Monday, July 27, 2009

College For Free 5: The Drawbacks of Farming

I know, already, you are just so excited to hear about farming. What could possibly be more thrilling than a blog dedicated to how exactly farming came about? Nothing, I think, could be.

The reason that I think this kind of thing is interesting is that we, as a society and as a race in general, take a lot of things for granted. Technology as new as the automobile and the airplane exist as a sort of background to our daily lives as the accepted, expected, norm. However, when you really start to look at specific moments in history not as history but as a time and place that existed with real people in it, everything starts to take on a more bizarre connotation, in my opinion. So, as we are at a point in history in which we take amazing feats of science and technology for granted, it goes without saying that farming is something that most often goes without saying. It's just not that exciting, which is why I feel that this blog could get boring really fast if I didn't have these two points to dwell on:
1. Farming was not a conscious design or invention, and was in fact a complete accident.
2. Farming may have been the most dangerous thing ever invented by man and could be the death of us all.

While it seems that farming was just a natural, logical step for mankind, it actually happened completely by chance due to the suspiciously convenient environment of what is known as the Fertile Crescent. This area includes Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and to a lesser extent, Egypt. It is not surprising that farming started here, because the area was so god damn full of everything you need to eat to stay alive, no one ever had to move to get food. See, the whole point of hunting and gathering was to move with herds and travel to different areas where different plants grew throughout the seasons. Hunting and gathering wasn't so much a random chance wandering sort of system, but more of a very calculated path around a continent in order to get all the best foods and let everything regrow and live in harmony with nature. However, in the Fertile Crescent, it was like living inside of a grocery store. These people never had to go anywhere because something like 45 of the world's 60 large-seeded grasses (things like wheat and barley and rice) grew naturally there and 10 of the world's 11 large domesticated mammals (such as cows and horses) lived there. In short, it would have been stupid of these people not to farm, because they had everything they would ever need to survive growing in their backyard. Conversely, it is to the credit of Native Americans that they did not farm until much, much later, because they didn't have anything good to farm. In the way of large-seeded grasses, they had things like goosefoot, which you've never heard of, because it's gross and we don't eat it. And as for large domesticated mammals, those were all imported later. The only one we had on this side of the ocean until European intervention was the llama, which while cool, isn't really something you can base your farming community around.

Now, onto the drawbacks of farming. In a way, you can base all of the world's human related problems on farming because farming directly caused civilizations to form. As you may have heard, civilization hasn't been great for the planet's health so far.
One thing that has been severely disrupted by farming is our diet. As a species, we are hard-wired to eat a lot of variety because of millions of years of the whole hunter-gatherer thing. In fact, hunter-gatherers are more accurately gatherer-hunters because they were much more involved with plants and berries and things that they could find easily than they were with meat, which, you know, can run away from you and hide. We're not supposed to eat as much meat as we do now, and it's just no good for us in general.
Also, because farming creates large populations of people that don't have to go anywhere, it also creates a lot of human waste that has to be put somewhere. As hunter-gatherers, this wasn't a big deal, but as a sedentary population, this became a problem. It became a rapidly expanding problem, on top of that, because sedentary cultures were able to reproduce much more often than traveling cultures. If you're moving around all the time, you can only have one kid that can't walk at a time, but if you're settled down into a swanky new farming community, you can have as many kids as you want.
With population growth and the beginnings of civilization, you also have a new niche in nature, and whenever there is a niche nature fills it because that's what nature does. Unfortunately, this particular niche was filled very quickly with diseases. Diseases do very well in large populations. As my teacher put it, "If chickenpox and the common cold and the measles and Ebola were all hanging out at a bar, everyone would be making fun of Ebola and saying 'Oh Ebola, you're a stupid disease, you kill your people much too quickly and you can't spread.'" The thing about diseases is that they don't want to kill you, they don't even want to make you sick, all they want to do is live. In hunter-gatherer culture, there could never be an epidemic because everyone was so spread out. So if a disease kills people very very quickly, the disease itself would die out because it would run out of hosts. In a large population, this is not the case, as there is always someone new to infect.
Farming is also a ton of work. Have you ever farmed? I know I haven't, because that shit looks really hard. While farmers toil in the fields, engaged in back-breaking labor for eighteen hours a day, hunter-gatherer cultures are lounging around eating berries and shooting the breeze with one another because they only have to work about 25% of the time, and all the work was divided evenly throughout the group.

So that's the story of how an accident resulted in a life-style change that swept the globe and started humanity on the war path of civilization, which will eventually kill us in nuclear holocaust or global warming. While not my most fascinating blog, I think it's interesting that something as small as farming has all this information behind it, and I wanted to share it with you loyal few who read this thing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

News and Human Rights 4: North Korea

For the first time ever, this News and Human Rights blog will come to you in two parts. First the news, then the human rights.
North Korea has been making the news a lot lately because on May 25 of this year they decided to test some nuclear weapons. It wasn't a surprise to the world that they had nuclear weapons, of course, because they announced to the world that they had them back in 2005. To me, they basically said to the US as it continued the War on Terror, "Come and get us, you fucks." Not surprisingly, the US did not go and get them. First of all, North Korea doesn't have nearly as much oil as Iraq, and second of all, it's much harder to attack a country who is capable of kick-starting the end of the world in nuclear holocaust. As I may or may not have mentioned in the first Noam Chomsky blog, countries like Iran and North Korea would be absolutely crazy to not have nuclear weapons right now. At a time when the US invades whoever it likes for barely any reason at all (or for completely false reasons) it makes perfect sense that other countries in the so-called Axis of Evil would defend themselves by any means necessary. Going back to a previous point, we are the drunken, gun-toting, psycho hillbillies of the world right now, and we're making everyone extremely nervous by throwing our big American beer-gut weight around.
When you fully settle into the frame of mind that North Koreans must be in when considering our country's power, (a frame of mind that I'm sure is nothing short of utter paranoia) it is totally understandable to hear North Korean officials say things like "Further sanctions against North Korea will be perceived as threats," and "We will wipe America off the globe." I imagine a scared man backed into a corner by a starving lion, except the lion and the man both have guns. It's not an extremely good metaphor, but you get the point.
While I understand North Korea's want and need to have nuclear weapons, I still think they shouldn't be allowed to have them. In the first place, I don't think any country should be allowed to have nuclear weapons, because all they serve to do is threaten to completely blink our entire race out of existence in a matter of minutes. Other than that, North Korea has been consistently aggressive, refuses to comply with the UN, and is all together not cooperative in developing a more peaceful world. (You'll notice, by the way, that all three of these traits can also describe the US, which is why we shouldn't have nukes either. I mean, seriously, what country in the world is responsible enough to wield such supreme power? If you look at even the most recent history of any country, you'll find the answer is no one.)
That's the news on North Korea. They have nukes that they're testing, and the problem with nukes is that once a country has them you can't just go steamroll them and dismantle their government because they could potentially do a lot of damage in retaliation. Nukes actually might do the world some good by forcing everyone to resort to *gasp* diplomacy, but it seems more likely to me that we'll just blow each other up.
Human Rights:
"North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship and one of the most restrictive countries in the world. Every aspect of social, political, and economic life is tightly controlled by the state. The regime denies North Koreans all basic rights, subjects tens of thousands of political prisoners to brutal conditions, and maintains a largely isolationist foreign policy." - Freedom House, a US human rights group.
The human rights situation in North Korea is absolutely awful. Apparently, North Korean defectors have reported such heinous activities as torture, starvation, rape, medical experimentation, forced labor and forced abortions as perpetrated by the North Korean government. It is also reported that .85% of the population, about 200,000 North Koreans, are inmates in the country's prison and detention camps.
Just last month two US reporters by the names of Euna Lee and Laura Ling were sentenced to 12 years forced labor in North Korea after a sham trial accused them of unspecified "grave crimes." As is the case in Burma, it would be extremely helpful is China would become involved because pressure from China has extreme influence in Asia, but of course China couldn't care much less about human rights so basically the battle is lost before it begins.
There isn't much you can do about impending nuclear holocaust, or the way North Korea treats its citizens, but it does help to be aware of these things, I think, mostly because they are the truth and understanding them will add depth to your perception of the world.
However, there is something you can do you for two fellow Americans currently trapped a few thousand miles from home in solitary confinement in one of the worst prison systems in the world, even if it amounts to nothing more than a small gesture.
In the usual fashion, Amnesty International has supplied a pre-written letter to help with this cause, and this one is meant to put pressure on China to speak out against North Korea's imprisonment of these two innocent reporters. It's not much, but it's something.

Help free Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Jordan White

Here, in it's most interesting points, is a chronicling of my descent into madness over the past few weeks. There will be a return to my regular, more boring kind of blogging soon.

Day One: 6/30/09
After a night out at the bar, my alarm woke me up at nine o'clock and I prepared to drive to Arizona in one 28 hour shot. By prepared, I mean that Lindsay made some sandwiches and I bought a mini-keg of Oberon because it's impossible to find in the southwest. Kilby and I passed the time mostly by making fun of everyone and everything we saw, discussing religion and imagining possible alternative methods for transporting hazardous chemicals, you know, besides putting some sped-up truck driver behind the wheel of a million gallon tanker of jet fuel. We thought that missiles would be the safest mode of transportation, if only the human race had invented tractor beams. We switched drivers at the end of every tank of gas, and I fell asleep at four in the morning in the last 20 miles of Texas.

Day Two: 7/01/09
I woke up at 90 miles an hour in New Mexico just in time to watch the sunrise. I played Weird Al Yankovic's "Albuquerque" as we passed through the city of the same name. Once in Arizona, Kilby and I coincidentally stopped at a gas station that I'd been to once before while on vacation with my parents seven years ago. They sell swords and bongs, and I bought neither. I think the strangest thing I can say about a 28 hour car ride is that it really isn't that big of a deal, once you've committed yourself to the idea that it will never, ever, end. We got to Joe's at noon Arizona time and started drinking immediately. In eight hours I consumed every form of alcohol except for gin, and in the process my wallet was either lost or stolen. Before we discovered my missing wallet, we had a belly smacker contest to prove our manliness.

Day Three: 7/02/09
The loss of my wallet took a massive toll on Joe, whose inability to accept the fact that we couldn't go out to the bar was nothing short of astounding. After my mom wired me some money, we spent most of the day drinking in the air conditioning and playing Wii bowling. Oberon, brass monkeys, a twelve pack of Sessions, and Keystone Light. I passed out on the couch with my head back like Homer Simpson.

Day Four: 7/03/09
For some insane reason we woke up at nine in the morning to play basketball in the hundred degree heat. Kilby and I were forced to create a truce in which neither of us would leave the shaded area of the court, and we still stopped for water every minute or so. After that, a tubing trip down the river was cancelled due to an overwhelming police presence that would have made drinking impossible. At the bar I offered to pinky promise a waitress that I was 21, but she wasn't amused. We drank in a few different pools with some good people, Joe and Kilby boxed underwater, and I blacked out in the bar that Joe's friend Dan worked at. I hope I didn't embarrass him.

Day Five: 7/04/09
The fourth of July. I celebrated this holiday in the most patriotic way possible: miserably hung over watching Kilby become a Pro at Wii boxing. We were supposed to watch Jaws projected onto the side of a house while in a pool, but instead we watched Space Buddies, Zombie Strippers, Dance of the Dead and Snow Buddies, in Joe's apartment. They were fantastic movies, all around. All that you need to know is that "Make like a bread truck and haul buns" was a joke featured in both Space Buddies and Zombie Strippers. I was overjoyed.

Day Six: 7/05/09
I decided I wanted to do something in Arizona besides drink inside, so it was on this day that I decided to climb a mountain. After a round of disc golf that was almost too intense to begin with, I thought a nice hike through the desert would be the pick-me-up I needed. Unfortunately, this was no hill, no nature path, no family outing. This was a goddamn mountain, and at 5/8 of a mile up, I began to fantasize about my own heatstroke induced death atop the picturesque monstrosity. When the path disappeared and a real threat of getting lost presented itself, Kilby and I turned around, and by the time we got back to the car our water was as hot as coffee. I felt like a cartoon character doing silly walks down the awful stairs near the foot of the mountain. That night I had Vegas rolls and got drunk on sake bombs, courtesy of Danny Rockhey's not needing to see my ID. This marks the last day I was hydrated in Arizona.

Day Seven: 7/06/09
Last day in Arizona. One of Joe's friends woke us up at ten and drove us around for a few hours. Something I should mention at this point is that Arizona is far more interesting to look at than Michigan, mostly because there are constantly mountains in the backdrop. When Joe got home from school we headed to Phoenix for the Deer Tick show, and you've got to love a band that travels around the country in a short bus. Kilby and I had "Talk on Indolence" stuck in our heads and wished that we could watch The Avett Brothers instead. In fact, as of this writing, we still do.

Day Eight: 7/07/09
Back on the road, ready for part two of this insane cross country ride. Kilby and I got involved in a conversation via written signs with two girls in the car next to us on the freeway, and after a little back and forth they smoked us down outside of a gas station in New Mexico. They were on their way to Texas to party and Kilby bought them Popsicles. I was wearing my wizard shirt. Kilby drove for ten hours and I was so tired by the time I took the wheel that I had to pull my own hair to stay awake until I drank a Red Bull. Fell asleep at six a.m. in Oklahoma, not while driving.

Day Nine: 7/08/09
Vacations are fun but at this point, as we drove through Missouri and Illinois and Indiana for what seemed like an eternity, I just wanted to get home to my girlfriend and my dog. I got home at six thirty and we were alone for approximately two hours before Lindsay's mom and nephews arrived. We played Brawl and ate the Cheetos out of the big value bag that Lindsay got the kids for their trip to Michigan's Adventure.

Day Ten: 7/09/09
Michigan's Adventure was just about as sweet as you'd think. Cool roller coasters, badass water park, overpriced everything, and one amazingly massive funnel that you can ride down on a four-man tube. Aside from hiccups in the plan that are customary with little kids and a large group, the whole day was really great. Oh, except for the fact that on the way back my front axle snapped, which shattered my ball joint, broke my control arm, and all in all bent the holy fuck out of the front right side of my car. After running down the side of the highway in my flip flops to read the exit number we were nearest, I called a tow truck and had to pay full price because my AAA card was in my wallet, which was probably in a landfill in Arizona at the time. Lindsay and I were forced to call Kilby for a ride, and he spent another three hours in a car driving to and from Muskegon. We waited for him in a bar, where I couldn't have a beer because I didn't have any ID.

So, in the end, my wallet is lost, my car is broken, and I'm back washing dishes in Michigan.
I'm not sure how to say in a non-cliche, non-cheesy way that I don't care, and that the things I need are not material possessions, and that I'm young and it's summer and I'm in love, but that's how I feel. I'm so fucking zen.
When I was talking to my dad about my trip to Arizona immediately followed by a full day at an amusement park, he laughed and said, "It must be good to be Jordan."
And it is.