Monday, June 30, 2014

MORE RAMBLINGS: Or little rants about life these days that I could say again, again and again

WHILE living in New York, I once asked a neighbor: “How are you, Margaret?” The lady smiled: “I am fine, thank you...” Then came my unwanted query: “Where are you going?” Margaret was offended: “It's not your business!” Yes, personal questions were “rude” in those days. These days though, it's different. Trust has become complicated. We no longer think twice about letting people see or read through our life's details on Facebook... Writes Bruce Schneier in his book, “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive”: “Technology changes how our social interactions work, but it’s easy to forget that. In this way, our traditional intuition of trust and security fails.”

FOURSQUARE to share my whereabouts, tweeting light gossips on Twitter, sharing shots from “Breaking Bad” on Tumblr, skimming through stylized images on Instagram, and posting what's up with me at this moment on Facebook. Indeed, we are speaking another language that we probably didn't see coming this fast 20 years ago... Grammar has become obsolete (“awesomest?”)--so much so that Oxford English Dictionary entered “LOL”(laugh out loud) and “OMG” (oh my God) on its lexicon. “We play with different root words for buying, selling, paying,” said Andrew Kortina of mobile payments company called Venmo. Eventually venmo became a verb: “Just venmo me for it.”

THERE was a time when relationships or marriages were simple. I am not talking about prenups or prenups+ or prenups+Premium whatever. On the earlier stages of their relationship, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan forged an agreement in which she insisted on at least one date night and 100 minutes together a week, says a NY Times story. Yes, indeed—many couples do make contracts, written or oral, delineating the idiosyncratic needs of their relationship: how much time they need to spend together, who cooks and who cleans etc. Says Cheryl Lynn Hepfer, a matrimonial lawyer: “People’s memories fail. So they say, ‘Remember when this was so important to us that we signed, with witnesses?’” Uh-huh.

COMING from a galaxy so far away where public magic carpets and walking on your feet were the main modes of getting from here to there, and back—I am continually mystified that despite recession and hardships, auto industry in the US doesn't suffer at all. People keep on buying cars... Car research site reports that in April, the average price shoppers actually paid was $30,320, up 2.1 percent from a year ago. Recession buyers often bought because they had to, and took stripped-down models. But these days, buyers are more confident and are demanding goodies. "They love all the features," says Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the largest US  dealer chain.

IT IS absurdly perplexing how readership/viewership demographics are transfixed on these types of male leads: Don Draper of “Mad Men”--when he isn’t cheating, he’s dreaming of cheating, whether he’s flirting with you, hiring you or marrying you, he is just not that into you. “No matter how obvious his flaws or misguided his decisions, we can’t take our eyes off him,” writes Heather Havrilesky of NY Times. Then there's Christian Grey, the other focal character in E. L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, which has now sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. This dude, a handsome billionaire is a control-freak S&M fiend... Yes these flawed personas command attention, intrigue, fascination.

THOUSANDS are held in filthy, overcrowded “drug treatment” camps in Asia, according to Human Rights Watch. Detainees are kept without due process, some tortured with electric shock, starved and deprived of food and water—like what we see in Hollywood movies... Yet the misguided idea that harsh treatment helps solve drug problems is widespread, stretching far beyond Asia. A Time report revealed that US treatment centers — boot camps, rehab centers, emotional-growth boarding schools and wilderness programs — tend to be less extreme, but they have included beatings, forced labor, excessive exercise and deprivation of sleep and food to try to break participants.

FOR obvious reasons, politicians on campaign tracks glorify entrepreneurs, saying they are crucial when it comes to job creation. Not really... It's not because small businesses didn't want to employ citizens—it's just that there's no money to hire them. Small business borrowing dropped 5 percent from May to June, says PayNet. Small business posted a decrease of almost 7 percent, for the 12 months that ended in June 2011. At that point,  banks had $606.9 billion in outstanding loans to the US small businesses, compared with $652.2 billion for the same 12-month period ending in June 2010.  That’s not good news for anybody... Where are the money? Your guess is as good as mine...

POLICIES have become irrelevant,” said Morris Panner, a former counter-narcotics prosecutor in New York and at the American Embassy in Colombia. “The US was worried about shipments of cocaine and heroin for years, but whether those policies worked or not doesn’t matter because they are now worried about Americans using prescription drugs.” I absolutely agree! America shifts focus on battling the drug menace from illicit substances like cocaine to abuse of prescription painkillers. The same concern was recently expressed by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who declared the war on drugs “a failure” that imprisons people who really need treatment.

ECONOMISTS Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson wrote: “Much of the recent decline in confidence — particularly in the financial sector — may simply be a standard response to a cyclical downturn.” Waves of public mistrust on a broad spectrum of institutions, including Congress, the Supreme Court, the presidency, public schools, labor unions and the church—and financial structures—are surging like tempests. Only about one in five has much trust in banks, according to Gallup. Meantime, 62 percent believe corruption is widespread across corporate America. According to Transparency International, nearly three in four Americans believe that corruption has increased over the last three years.

WHEN I was a student, I thought classrooms were military barracks or Catholic seminary. My rebellious girth defied cadet exercises, “boring” Algebra classes—and only heeded my duties as campus editor. But times have changed! Indeed! Students have so much freedom these days... Seventy students were involved in a recent Smartphone-aided cheating at the elite Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The cheating involved several state exams and was uncovered after a cellphone was confiscated from a junior during a citywide language exam. Officials found a trail of text messages and photos of test pages, that showed pupils had been sharing info about state exams...

THERE's no let up: we are all leading to the Matrix. Info technology, associated telecommunications, and a flood of electronic gizmos and computer baubles are here to stay and more. More. Humanity will spend $3.6 trillion on information technology in 2012, industry analysts at Gartner said. This represents a 3 percent increase from 2011, when $3.5 trillion was spent, and is up from the 2.5 percent increase projected three months ago. The increase, while modest, is notable because it is happening in the face of a financial crisis in Europe, slow growth in the US, and a slowdown in China's economic growth. Who cares, right? Fancy tablets, game consoles, awesome cells. We are hooked.

IS cellphone surveillance by law enforcement good or bad? Under federal law, release of info about a subscriber generally requires search warrant, court order or formal subpoena. But in cases that law enforcement officials deem an emergency, a less formal request is often enough. Cellphone carriers reported that they responded to a startling 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from police seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations. Rep. (D) Edward J. Markey said that he is worried that “digital dragnets” threatened to compromise the privacy of customers. “There’s a real danger we’ve already crossed the line,” he said.

HUMAN reflex isn't necessarily reliable; it's mostly impulsive. The moment we're moved, pushed, coaxed, pumped up—we text, tweet, post. The speed of our reactions to crisscrossing stimuli is troubling. E-mail, social media and the 24-hour news cycle are “informational amphetamines, a cocktail of pills that we pop at an increasingly fast pace,” as writer Frank Partnoy puts it. This leads us to make mistaken split-second decisions. Economists label this “present bias”: we are vulnerable to fast, salient stimulation. And we unconsciously associate just about anything—from fast food eating to washing dishes—with speed and impatience and carry those impulses into whatever else we’re doing.

THE number of people living below the poverty line in US suburbs grew by 66 percent, compared with 47 percent in cities. The trend quickened when recession hit, as home foreclosures and unemployment surged. In 2010, 18.9 million suburban Americans were living below the poverty line, up from 11.3 million in 2000. An Utne Reader story focused on New York City's quintessential suburban haven, Long Island—where I lived for a time. There have been pockets of poverty in Nassau and Suffolk, brought forth by race and income segregation. These days, poverty has ballooned. The two counties have the second- and third-highest foreclosure rates in New York state, behind Queens.

IN THE 1890s, the earliest motion-picture viewing was through a peephole over a Kinetoscope, a waist-high cabinet in which a light illuminated the frames of a film loop. When projection arrived, movie images could be made life-size in a theater, then larger than life, on a big screen with big sound. Movie-watching became immersive fun and social experience. Fast forward—betamax, DVD, blue ray etc. Movie watching is, again, a solitary experience, involving small images on a laptop, a tablet and—uhh, a cellphone. Americans will pay to watch 3.4 billion movies online this year, IHS Screen Digest says—more than double the number for 2010. So what device are you using, crazy human?

WHEN I was 5, my favorite toy was a “ball” made out of accumulated candle wax drippings. That toy could also perform a household task—by melting the “ball,” it did a good job shining up our humble abode's wood floor. Now, look at the kids' toys these days... iPad? Barbie texting Ken? Yes, but this is one is interesting: An iPad case that doubles as a teething toy? Yes, indeed! It’s known as the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case (also available for iPods and iPhones) and it sells for $35. Or what about LeapFrog, maker of the LeapPad, a touchscreen tablet for children as young as 3. Hasbro and Crayola are also creating apps for very young children. Oh my, Chucky will be VERY angry!

IN the last 40 years, organic foods producer Eden Foods morphed into a major “whole earth” grocery giant. From its captured hippie clientele in Northern California, Michael J. Potter's brainchild's enchantment spread throughout the land. But times they are a-changin' – profit-wise, that is. Organic food has become a wildly lucrative business that giant players gobbled it up, or bought them out, I mean... Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, and Kashi now belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo of Pepsi and Fritos fame. Walnut Acres, Health Valley and Spectrum Organics? That is now Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in

RETAIL shelves in America, oil drilling in Antarctica, new investments in Africa etcetera—and now the Chinese are inching in the global auto market as well. But don't be afraid... China is shipping just a few thousand cars a year to the European Union and virtually none to the US... None yet. China is still pouring more billions into new factories—but watch out. Less affluent buyers from Santiago (Chile) to Baghdad are starting to buy cheap Chinese cars as alternatives to used cars. Chinese car exports were up 21 percent in the first five months of this year, and up 43 percent in May from a year ago. Says a buyer in Chile: “I paid $5,500 for a new Toyota with similar features that costs around $12,000.”

PLENTY of us in America love to hate banks, but many of the world’s poor don’t have that luxury: more than 2.5 billion people worldwide don’t have a bank account. Those poor include Alfred Nasoni and wife Biti Rose—of the African nation of Malawi. Two of the couple's seven kids died of ailments without seeing a doctor. They farmed only part of their 2.5 acre plot because they lacked money for seeds... With a loan of $2 from CARE, the international aid group, Biti Rose started making and selling doughnuts, which she sold for 2 cents each. Soon she was making several dollars a day in profit. Suddenly the Nasonis are hopeful... Now, are you asking me if the doughnuts are gluten-free?

NIGHTINGALE poop contains enzymes that break down dead skin cells, as well as guanine, a nucleobase that supposedly brings sunshine to your face. These bird excrement, when sanitized under ultraviolet light, then mixed with rice bran, an exfoliant and brightener—and applied at a human's sagging face flesh, is called Geisha Facial. An hour of this shenanigan costs $180 at Shizuka New York Day Spa in Manhattan. Don't smirk! The Duchess of Cornwall and Gwyneth Paltrow have used this shit. In fact, Ms Paltrow also tried Bee Venom mask that supposedly works like Botox. Hear this now, Mel Gibson used cow brains, or selegiline, a smelly yellow ointment that treats depression. It figures...

MIKE Diamond, 73, spent 50 years making a living in South Carolina's textile industry that has gone broke. But he can't afford to sulk... In fact, from the rubble of recession rises a term called “going-broke business.” It is about selling industrial-scale knitting equipment, fabric-testing paraphernalia, printing machines and countless bins of spare parts—to foreign buyers from mostly China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India. The going-broke business is clustered around the I-85 corridor, from Gastonia NC to Greenville SC. Diamond competes by staying on top of the shifting technologies — knowing which machines will have a second life and which ones he should sell as scrap metal.

A RECENT study by the Fiscal Policy Institute: There are 900,000 immigrants small-business owners in the United States, about 18 percent of the total—higher than the immigrant share of the overall population, which is 13 percent, and the immigrant share of the labor force, at 16 percent. Small businesses in which more of the owners were immigrants employed 4.7 million people in 2007, the latest year for which data were available, generating $776 billion in receipts... In GOP strongholds like Arizona and Alabama, home to small towns where Latino-owned bodegas and laundries are among the only signs of economic life — anti-immigrant policies are threatening to strangle economic growth.

CAMERON Hughes is a different kind of entrepreneur—he could be the unlikely model of the future “winemaker.” He is a prominent name in the California wine industry. His business is thriving—which he manages via offices in San Francisco and Calistoga CA. The thing is, he doesn't have a vineyard or winery. He outsources all the labor that goes into making a bottle of wine — growing the grapes, crushing and fermenting them, and other steps in the process — to others. Traders like Mr Hughes are common in Europe but not in the US where most people want to have a vineyard. “All we do is bring the barrels,” he told NY Times. He's not saying though where he's getting his bulk-wines... Hmmm.

CHINA is the new Uncle Sam... And Washington doesn't like it, of course. Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a speech in Zambia warning of a “new colonialism” threatening Africa. She's referring to China. The facts: In 2009, China became Africa’s single largest trading partner, surpassing the US. China’s foreign direct investment in Africa has skyrocketed from under $100 million in 2003 to more than $12 billion in 2011. Because of this, China has been cast as a stealthy imperialist with a voracious appetite for commodities and no qualms about exploiting Africans to get them. It's understandable that the US government lashes out at its biggest competitor... 

FOR less than $50k, one could buy an islet in the Pacific. Your own pristine, sylvan palm paradise... Hey, that is spare change to America's billionaires! Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO, bought Lanai, a Hawaiian island, for $500 million. If you are as rich as Carlos Slim Helu or Alice Walton, you may even want to buy an island country. So while Mr Ellison bought himself an island to play golf or tweet with Mark Cuban undistracted, some 643,067 homeless persons in America gasp in awe. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1.56 million people used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program from 2008 to 2009—roughly 1 in every 200 persons in the US.

THE top five CEOs in America in terms of compensation: Tim Cook, Apple, $378 million; Larry Ellison, Oracle, $76M; Leslie Moonves, CBS, $69M; Ronald Johnson, JCPenney, $53M; Sanjay Jha, Motorola, $46.6M. Meantime, the overall median personal income for all individuals over the age of 18 is $24,062; for all 155 million persons over the age of 15 who work with earnings, it is $28,567. The minimum wage rate in 2009 was $7.25/hour or $15,080 for the 2080 hours in a typical work year. The minimum wage is a little more than the poverty level for the 1 person family unit. This huge discrepancy between the 1 percent and 99 percent makes America seem like a Third World country.

LAST year, Apple Inc.'s 327 global stores took in more money per square foot than any other United States retailer, double that of Tiffany, which was No. 2 on the list, according to RetailSails. Worldwide, the company's stores sold $16 billion in merchandise. About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in the US work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year – they are paid $11.25 an hour, above average pay or minimum wage of $7.25. Most Chinese workers who build Apple gadgets get much lower than $7, of course. Do the math... Meantime, Tim Cook, Apple's boss earns $378 million, the highest-paid CEO in the United States.

EMILY Sanders, 27, has been a waitress for almost a decade. She has no health insurance, no 401(k), no savings. If she’s sick but a little short on cash, she downs some DayQuil and goes into work anyway... Emily also went to the artsy Gallatin School at NYU—but she couldn't get a job apart from waitressing. Recent studies say—after the military, the top four employers listed by 20+ year olds were Walmart, Starbucks, Target, and Best Buy. One in ten employed Americans work in food service—9.6 million. And the industry’s workforce is more educated than it was just 10 years ago, college grads or undergrads. The average restaurant worker made $15,000 in 2009... Tough life, these days.

DO younger people these days still read books other than “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games”? Although my three kids (18 to 26) prefer Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk and Christopher Paolini, respectively—and aren't moved by vampire stuff, I still hope they are still reading (or read) Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Mark Twain... Now, hear this: Major publishers like Penguin and Sterling are wrapping classic books in provocative, modern covers and jackets in bold shades of scarlet and lime green, for example—so they'd look awesome! And entice youths to grab a Hemingway or Tolstoy... Question: Are these “book” jackets meant for book-books or Kindle Fires? Ah!

TV FATIGUE, electronics weariness, technology overload. Manufacturers and sellers are grumbling that consumers aren't buying TVs in strong enough numbers these days—after sometime when sales of the LCD and plasma-screen units had been increasing 20 percent annually. This, despite the fact that TV viewing remains high—despite rise in cable cord cutting and increased use of the Internet. What do these retailers expect? Buy more TVs after purchase of one or two a year ago? Besides, laptops could function the way TVs do, anyways. During the first quarter of 2012, 43,131,000 units of LCD flat screens were shipped globally. My question: What is easier to recycle—flat screens or newsprint?

POLICE forces and fire departments all over the nation are mired in budget crisis... There seems to be not enough money in city coffers so cops and firepersons need to improvise or innovate. So why not do what other city agencies do? Like, transform fire trucks into rolling billboards. After Baltimore officials made the wrenching decision to close three fire companies later this summer, the City Council initially sought to avert the cuts with a new money-raising strategy: it passed a resolution urging the administration to explore selling ads on the city’s fire trucks. Such marketing schemes have long been used by sports teams and arts organizations, as well as public buses, anyhow.

NEW surveys indicate an increase of the average human life span. A blessing? Or financial burden, health care burden, even social burden? Dr Linda P. Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia Univ, addresses this question. Dr Fried pushes the academia and the public to ask the right questions and ponder the right policies. She leads a school that she hopes will give a new generation the tools to deal with global challenges to public health, environmental degradation, health care costs and the pressure of rapid urbanization. Dr Fried misses one significant component though: how society treats the elderly, person to person, in a family and community environment...

TIM Winter, President of the Parents Television Council, takes note that primetime network shows like "Two and a Half Men," "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23," "$#*! My Dad Says," and "Hell's Kitchen," often include overly suggestive sexual themes, pixelated nudity and incidents of bleeped profanity that would've never even been considered for yesteryears' shows like “Full House” and “Family Matters.” I agree with Mr Winters... But the truth is, most of the shows these days suck big time, anyways. I am more concerned with the super bad quality of programming than the language since words mostly come out from a stinky product, not the other way around.

THIS insane addiction with getting things done three/four-ways, AKA multitasking? The kick for speedy resolution of just about anything: prepare dinner, surf the Net for a new tie, call mom, tweet your lawyer, update your Facebook. All in less than two minutes while driving... Check this out: While you accomplish the 5 e-errands above, you may also get a buzz while you freshen up(?) Yes! Ex-shrink Mandy Aftel makes edible and potable perfumes. Her vials of essences sit behind the bars at high-profile dives—including New York City's classy Pegu Club and Booker and Dax at Momofuku Ssam Bar. Chug in thy perfume then splash it all over your face before you go home to the wife! Dig?

STUDIES at the Univ of Arizona suggest that current home buyers are so willing to pay top dollar for a “walkable”—or guaranteed safe—neighborhood. “Walkability” breeds higher social capital and trust among neighbors, according to a Univ of New Hampshire study. Hence, it follows that large urban areas which are typically poor are the least “walkable” neighborhoods, confirms the American Journal of Public Health... This is sad. It reinforces the elitist, exclusivist “gated village” complex that negates community harmony and dissociates people on the basis of social standing. “Walkable” areas are safer and enjoy better police protection (from street crime) because homeowners could pay for them?

CORPORATE America” describes the world of corporations within the United States not under government ownership. Sure, we can always delve deeper in our respective definitions. But to illustrate the phrase in a more literal equation, let's look at Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta. This is Corporate America in a literal sense... Why is that? For starters, business licensing is handled by Severn Trent, a multinational company based in Coventry, England. Want to build a new deck on your house? Let Collaborative Consulting, based in Burlington MA, help you. Trash collection inquiry? That would be URS Corp., based in San Francisco. At least, the city council is not outsourced in India...

GANGSTERS have traded their guns for laptops! Yes, they've become computer geeks. And they're after your ID, tax checks, Social Security numbers, and what not. With nothing more than ledgers of stolen identity information, criminals have electronically filed thousands of false tax returns with made-up incomes and withholding info and have received hundreds of millions of dollars in wrongful refunds, the FBI in Miami say. Some of them former drug dealers, these fiends outwit the Internal Revenue Service by filing a return before the legitimate taxpayer files. Then they receive the refund, sometimes by check but more often through a convenient but hard-to-trace prepaid debit card.

RECENTLY, a coalition of legislators introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, designed to encourage employers to make nice to their pregnant employees. For example, if they need extra bathroom breaks or help lifting heavy things or a chair to sit in, employers shouldn’t balk. These are good, but still superficial... Women in France, Singapore and Norway—as well as those we label as subservient and degraded, Muslims in Malaysia and Catholics in the Philippines—are constitutionally given fair treatment than those in the US, such as generous maternity-leave policies, childcare insurance, and accorded vaginal surgery (labiaplasty, vaginoplasty) after childbirth.

SOME 2.65 million Americans gave up cable TV subscriptions between 2008-2011 to switch to over-the-top (OTT) services, among others... Would that also mean HBO's pay-per-view profit also suffers? Nope! HBO is global. Apart from HBO USA—there's HBO Canada, HBO Asia, HBO Brasil, HBO Central Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Romania etc) HBO Adria (Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia etc), HBO Latin America, HBO Caribbean,HBO Vodafone (UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, South Africa etc), HBO-SK Telecom in Korea, HBO On Demand in Israel... Endless. So when a Manny Pacquiao PPV fight happens—expect a flood of moolah!

ILLEGAL could be the new cool, at least for some stoners. Reefer-crazy guests gathered in an LA loft for a party celebrating April 20, AKA “national holiday for stoners.” Sample cocktail: moonshine and shiso leaf dipped in marijuana-laced sesame oil. The new book, “Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook” by Elise McDonough includes drink recipes like Jamaican Me Crazy (piña colada with cannabis) and Bonghitters’ Mota Mojito. Uh-huh... Now marijuana dispensaries ain't buying it: “weed” margaritas dilute the message that the plant has medicinal value, they say. “We believe it’s a wellness product, not an inebriant,” said Steve DeAngelo, director of Oakland-based Harborside Health Center.

A PRODUCT pitch for a bicycle “can cage”: “The quick jolt of sugar is perfect to get you up... Now you can carry your secret-weapon-in-a-can within easy reach from your handlebar...” Cost: $64! That's just for starters. Planning to bike “correctly” so you'd be fit and healthy? Buy list: Shimano shoes, $190; Pearl Izumi shorts, $55; Giro helmet, $135; Billabong undershorts, $29; TYR thin strap 2-piece suit, $64... How about gloves, toesocks, eyewear, watch, fingernail cover, eyelid protector, special wind humidity lip gloss etc. You also need to check with your doctor ($65/hour) if you're fit enough to bike or fit enough for a heart attack when you get your credit card bill... (Now, where's the bicycle???)

WRITINGS on the wall scream so loud—like GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast—but do the powers-that-be care? NEWS: Suicides are up among America's troops, averaging one a day this year — the fastest pace in the nation's decade of war. The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of 2012 far outdistance the US forces killed in action in Afghanistan—about 50 percent more—says Pentagon statistics. Reasons: combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems. The military is also struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, among others, the Associated Press reported.

LIZZIE Collingham's new book, “The Taste of War” presents a couple of incisive research and relevant insight about food and health that are thought-provoking. On these days of relative prosperity and consumer markets, calorie count is associated with excess, but for most of its history this little unit of energy was linked to shortage. Since our own daily struggle is fought against fat, we fail to see that many of the conflicts of the past were wars against hunger. “Just as obesity leads to diabetes and human blindness, so plentiful food leads to decadent forms of history and social blindness,” assesses Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University...

YEARS ago, producers of local food and producers of organic food were one and the same. Then organics have gone global. The produce in natural foods stores is as likely to come from a multinational corporation, such as Pillsbury, as conventional produce. This puts the local producer at a disadvantage. So are we buying local or buying organic (from giant companies)? Are we buying at a huge health food grocery that is owned by huge business or are we buying from a network of local farmers? If we favor franchises, we also cripple our neighbors—whom we should trust more than those who simply want our money. But then how do unsuspecting consumers know which is which?

THE US government has poured in more than $6 billion over the past decade to combat production of poppies in Afghanistan that help finance insurgency. Washington is battling control of a multibillion dollar industry... The opium poppy is the source of heroin and the painkiller morphine. Its derivatives can also be used to make the antidote to overdoses of these drugs, naloxone. The flower, known as papaver somniferum, also gives rise to a drug called noscapine, a cancer-fighting agent used as cough-suppressant in some countries. That explains the presence of giant pharmaceutical companies—GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer etc—in the country. THAT is the story.

NEWS advisory: Estrogen and progestin replacement therapy should be used sparingly, only to ward off the most intense symptoms of menopause, and not to protect against chronic disease. A long-term study by the Women’s Health Initiative in 2002 of hormone replacement therapy, which involved 160,000 women, found little difference in heart disease rates among hormone users and non-users... There are many medical and scientific solutions that we excise upon ourselves—Viagra, hormone replacement, in-vitro fertilization etc—so that we could go around natural processes and still get what we want. In turn, we slide away from the primitive yet pristine progression of life and love...

FOOD expert Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute asks a question that has always consumed us: “Why is it that when we see organic foods in supermarkets, or food that is free of genetically modified organisms, it costs so much more?” Sad thing is: those who produce the food are the ones who are starving. Not new... The Philippines exports good rice—while the impoverished content themselves with the bad quality... To realize the full potential of the organic movement in building a better world, we have to think of healthy food not as an exclusive luxury but as a basic human right. Food choice for many isn't moved by health imperatives or ethical issues but economic reality and gut-level need.

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