NETFUTURE Technology and Human Responsibility -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Issue #43 Copyright 1997 O'Reilly & Associates March 20, 1997 -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Editor: Stephen L. Talbott (email@example.com) On the Web: http://netfuture.org You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. CONTENTS: *** Editor's Note *** Quotes and Provocations Consenting Adults This Phone Call Is Brought to You by Macdonalds Education Madness: Further Reports from the Field Scout Report Follow-up *** One Man, His Daughter, and Several Neighborhoods (Peter Kaiser) The effects of determined presence *** Pharming the Cow (Craig Holdrege) Animals as factories *** About this newsletter
I blew it in providing an email address for information regarding the Penn State University conference, "Education and Technology: Asking the Right Questions." The correct address is ConferenceInfo1@cde.psu.edu. (That's a "one" rather than an "el" before the @ sign.) There's also a related url: http://www.cde.psu.edu/C&I/
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Should we legalize dueling between consenting adults?And if not, why?
Should we legalize mass-spectator, gladiatorial games in which volunteer participants fight to the death?
Of course, we've already had a taste of such commercials, thanks to those grossly inconsiderate companies who, in addition to putting us on hold, make it their prerogative to prevent our attention being focused on anything but their profits while we wait. But I will spare you a repeat, in an audio context, of my rant about advertising banners on Web pages (NF #24). Suffice it to say that you can now add phone commercials to call waiting, email, background television and radio, keyboards that continue clicking while you talk to their owners, and the various other disruptions and mediations that all too readily come between two people who might otherwise actually pay some attention to each other.
Amid the burgeoning technologies of connection, from the automobile and jet airliner to the telephone and computer, it is worth recalling the truism that we do not meet the "human spirit" in the crowds of people we brush up against incidentally. We meet it in one place only: in the unique self of someone whose life, if only briefly, has been intimately joined to our own -- as often as not through shared suffering. And perhaps the most widespread and fundamental failure of connection -- the root of many other breakdowns -- is the failure to suffer the next person to speak in the presence of our own respectful attention!
To say that telephone commercials disrupt the attention two people might otherwise give each other would perhaps sound trivial if it were not for the overwhelming barrage of distractions -- the concerted culture of distraction -- in which we have long been coming to flounder. Ironically, though -- and this is the fiendish brilliance of the idea behind the Swedish service -- advertisers gain a captive audience whose attention is virtually guaranteed -- what else are the conversants to do as they wait to resume their own conversation, which, of course, has itself now suffered an enforced loss of attention?
Sound bites are obnoxious enough in national politics. Must our personal conversations be reduced to the same terms? Fortunately (so far), not unless we ask for it. But I'm not betting against the asking.
At the same time, he's been told by school officials that his estimate of 65-70 technicians and trainers to support all the computers "is way too high....We will be able to get along with less than 20 -- which means to me that we will continue to expect teachers to support their own machines to a great extent, taking more time away from their teaching role."
Now the further developments:
The Technology Steering committee is about to approve a recommendation for spending $4.3 million on technology in the district for the coming year. Of this, $3.7 million is coming from the state ($1.85 million from last year plus another $1.85 million for the coming year) which must be spent entirely on technology purchases. None of it can be spent for salaries, even for technicians to support the purchases. The other $600,000 is coming from an annual tax levy that has been spent entirely on pilot computer projects the past two years but will be shifted to fund the salaries and benefits of the 10 teachers who will be reassigned to provide technical/instructional support to the schools receiving the new equipment.Meanwhile, up in Minnesota....NETFUTURE reader Ray Howe has his own story to tell:
Nothing new in all of that. What is new is the announcement made just this week that 104 administrative and teaching positions will be cut for the next school year, due to a huge shortfall in funding. Many of those positions are coming out of special programs -- 45 from special education alone and 14 from the remedial math program (5 administrative positions -- all low level). How much will cutting those 104 positions save the district? $4.2 million!
To point out the obvious, the numbers are so incredibly close that it is impossible to miss the connection. In this district (and probably in the state, since the money is earmarked when it comes to us) we seem to be in the process of shifting the emphasis in education from human instruction to machine instruction and we are shifting our funds accordingly. Our priorities and our hope for educational salvation lie with the computers, not with people. This is our vision of education for the 21st century.
You might be interested to know that a peculiar requirement exists for schools in this area (Minnesota). The school district has to buy its own machines. A friend of mine (and for whom I have installed systems at his home and law offices) was appointed to the local school board to fill an unexpired term and one of the first things he was faced with was a decision on the purchase (about a year ago or spring of '96) of several hundred new PCs.
Low bidders for Win95 systems all had 8mb 486/66s with 540mb ide drives, and they were in the $2400 range (I strongly suspected there had been some tacit agreement among the bidders, such as Ok, you can have Rochester but I get Winona, but that's a song from a different opera). I told him not to buy, gave him my advance sheets on P200s, 2.1gb FastATA, etc. etc., told him to short term lease to fill out the school year and never ever again buy....lease short, contract support and replace every 10 months.
State law, as it turns out, forbid this sort of thing. So now they own several hundred virtually worthless PCs but have to support them for several more years. I'd be interested to know if this sort of idiocy obtains elsewhere in the US.
Lone Oak Press
You may be interested to know that you are now reading a newsletter apparently judged not worthy of listing after review by the editors of The Scout Report (firstname.lastname@example.org), one of the longest-standing and more serious of the Net surfing guides.Now Susan Calcari, the Report's project director, sends a very nice note in which she gently (and rightly) points out that I did not know whereof I spoke. In actual fact, due to work overload, she received the NETFUTURE request through a subordinate long after it was submitted. Only now has the staff reviewed NETFUTURE (and decided to list it). She requests a correction of my inaccurate statement.
Gladly given -- with appreciation for Susan's measured response. And with my apologies for jumping the gun in such an unseemly manner.
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From Peter Kaiser (email@example.com)
In NETFUTURE #42 you write
Meanwhile, suburban types end up wishing for a place more rooted, where neighbors care about each other and are bound together by common enterprises.It made me think of some things in my past, and for the first time (heaven knows why) connect them.
In my mid-twenties I moved to New York City, where I knew no one except my grandmother, into an apartment by myself. Evenings that summer I'd often sit out on the front steps of my four-story building -- need I say that I was the only person to do this? -- with a book, or a jug, or a musical instrument to enjoy the weather and chat with passers-by. Nearly all the passers-by were residents of my block.
As the summer progressed, people got into the habit of stopping at my steps. Eventually other people began to bring a jug, or cookies, or a loaf of fresh bread. By the end of the summer when I moved, it was normal in the early evening -- sometimes even later -- for a group of people to be there talking, drinking something, even singing, as some people stopped on their way home from work and others left or returned.
I moved out of the neighborhood into a completely different one where my building had no steps. Two years later a guy from the old neighborhood whom I hadn't seen in the interim walked into my office at work and asked if I were free on such-and-such a date. Why? After I left, people realized that many of the people on the block had finally gotten to know each other, and they eventually formed a block association. I was told that they considered me its godfather, and they wanted to invite me for their first anniversary party.
Many years later, now married with offspring, I moved with my family into the suburban house we had just bought, my first house. I thought "Great, this is middle-class suburbia and people will surely be coming over to welcome us into the neighborhood with a macaroni casserole or even just by saying hello," but it didn't happen. Everyone seemed just to be isolated in their houses, and we had virtually no contact except with our two next-door neighbors.
Then I went to the town hall to register to vote, and discovered that in Massachusetts every town has what's called the "True List of Persons", a now-computerized list of the actual inhabitants, organized -- among other ways -- by street and number. I copied down the names and addresses of everyone on our section of street, so now I knew at least my neighbors' names. (Later I discovered that the True List isn't necessarily true, but that's another story.) Then I looked up their phone numbers and put the whole consolidated list on my home computer and printed it, just in case we might need it.
And then an idea occurred to me. I made enough copies for the whole neighborhood, and with my 3-year-old daughter in tow went from door to door and introduced myself and her, and gave everyone who wanted it a copy of the list. (My daughter's company was specifically to legitimize me.) I assured everyone that I hadn't been investigating them, but had gotten the information from obvious public sources, and also told them that if they wanted to correct their own entry, they had only to tell me and I'd do it and would soon redistribute a corrected list. Well, it turned out that NO ONE in the neighborhood knew anyone else. People would say to me "Do you know the name of the people who live there?" (pointing to a house diagonally across the street), and I'd look at the list and say "Well, they seem to be named Smith" or whatever.
In brief, people now began to talk to one another. In a couple of years the amount of interaction among families on the street increased visibly, to the point where people would now leave their keys with one another if they went away for a few days, where people would actively keep an eye on each others' houses (the year before we moved there, one of the houses on the street had been robbed empty by thieves with a moving van, just because the owners hadn't let anyone know they were gone on vacation!), children now played with kids from down the street, and so forth.
Now maybe there's something in my naive character that made it uniquely possible for me to catalyze these changes. But I don't think so. What it took both times was just to start the ball rolling and keep it going for a little while until it was rolling on its own. So to the "suburban types wishing for a place more rooted" etc., I'd say "Do it yourself, because no one else is any better set to do it than you are. If your neighbors know you care about them, they're likely to care about you."
Does this apply to the Net? I leave that to the reader.
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From Craig Holdrege
[Back in NF #31 I reviewed Craig Holdrege's remarkable book, Genetics and the Manipulation of Life. One section of that book is quite unlike all the others; it's not so much about genetics as about the life of the cow and how it is affected by the scientific and engineering stances we take. Lindisfarne Press has kindly granted permission to reprint the piece here. It offers, I think, a nice counterpoint to the current news stories about Dolly and genetic engineering.
The following text is copyright 1996 by Craig Holdrege. Some technical references have been removed. Genetics and the Manipulation of Life is available from Lindisfarne for $14.95 by calling 518-851-2054. SLT]
Cows are grazers. They live in the midst of the food they eat. The cow lowers its head to the ground and touches the meadow plants (or the hay in its stall) with the front end of its soft, moist snout. The cow does not bite off the plants with its teeth or lips, but reaches out with its rough, muscular tongue, enwraps the plants, and tears them off. It clearly needs to use its tongue in this way -- cattle that receive soft feed begin to lick their fellow cows much more than usual. The tongue needs the stimulation of roughage.
After it has torn off a few portions and chewed a bit, the cow swallows a mouthful, This activity continues for a few hours. The food reaches the rumen, the huge first chamber of the four-chambered stomach. Occupying the entire left side of the abdominal cavity, the rumen can hold forty-five gallons.
Digestion in the rumen is facilitated by microorganisms that break down cellulose, the main, hard-to-digest component of roughage. Bacterial activity, the secretion of digestive juices, and the muscle activity of the rumen are all stimulated by roughage. In fact, the rumen only finishes its development and becomes functional when a calf begins to feed on grass or hay.
When the rumen is about half-full, portions of the partially digested food are regurgitated back into the mouth. Rumination begins. Cows usually lie on the ground while ruminating. They grind their food between their large cheek teeth in rhythmical, circling motions of the lower jaw. You are probably familiar with the picture of calm presented by a herd of cows, lying in a meadow, their activity focused inwardly on grinding and digestion.
Digestion involves an intensive production, circulation, and secretion of body fluids. The process begins in the head. While the cow is ruminating, the saliva glands secrete copious amounts of saliva -- up to forty gallons a day. The drier the feed (for example, hay), the more the saliva, and the greater the amount of water a cow drinks. As [E. M.] Kranich points out, functionally one can consider the mouth to be a fifth chamber of the stomach.
After rumination, the food is swallowed, entering first the other three chambers of the stomach and then the small intestine. In these organs, fluids are removed from the food and new digestive juices are secreted until finally the cow has broken down its food to a point where it can be taken up by the blood.
Characteristic for cows is their fluid dung, in contrast to the solid dung of other ruminants like sheep or deer. The cow's large intestine does not absorb as much fluid out of this final section of the digestive tract. In fact, from its moist snout, through the whole digestive tract, and finally in its dung, the cow shows more fluidity than other ruminants.
The digestive process is related to the blood -- a fluid organ that connects all organs of the body. For every quart of saliva, three hundred quarts of blood pass through the salivary glands. The other digestive organs are sustained by a similarly strong circulation.
The intensive transformation of substances and secretion of fluids characterizing the digestive process are heightened in the formation and secretion of milk. Substances produced by digestion are withdrawn from the blood in the udder. For every quart of milk, three to five hundred quarts of blood pass through the udder. Glands in the udder then create a wholly new substance -- milk. This is not a substance that is used by the cow or excreted; rather, it serves another growing organism -- the calf. The cow only begins to produce milk after she has given birth to a calf, and the calf has begun to suck on the teats.
When we build up a picture of the cow in this way, we begin to see the cow as a total organism. We view each part in the context of other parts, so that the animal as a whole comes into view, even if only in an elementary way. One result of this endeavor is that milk loses its isolated status as a product we consume. As consumers we tend to take for granted our relation to the cow. When we gain some insight into the cow viewed as an organism, this relation is enhanced.
The domestication of cows by human beings goes back thousands of years. In the course of time this interaction has led to many different breeds, each with its own characteristics. These characteristics reflect in part the aims of the breeders. Breeders try to realize in the domestic animal (or plant) a mental picture they carry within themselves. Moreover, the way we now care for these animals stems in good part from our points of view.
Until this century the cow gave about as much milk per day as her calf would have drunk, had it not been weaned -- about two to three gallons in present-day breeds (in India, about one-half gallon per day). In our time, the dairy cow's milk production can exceed seven gallons per day. This increase has taken place essentially within the last fifty years.
How has the increase been made possible? First, by breeding larger cows that by virtue of their size eat more, digest more, and give more milk. Second, by feeding them differently. When cows receive more high-protein grains in their feed, they produce more milk. But since, as we have seen, cows need roughage, this dietary change has its limits.
A simple method has been developed to circumvent the need for roughage in steers bred for beef. The steers are "fed" plastic pot scrubbers -- the ones we buy in supermarkets -- instead of roughage. In trials, pot scrubbers were wrapped in masking tape and then, one after another, eight scrubbers were pushed down the steer's throat into the rumen. The tape soon detached from the scrubbers, which "were observed to float on the surface of the ruminal contents in these steers and to form a mat similar to that observed when ruminants are fed roughage." The scrubbers remain in the rumen for life.
The trials indicated that steers fed 100% concentrate plus pot scrubbers grew at approximately the rate of cattle fed 85% concentrate with 15% roughage (corn silage). Evidently, the scrubbers stimulate the rumen walls in a manner similar to roughage.
In undertaking his research, [S.] Loerch surmised that "because roughage is relatively low in energy and is expensive, it would be beneficial if roughage could be eliminated from cattle diets without sacrificing performance." It is by no means clear that a farmer would actually save money using this method, since it is not a given that 15% more concentrate would be cheaper than producing or buying a corresponding amount of corn silage. But some farmers or feedlots have evidently used Loerch's method, since, as a university animal scientist, he is reported to have received many phone calls "from bewildered butchers who have found pot scrubbers in the guts of slaughtered cattle" (New York Times, August 29, 1992).
In its starkness this example is illustrative. It shows not only how strongly the desire to lower costs is a determining factor in agricultural research, but also in what narrow terms the cow is viewed. The cow's need for roughage is reduced to a mechanical function, and this can be substituted for. The sensory qualities of hay or silage -- taste, smell, texture -- are not considered. Nutritional considerations are reduced to ascertaining that roughage is low-calorie feed and therefore not effective for fast growth. The steer can no longer ruminate because the scrubbers are too large to be regurgitated. Has this no significance for the animal's well-being and physiology? The cow as a mechanism and not the cow as an organism stands behind the roughage substitute.
Perhaps a more enlightened age will discover that the nutritional quality of foodstuffs such as milk or beef are dependent not only on the results of biochemical analysis, but also on the way the animals are raised and cared for.
Coupling the view of the cow as a mechanism with a one-sided economic perspective that emphasizes cost-effectiveness has become increasingly prevalent in our times. This is particularly true in genetic engineering:
Producing human pharmaceutical proteins in the milk of transgenic livestock has been an attractive possibility....Such "molecular pharming" technologies are appealing for a number of reasons. They offer the potential of extremely high volumetric productivity, low operating costs, and unlimited multiplication of the bioreactor [that is, the animal]....In this issue of Bio/Technology three groups report significant progress in realizing these benefits....Their results provide convincing demonstration of the feasibility of using animals as commercial bioreactors. [Bio/Technology, vol. 9 (1991), pp. 786-788]The attempt to continually increase milk production reflects the treatment of cows as commercial bioreactors. This tuning of the bioreactor in a specific direction has brought with it some unwanted side effects. These include fertility problems, mastitis, and leg and hoof afflictions. High milk-producing cows are often slaughtered after three years of lactation (five-year-old animals). Without the demand to produce as much milk as possible in a short period of time, a cow will reach its peak of milk production after three or four years of lactation, and will continue healthy lactation for a number of years beyond that.
When we begin to think in terms of the organism, we learn to expect that the desired effect of our manipulations will in all likelihood be only one among many changes. From the point of view of the organism, there is no such thing as a side effect. The organism is a whole. If we change a part, the whole is changed, and this change will likely manifest in ways that go beyond any desired effects.
It is not, therefore, very surprising that mastitis can accompany increased milk production. Mastitis is an inflammation of the udder. Since it is an infectious disease, strict hygienic procedures are called for to prevent bacteria from entering the udder via the openings in the teats. But this is only one side of the problem. Due to the intensive circulation in the udder during lactation, the udder is susceptible to inflammation. (Increased circulation always occurs in inflamed organs -- it calls forth the warmth and redness of inflamed tissue.) When milk production is increased to the utmost degree, the udder is almost on the verge of inflammation without bacteria. The cow's physiology is stressed, and when bacteria do enter the udder, mastitis is likely.
In November, 1993, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the commercial sale of milk, milk products, and meat from cows treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). This hormone is produced by bacteria that have been genetically altered by a cow-derived DNA that is related to the organism's production of growth hormone. In some unknown way, growth hormone stimulates milk production. Cows injected with this hormone produce 10 to 20% more milk.
Much controversy surrounds the use of rBGH, and in Europe its use has not been approved. The FDA was concerned solely with the product's safety. FDA scientists concluded that experimental evidence (provided by manufacturers of rBGH) demonstrates that milk from treated cows is in essence chemically identical to milk from untreated cows. Therefore, the FDA sees no reason for the milk to be labeled as coming from rBGH-treated cows.
Extensive testing of rBGH was done on rats as part of the FDA's procedure for establishing the safety of the substance. Although such experimental results cannot simply be assumed to be valid for cows, they are in and of themselves interesting. Researchers found that the whole organism was affected by rBGH. The treated animals were larger than normal. When the researchers investigated the individual organs, they found that some were proportionately smaller while others were proportionately larger than normal. Such changes depended in part on the animal's sex. "Ratios of organ weight to body weight were increased for spleen and adrenal [gland] and decreased for testes in male rats, and increased for heart and spleen and decreased for brain in the female rats."
Such detailed analyses have not been performed on cows, but the question of the effects of rBGH has been a source of major controversy and concern. Monsanto, a producer of rBGH, claims there are no significant side effects. Some independent scientists have come to different conclusions. Most recently, a research group led by Erik Millstone analyzed Monsanto data. The group concluded that milk from rBGH-treated cows contained an average of 19% more white blood cells than milk from untreated cows. White blood cells enter an organ as part of the inflammatory reaction. An increase in white blood cells is "associated with increased risk of mastitis." The researchers acknowledge that their analysis will remain incomplete until Monsanto releases all the pertinent data. They also report that Monsanto blocked their original attempt to publish their analysis of the data.
Out of what context is rBGH produced, and into what context do its effects radiate? Clearly there is no consumer demand for more milk, nor is there a demand for rBGH milk. "From 1987 to 1989 the [U.S.] government has spent between $600 million and $1.3 billion a year to purchase surplus milk (Hastings Center Report, July/August, 1991, p. 3). Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that if only one in five farmers were to use rBGH in the first year it is sold, "the government will have to spend $15 million [more] to buy the [additional] surplus milk."
It is absurd to invent a product to increase milk production while milk itself is already being produced in surplus. Such a total separation of production from actual needs is a consequence of our economic system. In modern Western economic ideology there is an emphasis on growth, higher production, and cost-cutting. The attempt to emphasize such things in agriculture has led to the development of ever larger factory farms. Higher productivity is achieved to the detriment of the connection between farmers and the plants and animals upon which their work is based. And large government subsidies reflect an approach to production that does not take into consideration real consumer needs.
Large chemical companies continually grow. This growth is seen as the means to counter rising costs of production (inflation, higher wages, and so on). When such a company invests millions of dollars to develop a new product like rBGH, it must aggressively market the product. Farmers (particularly those with large farms) who seek further mechanization and ever higher production are most likely to use rBGH. But others follow in fear of not being able to compete.
And what about the cow? As long as we treat it as a commercial bioreactor, there is no reason not to continue trying to increase production. But if we remember that the cow is an organism, then we must ask how far we can healthily push milk production. By gaining insight into the cow as a "small world, existing for its own sake" [Goethe], we can recognize its specific characteristics and needs, and begin to fit our actions into its context.
Practicing this point of view is made extremely difficult by current economic realities. This problem, where it is recognized, has led (to mention one example) to the establishment of Community Supported Agriculture. Here farmers and consumers enter an economic association that frees the farmer to some degree from the compelling necessity to increase production and lower costs. The consumer community provides the farmer with an income. At the same time, farm production is related more directly to consciously affirmed consumer needs. Within this setting it becomes possible to handle animals like the organisms they are. [See NF #30 for more on Community Supported Agriculture. SLT]
Anyone who thinks in terms of commercial bioreactors and acts accordingly will of necessity consider it uneconomic to worry over the fact that animals are living, sentient beings.
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http://netfuture.org/subscribe.html.Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #43 :: March 20, 1997
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