Monday, April 30, 2012

768. E. O. Wilson Wants to Know Why You’re Not Protesting in the Streets

Edward O. WilsonBy Lisa Hyms,, April 30, 2012
We had lots of questions for acclaimed biologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson when he dropped by the Grist office recently while touring to promote his latest book, The Social Conquest of Earth.
But Wilson directed the toughest question of the day back at us: Why aren’t you young people out protesting the mess that’s being made of the planet?
As we squirmed in our seats, Wilson, 82, continued: “Why are you not repeating what was done in the ‘60s? Why aren’t you in the streets? And what in the world has happened to the green movement that used to be on our minds and accompanied by outrage and high hopes? What went wrong?”
We didn’t have great answers, so we’re going to turn the questioning on you, dear readers: Why aren’t you out in the streets? And if you are, where, why, and who else is out there with you? Should more of us be staging ’60s-style protests? Can online activism or lobbying in the halls of power make just as much of a difference, or more? Tell us what you think in comments below.
Now back to the questions we asked Wilson about his life’s work and his new book. Over the course of his long career as a professor at Harvard, he’s conducted pioneering research on ants, written seminal books on sociobiology and biogeography, published ant-centric fiction in The New Yorker, and led major efforts to preserve global biodiversity. His new book traces human morality, religion, and arts to their biological roots, and turns traditional Darwinism on its head, arguing that social groups and tribes are the primary drivers of natural selection.
Q. The title of your book has the word social in it. Social has become a buzzword for online networking, this new way of forming groups. Are you on Facebook? Are you using the internet to look at the way groups behave?
A. No, others are doing that.
We are entering a new world, but we’re entering it as Paleolithic brains. Here’s my formula for Earth’s civilization: We are a Star Wars civilization. We have Stone Age emotions. We have medieval institutions — most notably, the churches. And we have god-like technology. And this god-like technology is dragging us forward in ways that are totally unpredictable.
We have not gotten beyond the powerful propensity to believe our group is superior to other comparable groups. However, we are draining away the instinctual energy from nationalism — that’s a big help. I think we’re seeing the beginning of the draining away from the dreadfully dissolutive, oppressive institutions of organized religion. Seeing what’s happening is part of the reason for the Tea Party and the populist revolt now that has kidnapped the Republican Party. There’s a resentment about the old bonds and the old groups dissolving and new groups being formed.
Q. Have you seen concern about biodiversity decline over the last decade? A lot of energy seems to be going toward climate change and not as much toward biodiversity.
A. Isn’t that astonishing? We’re destroying the rest of life in one century. We’ll be down to half the species of plants and animals by the end of the century if we keep at this rate. Very few people are paying any attention, just dedicated groups. The only way we’ve been able to get people’s attention is through big issues like pollution and climate change. They can’t deny pollution because you can give them the taste test. You can say, “We just took this out of the Charles River. Here, drink.” But they can deny climate change. We’re in a state of cosmic or global denial.
However, there are changes. The general direction is going up the right way. The only question is how much damage are we going to do to biodiversity before we catch on. Right now I’m going to national parks around the world — I’ve been to Ecuador, Mozambique, the southwest Pacific, all of Western Europe. I’m going to write a series on national parks — what the basic philosophy of national parks and reserves should be, and how it relates to our own self-image and our own hopes for immortality as a species.
We have to do everything we possibly can. I like to tell this the way a former Southern Baptist would tell it, in the original accent. Then you’ll see what I’m trying to say when I say we have to use every weapon at our disposal, all the time, everything from science to activism to political influence, etc. So this is Billy Sunday, a pioneer in Southern evangelicalism and fundamentalism in the ’20s: “I hate sin. I hate sin so much I’m going to fight it till my arms won’t move no more. When my arms don’t move no more, I’m gonna bite it. And when all my teeth are gone, I’m gonna gum it.” Now you get the picture. We all have to do that. When there’s nothing else at hand, gum it.
Q. Some of our readers sent questions for you via Twitter. One asked, What three lessons should we learn from ants?
A. None. We learned a lot of science from ants, but, for heaven’s sake, let’s not do what ants do. Ants are totally subservient to instinctual rules. Males are produced only a short time each year, and they have only one function, which I won’t go into, and when they perform that, then they die. Also, ants are the most war-like of all known creatures. They are at perfect harmony in a colony, but they’re always at war with any colony they encounter. And furthermore, a lot of species kill and eat their injured. So let’s not go the ant way.
Q. Here’s another: What findings among all of your research still surprise and amaze you?
A. Well, after I found them, they don’t amaze me.
Q. One of our readers wants to know what your favorite ant is.
A. Aren’t some of the readers worrying about biodiversity?
Q. We got four or five variations of this question: Are we doomed?
A. I’d like to say no. I’m surely not going to be stupid enough to say yes. What I will say is: no, I hope.
Here’s my favorite little maxim. It’s from Abba Eban, foreign minister of Israel during the 1967 war, one more dumb, senseless war in the Middle East: “When all else fails, men turn to reason.”
I think maybe we are really and truly ready to start trying to solve problems for once in human history by using our forebrain.
Lisa Hymas is senior editor at Grist. You can follow her on Twitter and Google+.

767. Gerry Foley: A Life Dedicated to Socialist Revolution

Gerry Foley (foreground) with Jeff Mackler at his 68th
birthday celebration, August 19, 2007
(photo credit: Kamran Nayeri)
By Jeff Mackler, April 30, 2012

Few revolutionaries, past or present, have devoted their entire adult lives to the socialist cause as full-timers. Gerry Foley was one of them. He died unexpectedly on April 21 in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state.

Gerry spent 50 years fighting—at near poverty wages—to free humanity from every form of capitalist barbarity, oppression, and exploitation. He did it with a twinkle in his eye and with an engaging passion for all things human—and thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

Gerry was 73. He died less than a week after moving from his semi-retirement residence in Mérida, Mexico, to San Cristóbal, perhaps from the exertion of moving his enormous collection of books into his newly rented home.His friend Pete, on the scene at the time, told us that Gerry had just left a social event in the large communal area of his apartment complex, where he was chatting with some young people. He returned to his apartment extremely short of breath, immediately collapsed to the ground, and died a few minutes later, likely of a heart attack.

Gerry was among Socialist Action’s most dedicated and talented comrades. Those who knew him will immediately recall his generous spirit, depth of knowledge and analysis, brilliance of exposition, love of life in all its diversity, and enduring friendship.

Gerry not only read in about 90 languages; he was fluent in more than a dozen, often serving as translator whenever his skills were required. His uncommon language facility was matched by a deep understanding of the history and culture of each nationality whose language he had mastered. Books were Gerry’s sole prized possessions. He had a collection of perhaps 10,000 scattered from California to Alabama to Mexico.

Gerry, fluent in Gaelic, was likely among the most informed revolutionaries on Irish history and politics. The Irish struggle for liberation, no matter the setbacks, was never far from his consciousness. Perhaps the socialist cause of the renowned Irish Marxist and Republican, James Connolly—among his heroes—appropriately expressed Gerry’s credo almost 100 years later. Connolly observed that “a real socialist movement can only be born of struggle, of uncompromising affirmation of the faith that is in us. Such a movement infallibly gathers to it every element of rebellion and progress, and in the midst of the storm and stress of struggle solidifies into a real revolutionary force.” In his own talks, Gerry expressed similar sentiments many times.

Gerry spent over a year in Ireland working with the Irish comrades, including Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Northern Ireland’s fiery socialist leader and the youngest woman elected to the British parliament. As a professional journalist writing articles for the world Trotskyist press, Gerry’s insights into Irish politics served to inform the revolutionary politics of a generation of political activists.

Decades later, in 1997, Gerry headed the San Francisco-based Committee to Free Roisin McAliskey, Bernadette’s daughter, who was imprisoned and tortured by British authorities as she and her supporters worldwide defeated a German government-initiated deportation effort based on trumped-up charges of involvement in terrorist activities. Then pregnant, Roisin finally won her freedom but not before being forced to have her baby, while in chains, in a filthy British prison facility. Bernadette, who had won the broad respect of U.S. Black liberation activists decades earlier when she gave to the Black Panther Party the “Keys to San Francisco” (awarded to her by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors out of respect for her membership in the British parliament), joined Gerry at mass rallies in defense of her daughter.

During his speeches, and on virtually any subject, tears often came to Gerry’s eyes as he inserted an Irish reference into his discourse. The Irish struggle for self-determination, the longest in world history, lasting more than 700 years and still uncompleted, was ingrained in Gerry’s consciousness. And if you gave him the opportunity, Gerry would happily recount every major event of those 700 years.

No comrade could match Gerry's deep understanding of the national 
question—the struggle of oppressed people and nations for self-determination, dignity, and freedom. He was a champion of all oppressed peoples and despised their oppressors with great passion.

Gerry’s articles have appeared in socialist periodicals around the world. We will soon be publishing a list of many of them. His spirit and dedication to socialist revolution and to building the Leninist party, the prerequisite instrument for bringing it into being, lives in our party and in its comrades. In his semi-retirement, Gerry remained an honorary member of Socialist Action’s Political Committee, often finding time to join its deliberations via Skype and taking an occasional assignment. He hoped to attend the Socialist Action National Convention in August.

How Gerry became a Trotskyist
In autumn 1960, after graduating from American University in Washington, D.C., Gerry began graduate school at Indiana University (IU), in its Russian and East European Institute. There he met a fellow graduate student in Russian literature, George Shriver, who discussed political issues with him from a Trotskyist position. 

That same autumn 1960, fate had brought George and Ellen Shriver to IU from the Boston area, where they had been founding members of the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) earlier in the year. The YSA was the fraternal youth group of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the main Trotskyist organization in the United States at the time. As a result of joint work with George, Ellen, and other Trotskyists in defense of the Cuban Revolution, Gerry joined the Trotskyist movement.

After George, Ellen, and Gerry had left IU, a strong YSA chapter remained behind them. When in 1963 the chapter invited YSA National Organization Secretary LeRoy McCrae to speak on the Black liberation struggle, an Indiana McCarthyite witch-hunting prosecutor, Thomas Hoadley, saw an opportunity to implement an obscure and reactionary anti-communist law. Three YSA members on campus were indicted on charges of  “conspiracy to overthrow the state of Indiana by force and violence.” Gerry actively participated in this important defense effort, soon to become a national and successful campaign for “The Bloomington Three,” Ralph Levitt, Tom Morgan, and Jim Bingham.

After years of effort by the YSA and SWP the law was declared unconstitutional, an important civil liberties victory for the entire socialist movement and for all others who understood the importance of organizing broad defense campaigns for victims of capitalist persecution.

Gerry defended political prisoners in the U.S. and around the world. He was always among the first to sign up to defend capitalism’s victims everywhere and was often involved in their defense committees. In San Francisco, he was a leader in defense of Iranian political prisoners and a participant in the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In autumn 1962, Gerry moved on to further graduate study at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he was an activist in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, also initiated by the SWP and YSA. Soon afterwards, the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis brought the threat of worldwide nuclear war, when the Kennedy administration mobilized the U.S. Navy to confront Soviet ships headed for Cuba with nuclear missiles. The Cubans, who in April 1961 had defeated a U.S.-sponsored invasion at the Bay of Pigs, sought Russian missiles to ensure against another such U.S.-backed invasion.

Gerry was active in Cuba’s defense, selling the SWP’s newspaper, The Militant, and supporting Cuba’s right to defend itself from imperialist attack. And he helped to found a YSA chapter at Madison. Soon, Gerry moved to New York City, where he joined the SWP and did a short stint as a social worker while becoming a member of the newly formed and militant social workers’ union. “I didn’t do too well by city standards,” Gerry told me at that time,” because as I saw it, it was my job to get around all the bureaucratic restrictive provisions of the law and make sure that all my clients got on welfare and received the maximum funding possible.”

A few years later, Gerry applied for a job as translator with the United Nations. He filled out an application requiring that he list the names and number of languages that he could translate. He listed 25. Later, his disbelieving interviewer asked Gerry what he meant by 2.5 languages. Gerry replied that the figure was 25, whereupon the interviewer immediately sent for a bevy of language specialists from several UN departments to verify Gerry’s claim. Gerry passed with ease and was surprised that he was offered the job on the spot, but with one condition. The UN had a rule that each member nation had the right to challenge its own nationals before their applications could be approved.

Gerry was eventually notified that the U.S. government had vetoed his application. But the outraged staffer who so informed Gerry surreptitiously included Gerry’s uncensored FBI file with the UN’s letter of rejection. Gerry told me that it had recorded virtually every YSA and SWP meeting he ever attended, every party position he held, every public meeting he attended, and his every landlord’s name and address. Thus, in those pre-Freedom of Information Act days, still in the McCarthy era, Gerry inadvertently became perhaps the first American to see his unexpurgated FBI file. He took some pride in that.

Revolutionary journalist
Gerry soon became a full-time staffer for the SWP, working under the direction of Joseph Hansen in the production of what was then one of the finest weekly revolutionary news magazines in the world, Intercontinental Press (IP). It was Hansen, Leon Trotsky’s secretary during Trotsky’s exile in Mexico, who mentored Gerry in the critical necessity of accuracy in reporting, depth of research, source checking, and clear and careful formulations to explain the SWP’s then revolutionary politics. At that time, IP was the official periodical of the Fourth International (FI), the world revolutionary socialist organization with which the SWP maintained fraternal relations. Reactionary U.S. legislation prevented the party’s formal affiliation, as it does with Socialist Action today.

Gerry remained on the SWP staff for some 17 years, writing for all its publications, with his articles often reprinted by FI sections. His journalistic assignments took him to Portugal, where he covered the 1974-75 revolution, which overthrew the fascist Salazar dictatorship. He also traveled as a reporter to Iran, when in 1979 a revolutionary wave swept from power the U.S.-backed and installed Shah of Iran and opened the door wider than ever to a socialist transformation. In both cases and in all other instances where Gerry’s knowledge, reporting, and language skills took him to far-off places to cover revolutionary developments, Gerry collaborated with the FI groups in those countries, which were active in the mass mobilizations.

Gerry left the SWP in 1980 to take a staff position on the FI’s new publication, International Viewpoint (IV). He remained in Paris on this assignment for more than a decade. His departure from the SWP, which expelled Gerry retroactively, stemmed from his opposition to the bureaucratic and cult-like practices of SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes, who, along with a compliant new “leadership team,” engineered the SWP’s rejection of its Trotskyist heritage. This was accompanied by the expulsion of hundreds of its most dedicated comrades, including many of the SWP’s founding members from 1938. Many of these comrades soon after formed Socialist Action.

Relocated in Paris, Gerry was a staff writer, translator, and often a speaker for IV at conferences and conventions of FI sections. He authored hundreds of articles covering critical events in world politics and joined the French section of the FI, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR).

Beginning in the late 1980s, Gerry’s mastery of Slavic and other Eastern European languages, and his keen interest in the mass movements in the USSR and Eastern Europe that challenged Stalinist rule, allowed him to author scores of articles that provided great insight into the revolutionary developments in these countries—especially the critical struggle of the USSR’s oppressed nationalities.

Gerry’s assessment of the importance of these developments coincided with Socialist Action’s. For the first time in decades the possibility of building Trotskyist parties in Eastern Europe and the disintegrating USSR had real and immediate potential. He supported Socialist Action’s efforts to send Trotskyist delegations to Eastern Europe and the USSR as well as our contributions to the building of a Trotskyist party in Poland, including the translation into Polish of some important works by Trotsky.

In the early 1990s, Gerry returned to the U.S. to work full time for Socialist Action as the International Editor of our newspaper. Typical of Gerry, however, before leaving IV, he insisted that we underwrite his proposal that he visit Hungary for three weeks so he could “learn the language” and more effectively follow events in that country.

Back in the U.S, Gerry was immediately co-opted to Socialist Action’s Political Committee, where his knowledge of Eastern Europe and the recent events in the USSR contributed greatly to the depth of coverage in our press.Socialist Action newspaper’s coverage of revolutionary developments in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Ireland were remarkable in their detail and analysis, often from first-hand sources or direct participation in the unfolding events.

Gerry eagerly took on assignments around the world. Following the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico, he visited San Cristóbal, Ocosingo, and other cities that the Zapatistas had temporarily occupied, to learn first hand of their impact and to meet with their representatives.

An incident related to the Zapatista rebellion comes to mind that highlights Gerry’s desire to directly connect with the people whose struggles he embraced. I visited San Cristóbal to try to meet with the Zapatistas and to observe their negotiations with the Mexican government, which temporarily ended their first uprising in 1994. Before I left for Mexico, Gerry asked me to bring him back a dictionary of the language of the indigenous people. At the time, such an effort was the last thing on my mind. But by coincidence, during a press conference following the negotiations, a fellow walking through the aisles was hawking just such a dictionary, and I thought that I would bring it back to San Francisco to surprise Gerry with my ability to make good on his essentially eccentric request.

I gleefully handed Gerry the dictionary upon my return, and he quickly opened it. In a moment, with perhaps a tiny hint of disdain, Gerry said, “This dictionary is Tzotzil. I need to begin with the major indigenous root language, Nahuatl. It won’t do me much good.” Vintage Gerry! I am sure that comrades who knew him have thousands of similar anecdotes highlighting Gerry’s magnificent eccentricities.

Gerry Foley touched the lives of revolutionaries around the world, including comrades from other socialist currents that do not share our politics, program, and traditions. Socialist Action has received condolences from many comrades outside our movement, comrades who might have differences with us on important political questions but who respected Gerry’s diligence in presenting our ideas and who benefited from the material that only his skills and experience could provide.

Gerry was one of a kind. To know him was to be enriched in myriad ways. He lives on in our deeds and dedication to the revolutionary cause and program that he championed for a lifetime.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

766. Cuban Officials, Emigrants in US, Talk Reforms in Videoconference Dialogue

Videoconference with Vice Foreign Minister
Dagoberto Rodriguez (inset)

By Associated Press, The Washington Post, April 26, 2012
HAVANA — Cuban officials reached out to U.S. exiles on Saturday with a videoconference between Havana and Washington, promising a highly anticipated migratory reform, but cautioning that its scope might not satisfy everyone.
More than 100 Cuban-Americans and top Foreign Ministry officials discussed President Raul Castro’s ongoing economic changes in the encounter, hosted by hosted by Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez. 

“There has been great advance in this process of normalizing relations” with the Cuban diaspora, Rodriguez said.
Amid the economic reforms and liberalized travel rules instituted by President Barack Obama, Cuba has increasingly sought to dialogue with segments of its large exile community, with several high-profile encounters recently.
Many exiles say they want nothing to do with government leaders in their homeland until Raul and Fidel Castro are out of power, but others are looking to play a role in the changes the island is undergoing.
A popular topic during Saturday’s videoconference between the Foreign Ministry in Havana and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington was a much-anticipated reform of migratory rules that, among other things, require Cubans to apply for an exit visa.
Cuban-Americans also questioned the officials about regulations that strip those who leave permanently of the right to own property back home, and bar them from investing or accessing Cuba’s recently legalized real estate market, which is currently only available to island residents.
Emigrants are treated as second-class citizens, complained a man who identified himself as Julio Ruiz of Miami.
Rodriguez said reforms being studied will take into account the realities of 50 years of emigration and make an “important contribution” to bringing Cubans everywhere closer together. But he also cautioned people not to expect too much.
“The migratory relaxation will take into account the revolutionary state’s right to defend itself from the interventionist plans of the U.S. government and its allies, and at the same time, reasonable countermeasures will be imposed to preserve the human capital created by the revolution,” Rodriguez said.
University of Denver scholar Arturo Lopez-Levy said it’s clear the Cuban government is looking to build bridges to exiles, but so far it has been talking more than listening.
“The official statements indicate that the government is interested in improving relations between the island and its diaspora,” Lopez-Levy said. “Nevertheless such improvement has not been conceived as part of a dialogue, which implies two-way communication and decision-making.
Still, there have been a number of prominent exchanges in recent weeks.
During Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to Cuba, hundreds of Cuban-Americans came here as pilgrims including Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who called for a “soft landing” from Marxism during an emotional sermon at the Havana Cathedral. Earlier this month, the Catholic Church organized a conference of scholars from the Cuban diaspora in Havana.
And Cuban-American businessman Carlos Saladrigas, a one-time hardline anti-Castro militant whose stance toward the island government has softened somewhat, held a conference that was attended by people ranging from dissidents to intellectuals to Communist Party members and others to the left of the communist-run government.
Rodriguez said 400,000 Cuban-Americans came to the island last year to see families or on religious or academic exchanges.
Such visits have increased sharply since Obama lifted restrictions on how often Cuban-Americans can travel back home.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

765. Urban Gardens: Activists Take Over Land Slated for Development and Start a Farm

Activists takeover U.C. Berkeley's Gill Tract
By Jeff Conant,, April 26, 2012
Invoking the spirit of international peasant farmer movements La Via Campesina and Brazil's Movimento Sem Terra, hundreds of people entered a five-acre plot of land at the Berkeley/Albany border on Sunday April 22, in one of this spring's first high-profile actions of the Occupy movement. Their goal? To farm the land and share the food with the local community.  
Under the banner "Occupy the Farm," a coalition of local residents, farmers, students, researchers, and activists broke the lock and entered the UC Berkeley-owned Gill Tract on a sunny Sunday afternoon, bringing with them over 15,000 seedlings, a pair of rototillers and a half-dozen chickens in mobile chicken-tractors. Hundreds of people, including a dozen or so children, went to work clearing weeds, tilling garden beds, filling holes with compost, and planting seedlings. At the end of four hours, they'd planted an estimated three-quarters of an acre.  
After last fall's burst of Occupy actions raised a challenge to corporate control writ large, organizers of Occupy the Farm say they are kicking off the spring season with efforts to reclaim land not just as a way of occupying space, but to meet the needs of communities through food production.  
The group's press release, which garnered significant media attention and brought several TV crews out to film the rebel farmers, said, "Occupy the Farm seeks to address structural problems with health and inequalities in the Bay Area that stem from communities' lack of access to food and land. Today's action reclaims the Gill Tract to demonstrate and exercise the peoples' right to use public space for the public good. This farm will serve as a hub for urban agriculture, a healthy and affordable food source for Bay Area residents and an educational center."  
The Gill Tract, an agricultural research plot owned by UC Berkeley, is the last five acres of Class 1 soil in the East Bay. Generations of UC researchers have farmed here; now UCB Capital Projects, which holds the title to the land, has slated it for rezoning in 2013. Ironically, the activists say the company most likely to buy it up for development is Whole Foods Corporation. Hence the Occupiers' slogan: "Whole food, not Whole Foods."  
The organizers say the UC-owned Gill tract is significant not only because it is the last and best agricultural land in the East Bay, but because the struggle over this land is tied to the struggle to keep the public university serving the public interest. Over the last decade, through investments by Novartis, Syngenta, BP and other corporations, the University of California has become increasingly captured by private interests, which have come to control the research agenda and the land use policy. Now, Occupy the Farm says, the public is taking it back.  
Early on a fog-bound Monday morning less than 24 hours after the occupation began, Anya Kamenskaya, in blue pinstriped overalls, is stretching her arms and legs to recover from a night sleeping on a groundpad. "We're going to have to institute morning calisthenics," she says with a laugh.  
Kamenskaya, a UC Berkeley alum and educator, says, "Farming underutilized spaces such as these can create alternatives to the corporate control of our food system. Five acres can feed up to 250 families using a community-supported agriculture model. A major component of what we're doing here is showing that urban land can and should be used to meet the food needs of local people."  
Kamenskaya studied with Miguel Altieri, a widely respected professor of agro-ecology who works hard to bridge the divide between university research and the needs of farmers, especially in his native South America. As an undergrad in 2008, Kamenskaya says, she got Altieri's approval to start a farm-to-school program with a local elementary school, using a piece of the Gill tract to grow the food.  

"We got quite far in the process," she says. "But the university thwarted us, and it became just another in a long string of attempts to preserve this land for agriculture, and community education for food sovereignty."  
"UC Berkeley is a land grant institution and this land is being administered by a university for the public. Everything done here is supposed to be done for the public good," she said.  
Kamenskaya became interested in agriculture as a young girl at a farm camp in Mendocino. She recalls learning about the Zapatista uprising in Mexico in 1994. The fact that indigenous people were illegally taking over land to grow food struck her deeply. 
Like many of the Occupy the Farm-ers, Kamenskaya participated in key mobilizations last year, such as the Oakland Port shutdown and General Strike. But this is her first time playing the role of organizer.  
"We're kind of an 'Occupy 2.0' in that we're taking the momentum of the Occupy movement and directing it to something very specific in our community."  
A bearded man in a straw hat and overalls who identifies himself as "just Christoph," also worked the Gill Tract as a UC student. "A new urgency developed around this land when we learned that a chunk of it was slated to be developed for a Whole Foods," Christoph says. "This piece of land is a unique resource that needs to be preserved. When the city council of Albany considered making a permit for the Whole Foods, the developer came back and said they wanted the land 'in perpetuity.' We thought, once this is paved over, it will never be accessible for farming again, or, at best, it will take generations."  
Despite a warning from UC police who maintained a brief presence Sunday afternoon, the first night of the occupation passed without police intervention. But the specter of police clubbing protesters at Sproul Plaza and Wheeler Hall last fall, and the infamous pepper-spraying incident at UC Davis, loomed large.  
I asked Cristoph if he really thought they could hold onto the land in the face of the imperative to develop it, and the UC authorities. "Farming is an unimpeachable offense," he said.  
Occupiers see the effort to sell off the Gill Tract as the latest in a string of privatization schemes by the university. Over the last several decades, the university has increasingly shifted use of the Gill Tract away from sustainable agriculture and toward biotechnology, with funding from corporations such as Novartis and BP.  
"Most of the research being done here is corn genetic isolation," Robbie Zeinstra, another UC alum, tells me. "It could be harmless or it could be used for genetic modification and more of a capitalist approach to agriculture."  
"We don't know if the researchers on this plot are being funded by Novartis, Syngenta or BP," Zeinstra said. "We can assume so. But the trickle-down happens in that what the university is prioritizing. It's not prioritizing growing food for people or creating an agriculture compatible with people and local cultures. It's fostering an agriculture that's only compatible with a large market system."  
Zeinstra seemed eager to finish our talk and get to tilling. But he had a final point: "Regardless of what kind of research is being done here," he said, "this land is under threat of being developed. If the land is developed, no one is going to do any research here or grow any food here. That's really why we're here -- to contest the development of the land."  
All of the half-dozen occupiers I interviewed said their priority is to empower communities to control their own resilient food systems for a stable and just future. The group consciously terms this practice "food sovereignty," in solidarity with La Via Campesina and the Movimento Sin Tierra (Landless Workers Movement) of Brazil.  

"I think what we're doing fits nicely into the global food sovereignty movement," said Anya Kamenskaya. "Obviously on a socio-economic scale our struggles are different than those of peasant farmers. We live in one of the richest countries in the world. But everyone in the world shares the problem of food access because corporations control so much of global food production. Communities all over the world can understand the imperative to wrest control over food from the grip of the corporations."  
The plan to Occupy the farm was hatched in late fall of 2011, and kept secret until it was pulled off. To get the thousands of seedlings needed to move in and plant all at once, dozens of farmers from Berkeley down to Santa Cruz volunteered to plant seeds, and tended them all spring awaiting this weekend's action. But none of the growers knew the final destination of the peas, lettuce, chard, carrots and squash they were tending.  
On the first night of the occupation, a dozen tents went up, giving the site the appearance of other Occupy sites. One of the tents, which had made the rounds of Bay Area Occupy sites from San Francisco to Oakland, bore a Woody Guthrie-inspired slogan in large purple letters: "This tent kills fascists."  
But organizers insist this project is unique, and heralds a new beginning for Occupy. One of the organizers, Gopal Dayaneni of Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project pointed to the ground at his feet and said, "We located the tents right here specifically because this is where we're going to till tomorrow. The idea is, this is not an encampment -- this is a farm. We don't want to accumulate the stuff, and the human presence, of other Occupy encampments. We want to farm."  
By the next morning, as planned, the tents had been moved; people with machetes were chopping down head-high mustard stalks and piling them in windrows. In the center of a pile of weeds stacked eight feet tall and 40 feet around, a composting toilet had been built.  
Dayaneni, who took a lead role in the organizing, brought his two children and their friends to work on Sunday. "They worked their tails off, and they loved it," he said.  
That night, when the first flush of work was over and it came time to set up camp and begin laying the ground rules, Dayaneni congratulated everyone on the hard work, and urged that the space be made as community friendly as possible. "If I can't bring my kids," he said sternly, "I ain't coming back."  
Several neighborhood residents who'd joined the work party applauded the sentiment.  
Seeing this as an evolution of the Occupy movement, Christoph says, "We're trying to be a model for the Bay Area, for the Occupy movement and for the nation about what land occupations can do." Citing the other tactics of the movement, he says, "A foreclosure defense will keep a family in its home. A space occupation will put people into a new space. These are good things, for sure. But a land occupation can feed hundreds of people. If all that happens on this land is that we grow food, then it's a success."   

Related link:
Occupy the Farm

Friday, April 27, 2012

764. To Keep the Faith, Don't Get Analytical

By Greg Miller, Science Now, April 26, 2012
Many people with religious convictions feel that their faith is rock solid. But a new study finds that prompting people to engage in analytical thinking can cause their religious beliefs to waver, if only a little. Researchers say the findings have potentially significant implications for understanding the cognitive underpinnings of religion.
Psychologists often carve thinking into two broad categories: intuitive thinking, which is fast and effortless (instantly knowing whether someone is angry or sad from the look on her face, for example); and analytic thinking, which is slower and more deliberate (and used for solving math problems and other tricky tasks). Both kinds of thinking have their strengths and weaknesses, and they often seem to interfere with one another. "Recently there's been an emerging consensus among [researchers] … that a lot of religious beliefs are grounded in intuitive processes," says Will Gervais, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada and a co-author of the new study, published today in Science.
One example comes from a study by neuroscientist and philosopher Joshua Greene and colleagues at Harvard University, published last September in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. They asked hundreds of volunteers recruited online to answer three questions with appealingly intuitive answers that turn out to be wrong. For example, "A bat and ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?" Although $0.10 comes easily to mind (it's the intuitive answer), it takes some analytical thought to come up with the correct answer of $0.05. People who chose more intuitive answers on these questions were more likely to report stronger religious beliefs, even when the researchers controlled for IQ, education, political leanings, and other factors.
In the same study, another group of volunteers wrote a paragraph about a time in their lives when either following their intuition or careful reasoning led to a good outcome. Those who wrote about intuition reported stronger religious beliefs on a questionnaire taken immediately afterward. If intuitive thinking encourages religious belief, as Greene's study suggested, analytical thinking might encourage disbelief—or so Gervais and his adviser, social psychologist Ara Norenzayan, hypothesized.
To test this idea, the duo devised several ways to subconsciously put people in what they considered a more analytical mindset. In one experiment with 57 undergraduate students, some volunteers viewed artwork depicting a reflective thinking pose (such as Rodin's The Thinker) while others viewed art depicting less intellectual pursuits (such as throwing a discus) before answering questionnaires about their faith. In another experiment with 93 undergraduates and a larger sample of 148 American adults recruited online, some subjects solved word puzzles that incorporated words such as "analyze," "reason," and "ponder," while others completed similar puzzles with only words unrelated to thinking, such as "high" and "plane." In all of these experiments, people who got the thinking-related cues reported weaker religious beliefs on the questionnaires taken afterward than did the control group.
In a final experiment, Gervais and Norenzayan asked 182 volunteers to answer a religious questionnaire as usual, while others answered the same questionnaire printed in a hard-to-read font, which previous studies have found promotes analytic thinking. And indeed, those who had to work harder to comprehend the questionnaire rated their religious beliefs lower.
Because people were randomly assigned to the analytical-thinking and control groups, and because the results were consistent across all their experiments, Gervais says it's very unlikely the findings could result from one group being more religious to begin with. Moreover, in two of these experiments, the researchers administered religious belief questionnaires to the participants a few weeks beforehand and found no difference between the groups.
The effects of the analytical-thinking manipulations were modest. "We're not turning people into atheists," says Gervais. Rather, when the questionnaire responses of all subjects in an experiment are taken together, they indicate a small shift away from religious belief.
"It's very difficult to distinguish between what a person believes and what they say they believe," says Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and Nobel laureate at Princeton University who has done pioneering work on the contributions of intuitive and analytical thinking to human decision making. "All they have shown, and all that can be shown, is that when you're thinking more critically you reject statements that otherwise you would endorse," Kahneman says. "It tells you that there are some religious beliefs people hold that if they were thinking more critically, they themselves would not endorse."
To Gervais and Norenzayan, the findings suggest that intuitive thinking, likely along with other cognitive and cultural factors, is a key ingredient in religious belief. Greene agrees: "Through some combination of culture and biology, our minds are intuitively receptive to religion." He says, "If you're going to be unreligious, it's likely going to be due to reflecting on it and finding some things that are hard to believe."
"In some ways this confirms what many people, both religious and nonreligious, have said about religious belief for a long time, that it's more of a feeling than a thought," says Nicholas Epley, a psychologist at the University of Chicago. But he predicts the findings won't change anyone's mind about whether God exists or whether religious belief is rational. "If you think that reasoning analytically is the way to go about understanding the world accurately, you might see this as evidence that being religious doesn't make much sense," he says. "If you're a religious person, I think you take this evidence as showing that God has given you a system for belief that just reveals itself to you as common sense."

763. Study Indicates a Greater Threat of Extreme Weather

By Justin Gillis, The New York Times, April 26, 2012

New research suggests that global warming is causing the cycle of evaporation and rainfall over the oceans to intensify more than scientists had expected, an ominous finding that may indicate a higher potential for extreme weather in coming decades.

By measuring changes in salinity on the ocean’s surface, the researchers inferred that the water cycle had accelerated by about 4 percent over the last half century. That does not sound particularly large, but it is twice the figure generated from computerized analyses of the climate.
If the estimate holds up, it implies that the water cycle could quicken by as much as 20 percent later in this century as the planet warms, potentially leading to more droughts and floods.
“This provides another piece of independent evidence that we need to start taking the problem of global warming seriously,” said Paul J. Durack, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the lead author of a paper being published Friday in the journal Science.
The researchers’ analysis found that over the half century that began in 1950, salty areas of the ocean became saltier, while fresh areas became fresher. That change was attributed to stronger patterns of evaporation and precipitation over the ocean.
The new paper is not the first to find an intensification of the water cycle, nor even the first to calculate that it might be fairly large. But the paper appears to marshal more scientific evidence than any paper to date in support of a high estimate.
“I am excited about this paper,” said Raymond W. Schmitt, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who offered a critique of the work before publication but was otherwise not involved. “The amplification pattern that he sees is really quite dramatic.”
The paper is the latest installment in a long-running effort by scientists to solve one of the most vexing puzzles about global warming.
While basic physics suggests that warming must accelerate the cycle of evaporation and rainfall, it has been difficult to get a handle on how much acceleration has already occurred, and thus to project the changes that are likely to result from continued planetary warming.
The fundamental problem is that measurements of evaporation and precipitation over the ocean — which covers 71 percent of the earth’s surface, holds 97 percent of its water and is where most evaporation and precipitation occurs — are spotty at best. To overcome that, scientists are trying to use the changing saltiness of the ocean’s surface as a kind of rain gauge.
That works because, as rain falls on a patch of the ocean, it freshens the surface water. Conversely, in a region where evaporation exceeds rainfall, the surface becomes saltier.
The variations in salinity are large enough that they can be detected from space, and NASA recently sent up a new satellite, Aquarius, for that purpose. But it will take years to obtain results, and scientists like Dr. Durack are trying to get a jump on the problem by using older observations, including salinity measurements taken by ships as well as recent measurements from an army of robotic floats launched in an international program called Argo.
Dr. Schmitt cautioned that the work by Dr. Durack and his co-authors, the Australian researchers Susan E. Wijffels and Richard J. Matear, would need to be scrutinized and reproduced by other scientists.
Another expert not involved in the work, Kevin E. Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said that Dr. Durack had produced intriguing evidence that global warming was already creating changes in the water cycle at a regional scale. But Dr. Trenberth added that he doubted that the global intensification could be as large as Dr. Durack’s group had found. “I think he might have gone a bit too far,” he said.
Assuming that the paper withstands scrutiny, it suggests that a global warming of about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past half century has been enough to intensify the water cycle by about 4 percent. That led Dr. Durack to project a possible intensification of about 20 percent as the planet warms by several degrees in the coming century.
That would be approximately twice the amplification shown by the computer programs used to project the climate, according to Dr. Durack’s calculations. Those programs are often criticized by climate-change skeptics who contend that they overestimate future changes, but Dr. Durack’s paper is the latest of several indications that the estimates may actually be conservative.
The new paper confirms a long-expected pattern for the ocean that also seems to apply over land: areas with a lot of rainfall in today’s climate are expected to become wetter, whereas dry areas are expected to become drier.
In the climate of the future, scientists fear, a large acceleration of the water cycle could feed greater weather extremes. Perhaps the greatest risk from global warming, they say, is that important agricultural areas could dry out, hurting the food supply, as other regions get more torrential rains and floods.