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Humans as natural dispersion mechanism

Have been reading a lot the arguments against so-called “invasion biology” on a site called MillionTrees.me. Invasion biology or invasion ecology is the supposedly conservation theory that says plants which are native to a given area are “better” than plants that are introduced, or worst of all those that exhibit “invasive” characteristics. This is then applied as justification for all manner of restoration ecology projects which may apply mass-scale pesticides in an effort to “wipe out” the invaders.

I won’t go into all the elements against this largely prevailing mindset just yet. But there are a few things I wanted to tee off as themes as we go forward.

One, is that the nativist language used against “invasives” is uncomfortably reminiscent for me of a certain far-right conspiracy theory called the Great Replacement, which alleges that elites are bent on ruining white majority countries by allowing or encouraging mass migration (“invasions”) of non-white peoples into them from elsewhere. Interestingly, this theory and its many permutations are nothing new, and in a previous era (around 1900), it was called Race Suicide, and in the United States the “natives” where white Protestants, and the “invasives” where Catholics from what were considered less desirable European countries. (Who will be the bad guy in 20 years, 100?)

Of course, white Europeans were not actually “native” to North America. There were and are indigenous North Americans who have thousands of years of prior claims to that title, making all Europeans the invasive ones from that perspective. But even they came to this continent from other places thousands of years prior to that. Were they then the introduced ones?

This leads directly to the next theme: that in the plant world likewise (and the multi-species ecologies they support), the decision about what is “native” in a given locale may end up being a somewhat arbitrary one, depending on what part of the geological record one is referring back to. Is a “native” plant referring to something growing “on it own” only prior to European settlement? Or is it outside of all human intervention?

There are two sub-issues implied in the conventional dichotomy offered above. One is the implicit suggestion that white European settlers were not “acting naturally” (i.e., could not be acting as agents of nature for reason x). Whereas, indigenous communities are conversely seen as acting in accord with nature because reasons. If its true that Europeans were somehow acting apart from nature, how and when did that happen? Sounds a bit like a myth of falling from grace or loss of innocence, or original sin, tied up with romantic Rousseau-ish myths around the noble savage…

I don’t have a complete thought there, but I’ve long held that humans effectively cannot be outside of or apart from nature. No matter the ethnicity, origin of the actors, nor degraded ecological outcomes that might result from our actions. I believe in participatory ecology (as well as multi-culturalism). We’re here to be a part of this. We might very well fuck it up, but we might also make it better if we take an honest look at ourselves, our social systems, and the natural situation in which we are embedded.

Ecology, taken neutrally, seems to support the notion that animals, especially mammals have important natural roles to play in seed dispersal. Consider:

“Seed dispersal via ingestion by vertebrate animals (mostly birds and mammals), or endozoochory, is the dispersal mechanism for most tree species.[29] Endozoochory is generally a coevolved mutualistic relationship in which a plant surrounds seeds with an edible, nutritious fruit as a good food resource for animals that consume it.”

As well as dispersal vectors more broadly:

“There are two types of dispersal vector, those that are active and those that are passive. Active dispersal involves organisms that are capable of movement under their own energy. In passive dispersal, the organisms have evolved dispersal units, or propagules, that use the kinetic energy of the environment for movement. In plants, some dispersal units have tissue that assists with dispersal and are called diaspores. Some dispersal is self-driven (autochory), such as using gravity (barochory), and does not rely on external vectors. Other types of dispersal are due to external vectors, which can be biotic vectors, such as animals (zoochory), or abiotic vectors, such as the wind (anemochory) or water (hydrochory).[2]

I guess I just fail to see how it’s different if a bear eats and poops out an apple, causing seed dispersal, and if a human does it? Okay, a difference of scale might be one significant element here. But if the difference is scale, intensity, or systematization, we should probably express that as the value of relevance, rather than the species who is the vector (though that might obviously imply different scales of possibility).

Anyway, I am still just thinking these things through out loud and it helps to write them down.

There are other arguments put forth on MillionTrees (linked at top) which dovetail into those explored above. Namely that if we concede that the concept of “native” is time-bound based on a historical reference point, then we should also examine the differences between the climate in that place at that time, and what exists there now. Because climates are most definitely changing (even if we tentatively accept that anthropogenic climate change is itself “natural” because humans are part of nature — the sticking issue here being that our actions are causing degraded conditions, not that they are “unnatural”). And whether your reference point is something like 250 years ago, 25, or 2500, nature is not static. Average temperatures change. Precipitation changes. Dozens of other factors change over time. Nature is not static. Ecologies are dynamic and evolving, not frozen forever in one specific time period we decided to idolize for whatever reason.

The follow-on being that we might wind up with a climate/species mismatch if we try to revert a landscape to what we think was a previous and more desirable ecology by removing or suppressing all introduced or invasive species, and replacing them with officially-approved “natives.” What may have been well adapted to the conditions of 250 years ago may very well not be adapted to current conditions. Which makes the rationale for doing so even weaker than it already is.

These are threads I will keep unraveling as I go.

Biodiversity as a crop

I recently published an extensive write-up with pictures of some hedge laying that I did with the intention of boosting biodiversity on our property. It occurs to me that the “biodiversity farming” aspect of the whole thing deserves closer attention, so I wanted to drill down on that in subsequent posts.

Biodiversity refers to the number and variety of species living within an environment or region. There are a few of perhaps more precise and more complex terms that come into play here — such as species richness, species diversity, something called species evenness that I don’t quite understand, etc. etc. Suffice it to say there are a variety of ways to measure biodiversity, which I’ll explore in another installment. This is just to get us started, after all…

Crops, meanwhile, revolve around agricultural production. Wikipedia calls a crop “a plant that can be grown and harvested extensively for profit or subsistence.” The Free Dictionary calls it “cultivated plants or agricultural produce, such as grain, vegetables, or fruit, considered as a group,” adding that it is also the “total yield of such produce in a particular season or place.” Merriam-Webster goes one step beyond those to include animals and animal products (though I think a “crop of cattle” sounds wrong, personally).

The etymology of crop seems related to cutting tops off plants (via Old English) — anything that isn’t the root.

General sense of “anything gathered when ready or in season” is from 1570s.

I kind of like that last definition the most in some ways, because it is the most clear, and most multi-purpose: “anything gathered when ready or in season.”

Conventional agricultural thinking seems to consider a crop a type of harvest of the fruits of a production — sometimes literal fruits. Then there is a secondary factor that seems to be part of our regular understanding of the word “crop” in which that produce is either sold (in order to live off) or just eaten directly (as in subsistence). So there’s a usually literal harvest and then an economic outcome of enrichment.

Applying that back to biodiversity, we’re less accustomed to thinking of it as a crop, but I maintain that it could be. With some imagination, that is. I especially like trying to connect it to “anything gathered when ready or in season,” though we would have to think about what the “gathering” here would entail. If our objective was biodiversity, it might not always be appropriate for us to take a literal harvest, if we want to not reduce vitality or population. Though in some cases — as proven by gardeners, foragers, hunters, trappers, etc. — taking physical harvests of the produce of biodiverse life forms may help increase vitality and population. Depends on the life form, and the situation.

Putting aside those questions of appropriate and timely physical harvests, what if we could say that the “gathering” we are doing when we grow biodiversity as a crop would be of scientific and observational data? That, of course, will require us to drill down deeper into understanding how can we measure biodiversity.

Secondarily, how might that enrich us economically? Certainly, participating in a biodiverse environment might enrich our well-being and connectedness to other forms of life. But that’s not the same as eating. We can’t eat data. Physical harvests of produce though (and transformation of products), that could be one way to survive — living off the land, so to speak. Biodiversity credits or offsets might be another.

There are a handful of emerging governmental and non-governmental initiatives to incentivize farmers to engage in biodiversity enhancing practices. I’ll rabbit hole on individual programs later on, but this “carbon + biodiversity” initiative from the Australian Government is a decent anchor reference point for now:

“The Carbon + Biodiversity Pilot (C+B Pilot) trials market arrangements for farmers to create new income from plantings that deliver biodiversity improvements and carbon abatement. Through the C+B Pilot, we are testing the concept of buying and selling biodiversity services from farmers.”

This one combines carbon capture with biodiversity as a sort of byproduct, and is just one way to potentially configure the economic enrichment side of “biodiversity as a crop.” It all sounds like a lot of paperwork, with tons of restrictive eligibility requirements, and itself requiring a third party to grant the credits, and broker their trade. It’s a far cry from simply cutting the tops off plants, and eating or selling them. But what I’m thinking is… why can’t we do some of both? All while enriching natural ecosystems, and making landscapes more resilient in the face of climate change — and perhaps even mitigating some of its extreme effects regionally or locally.

To be continued…

Zero

When the cost of production goes down to zero, so does the value of the product. Which is why the internet is full of garbage.

Luddites, labor exploitation

Source:

“…the Luddites were not indiscriminate. They were intentional and purposeful about which machines they smashed. They targeted those owned by manufacturers who were known to pay low wages, disregard workers’ safety, and/or speed up the pace of work. Even within a single factory — which would contain machines owned by different capitalists — some machines were destroyed and others pardoned depending on the business practices of their owners.

Second, the Luddites were not ignorant. Smashing machines was not a kneejerk reaction to new technology, but a tactical response by workers based on their understanding of how owners were using those machines to make labour conditions more exploitative.”

Nudge theory

Wikipedia:

“A nudge makes it more likely that an individual will make a particular choice, or behave in a particular way, by altering the environment so that automatic cognitive processes are triggered to favour the desired outcome.”

Black propaganda

Wikipedia:

“Black propaganda is a form of propaganda intended to create the impression that it was created by those it is supposed to discredit… Sometimes the source is concealed or credited to a false authority and spreads lies, fabrications, and deceptions. […]

If the creators or senders of the black propaganda message do not adequately understand their intended audience, the message may be misunderstood, seem suspicious, or fail altogether.”

Clandestine press, samizdat publications, etc.

Odds & ends I want to save for future reference… re: WWII resistance movements in Europe, and underground publications in USSR. So much rich material here. It’s hard to pick out just a few quotes.

“The clandestine press of the French Resistance was collectively responsible for printing flyers, broadsheets, newspapers, and even books in secret in France during the German occupation of France in the Second World War. […]

On 10 July 1942, General Karl Oberg posted a notice in every town hall in the Occupied zone announcing penalties applicable to the families of anyone convicted of disseminating propaganda against the occupying force (writers, typographers, middlemen, distributors), recalling ancient German Sippenhaft-style collective punishment measures. These measures didn’t stop the spread of information by the Resistance, and by 1944, 1,200 underground newspaper titles were being published with a total circulation of two million copies, totaling nearly twelve million copies over the course of the war. […]

In early newspaper issues, individuals often wrote under a number of pseudonyms in the same issue to convey the impression that a team of individuals was working on a newspaper.

“Samizdat (Russian: самиздат, lit. ‘self-publishing’) was a form of dissident activity across the socialist Eastern Bloc in which individuals reproduced censored and underground makeshift publications, often by hand, and passed the documents from reader to reader. The practice of manual reproduction was widespread, because most typewriters and printing devices required official registration and permission to access. […]

Before glasnost, most of these methods were dangerous, because copy machines, printing presses, and even typewriters in offices were under control of the organization’s First Department (part of the KGB); reference printouts from all of these machines were stored for subsequent identification purposes, should samizdat output be found. […]

The hand-typed, often blurry and wrinkled pages with numerous typographical errors and nondescript covers helped to separate and elevate Russian samizdat from Western literature. The physical form of samizdat arose from a simple lack of resources and the necessity to be inconspicuous. In time, dissidents in the USSR began to admire these qualities for their own sake, the ragged appearance of samizdat contrasting sharply with the smooth, well-produced appearance of texts passed by the censor’s office for publication by the State. The form samizdat took gained precedence over the ideas it expressed, and became a potent symbol of the resourcefulness and rebellious spirit of the inhabitants of the Soviet Union. In effect, the physical form of samizdat itself elevated the reading of samizdat to a prized clandestine act.”

“Ribs (рёбра, translit. ryobra), also known as music on ribs (Музыка на рёбрах), jazz on bones (Джаз на костях), bones or bone music (roentgenizdat) are improvised gramophone recordings made from X-ray films. Mostly made through the 1950s and 1960s,[1][2] ribs were a black market method of smuggling in and distributing music that was banned from broadcast in the Soviet Union.”

Apparently there’s a TED talk on this one:

“Tarnschriften or camouflaged publications were a way to avoid censorship in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945. Illegal writings were given an innocent looking cover and first and last pages.[1] Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands published about 80% of the camouflaged publications.[2] An estimated 900-1000 publications were issued with up to 40,000 copies printed per title.[3] Most of the publications were written for Germany, but there were also volumes for Spain and Norway, where a speech by Joseph Stalin was given the title Hvordan kan potetene bevares mot frost (How to keep potatoes from frost).[2]”

Bard Music in Soviet Russia

Very interesting:

Bard poetry differs from other poetry mainly in being sung with simple guitar accompaniment as opposed to being spoken. Another difference is that it focuses less on style and more on meaning. This means that fewer stylistic devices are used, and the poetry is often in the form of a narrative. What separates bard poetry from other songs is that the music is far less important than the lyrics; chord progressions are often very simple and tend to repeat from one bard song to another. A far more obvious difference is the commerce-free nature of the genre; songs are written to be sung and not to be sold, as the bards are often working professionals in a non-musical occupation.

Christmas Truce (World War I)

Found this amazing Wikipedia article about spontaneous truces breaking out amongst enemy units around Christmas of 1914 during WWI (and at other times). I love this idea of on-the-ground combatants exercising non-cooperation with war efforts… Maybe there’s a message for us today in this as well.

In the week leading up to 25 December, French, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, creating one of the most memorable images of the truce.

And:

The truces were not unique to the Christmas period and reflected a mood of “live and let live”, where infantry close together would stop fighting and fraternise, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there were occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades; in others, there was a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised or worked in view of the enemy.

And:

Truces between British and German units can be dated to early November 1914, around the time that the war of manoeuvre ended. Rations were brought up to the front line after dusk and soldiers on both sides noted a period of peace while they collected their food.[10] By 1 December, a British soldier could record a friendly visit from a German sergeant one morning “to see how we were getting on”.[11] Relations between French and German units were generally more tense but the same phenomenon began to emerge. In early December, a German surgeon recorded a regular half-hourly truce each evening to recover dead soldiers for burial, during which French and German soldiers exchanged newspapers.[12] This behaviour was often challenged by officers; lieutenant Charles de Gaulle wrote on 7 December of the “lamentable” desire of French infantrymen to leave the enemy in peace, while the commander of 10th Army, Victor d’Urbal, wrote of the “unfortunate consequences” when men “become familiar with their neighbours opposite”.

This is also discussed somewhat in the “live and let live” page, also regarding WWI.

Hardcover vs. paperback art for George Orwell’s 1984 (New Yorker)

From an excellent 2015 New Yorker article about the rise of mass market paperbacks, following on from pulp magazines:

George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was one of the best-selling novels of the early nineteen-fifties. The dust jacket for the American hardcover edition, published by Harcourt, Brace in 1949, has an all-text design on a dark-blue monochrome background. Orwell’s name and the words “A Novel” are printed in script. Very tasteful, in keeping with the gravity of the subject.

The cover of the 1950 Signet reprint (the artist was Alan Harmon) features a surprisingly toned Winston Smith, in a sleeveless top that shows off his triceps nicely, sneaking a glance at a slinky Julia, in lipstick and mascara, who wears an Anti-Sex League button pinned to a blouse with a neckline that plunges to her tightly sashed midriff. The artist has rendered O’Brien, Winston’s nemesis, as a sort of sadistic swimming instructor—a menacing dude clad in a black skullcap and halter-top outfit cut daringly across the pecs, and clutching what it is hard not to assume is a whip. “Forbidden Love. . . . Fear. . . . Betrayal,” the blurb says. “Complete and unabridged.”

The whole article is great, but this bit especially…

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