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Showing posts from December, 2014

The democratic and sacred nature of agriculture (Environment, Develop. and Sustainability, 27 Sept. 2011)

Abstract: “Sustainable” agriculture is a relative recent invention. It is a salvage operation designed to undo some of the harm of agribusiness, which nearly wiped out farming as a way of life. Sustainable agriculture tries to restore methods of farming and values that satisfy present needs for food without compromising the food for future generations. Sustainable farming, however, remains experimental and on the fringes of society and science. It includes all kinds of farming practiced by peasants, small-scale family farmers, organic farmers as well as large farmers. In what follows, I am showing, first, farming is or becomes sustainable when two things prevail: First, it is democratic, spread throughout the land in the form of family farming while the difference in size among farms is modest at best. Second, farming is sustainable when it draws its inspiration and methods not merely from the most advanced ecological science but from ancient agrarian cultures. I briefly highlight the…

Shooting Non-targets

I spent twenty-five years working for America’s Environmental Protection Agency. I found myself in an inferno of corruption -- right in the belly of the government.
Corruption came to EPA directly from the industry and through the White House and Congress. But my experience at EPA had its pleasures as well. Those included learning from my constant readings, observations, and my discussions with some exceptional colleagues. Yet I lived through the daily uncertainty of survival in a bureaucracy increasingly becoming the other face of the “regulated” industry. I agonized in vain how to stop corruption and pollution.
The EPA came into being in December 1970. Despite the war politics of the 1970s, EPA tried to live up to its mission: protecting human health and the natural world from factory and agricultural poisons, especially keeping water, air, and food relatively safe.
However, industry intervened and crippled the agency. For example, the owners of farm sprays have their fingerprints all…

Antikythera Mechanism (from the magazine: Leonardo, Vol. 45, No 3, pp. 250-257, 2012)

Deciphering and Appeasing the Heavens: The History and Fate of an Ancient Greek Computer Evaggelos Vallianatos ABSTRACT
The Greeks incorporated cunning craftsman- ship, inventiveness and beauty in everything they made. Techne, the term they used to describe this, was the mother of their culture. Aristotle, who shaped the nature of Greek science and invented zoology, admired craftsmen for their useful devices and wisdom [1]. In fact, of all classes in a polis, he considered craftsmen the most essential. No polis could exist without mechanics practicing their arts and crafts. Of those arts and crafts, Aristotle said, some are “absolutely necessary,” while others enrich life [2]. This Greek mechanics gave birth to the Antikythera Mechanism, discussed below. THE TREASURE FROM THE SEA On around Easter Sunday 1900, Greek sponge divers discov- ered the remnants of an ancient ship in the waters of the Ae- gean island of Antikythera. The most precious artifact within this …