Saturday, July 31, 2004
The Lincoln monument - Washington DC. Flash forward two thousand years, through the collaps of empire, vandals, and pilfering by the Vatican, and it could fit in well among the ruins in the Roman Forum, in the shaddow of the Collosseum.
I was struck by how much Washington DC reminded me of Rome. Grand architecture standing as a tribute to empire. Bold marble pillars stretching into the sky. Statues of strong men on horseback staring into the distance. The creators of history. The mythmakers.
Nation building and empire building is not a simple process. Nor is it all that complicated. But it doesn't happen by osmosis. Great empires are built upon great stories...carved into stone...in war memorials...in public buildings...in monuments to the founding fathers.
The architecture of Washington DC speaks of great power. It speaks of enduring strength. It speaks of empire. Instead of the great emperor Augustus, we have George Washington. In place of Caesar we have Abraham Lincoln. In place of the Collusseum we have the superbowl.
The founders of Washington DC certainly understood the power of architecture to tell enduring stories. Patriotism in the USA isn't going anwhere anytime soon.
The words 'Freedom is not Free' are carved into the granite near the Korean war memorial.
The implication is that war is somehow necessary and justified. It implies that the price of freedom can be picked up by the government and the military. But what is meant isn't the freedom of the government or of the military. What is referred to is the freedoms of the American people. It could have said 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance' - but that might be too much of a jolt. It, rightly, puts the onus back onto the individual. Freedoms have never been won by Governments. They are won by people - often struggling against governments that act in the interests of established powerholders.
As Aldous Huxley wrote: "Liberty is not given, it is taken".
'Our nation honours her sons and daughters who answered the call defend a country they never knew and a people they never met. 1950 - Korea - 1953.'
Seems to be a familiar theme here. Most the 19 year old kids in Vietnam hadn't ever met a vietnamese person before either - but they risked their lives to "defend", "protect" or "liberate" them. Same in Iraq.
I can't help but be moved by war memorials. Maybe it's something about lies being etched into stone. They stand the test of history. Long after people have forgotten, the words remain carved into the granite. History written by the victors. Not written by the soldiers, but by politicians and statemen who also carve their own names into the blocks of history.
Maybe it's something about the futility of it all. Something about the innocence of the mostly young men who died serving interests other than their own. The lists of names seem to go on forever...thousands of poeple senselessly slaughtered while senselessly slaughtering others.
Where are the memorials to the conscientious objectors? Where do we remember the people who said NO to war? Who refused to take up arms against people they didn't know? Who refused to kill or be killed in the service of power and wealth?
Maybe it's time for a new kind of memorial? A peace memorial? To remember the times when we weren't at war. To celebrate leaders who solved conflicts peacefully. To celebrate people who stood up for peace in the face of a culture of war.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Genetically engineered soy as far as the eye can see. Welcome to North Dakota. Over 90% of all the soy grown in the US is now genetically engineered. The soy plants have been engineered to be resistant to glphosate, which is the active ingredient in Monsanto's #1 selling herbicide 'Roundup'. Roundup is a broad spectrum herbicide which means it kills pretty much all plants that it comes into contact with - except the soy plants that are engineered to be resistant.
So, farmers plant out the soy crop and then about 3 weeks after the seedlings come up they spray the entire paddock with roundup. This kills all the weeds so that they don't compete with the soy for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. Then, depending on the crop, the farmer will normally spray again later in the season. It is a truly incredible system. Not a weed in sight. It creates a true monoculture.
From the farmers point of view there are a number of benefits. They don't need to think about weeds (at least not until they become glyphosate resistant - after which they have a fairly serious problem). It is generally a less labour intensive system and allows farmers to plant out a larger area. It also means that farmers can use less skilled labour for spraying - because it's just so simple. In fact, farmers don't even really need to know anything about farming any more at all. The instructions are pretty much all on the packet.
The next step is to use a GPS (global positioning system) in the harvesters and tractors so that you can do away with the driver. The driverless tractor is probably only a few years away, and coupled with the roundup ready system will mean that a smaller number of farmers, using large amounts of capital equipment, will be able to farm much larger areas. This should mean that we can do away with most people in rural communities. Excellent. They're dirty anyway. In the not too distant future we'll be able to be completely seperated from our food. It can be grown by machines that are out of sight and out of mind.
The great thing for consumers about Roundup Ready soy is that you get to eat soy with a higher level of glyphosate residue. You also get to have some unknown fragments of DNA in your food that, in all likelihood has never before been part of human diet and which has never actually been tested for long term safety. Hopefully it will be ok.
Kluane nation park. It's a wonder sheep bother climbing mountains like this. They don't normally eat rocks. Neither did David and I (this photo is David - a good friend and fish biologist from Montreal). We didn't see any fish up there either. We did see Hoary Marmots though. They are kind of like Hairy Mammoths, except only about one hundredth the size and from a totally different species. The stuff in this photo that looks like rock is actually rock. The thing that looks like flowing rock in the bottom in the valley is a rock glacier. If we wait long enough some engineers from Los Angeles will probably try to build a casino on top of it.
OK, so I'm going to start doing a tourist thing and putting up some photos of wilderness areas that I've been visiting. This photo is from Atlin lake. It is in the Yukon near the border with Alaska. It's wild country. This lake is fed by the Llewleyn glacier and the water is ffffffff...cold. You don't want to stuff around too much in a kayak. If you fall out you probably have about 3 minutes before you lose the use of your hands and then about another 5 before you stop moving altogether.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
This is a very large tree. The Redwoods of Northern California are truly amazing. Apparently the Ewok battle in "Return of the Jedi" was filmed in Redwood National park - just near where this photo was taken. Driving through Northern California and into Oregon is at once awesome and harrowing. You travel through thousand year old forests, drooping with moss, with Redwood trees over 2 metres in diameter stretching up into eternity. And then things start to get a bit weird. You feel it before you notice what has changed. Trees a bit smaller and twisted. Too close together - packed in like sardines. And then you see the sign..."Clearfelled in 1978, due to be harvested 2015 - creating jobs through forestry". Other places look like the big hairy hand of god has reached down with a razor blade and scraped the landscape raw. The scarred hillsides standing out like....like scarred hillsides. In Australia, we (as in 'we' the people - ably represented by our government) get a massive 10 cents per tonne for the privilege of allowing our ancient forests to be woodchipped and sent to Japan. I think the folk over here have the same problem.