How Many Circles Does it Take to Make a Community?

How To Save The World

Last evening I spent a couple of hours with three of my Bowen In Transition colleagues — Don Marshall, Rob Cairns and Robert Ballantyne — discussing what, if anything, we might do to start preparing our community (Bowen Island, off Vancouver BC, population 3800, area 20 sq. mi.) for the economic, energy and ecological crises — and perhaps even collapse — we expect to see in the coming decades.

Bowen in Transition, like many global Transition Initiative communities, is already doing several short-term small-step activities — learning about and (at a personal level) applying permaculture principles, obtaining and acting upon home energy audits, compiling a list of local experts in sustainable food, energy, building etc., holding awareness events etc. But as I noted in my recent Preparing for the Unimaginable post, I am concerned that we need to start thinking about longer-term, larger-scale, community-wide changes if we want to have a community sufficiently competent, self-sufficient and resilient enough to sustain ourselves through major and enduring crises.

I have read

A Slow-Books Manifesto…

The Atlantic

[…] What about having fun while exerting greater control over what goes into your brain? Why hasn’t a hip alliance emerged that’s concerned about what happens to our intellectual health, our country, and, yes, our happiness when we consume empty-calorie entertainment? The Slow Food manifesto lauds “quieter pleasures” as a means of opposing “the universal folly of Fast Life”—yet there’s little that seems more foolish, loudly unpleasant, and universal than the screens that blare in every corner of America (at the airport, at the gym, in the elevator, in our hands). “Fast” entertainment, consumed mindlessly as we slump on the couch or do our morning commute, pickles our brains—and our souls.

That’s why I’m calling for a Slow Books Movement… In our leisure moments, whenever we have down time, we should turn to literature—to works that took some time to write and will take some time to read, but will also stay with us longer than anything else. They’ll help us unwind better than any electronic device—and they’ll pleasurably sharpen our minds and identities, too.

To borrow a cadence from Michael Pollan: Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics… Complete article here

Gina Covina: Saving tomato seeds from different varieties…

Laughing Frog Farm

[Mulligan Books & Seeds is working with Laughing Frog Farm, Sustainable Seed Co, Transition Ukiah Valley, and others to localize organic seed breeding, growing, saving, and trading with seeds adapted to our particular soils and climate… providing a more secure local food system. We plan to establish: a network of organic seed growers in Mendocino County, a local market for locally-grown seeds, and a seed bank. Please see Underground Seeds By Hand.

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers from Organic Seed Alliance condenses years of farming, gardening, plant breeding and seed saving wisdom, as well as conversations with many prominent seed experts. The guide covers the basics of seed growing from choosing appropriate varieties for seed saving to harvesting, processing, and storing seed. Download it here. -DS]

Do tomatoes cross-pollinate? That’s today’s burning question. Can you save seed from different varieties grown in the same garden? And how far apart do different varieties need to be? You’ll find as many answers as there are tomatoes, all contradictory, with the majority tending to the self-pollinating end of the spectrum, which is where I started when I first saved tomato seed. I did it casually, with no thought of isolation distances, and the first few times it seemed to work – the next year’s tomatoes were recognizably similar to the ones from which I’d saved seed.

Then I grew Big Rainbow, a beefsteak heirloom with swirls of red/yellow/orange inside and out, and so delicious I saved seed and eagerly waited for the next year’s crop. Which turned out to have the coloring of Big Rainbow, but a size closer to a cherry, and a taste so bland only the chickens would eat it.

There are two factors, it turns out, that contribute to a widespread belief that tomatoes do not cross-pollinate. The first is that sometimes it’s true. Modern open-pollinated varieties have flowers that are not capable of cross-pollination (as in the photo above). The pollen-carrying stamens are fused into a tube that encloses the stigma, which is the girl part that takes in the pollen and transports it to the flower’s ovary. You can grow these varieties right next to any other tomatoes and save the seeds with confidence. Mountain Gold is the only tomato seed Laughing Frog offers that has this kind of flower. It was developed twenty years ago

Organic Seed Stakeholders Meet in California…

Organic Seed Alliance

Did you know that California produces more vegetable seed than any other state? And that, according to a survey conducted as part of OSA’s State of Organic Seed report, the vast majority of California organic farmers surveyed agree that organic seed is important in maintaining the integrity of organic food production? Yet, only 38% of the vegetable seed used by California organic farmers surveyed was organic. Why are California farmers relying so much on conventionally produced seed? And how can we work to advance a seed system that benefits farmers and sustainable agriculture in the golden state?

In order to advance organic seed systems in California, OSA, with support from Columbia Foundation and in partnership with FarmsReach, convened an organic seed stakeholder meeting at the EcoFarm conference earlier this month to gather diverse perspectives on what’s working and not working in the seed industry and brainstorm ways to strengthen organic seed systems in California.

More than 20 participants — from farmers to certifiers to seed company representatives — identified opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and better communication across all phases of the seed supply chain. The interactive session gave these stakeholders a chance to make their voices heard. Some of the things we heard included:

From a farmer: “How do we work with the increasing number of private and public farmer training programs to incorporate seed saving/breeding curricula into their programs?”

From a seed producer: “We need more local trials.”

From a farmer: “Why do I go to the extra effort and money to buy organic seed while my neighbor gets away with using conventional seed?”

From a distributer: “We’re working on a new trial farm, but a database of seed trial [reports] would be incredible.”

By the end of the meeting, groups had formed to divise solutions in the following four areas:

– Information Networks for Seeds
– Seed Education & Training
– Seed Quality
– Seed Economics & Viability

I left the meeting inspired by the enthusiasm and insight of the participants. Moving forward, OSA will use both the input from this stakeholder’s session and the continued involvement of the members of these four focus groups to make targeted efforts to strengthen California’s organic seed system.

U.S. employs Vinnie the Kneecapper to collect student debt…


On the heels of the assessment we saw from Tyler Durden, via Fitch, of the implosion of US student loan debt, which stands at over $1 trillion, increases by $40-50 billion (!!) each month (or $500-$600 billion per year), and of which 27% is already 30 days or more delinquent, John Hechinger explains for Bloomberg how the US Education Department goes about collecting this debt.

Turns out, it’s case of “Eat your heart out, Tony Soprano”. Hard to believe this could happen in a supposedly civilized country, but there you have it. Here are some excerpts from Hechinger’s article:

Obama Relies on Debt Collectors Profiting From Student Loan Woes

The debt collector on the other end of the phone gave Oswaldo Campos an ultimatum:

Pay $219 a month toward his more than $20,000 in defaulted student loans, or Pioneer Credit Recovery, a contractor with the U.S. Education Department, would confiscate his pay. Campos, disabled from liver disease, makes about $20,000 a year.

“We’re not playing here,” Campos recalled the collector telling him in December. “You’re dealing with the federal government. You have no other options.”

Campos agreed to have the money deducted each month from his bank account, even though federal student-loan rules would let him pay less and become eligible for a plan — approved by Congress and touted by President Barack Obama — requiring him to

Shelf lives: my brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying, dildo-packing time inside the online-shipping machine…

Mother Jones

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave

[…] This town somewhere west of the Mississippi is not big; everyone knows someone or is someone who’s worked for Amalgamated. “But look at it from their perspective. They need you to work as fast as possible to push out as much as they can as fast as they can. So they’re gonna give you goals, and then you know what? If you make those goals, they’re gonna increase the goals. But they’ll be yelling at you all the time. It’s like the military. They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be. So they’re going to tell you, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough,’ to make you work harder. Don’t say, ‘This is the best I can do.’ Say, ‘I’ll try,’ even if you know you can’t do it. Because if you say, ‘This is the best I can do,’ they’ll let you go. They hire and fire constantly, every day. You’ll see people dropping all around you. But don’t take it personally and break down or start crying when they yell at you.”…

“This really doesn’t have to be this awful,” I shake my head over Skype. But it is. And this job is just about the only game in town, like it is in lots of towns, and eventually will be in more towns, with US internet retail sales projected to grow 10 percent every year to $279 billion in 2015 and with Amazon, the largest of the online retailers, seeing revenues rise 30 to 40 percent year after year and already having 69 giant warehouses, 17 of which came online in 2011 alone…

Complete article here

Serfs up…


The Republican Vision of America Is One in Which 99 Percent of Us Are Condemned to Be Feudal Serfs…

Republicans in Congress [have] unveiled their vision for America, and if they succeed, the 99 percent of us are condemned to live like serfs. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, himself a multimillionaire, released his blueprint budget for fiscal year 2013 which includes massive cuts to food stamps, student loans, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The budget also dismantles Medicare as we know it — transforming an insurance program into a voucher program, leaving millions of senior citizens on their own to deal with for-profit health insurance companies.

And in a nod to the Republican Party’s super-rich members like himself, Ryan proposes enormous tax breaks for the 1 percent — lowering the top income tax rate from 35 percent down to 25 percent. According to the Tax Policy Center — Ryan’s budget would give $3 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans — all paid for by cutting spending on education, healthcare, and Medicare. Congressman Ryan said about his budget, “It’s up to the people to demand … a choice between two futures. The question is which future will you choose?”

That is the question indeed — will we choose the future in which a middle class can thrive again in America like it did for 50 years after the New Deal until Ronald Reagan blew everything up?

Or — will we choose Paul Ryan’s path to an Ayn Rand dystopia, in which only the super-wealthy can go to good schools and see doctors, and everyone else is left with what trickles down from the tables of the rich?

All this general bullshit started with Reagan…

This story is part of Dissent magazine’s special issue on Workers in the Age of Austerity

Alan Greenspan described the 1981 destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization as “perhaps most important” of all of Reagan’s domestic undertakings. The defeat of PATCO during the first summer of the Reagan administration “gave weight to the legal right of private employers, previously not fully exercised, to use their own discretion to both hire and discharge workers.” With employers’ “freedom to fire” renewed, entrepreneurial initiative could once again be unleashed. Reagan’s action thus inaugurated a miraculous era of “low unemployment and low inflation.” If we substitute Greenspan’s phrase “freedom to fire” with “break unions, strip them of the right to strike, redistribute wealth upward, and create massive economic insecurity,” then we have a story that is similarly satisfying to the Left. Indeed, the PATCO strike has become the pivotal event—both symbolically and substantively—in almost everyone’s understanding of the massive realignment of class power in the United States in the last few decades.

The PATCO strike may be the watershed moment in the consolidation of the post-New Deal order, but it has also become a bloated political symbol. Fortunately, Joseph McCartin gracefully moves the union and its famous strike from myth to complex historical analysis in his new book Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, The Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America. McCartin’s assessment captures the very real importance of the strike coolly, without reading too much into it: “No strike in American history unfolded more visibly before the eyes

Dave Smith: Inequality is the problem, not the solution…


To the Editors AVA, UDJ, WN:

In their fine, insightful book The Spirit Level, authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett offer irrefutable, empirical evidence that what matters most in determining not only the health and mortality of any society but also the prevalence of a host of other social problems — including mental illness, obesity and homicides — is how wealth is distributed or, in other words, the extent of inequality.

In the most unequal societies — US, Britain, Portugal and New Zealand — the level of homicides, mental illness, teenage pregnancies and so on is much higher than in the more equal societies, such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Japan. “The reason why these differences are so big is, quite simply, because the effects of inequality are not confined just to the least well-off; instead they affect the vast majority of the population.” Inequality causes shorter, unhealthier, unhappier lives all around.

America is one of the world’s richest nations, with among the highest figures for income per person, but has the lowest longevity of the developed nations, and a level of violence — murder, in particular — that is off the charts. For some, mainly the young, the experience of daily life at the bottom of a steep social hierarchy is enraging. The US has institutionalized economic and social inequality to the extent that, at any one time, a quarter of our respective populations are mentally ill. Yet we are constantly bombarded by the monotonous drone of the “free traders” and neo-conservatives touting low wages, low benefits and low public spending that increases inequality, and imposes unhappiness on us all, as the answer to our ills.