page on  The Green Interview says  After receiving her schooling in India  and training as a gymnast  Vandana Shiva earned a B.S. in Physics, an M.A. in the philosophy of science at the University of Guelph, and a PhD in nuclear physics at the University of Western Ontario.”

But wait, over at eviltwinbooking.com, this is her bio. “Before becoming an activist, Dr Shiva was one of India ’s leading physicists. She holds a master’s degree in the philosophy of science and a Ph.D. in particle physics.” (my emphasis)

SouthEnd Press: “Before becoming an activist, Shiva was one of India ’s leading physicists. She holds a master’s degree in the philosophy of science and a PhD in particle physics.”

EcoWatch: “Dr. Vandana Shiva is trained as a Physicist and did her Ph.D. on the subject “Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory” from the University of Western Ontario in Canada.”

And finally Sustainable Man: She was trained as a physicist and received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, in 1978 with the doctoral dissertation ”Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory.”

shivaphd

There you go.  She is not a physicist, much less one of India’s leading ones. Her Ph.D in is Philosophy of Science.  Yet, she is perceived by the public as a scientist thanks to her good PR machine.

She also may not be the socialist darling the western left thinks she is. Her insistence on a return to traditional ways, or “local ways of knowing”  is very much more in tune with right-wing Hindu nationalism than socialism. It means a return to the feudal and caste system of the past, which rather than help impoverished people, will harm them. It will only help the land-owning elite. Basically she wants a return to the status quo of her Brahmin, landowning youth, except with women in charge.

We’ve seen the local ways of knowledge bit before, in South Africa. It was called Bantu education and was a cornerstone of the apartheid state. What Shiva advocates is very much the same thing.  A return to the local ways would insure that peasants remain in their place with no chances for advancement or progress. They may not starve, but neither will they be able to move out of that life for a better life.  She espouses the elitist, “poverty as nobility” ethos.

Shiva supports the power of women to maintain the traditional life, saying that they know the best ways to continue it.  She constantly retells of her support for the Chipko movement in the Himalayas as an example of women taking control in a bid to preserve their traditional way of life. She claimed the movement had Gandhian roots. The story goes, in 1974 the outside loggers were coming in cutting down a forest in the village of Reni. Locals resented this and it all culminated in a confrontation of local women allegedly hugging the trees, stopping the loggers. (yes, that’s where the term comes from)

But Shiva misrepresents what was actually going on. It wasn’t that they wanted to retain their traditional way of life. They resented outsiders coming in and exploiting their resources. They wanted local autonomy and control of their resources and the ability to profit from them.  The original intent was create their own forest based industry which offered them a way for people to work closer to home rather than having to migrate to find work.

When Shiva and other outside environmentalists came in to preserve the local forest, they fought them as well. They were angered that the outsiders had hijacked their movement to advance their own political agenda. Today the state, Uttarakhand is one of the most  prosperous ones in India.

They have gone in the opposite direction of what Shiva advocates.  They have modernized and raised the standard of living. Despite her view that agriculture should be confined to “food crops for local needs, ” agriculture in the region is booming.  Even though GM crops are currently banned, one of the prospective industries the state is courting is biotechnology.

In his book,  Hind Swaraj, Mahatma Gandhi wrote. “”We have managed with the same kind of plough as existed thousands of years ago… We have retained the same kind of cottages that we had in former times and our indigenous education remains the same as before.” ” Shiva subscribes to Gandhi’s philosophy.  Back in 2011, she wrote an article called “Swaraj: A Deeper Freedom”

Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj has for me, been the best teaching on real freedom. It teaches the gospel of love in place of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It puts ‘soul force’ against brute force. For Gandhi, slavery and violence were not just a consequence of imperialism: a deeper slavery and violence were intrinsic to industrialism, which Gandhi called “modern civilisation”.

Gandhi also supported keeping the caste system, which is essence is what Shiva wants to do with her local ways of knowing nonsense and eschewing and rejecting western knowledge. Gandhi wrote:

“To destroy the caste system and adopt the Western European social system means that Hindus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation, which is the soul of the caste system. The hereditary principle is an eternal principle. To change it is to create disorder.”

Vandana Shiva sees western science as “reductionist” and  “colonizing” and insists as I said above, local ways of knowing are the only way. Forget industrial farming. She claims industrial farming has created, “more violence, more destruction and more wars…”

As an alternative to western science, Shiva touts “Vedic science,” except she doesn’t call it that. Vedic “science” is not science as we know it in modern terms. Among other things, it involves astrology and Vedic creationism. It calls for natural cures such as the use of neem leaves as a cure for small pox. Basically, new age type nonsense. It is promoted by the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.  Indian writer, historian and philosopher of science, Meera Nanda wrote this in the New Humanist UK:

On the one hand, the BJP and its allies presented themselves as great champions of science, as long as it could be absorbed into ‘the Vedas’, of course. On the other hand, they aggressively condemned the secular and naturalistic worldview of science – the disenchantment of nature – as ‘reductionist’, ‘Western’ or even ‘Semitic’ and therefore un-Hindu and un-Indian.

Now, it’s difficult to say where Shiva comes down on the other aspects of the party’s view, but she is most definitely aligned on the issue of science.  The interesting thing is this way of thinking has been embraced by environmentalists and feminists. It’s an odd alliance to say the least.

Her view on the Green Revolution is that it was a failure for India, despite the fact that when Norman Borlaug brought it to her country in the mid-1960s, it was on the verge of another famine. Since then, India has gone from importing food to exporting food. Before Borlaug, the rest of the world had essentially written off India as a lost cause.

But here’s a disconnect. She believes you can get the same output as the Green Revolution yield through organic sources. On one hand she claims the Green Revolution was a failure, then tacitly admits it worked. Wait, wasn’t what farmers were doing before the Green Revolution organic, when they had all those famines?

Needless to say she hates GMOs.  This is where her rhetoric becomes dangerous. She hates them so much that she attacked OXFAM on their GMO stance when they were engaged in cyclone relief efforts in Orissa, a state on the southeast coast of India. She tried to persuade them to not supply GMO foods writing in an open letter that “We hope your food aid will be G.E. free.”  Shiva’s group Women for Diversity demanded the Indian government “immediately withdraw the corn-soya blend from Orissa.” Apparently it was better for people to starve rather than eat GMO food.

She hates “golden rice,” a non-commercially developed GMO rice with higher levels of Vitamin A which can prevent blindness in children. Millions of Third World children go blind each year due to lack of Vitamin A, yet Shiva would deny these children because GM is evil bad and golden rice is a “myth” and negates, “nature’s diverse gifts and women’s knowledge of how to use diversity to feed their children and families.” 

She should know about this stuff. She’s an expert in organic farming and agriculture. Consider this incident as told in the Houston Press from 2000:

Before leaving Alvin to prepare for a 7 p.m. lecture in Houston titled “WTO, Basmati Rice & the Stolen Harvest,” Shiva walked across the road and looked out into a shaggy field. “They look unhappy,” she said. “The rice plants. Ours at home look very happy.” “That,” RiceTec reports, “is because it’s not rice. That’s our test field, it was harvested in August. That’s weeds.”

Vandana Shiva is an elitist, anti-progress menace and not the progressive shining light her admirers think she is. Her way of thinking won’t help the poor of the w0rld. It will only keep them at a subsistence level and more importantly, in their place.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Adam Merberg for his help in pointing me in the right direction in trying to figure out Shiva’s academic credentials.

Spicolli sponsors Washington State labeling law

The next stop on the GMO labeling train is Washington State. This time the person behind the measure is ad agency owner and vegan, Chris McManus who hails from Tacoma. He uses the word “dude.”

mcmanusmcmanus2

This dude was also a member of the Pierce County Ron Paul 2012 group.  Paul voted against GMO labeling.  McManus seems to consider himself a libertarian. Now that we got that out-of-the-way, on to the business at hand.

California’s Prop. 37’s definition of GMOs was pretty bad and this one is just as nonsensical. First the campaign’s definition of  GMOs:

GMO foods, also known as genetically engineered foods are created by taking DNA from one species and forcing it into other unrelated species – mixing plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes in combinations that cannot occur in nature and are experimental.

In an article in the Seattle Weekly (SW) he is quoted as saying, “To put it in brass tacks, GMOs are something that you don’t see in nature: blue jays mating with mocking birds, dogs mating with cats.”

SW consulted experts in the field who basically said McManus got it wrong.

Gülhan Ünlü, a professor at the School of Food Science operated jointly by Washington State University and the University of Idaho, explains that genetic modification could involve combining desirable traits from different varieties of the same species.

When told about what the experts said, he responded by saying,

“Well, you know, I’m not a scientist. I work in media. Those kinds of questions I’ll have to defer to later in the campaign.”

Oh great. He’s sponsoring a proposed law about a subject he knows nothing about.  But that hasn’t stopped the campaign making claims about the negative effects of GMOs without even having a basic understanding of the basics of GMOs. This is from the proposed law:

The genetic engineering of plants and animals is an imprecise process and often causes unintended consequences. Mixing plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes in combinations that cannot occur in nature produces results that are not always predictable or controllable, and can lead to adverse health or environmental consequences.

The Spokesman-Review quotes McManus as saying the law was not meant to be a warning. “They’re not being warned, they’re being informed.

If the initiative wasn’t about scaring people, asked Heather Hansen of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, why did supporters deliver their petitions in an old ambulance?

The law seems to borrow from Prop 37 in that activist echo chamber kind of way; very many of the same talking points. But, unlike California’s Prop. 37 , the process in Washington is little different.  There are two ways to get an initiative accepted.  One is to submit a petition to put the initiative on the ballot and have people directly vote on it. The other is to submit it to the state legislature and they vote on whether to adopt it into law without a popular vote. If they give it a thumbs down, it goes on the ballot of the next general election. OR, they can come up with their own measure and then both versions get placed on the ballot. The only restriction is it can’t be used to amend the state constitution.

The signatures also have to be verified by the secretary of state and only registered Washington voters may sign.

For whatever reason, McManus has chosen to go the legislative route rather than simply submit the law to a popular vote. The deadline for submitting the signatures was January 3rd and supporters delivered them on time.

On a related note, back in November, San Juan County, in Washington voted in a ban on GMOs. In a washingtonstatewire.com blog on 522, McManus was positive about their chances and pointed to the San Juan vote.

End Note: After the San Juan initiative passed, Marta Nielsen, a local organic farmer was quoted in the San Juan Journal saying “I’m proud to live in a county that could see the immense benefit of passing this forward-thinking initiative.”

Forward thinking? This coming from a woman who specializes in 1800s feces-based agriculture?