Wednesday, December 31, 2014


1. If you read Argentina: The Country That Monsanto Poisoned, you're going to have a hard time dispelling the sneaking suspicion that Monsanto may very well be the most evil corporation on Earth, like all your "hippie" friends have been saying all along. It begins:
American biotechnology has turned Argentina into the world’s third-largest soybean producer, but the chemicals powering the boom aren’t confined to soy and cotton and corn fields. They routinely contaminate homes and classrooms and drinking water. A growing chorus of doctors and scientists is warning that their uncontrolled use could be responsible for the increasing number of health problems turning up in hospitals across the South American nation. In the heart of Argentina’s soybean business, house-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average, as well as higher rates of hypothyroidism and chronic respiratory illnesses. Associated Press photographer Natacha Pisarenko spent months documenting the issue in farming communities across Argentina.
Trust me, it doesn't get any better from that point on. Of course, there is a parapolitical take on this story and this company that makes excellent grist for the conspiracy theorists' mill, and we'll be coming back to this story both here and on the Useless Eater Blog in the coming months. So make this either the last thing you read in 2014, or the first thing you read in 2015, and then start thinking about how you and I can make a difference on this issue. Our collective future may depend upon it.

2. For those of you who've already followed your friends' advice and watched Charlie Brooker's epochal anthology series for Channel 4, Black Mirror, this New Yorker appreciation piece on the series will be completely superfluous. For those of you who continue to resist this program's stygian charms, however, it might just be the kick in the ass required for you to get off your duffs, find the damn thing, and finally get down to the dirty business of watching the best TV show produced on planet Earth in years.

Map of Afghanistan showing Helmand and Kandahar

3. And finally for today, here's a link to an extensive overview of books and articles relating to the failed attempt to tame Afghanistan, written by James Meek from a British point of view, as published in a recent edition of the London Review of Books. It's a massive, magisterial piece of writing (or, if you prefer, you can listen to the first bit as an audio podcast at the link), that begins:

In the morning, I left the village where I’d spent the night, the village where, in the ninth century, a famous king had beaten the army of a northern warlord. I climbed a steep path to a high plateau and walked along dusty tracks. There was gunfire in the distance. In the early afternoon I rested on a hilltop, on the ramparts of ancient fortifications whose shape was outlined in soft bulges and shadings on the slopes. Down in the fertile flatlands, I could see rows of the armoured behemoths Britain bought to protect its troops in Afghanistan from roadside bombs, painted the colour of desert sand and crowded around the maintenance sheds of a military base. There was a roar from the road below and the squeak of tank tracks. A column of Warriors clanked up the hill. The Warrior is a strong fighting vehicle. It can protect a team of soldiers as it carries them into battle. Bullets bounce off it. A single inch-thick shell from its cannon can do terrible damage to anything unarmoured it hits. But these Warriors looked tired. They came into service in the late 1980s, just as the Cold War they’d been designed for was ending, and Afghanistan has a way of diminishing and humbling military technology.
Anybody wishing to understand the depth of the failure in Afghanistan needs to become familiar with the information contained in this awesome, clear-headed, near-book-sized summation. "Worse than a defeat", indeed.

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