Tuesday, November 29, 2005


It takes over your schedule, your Sundays, your holidays. It takes over your budget, your social life, your spare time. It takes over your mind, your vision, your soul.

It's hockey; another great game ruined by adults. The idea that a bunch of kids could get together and slap a puck around without coaches, referees, clocks is a Norman Rockwell vision long dead.

The season starts and you face 26 weeks of running, spending and dealing with people you'd normally never know. You'll drive hundreds of miles, eat who knows how much crap from rink concession stands, and then get up and do it again. And again.

And it's never enough. You have to go to tournaments where you try to sleep in overpriced motels and spend more money on crap food and more time running to ice rinks with people you'd wonder about if you ran into them anywhere else.

That's all so the kid can play another game or two of hockey; a great game ruined by adults.

So, I try to maintain a perspective. Hockey is a helluva workout for the kid. If he's playing hockey he isn't doing something else. Hockey won't preclude bad behavior but I still figure every hour spent with hockey is at least that hour stolen from booze, drugs and unprotected sex. Like buying time and banking it.

And now, most suddenly, we see this coming to an end. The time is fast arriving where if he wants to play hockey it'll be on his own. No more, "time to take me to the rink, dad." No more, "did you see the way I skated that guy down?" No more, "Man, did you see Dave and I set that goalie up?"

No more long drives through bleak winterscapes talking about life, music, movies, getting a muffler for the old truck, people, how to behave, school, building new pig pens. No more guys hanging around in the garage goofing off and farting.

That'll all end with the hockey, too. And the kid will move along to his own life whatever that may be. And he'll have what we shared, too, I hope. The whole thing was special. Every challenge, every time I shook my head and wondered what the hell. All of it is growing up.

Tonight, when I drop him off at the rink, I'll bite my tongue, and when I drive back through town I'll look around on the streets for kids his age and I'll think, "My kid's playing hockey."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Random thanks

I could find only one news mention of X-Box riots. Riot is probably too strong a word. Melee, or scuffle, or disturbance perhaps better describe what happened outside of a Wal-Mart somewhere in suburban Maryland.

Suburban Maryland. Meh.

Since today is the day for thanking the crap out of everything and everyone, I'm thankful for only one reported X-Box disturbance. The Youthful Ones here say they are surprised by even one. Gamers, they say, are a bunch of geeks and fighting and scuffling are out of character.

Still, it's the X-Box release. People waited overnight in the cold to be there to buy the silly things. That's passion and video gamers are passionate. Limited supplies isn't something this bunch is used to. That's why I expected some broader level of savagery.

So, back to saying I'm thankful for only one reported incident. Maybe gamers have a better depth of character than I expected.

And I'm thankful for the whole list of obvious other things such as my healthy family, a safe warm place to live, and a supportive community that has had its share of challenges this past year. People in this country at the community street level are still generous, caring, and decent.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Gun deer season

Someone please name a band, "Gun Deer Season." Please.

As I key this into the computer, 600,000 people are in the woods and fields of Wisconsin hunting deer. The radio said 600,000 and I have never tried to verify the number. It's about the same each year so I think it's in the old ballpark. Back in '68 I recall a commentator say the number of deer hunters in Wisconsin was about the same as the number of troops we had in Vietnam at the time.

My recollection of the '68 gun deer season and Vietnam is one of those oddities of my flypaper memory. You know, if I had to remember something really important it'd be gone but that odd speck of trivia pops into my conscience.

Then my brain leaps into the present and the next image filling my head is all those orange-clad hunters being loaded on airplanes and flown to Iraq. If the sight of drunken fat white men armed and looking to shoot something didn't force the insurgents into instant surrender what would?

Friday, November 18, 2005

About time

Is it surrender to leave Iraq as suggested by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa)?

Rep Murtha says:

"This war needs to be personalized. As I said before I have visited with the severely wounded of this war. They are suffering.

Because we in Congress are charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, it is our responsibility, our OBLIGATION to speak out for them. That’s why I am speaking out.

Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME."

Murtha doesn't leave it to chance by adding:

My plan calls:

To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
To create a quick reaction force in the region.
To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.
To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq

For some reason I don't see a retired Marine colonel surrendering.

Besides, who the hell would we surrender to? Our real enemies, and we had far fewer of them than most people thought, are more interested in the continued killing anyway. GWB and OBL are a pair of sick fucks who need each other.

I thought the invasion of Iraq was a dumb idea at the get go. Just on the surface of thing you could see we were sending our military into a spot where they'd be surrounded and out numbered every day. No WMD, no link to terrorists, No "gathering threat."

So you go, Murtha, go. On an average day I'd disagree with you on about everything else under the sun. But I have a feeling that wouldn't bother you in the slightest, either.

Thank you. Your courage is a living example to every one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Odd notes

It seems so out of fashion to wish for a peaceful world, an end to hate, poverty and a zillion other human maladies. Is there no profit in peace? Is that really why it's so essential to have a huge war machine and to drag our country into conflict?

War seems so desperate to me. And to go out of one's way to have a war is a senseless criminal act. At least I think it's criminal. Keep in mind I'm old fashioned and out of fashion.

But seriously, is there no profit in peace? Because if peace were profitable, would there be as many wars? Or am I barking up wrong trees. While I'm at it, I've never seen the profit in poverty either. Prospering people with full bellies and families living threat-free would appear to have more profit potential than people living in crushing poverty and ignorance.

I guess there needs to be exploited, impoverished people to provide cheap labor to make trinkets for the rich at the lowest possible cost so there's an impressive margin to fuel the layer of increasingly wealthy people who can continue to buy the bobbles manufactured in cheap labor shops.

Or something.

I think it's the responsibility of the wealthy capitalist to redistribute wealth. Capitalists can best redistribute wealth through job creation. Capitalists also have a responsibility to assure justice for their workforce and protection from violence.

If the capitalists don't start doing a better job of wealth distribution, I fear we just keep going through the same old cycles where the world gets a few hyper wealthy individuals controlling everything and injustice and poverty gets so bad that the cycle breaks violently.

Maybe the war machine can buy off or kill enough people so all that remains are the hyper wealthy and their servant bots. Then they'll turn on themselves.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

More organic notions

After that last post, I started thinking about whether organic food production can be mass marketed. Many people in organic production object to scale, large scale that is. A large farm, even if adhering to organic guidelines, is basically no longer organic. At some threshold, size of the operation becomes objectionable in and of itself. Or so some say.

Clarifying my own thoughts isn't easy since I'm prone to listen to new arguments and change my mind. A few things about my attitude have remained consistent. I'm not an organic food purest. In fact I really don't care what people put in their mouths. Organic food production's greatest potential is environmental via reduced use of chemicals. And I'm not saying conventional production is bad either, but it is energy intensive and things we do to reduce energy use are good imho.

Organic food, again my opinion, is no higher quality or any better for you than any other food. Chicken shit on an egg is only a dirty egg and it makes no difference what lead up to the laying of that egg. Likewise with any other food.

My point of advocacy is fresh local production. I'm not too worried about organic production practices as such but I do like fresh, locally grown food where I can see and know the grower. Direct marketed food has all the appeal I need. Organic? Okay, but it's not a first criteria. And I'm perfectly happy buying food from a supermarket or restaurant and not think about organic for a second.

This brings me back to mass marketing of organic production. Confronted by shelves full of food in the supermarket, I'd probably go along throwing things in the cart I wanted and buying primarily on price. If the organic tomato was more expensive, I'd probably grab the lower cost tomato all other things being equal.

If organic food production begins to enter mass market channels, as it is, it'll be competing on price value with other foods. Some people are going to pay a "premium" but not a substantially large amount when the products are side by side. For organic food producers to maintain a wider profit margin than commodity foods they need to stay away from mass production.

Buy direct locally produced food, I say.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Organic questions

That the organic food rules make it onto a segment of the ABC World News Tonight tells us the topic has popular mass interest. Rule changes are pretty boring. But ABC reported that organic foods are now a $14.5 billion a year business.

Honestly, I don't know what practical effect the court ruling and the debate about the regulations has but it's obviously created some concern for someone. At stake at all times is the meaning of the term organic food.

I bet if you did a survey of people's attitudes, you'd find pretty favorable perceptions about organic food. You'd hear that it's healthier, higher quality and better for the environment. Probably the only negative thing people would report it that organic products are expensive.

Of course, I'm guessing at a survey outcome.

All that positive feeling is something you can take to the bank. Money, especially billions, gets the attention of the big food complex. Here is where the premise of organic production gets interesting. First of all, can organic farming methods serve a mass market? Many organic producers do claim comparable yields in certain crops. Secondly, can organic foods stand the mass processing and distribution system and stay organic? Space in supermarkets devoted to organic is expanding suggesting that the effort is being made to answer question two.

Without any recent interviews with organic producers under my belt, I'm guessing there's some conflict afoot. The higher prices paid for organic production has helped draw a steady stream of farmers into the endeavor. While organic pioneers were out to make a statement and save the world, many people converting to organic methods are now looking at the extra money.

If organic methods became universally used, you'd be inclined to think that'd be a great thing for everyone assuming everyone's perceptions of the value of organic food are truthful.

What's true here and what's simple assumption? On top of that, you have to have some agency constantly and honestly upholding standards.

Another question for you. Does organic farming want to become mainstream?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Pure organic?

A handful of producers holding forth against big ag and big food has grown into, well, something that is starting to look like big ag and big food. So I exaggerate. Organic food production and processing is still a playground weakling compared to the whole agri-food complex.

But our weakling is starting to sprout some muscles of its own and the big boys on the playground have had to take a sidelong glance at the growth. Back when organic production was a handful of noisy producers there wasn't much interest beyond drawing definitive lines in the playground turf between who did what and how.

And as long as most of the food went from farmers to local customers it was a cute little niche. It was when the organic food started to get into the food processing and distribution chains that big ag and big food decided to get a piece of the margin.

Processed food can go to a supermarket shelf. On the shelf, organic products begin to squeeze all those other processed food products. And an organic "premium" looks good to Wal-Mart so they want more. They want mass production. They want it cheaper.

Hold it, I digress toward a rant.

Recently, there was a court ruling that basically said organic is organic and you don't go adding anything to it.

Chicago Tribune
Oct. 26, 2005

The law allows products that are 95 percent organic to carry the USDA organic seal, while products with at least 70 percent organic ingredients can advertise that they are made with organic ingredients. The Agriculture Department allows manufacturers to use up to 5 percent non-organic or synthetic ingredients and still receive the organic label, provided organic ingredients aren't available.

Court: No synthetics, period.

...a federal appellate court ruled in June that synthetic products couldn't be used at all in products with the organic label; companies often use such products as thickening agents or to give their products consistency. The court also ruled that the Agriculture Department could not give a blanket exemption to non-organic agriculture products, such as spices and oils, unless they were approved during a public process.

The court further ruled that dairy farmers must feed their cows 100 percent organic feed in the transition year before their milk could be sold as organic; currently, the USDA allows farmers to feed them 80 percent organic feed, and 20 percent conventional feed.

Processors went to the USDA to get that court ruling overturned. As far as I can tell at this point, the existing rules will continue as stated in the Chicago Tribune article. If the court ruling holds, then a whole bunch of processors have to make new labels or take products off the shelves.

web site for the global seed industry

Like organic standards used throughout the world, the U.S. organic standards have always allowed specific synthetic materials that are essential to making numerous organic processed products. These are non-agricultural materials, including items such as baking powder and a type of pectin, that are necessary in certain production and processing practices and have been used in producing foods for decades.

The current labeling requirements of the USDA National Organic Standard includes a 100% organic category (fresh and processed products) as well as the organic category (95% or more organic ingredients), and the made with organic category (70% or more organic ingredients.) Consumers have a choice in the products that they purchase because of these clearly defined labeling categories.

This is an issue that no doubt fractures organic producers. By allowing these processing additives, it's possible to expand the market, perhaps helping to make it a mass market for organic labels. The downside it that lax rules in processing will lead to food that's labeled as organic but not really organic in spirit or form.

More info:

USDA National Organic Program (NOP)