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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Project's Fate May Predict The Future of Mining

BLAIR, W.Va. — Federal officials are considering whether to veto mountaintop mining above a little Appalachian valley called Pigeonroost Hollow, a step that could be a turning point for one of the country’s most contentious environmental disputes.
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Above is an existing mining operation, adjacent to the Spruce 1 site, which is to the upper left of the cleared areas. More Photos »

The New York Times

The population of Blair, near the Spruce 1 site, has dwindled to 60. More Photos »

The Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit in 2007 to blast 400 feet off the hilltops here to expose the rich coal seams, disposing of the debris in the upper reaches of six valleys, including Pigeonroost Hollow.

But the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, in a break with President George W. Bush’s more coal-friendly approach, has threatened to halt or sharply scale back the project known as Spruce 1. The agency asserts that the project would irrevocably damage streams and wildlife and violate the Clean Water Act.

Because it is one of the largest mountaintop mining projects ever and because it has been hotly disputed for a dozen years, Spruce 1 is seen as a bellwether by conservation groups and the coal industry.

The fate of the project could also have national reverberations, affecting Democratic Party prospects in coal states. While extensive research and public hearings on the plan have been completed, federal officials said that their final decision would not be announced until late this year — perhaps, conveniently, after the midterm elections.

Environmental groups say that approval of the project in anything like its current form would be a betrayal.

“Spruce 1 is a test of whether the E.P.A. is going to follow through with its promises,” said Bill Price, director of environmental justice with the Sierra Club in West Virginia.

“If the administration sticks to its guns,” Mr. Price predicted, “mountaintop removal is going to be severely curtailed.”

Coal companies say politics, not science, is threatening a practice vital to local economies and energy independence. “After years of study, with the company doing everything any agency asked, and three years after a permit was issued, the E.P.A. now wants to stop Spruce 1,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. “It’s political; the only thing that has changed is the administration.”

While the government does not collect statistics on mountaintop mining, data suggest that it may account for about 10 percent of American coal output, yielding 5 percent of the nation’s electricity. The method plays a bigger economic role in the two states where it is concentrated, Kentucky and West Virginia.

The proposal to strip a large area above the home of 70-year-old Jimmy Weekley, Pigeonroost Hollow’s last remaining inhabitant, was first made in 1997 by Arch Coal, Inc., of St. Louis. The legal ups and downs of Spruce 1 have come to symbolize the broader battle over a method that produces inexpensive coal while drastically altering the landscape.

Spruce 1 started as the largest single proposal ever for hilltop mining, in which mountains are carved off to expose coal seams and much of the debris, often leaking toxic substances, is placed in adjacent valleys.

After years of negotiations and a scaling back of the mining area to 2,278 acres, from its original 3,113 acres, the Spruce 1 permit was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007 and limited construction began. But this spring, the E.P.A. proposed halting the project.

The announcement caused an uproar in West Virginia. The E.P.A. held an emotional public hearing in May and stopped accepting written comments in June. Arch Coal has objected publicly, but did not respond to requests to comment for this article.

The Obama administration’s E.P.A. has already riled the coal companies by tightening procedures for issuing new mining permits and imposing stronger stream protections. But environmental groups were worried in June, when the agency approved a curtailed mountaintop plan in another site in Logan County, W.Va. Now, as negotiations between the E.P.A. and Arch Coal continue, the Spruce 1 battle is being closely watched as a sign of mountaintop mining’s future.

Feelings run high in the counties right around the project area.

“Spruce 1 is extremely important to all of southern West Virginia because if this permit is pulled back, every mine site is going to be vulnerable to having its permits pulled,” said James Milan, manager of Walker Machinery in Logan, which sells gargantuan Caterpillar equipment.

The loss of jobs, Mr. Milan said, would have devastating effects on struggling communities.

Maria Gunnoe, an organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and a director of SouthWings, which organizes flights to document environmental damages, said that if Spruce 1 went forward, “it’s going to mean the permanent erasure of part of our land and our legacy.”

“We can’t keep blowing up mountains to keep the lights on,” said Ms. Gunnoe, a resident of nearby Boone County who has received death threats and travels with a 9 millimeter pistol.

Mr. Weekley, whose house is in sight of the project boundary, remembers the day in 1997 when he decided to fight it. Nearby mining under previous permits had filled his wooded valley with dust and noise.

“You couldn’t see out of this hollow,” he recalled. “I said, Something’s got to be done or we’re not going to have a community left.”

He and his late wife became plaintiffs in a 1998 suit claiming that the project violated environmental laws. A ruling in their favor was overturned, setting off litigation that continues.

Mr. Weekley said that he had rejected offers of close to $2 million for his eight acres and that he had seen the population of the nearby town of Blair dwindle to 60 from 600, with most residents bought out by Arch Coal.

A rail-thin man who enjoys sitting on his porch with a dog on his lap, Mr. Weekley uttered an expletive when told that coal industry representatives, including Mr. Raney in an interview, referred to the upper tributaries filled in by mining as “ditches” that can be rebuilt. In fact, some of the streams to be filled by Spruce 1 are intermittent, while others, including Pigeonroost Creek, flow year-round.

“I caught fish in that stream as a child, using a safety pin for a hook,” Mr. Weekley said. “If they get that permit, there won’t be a stream here.”

In documents issued in March, the E.P.A. said the project as approved would still smother seven miles of streambed.

Filling in headwaters damages the web of life downstream, from aquatic insects to salamanders to fish, and temporary channels and rebuilt streams are no substitute, the agency said. The pulverized rock can release toxic levels of selenium and other pollutants, it noted.

The effects of Spruce 1 would be added to those of 34 other past and present projects that together account for more than one-third of the area of the Spruce Fork watershed, the agency said.

The debate over Spruce 1 and other mountaintop mine permits has been a source of division and anguish among local residents.

Michael Fox, 39, of Gilbert, is a mine worker who like many other miners here thinks the objections are overblown. “I have three kids I want to send to college,” Mr. Fox said.

One former mountaintop miner who says he now regrets his involvement is Charles Bella, 60. He is one of the remaining residents on Blair’s main street, along the Spruce Fork, which is fed in turn by Pigeonroost Creek.

“I know it put bread on my table, but I hate destroying the mountains like that,” Mr. Bella said.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Humane Egg

Published: July 11, 201o in the Editorial section of the New York Times

The life of animals raised in confinement on industrial farms is slowly improving, thanks to pressure from consumers, animal rights advocates, farmers and legislators. In late June, a compromise was reached in Ohio that will gradually put an end to the tiny pens used for raising veal calves and holding pregnant sows, spaces so small the animals can barely move.

In California last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold in the state conform to the provisions of Proposition 2, the humane farming law that was embraced by state voters in a landslide in 2008. By 2015, every whole egg sold in the state must come from a hen that is able to stretch her wings, standing or lying, without touching another bird or the edges of her cage. This requirement would at least relieve the worst of the production horrors that are common in the industry now.

Since California does not produce all the eggs it eats, this new law will have a wider effect on the industry; every producer who hopes to sell eggs in the state must meet its regulations.

Heartening as these developments are, there is also strong resistance from the food industry and from fake consumer-advocacy groups that are shilling for it.

In fact, there is no justification, economic or otherwise, for the abusive practice of confining animals in spaces barely larger than the volume of their bodies. Animals with more space are healthier, and they are no less productive.

Industrial confinement is cruel and senseless and will turn out to be, we hope, a relatively short-lived anomaly in modern farming.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Organic Food, Health, And The Burden of Proof

Paradoxically, my long-standing interest in organic food has encompassed both ardent support and concerned opposition.

My support for organic food -- and my own family's frequent selection of it -- has largely been based on potential benefits to the planet. These, I think are self evident, so I won't elaborate them here. My concern has been based on the misinterpretations of what organic means.

Organic does not mean "nutritious." Broccoli may be grown conventionally, but still has the nutritional profile of broccoli. Gummy bears -- and sugar, for that matter -- may be organic, which says something good about what they don't contain (pesticide residues). However, it says nothing good about what they do contain, or add to your diet.

Considerable mischief has come from supply-side misrepresentations of organic. Tapping into the burgeoning public interest in "going green," the food industry has draped products in labels touting organic ingredients even when such ingredients are a nominal part of the whole.

According to the USDA, any food sporting "organic" on its label must be "produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations."

Further, "organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge [a comfort, to be sure], bioengineering or ionizing radiation."

There is, of course, the fine print. A label that says "organic" is noteworthy for not saying "100 percent organic." Ninety-five percent of the ingredients in such a product must be organic, but the rest can be ... whatever. In products "made with organic ingredients" up to 30 percent of the content need not be. We may get the truth on a food label, but rarely the whole truth.

The industry has done much to propagate the view that organic and nutritious are synonymous. The prevailing view, for example, seems to be that Whole Foods sells only nutritious foods, when, in fact, its commitment to selling "natural and organic" products guarantees no such thing. Standard offerings include, for instance, whipped cream and pepperoni pizza. In any other supermarket, shoppers would recognize these as dubious choices for health promotion -- but under the halo effect of "natural and organic," Whole Foods shoppers may feel they can't go wrong nutritionally. I beg to differ.

When developing the Overall Nutritional Quality Index that now powers the NuVal nutrition guidance system (, an international team of leading nutrition and public health experts and I wrestled with this dilemma. While we unanimously supported organic food philosophically, we were forced to conclude in 2007 that there simply wasn't sufficient science to include organic in an evidence-based measure of nutritional quality. Work on updating the NuVal algorithm will begin with the release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and we will once again need to address this issue.

Ironically, both sides of the organic/health debate have received a boost from recent research. A study just published in Pediatrics found higher levels of pesticide metabolites in the urine of children with attention deficit disorder. The association between organochlorine pesticides, which affect the nervous system, and ADD makes sense, and was clear in this new study despite a good attempt to control for other factors. Pesticides residues may or may not "cause" ADD, but they are at least implicated by association. Other research over recent years suggests that organic produce may be, on average, 20 percent more concentrated in vitamins and minerals than conventionally grown produce.

On the other hand, a systematic review of the literature on organic foods published May 12 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that "evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects."

This paper, however, bespeaks absence of evidence, not evidence of absence. Consider what it would take to PROVE that organic foods confer a health benefit.

Imagine a clinical trial in which 1,000 people are assigned to strictly organic foods, and another 1,000 to conventionally grown foods, for 10 years. Such a trial would be enormously costly, cumbersome and logistically demanding -- if feasible at all. Some chemical contaminants would almost certainly get into the diets of the 'organic' group despite the very best efforts to prevent it, and these would also contaminate the study- because they would narrow the intended difference between treatment groups.

Nonetheless, imagine there were three fewer cases of cancer, and/or of ADHD, and/or perhaps several other maladies, in the organic group. Just "three fewer cases" over 10 years would be too few to distinguish from a statistical fluke in a sample of a thousand people. And, realistically, there might be even less than three fewer cases of cancer, because many cancers develop over a period of more than 10 years; a 10 year study might just not be long enough.

But let's imagine there were, indeed, three fewer cases of cancer, three fewer cases of ADHD, three fewer neurological ailments, and so on, in the organic group over a 10 year period. While none of this would likely be statistically distinguishable from random variation, consider what it would mean to the public health. Three extra cases of cancer per ten years in 1,000 people caused by pesticide residues would mean 3,000 extra cancers every ten years per million people! In a population of 300 million, it means 300,000 extra cancers every decade!

What this tells us is that the health effects of pesticide residues and other common contaminants of conventionally produced food could be truly enormous at the population level, and still all but invisible to epidemiologic research.

Organic and nutritious do not, and never will, mean the same thing -- please be aware of that, and beware marketing messages to the contrary. But along with known benefits of organic food for the planet, we have more and more hints of potential health benefits as well. The case gets incrementally stronger with time that a food that is nutritious to begin with is better still if organic.

While we don't have, and are unlikely to get, definitive proof of the health benefits of eating organic, perhaps it's time for the burden of proof to go the other way: since organic food is better for the planet and is likely to be better for health, we should accept it as such ... unless someone can prove it isn't!


Dr. David L. Katz;

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

ISKCON's 2nd Generation Go Green At French Mela

By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News on 9 Jul 2010
The chateau of New Mayapur in France

This August, 350 “Kulis,” or members of ISKCON’s second generation, from France, England, Italy, Spain, Germany and Belgium will converge on the rural community of New Mayapur two hours south of Paris, France.

In a way, their journey will be a spiritual trek; one that will end at Europe’s second Kuli Mela in as many years. Kuli Mela—meaning a gathering of community—arose from an effort to mature annual Kuli reunions from mere social events into productive sharing of attendees’ lives and talents.

After its inaugurative festival in New Vrindaban, West Virginia in 2006, Kuli Mela became something of a phenomenon, kicking off a spate of regional events around the world—each with its own theme and mission.

And France’s Kuli Mela promises one of the most interesting themes yet: Ecology. “With high pollution levels around the world, global warming, environmental disasters such as the BP oil spill, and general mistreatment of Mother Earth, it’s an extremely important subject,” says Chandra Bellamy, one of Kuli Mela France’s ten-strong organizational team.

It’s no accident that the team has chosen New Mayapur, an 85-hectare rural community set around a historic castle, as the location for the event. “Srila Prabhupada’s dream for New Mayapur when it was established in the 1970s was to have it become a self-sufficient community,” Chandra says. “And our goal at this Mela is to inspire a return to the simple life of gardening, working the land, and taking care of cows that he taught.”

Many of the workshops offered over the five days of the Mela, from August 5th to 8th, will pursue this goal. Dhanesvara Dasa, author of Lessons in Spiritual Economics from the Bhagavad-gita and inspiration behind village communities in Lithuania and Ukraine, will speak on spiritual economics and how to understand and apply Vedic Dharma in managing a rural community.

Yamuna Dasi from the UK, meanwhile, will speak about climate change, and about how to resist a globalized and capitalized world.

And French native Prema Rasa Dasa, herbalist and author of The Art of Cooking With Wild Plants, will conduct an experiential workshop were attendees will learn how to recognize, choose and pick wild herbs in the forest land around New Mayapur, before cooking up and eating them.

Several films with ecological themes will also be shown at the event. There’s “The Lost Village,” a documentary produced by Bhakti Vaibhava Swami and starring Lokanath Swami, which examines the destruction of traditional village life in India by urbanization. There’s Food, Inc., an Oscar-nominated documentary that explores the food industry’s detrimental effects on our health and environment. And there’s Solutions Locales pour un Désordre Global—or “Local Solutions for a Global Disorder”—a French film by director Coline Serreau, who traveled around the world for three years with her camera, seeking community village initiatives across India, Brazil, and Russia.

The environmental consciousness of Kuli Mela France even extends as far as dinnerware. “We will give each attendee their own plate and cup bearing the Kuli Mela logo, which they will use for the entire event,” Chandra says. “At the end of the Mela, they will either keep them as souvenirs, or we will return them to the company they came from for recycling.”

The meals themselves—breakfast, lunch, and a light dinner every day—will be organic, with half of the vegetables used to be grown by Kulis themselves or donated by devotee farmer Kutastha Dasa, and the other half to be purchased locally. Chef duties will be performed by Rupanuga Dasa, an expert with five years of experience cooking for organic fair crowds.

“Even the snacks we serve will be organic and healthy,” says Chandra, ticking off a list of delicacies including French crêpes and Indian chaat snacks such as pani puris, dahi puris, and aloo tikkis. “You won’t find any pizza, Coca-Cola, or fries at this event!”

As well as emphasizing the importance of self-sufficiency, the Kuli Mela France organizers hope to create a consciousness of valuing ISKCON’s rural farm communities, and to inspire Kulis to get involved so that they don’t disappear.

This is not merely theoretical—after fifteen years in decline, the New Mayapur property narrowly missed getting sold off several years ago. And the community—which many French Kulis grew up in—is still struggling, with only a handful of devotees living in the temple and maintaining the Deities.

“We see this Kuli Mela as an opportunity to get the community back on track,” Chandra says. “A group of youth are already interested in settling in New Mayapur and building up the project. And we feel that the Mela may attract more young people to start something there, or at least contribute six months of their time.
And little by little, something can happen.”

That vision will start with hundreds of Kulis arriving at New Mayapur for the Mela’s opening ceremony on August 4th. The next day, meanwhile, will begin bright and early.

“Our Deities at New Mayapur—Sri-Sri Radha Govinda, Krishna-Balarama, and Gaura-Nitai— are so beautiful, adorned with locally grown flowers and beautifully decorated by the head pujari (priest) Visesa Dasi,” says Chandra. “But They don’t see many devotees throughout the year. So we’re really encouraging all the Kulis to attend the temple program every morning and give Them as much devotion and attention as possible.”

Breakfast on each day of the Mela will be served at 9am, followed by workshops from 10:00am to 1pm. After lunch, another session will follow, from 3pm until 6pm. As well as those with an ecological theme, a total of fifteen workshops will cover a wide variety of topics such as yoga, massage, dance therapy, pottery, transformative communication, and self defense using martial arts.

Bhajan singing will be held throughout the day in the temple room, while evenings from 7pm till midnight will see a wide variety of musical entertainment.

Singer Prana Ji and guitarist Mathura Dasa of the Bindoo Babas, an alternative reggae/jazz band based in the UK, will have Kulis jiving to their ‘70s inspired easy-going grooves. Michi, former frontman of the Spanish hip-hop group Dhira, will appear solo with his energetic and catchy melodies and rhymes. Hardcore metal band Bhimal from Poland are sure to inspire a head-banging mosh pit. And acoustic folk artists Jaya and Govinda from France and Chakrini from the UK will bring a more chilled-out vibe with their soulful sets.

Meanwhile, kirtan singer Madhava Naidoo will have everyone chanting and dancing their hearts out, sending the Holy Name of Krishna soaring into the sky.

“There will also be a lot of electronic music and DJs,” Chandra says, “Including Ashirvad, who will play a set based on their epic musical journey across sacred India; Silly Pundit and Haridas from the UK, DJ Veda from France, and DJ Sanj with his Bollywood beats.”

The festival will be rounded out with an evening of Indian music and dance featuring dancers from France and Belgium, including bhajans, classical Odissi dance and Bollywood Dance.

“As well as Kulis, the Mela will be attended by friends of ours from neighbouring cities whom we’ve invited to experience our culture,” says Chandra, “So we hope the event will bring everyone together.”

Senior devotees from around the world will also be a strong presence at the event—ISKCON had a large, thriving community in France in the 1980s, and Kuli Mela will be an opportunity for all those who have since moved to the US, Australia, and other countries to reunite at New Mayapur and spend some time together.

“We would like this Mela to leave people with an enthusiastic feeling of happiness and creativity, and to inspire them to become active in the New Mayapura community,” says Chandra.

The New Mayapur guesthouse has already sold out for Kuli Mela, although space remains in two large tents to be used as men’s and women’s dormitories. Attendees also have the option to camp using their own tents or to stay at one of several hotels in the area. Shower and toilet facilities will be provided on site. For more information, please write to

Friday, July 23, 2010

Veg And The City: My Beef With Locavores

Check out our friend Devadeva Mirel's blog "Sabjimata" for her own take on this in her post "The Locavore's Dilemma"

From Victoria Moran at the Huffington Post

The ally relationship can be an odd one. I remember my shock in third grade, learning that the Soviets had been our ally in World War II. "How could this be?" I wondered. "Our arch-enemies, the reason we have to crawl under our desks and prepare for The Bomb, were once our friends?"

I'm having similar feelings now, as I contemplate the locavore movement. As a vegan, and someone who believes in organic growing methods and family farms, I thought we were allies. I'm also a realist: I know the world isn't going vegetarian overnight. Our numbers are growing, certainly, but the global demand for meat is greater than it's ever been. Amid all this, I was happy to see a substantial group of small farmers, given a voice by authors and commentators such as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, take a stand for better farming, including more humane methods of animal husbandry than the factory-farming norm. We didn't have the same ultimate goal, but both theirs (replacing corporate agriculture with small, conscientious farms) and ours (a vegan planet) are so lofty that none of us will live to see either one. But for now we were, I thought, allies.

I'd go to the farmers' market at Union Square--it's every bit as gorgeous as anybody's Eiffel Tower or Grand Canyon--and if the farmer selling goat cheese also had glorious spring greens, I'd buy her greens. It was totally friendly. I never said, "Shame on you for stealing the milk God meant for goat babies!" and she never said, "Damn you, veg-head: buy some cheese or you don't deserve arugula!" And the couple that provide the provisions for my CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture: you buy a share in a small farm for a season) always knew that I wouldn't be getting eggs. I didn't ask for anything to make up for that, but they often put in some extra potatoes or apples or a bottle of herb-flavored vinegar. It was nice. We were allies.

And, in terms of individuals like that woman, that couple, and me, we still are. I fear, however, that a strong anti-vegetarian sentiment has grown up in the locavorism movement as a whole. Several recent documentaries suggest this. The first I saw, Food, Inc., was an impeccably researched indictment of the corporations that want to take over all food production and apparently don't care how thoroughly we're poisoned and "genetically modified" in the process. It showed small, organic farmers weighing in on the issue while doing what they do, in one case, cutting the heads off chickens. "This is hard to watch," my husband whispered. "I know," I said, "but he's the good guy."

The next film we saw was Food Fight. It went into detail about providing whole food in school cafeterias, rather the way chef Jamie Oliver did on his reality show, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. No one could fault the sincerity of these people, but it did cross my mind that the vegan option--getting our nutrition firsthand rather than cycling it through animals who are, even in the best of circumstances, slaughtered in their youthful prime--was never mentioned.

My final cinematic foray into the locavores' way of seeing things was a film called Fresh, screened at a yoga studio here in Manhattan. It featured The Omnivore's Dilemma author Michael Pollan; Joel Salatin (the guy who beheaded the chickens in Food, Inc., and referred to himself in this doc as "a caretaker of creation"); and Will Allen, an urban farmer in Milwaukee, quoted in Fresh saying, "Food is the foundation, but it's really about life." Yes. I think so, too. Everybody's life.

After that showing of Fresh, there was a group discussion led by two erudite young men, one of whom claimed to be a vegetarian but who joined his cohort in ripping to shreds the concept of a plant-based lifestyle. "A vegan diet is totally unsustainable in this part of the country," somebody said. "That's nuts," I was thinking, remembering my grandmother and how she "put by" so much food with drying and canning, her pantry was overstuffed, even (according to my mom) during the Great Depression. My grandparents had a small farm in northern Missouri, and although they did raise animals, the produce alone could have gotten them through the winter. Hardy vegetables like cabbage and kale stayed in the garden, where Gramma built little coverings to protect them. "Now your kale is always sweeter after a frost," she'd say.

Apples, potatoes, yams and winter squash went into the root cellar and were good till spring. Black walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans joined them there. Tomatoes, string beans, peaches and pears were canned, along with all sorts of preserves and jams and marmalades. Beans and peas were dried, as was some of the fruit. Nobody in Missouri had heard the word "vegan" in those days, but if such a person had wandered by, he'd have been well-fed.

I didn't pipe up with my opinion during the Q&A after that film, however, because I'd rather be an ally than an adversary. Besides, my message is to the farmers and their spokespeople, not a bunch of New Yorkers who think Long Island is "the country." I want to tell them they need us vegans: There aren't nearly enough low-intensity farmers growing animals to meet the demand. For them to make a dent in the marketplace, there will need to be millions of people not eating animal products. I'd tell them that I admire their commitment and believe there are ways we can work together, but that the vegetarian ethic didn't come into being with modern factory farming. Some of us don't like the idea of taking a life, even if that life wasn't nonstop horrific, as on factory farms.

My vegetarian predecessors from Pythagoras to Einstein made two conclusions: First, the killing of a sentient being for anything less than self-preservation or to save another is wrong; and secondly, it is close to impossible to raise animals for food and keep the process consistently humane. My grandparents, on their little farm, did the things the locavores say farmers should be doing now. Their chickens lived in a coop, had access to the outside, and nobody seared off their beaks. Roosters were pretty much dispatched with, however, because one was enough. And come Sunday, a hen whose laying was waning a bit, had her neck wrung and she showed up on a platter. The pigs gave birth and nursed their young without the hideous confinement of farrowing crates, but each one was destined for slaughter and the runt of every litter was killed as an infant.

It wasn't that my grandparents were bad people. They were simply trying to make a living and, in terms of animal agriculture, they--and the modern proponents of family farming--do it in the best way possible. This is why I want to be their ally. I know that as a vegan, I'm in a minority. People love their meat. It's up there with sugar and TV and maybe even coffee on the list of inalienable American rights. As long as people demand the product, of course I champion anyone who's willing to produce it with the least amount of suffering to the creatures involved, but that is still a great deal of suffering.

Former Michigan beef farmer Harold Brown put it this way on the site "In my experience, there is no such thing as humane animal products, humane farming practices, humane transport, or humane slaughter." I realize that in quoting him, I'm bringing out one of the "big guns" from "my side," just as the locavores have theirs. But I myself spent a day in a slaughterhouse once, and those sights and smells and screams will never leave me. With what I know and what I've experienced, I gladly I support anyone working to make things better. But, ultimately, "better" isn't good enough.

Victoria Moran is the author of books including Creating a Charmed Life, Shelter for the Spirit, and The Love-Powered Diet. You can view all her books here at

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Eco-Caravan: Slovenian Pada-Yatra

By Ananta Das for ISKCON News on 8 Jul 2010

A few days ago, Slovenian devotees started their 9th annual pada-yatra festival called Eco-caravan 2010.

The eleven-day program was inaugurated on Sunday by “reawakening” the pada-yatra deities Sri Sri Nitai Gaura-Nataraja.

On the first few days, there were thirty-five devotees walking and chanting along the route of the Eco-caravan. They were also distributing prasadam and books.

The pada-yatra cart is being pulled by horse Haridas, replacing ox Bhima, who retired two years ago.

For daily reports and photos pelase visit

Monday, July 19, 2010

Solar Power Flight Aloft!

Pool photo by Denis Bailibouse

Solar Impulse, piloted by André Borschberg, flew for 26 hours and reached a height of 28,543 feet, setting a record for the longest and highest flight ever made by a solar plane.

PARIS — Slender as a stick insect, a solar-powered experimental airplane with a huge wingspan completed its first test flight of more than 24 hours on Thursday, powered overnight by energy collected from the sun during a day aloft over Switzerland.

The organizers said the flight was the longest and highest by a piloted solar-powered craft, reaching an altitude of just over 28,000 feet above sea level at an average speed of 23 knots, or about 26 miles per hour.

The plane, Solar Impulse, landed where it had taken off 26 hours and 9 minutes earlier, at Payerne, 30 miles southwest of the capital, Bern, after gliding and looping over the Jura Mountains, its 12,000 solar panels absorbing energy to keep its batteries charged when the sun went down.

The pilot, André Borschberg, 57, a former Swiss Air Force fighter pilot, flew the plane from a cramped, single-seat cockpit, buffeted by low-level turbulence after takeoff and chilled by low temperatures overnight.

“I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career,” Mr. Borschberg said as he landed, according to a statement from the organizers of the project. “Just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise, thanks to the sun.” He added that he had flown the entire trip without using any fuel or causing pollution. The project’s co-founder, Dr. Bertrand Piccard, who achieved fame by completing the first nonstop, round-the-world flight by hot air balloon in 1999, embraced the pilot after he landed the plane to the cheers of hundreds of supporters.

“When you took off, it was another era,” The Associated Press quoted Dr. Piccard as saying. “You land in a new era where people understand that with renewable energy you can do impossible things.”

The project’s designers had set out to prove that — theoretically at least — the plane, with its airliner-size, 208-foot wingspan, could stay aloft indefinitely, recharging batteries during the day and using the stored power overnight. “We are on the verge of the perpetual flight,” Dr. Piccard said.

The project’s founders say their ambition is for one of their craft to fly around the world using solar power. The propeller-driven Solar Impulse, made of carbon fiber, is powered by four small electric motors and weighs around 3,500 pounds. During its 26-hour flight, the plane reached a maximum speed of 68 knots, or 78 miles per hour, the organizers said.

The seven-year-old project is not intended to replace jet transportation — or its comforts.

Just 17 hours after takeoff, a blog on the project’s Web site reported, “André says he’s feeling great up there.”

It continued: “His only complaints involve little things like a slightly sore back as well as a 10-hour period during which it was minus 20 degrees Celsius in the cockpit.”

That made his drinking water system freeze, the post said and, worst of all, caused his iPod batteries to die.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trees, Images, and ISKCON

By Sesa Das on 7 Jul 2010
from ISKCON News

A hundred years ago Poet Joyce Kilmer gave us a vision of life. His poem Trees is one of the most familiar in the English language. The poem’s imagery evokes feelings of beauty, sustenance, forbearance, and humility.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A Tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Fast forward to the year 2010, what kind of images dominate our consciousness today? Remember the scene in the film Avatar when the gigantic bulldozers and flame-throwing robot/men cut down the Hometree of the Na'vi clan on Pandora. That’s the image of trees that’s stuck in my mind. I know it’s just a film, and I know that at least one of the film’s objectives is a protest against this type of environmental devastation, but still this image is so striking that it’s the one that lingers in my mind.

In a hundred years we have gone from enriching our existence through a refined reflection upon and appreciation of nature, to a kind of shock treatment aimed at opening our eyes to the rampant abuse of nature. Is this progress? I think not. We seem to be losing our sense of love for nature. Man and nature, particularly trees, have a natural mutually fulfilling relationship. Man receives the Mother Earth’s bounty, and offers back respect and care. Yet, modern civilization at its worst abuses this relationship, and even at its best tends to make the relationship an economic one.

The abuse is well documented, but regarding how our relationship has devolved, I found the following exchange of Yahoo! Answers to be quite interesting:

Question: What is the rate of trees planted every second one is cut down?

I'm not asking for a debate here. I am an 8th grader, home schooled. I'm doing an argument paper. I had no topics so I thought this was good. MY argument is that more trees need to be planted when trees are cut down. NOT trees shouldn't be cut down, not that they should. I am neutral. I think trees need to be cut down but need to be replanted quicker. SO PLEASE! Don't answer unless you know the ratio as the following, "This many trees are planted every ___, when one is cut down" etc.

Thank you.

Best Answer - Chosen by Voters

It's one to one. Forests in America are at about the same amount as a hundred years ago. Most forest land is privately owned and managed. The logging industry is directly invested in the well-being of forests, so they are taking a leading role in preserving trees on public lands. Also, there are businesses that farm trees to use for paper pulp.


Check the references, they are logging industry websites. The purport, the real value of trees to man is an economic one.

The Vedic civilization is different. In his essay Sacred Trees, Dr. Satish Kapoor of Prabhuddha Bharata writes, “Trees being nature’s major processors of solar energy which is vital for our existence, and yielding flowers, fruit, wood or medicine, have been worshipped by the Hindus as a matter of gratitude...Due to their ecological value and efficacious properties, trees continue to be used in the religious and social ceremonies of the Hindus…Some trees are considered sacred due to their association with prophets and holy men.” Gratitude and religion are elements of a reciprocal loving relationship, not an exploitative economic one.

Man’s relationship with trees is transcendental. The relationship is not limited to this material realm, but continues to exist in the spiritual world. Personally, I find one of the most fascinating aspects of the spiritual world described in the Vedic literature to be the existence of wish-fulfilling desire trees. Sri Brahma-Samhita provides this image of the spiritual world:

I worship Govinda [Krishna], the primeval Lord, the first progenitor who is tending the cows, yielding all desire, in abodes built with spiritual gems, surrounded by millions of desire trees, always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds of thousands of laksmis or gopis.

Like the trees in this material world, these desire trees provide many benefits to man, but in the fully conscious existence of the spiritual world these desire trees do more. There are responsive organisms with perceptive powers and unique ability to grant benedictions, marshal resources, and provide opportunities in the service of God, Sri Krishna. Because desire trees flourish on the devotee’s desire to serve Sri Krishna, they can grow anywhere such spiritual desire is found, even in the material world.

The pavement of New York City’s Lower East Side during the summer of 1966 was certainly an unlikely place and time to plant a desire tree from the spiritual world, but such a tree did indeed take root there due to the desire of Srila Prabhupada. On July 11, 1966 Srila Prabhupada incorporated the desire tree known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

Images can be deceiving. ISKCON may appear to be an organization, a legal entity registered with the State of New York, but in actuality it is a desire tree. Don’t be fooled by external appearances, for in its materially imperceptible spiritual form, its true and eternal identity, ISKCON is a desire tree from the spiritual world.

How so? The answer lies in understanding how trees are important to us, what is the essence of our relationship with trees. The answer is the same thing Joyce Kilmer understood about trees: God conscious love based on reciprocal, unconditional protection and provision.

The desire tree ISKCON is firmly rooted in an unbroken chain of disciplic succession dating back to the direct appearance of Sri Krishna in this world millenniums ago. Srila Prabhupada, as ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya (the representative of that disciplic succession), protects ISKCON through the purity of his teachings. Srila Prabhupada also protects the service of all those who take shelter under this tree by connecting that service to Sri Krishna through disciplic succession.

The desire tree ISKCON provides unlimited service opportunities. It was said about Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON that he built a house the whole world could live in. From art to building construction, solitary places of devotion to massive public festivals, agrarian life to big city temples, family life to the renounced order, and everything in between, however you desire to serve Sri Krishna can be fulfilled in ISKCON.

Indeed, perhaps the best proof that ISCKON is a desire tree is the fact that many sincere souls have come under the shade of this tree. They come from every continent, every race or color, every religious background, every level of the social and financial strata, and every political orientation. They come together with a desire to share their unconditional love for Sri Krishna, their love and respect for all living entities in both the material and spiritual worlds, and their love for each other. ISKCON reciprocates by providing avenues for expression of this spiritual love. Never has such an all-embracing spiritual organization been seen in this material world.

ISKCON celebrates its 44th birthday on August 4, 2010. Come under the desire tree, desire to serve, and spiritually thrive at the ISKCON center near you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Veggie Project Expands To Fight Childhood Obesity

From The Tennessean. Click here to read the full article

Sergio Escafuller hopes to change the way people think about fruit and veggies.

He’s landed his first job at The Veggie Project, which brings farmers’ markets to communities that tend to have the lowest concentrations of grocery stores and poor produce selection.

The project is open for the season, having expanded to six locations this summer.

At eight years old, Sergio knows enough about cabbage, zucchini, green beans and Southern peaches to get customers to leave with an armful of produce.

He uses his warm personality, handwritten signs and chants like ‘get your fruits and veggies to make you healthy” to get people to visit the produce stand.

“Eating fruits and veggies makes my body strong,” the St. Edward student said. “Even if they look disgusting, they are still actually good.”

Sergio is paid veggie bucks for time worked and uses them to buy produce like tomatoes, corn and peaches at the market.

“He is being reaffirmed about the value of vegetables,” said Dalmus Sanchez, Sergio’s mom. “He feels he has a job and is working for something he cares about.

“He wants to eat what he buys with more gusto than he would if I was feeding it to him.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What Scientists Think About Religion

From Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund, as part of the Religion And Science: A Contemporary Discussion series at the Huffington Post

Almost a quarter of Americans think scientists are hostile to religion. But what do we really know about how scientists think about morality, spirituality and faith?

From 2005 to 2008, I surveyed nearly 1,700 natural and social scientists on their views about religion, spirituality and ethics and spoke with 275 of them in depth in their offices and laboratories. It turns out that nearly 50 percent of scientists identify with a religious label, and nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month. While many scientists are completely secular, my survey results show that elite scientists are also sitting in the pews of our nation's churches, temples and mosques.

Of the atheist and agnostic scientists I had in-depth conversations with, more than 30 percent considered themselves atheists; however, less than six percent of these were actively working against religion. Many atheist and agnostic scientists even think key mysteries about the world can be best understood spiritually, and some attend houses of worship, completely comfortable with religion as moral training for their children and an alternative form of community. If religious people better understood the full range of atheistic practice -- and the way that it interfaces with religion for some -- they might be less likely to hold negative attitudes toward nonreligious scientists. The truth is that many atheist scientists have no desire to denigrate religion or religious people.

In fact, about one-fifth of the atheist scientists I spoke with say they consider themselves "spiritual atheists." Perhaps their stories are the most interesting. One chemist I talked with does not believe in God, yet she says she craves a sense of something beyond herself that provides a feeling of purpose and meaning and a moral compass. She sees herself as having an engaged spirituality, one that motivates her to live differently. For example, spiritual reasons keep her from accepting money from the Department of Defense, she says; for her, it's too linked to the military.

Given the presence of religion in the scientific community, why do Americans still think scientists are hostile to religion? Within their scientific communities, religious scientists tend to practice what I call a "secret spirituality." They are reluctant to talk about religious or spiritual ideas with their colleagues. I spoke with one physicist who said that he thinks universities are not always very accepting environments for scientists of faith. He believes that if he openly said he is religious, others would question the validity of his scientific work; it is his sense of things that at his elite school, he can be a scientist or be religious, but not both.

And within their faith communities, religious scientists often practice a "secret science." Sitting in the pews, they are often hesitant to discuss scientific ideas because they are afraid of offending those next to them. The result of this reticence is that people of faith are not aware of the religious scientists in their midst. More than that, these scientists fail to serve as role models for religious youth who might want to study science but fear science might lead them away from faith. As a result, these children lose out.

Research shows that the experiences students have with science in elementary and secondary school, and how well their science abilities evolve from there, help predict both whether they'll attend college and whether they'll enter into high-status professional fields. Other research has shown that those with stronger science skills and a better scientific understanding tend to have greater socioeconomic stability and overall success. So if religious folks want their children to succeed (as a scholar of American religion, I have every reason to believe they do) and if scientists want more children to consider a career in the field (as a scholar of the American scientific community, I know they do), there needs to be a better dialogue between people of faith and the scientists among them.

We need real, radical dialogue -- not just friendly co-existence between religion and science, but the kind of discussion where each side genuinely tries to understand why the other thinks the way it does and where common ground is sought. This dialogue should reach the rank-and-file in religious communities with the message of how to maintain faith while fully pursuing science. And it needs to reach the rank-and-file in the scientific community as well, providing them with better ways to connect with religious people.

Religious people need to remember that not all atheist scientists are hostile to religion. They need to know that even the most secular scientists struggle with the moral and ethical implications of their work. And scientists need to do a better job of communicating the importance of science to religious people -- especially in those areas in which religion might actually motivate them to care about science (like environmentalism, or "creation care"). Because if people of faith believe they have to become antireligious or completely secular to be a successful scientist -- when this is not a full reflection of the scientific community -- it would be a disaster.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Seeking God's Help For A Wounded Gulf

By DAN BARRY from the New York Times

BON SECOUR, Ala. — In a small white building along the baptizing Bon Secour River, a building that once housed a shrimp-net business, the congregation of the Fishermen Baptist Church gathered for another Sunday service, with the preacher presiding from a pulpit designed to look like a ship captain’s wheel.

The assistant pastor at the Fishermen Baptist Church in Bon Secour, Ala., asked the men of the congregation to come forward for a prayer.

After the singing of the opening hymn, “Ring the Bells of Heaven,” and the announcement that an engaged couple was now registered at Wal-Mart, the preacher read aloud a proclamation from Gov. Bob Riley that declared this to be a “day of prayer” — a day of entreaties to address the ominous threat to the way of life just outside the church’s white doors.

Whereas, and whereas, and whereas, the proclamation read. People of Alabama, please pray for your fellow citizens, for other states hurt by this disaster, for all those who are responding. And pray “that a solution that stops the oil leak is completed soon.”

In other words, dear God, thank you for your blessings and guidance. And one other thing, dear God:


The governor’s words hung a moment in the fan-turned air. Then the preacher, Shawn Major, summoned the men of the church to the front to “ask God to do something special.”

Two dozen men, many of them wearing short-sleeve shirts in summery colors, knelt and sat with heads bowed and eyes closed, while a half-mile down the street, other men — and women — underwent training in the use of a more secular form of hope, the laying of boom.

The wall between church and state came a-tumbling down on Sunday, as elected leaders from the five states on the Gulf of Mexico issued proclamations declaring it to be a day of prayer. Although days of prayer are not uncommon here — Governor Riley declared one asking for rain to relieve a drought a few years ago — these proclamations conveyed the sense that at this late date, salvation from the spill all but requires divine intervention.

In the two months since the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion began a ceaseless leak of oil into the gulf, damaging the ecosystem and disrupting the economy, the efforts by mortals to stem the flow have failed. Robots and golf balls and even the massive capping dome all seem small in retrospect.

So, then, a supplementary method was attempted: coordinated prayer.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry encouraged Texans to ask God “for his merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.” In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour declared that prayer “allows us an opportunity to reflect and to seek guidance, strength, comfort and inspiration from Almighty God.” In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal invoked the word “whereas” a dozen times — as well as the state bird, the brown pelican — but made no direct mention of God. In Florida, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp asked people to pray that God “would guide and direct our civil leaders and provide them with wisdom and divinely inspired solutions.”

The suggestion by government to beseech God for help — to petition a power higher than any elected official — rang out in churches and halls from Pensacola, Fla., to Galveston, Tex., as well as here, in Bon Secour, where Brother Harry prayed with head bowed.

The Fishermen Baptist Church has been in this village, whose name means safe harbor, since 1989. An anchor is planted in its front lawn. Its walls are adorned with paintings of nautical scenes. Its collection boxes are a miniature lighthouse and a treasure chest. The dock across the street is used for baptisms and fishing.

These are all reflections of the church’s founder and pastor, Wayne Mund, who grew up here. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were fishermen, and so was he, until the age of 21, when he dropped his nets and went off to Bible school.

Pastor Mund, 66, lanky and proud to call himself a Bible Baptist, works hard to incorporate his seafaring past into his mission. He sees the Bible, from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, as a nautical book, and the sea as a mesmerizing draw. He will end conversation by warning that those who do not climb aboard God’s boat of salvation “will drown in a sea of sin and despair.”

And now the oily despair in the sea is affecting his small church, his community. Fewer envelopes are being slipped into the treasure chest and lighthouse at the back of the room because some of his 200 congregants can no longer afford to tithe. Fewer people are attending service because fishermen, who normally take Sundays off, are now working for BP to help clean up its goo, which is washing up in Gulf Shores and Mobile Bay.

“The sea, the sea, the sea,” Pastor Mund says. “It has to do with the sea.”

Pastor Mund expected to be out of town on Sunday, so he assigned an associate pastor, Mr. Major, to preside over the 10:30 service. Mr. Major is 46, stocky and more apt to smile than his boss when proselytizing. The spill affecting the river, the world, has been difficult for him to fathom, and he expects that the human toll will not be felt for another year.

Mr. Major spent Saturday with 70 men and women, all learning the proper way to lay boom. But now he was with 70 other men and women, all praying from nine wooden pews; all saying amen to his assertion that “We are still a Christian nation”; all nodding when he said that everyone knew “who ultimately will stop” the spill.

A missionary about to leave for Brazil was waiting to make a multimedia presentation, but first these kneeling men, led by Brother Harry — Harry Mund, a relative of the pastor’s — needed to finish their prayer.

Please God, help us with “this awful oil spill,” he said. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The men rose from their knees and returned to their pews, a couple of them rubbing the salty wet from their eyes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is The Universe Merely A Statistical Accident?

From Dr. Larry Dossey, author of "The Power of Premonitions" at the Huffington Post

Where scientists such as Weinberg, Monod and Dennett see pointlessness and despair in science, as we have seen, other scientists see pattern, direction and meaning. For example, the eminent physicist John Archibald Wheeler said:

"Science ... at first sight seems to have no special platform for man, mind or meaning. Man? Pure biochemistry! Mind? Memory modelable by electronic circuitry! Meaning? Why ask after that puzzling and intangible commodity? What is man that the universe should be mindful of him? ... [I]s not man an unimportant bit of dust on an unimportant planet in an unimportant galaxy in an unimportant region somewhere in the vastness of space? No! The philosopher of old was right! Meaning is important, even central." (1)

The British physicist Paul Davies is also astounded by the sheer unlikelihood of human life, and he suggests that something else might have been going on to tip things in our favor:

"The origin of life on Earth ... could well have been the result of a stupendous chemical fluke. [However,] ... computing the raw odds quickly shows that even the simplest known cell is so unlikely to form by accident it wouldn't happen twice in the entire observable universe. Or in a trillion similar universes ... Perhaps life's origin wasn't a freak event after all, but the automatic outcome of inherently bio-friendly laws of nature." (2)

In his book The Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life, (3) Davies finds in the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears a potent metaphor for expressing the weird fit between the universe and life. The Three Bears story first appeared when the English poet Robert Southey composed it for his 1837 book The Doctor. (4) In the story, a family of three bears -- mother, father, baby -- live in a house in the forest. One day, having cooked porridge and waiting for it to cool, they go for a stroll in the woods. Goldilocks finds the house, enters, and meddles with things -- chairs, beds, and porridge. She finds the adult bears' beds and chairs "too hard" or "too soft," their porridge "too hot" or "too cold." But the baby bear's bed, chair and porridge are "just right." The bears return and discover that Goldilocks is asleep in the baby bear's bed, after having eaten all the baby's porridge.

The parallels are telling, says Davies. The conditions that life encountered in the universe proved "just right." If the known natural laws had been a greater or lesser value than what they are, the universe, like the porridge, would literally be either too hot or too cold to accommodate life as we know it. The stars would burn too brightly or not at all; or they would have collapsed rather than exploded, thus failing to scatter the chemical detritus across the universe that ultimately supported life. If the difference in mass between a proton and neutron were not exactly what it is, life-sustaining chemistry would not have been possible. If all these just-right characteristics were not present on Earth 3.5 billion years ago, we would not be here to reflect on them. (5)

The distinguished physicist Freeman Dyson suggests that life is so improbable, and the physical characteristics of the universe are so finely tuned to accommodate it, that in some sense the universe "knew we were coming." (6) As a consequence of this cosmic foreknowledge, by the time life arose, conditions in the cosmos were ready for it. The table was set -- all life had to do was show up.

Sir Fred Hoyle, one of the twentieth century's most respected cosmologists, seems to agree with the idea that the universe knew life was on its way. Reflecting on the fine-tuning of the conditions necessary for the universe to bring forth life, he suggested that the universe looks like a "put-up job," as if someone had been "monkeying" with the laws of physics, getting ready in advance for the appearance of life. (7,8)

But this is a minority view within cosmology and science in general. Most scientists believe there is no mystery that needs explaining. Life, mind and consciousness are a big fat statistical accident. Given infinite time, the improbable is bound to occur. We're here because of pure, dumb luck. There are no patterns or meaning behind the scenes. This dour position reminds me of the puckish comment of Gertrude Stein: "There ain't no answer. There ain't going to be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer." (9)

Forfeiting Consciousness

There's an even drearier little secret that veteran scientists never let kids in on -- that if they enter science, they have to check their minds at the door. The reason is that mind, as most people think about it, does not exist in conventional science, because the expressions of consciousness, such as choice, will, emotions, and even logic are said to be brain in disguise. As astronomer Carl Sagan put it, "[The brain's] workings -- what we sometimes call mind -- are a consequence of its anatomy and physiology, and nothing more." (10) Nobelist Francis Crick in his 1995 book The Astonishing Hypothesis was equally explicit, saying, "'You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it: 'You're nothing but a pack of neurons.'" (11) Or, as Marvin Minsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology cognitive scientist and artificial intelligence expert, put it more crudely, "The brain is just a computer made of meat." (12) Crick went further. In his subsequent book Of Molecules and Men, he wrote, "The ultimate aim of the modern movement in biology is to explain all biology in terms of physics and chemistry" (13) -- to analyze, in other words, the meat. And lest there be no doubt about where he stands, philosopher Dennett says, "We're all zombies. Nobody is conscious." (14)

Try selling that to a teenager contemplating a career in science and see what happens.
Novelist Arthur Koestler poked fun at these positions by taking aim at Rene Descartes, the seventeenth-century philosopher who was extraordinarily influential in establishing the notion of a mindless body. "If ... Descartes ... had kept a poodle, the history of philosophy would have been different," Koestler wrote. "The poodle would have taught Descartes that contrary to his doctrine, animals are not machines, and hence the human body is not a machine, forever separated from the mind ... " (15)

This morose, meaningless side of science is never openly presented to young students contemplating a lifetime in science. They usually sniff it out later on, after a career choice has been made. I know of no studies that assess the impact of these dark views on young scientists when they encounter them. Are they negatively affected? Do they adopt a chin-up attitude and soldier on, having traveled too far on the science path to turn around? Or -- most commonly, I believe -- do they schizophrenically partition their psychological, spiritual and scientific lives into separate domains in a desperate attempt to find balance, silently suffering the jagged contradictions the rest of their life?

Purists insist that science is neutral on matters of meaning; the world is what it is. Whatever meaning we find in the world comes from us, not the world itself. We read meaning into the world, not from it. This sword cuts two ways; if meaning should not be imputed to the universe, neither should meaninglessness. It is a plain fact that scientists in general, peering into the same universe and aware of the same set of facts, see meaning in different ways, ways that are not part of science itself. No scientist has ever possessed a meaning meter. Therefore the proper approach, it would seem, would be to declare questions of meaning beyond the purview of science, and to cease imposing one's personal view as the official way the universe should be interpreted. This would give students and young scientists a fighting chance to find their own path where meaning and purpose are concerned, and not be bullied by senior scientists who ought to know better.