Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Legacy

"I am feeling pain for you, Mr. President. We didn’t use to have drone strikes on outdoor restaurants in countries we are not at war with."

  Last night was the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner, the eighth and final #WHCD for @POTUS Barack Obama. While it is ostensibly a celebrity roast of the sitting president, it is almost always kept very tame. Host Larry Wilmore had a few awkward moments of silence and boos when he quipped:
"And I have to admit it’s not easy to follow the president, man. You got some jokes. Mr. President. The president’s funny. Stay in your lane, man. You don’t see me going around president-ing all the time, right? I don’t go around passing health care, and signing executive orders pardoning turkeys … not closing Guantanamo. Oh wait, maybe I did do that.
"But I have to say, it’s great, it looks like you’re really enjoying your last year of the presidency. Saw you hanging out with NBA players like Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors. That was cool. That was cool, yeah. You know it kinda makes sense, too, because both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances, right? What? Am I wrong? Speaking of drones, how is Wolf Blitzer still on television?"
Back on June 15, 2015, Marc Maron welcomed President Barack Obama to his L.A. garage for an appearance on the number one rated podcast, WTF. What ensued was an hour-long conversation about college, fitting in, race relations, gun control, raising kids in the White House, and, obviously the reason the President would appear on a podcast with a name like WTF -- the Obama legacy. Just like a Correspondent’s Dinner, the jibes were G-rated.

We wondered what could have been.

Marc: Thank you for this honor and I would like to get right to the heart of it. Okay? You are here because you are worried about your legacy, right? I mean, nobody comes to my garage — a President of the United States doesn’t come to my garage — unless you are pretty desperately worried.

POTUS: (laughs) I’ll let other people worry about these things, seriously. There is nothing I can really do about that, so why bother trying? People will judge me, and that comes with the job.

Marc: But lets get right down to it, they will judge you not on the things you got right but where you blew it, right? As Shakespeare said, The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. Where do you think you blew it?

Tented entrance to Marc's garage
POTUS: Well, I don’t disagree with you. I look at many recent presidents whom I consider to have done a better job than I have but who are vilified, often for the wrong reasons. I came to office at a particularly difficult time when the Republican Party was struggling to find an identity, and in their internal squabbles, made me the scapegoat, which put me in a difficult position. I could have handled that better, perhaps. But when I take an unemployment rate of 10 percent down to 5.5 percent, when I drive the uninsured rate to the lowest it's ever been, when I restore people's 401(k)s, when I make sure that we're doubling clean energy, and we are reducing our carbon footprint, and high school graduations are the highest they've ever been, and college attendance is the highest it's ever been, and LGBT rights have been recognized and solidified in ways that we couldn't even imagine ten years ago – when I look at those things, I can say that in terms of not just managing the government, but moving the country forward, we've had a lot more hits than misses. We've made a difference in people's lives. And that is ultimately what you're looking for.

Marc: But didn’t you invite Boehner over for beers? That is not really what I am talking about, with all due respect Mr. President. I mean — you tortured some folks.

POTUS: I think the line is “We tortured some folks,” and I was speaking in the past tense.

Marc: But all due respect Mr. President. I meant you tortured some folks. They are still being tortured. The CIA is torturing them at surrogate black sites in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Some of those are probably American citizens. You have people still being tortured in Guantánamo because the various human rights commissions have looked at that place and how it is being run and called it torture. You have a former Gitmo prosecutor, going public and calling it “a severe threat to the reputation of the military justice system and even a fraud on the American people.” You have another former prosecutor there calling the process rigged. We know that there are innocent people there. You have released a few of them, but there are still a lot more that if they had their cases tried in court they would be let go. And they are being tortured with isolation and sleep deprivation and force feeding and bags over their heads.

If you aren’t getting these in your NSA morning briefings, you should listen to Brandon Neely speak about his experiences as a guard at Guantánamo.

POTUS: I think you have to be more careful about taking your news from the Internet, Marc (laughs).

Marc: Okay. That’s fair. What about the Uyghurs? You joked about them. Bush had 22 of them sent to Gitmo in 2002 after they were turned in by the Taliban, unarmed, in East Turkestan. They weren’t fighting the US. They liked the US. They were trying to flee the Chinese who were occupying their country and they were on their way to Turkey. The Uyghurs are as oppressed as the Tibetans, but they don't receive as much recognition because they don’t have a spokesman like the Dalai Lama.

POTUS: And like the Tibetians, or the Taiwanese, we are walking a delicate line. We have to consider our interests with respect to the Chinese, and a host of diplomatic relations there from nuclear disarmament to currency exchange rates to global climate change.

Marc: In 2005 it was determined they were not enemy combatants. They sued in US District Court and when the case was about to come up, Bush had the 5 named plaintiffs transferred to Albania. The other 17 were transferred to Isolation in Camp Six — shackled to the floor, 22 hours per day in cells with no natural light. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter.

Their case went to the US Supreme Court and the court ruled the Executive Branch lacked the Constitutional authority to detain them. Congress then revoked habeas corpus so they were knocked out of court and could not enforce the ruling. Great Britain offered them asylum but Bush wouldn’t send them. Munich, which has the largest population of Uyghurs outside China, invited them, but Bush wouldn’t release them.

POTUS: This was all the previous administration….

Marc: So then you get into office, and they were still there. Still in Guantánamo. Kiyemba v. Obama? Does that ring a bell? The Bush government acknowledged as early as 2003 that the Uyghurs were improperly detained and eligible for release. You held them until 2013.

POTUS: In all fairness, Marc, that was a political football, with a court case pending that tied my hands.

Marc: Seriously? The guy you appointed at the State Department to find countries to send them to said he couldn’t get anyone because the guys you appointed over at the Justice Department made them out to be so dangerous that they shouldn’t even be able to use habeas corpus to have their cases tried. And what did you do? You joked about them. Seriously, Mr. President, I have done some pretty lame standup, but the Correspondents’ Dinner joke about the Uyghurs, who were being tortured in Gitmo, would even have been in poor taste for me.

Why didn’t you just offer them jobs in the White House? They could have been gardeners or janitors. They didn’t have to come into the Residence. They could have mopped the floors in the West Wing.

POTUS: Admittedly, not my finest hour. But in all honesty, Marc, you and I can both agree Guantánamo continues to impose significant costs on the American people. It took a while, but we finally got greater flexibility to transfer Guantánamo detainees abroad, and I look forward to closing the facility before I leave office.

Marc: Right. What about Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki?

POTUS: That is quite a mouthful Marc. Are you studying Pashtun?


Marc: Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was a 16-year old US citizen, with no connection to terrorism. He was in Yemen searching for his father, Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual Yemeni-American citizen who worked as Islamic Lecturer in the Arabian Peninsula.

You decided, in your weekly targets meeting, to kill Anwar al-Awlaki with an armed CIA drone because the CIA didn’t like what he was saying in his lectures. Al-Awlaki was killed by us, America, in a country with which we are not at war. He was a lecturer. He was killed by his own government for speaking the truth as he saw it. He had constitutional rights that you, a professor of constitutional law, chose to ignore. Then, when his son went looking for him, two weeks later, Bang! You droned the son too.

POTUS: I cannot speak to matters of national security as you no doubt are aware. The Department of Defense has issued a statement that the boy was killed by accident, collateral damage in a strike against an Al Qaeda bombmaker.

Marc: He was sitting in an outdoor restaurant!

POTUS: (silence)

Marc: Do you see what I am getting at here? Do you understand the pain I feel in asking you? I am feeling pain for you, Mr. President. We didn’t use to have drone strikes on outdoor restaurants in countries we are not at war with. Even Bush didn’t do that.

POTUS: I was talking to somebody the other day about why I actually think I’m a better president and would be a better candidate if I were running again than I ever have been. And it’s sort of like an athlete—you might slow down a little bit, you might not jump as high as you used to, but I know what I’m doing and I’m fearless.

Marc: For real. You’re not pretending to be fearless.

POTUS: Right, you’re not pretending to be fearless. And when you get to that point?

Marc: Freedom.

POTUS: And also part of that fearlessness is because you’ve screwed up enough times that you know that—

Marc: It’s all happened.

POTUS: It’s all happened. I’ve been through this, I’ve screwed up, I’ve been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls, and I emerged, and I lived. And that’s such a liberating feeling. It’s one of the benefits of age. It almost compensates for the fact I can’t play basketball anymore.

Marc: How do you define terror? We are in a War On Terror that is supposed to last my lifetime. What is terror? Is being afraid to go outdoors terror? Is being afraid to sit in an outdoor restaurant in a country not at war terror? Isn’t that what happened last November in Paris? Isn’t that what terror is — keeping people in a constant state of fear; terrorized? Who is doing that? Aren’t you doing that inside America as well as in places like Yemen and Pakistan too? You don’t have to go through the lines at the airport and take off your shoes and have your toothpaste confiscated so maybe you don’t know. Do you imagine there are not consequences when you do that for a long time? Don’t you foresee some really pissed off people?

Ten years shackled to the floor in Gitmo while known to be innocent. I’d be a little pissed off.

POTUS: It is a dangerous world out there, Marc. But look. We ended two wars. I always said from the start that there really are people out there who would have no compunction about just blowing up an entire neighborhood of Americans – innocent men, women and children – for ideological reasons. We have to deal with that. That then means that we do have to be able to identify those networks. We do have to, when we can find those folks, try to prevent them from doing what they're doing. And so, for the last seven years what I've tried to do is to build up a defense posture that is consistent with our values and due process, build up an intelligence system that is consistent with our civil liberties.

Marc: I know. I get it. You are stuck between Iraq and a hard place. I guess what I am saying is that if you want to know how you will be remembered, this is how you will be remembered. It won’t be for Obamacare or climate change. Your record on torture and terror-killing from the skies has been abysmal. You have droned wedding parties and hospitals. It is a standard riff for standup comics. You are deep in torture “to the point of obstruction, concealment, and ultimate complicity” and that’s not me saying that, that’s Wells Dixon, the senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

You never held Bush officials accountable for what happened. You are still holding back the Senate report on torture.  You had Secretary of State Kerry call Feinstein and tell her to delay the report’s release. Your administration itself has transferred prisoners into facilities run by governments where torture is used — a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture — even though our allies have stopped sending prisoners there, you still do.

You issued an executive order taking control of torture out of the CIA and giving it to the White House lawyers, but you didn’t ban it. You still allow prolonged isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation and intimidating or humiliating practices. Your order specifically did not ban extraordinary rendition or prohibit CIA random and arbitrary secret detention. That was no accident, come on. Although we can’t say for sure that nobody’s been flown off to countries such as Egypt and tortured under your orders, as they were under Bush and Clinton, CIA captives have been transferred to facilities run by the Afghan security forces where we know torture takes place. And lets be serious. That is why you are sending them there.

If they survive and sue you, your guys have repeatedly invoked state-secrets privilege to stop them from having a fair day in court. Without any deterrent of civil or criminal prosecution, future presidents might feel they can bring back waterboarding, or hanging people from the ceiling.  That’s your legacy, Mr. President.

POTUS: This interview is over (muffled mic noise).
 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hillarism

"The Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump link to a single bad gene in our political DNA."


It is the political silly season, although these days it never seems to be otherwise. Delma Rouseff, Brazil’s heroic anti-establishment, anti-corruption President, has been impeached by the lower house on (dubious) charges of corruption, but the former, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called it more accurately a "coup d’état.”

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned after it was revealed he owned an offshore company with his wife to channel millions of kroner. British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he owned shares in a Bahamas-based trust up until 2010. In Malta, protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for the same tax-avoidance activities.

Scores of countries will hold national elections in 2016. In January, Portugal elected Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, former leader of the Social Democratic Party and supported by the Social Democratic Party and the CDS – People's Party. Portugal, which rationalized recreational drug policy in 2001, tilted left.

Ireland, which has a gender neutral election law, requiring any election to be supported by at least 30% male and 30% female voters, in February elected a right-leaning Dáil Éireann (parliament). Sadly the coalition is still too fractious to choose a Taoiseach (prime minister)

In 2013 Ireland consolidated separate county and local water authorities into a single national utility, which proceeded to install meters everywhere and raise rates. In 2014 and 2015 local protests blocked meter installers. Four percent of Ireland's population showed up at one demonstration in Dublin. Irish Water is a wedge between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so no prime minister for Ireland.

Legislative elections for 450 Duma seats will be held in Russia on 18 September. Polls April 10th give Dmitry Medvedev’s conservative United Russia 46%, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s right-wing anti-communist Liberal Democratic Party 11%, Gennady Zyuganov’s left-wing Communist Party 9%, A Just Russia People's Freedom Party 5% and the remainder to 10 other parties, including the Greens led by Oleg Mitvol.

In Peru, the first round on April 10th narrowed the field to Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, of the Popular Force party, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski candidate of the Peruvians for Change party. Fujimori has a healthy lead and the second round of voting comes June 5th. Peru is interesting if for no other reason than the names of its political parties (as translated): 
Popular Force
Peruvians for Change
Broad Front
Alliance for Progress
Popular Alliance
Popular Action
Direct Democracy
Possible Peru
Hope Front
Order Party
Developing Peru
Everybody for Peru

These names seem like something you might read on post-its on the wall of the “creatives” room in an ad agency.

In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last November: "I would say around September–October is when you should expect the next election to be.” However, when parties predictably deadlocked over bills to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a bone of contention for the opposition Labor Party, Turnbull this week announced he would dissolve Parliament on May 3 and call for new elections July 2. Turnbull himself is well known to Australians and his party the clear frontrunner. But lately he has been losing ground to Labor leader Bill Shorten in the polls. Labor needs to win 21 seats to take power, a swing of 4.3%. BBC reports:
“Mr Turnbull will attempt to paint Mr Shorten as a union lackey who cannot manage the economy; Mr Shorten will say Mr Turnbull is an out-of-touch protector of greedy banks leading a divided party that stands for nothing.”

The Philippines just concluded its presidential debate cycle and is headed to national elections May 9th. At the top of the ballot is the election for successor to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. The leading candidate is the current VP Jejomar Binay. His opponents include Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (People's Reform Party) who is suffering from stage 4 lung cancer. Called "the Iron Lady of Asia,” she was the widely expected winner of the 1992 Philippine Presidential Elections, but lost after an inexplicably unscheduled power outage during the counting of votes. The Supreme Court of the Philippines recently declared optical scanner counting devices “corrupt” and forced precincts to return to hand counts.

Santiago announced her candidacy for president in the launch of her book, Stupid is Forever, on October 13, 2015.

Other candidates include Rodrigo “Courage and Compassion” Duterte (PDP–Laban), Grace "Government with a Heart” Poe (Independent) and Mar "Continue the Straight Path” Roxas (Liberal).

While the People’s Republic of China will not be holding national elections this year, what is brewing at the grass roots in Hong Kong is QI — quite interesting.  Wikipedia reports:
The emergence of new political groups led by young activists is set to shake up the political landscape of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence localist group, faired well in the February New Territories East by-election by receiving more than 66,000 votes, coming third after pan-democratic Civic Party and pro-Beijing DAB, gaining about 15 percent of the total votes. A day after the election, localist groups including Wong Yuk-man's Proletariat Political Institute, Wong Yeung-tat's Civic Passion and Chin Wan's Hong Kong Resurgence Order announced a plan to field candidates in all five geographical constituencies.

On 10 April 2016. six post-Occupy organisations, Youngspiration, East Kowloon Community, Tin Shui Wai New Force, Cheung Sha Wan Community Establishment Power, Tsz Wan Shan Constructive Power and Tuen Mun Community, political groups formed after the Umbrella Revolution, formed an electoral alliance planned to field candidates in four of the five geographical constituencies with the agenda to put forward a referendum on Hong Kong's self-determination. Hong Kong Indigenous and another new pro-independence Hong Kong National Party also stated that they will run in the upcoming election.

On the same day on 10 April 2016, the student leaders in the Umbrella Revolution, Joshua Wong, Oscar Lai and Agnes Chow of Scholarism and Nathan Law of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) also formed a new party Demosisto which was inspired by Taiwan's New Power Party which was formed by the Sunflower Movement leaders and fared well in the 2016 Taiwanese legislative election. The new party calls for referendum on Hong Kong's future after 2047 when the One Country, Two Systems is supposed to expire. The party aimed at fielding candidates in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon East, facing competitions from other new political groups while posing challenge to the traditional pan-democracy camp.

Finally, turning to the USA: With Bernie Sanders’ inability to unset the Hillary Clinton base in New York (Manhattan 66% - 33%; Westchester County 67% - 32%) on Tuesday, it looks more and more like a Clinton victory at the convention is a lead pipe cinch. Who knows? She might even have the team to out-Diebold the Trump machine. In Brooklyn, tens of thousands of voters discovered too late that they were ineligible to vote. The New York City Elections Board confirmed that more than 125,000 Brooklyn voters had been scrubbed from the voter rolls and the NY Attorney General's office is on the case. Clinton can now win less than half of the remaining primaries and still gain the required number of delegates.

Can she throw some kind of a aikido move on the Trump steamroller? We don’t yet know who controls the machines, but it is a pretty good bet it ain’t the Donald.

This past week George Monbiot penned one of the best essays of his career, although it was actually a teaser for his new book, How Did We Get into This Mess? published by Verso for £12.99.

In naming Neoliberalism as the root of all our problems, Monbiot linked the Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, rigged Philippine elections, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump to a single bad gene in our political DNA.

Monbiot writes:
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

When George W. Bush attributed the rise of Islamic jihadis to “they hate our freedom,” what he was doing was reinforcing the neoliberal meme. As Monbiot puts it:
Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.
Hillary Clinton likes to tell audiences that because of the Affordable Care Act, "We now have driven costs down to the lowest they've been in 50 years.” Actually, health spending in the United States is higher than it's ever been, so the statement on its face is inaccurate. The U.S. spends more per capita than every other country in the OECD; and twice as much per capita as the system in France, with considerably worse average outcomes.

Monbiot writes:
The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income.

Unearned income is what buys elections, and not just in the United States.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. And that is what none of the elections in 2016 seem to be doing.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Eating Trees

"The Far-East traditional pharmacopeia is filled with remedies made from humble saprophytes on the forest floor."

Toko Hosoya, 8 Bored Mushroom People, Solo Exhibition
Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do  was not our first book — it was our fourth — but it was the first time our publisher at The Farm, the Book Publishing Company, asked us along on their annual junket to one of the world’s most lavish trade shows.

The venue for the American Booksellers Association that year was Las Vegas, and we traveled in the company of several other Farm authors, including Stephen Gaskin, who was actually there as part of an Electric Kool-Aid reunion outing, with Random House fronting the tab for a picture-perfect replica of Further, the Merry Prankster bus. (In November 2005 the original 1964 Further was dragged out of the swamp with a tractor and now resides in a warehouse at Kesey's farm in Oregon, alongside the 1990 Further).

Bill Walton
That 1990 weekend was the first time in more than 20 years that Stephen had dropped acid, and as far as we know also the last time. He found himself in a bar crawl on the Vegas Strip with Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter and Mickey Hart, basketball legend Bill Walton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Perry Barlow and High Times editor Steven Hager and when the tablets passed around, in a disco called The Shark Club, he did not abstain. We recall him taking us to the Wee Kirk of The Heather, where, straight from the Marine Corps and the Korean Conflict, “Spider” Gaskin had celebrated his first marriage, a short lived affair that lasted only one night.
That was before he met and married the cactus and mushroom abuelas in ceremonies before a fire in Mexico.



It was in Las Vegas that 1990 weekend that we first met Bob Harris, proprietor of Mushroompeople. Bob was a serious mycologist and scholar, a former professor at Evergreen State College, where, in the early 70’s, he guided a bright student named Paul Stamets towards a career in research that would make him famous. Paul bought Bob’s small mail order spore business but Bob decided to keep his lab equipment so he could grow shiitake spawn. Bob and his partner, Jennifer Snyder, traveled to Japan where they tracked down the best available strains and then for many years produced the finest shiitake spawn for sale in North America.

 

By 1990 Harris was ready to move on. He was doing well with other enterprises, thinking of moving to Hawaii, and wanted to sell Mushroompeople. When he approached us in Las Vegas, he asked whether such a business might do well at The Farm. Personally, at that time, we were having a bit of a personal crisis. Spending the better part of a decade writing the Climate book had unseated our faith in the future. Our practice of public interest appellate law, as celebrated as we had become, was paling in comparison to the big picture. We had high blood pressure, our marriage was unraveling, we did not get to see our children much, and life was taking on a diminishing quality. We were even experimenting with antidepressants, although that didn’t last long.

So we said okay.

Mushroompeople moved to The Farm in 1991. We gradually wrapped up our caseload of atomic veterans, Native American religious liberty claims, toxic waste dumps, the MX missile deployment and the rest, and shuttered the Natural Rights Center.  We refitted The Farm’s recycling center, formerly our potato, apple and onion barn, into a distribution office, lab and laying yard, and printed colorful catalogs with little mushroom characters modeled on Gary Trudeau’s talking cigarettes from Doonesbury.

 

One of the things that Bob Harris said that sealed the deal was that shiitake could make our hypertension go away. One gram per day, a small dried mushroom, was enough to balance our  blood pressure. If it was too high it would bring it down. If it was too low it would bring it up. We don’t think, in retrospect, that was really true, but it definitely captured our imagination. Anyway our depression went away.

These kinds of mushrooms as winter crops are not a new thing, and an enterprising farmer with a few acres of forest can turn a six-figure income on a few hours of work per week. During the Sung Dynasty (960-1127) Chinese researcher Wu Sang Kwuang first reported shiitake mushrooms fruit when logs are “soaked and striked.” In 1904 the Japanese agronomist Shozaburo Miura published studies of a technique for inoculating logs with cultured mycelium. After that the business was off and running.

Shittake, and other gourmet forest mushrooms from China, Korea and Japan, have medicinal as well as nutritive properties. Both shiitake and reishi produce interleukin-2 in the blood, and that has known abilities to reduce inflammation and tumors and boost immune response. The Far-East traditional pharmacopeia is filled with remedies made from humble saprophytes on the forest floor.

 

Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) a.k.a. Pom-pom, Shaggy Tooth, Goat’s Beard contains polysaccharides and polypeptides which tend to enhance immune function. Cooked, it is used to treat indigestion and gastritis. Researchers have found it has a significant inhibitory effect on sarcoma 180 in white mice. In China, the mycelium is commonly taken in pill form to cure ulcers and cancers of the digestive tract. It is usually dried for storage, then softened in water, cut into thin slices and added to stir-fry dishes, soups, rice, etc. In China, the water decoction is drunk twice daily, added to millet wine, for treatment of ulcers, cancers, and general debility.

 

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotis var.; e.g. Pleurotus ostreatus, P. sajor-caju, P. florida, P. sapidus, P. flabellatus, P. eryngii) are rich in Vitamin C and B complex and the protein content varies between 1.6 to 2.5 percent. It has most of the mineral salts required by the human body.  The niacin content is about ten times higher than any other vegetables. The folic acid present in oyster mushrooms helps to cure anemia. It is suitable for people with hyper-tension, obesity and diabetes due to its low sodium to potassium ratio, starch, fat and calorific value. Alkaline ash and high fibre content makes it suitable for consumption for those having hyperacidity and constipation. A polycyclic aromatic compound pleurotin has been isolated from P. griseus which possess antibiotic properties.

Coral Mushroom

It grows naturally in the temperate and tropical forests on dead and decaying wooden logs or sometimes on dying trunks of deciduous or coniferous woods. It may also grow on decaying organic matter, cardboard and newspaper, and various agro-wastes or forest wastes without composting. Last year we described a visit to a microenterprise in England that gathered the daily coffee grounds from all the local cafes and turned them into home oyster kits.
  
Oyster mushrooms require a temperature of 20°C to 30°C, both for its vegetative growth (spawn run) and reproductive phase, i.e. for formation of fruit bodies. The suitable cultivation period at high altitude - 1100-1500 meters above mean sea level – is March to October, mid altitude - 600-1100 meters above mean sea level – is February to May & September to November and at Low altitude - Below 600 meters above mean sea level – is October to March.

 

Hereabouts in May and June we will look for Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) a fruity, flavorful delicacy containing all 8 essential amino acids in good proportion. The sporophore also contains Vitamin A. In China it is used to improve eyesight, reduce dry skin, and relieve certain infectious respiratory illnesses.

 

We are also blessed in Tennessee with a local variety of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Reishi is the prince of the Chinese pharmacopeia, known variously as “the 10,000-year mushroom,” the “Sacred Mushroom,” “the Herb of Spiritual Potency,” and the “Lingzhi” (Emporer’s Chi). Japanese researchers have named the anti-allergic compounds discovered in reishi as various forms of "ganoderic acid." Ganoderic acid B and C lower high blood pressure. Ganoderic acid C is an active immune booster and scavenges free radicals, notably the superoxides in red cells. Ganoderic R and S are anti-toxicants that work in the liver. A very potent mushroom.

 

We can also find Maitake (Grifola frondosa), the “dancing mushroom” of known around here as Hen-of-the-Woods, Ram's Head or Sheep's Head. In Japan, the Maitake can grow to more than 50 pounds (20 kg). Maitake is one of the major culinary mushrooms used in Japan, often being a key ingredient in nabemono or cooked by itself in foil with butter. The sclerotia from which hen of the woods arises have been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to enhance the immune system. Researchers have also indicated that whole maitake has the ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and both serum and liver lipids, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids, and may also be useful for weight loss. Maitake is rich in minerals (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), various vitamins (B2, D2 and niacin), fibers and amino acids. Experiments with human cancer patients, have shown Maitake can stimulate immune system cells, reduce blood sugar and shrink tumors.


Shiitake, maitake and oysters are probably the easiest mushrooms to grow in North America, if you have a forest. If grown in a natural outdoor setting, sunshine and water are usually the only supplements. This produces superior quality mushrooms.

This time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the days are warm and the nights are cool, shiitake mushrooms emerge from the bark of decaying logs, expand in the rains, and then pull back from freezing, only to expand again when the sun comes up. They retreat from the dark and advance to the sun, like daffodils or spiderwort. This creates a crack and scarring effect on their caps, radial spokes of white lines that the Chinese call “dong-ho” and the Japanese “donko,” from the character for “many petaled flower.”

 

Donko is the highest grade of shiitake (“shii” - oak; “take” - fungus), a cut above Koshin (middle grade, with curled edges and white flecks) and Koko (low grade, flat brown pancake). The mushroom is rich in flavor and packed with antioxidants and healing compounds. It is second only to truffles in the number of flavonoid sensors triggered in your nose and tongue.

 

The Farm no longer produces shiitake for the green grocer market, although we sometimes take inoculated logs to Saturday market days and many households have their own logs in production close to the kitchen. Some here also grow oysters, lion’s mane, reishi and maitake, as well as foraging for chanterelles, chicken-of-the-woods, and coral mushrooms in season.

Frank Michael
We passed the mail order business of Mushroompeople to our neighbor and close friend, Frank Michael, when we began the Ecovillage Training Center as a full-time operation. With Frank’s pluck and perseverance, the business is having its best year ever. Apparently more people are learning about growing a forest shade crop that can turn the lignin and cellulose of a hardwood log into a complete protein, with all essential amino acids in better balance than bacon and for a lot less work than meat, milk or eggs.
 



Sunday, April 10, 2016

No Season

"They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect."

  We are midway through #REX3 — a 10-day advanced permaculture design workshop with our friends Darren Doherty and Cliff Davis here in Southern Tennessee. The site this year is the newly acquired farm of an emigrant family in the rolling hills of Maury County, just about 20 miles from The Farm community.

For those not familiar with the changes going on in the southern regions of Africa, a bit of history might be helpful. The British took control of the Cape of Good Hope in 1806 in order to prevent it from being occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Dutch-speaking Afrikaners who had been there more than a century chaffed under British authority and didn’t like being forced to speak English, so they migrated inland and although the British recognized the independence of the South African Republic in 1852 and the Orange Free State in 1854, after gold was discovered the Empire returned and reclaimed those regions in the Boer Wars. A visitor from New Zealand described the typical Afrikaner Kraal of that era:
The Boer republics were sparsely populated and most farming communities lived in isolation, linked to each other by crude wagon trails. Following the custom of their forefathers, the Boers believed a farm should be at least 2400 hectares. Boer farms, even those tending livestock, often had no enclosures; the farmhouse would simply be surrounded by open pasture, a few fields of crops and maybe an orchard. The house itself would often be built from clay and usually consisted of two rooms with a thatched roof. The decorations within were modest and the clay floors were routinely smeared with a mixture of cow dung and water to reduce dust.

Of course, the large farms of the Afrikaners did not remain poor. Thanks to slave labor, many generations of farm toil, and the commerce of the British Empire, they grew to be some of the wealthiest and most productive in the world.

Afrikaner history, although now a distant past, was a thorn in the side of the later African anti-apartheid drives of the last century and animosities linger. For a very long time a small white minority had ruled cruelly, and now, finally, majority rule returned. What happened in nearby Zimbabwe is illustrative of what that can mean for the whites.

Like Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa, in the white-ruled state of Rhodesia the opposition party ZANU was banned and its leader Robert Mugabe was imprisoned in 1964. In prison Mugabe taught English to his fellow prisoners and earned multiple graduate degrees by correspondence from the University of London. Freed in 1974, he went into exile in Zambia and Mozambique where he built the resistance movement. Later, with support of British negotiators, the new state of Zimbabwe was given majority rule and in 1980 it elected Mugabe, who has been president ever since and has no intended successors.

Mugabe worked to convince his country’s 200,000 whites, including 4,500 commercial farmers, to stay. Then, in 1982, Mugabe sent his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to smash dissent. Over five years, an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed and many whites were dispossessed of their farms with no advance notice. In 2000 Mugabe rewrote the Zimbabwean constitution to expand the powers of the presidency and legitimize seizures of white-owned land. The country’s commercial farming collapsed, triggering years of hyperinflation and food shortages in a nation of impoverished billionaires.

In recent years the horrors inflicted by Mugabe have been so sadistic that we are left wondering whether he is demented by syphillis. And yet, through all of this, he enjoyed the support of the ANC in South Africa and has widespread approval in the continent. With the death of Mandela, South Africa has begun moving away from the policies of equanimity between races and it has become increasingly difficult for whites to attend universities and obtain professional employment. Which brings us to Tennessee.

The farm where our students are congregating this morning is a lifeboat for this old family of Dutch ancestry. They have given up their banana and avocado farm in Africa and hope to make a go of it in a land where they do not recognize the trees and have a bit of trouble understanding the local dialect. Back in South Africa are a number of relatives who look towards this young couple and their Tennessee farm as Noah’s Ark in event of a hard rain coming.

The REX advanced course “cuts to the chase” with farm design to assay what the needs are and what strategies will get this ark on a prosperous footing most rapidly. As the Regrarians website describes it:
In the world of workshops & courses there is nothing quite like the #Regrarians 10 day Integrated Farm Planning course or #REX. A carefully crafted distillation of the world’s greatest and most effective methodologies, the #REX is designed for nothing less than effective outcomes. People are participants, not ‘attendees’ or ‘students’ at a #REX, such is the integrity of the course model for its inclusive approach. Following the Regrarians already renowned & highly respected #RegrariansPlatform, the #REX follows a subject a day, building layer by practical layer for the real client and real enterprise that is the basis for this unique 10 day experience.
DAY 1 – Climate (90 minute sessions)
A – Client ‘Climate’ Briefing, Develop Holistic Goal/Concept, Terms of Reference
B – Atmospheric Climate retrieval & analysis, macro & micro climate factors
C – Legal ‘Climate’ retrieval & analysis, Municipal & State planning, other regulations
D – Climate Layer Exercise – Over 60 mins in small work-teams frame responses to the above and report to course findings in 10 mins each group (includes feedback)
E – Thermophyllic Composting Demonstration (scalable)

DAY 2 – Geography
A – Revision; Sandpit: Keyline Geography, Geometry & Applications
B – Assemble & Study Cadastral, Geology, Soil, Topographic, Planning & Mining Maps
C – GIS/GPS/Survey Applications & Technologies, Online GIS resources, Developing Effective Plans
D – Farm Walk ‘n’ Talk, Landscape Reading & Analysis, ‘Farmscape’ Analysis, Define Primary Land Unit & Land Component Boundaries, ‘Bullseye’ Demonstration

DAY 3 – Water
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Farm Water Systems, Farm Catchment
B – Earth Dam Construction & Water Harvesting Infrastructure – Design, Processes & Applications
C – Farm Irrigation Systems – Design, Applications & Installation
D – Water Layer – Over 90 mins (plus break time) develop farm water storage, harvesting
E – Water Layer Presentation & Feedback session + 10 mins each group for presentation & feedback

DAY 4 – Access
A – Revision; Examine & Overview of Existing Internal & External Farm Access
B – Access Earthworks Design, Engineering, Construction & Applications
C – Dam, Water Harvesting & Access Set Out Practicum: using Surveyor & DIY Instruments (RTK-GPS, Total Station, Transit & Laser Levels)
D – Access Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm access concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 5 – Forestry
A – Revision; Forestry Systems Applications: Shelterbelts, Alleys, Orchards, Avenues, Woodlands, Blocks, Riparian
B – Forestry Systems Design & Establishment Strategies
C – Forestry Systems Management & Utilisation
D – Forestry Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm forestry concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 6 – Buildings
A – Revision; Building Types & Technologies: Dwellings, Sheds, Yards & Portable Livestock
B – Building placement strategies, Existing Building Analysis & Retrofitting Options
C – Lucas Portable Sawmill Practicum + Broiler Shelter Construction
D – Building Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm building concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 7 – Fencing
A – Revision; Fencing Technologies, Applications & Costings
B – Fencing Placement – Land Components/Structures/Livestock systems
C – Fencing Installation Practicum – with local ‘Pro’ Fencer: Build end assemblies, ‘wires & pliers’, electric net fencing, tumblewheel
D – Fencing Layer – Over 60 mins develop farm fencing concept plan + 10 mins per group for presentation & feedback

DAY 8 – Soils
A – Revision, ‘5 Ingredients for Soil Formation’ – House Envelope & SilvoPastoral Applications
B – Farm Soil Classifications & Sample Analysis: Earth Building, Earthworks & Agricultural
C – Yeomans Keyline Plow ‘Pattern Cultivation’, Survey & Set Out
D – ‘Time Poor’ Farm Garden Practicum: No Dig/Wicking Beds; Keyline Plow Forestry &
Orchard Ground Preparation
E – Holistic Management Planned Grazing – Grazing Plan Practicum

DAY 9 – Economy
A – Revision; Farm Enterprise Planning: Comparing Enterprises, Market & Resource Analysis, Complementary Enterprise Options & Liaisons, Managing & Limits to Growth & Expectations
B – Farm Enterprise Management: ‘The Team’, Interns/WWOOFERS, Apprentices, Employees/SubContractors, Terms of Reference, Job Descriptions & Contracts
C – Economy Layer – Over 90 mins prepare a Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan
D – Economy Layer – Continued from Session C – 60 mins of Farm Enterprise & Marketing Concept Plan preparation then 10 mins per group presentation & feedback

DAY 10 – Energy
A – Revision; Farm Energy Conversion & Storage Systems: Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Biomass, BioDigestor, Wind, Hydro; Analysis of suitability & applications
B – Energy Layer – Over 60 minutes prepare an Farm Energy Concept Plan + 10 mins per group presentation & feedback
C – Farm Enterprise Development & Reporting; Client & Contractor Liaisons; Prioritising Works
D – Completed REX ‘Regrarians Platform’ Concept Plan Layer Analysis & Review – Client & Participant Feedback; ‘What’s Next?’; Presentations

Today we are on Day 7 - Fencing. Tomorrow we get to speak about biochar and carbon farming and are looking forward to that part.

As we walked the high ridges of this farm we happened upon an old cemetery, overgrown with vines, its raised crypts caving in, its carvings fading. We posted a photo of one stone on Instagram and someone was kind enough to provide the reference to the verse, which is by poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835). It is called The Hour of Death.
Leaves have their time to fall
And flowers to wither at the north wind’s breath
And stars to set, but all
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, o Death

In many ways this family is lucky. They sensed the north wind’s breath and got out before the knock on the door in the night. They cashed in and took the value of their previous farm with them. All across Europe and the Middle East, changing climate and conflicts over dwindling resources — effects of the population bomb long ago forecast —  are sending waves of penniless and desperate refugees fleeing with nothing at all, just the clothes on their backs.

With the increase of global climate weirding we sometimes get the sense that we may be entering a time without reliable seasonality. There is only one name for that. Death.

In the end, there is no refuge. There is just this one blue marble in space. Either we begin to steward the land the way this workshop of Darren’s teaches, or it will heat up, dry out and support no one.

Alternatively, we can school ourselves with methodologies such as these and live on a garden planet once more, keeping our numbers and demands in harmony with her natural abundance.

Is it even a serious choice?

Friends

Friends

Dis-complainer

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