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.
head one such song on the way home from work: A
Horse With No Name, by America, released in 1972.
a review on a site that has song lyrics:
lyrics | Reviewer: george | 4/15/2008
song has a pretty good melody. It sounds good, IF YOU IGNORE THE
LYRICS. For example,
“in the desert, you can’t remember your
’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain…”
grammer combined with a triple negative. Or is it quadruple…
ocean is a desert, with its life underground,
And a perfect
Under the cities lies, a heart made of ground,
the humans will give no love.”
What??? Maybe under the
influence of drugs this would make sence. But I doubt it!
line: Good melody, dumb lyrics.
I know. Bad grammer.
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 innovative
financial products (also see Snake
Oil and Deflation).
Equally senseless. And equally the product of
But let us take a closer look:
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
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.
on the other hand, is only starting to get the attention it deserves,
on, of all places, a financial blog: Seeking Alpha.
There is a fascinating 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
misuse, scientists at the International Soil Reference and Information
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
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
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 “Dirt
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
the Maoist regime had peasants terrace the land using manual labor.
The terraces were not stabilized with anything.
food production increased briefly, the process resulted in severe
erosion over many years. The result: people who had been
were forced to become migrants. They had to find something to
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 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
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
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, 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 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