Tuesday, April 17, 2007

...to hell in a handbasket

At the end of a big, bad rainstorm, the last day and a half have been full of the the kind of bad news that makes an old fogey say that the world is surely going to hell in a hand basket. The horrible shootings at Virgina Tech ... I've just read a bit from someone who was in a playwrighting class with the shooter. He and others from the class immediately thought of him as the possible shooter because of the plays he had turned in. Two were available on the website I saw but I didn't read them, I read the comments about them and that, with the brilliance of hindsight, people wondered why someone who write such adolescent violence in plays had not at least been referred by the teacher to a counselor. Was there a teacher who didn't want to get involved? Aren't many of us wary of the sullen, silent person who may need help but who we feel so distant from that we prefer to say and do nothing? Some students it seems did try to at least talk to the guy. It's too late to ask if the tragedy could have been avoided. The only thing to ask is whether we'll pay attention to those around us and not do the knee jerk thing of saying we should put metal detectors on every door way.

At work I found myself educated about another depressing situation. In an interview a hedge fund manager whose specialty is agricultural commodity futures talked about the way our government and some others are subsidizing the development of biofuels in a rush to lessen our dependence on oil. This means, in the US, mostly ,ethanol made from corn [in Brazil it's made from sugar cane]. The man spoke of crops being subject to weather, as this farmer's daughter knows. He said that when there is a drought, there could come tough choices between food for people, for animals [the many animals being raised to feed people] and for transportation.

There will be droughts -- we know that from past cycles and even more so from recent global warming reports. The scary thing is that big, resource gobbling countries like the US have the money and power to shift the acreage in needed production not only within the US but anywhere else in the world that can grow the crop. This is truly scary. Already the percentage of people who do not have enough to eat is horrible; but if we're grabbing their fields to grow fuel for our bioenergy ... and then there's the matter, too, of fertilizers and pesticides and their run-off into rivers and ground water and what that will mean ... It's all such a horror ... it feels like we are at the gates of hell and about to be pushed into the pit.

The fund managerf was a brilliant analyzer, he outlined these problems ... very dispassionately. He goes on day after day playing his modeling games to discern what to buy and sell and how to keep his clients earning money ... clients of hedge funds tend to be pension funds, endowments, private corporations and what the financial world calls "high net worth individuals.' Where does that leave the normal American? Outside the loop. But where does it leave most humans on earth? Well most people don't have a clue that these financial/political manipulations are happening and may mean greatly increased food prices for those who have money, and almost no food at all for the rest of the world.

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