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Species jumping

Species jumping is one of the scenarios being postulated for the spread of Mad Cow disease into Canada. Reuters points out that deer and elk, which commonly come into contact with cattle herds, are increasingly stricken by a disease similar to mad cow called chronic wasting disease spread though the proliferation of game farms. The existence of this disease in Alberta has led some to wonder whether it could have jumped to domestic cattle although scientists’ have failed in their own attempts to achieve that transmission.
David Theodoropoulus, an inveterate conservation biologist and ‘otaku’ ethnobotanist, seed merchant has written an amazing book entitled “Invasion Biology: Critique of A Pseudoscience” in which he very eloquently takes on the basic ecological notion that ‘exotic’ species are destroying the planet’s ecosystems. We’ve all heard of the deleterious effects of the rabbits in Australia and introduced goats and pigs eating the giant tortoise’s eggs on the Galapagos, but Theodoropoulos, argues that the real damage is caused by the destruction of habitat by humans which allows the exotics to do damage. He shows that in many cases exotic organisms like zebra mussels and eucalyptus actually act to increase local biodiversity. I was sure that I would disagree with this seemingly heretical premise but he makes a very convincing arguement in this book. People have always been moving plants and animals around and many of the trees that are now classed as exotic to North America were quite common here before glaciation such as Gingko biloba, Metasequoia etc. Theodoropoulus critiques ‘biological nativism’ as a kind of eco-fascism which became prevalent during Nazi Germany as a form of ecological ethnic cleansing, citing Robert Jay Lifton , (author of the seminal “Nazi Doctors”)

War Spin

The BBC series Correspondent broadcast an amazing documentary called WAR SPIN (rebroadcast on CBC TV’s ‘The Passionate Eye), which reveals the orchestrated PR fakery behind the ‘rescue’ of Jessica Lynch. It turns out that the Iraqi doctors at the unguarded hospital to which Lynch had been brought had donated their own blood to Ms. Lynch and tried to bring her back to the US side, but the driver of the ambulance had been shot by American soldiers, nearly killing Lynch as well.
On the SARS front, yesterday’s New York Times reports that the virus was found in wild animals being sold for food in Guangdong’s Province’s markets, notably the Masked palm civet. A number of the earliest SARS cases involved food handlers in these markets, where threatened and endangered species are frequently sold for human consumption. If this connection can be corroborated, it will be one more disease, like the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus- HIV link, where viruses jump to human hosts during the consumption of endangered wildlife in biodiversity hotspots.
Wildlife markets are particularly hard on turtles (my favorite) animals, with several species facing extinction because of their exploitation for traditional medicine, the pet trade and the gourmet food market. While the eradication of turtles may not rank in the forefront of the present global ‘state of emergency’ for most people, it seems a shame that these remarkable creatures, which predate even the dinosaurs, are getting wiped off the map. Jim Hubbard’s 1999 film ‘The turtle hunter’ (shown at the 2001 Margaret Mead film festival) was achingly beautiful. Originally shot in 1961, this B & W film documents the life of tell the story of Otis Terrell Overland, who made his living stalking the giant alligator snapping turtle in the swamps and bayous of Mississippi. The alligator snapper is the largest freshwater turtle on earth and is now threatened with extinction.

Universal Will to Become

As we hurtle towards the consumation of superpower hegemony and ‘total information awareness’, what continues to keep me going is what Kurt Vonnegut’s refers to in his 1959 (the year of my birth) (Sirens of Titan) as the principle of the ‘Universal Will to Become’ (UWTB).
Nothing can extinguish it.
Vonnegut powered his Martian space craft with it .
Trees have it, SARS viruses have it, mad cow prions have it. We can feed on it if we want to.
I guess this is the ‘flow’ principle that I am so fascinated by. It’s easy to see UWTB all around us coursing through growing plants. This energy when it courses through living systems is preserved as flow form. Wood grain for example, maps UWTB in its flow patterns, so even a dead piece of plywood shows (fossil) UWTB. I spent the day planting big ropy rhizomes of Phyllostachys nuda and Phyllostachys rubromarginata bamboos, each studded with nacsent subterranean growth shoots, epicentres of UWTB. Powered by UTWB, these buds can shoot up into 2 inch thick culms that will grow from 0 to 20 ft. high in a month And yet there is nothing there now but some onion- like layers of cells and a whole lot of photsynthetic intent. Left to its own devices UWTB will prevail.
The burning question of course is that of nanotech. Will our own artifacts exhibit UWTB? and morph into the dreaded ‘gray goo’ that Neal Stephenson posits in The Diamond Age? Computer viruses certainly have shown this tendency. If this happens, (and the ‘blue goo’ police nanobots don’t prevail), it could be curtains for the DNA based ecosphere (global ecophagy). UWTB will still prevail though, even in a techno-ecology. Life forms or sim life forms are only conduits through which UWTB expresses itself.
this just in from my friend laura:
Cockroaches to have Buddhist funeral
Thailand is preparing to cremate more than 1,000 giant cockroaches – and then hold a traditional Buddhist funeral to appease their owners. (I love those giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches, they definitely have UWTB!)
20 years ago in my installation ‘Posthuman Culture’, I populated a model city with their more common relatives- Periplanata americana- and gave them a photosynthetic ‘algae ocean’ to provide food and oxygen. I was trying to figure out how things would look when cockroaches finally replaced us. They exceeded expectations, breeding rampantly and eventually broke out of their sealed chambers and infested the Ontario College of Art.
Vonnegut also writes:
“It took us that long to realize that a purpose of
human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love
whoever is around to be loved.”

Ailanthus altissima trees erupting out of a building
in New York City, showing UWTB

Bambusero visitation

I spent the last day and a half hauling ass between Cortez Island and Saltspring Island to pick up a load of rare bamboos, which will form part of the basis of my self replicating art material supply system called ‘Means of Production’. I hung out with the local ‘bambuseros’ Doug Box and Naren Karter who supplied me with some botanical marvels.
Of note is the exquisite and rare Phyllostachys aureasulcata harbin which has culms that have a peculiar inner glow. Fargesia dracocephala, or Dragon’s head bamboo is native to the mountains of China at elevations of over 6,000 ft. The Fargesias are lovely weepsters that form part of the basic sustenance of the nearly extinct giant panda. Bamboo growers are deep ‘otaku’ in my experience. The characteristics distinguishing the many varieties can be very subtle and minute, such as the fuzzyness of the shoots or the number of hairs on a leaf. Taxonomic wrangling is commonplace and the scientific names are always being changed. The American Bamboo Society is a good place to go for further information on these fascinating plants.

Bambusa oldhamii near Hilo Hawaii, (Akaka Falls)

media that matters

I just spent an interesting day at the “MEDIA THAT MATTERS” conference, listening to John Stauber of PR WATCH where I learned some interesting stuff. There are over 700,000 PR firms in the US constituting a 30-40 billion dollar a year industry There are more PR people than journalists in the US and the gap is widening. Over 40 % of what is called news, actually originates from the PR industry.
Stauber explained the “corporate grassroots” movement that has been implemented by the US PR industry. This top down politicking by corporations, managed by the PR divisions, forces the corporation’s lower echelons to mobilize politically against anything deemed to be against the corporate interest. This is how the insurance corporations and pharmaceutical companies killed health care reform in the US. It has the seemingness of democracy because the people coming out against an issue are local, albeit well-briefed.
The formula for PR/Propaganda management that is now the corporate mantra is:
Stauber explained how PR firms deliberately concentrate on managing the outrage of a situation, (not the hazard) by sowing confusion into the media about issues. The perception management is of course tightly monitored by frequent polling.
His books – “Trust us We’re Experts” and “Toxic Sludge is good for you” are worth a read.
Stauber imagined some new models for empowering activists in their organizing campaigns. For example in the case of the environment, he said that “food and water” (or rather the purity thereof) are issues that are useful rallying points. Even the right, doesn’t want to be poisoned.
“Evil can only exist when good people do nothing”

we are what we eat

I guess we are what we eat. May 3rd’s Globe and Mail ran a story about how vegetables from California are contaminated with a rocket fuel component which has leached into the irrigation water from weapons facilities. The contaminant, (perchlorate) was found in iceberg lettuces irrigated with water from the Colorado river, (see May 4th’s post re: this) Perchlorate impairs the ability of the thyroid to produce the hormones needed for proper fetal and infant brain development. There are concerns that high childhood exposure to perchlorate could lead to lower IQ scores, mental retardation and motor-skills deficits. So there it is. . . The military industrial complex is actually making us stupid. Somehow it doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

propaganda and virtual landscape

From the my friends at Disinfopedia, comes this wonderful fieldguide to propaganda which should be required reading for anyone lost in the current morass of doublethink and doublespeak. Read it and weep.
And from the department of virtual landscapes,the Old Man of the Mountain, collapsed yesterday after millenia of glaring down from the top of New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain. Admittedly it had been “held together with a lot of manmade life support: water-protective fiberglass covers and four metal turnbuckles to secure the forehead”, during its last few decades, but now it has completely crumbled. There is a lively debate happening as to whether it should be replaced with a fibreglass replica. Disney would be proud. What would be more fun, is if New Hampshire changed its license plates to reflect the eroded state of its geomorphology. Maybe they could do something about the”Live Free or Die” motto on the plates as well. That slogan could do with a bit of erosion, given the current state of civil liberties in post 9/11 America

Iraq as Eden

CNN ran a feature on the Eden Project which intends to restore the ancient marshes of Mesopotania that once extended from the juncture of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq. All of a sudden this has become a ’cause celebre’ and one has to wonder why. While clearly of profound ecological importance, there seems to have been an unusual amount of attention being paid to this ecological restoration project by the US State department. After all, the marshes at the mouth of the Colorado river (quite ecologically analagous to the Tigris, Euphrates system) were almost completely destroyed by American damming and draining initiatives with similarly catastrophic ecological results such as the near extirpitation of the Yuma Clapper rail and the cultural life of the Cocopa Indians. Since the 1950s, the Tigris/Euphrates marshes have all but dried out due to upstream damming and draining initiatives both within and outside Iraq. This was exacerbated under Saddam Hussein’s regime because of the presence of the so called ‘Marsh Arabs’ which had been critical of his regime. The marshes were the purported site of the original ‘Garden of Eden’ and I can’t help thinking that America’s sudden focus on their restoration is an extension of the same Bush administration agenda of triumphalist, fundamentalist Christianianity that encouraged the looting of the Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad. History is being re-written as we speak and we’ll never know completely why. The image of the pelican regurgitating its dinner to feed its young has uncomfortable resonance to me with the way US media is uncritically regurgitating government agit prop to its population.