What I'm Reading (Sept. 2)

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The family farmer in the age of industrial farming, the yoga of sex, cyberhacking and biometrics, and the future of robotic farming.


“A key component of the practice is not tilling the soil. Untilled soil, Stein explains, retains nutrients important to plants’ growth. It also sequesters carbon, helping reduce the release of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas, into the atmosphere. Traditionally, and especially in industrial agriculture, farmers prepare the soil by tilling it with a tractor. Tilling churns the surface of the soil, aerates it, and allows it to be mixed with plant material or fertilizer for the next planting.”

This is not an ode to non-tilling farming, but it looks at how the family farm survives on more than community-supported agriculture. It is also a microcosm of the impact of regulation and Big Farm on an American icon, the small family farmer. From Nautil.us, The Ecology of Good Weed

“I firmly believe the scientific method is a wonder. It’s a framework that offers one of the best ways to test ideas about how the world works. But when it comes to thinking about how to help people through life’s travails, we scientists shouldn’t be starting from scratch. If we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, most of the debates that stoke animosity between science and religion evaporate. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. To ignore that body of knowledge is to slow the progress of science itself and limit its potential benefit to humanity.”

I suppose I should point out that some may find this a bit suggestive, but the article takes a deeper dive into the science behind tantric yoga. We experience and learn about the world through our bodies; science embodies and extends that idea. But to understand where East meets West, we need to look more closely at our day-to-day experiences; it seems that tantric yoga is one of many portals. Once again, from Nautil.us, The Transcendence of Tantric Sex

“By 2011, a decade after 9/11, the Department of Defense maintained approximately 4.8 million biometric records of people in Afghanistan and Iraq, with about 630,000 of the records collected using HIIDE devices. Also by that time, the US Army and its military partners in the Afghan government were using biometric-enabled intelligence or biometric cyberintelligence on the battlefield to identify and track insurgents.

Over the years, to support these military objectives, the Department of Defense aimed to create a biometric database on 80% of the Afghan population, approximately 32 million people at today’s population level.”

Cyberwarfare involves more than hacking critical infrastructure and drones; it begins with identifying your adversaries and targets. The technologies developed in the military often come to serve civilian needs, like meal rations becoming TV dinners or communication becoming the Internet. Biometric devices are everywhere and not just used for policing; you can find them in one of those Amazon cashier-less stores. [1] From The Conversation, The Taliban reportedly have control of US biometric devices – a lesson in life-and-death consequences of data privacy

“Agriculture inherently is an intentional shaping of the ecology of a particular place,” says Emily Reisman, a human-environment geographer at the University of Buffalo. We remove wildlife, degrade the soil, and clear the land to better grow food, as well as spray chemicals to ward off pests and disease.”

What will AI do to agriculture? From Wired, Is the Robot-Filled Future of Farming a Nightmare or Utopia?


 [1]  “Inside the sleek, modern store, the selection felt a lot like that of any mid-sized grocery chain—a combination of the company’s private label products (Amazon brands and Whole Foods’ 365) alongside local staples and national names. Unlike at Whole Foods, there was plenty of Pepsi. 

I made my selections, and then, as promised, I just walked out. The company accomplishes this feat with hundreds of ceiling-mounted cameras, backed up by grocery shelves that double as scales. The aesthetic effect of this can be weirdly uncluttered displays of items like single-serve yogurt or packaged paper plates, and some near-empty shelves.”

Buying Groceries, the Amazon Way