Archive for September, 2014

To UN: Small Farms Key to Reversing Climate Change, Feeding World

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Fair World Project (FWP), a campaign of the Organic Consumers Association, the nation’s largest network of green and ethical consumers, and The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers’ Organizations (CLAC), the largest network of fair trade farmers in Latin America, have joined together to call on the United Nations to put small farmers at the forefront of the upcoming climate change summit in New York. United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened a climate summit in New York for Sept. 23; however, absent from both the UN, media and government discourse on climate change is the critical and hopeful message that small-scale organic farmers and pastoralists can cool the planet and feed the world.

“There are over 500 million smallholder family farms in the world,” said Ryan Zinn, political director of Fair World Project. “Recent reports have demonstrated that small farmers, practicing organic and agro-ecological farming practices not only feed the majority of the world with less than one quarter of global farmland, but are actively sequestering carbon with ecological farming practices.”

Industrial agriculture is a primary driver in the generation of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), accounting for an estimated 40-50% of total emissions. Industrial agriculture practices, including Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), large-scale monocultures, overuse and abuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, fossil fuel intensive transportation, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), among others, all generate significant amounts of greenhouse gases, and further perpetuate an inequitable and unhealthy food system.

However, small farmers and pastoralists could sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices. In fact, recent studies demonstrate that small farmers already feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland, while protecting biodiversity, reducing rural vulnerability and actively sequestering CO2. Though small farmers are, by and large, more efficient producers than industrial farms, small-scale farms and farmers are rapidly disappearing, while mega farms are increasing in size and number and generating increasing amounts of greenhouse gases.

“There is no need for high tech solutions or expensive strategies, nor is it necessary to compromise agricultural or forest lands owned by rural, forest or indigenous communities, under risky carbon market schemes, such as REDD+, which are ineffective for real mitigation and threaten ecosystems, livelihoods, land and territorial sovereignty. We need political will to support and safeguard small farmers,” said Yvette Aguilar, climate change expert of The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers’ Organizations (CLAC). “Rebuilding local food economies, advancing a global campaign for food sovereignty and supporting ‘Fair Trade’ are critical steps in addressing climate change and feeding a growing global population.”

Small farmers and pastoralists are endangered–vulnerable to unfair trade agreements, collapsing financial markets, the global push of agri-fuels, the current privatization of rural economies via extractive megaprojects, land grabs, the unfettered expansion of financial speculation of the food market, and the privatization of genetic resources, among other threats. Prevailing policies and practices in trade, land use, energy use, and patent law contribute to climate change and jeopardize the ability of sustainable, small-scale farmers to stay on their land. Small-scale farmers must be the cornerstone of any global strategy to address climate change and hunger.

According to the United Nations, the growing global population will require an increase of 70 % more food production by 2050. This can only be addressed by shifting current industrial agricultural practices to diversified food systems focused on food security and agroecology. Fortifying and safeguarding small-scale farmers is the best remedy to address rural unemployment and poverty through participatory and decentralized approaches to managed resources like land and water. A combination of public policies, education efforts and market initiatives will be needed to address climate change and the challenges facing small-scale farmers and the planet. The UN recognizes that many initiatives like fair trade have positive impacts for rural communities and natural resource management. The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers’ Organizations (CLAC), the largest network of fair trade farmers in Latin America, is fighting every day to defend family and small-scale agriculture in order to guarantee a more inclusive and equitable rural development.

“2014 is the UN International Year of Family Farming,” Zinn noted. “Addressing the climate crisis requires that we confront the industrial agriculture food system and put small farmers in the driver seat. The time for swift action is now.”

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No sedative necessary: Scientists discover new ‘sleep node’ in the brain

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem has revealed how we fall into deep sleep. Discovered by researchers at Harvard School of Medicine and the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, this is only the second “sleep node” identified in the mammalian brain whose activity appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep.

Published online in August in Nature Neuroscience, the study demonstrates that fully half of all of the brain’s sleep-promoting activity originates from the parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem. The brainstem is a primordial part of the brain that regulates basic functions necessary for survival, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

“The close association of a sleep center with other regions that are critical for life highlights the evolutionary importance of sleep in the brain,” says Caroline E. Bass, assistant professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a co-author on the paper.

The researchers found that a specific type of neuron in the PZ that makes the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is responsible for deep sleep. They used a set of innovative tools to precisely control these neurons remotely, in essence giving them the ability to turn the neurons on and off at will.

“These new molecular approaches allow unprecedented control over brain function at the cellular level,” says Christelle Ancelet, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard School of Medicine. “Before these tools were developed, we often used ‘electrical stimulation’ to activate a region, but the problem is that doing so stimulates everything the electrode touches and even surrounding areas it didn’t. It was a sledgehammer approach, when what we needed was a scalpel.”

“To get the precision required for these experiments, we introduced a virus into the PZ that expressed a ‘designer’ receptor on GABA neurons only but didn’t otherwise alter brain function,” explains Patrick Fuller, assistant professor at Harvard and senior author on the paper. “When we turned on the GABA neurons in the PZ, the animals quickly fell into a deep sleep without the use of sedatives or sleep aids.”

How these neurons interact in the brain with other sleep and wake-promoting brain regions still need to be studied, the researchers say, but eventually these findings may translate into new medications for treating sleep disorders, including insomnia, and the development of better and safer anesthetics.

“We are at a truly transformative point in neuroscience,” says Bass, “where the use of designer genes gives us unprecedented ability to control the brain. We can now answer fundamental questions of brain function, which have traditionally been beyond our reach, including the ‘why’ of sleep, one of the more enduring mysteries in the neurosciences.”

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What is the Point of Spirituality?

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

In a sea of white noise of information, concerning, in part, Spirituality one might ask a question – what is the point of Spirituality to begin with? What is the criteria to gauge the spiritual development, and what is it’s modus operandi, what is it’s purpose? At first one can immediately think, that the point is to make a human being somehow behave or act “better” so to speak, but is it just behavioral? Or is it something more internal? There is various discussions in the spiritual domain, such as what teaching best addresses and, perhaps describes the inner realities that are supposed to arrive along with the spiritual realization. Is it just letting go of “material” interests, is it detachment, is it some sort of ever-bliss? Various teachings address these topics differently. For some, the goal is moksha or liberation, for some it is bhakti or service to God. The following is my take on spirituality’s goals.

First of all, there are two truths – as according to Buddhism, the relative and the absolute truth. The relative truth is just the conventional common sense truth, and the absolute truth is the realization that all things are empty. What can be achieved with the realization of absolute truth? Detachment, disassociation. Regardless of the stream of events, one is so to speak mentally even or is present in equanimity. About the relative truth, it can be said that the Reality exhibits properties of me, Others, God, Mind and Matter. It is on relative level of truth that we can perform service to God and others by following bhakti-style yogas. In general, one does not have to realize emptiness or absolute truth for this, if one can just find some other way for mental equanimity. Spoken in words, both truth are merely linguistic descriptions of the corresponding realities. There can be many varying sets of descriptions, and basically they lead to the more or less same result. So there are two main things – mental equanimity, or detachment from dependence on the stream of events (moksha), and service to God and others (bhakti).

Another, the third goal of spirituality can be described as bliss. This is the third component in Vedic Sat-Chit-Ananda triad (Being, Consciousness, Bliss). With mental equanimity, and with being active in performing good deeds towards the others, and also by following certain spiritual practices, comes the ever present feeling of bliss. This is not same as getting flashes of happiness tied to the domain of material events (a wedding, having a child, winning lottery etc). This feeling is independent of the stream of material events and phenomena, it is just always there. It is exactly the result of spiritual attainment, and not a set of events conditioned by karma. It arrives independently of any conditions.

All else, such as siddhis, states of mind, knowledge, are important features of spiritual attainment, but they are secondary to these primary three ones.

Buy Mac Book Pro

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

After years of struggling with various WinTel products, I finally got a Mac Book Pro laptop. I remember back in the day when I was sitting in the computer labs of my university, there were HP Unix workstations, WinTel PCs and Macs. For the life of me, at that point I couldn’t imagine I would ever use a Mac. The Mac OS seemed not to be user friendly. All computers at that time seemed equal in computational power, with HP UNIX workstations the fastest, indeed. But new times had come, and then I started using WinTel PCs and later, laptops. Slowly, WinTel laptops degraded in usability, since for every minor problem (and God knows, there were many) I had to spend multiple hours reading through pages and pages of support forums. So, no surprise, now when I have an issue on my old WinTel laptop, I can’t help myself but smirk quietly “I have an alternative now, I have the Mac Book Pro laptop”. I installed Windows 7 on Mac Book Pro, using Boot Camp, so now I don’t have to divide myself between two physical computers, it’s two systems in one. So far so good, I am planning to explore the apps for Mac OS and see how I can use the Mac Book Pro laptop for media creation. But for anybody so far, I strongly recommend buying a Mac Book Pro laptop.

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