Wendell Berry’s Jefferson Lecture at the National Endowment of the Humanities

Wendell Berry is one of my two favorite living poets. (The other is Gary Snyder). A farmer and a professor (University of Kentucky), he has long been among the wisest voices advocating for the values and practices of sustainability and community.

From today’s morning email from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

At a time that has followed crises in the global economy, unrest in society, and deterioration in the world’s ecosystems, the National Endowment for the Humanities could not have picked a more potent speaker than Wendell Berry for this year’s Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. The essayist, novelist, and poet—a Kentuckian long known for his advocacy for family farming, community relationships, and sustainability—delivered a characteristically eloquent yet scathing critique of the industrial economy and its toll on humanity in his remarks here on Monday.

“The two great aims of industrialism—replacement of people by technology and concentration of wealth into the hands of a small plutocracy—seem close to fulfillment,” Mr. Berry said. “At the same time the failures of industrialism have become too great and too dangerous to deny. Corporate industrialism itself has exposed the falsehood that it ever was inevitable or that it ever has given precedence to the common good.”

Mr. Berry’s speech was a discussion of affection and its power to bind people to community. It was also a meditation on place and those who “stick” to it—as caretakers and curators. “In affection we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy,” Mr. Berry said.

The opposite of the “sticker”—in the words of Mr. Berry’s mentor, the writer Wallace Stegner—is the “boomer,” those who “pillage and run.” Mr. Berry described James B. Duke, the founder of the American Tobacco Company, as a boomer who had an impact on the author’s own farming family history: In 1907, Mr. Berry’s grandfather sought to sell his tobacco crop in Louisville, so the family could maintain a meager existence on their land in Kentucky. But thanks to prices driven down by the monopolistic American Tobacco Company, his grandfather came home without a dime.

Mr. Berry once encountered James B. Duke—in bronze, if not in the flesh—during a visit to Duke University.

“On one side of his pedestal is the legend: INDUSTRIALIST. On the other side is another single word: PHILANTHROPIST. The man thus commemorated seemed to me terrifyingly ignorant, even terrifyingly innocent, of the connection between his industry and his philanthropy.”

That disconnection is endemic to our era. “That we live now in an economy that is not sustainable is not the fault only of a few mongers of power and heavy equipment. We all are implicated,” Mr. Berry said. Our relationship to the land and to community is increasingly abstract and distanced.

“By economic proxies thoughtlessly given, by thoughtless consumption of goods ignorantly purchased, now we all are boomers,” he said. “We have progressed to the belief that humans are intelligent enough, or soon will be, to transcend all limits. … Upon this belief rests the further belief that we can have ‘economic growth’ without limits.”

Lack of Sleep May Increase Diabetes Risk

Night shift workers are among those most affected.

From MedPage:

Your mother was right: regular bedtimes and a good night’s sleep are good for you — or at least, researchers reported, irregular bedtimes and not enough sleep are bad for you.

In a 39-day experiment with healthy volunteers, shortened sleep time and varying bedtimes — meant to mimic shift work — led to impaired glucose regulation and metabolism, according to Orfeu Buxton, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues.

Over time, the observed changes could increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, Buxton and colleagues reported online in Science Translational Medicine.

The findings support epidemiological studies linking disrupted sleep with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, the researchers noted — especially in workers on the night shift.

Pink Slime Update Plus USDA Proposal to Remove Federal Inspectors from Industrial Chicken Operations

An excellent discussion from the Up with Chris Hayes show, featuring Mark Bittman of the New York Times, whose excellent food columns I read regularly. 

This 20-minute video offers a perspective rarely seen on television.

h/t Erik Marcus

Bayer’s Neonic Pesticides Linked to Colony Collapse Disorder in Bees

Few things, if any, have the potential to cause the level of catastrophic health effects in humans that would attend a substantial spread of colony collapse disorder. Most of the food eaten by the world’s humans relies on pollination by bees. Without them, most of the grains and fruits we eat would only be available in far smaller quantities.

Thus, when three new studies in prestigious journals implicate Bayer’s neonic pesticides in colony collapse disorder, the implications are huge. Essentially the entire U.S. corn crop is grown using that pesticide. Organically grown corn is the exception; even then, however, if pesticides are blown by the wind or carried by water into organic fields, that safe haven vanishes.

Last year, the Whole Foods stores in my area carried no organic corn. Except for organic farmer’s markets or growing it yourself, there’s no other option around here. And this is in the heart of the Midwest.

As Tom Philpott notes at the end of this article from Mother Jones, this situation cries out for regulatory action. Thus far, the Obama Administration has shown no inclination to take on corporate agriculture. What would it take for that to change?

It’s springtime, and farmers throughout the Midwest and South are preparing to plant corn—and lots of it. The USDA projects this year’s corn crop will cover 94 million acres, the most in 68 years. (By comparison, the state of California occupies a land mass of about 101 million acres.) Nearly all of that immense stand of corn will be planted with seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides produced by the German chemical giant Bayer.

And that may be very bad news for honey bees, which remain in a dire state of health, riddled by large annual die-offs that have become known as “colony collapse disorder” (CCD). 

In the past months, three separate studies—two of them just out in the prestigious journal Science—have added to a substantial body of literature linking widespread use of neonicotinoids to CCD. The latest research will renew pressure on the EPA to reconsider its registration of Bayer’s products. The EPA green-lighted Bayer’s products based largely on a study funded by the chemical giant itself—which was later discredited by the EPA’s own scientists, as this leaked memo shows.

 

 

When the Supposedly Safer Alternative Appears to be More Dangerous

This is a fascinating and meaningful research project by my friend, Sarina Farb.

Though only a high school senior, she is pursuing a line of research that has the potential to prevent a great deal of illness and suffering from these apparently dangerous environmental chemicals (BPA and BPS) to which we are all exposed.

Farb noticed that the Lawrence Public Library and The Merc promote BPA-free receipts, as BPA is used in the ink and found on the surface of receipts. Studies have suggested that the BPA found on receipts is absorbed into the body when handled.

So instead, the receipts at The Merc and the library contain BPS, or bisphenol S, which is similar to BPA. However, very few studies have examined whether BPS is any safer than BPA. So Farb set off to find out.

Farb talked her way into a lab at Kansas University, and with the assistance of Kristi Neufeld, a molecular biology professor, obtained some lab space and the necessary testing supplies.

Farb spent “hundreds of hours” over the past year testing whether BPA and BPS cause an increase in the growth of breast cancer cells.

The results?

“BPS is worse,” said Farb, as her results showed that BPS caused more growth in the breast cancer cells than BPA.