Dear mothers: Thanks, so, so much.

Mother, god mother and grand mother (right to left)

My mothers

I stand on the shoulders of many people, especially various mothers. Above, 17-year-old me looks like a dope with three women who have been instrumental in making me who I am. I will never give enough voice to my gratitude to Deborah Jadhav, my mother; Mary Rader, my godmother; and Mohini Jadhav, my grandmother/dadi (next to me, right to left above).

So dopey I was.

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Miss you, pops

Those are some hiking shorts...

Those are some hiking shorts…

It’s been thirteen years today since Dad died. Can remember that day vividly.

Pain has faded, and, wow, how much has changed. Life has, despite the loss, turned out quite grand. Just wish he could share it now.

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Two years since we all met us in St. Louis

Our flash mob wedding in Forest Park

Our flash mob wedding in Forest Park

June 29 is our second anniversary of what felt like our fifth or sixth wedding ceremony. But it was the only one we had with U.S. family and friends. And we were so grateful to all who supported us, in person and in spirit.

And we still are. Lots of love to you all.

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Miss you, Dad

I must have been six or seven

I must have been six or seven

That’s my plastic dinosaur toy on his desk. His construction paper badge says, “Super Dad.”

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World Oceans Day: What else died so you could eat seafood?

Shark bycatch in Ecuador

Shark bycatch in Ecuador

In 2010, I was standing on a beach in Ecuador watching all manner of sea creatures get dragged ashore, sacrificed for the targeted catches of high-value prawns and tunas (mostly for export).

Sharks, rays, even a turtle, all killed in the process. Some of them would end up in local ceviche as non-descript fish, but others (like the turtle, a protected species) would simply be left to rot.

I certainly don’t advocate an end to fishing. I work with fishers of shark, sardines, mackerel, crabs, shrimp, oysters and more. I believe small- and medium-scale fishing has a role to play in livelihoods and food across the globe.

But the sight of Ecuador’s illicit bycatch, which led to the photo above, left me asking what kinds of pernicious forces — political, economic, ecological or other — could lead to such wanton sacrifice.

I’m still asking that question. As June 8 is World Oceans Day, maybe we all should be asking it.

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Dear National Press Foundation: Thank you for helping @MonsantoCo to buy more journalists

TO: Sandy K. Johnson
President of the National Press Foundation:

Ms. Johnson, I respect your career as a journalist, particularly your legacy as Associated Press COB in Washington, DC. I also respect the mission of the National Press Foundation, especially these days when journalism as a craft and a community is on the ropes.

Yet I was so very dismayed to learn of the National Press Foundation’s Food, from Farm to Table “bootcamp,” which sounds like little more than junket, paid at least in part by Monsanto. As disheartening were your recent comments defending such a program.

“Johnson did say that she personally initiated the NPF’s sponsorship relationship with Monsanto after she found herself seated next to a member of the Monsanto board of directors at a dinner party in January. She also said that once Monsanto signed on as a sponsor, the NPF decided to locate the conference in St. Louis in order to include a visit to the company’s labs in their programming. When asked if she was familiar with Monsanto’s controversial reputation, Johnson replied, “In whose eyes? In your eyes? I’m familiar with the Monsanto that created research and science around agriculture that has allowed the United States to feed the world.”

Now I understand that the food journalism community can be pretty quick to pounce. And there are many sides to the complex story of food and food politics. But this program and your conversation with Helen Rosner at Eater reveal two disturbing problems.

FUNDING.
Now, you might rightly stand on your word that this junket would be fair and balanced, that adult journalists can decide for themselves, that NPF wants to shed light on a multifaceted issue, etc. I agree that a tour of Monsanto should be included in such a program as should your planned tour of an organic farm. And yes, I think that Monsanto’s side needs to be heard, and questioned critically. I think a visit Whole Foods and to Aldi is on order. I think checking out the refrigerators of the rich in Clayton and the poor in North St. Louis would be revealing. Go stand in the middle of vast corn fields in southern Illinois. Compare their soil to that of a permaculture plot developed by EarthDance Farms of Ferguson, Mo. Speak with scientists at the Missouri Botanical Garden (or bring some from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or the University Missouri at Columbia). Take a day trip up to Decatur, Ill. and visit Archer Daniels Midland. On your way back check the small and largish dairy production around Breese, Ill.

Such activities will surely make your junket less junket-y.

But why should Monsanto foot the bill? Do you/NPF not see a real conflict of interest? Do you not think that there’s at least the potential for impropriety or the appearance there of? Can you swear that Monsanto at no point has influence on the itinerary? Do you not see that by taking Monsanto’s money, you allow them to buy influence? The rules of the exchange are changed, right?

I remember the old AP “rules” that I learned as an intern and stringer. We took free water if we were thirsty; the rest of the sponsorships, junkets, food at events, transportation with the campaign — I was taught — was to be refused or paid back if absolutely necessary. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten why those rules — informal or official — were so strictly promoted as a code of conduct.

Is it the case that the junket couldn’t happen without Monsanto funding? I do suspect you wouldn’t be able to offer an all-expenses-paid trip to St. Louis. Which is also probably what Monsanto wants. In that case, don’t do it; find other funding creative ways to train journalists on these matters without compromising your/NPF’s integrity.

BIAS
Now, on a more personal note, your blathering and defensiveness reveals you as biased on these issues — consciously or not.

You say got the idea from a NatGeo issue? You were sitting at a dinner party next to a Monsanto bigshot and struck up a conversation? Congratulations. Are you so removed from these concepts that you weren’t already aware of their complexity and Monsanto’s role? Are you really claiming you are unaware that Monsanto is controversial and not always considered an altruistic corporation interested in ending hunger? Do you think Monsanto critics are just some hippy fringe? There’s no reason for concern with GMOs and the politics of GMOs and corporate control of the food system? You’re absolutely unbiased in all this?

No, Ms. Johnson, I think you have plenty of bias, and you quite plainly reveal it. You apparently got riled up and pushed back at Ms. Rosner, but in doing so, you openly take a stand on your benefactor Monsanto — and apparently the highly contentious politics of food, aid, subsidies, intellectual property rights, trade, policy, freedom of expression, tort law and more. Your unskeptical description of Monsanto as supporting the food-providing United States is company salespitch and/or jingoistic propaganda more than truth.

As a final justification, you attempt to dismiss your skeptical interviewer because you claim some authority, having grown up on a farm. I agree that once perhaps put you closer to some of these issues (though probably not the extensive complexity of agro-food politics today) than people who don’t grow up in and around farming towns.

But that last credential doesn’t excuse your (and NPF’s) abrogation of basic journalistic principles. You might like Monsanto enough to take their money. And you apparently can’t see your own bias (bias is funny that way).

But I hope enough journalists do see through Monsanto’s attempt to buy media coverage, in which you are now complicit.

Sincerely,

Adam Jadhav

P.S. Before you dismiss me. My very first job was detasseling corn. My second was stocking food at a grocery store. Several years later I interned with the Associated Press. I became a political reporter in St. Louis. I left journalism for a graduate degree in global environmental politics. I now live in India conducting research (and hands-on experiments) in sustainable agro-ecology. From there to here, it’s very interesting to how Monsanto and the United States do or do not “feed the world.”

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Can you forget how to ride a bike? How easily? What about how to think?


Spotted this evening on Treehugger.

Take the time to watch the above. Aside from just being wonderfully nerdy about bicycles and weird science, this video also seems like a really, really, really instructive lesson about how brains (ours, others, etc.) might approach a dynamic social, ecological or political problem.

I’m betting most of us see this and think, at least at first, “I could figure it out.” Then, after watching a lot of people fail, some of us still probably think, “OK, difficult, but I could still do it.”

Maybe we invent tricks we think will help — closing our eyes to tamp down the visual miscues, crossing our arms to maintain the “push with the right, turn to the left” muscle memory, etc.

And most of us would still probably faceplant if forced to do it at any speed.

I’m left wondering, then, how much this ingrained processing of bicycle riding also applies to how we process OTHER information, ideas, biases, etc. Do beliefs/constructs/paradigms/language really get as hard-wired as bicycle riding?

If so, I suppose I probably would continue to believe the government is good/evil, climate change is real/fake, gay people are people/sinners, guns are safe/dangerous, ice cream is tasty/the scourge of thighs, the earth is round/flat, dogs can/can’t look up, and other binaries entirely because of my neuro-wiring and irrespective of compelling “reason,” “logic,” “science,” “information,” “knowledge,” “humanity,” etc. with which I am presented.

In the backwards bicycle case, I very clearly can see that I need to push with my left to veer/counterbalance left. Yet my brain still won’t do it, at least not without eight months of reorientation (that apparently can also be overcome in several minutes re-reorientation). In other words, I’m sitting there on the pedals telling myself that reality has changed, with everyone else also explaining how the world is now different, and I need to adapt and push with the left to go left, and yet my brain tells me and everyone else, politely, to eff off.

Similarly, if my brain also says X is a hoax, how difficult is actually convincing myself that X is true?

And of course, with most thorny issues, we know that most ideas are not simply the product of knowing the A, B and C of X. Enter the halo effect, social capital, limited but repeated experiences, memory loss, ego, fear, group-think, shifting baselines and all other common obstructions to changing our made-up minds.

In real-world conditions, then, my brain tells me to X is wrong because I should distrust person E who believes X because Y is my routine experience and person B also supports me as a member of clan R which adheres to community norm set M; in addition, I’ve actually forgotten the A, B, and C of X, which I encountered Z months ago surrounded by people L while I was in mood T; and, in any case, I imagine myself to be person type Q and to even consider believing X would actually make me person type J.”

Makes me really take a step back on the strategies we use to win hearts and minds. Say, for instance, in favor of climate reality or sustainable living or equality under law.

So what if believing Y (and not X) really is like riding a bike? What would it actually take to help/encourage people forget Y and choose X? Some pretty difficult truths for all who are interested in making social change a reality.

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Miss you, Dad

Summer glacier is probably gone, too

Summer glacier is probably gone, too

Fourteen years ago today my father died in a car accident. Life has nonetheless been good to me; just wish I could share it with him.

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The ocean seems kinda pissed

Conservation International has released a new series of HD videos personifying portions of the earth-system with messages delivered by celebrity voice-acting. An unhappy Han Solo Harrison Ford plays the ocean. Nature, soil, the rain forest, water and water also deliver messages in this “Nature is Speaking” series. More perspectives are coming.

The message: From the point of view of nature, humans with their hubris and ignorance seem destined to destroy the natural resources they depend on with hubris. Ecosystems have survived for millennia upon millennia and yet humans, in a relatively short time span, are breaking everything in sight.

(I was in the audience a few years ago in a Washington, DC theater when Bill McKibben sadly joked, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”)

These messages have antagonistic overtone, some more than others. An almost spiteful Ocean warns, “I’m only gonna say this once. If nature isn’t kept healthy, humans won’t survive, simple as that. Me? I could give a damn with or without humans. I’m the Ocean. I covered this entire planet once and I can always cover it again. That’s all I have to say.”

I expect the message+tone will rile some people. And I do wonder if the “nature will survive us all” trope doesn’t do a bit of harm when we’re also arguing that humans are responsible for massive environmental change.

Still, the argument is certainly true; we are destroying the ocean — through overfishing, trash, chemicals, fertilizer runoff, mining and acidification via CO2 emissions. The video poignantly offers no small amount of stunning video to remind us of the ecosystems we’re threatening.

The tag line: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”

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When we actually ask people in SE DC what they think about cycling…

An early table from the 2013 survey

An early table from the 2013 survey

In 2012 and 2013, American University Prof. Eve Bratman and I worked with two of her classes to survey more than 250 commuters in Washington, DC’s Wards 7 and 8. While much of the city — and indeed the country — has seen a cycling renaissance (hooray!), commuters in predominantly poor, predominantly black Wards 7 and 8 aren’t exactly part of the boom.

Above is an early table from the 2013 segment of the survey that specifically asked commuters at a wide range of places what barriers they could identify to cycling. Meanwhile, we note that the overwhelming preference among our respondents in both surveys is still for an automobile.

Ultimately, this leads us to conclude there is more serious work to be done; and we have a few policy suggestions. For a more developed argument, see the initial findings of our exploratory, shoestring research published today by The Atlantic‘s CityLab.

Many thanks to CityLab for listening to us. And thanks to all the co-conspirators (fellow students) in this research. We’re looking at publishing a much more thoughtful, articulated and data-heavy version in the coming months.

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