Monday, March 28, 2011


I have mixed feelings about organic foods. We have a few acres of our Colorado property from which we have carefully avoided any use of pesticides. This land is much too small for going through whatever formal procedures are needed to be "officially" able to sell produce as "organic", but in fact the land is treated as if it were. Before we bought the property, that land was used as grazing for cattle, so it is naturally fertile. In some years, lettuce and other greens have been taken to the nearby Farmer's Market, but otherwise we have eaten or given away what we have grown there.

Like many others, I deplore the exploitation of the term by aggressive marketers. In a store, I have been known to avoid high-priced organic items almost "on principle". I read somewhere that if fruit has a peel, it makes no difference--for example, with bananas. Certainly, if (say) insecticide can't penetrate a banana skin, spraying ripening bananas won't be affected.

But what if "artificial" fertilizer is used on the banana tree? Although I have visited a banana plantation (in Costa Rico), I don't pretend to be familiar with the cultivation techniques used by "Chiquita" (the notorious United Fruit Company). However, I checked out "", and learned (in addition to a lot of interesting history on the development of banana cultivation) that after the bananas have been harvested, the giant stems are cut down to provide rich humus for the next crop that has already begun to sprout new shoots.

When i was a boy of about 8 (in 1935), I used to play some of the old 78s on what we called a "gramophone" (the British version of a phonograph) and in its American form a phonograph. Among the records was a performance of what had been a very popular song "Yes, we have no bananas". This came true in WWll, when importation of such standard fruits as oranges and bananas had to be eliminated in favor of more humdrum food.

I still enjoy whole milk in my cereal bowl and coffee cup. When I am shopping, I don't choose the more expensive "organic" milk, but when it is bought for me, I don't complain. After all, it tastes just as good as regular milk...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bradley Manning

He is the person accused of the leaking of thousands of documents to Wikileaks. He has been kept in solitary confinement at the Marines' base at Quantico, in Virginia. His treatment there has, I believe, been inappropriate. Until recently, he had no sheets, and at night he is forced to undress, and put on some specially designed smock to sleep in. He is kept in his cell for 23 hours a day

I do suspect that Private Manning is guilty of the leaks. He has been charged for certain offenses as a result of this, but he has not been brought to trial.

I hold no brief for the actions of whoever did the leaking, but I think it goes against American ideas of justice to "punish" Manning before he has been brought to trial and, if found guilty, sentenced. Until that time, he should be treated as any other prisoner awaiting trial.

Delay in bringing him to trial is also not the "American way". Surely by now all the evidence needed for his trial has been obtained? It seems that his continued solitary confinement at Quantico is simply a matter of punishment for something of which he has not been found guilty.

Whether his treatment amounts to "torture", as some have alleged, is unclear.

One of the disappointments I have in this matter is the attitude of the President. He tells us that he has been assured that Manning's treatment is "appropriate". I suppose he is standing aside because of possible damage to his re-election prospects, if he were to use his authority to treat Manning in a more humane manner.

Shame on us for continuing this humiliating and vindictive discrimination of a suspect!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Sixty years ago,it was commonplace for graduates to stay with the same company for their entire working life. One knew that if one worked to "normal retirement age", one would qualify for what is technically known as a "defined benefit" pension. This wa a very important aspect of one's employment..

In more recent times, changing jobs in mid-career has become commonplace, and is often recommended to ambitious young folk. Due to mergers and changing needs, "moving on" is often involuntary. In these circumstances, a "defined contribution" plan has much greater appeal. Its customary "portability" allows a person who changes employers to build up retirement income relatively painlessly.

However, it is important to recognize that defined benefit plans are still important for certain employees. For example, state, county, and municipal employees often spend their entire working life in the same employment. Also, in some trades the only viable provider of pensions is the union, since over a long career in (say) the construction industry the worker may have many different employers.

The media often finds outrageous examples of swollen pension plans, and rightly highlights them as brakes on our nation's
economy. In this brief blog I merely wish to point out that pensions are mostly beneficial, but "one size doesn't fit all". As we read about these issues, it is important to keep an open mind.

Monday, March 7, 2011


For years, I have noted this word being confused with "devastated". In it's strictest sense, the word means the loss of 1/10th of a total, a very precise proportion. The word is derived from Latin. Classic examples of it's use are when Roman officers would kill one man in ten, to punish a unit for cowardice or mutiny.

It is perfectly reasonable to use the term in a less precise sense. For example, if the owner of an apple orchard were to claim that her trees had been "decimated" in a severe windstorm, no one in his right mind would find it necessary to check on this to see if precisely 500 trees had blown down from a total of 5,000.

Last week, watching the PBS News hour, I heard one very sharp commentator state that some entity had been "devastated and decimated". That was quite absurd! It is akin to say that the weather was "freezing and a bit chilly".