Camelina Is NOT a Tiny Camel

An intriguing bit of news about a potentially new biofuel source, as reported by the McClatchy Newspapers:

Researchers eye ancient plant as source of biofuel

A plant that flourished in Europe roughly 3,500 years ago could become a major source of biofuel.

Researchers say that camelina, planted on millions of acres of marginal farmland from eastern Washington state to North Dakota, could help power the nation’s drive for cleaner energy.

“This is the most exciting crop I have seen in my 30 some years in this field,” said Steven Guy, a professor at the University of Idaho and a crop-management specialist.

Researchers in Washington state, Oregon and Idaho say the results from test plantings of camelina are encouraging. So far, the only farmers who are interested are in Montana, where more than 50,000 acres of camelina were planted this season. But a buzz is spreading slowly.

The story of camelina, though, is about more than just marketing an ancient crop to solve some of today’s problems. It stretches from a Puget Sound biotech firm that’s working to increase camelina yields by up to 50 percent to Capitol Hill, where lobbyists hope to convince Congress to cover camelina under the federal crop-insurance program to reassure skittish farmers.

Camelina supporters say the plant can grow in more arid conditions, doesn’t require extensive use of expensive fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and can produce more oil from its seeds than other crops such as canola, by some estimates, for half the price. [full text]

Dying in the Fullness of Their Promise

“War is always the same. It is young men dying in the fullness of their promise. It is trying to kill a man that you do not even know well enough to hate. Therefore, to know war is to know that there is still madness in this world. ~Lyndon B. Johnson

These words were delivered on January 12, 1966 in the President’s State of the Union address. Though he was cognizant of the terrible costs and utter insanity of war, Johnson was nonetheless arguing for the necessity of U.S. military intervention in a far-off land. What has changed or been learned in the decades since?

It is Memorial Day, 2007. American soldiers are at war in a far-off land. As of this moment, 3,455 U.S. troops have perished in Iraq. An analysis of those who have fallen reveals some sobering data about the terrible costs of this war. Though he was wrong about Vietnam, President Johnson was unerringly right about soldiers “dying in the fullness of their promise”:

• The average age of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq is approximately 26 (25.98) years old.
• More than three-quarters (75.95%) of those killed have been under the age of 30 (2,624).
• 230 teenage soldiers (aged 18-19) have been killed in Iraq.
• On average, U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq lost two-thirds of their expected lives (given the average life expectancy of an American).
• Collectively, the total number of expected years of life lost by U.S. soldiers is 179,728 years.

A Father Speaks Out

Today’s Washington Post features a powerful op-ed piece by Andrew J. Bacevich, a history professor at Boston University and a veteran of the Vietnam War, who recently lost his son to the war in Iraq, one of the more than 3,400 casualties of this terrible folly:

I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty.

Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.

Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son’s death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.

This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging “the terrorists,” opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops — today’s civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.

What exactly is a father’s duty when his son is sent into harm’s way?

Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.

As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush’s response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. Some — the members of the “the-surge-is-already-working” school of thought — even profess to see victory just over the horizon.

I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. In books, articles and op-ed pieces, in talks to audiences large and small, I have said as much. “The long war is an unwinnable one,” I wrote in this section of The Washington Post in August 2005. “The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We’ve done all that we can do.”

Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others — teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks — to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion. [full text]

Pooh-Poohing Protest

Occasionally, common sense wins out. A jury in Colorado has unanimously agreed that it is perfectly acceptable for citizens to give a crap. The Greeley Tribune reports on what all the to-doo was about:

Jury acquits woman in dog doo case

It might be a laughing matter to the public, or even to members of the jury who acquitted Kathy Ensz.

But to the 64-year-old retired professor, the dog feces case certainly wasn’t funny.

A Weld County jury found Ensz not guilty Wednesday of criminal use of a noxious substance, a charge that stemmed from her deposit of dog excrement at the congressional office of U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave last May 31.

“When you get prosecuted like this, when the powers that be come after you for something like this, it’s very intimidating,” she said after the verdict.

Now, she and her attorneys are mulling a civil suit against the Weld District Attorney’s Office or Musgrave, or both.

Ensz said she felt vindicated by the verdict. Earlier this year, prosecutors offered her a plea bargain but she refused, not wanting to plead guilty to a crime she didn’t believe she committed.

“This was a ghastly waste of time. It was a political vendetta on the part of the Weld County District Attorney, Ken Buck,” she said. “It was a total waste of money, the taxpayers’ money.”

Buck begged to differ.

“Public officials should be protected from this type of conduct,” he said.

Musgrave has received death threats in the past, and has had to have Secret Service protection because of it, Buck and Musgrave’s chief of staff said.

Buck said that would make Musgrave and her staff more sensitive to any type of threat — even scatological.

“I think most people would find this threatening,” he said. [full text]

And I think most people would find that argument full of you-know-what. In any regard, even if the prosecutor had possessed a leg to stand on, Ms. Ensz could have pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Clearly, she was manifesting symptoms of an excremental illness.

Anyway, if the right to give a crap has been legally upheld, is it safe to presume that citizens also have the right to offer grounds for impeachment, as I advocated in an earlier post? After all, nothing says cut the crap like a dollop of recycled organic matter.

The Beat Goes On

While President Bush continues to march to the beat of his own special drummer and Vice President Cheney continues to beat on any war drum he can get his claws on, the American public continues to hold its collective breath and count the days (606) until these imperious rogues just beat it. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post captures the mood quite well:

In the Rose Garden, It Was All Al-Qaeda

Is there no safe haven for President Bush?

It happened midway through his news conference in the Rose Garden yesterday morning, in between his 10th and 11th mentions of al-Qaeda: A bird flew over the president and deposited a wet, white dropping on the upper left sleeve of his jacket. Bush wiped the mess off with his bare hand.

There was no evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible for this particular attack, and — who knows? — maybe the terrorist leader believes the superstition that bird poop is good luck. But just about everything else that came up during the hour-long news conference was traced to bin Laden’s terrorist network.

The session was called to draw attention to the fact that Democratic leaders had just caved in to Bush’s demand that the Iraq spending bill have no withdrawal timeline. But as frequently happens at presidential events these days, it quickly became al-Qaeda, all the time. Bush invoked the terrorist group 19 times and even suggested it was going after individual reporters’ kids.

“They are a threat to your children, David,” he advised NBC’s David Gregory.

“It’s a danger to your children, Jim,” Bush informed the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg.

This last warning was perplexing, because Rutenberg has no children, only a brown chow chow named Little Bear. It was unclear whether Bush was referring to a specific and credible threat to Little Bear or merely indicating there was increased “chatter in the system” about chow chows in general. [full text]

When Terrorism Is a Stretch

It comes as little surprise that the very same government that stretched and distorted the threat posed by a distant sovereign nation in order to justify the harshest of actions against it would similarly stretch and distort the definition of [domestic] terrorism in order to justify the harshest of sanctions against certain criminal defendants. Consider the case of Jonathan Paul, as described by his sister in the following op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times:

My brother, the ‘terrorist’

MY BROTHER IS considered one of the biggest domestic terrorists in the country. You probably haven’t heard of him, and I think that’s odd. After all, he’s dangerous. He’s trying to overthrow our country. He “doesn’t like our freedoms,” or so President Bush has said of terrorists in general, so I suppose that applies to my brother too.

Let me tell you a little bit about him. He likes the History Channel. He’s a Trekkie. He cried (in secret) at the corny 1980s movie “Turtle Diary.” He’s good at fixing things. And, most important, he has devoted his life to stopping animals’ suffering. To this end, he has broken the law. He crept into animal laboratories to free dogs. He dismantled corrals to release wild mustangs. He impersonated a fur buyer to film the treatment of minks. He put himself between whales and whalers despite warnings that his boat would be impounded and that he would be jailed. And nearly 10 years ago, he burned down a horse slaughterhouse in Redmond, Ore. It is for this final act that the U.S. government considers him among the ranks of Osama bin Laden, Eric Rudolph and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

“This is a classic case of terrorism,” the federal prosecutor said earnestly to the judge during a hearing last week in my brother’s case.

My brother, Jonathan Paul, has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., to burning the Cavel West Slaughterhouse. He will find out on June 5 whether the judge considers his actions deserving of the “terrorism enhancement” to his sentence sought by the government. (Nine other members of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, who pleaded guilty to different charges, are being sentenced as well. The first, sentenced Wednesday, was deemed a terrorist.) If a terrorism enhancement is imposed, my brother’s recommended sentence could go from less than three years to more than 14 years.

Don’t let me give you the impression that I think arson is something to be taken lightly. I do not. The irony is rich in this case: I was a San Francisco firefighter for 13 years. I was angry and dismayed that my brother chose arson as a route to stop animal suffering. But “a classic case of terrorism”? [full text]