The End of Politics

The end of politics for me, at least.

I anticipate backing away from public life on the Web. I will still post here, particularly music, wine commentary, humor, and maybe a story from time to time. Perhaps I’ll venture into deeper waters on occasion. But I don’t really want to talk about the State that is developing.

For one thing, it will become increasingly dangerous to voice any opinions about the United States other than jingoistic patriotism.

If I thought it would do any good, I’d probably continue to write and torpedoes be damned, but I don’t think it will do any good, and it will only keep me in a state of perpetual anger, outrage, and agitation, as well as expose me to government and mob retribution. So far as I can see, the board is set, the pieces are in motion, and Black — the thoughtful minority — has already lost the game, though it may take another hundred moves or so sweep all the pieces off the board. Besides, White cheats.

Anyone who feels otherwise, by all means, keep writing blog articles. Keep protesting and marching and signing petitions. Keep writing letters to your congresscritters. Keep voting. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again, and this could well be one of those times.

I find that I’m already moving on.

Here’s the thing I think I need to point out. The Soviet Union collapsed, starting in the late 1980’s. It actually collapsed: as in fell completely apart, ceased to be an international entity of any sort. The USSR went from a world superpower to a failed nation and a historical footnote in a matter of years, not decades.

And yet, Russia lives on. In many ways, it’s stronger than ever. As is Georgia, Chechnya, the Ukraine, Crimea. Czeckoslovakia became the Czech Republic and joined Europe, as did Hungary.

People still live in all these places. They eat, go to shows, fall in love, have children. The thing that fell — the USSR — was an abstraction; a thing of the imagination.

The United States is collapsing right now. The election of Trump is merely the most visible of the symptoms. I don’t think it will take long for it to fall.

But representative democracy in North America will live on. As will various other kinds of states, kingdoms, satrapies, and smaller nations, all of which will be filled with people who eat, go to shows, fall in love, and have children.

We just have a nasty period of fascism, kleptocracy, and economic collapse to get through. Just like the former states of the USSR did in the 1990’s and the first decade of the twenty-first century.

I’m not going to waste energy, or risk jackbooted thugs, just to speak out against the decaying government of a failed nation. Though I grieve its death — I still have good days and bad days — the failed nation is no longer of interest.

But it isn’t yet the right time to start looking toward what will replace the failed nation-state we’ve called America.

For one thing, I have no idea how severe the intermediate chaos will be. It could range from a quiet dissolution of the Union of States, through trade embargoes and a full-scale nuclear war between the US and everyone else. We could emerge from the economic chaos into a largely-intact world willing to accept North American states as peers. We could emerge into a completely lawless dark age.

It’s even possible that a fading shadow of an American Empire, like Rome in the centuries after the death of Marcus Aurelius, could flicker on and off for decades or centuries.

Another reason it isn’t time to look forward is that there will be a lot of variety in the restructured North America that follows the collapse. There are already unbridgeable cultural differences between, say, Vermont, Alabama, and California. How those cultures will emerge as independent states without a federation to hold them under a common constitution and legal authority is pure speculation. I’d rather explore that in a fictional setting, because it will be purest fiction.

As for how to deal with this collapse at a personal level, I do have a few pieces of broad advice, which I will be trying to follow myself.

Be kinder to others than you’ve been in the past. There will be plenty of pain to go around: don’t add to it.

Be more generous than you’ve been in the past, with your money, your time, your attention, your help. There will be a lot of people who need help more than you do. They are not lazy — they have instead lost opportunity, and probably hope. If you can help them become self-supporting, fantastic. If you can’t, then help them find a roof and a meal. If the wind blows wrong, I can guarantee that you will be astonished by how quickly you can find yourself on the receiving end of charity.

Be useful. Your training, your credentials, your degree, your seniority, your expertise, your pension, and even your rights will all become meaningless. What other people will always value, however, under any circumstances, is your usefulness. They’ll pay you for that, whether in dollars, or eggs, or a place to keep warm. They’ll protect you and watch your back when you’re sleeping.

Get to know your neighbors and your community. Knock on doors, introduce yourself, bring cookies. Hold a block party and invite everyone over. Go to others’ parties. As things fall apart, these are the people who will save your life — in many cases, literally. Think in terms of walking distance. Of screaming-for-help distance. Those are your neighbors.

If you find that you truly cannot stand anyone around you where you live, now is the time to pull up stakes and move.

Limit your Internet and television exposure, especially social media. It is becoming clear that both television and the Internet have become potent and highly tunable propaganda tools, the reach of which has exceeded even that of historical religions. Meet with your neighbors instead, face-to-face.

Read books. Good, old-fashioned books.

Appreciate the little things. The sound of a gentle rain. Starlight. The smell of coffee, or roses, or warm wood in the sunlight.

Remember the Lakota expression, “Today is a good day to die.” This means, be at peace with your life, all its successes, all its failures. Do not harbor regrets over the past; do not live a life justified only by a future that may not come to pass. Remember that you will die — it is the only guarantee in life — so do not let your fear of death drag you into degradation.

Endure.

The Lies We Tell On Ourselves

There are a few stock phrases floating around out there that I’ve lost patience with.

I’m not a racist, but ….” Let me finish that sentence for you. “I’m not a racist, but I’m going to say something that sounds racist, and would make you think I’m a racist if I hadn’t assured you beforehand that I’m not. Trust me.”

Right. I think it’s a lot more likely you don’t know what “racist” means. But you certainly do know what other people think it means, or you wouldn’t be trying to reassure me in advance that you aren’t one. So no, I don’t trust you, and I don’t especially want to hear your racist statements.

As a Christian, I have no choice other than ….” Let me finish that sentence for you. “As a Christian, I have no choice other than to support some idea that any sane, compassionate person would think is horrible. But I’m not responsible; please don’t blame me.”

You will never hear me say, “As a Druid, I have no choice other than ….” I own my choices. Right or wrong. I don’t blame them on the Devil, or on my religion. And you know what? Since they’re my choices, I can actually discuss them, and even change my mind. You can’t — as you say, you believe you have no choice. Well, I do blame you, and I really don’t want to hear your tortured theological excuses.

We need your contributions to help fight ….” Let me unpack that sentence for you. You are saying that the real decisions are bought.

I have no problem with giving the win to the highest bidder, if it’s a matter of auctioning off Marilyn Monroe’s underwear, or the Mona Lisa. When it’s a matter of justice, or basic human decency, this is a kind of extortion. “Pay us, or bad things will happen.”

Although, perhaps it’s just a scam, if a well-meaning one. Consider a legal defense fund for innocent prisoners on death row. Sounds like a good idea? Not really. It’s a bad legal system that routinely imprisons and executes innocents — bad in the war-crimes sense. And you’re saying it’s a good thing to plaster over this war-crime level of injustice with a few very expensive, case-by-case “corrections” to a few percent of the victims of a corrupt and war-crimes-evil legal process. Sounds to me more like a burned crust of bread thrown to a starving conscience, purchased at a premium price. ConscienceCrusts™, only $99,999,999.95 each. Prices are rising daily, so get yours NOW!

What would be good? Correcting the corrupt system, which is (ultimately) merely a matter of changing the laws to protect rather than prosecute the innocent, a process that is also called “legislation.” But that also takes lots of money, because the real decisions are bought. And my desire for protecting the innocent is up against a prisons-for-profit industry that doesn’t care who fills its beds.

Contributing money to organizations that claim to influence legislation is participating in a scam, or an extortion scheme. It won’t help correct a legislative process gone rancid; it will only speed the spoilage. So don’t come to me for money for political causes. I’m not interested.

Piano Concerto Second Movement

concerto-iiI’ve just posted the second movement of the Piano Concerto, remixed using my latest instrument samples. It’s as big an improvement over the previous mix I posted, as that mix was over the one before that.

I took a painting class ‘way back during one of the summers between my junior-high-school years. At one point, we were painting clouds, and the instructor told us, “Sometimes when you’re painting a cloud, you’ll start to see shapes in the clouds you’ve painted — houses, faces, animals. When that happens, the best thing to do is to paint over the whole thing, and start over. Because no matter how many times you try to paint the face out of the cloud, it will still be there, and it will drive you crazy.”

It’s the little things that make you crazy when you’re remixing music. I thought I had a good mix at one point, created a full mixdown track, and then, when I listened to it — for probably the hundredth time this week — the piano had this one note that was too loud. It poked me in the ear.

“Nah,” I told myself. “No one will hear that. There are dozens of little errors in this performance, things that aren’t as smooth as they should be, phrases that aren’t as expressive as I’d like, other choices with the instrumentation that might have worked out better. This is just one more little thing.”

I listened again. It poked me in the ear. In fact, now I couldn’t hear anything else in that section.

It was a face in the cloud.

I went back and fixed that note. And two more that were bothering me.

I’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks, now.

There comes a point where you just have to let it go. So here it is.

This mix actually comes fairly close to the way I’ve heard it in my head all these years. I really am pleased with it.

Enjoy!

(Music at http://www.themonthebard.org/music).


Postscript: I got up this morning and re-listened with fresh ears, and there’s another spot that poked me in the ear, where I needed to exchange the viola and cello parts. Just one phrase. One tiny phrase. But now it won’t bother me.

Death of a Nation

Last Wednesday, in shock, I wrote on Facebook: “What do you do, the day your country dies?”

My personal answer turned out to be, “Go to work, like any other day.” I simply didn’t know what else to do with myself. I’ve learned through the experience of similar shocks — like losing a daughter in the middle of the night — that sometimes it’s best to just run on autopilot for a little while.

It may still be too soon for me to write, but I’m feeling that familiar pressure to put thoughts and feelings into words.

So let me start by linking to a post I wrote a little over a year ago. It’s hardly “prescient” — my observations were entirely too obvious and derivative for that. The question hanging in my mind a year ago was not whether Trump could become President, but whether the US electorate was ready to embrace Fascism. The answer has turned out to be, “Yes.”

We are now living in the early stages of a typical Fascist State.

I think it’s extremely important to point out that this isn’t about Trump. Trump is a venal opportunist who serves as the focal point to what the Germans call a “Zeitgeist,” literally “Time Ghost,” more correctly, “Spirit of the Age.” This isn’t about Trump, or his deplorable lack of character, or what he will or will not do. It is about the American People, and they have called for a “strong leader” to remove the constraints of law and punish the scapegoats they have chosen to blame their troubles on. Remove Trump from office (by fair means, or foul) and another “strong leader” will be called up in his place. Exterminate one set of scapegoats, and we will choose another.

There must be a bloodbath. The People demand it.

A year ago, I thought — I hoped — that Bernie Sanders represented a possible alternative to this. Fascism doesn’t arise in a vacuum. It happens whenever the majority of the reasonably prosperous citizens start “taking hits for the team,” yet the team keeps losing, the hits keep escalating until they threaten homes and families, and no one in power listens to them. This all started in the US in the collapse of small farms and the loss of US manufacturing jobs, back in the 1970’s. That decline, in turn, was built into the weakened but still-deadly capitalist economic system we chose to retain in the 1930’s. We came very, very close to Fascism in the US the 1930’s — it was all the fashionable rage in Europe at that time — but we instead adopted an attenuated form of Democratic Socialism that soothed the angry beast that the American public had become. That peace lasted for two generations, before capitalism began, again, to erode prosperity in favor of wealth.

I fully expected Bernie to be written off as a Socialist crank a year ago, and was both surprised and deeply encouraged when he wasn’t — instead, he became a populist figurehead for a countervailing Zeitgeist: a vision that did not involve a bloodbath.

I believe he would have won this election. I do not think the majority of people in the US were hurting badly enough, or were angry enough, to reject a peaceful real hope for the future — or even a Hail-Mary hope.

The broken two-party system didn’t support him; instead, it locked him out and confirmed all the worst fears and contempt of the electorate. The Democrats, caught up in far-less-important liberal social issues rather than hard-rock economic issues that meant food on people’s tables, decided that they must now put a woman in the White House, by fair means or foul: and the only possible candidate was a woman who was a quintessential avatar of the existing dysfunction. Republicans dismissed the existing dysfunction early in the game, and turned with open arms to Fascism.

So where this election could have been a referendum between two Zeitgeists for change, a peaceful one versus a bloody one, it instead became a referendum between slow starvation and a bloodbath.

The People chose the bloodbath.

Yes, Hillary won the majority vote, by the teensiest of margins. She lost the election because a huge percentage of the population abstained entirely. Most of the uninvolved doubtless abstained because they’ve abstained for decades — they had long ago given up on politics as meaningful in any positive way, the clear consequence of our multi-generational political failure as a nation — but many of the newest recruits to political indifference simply could not endorse either starvation or bloodbath, and stayed home.

We must now endure the bloodbath. The People have demanded it.

I want to think it could be over relatively quickly. The Axis powers in Europe lasted less than a generation. But it took a World War to stop them. I think this will soon end up in yet another World War, and I strongly suspect it will involve a major nuclear exchange. The US may throw the first nuke, it may not — but it will certainly be one of the targets, and will just as certainly strike back.

That seems to me now to be the most probable way this nation, and modern civilization, will end.

I really, really hope I’m wrong.

I’m not even close to thinking through other scenarios. I’m still in shock that it happened as it did, in a single day, though I’ve been writing about this subject for a couple of years.

It feels to me a lot like 9/11/2001 felt, but where we will go, as a nation, will be a far, far darker place.

Beauty Born in Tragedy

 

concerto-iI’m posting yet another remix of the first movement of my Piano Concerto. It is, again, a vast improvement over the previous mixes. I still hope to hear the music performed someday by a real orchestra, and a real pianist.

Why?

I’m one guy with a few years experience of fooling around with a computer disk drive containing a handful of captured sounds that some sound engineer thought were “representative” of the instrument. They’re nice samples. Really nice samples. But they’re only samples. I piece them together like Lego blocks into something that sounds like music.

A real symphony orchestra is made up of fifty-some-odd people who have each been mastering their single instrument all their lives, conducted by a master musician who merely directs these other musicians to apply their human, musical minds and hearts toward making music together. They understand music — and they have the knowledge and skill to get just the right sound out of their instrument. A dramatic horn swell. A light violin spiccato. A mysterious timpani roll.

There is, in the end, no contest.

The piano concerto is my first major work, and like a first date, a first kiss, a first love, there is something about this music that has become an irreplaceable part of my being. It will never be quite right. It will never be entirely wrong.

It was born in tragedy, finished in calamity, and has always been solace.

The concerto began on a dark night sometime in 1986. In January of 1985, our almost-three-month-old daughter, Christina, died of SIDS in the middle of the night. As I fell apart, then slowly put myself back together (with help) and moved on with life, I would occasionally console myself by trying to recover some skill with the piano, which I’d stopped studying in high school.

One night my fingers started playing a rhythmic little tune. It was a strange experience: I heard the music in my head, and my fingers almost knew how to play it. I knew two things intuitively and instantly: I had never heard or played this music before, and it was the opening to the third movement of a piano concerto. It grew from there.

The second movement came next, a few years later, as a lullaby for my two sons.

The first movement came to me last, well into the mid-1990’s, as the sound of horns blowing through my mind. I had by then written my own MIDI sequencer for the Amiga computer, playing through a Korg M-1 keyboard, which allowed me to do very simple polyphonic orchestrations.

I remember walking across a frozen parking lot to meet friends for a New Year’s Eve drink (or three) in 1994 at an upscale little Italian bistro near my home. I needed a haircut. On a whim, I decided in the middle of that parking lot, between one step and the next, to let my hair grow until the concerto was finished.

My hair was almost shoulder-length in late 1995 when I cut a digital audio tape of original compositions, and made 100 copies through a little commercial studio in LaPorte Colorado, to give out as Christmas presents. I didn’t include the concerto: it wasn’t finished, and I didn’t have nearly enough raw processing power on the computer or the keyboard to perform it, anyway.

I got busy with other things, cut my hair, and stopped composing.

I finally finished the concerto in 2003.

I had bought a new keyboard, a Roland XV-88, and a new PC with a commercial sequencer, Cakewalk. I had all the good intentions in the world, but I was very busy with work.

I went in to see the doctor about a little problem with bleeding hemorrhoids. They told me it was colon cancer.

That’s a hell of a thing to be told on a Thursday afternoon. They wanted me in surgery Friday morning, but could not make it work with their schedules. So I was scheduled for Monday morning, first thing.

I knew that, though the odds were small, I might not wake up on Monday afternoon. What do you do with your last three days of life? My answer was: pretty much the same thing you’d do anyway. Three days isn’t enough time to write out your bucket list and do anything about it. You really don’t want to run around to all your friends and say, “I love you, good-bye.” You aren’t going to “get your affairs in order,” and besides, the last thing you want to be doing with your last three days is paperwork.

After surgery, and throughout chemo, I had a great deal of time to ponder my life, which at that point, consisted mostly of promises of great things yet to come. Promises that might not be kept, now, and by the way, weren’t all that great when you looked at them closely as an epitaph. As the chemo deepened and I found myself with less and less energy, I decided I’d use my good days to finally finish the concerto. I’d worked out all the piano parts by then by playing them over and over: I could almost perform the work, though now I didn’t have the stamina to get through more than a few measures at a time. So I recorded (as MIDI) in little manageable sections, and orchestrated it, and cut myself a CD.

As early summer moved into late summer and the chemo started truly kicking my ass, I would lie in bed, with my crappy little recording on my crappy little boom-box playing quietly into the night as I drifted somewhere between waking and restless sleep, and I would say to myself, “I wrote that.” It seemed like the one unambiguously beautiful accomplishment in my life. Everything else was tarnished or in doubt. My marriage had ended. My mother was gone, my father was slipping into dementia, my sister was long-since estranged. My kids were not doing well in school, and I wondered how badly I’d already failed them, and how much worse it would be if I up and died on them. My career — bah. A bunch of technical challenges solved to make someone else rich selling gizmos to the morally incompetent to increase their power over the rest of us, to be replaced at the first opportunity with the next new gizmo and forgotten.

But this — this was unambiguous. It was beautiful, certainly as I heard it in my mind through the muddled samples and the poor sound reproduction. Even if it was never heard by anyone but me, even if it was a sand castle washed away without a trace, I wrote this.

And yet, I also feel I didn’t write it, I merely wrote it down. It came from someplace outside me, yet inside me, in a way that’s impossible to adequately describe. Those of you who have been seduced by a Muse will know what I’m talking about.

I remixed the concerto a few years ago with Garritan sound samples on my brand new iMac. That’s the mix that has been up on this site for some time, and it’s a lot closer to what I hear in my head than the crappy little recording from 2003. But it’s still not right.

This one is a little closer.

Technical features. I’m still using Cuebase 7.5. These are the East West Sound samples, the Platinum Orchestra and Platinum Pianos collections. This piano is a Steinway D, and it’s pure chocolate gorgeousness.

I’m driving them, interestingly enough, with the same MIDI sequences dating back to my original 2003 performance, cleaned up here and there. I had to do finer cleanup on the piano part this time, because this sampled piano is so much more responsive to touch. A real Steinway keyboard feels nothing like a weighted electronic keyboard, and my fingering in 2003 was — well, sloppy. Lots of weak notes with the fourth finger.

As the samples become clearer and more realistic, I find that I need to do fewer audio tricks to try to get the sound close to right, and I’ve even been able to consolidate or cut parts.

Cutting parts is good if I hope to have it performed live at any point. Most conductors scowl when you call for two glass harmonica and choir of castrati. I think you have to be Andrew Lloyd Weber to get away with that.

Enjoy.

And I’m very much looking forward to remixing the second movement, to which I’ve never done justice: I think this electronic orchestra can handle it.

(Music found at http://www.themonthebard.org/music).

(W)Hacked

Well, I finally got hit. My site was hacked, probably through one of the websites I don’t maintain very aggressively.

Not too much damage, really, but I’ve killed some websites and updated this one. You’ll note a few good changes.

First, the Contact Themon page uses a new plugin. If you want to send me a message, please feel free. The old one did the job, but it looked terrible, I never got around to cleaning it up, and it may have been the way in for the hackers. The new one has a Captcha, so I don’t have to worry about bots trying to sell me Viagra.

Second, I’ve overhauled the comments section with new plugins. I never get comments — well, almost never — except for a bunch of pecker-heads who would use it to post spam: mostly trying to increase their link count for Google, I think, since the comments were long lists of packed web URLs. I responded by shutting down comments after two weeks on every blog post, since at the time, there weren’t a lot of WordPress options.

Now there are, and the new, improved comments are kind of cool.

You can log in via your Facebook, Google, or Twitter accounts. Or, you can leave a comment without logging in, but you need to leave your e-mail address and respond to a Captcha.

We’ll see if that makes the comments any more usable.

So the cloud of being hacked had a silver lining.

GMO Foods

UnknownMaybe I’m just feeling grumpy today, but I ran across a YouTube clip of Neill de Grasse Tyson on GMO foods, and I have to call out Straw Man on his comments.

An ideal straw man argument is one where you stand up and utterly demolish a stupid argument that was made by no one, ever.

A more typical straw man argument is where you shift an actual argument from the real core of the discussion, to something that is deceptively similar, but unrelated and much easier to argue. I’m afraid Dr. Tyson did this very thing. Or perhaps he just doesn’t understand the real concern, because it’s been so poorly stated.

So let me frame, more precisely, the core of the discussion about GMO’s. I’ll phrase it as a question: Is the current trend toward targeted genetic modification of foods in the laboratory harmful to our food supply?

This is a more specific question than the ambiguous, “Are GMO’s harmful?” But it has a much broader scope. It implies questions about technological risk, large ecosystems, farming monoculture, profit motives, government oversight, and large-scale epidemiology.

Let’s focus even more specifically on just one tiny part of the question: Should we be eating Roundup-resistant strains of food?

No one cares about seedless watermelons, or whether they were produced by transgenics, gene-snipping, grafting, or black magic. No one cares about the “natural” progenitor of maize (corn-on-the-cob) — it’s inedible. Lord knows, no one cares about long-stem roses. Except florists.

People do care about Roundup-ready food plants. That’s what they usually mean when they carelessly say, “GMO’s.”

The first thing to note is that you don’t plant Roundup-ready plants unless you intend to spray Roundup on them. In fact, you don’t pay for Roundup-ready seeds unless you intend to spray enough Roundup to stunt or kill other (less expensive) strains of the same plant.

What is Roundup? Its primary active ingredient is glyphosate. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide — plant poison — that interferes with the plant’s ability to make certain proteins necessary for growth. It also affects certain microorganisms in a similar way, and other microorganisms (the ones that eat the stuff) in the opposite way.

The issue with “GMO foods” is not whether genetically-modified corn is inherently a Frankenfood that will cause us to sprout a third eye (useful) or a second anus (far too many of those around already), but whether its use is enabling and even promoting hazardous industrial agricultural practices that have adverse consequences for our food, our health, and our society.

No one will plant Roundup-ready GMO’s unless they intend to douse them in glyphosate. So the more correct question is, Should we eat food sprayed with killer doses of glyphosate? If the answer is, “No,” or even “maybe not,” then what is the point of a Roundup-ready GMO seed?

Let’s rephrase this more academically, and ask if the benefits of using glyphosate on food balance the risks.

What are the benefits?

Well, what is glyphosate intended to do? It kills weeds.

Why kill weeds? Weeds reduce food production under our current industrial farming processes, and it’s a substantial cost to eradicate them manually (that is, to pick the weeds) — that’s about it.

So without glyphosate, we would presumably produce somewhat less industrially-farmed food, or produce it less efficiently, which might raise prices. Of course, glyphosate isn’t free, nor are the Roundup-ready seeds, so that also raises prices. There’s some evidence that glyphosate damages certain essential microflora in the soil, rendering the soil less fertile over time, which means less food and higher prices, unless you pay for chemical fertilizer. Which, as I understand it, is wonderful weed-food, since “weeds” — especially the fast-growing kind — are specifically evolved to move into overly-fertile bare ground, like ashy forests after a fire.

We could call this the Monsanto Cycle: glyphosate -> fertilizer -> weeds -> glyphosate. With a side-business in Roundup-ready seeds so you can use the herbicidal war-zone to raise food.

This brings us to the real core issue underlying the whole discussion: should we trust Monsanto to keep us safe from harm through use of their products? The question isn’t whether GMO’s are safe, or whether glyphosate is safe, or even whether scientists, farmers, or the television psychics know the answer: the real question is whether Monsanto is safe.

There is a general perception that corporations cannot be trusted when their bottom-line is involved. It’s not an unfounded perception. The tobacco industry concealed evidence that smoking causes lung cancer for at least two generations. The oil industry has been burying data about global warming for decades. Goldman Sachs sold securitized sub-prime mortgages by the carload to suckers investors, while simultaneously taking short positions against those same investments. In all cases, it’s a matter of Profits First.

Would Monsanto tell us that it’s perfectly safe to give our children a glass of Roundup with every meal? That would depend on whether they felt it would increase or decrease their market share. It would have nothing to do with sick or dead children: children are economic externalities. Unless they become a public-relations problem.

Would Monsanto go so far as to lie about research results, and pay professional doubters to cast a shadow on any “unfounded rumors” that their products might be harmful? Given that other industries seem to have had no problem with doing exactly that, I think it’s supremely naive to think Monsanto would be any different.

So I would say, no, they can’t be trusted. Their products might be harmless — but they could be very nasty, indeed. And once the product has become a steady and successful seller, they’ll do whatever it takes to keep it high on the charts.

This has taken us a long way from the science of genetically-modified organisms, hasn’t it?

In fact, we are now so far from the science that I’m going to propose a little thought-experiment, just to clarify the whole thing.

Let’s ban glyphosate because it begins with the letter ‘g’. We spun the Big Ugly Gratuitous Government Economic Restructuring Wheel of Fortune (BUGGER WoF), the letter ‘g’ came up, and we picked ‘glyphosate’ out of a dictionary. With a dart. We’ve just banned it forever and ever: a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Possession Is Death.

Apart from the screams of doom and despair from Monsanto (which we can easily solve with, “Here’s a billion dollars, kid, now shut up and go away”) — so what? What exactly is the great boon to humankind we’ve just thrown out?

We’re all gonna starve? That’s ridiculous. We’re talking about weeds, not the Apocalypse, and they were pulling them up by hand in 1969, before Roundup was invented. And in 1869, and in 1069, and in 8969 BCE for that matter. Agribusiness will just hire more itinerant labor from Mexico and put them to work weeding in addition to picking and packing. They’ll of course cry salty tears about lost profits (and demand a billion dollars, too, it’s only fair), then they’ll raise prices and reduce some benefits and raid a pension fund (if there are any left), and that will be that.

I’m not sure I see any benefit to Roundup that doesn’t come down to a few more dollars in the pockets of big agribusiness. And from what I understand, it’s mostly big agribusiness: the small farmers are moving toward organic farming, because “organic” commands higher prices1

The risks? Oh. My. God.

Granted, they are all low-probability. Like the Fukishima reactor failure.

We have large-scale epidemiological risks based on an entire population consuming glyphosate in small quantities through pregnancy and an entire lifetime. A small uptick in autoimmune sensitivities in ten percent of the population would be impossible to detect in the laboratory, and almost impossible to detect in the population. Yet it represents huge medical costs and unnecessary human suffering. At the opposite extreme, we discover that after a generation or two, chronic glyphosate ingestion causes widespread male feminization and sterility; our population crashes in a single generation, and our civilization becomes one of those Ancient Mysteries on thirty-first century late night television — The Americans: Why Did They Vanish? Was It Alien Astronauts?

We have similar possibilities from the GMO food itself. A plant is a complex system. Put it under chemical stress (dump Roundup on it), and its biochemistry changes. Reduce or enhance its ability to respond to that stress (gene modification), and its biochemistry changes. Any of those changes could trigger epidemics of low-level dietary intolerance in humans, or even increased instances of truly dangerous allergic reactions.

We have potentially huge ecosystem changes from glyphosate-contaminated runoff from farms. Kill the tadpoles in the swamps, perhaps? Followed by mosquito plagues, which transmit everything from malaria to zikka. All kinds of species could die back or die out entirely throughout large geographic regions, radically changing the ecoscape. We can go back to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, or the more recent story about the reintroduction of the wolf into Yellowstone, for dramatic examples of how small changes have huge effects. Some of those changes could desertify large agricultural regions.

Then we have the nightmare of hybridization in the wild, especially with some of the more reckless genetic modifications they’ve turned loose. The threat is not man-eating killer tomatoes. The threat is corn that won’t tassel, creating a spreading blight that could recurrently wipe out the entire corn monoculture of the American midwest. The threat is hybrid species that are toxic to pollinators, like bees. The threat is the unexpected and the unforeseen and the potentially catastrophic.

Low-probability risks, perhaps, but with very big consequences.

Doing genetic research on all this stuff is one thing.

Turning it loose on the world through an utterly amoral corporate capitalist system dedicated to short-term profits above every other consideration, is nothing short of irresponsible.

Especially when the only real benefit is an uptick in corporate profits. For certain corporations.

I think there’s a legitimate concern, here.

Since I have called out Dr. Tyson by name, I would welcome a rebuttal. Though I rather doubt he will see this. It’s a very large Internet, after all, and I am only one small writer within it.


[1] From what I hear around here from people actually doing the organic farming, it’s also cheaper.