Power of the People

Time Magazine has named You the 2006 Person of the Year: you who blogs, you who has a MySpace account, you who posts video to YouTube. That’s me and you, baby. We’re changing the world. And we’re doing it for free.

“There are lots of people in my line of work who believe that this phenomenon is dangerous because it undermines the traditional authority of media institutions like TIME. Some have called it an “amateur hour.” And it often is. But America was founded by amateurs. The framers were professional lawyers and military men and bankers, but they were amateur politicians, and that’s the way they thought it should be. Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger, and Ben Franklin was essentially loading his persona into the MySpace of the 18th century, Poor Richard’s Almanack. The new media age of Web 2.0 is threatening only if you believe that an excess of democracy is the road to anarchy. I don’t.” — Richard Stengel, managing editor Time Magazine

Soybean Secrets

During Austin’s heated debates over banning smoking in bars and require helmets on bicyclists (in a state where it is legal for motorcyclists to go without), people often ask tongue-in-cheek, if the Daddy State will start outlawing Mexican food because it’s bad for us po littl’ citizens who aren’t adult enough to take responsibility for our actions.

Well, take your tongue out of your cheek because if any city is likely to follow New York City’s attempt to outlaw trans fat in restaurant food, it’s Austin.

One positive story coming out of the trans fat controversy is today’s story that KFC (the restaurant that changed it’s name because its middle name is FRIED) has abandoned hydrogenated fats in favor of soybean oil.

That’s good news right? Not so fast. Read further down the article and you’ll discover restaurant owners are worried that the demand for soybean oil might outpace the supply. And who is the supplier? Why Monsanto Corp and its magic beans.

Dedrick said KFC and the creator of the new oil, the Monsanto Corp., had to work with seed oil processors to persuade farmers to grow more of the special soybeans used in the product. Among other things, farmers were offered a price premium to grow the new soybeans.

Monsanto spokesman Chris Horner said he expected the farmland devoted to the company’s new seed to triple next year to 1.5 million acres, up from 500,000 acres this year and 100,000 in 2005.– (Emphasis mine.)

Let’s see…replace “special soybeans” with “genetically-modified soybeans” and you might get the feeling that the reporter is guilty of lies of omission. As of 2002, nearly 70% of US soybeans were grown from genetically modified seeds.

The new soybean, dubbed VISTIVE produces a low-linolenic soybean oil. This new soybean is being offered to American farmers first. As Monsanto’s Executive Vice-President explained on March 3, 2006…

“We will continue to grow our global business, but we cannot forget that U.S. agriculture is the foundation of our success,” Casale said. “In this country we have the benefit of serving the most technologically advanced farmers, who appreciate innovative new products. Because of this, we can offer U.S. farmers some unique advantages as we all strive to compete globally.”

Japan and the EU won’t import them but it looks as if Monsanto has a new market for its product state-side.

In other dubious news for farmers, Monsanto genetically modified seed is patented and it sues American farmers who save a portion of their crop for seed. They are also suing farmers who don’t even grow Monsanto products if pollen from neighboring GM-planted fields contaminates a field by cross-pollinating with a non-GM crop; this pollution is considered patent infringement.

Vlogging the Drought of 2006

The last question on Kathy Purdy’s panel discussion on garden blogging asks us what we see for the future of gardeners on the internet. Well, I’m addicted to YouTube, so I see vlogging in our future.

A vlog, or video log is just that…a blog entry via video. The best vlogs have people talking to you right into the camera. It’s incredibly intimate. You feel like their secret confidant. As some of you have inferred, I’m a rather private person. This site’s not about me, but my garden. So in this video (not strictly an example of a vlog) I keep behind the camera and let the garden speak for itself.

Oh, yes. Most videos have sound and this one doesn’t. I’m pretty new to making videos and this already took far more time than I wanted to invest in it.

Preserving Network Neutrality

This post focuses on the writing component o. “garden writing”. Many of you arrived at Zanthan Gardens because your search for information about gardening in Texas, native plants, or xeriscape led you here. Maybe you wanted to know more about Indian hawthorn, heirloom roses, bluebonnets, or oxblood lilies. Maybe you were curious about when specific plants bloom in central Texas or if 40 days of 100 degree heat was what we should expect in Austin every summer.

You could have checked out a book from the library or read the garden column in your local newspaper, but the internet makes possible for you to gather a lot of information quickly and compare facts easily, so that you can form your own opinions. And it’s easy to correspond with the author with followup questions or comments. On blogs, like Zanthan Gardens, you can participate in the discussion with other garden lovers.

The beauty of the internet model is that it provides access to unfiltered information. It is also a way for the smallest voice to participate in the global conversation. I have been a writer all my life, yet I doubt that people in New York, Rhode Island, Indiana, New Zealand, Japan and England would be reading my writing on a regular basis were it not for internet publishing. Even if I had become a traditionally published author, I would not have the sense of community I share now by receiving your comments and reading your blogs in turn.

If you live in the USA, your ability to access information freely, network neutrality is being threatened in Congress. Unlike China, it is not the government that wants to filter our access, but the telecom companies, such as AT&T and Verizon. They are lobbying Congress to pass legislation to make it possible for them to direct our searches to “preferred” sites…people who pay the telecoms a premium or their own commercial ventures.

Imagine doing a search on Google and only seeing the results under “Sponsored Links”. The reason I use Google (and the reason Google is fighting the telecoms on this) is because I want access to all the information that is available. I want to decide for myself what to read.

I buy books at Amazon.com, songs from the iTunes store, and plane tickets from Travelocity. I don’t want my internet provider to direct me to its “preferred” sites. I want to remain a loyal customer to those businesses who provide what I’m looking for. Companies that have well-designed, useful websites should not be crippled by my internet provider.

I spend more time on the internet than watching TV precisely because the internet enables me to choose my own content. The commercial nature of TV is self-filtering; only what is popular is aired because advertisers want to reach the largest audience possible. Independent, minority, out-of-the-mainstream, non-corporate content is filtered by its nature. If it doesn’t appeal to a large audience, then advertisers won’t pay to have it aired. I don’t want to be subject to the tyranny other people’s tastes and interests. I prefer to cultivate my own. Many of you are great reads, even if you aren’t on the bestseller’s list.

What Can You Do?
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Divas of the Dirt

Fellow Austinite and gardener, Annie, wrote to me about a wonderful idea that she and some like-minded gardening friends have carried out. These Divas of the Dirt get together once a month to do a big garden project in one of their gardens. With eight women working together, a daunting project can be tackled in a day with time for a nice breakfast together first.

As someone who has spent a lot of time struggling through garden projects on my own, often feeling discouraged and overwhelmed, I admire the Diva’s clever approach. I just wish I were as organized and as energetic.


A quiz from Bookish Gardener.
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Encouraging Biodiversity and Wildlife

The Royal Horticulture Society focuses on biodiversity and wildlife in their current issue of The Garden. All gardens impose a human construct on nature. Whether we benefit or destroy the environment in which we garden depends on our approach.
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Iris Show

The Iris Society of Austin held it’s annual show today at Zilker Botanical Garden Center. For the first time in several years, I didn’t have a single iris blooming, so I wasn’t able to enter. Apparently I’m not the only one with that problem in Austin this year. There were probably only half the normal amount of entries. The one group of irises that looked good, however, were the Louisianna irises. AJM likes these bog plants and if we ever get around to building a pond, I’ll get some for him.

This bearded iris won best “space-age” iris.

Save Blunn Creek

What kid can resist the lure of water? When my son was a child, we lived on the banks of Blunn Creek. Only three years had passed since Austin had raised the money to create a nature preserve from the Storm tract, forty acre. between St. Edward’s University and Travis High School. Since we had no yard of our own, we used to take walks there in what seemed like our own private wilderness. We saw rabbits! I bought my first Texas wildflower identification book because the wealth of flowers I saw made me aware that there was a lot more to outdoors than a clipped lawn. Not that we even had that. Blunn Creek Preserve and the two Stacy Parks (Big and Little) were the only places for us condo dwellers to play outside.
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Bush Trashes Queen’s Garden

He may be a bush, but he doesn’t belong in a garden. I wouldn’t have let him in my garden, with or without helicopters.

Well, we’ve always known he wasn’t the environment president.

* Wild Species Flourish in Buckingham Palace Garden
* Mulberry Tree Collection at Buckingham Palace given provisional National Plant Collection Status by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens.
* Perhaps Bush should have read The Queen’s Hidden Garden: Buckingham Palace’s Treasury of Wild Plants.

Update: Bush and the Environment
* 2003-12-24. Administration Opens Alaska’s Tongass Forest to Loggers.