The Corpus Callosum

Dirt

In
the late ’60′s – early ’70′s, is was commonplace for bands to write
songs that were utterly meaningless, then pass them off as great works
of art.  The products of pure genius.  

I
head one such song on the way home from work: href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Horse_with_No_Name">A
Horse With No Name
, by America, released in 1972.

Here’s
a review on a site that has song lyrics:

bad
lyrics
| Reviewer: george | 4/15/2008

This
song has a pretty good melody. It sounds good, IF YOU IGNORE THE
LYRICS. For example,
“in the desert, you can’t remember your
name
’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain…”
Bad
grammer combined with a triple negative. Or is it quadruple…
and
“The
ocean is a desert, with its life underground,
And a perfect
disguise above.
Under the cities lies, a heart made of ground,
But
the humans will give no love.”
What??? Maybe under the
influence of drugs this would make sence. But I doubt it!

Bottom
line: Good melody, dumb lyrics.

Yeah.
 I know.  Bad grammer.  

Now,
all those musicians have grown up.  They have gone into other
professions, such as banking.
 Instead of passing off senseless songs as the products of
genius, they are passing off href="http://www.pimco.com/LeftNav/Featured+Market+Commentary/IO/2008/IO+January+2008.htm">innovative
financial products (also see href="http://www.rgemonitor.com/financemarkets-monitor/253292/snake_oil_and_deflation">Snake
Oil and Deflation).
 Equally senseless.  And equally the product of
href="http://www.streetspeculators.com/2008/08/michael-milken-a-financial-genius-or-creator-of-the-subprime-lending-fiasco/">genius.
 

But let us take a closer look:

Under
the cities lies, a heart made of ground,
But the humans will
give no love

Maybe there is some
truth to that.  Humans do not give love to the ground.
 But dirt has a lot going for it.  It has intrinsic
value.


That is rather unlike some of these financial
products, which are worth whatever someone will pay for them, but are
not backed by anything.  They are, essentially, tradable
baseball cards for grown-ups.  They have been getting a lot of
attention lately, if not a lot of love.  

Dirt,
on the other hand, is only starting to get the attention it deserves,
on, of all places, a financial blog: Seeking Alpha.
 

i-ce71e72c8ba8946bfb5e926a9606b183-seeking-alpha.jpg

href="http://seekingalpha.com/article/91504-dirt-as-a-growth-industry">Dirt
as a Growth Industry
by: Paul
Kedrosky

posted on: August 18, 2008

There is a fascinating href="http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/mann-text">piece
in the September issue of National Geographic on how dirt is becoming a
growth industry. With food demand accelerating, and millions of acres
of agricultural land degraded via salination and over-use, and other
land becoming fallow due to compaction, this is a pressing topic, and
an area ripe for innovation…

…In the first — and still the most comprehensive — study of global
soil
misuse, scientists at the International Soil Reference and Information
Centre ( title="More opinion and analysis of ISRIC">ISRIC)
in the Netherlands estimated in 1991 that humankind has degraded more
than 7.5 million square miles of land. Our species, in other words, is
rapidly trashing an area the size of the United States and Canada
combined…

Under the soybeans, lies a heart made of ground, but the humans will
give no love.  Maybe that song does have
meaning.  We just had to wait 36 years to find out what it
means.

More from the National Geographic article cited above:

This year food shortages, caused in part by the
diminishing quantity and quality of the world’s soil (see “ href="http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/bourne-text">Dirt
Poor“),
have led to riots in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By 2030, when
today’s toddlers have toddlers of their own, 8.3 billion people will
walk the Earth; to feed them, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
estimates, farmers will have to grow almost 30 percent more grain than
they do now. Connoisseurs of human fecklessness will appreciate that
even as humankind is ratchetting up its demands on soil, we are
destroying it faster than ever before. “Taking the long view, we are
running out of dirt,” says David R. Montgomery, a geologist at the
University of Washington in Seattle.

The article describes the unfortunate history of the Loess Plateau
around Dazhai, China.  In an effort to increase food
production,
the Maoist regime had peasants terrace the land using manual labor.
 The terraces were not stabilized with anything.
 Although
food production increased briefly, the process resulted in severe
erosion over many years.  The result: people who had been
farmers
were forced to become migrants.   They had to find something to
eat.

After three days, in the desert fun,
I was looking at a river bed.
And the story it told, of a river that flowed,
Made me sad to think it was dead.

China has improved in practices.  Instead of deliberate
deforestation, they are having people plant trees.  It is an
enormous undertaking; China calls it the world’s largest ecological
project.  The Three Norths project will result in over 36,680
square miles of forest being planted.  The entire project is
expected to take 73 years.

That kind of sustained effort to improve the environment will never
happen in the USA; you’ve got to admire the dedication of the Chinese.
 It’s not that their environmental record is very good, but it
appears that they can get things done when they decide to get going.

In the USA, nobody will care about dirt, until middle class people
can’t get enough food.  

It’ll happen, though.  It will happen when there is a sudden
shortage of diesel fuel.  No trucks, no food.  It is
that simple.  Our rail transport system sucks, frankly, and
although Congress and others are href="http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/business/stories.nsf/story/C76C4F537E3C1F50862573F1000B4FC3?OpenDocument">starting
to get aboard, there is no concerted effort to improve our
rail system, national security implications notwithstanding.

Everyone knows that we need to eat local food.  But in order
the eat local food, you have to be able to grow food locally.
 That means having either good soil, or having ready access to
tons of fertilizer and pesticides.  But if the transportation
system is failing, then you won’t be able to get the fertilizer and
pesticides.  

Plus, if there are problems with transportation, it will be because of
shortages of energy in general, and petroleum products in particular.
 It takes energy and petroleum to make industrial quantities
of fertilizer and pesticides.

Note that I am not trying to portray a doomsday scenario.
 Rather, I am pointing out that this is an issue that deserves
some attention.

Innovations such as href="http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=no-till">no-till
farming can help.  It reduces erosion, and href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080506103032.htm">sequesters
carbon in the soil.  Popularization of href="http://www.urbanfarming.org/">urban farming
will help, too.  

Our leaders are ignoring this.  Perhaps they assume that the
magic of the marketplace will address this will no centralized
intervention.  Indeed, it might.  But if it does,
then the agenda will be to gain control of markets and transportation.
 It will be to strengthen multinational corporations.

I think that is not a good idea.  

I think there is going to be a role for smart people who understand
ecology, genetics, and agriculture, to refine techniques for small and
intermediate-scale agriculture, while minimizing the environmental
impact.  Or to make sure that the impact is positive.

America wrote another song, href="http://www.lyricsfreak.com/a/america/seasons_20007149.html">Seasons:

First came the winter
And then came the morning
Bright coral branches that pass you again
Down from the meadow and onto the seashore
Came the vast checkerboard kingdom of men

i-bf28c2e0b420c33eaf26c0327f1f7a12-20060906020937_img_8695.jpg

I have no idea what the lyrics mean, but I like the visual image of
“the vast checkerboard kingdom of men.”  It’s just that the
cast checkerboard might not be sustainable, and its products might not
be transportable.

Comments

  1. #1 John-Michael Caldaro
    August 21, 2008

    Those stoned Hippies, of which I am one (No longer the stoned part!), thought about humankind’s relationship to the planet and the impact we were having. It was and is painfully obvious that the way the people in power, the people running the corporations and the average public had little concern or understanding of the long term effects of the way they were living. Solar energy, windmills, DDT, population control, appropriate water use, peak oil, etc. were concerns of those hippies. I have no idea if the writer(s?) of the songs you cite really had the subtle insight that is happening now. I never thought that America was a deep group. But maybe I was wrong. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the writers were thinking about the way humankind was interacting with the Earth and with each other. If you go back to the concerns of the 60′s counterculture so much of what we said is coming true today. And yet we are always thought of as some kind of non thinking ridiculous people. Far from it. We were usually the more intelligent ones who took the time to look at the whole picture, not just the short term impact. This is true for the ideal anyway. Good press that we were ridiculous and had no understanding of how things really worked but nowhere near the truth. Oh, I forgot the truth is so passe!

  2. #2 Markk
    August 21, 2008

    Uhm where did you get those lyrics from? They are wrong.
    In the desert you CAN remember you’re name ….
    based on my old album and any number of lyrics sites.

    Anyway of all the stupid song lyrics this one actually has lyrics I understand and can make sense out of. Unlike, some of Americas other stupid songs. I mean they covered “Muskrat Love” for heavens sake.

  3. #3 stumpy
    August 21, 2008

    I don’t think that the members of America were hippies. If they were, then they were johnnies-come-lately. I heard them perform way back in, maybe, ’72. Two of the members were very intoxicated, which my friends thought was pretty cool. But being drunk wasn’t exactly a hippie thing. I mean, OK, for a little while, America seemed to project some aspects of that late-sixties/early-seventies back-to-the-land vibe, but I don’t think they ever lived on a commune or milked a cow. And then, musically, they had some good tunes and nice three-part harmonies, but I think they owed some of their success to the fact that they were produced by George Martin. And it was indeed very uncool to cover “Muskrat Love”.

  4. #4 arby
    August 21, 2008

    Oh, man! Can’t you give a fella a heads up, like EARWORM ALERT! in big red letters or something. da-dum-da-da-dada, dammitdammitdammit! I do know what “alligator lizards in the air” means. I don’t think it was the drugs. It is the same song, isn’t it? That might be the drugs.
    More seriously, about China, I heard a BBC reporter trying to do a story about destroying rain forest for rubber production in China last night. She was detained, harassed and followed for three days, and her driver was pulled in for questioning. We could use less of that kind of “sustained effort to improve the environment”.
    If one were forced to listen to Muskrat Love at gunpoint, then the America version is preferable. God bless George Martin. rb

  5. #5 stumpy
    August 21, 2008

    No, “alligator lizards in the air” comes from another song by America, called “Tin Man”. And if you think you know what the phrase means, then you should consider sharing that information with the rest of us. Also, not to be picky, but God can’t bless George Martin, because George Martin isn’t American.

  6. #6 arby
    August 21, 2008

    It was the drugs, stumpy, thanks for the clarity. Mackerel sky. Clouds that resemble scales of the “adult king mackerel”, wikipedia tells me just now.
    As for George Martin and his blessing, don’t the English have an Official God? And George was knighted, wasn’t he? By the Monarch, who is the head of the Church of England? The representative of the Official English God on Earth? Such simple folk, quite admirable, really. rb

  7. #7 arby
    August 21, 2008

    That’s a great picture, by the way. rb

  8. #8 Kevin
    September 10, 2008

    Don’t despair – look up Terra preta, permaculture, keyline ploughing, remineralisation, soil food web, agroforestry, alley cropping, community farms etc etc and you will see that providing good quality food withour chemical fertiliser, chemicals and bio engineering close to and amongst the cities is actually childs play.
    And very rewarding.

    I would suggest starting to learn the practice of local food production as soon as you can. And spread the word. If we all know how to do it, then no desperate rush when the corn flake trucks start to slow down.