Heroes Who Gave Their Lives Fighting for Freedom

A friend, Dick Strong, visited recently and showed me this list of people, many of whom were reported in the mass media, many not. Its a sad list but their lives are worth memorializing.
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Comment by Bill Olkowski

I was so impressed by this talk that I want others to see the video and read the transcript that I thought it worth putting on my blog. see if you agree.

by Paul Stamets

Transcript downloaded from: Paul Stamets Talks on TED: http://tinurl.com/PaulStametsTEDMED

I love a challenge, and saving the Earth is probably a good one. We all know the Earth is in trouble. We have now entered in the 6X, the sixth major extinction on this planet. I often wondered, if there was a United Organization of Organisms — otherwise known as “Uh-Oh” –(Laughter) — and every organism had a right to vote, would we be voted on the planet, or off the planet? I think that vote is occurring right now. <!–more–>
I want to present to you a suite of six mycological solutions, using fungi, and these solutions are based on mycelium. The mycelium infuses all landscapes, it holds soils together, it’s extremely tenacious. This holds up to 30,000 times its mass. They’re the grand molecular disassemblers of nature — the soil magicians. They generate the humus soils across the landmasses of Earth. We have now discovered that there is a multi-directional transfer of nutrients between plants, mitigated by the mycelium — so the mycelium is the mother that is giving nutrients from alder and birch trees to hemlocks, cedars and Douglas firs.
Dusty and I, we like to say, on Sunday, this is where we go to church. I’m in love with the old-growth forest, and I’m a patriotic American because we have those. Most of you are familiar with Portobello mushrooms. And frankly, I face a big obstacle. When I mention mushrooms to somebody, they immediately think Portobellos or magic mushrooms, their eyes glaze over, and they think I’m a little crazy. So, I hope to pierce that prejudice forever with this group. We call it mycophobia, the irrational fear of the unknown, when it comes to fungi.

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Old Farts and Flash Mobs


By  William Olkowski, PhD


Somedays you feel old, somedays young.  It’s a puzzle.  But this appellation: “An Old Fart” comes from my youth.  An ignorant youthful view of old people is that they are all wrinkled and smell funny, so that’s the fart view.  But there is one advantage the old have over the young and I will try to describe it with a few stories.

When Reagan was voted in I was aghast and thought it heralded the decline of the US and all the good things we had stood for.  I could even see the decline of civilization from that victory.  Of course I was ignorant of much of US history so knew about some good things like the rebellion against England which set us free.  Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States.[2] filled in the other side decades later.  But back in the old Reagan days with his insipid smile and stupid simplicities I knew we were doomed.

But my father in law, Dave Martin, knew vastly more than me about politics since he followed the daily news via The McNeal Learner Hour on the TV, plus he was in his 60’s at that time.  That was a time when news was news not propaganda, (maybe).  He counseled me to just view Reaganism as the swing of the pendulum, some years it swings left, some right.  So just relax and get ready for the swing back, was his view.  But he could see Alzheimer’s Disease in Reagan right from the start as his wife had it and its early signs are most easily detected.

Flash Mobs

So now it’s my turn to counsel the young, although as for that it’s the young who are really doing the counseling for me.  I spent a few hours the other night looking at flash mob videos.  I loved them.  The last one from Russia came from a friend as so many good things do for me nowadays.  Imagine dozens, hundreds and even now thousands of people dancing together, black, white, yellow, the full spectrum of humanity dancing together.   These are synchronized dances akin to Jane Fonda videos sort of exercise routines you can see at the local gym.

But at the local gym it’s mostly females doing the dance exercises.  I stop like a reflex to watch and wish I was 20 years, even 50 years younger.  There were no females in any of my entomology classes when I went to college.  What a poor history that tells.  The “flash mob” scenes I saw that night even had males and female twirling and gesturing in all sorts of innovative tangles of arms, legs, hips, head throws, you name it.  In fact the moves have no names so you have to see them to know them. Of course our mating rituals mimic many bird displays which couples engage it, so males and females dancing together, that seems normal.  What is not normal is the spirit of glee and enthusiasm demonstrated by the people, even in far off Russia with its interminable cold.  You can see the smoke like exhausts from the participants.

So what do I make of all this?  I catch some enthusiasm from these mass efforts, each of which seems utterly unique and international.  Maybe there’s hope for the world if the youth can force the older folks to wake up and groove on life and living.  So like the proverb says while there’s life there’s hope.

I used to feel this watching my sheep in the spring.  The mothers would watch as their mob of youngsters rush this way and that, in mass with excited abandon.  Some lambs just jumping for joy at being alive.  The older females had a sort of knowing tiredness looking at this sort of display.  Anyway that was what I thought was going on.

What is Going On?

Another learning experience caps my feelings of hope for the future.  This comes out of a long resentment I carried around for decades over my blackballing from the UC Department of Entomology.  When the college kids now doing part time work as fundraisers call me as an alumni of UC Berkeley I told the last one that I no longer felt any kinship with my alma mater, largely because of my treatment years before.  Some background is important.  I showed up at UC, Berkeley with a tiny suitcase to attend to a career as a parasitologist, mostly because of a great teacher I had back in U. of Delaware, Paul Catts.  When I took his medical entomology course I was blown away by his ideas and particularly his drawings on the blackboard.

He would draw the insects on the black board when lecturing about fleas, ticks, flies, mosquitoes, what ever, and he would show the adaptations for parasitism, be they the laterally depressed bodies of fleas which helps them move through fur, or the tarsal adaptations lice had for holding onto hairs.  For me his animated stories were an introduction to evolution I never really understood from my biology classes, which seemed rather sterile presentations of DNA, and how genes made proteins, etc.  These stories were about molecules nobody really sees, just our scientific priesthood.  Teaching biology by talking about molecules just does not carry the story of our evolution.  But life histories of beings who learned how to live unusual lives did it for me.

Going to Berkeley

So I followed his teaching and recommendation to go on to Berkeley.  It was 1967. Berkeley then, was the hotbed of rebellious youth who were objecting to the latest war, Vietnam.  Again I got an education, but this time it was atSproulPlaza, not in the classroom, with speakers from the community and the college, many students and a sprinkle of tenured faculty.  They shouted then as I do now that war is not the answer.  In fact, given our recent history I would say unless a massive invasion of theUSwas eminent war never will be the answer.  Hiltler’s efforts to capture and rule the world, is worth a war, however.  Since then war has been a waste of good people, intelligence, and vast resources.

Even today an invasion of the US is remote.  Yes, cleaver people can use our fragile structural complex organization against us, as the plane hijackers proved.  But it was not an invasion, more like a commando attack, so well developed by the British commandos against the German war machine in the 1940’s.  And we knew about the plane attack but dropped the ball.  $40 billion per year is what we put into spying on the world and we dropped the ball!!  My reaction to these attacks is that we must get smarter, not build a massive military machine which demoralizes us, wastes talented labor and resources better used to improve our lives.

Improvements here in education, liberty and justice, and environmental health can tell a better story of who we are than drones, better tanks, missiles and air assaults.  Although every national bully now knows who is the biggest and baddest bully on the block.  Fighting bullies by becoming the biggest bully is just an inadequate solution like Reagan’s trickle down theory, so simplistic that it trips on itself.  It’s even laughable if it were not so disastrous in murdering by-standers and even so-called soldiers.  It’s like our current presidential race, or should I say endurance contest, with another level of enormous fiduciary and human waste.

Old Age as a Teacher

But my old age is teaching me to look back with a fresh brain and think about what actually happened when the kangaroo court met at the Gill Tract years ago after I got my PHD and told me that my work was not research.  They thought that I should leave the laboratory the head of the Division provided for me, my wife, and student helpers.  The direct personal disparagement was shocking and I tried to defend myself but it seemed like so much hate surfaced that I could no longer look these people in the eye.  My boss, Robert van den Bosch was not there, nor were those professors who signed my thesis so the attack was timed just right.  It was like a sneak commando attack.  I staggered home, told my wife we must leave and started to search for another way to go ahead with what we had started.

Eventually we formed our own non-profit organization after a few years with the John Muir Institute, headed by Max and Julie Linn.  These people were examples for us as to how a couple could make some waves by setting up their own institute and do special research, which no academic organization with its hide bound traditions could even contemplate.  They adopted us and taught us how to operate a non-profit.  In characteristic fashion I thought we could do it all better.

Later we left that organization and set up our own.   We called the new non-profit the BioIntegal Resource Center (BIRC) as we had ideas about a great deal more than just pest control, which was a major and continuing emphasis as the years continued to rush by.

Rest from Saving the World to Save Ourselves

Now after a almost 10 year break with that BIRC effort I can look back over a rest period devoted to travel and art from which my brain got diverted away from saving the world to how to live a good life for me and my wife.  We were lucky to have the support of her family and as always our friends.

So now here is the gist of it all.  Looking back to those dumb bastards who pushed us out of the University, they actually did us a great service.  Without that push I may not have searched out an organizational framework where my wife and I along with our rag tag collection of volunteers and staff gave the world a shake or two.  Integrated Pest Management or its common abbreviation “IPM” was our wagon train and we took the road east from the west and tried to bring up the east coast entomology world up to the standard of the west with its Biological Control history.   We certainly spread the Rachel Carson theme and met some great people doing the same.

And that road has made all the difference as I can see the future day when pesticide reduction will become the law of the land.  It’s already the zeitgeist in the small community of thoughtful people who always lead the sheep.  I just wonder how much time is left to see real changes.  Ever hopeful, let’s shuck off the Supreme Court’s corporate personhood inspired coup and shuck off the moneylenders who dominate our democracy.  Let’s flash dance our way out of the mess.