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Monday, May 4

Brain damage, malnutrition and drought: many kids really can't spell "internet"

Rainforest cleared for oil palm plantations. Photo: Rhett A. Butler

I'm tossing this one out for those who ask whether there's a real emergency with water shortages. Oh no, it's just that I have nothing to do with my time except put up posts on water issues.  All right, Pundita, don't start in.  Yes there's an emergency, for several reasons that are aren't readily obvious. 

One is that solutions can have long lead times to implement. Particularly because many solutions include dismantling preexisting solutions.

Meanwhile, it's not what we do today, it's how fast we can do it. Turn around and a business has become an industry, then blink and it's a global industry.  

How?  Templates. It took many years to hash out the templates for setting up an industry such as factory work outsourcing in foreign countries.  But once the template was created, then even a small business could play at being big-time global corporation.  

So you have these two factors pushing against each other:  long lead time for solution, against short lead time for expansion.  

And it's a really long lead time for a solution when it involves the livelihoods of millions and even hundreds of millions of people.  Biofuel is a perfect illustration.  That industry became globalized within about a decade, and it's not just agribusiness.  Tata in India came out with a $2,500 car that runs on biofuel.  And how many farm laborers globally work for agribusinesses that grow plants for biofuels?   

So when people say, 'Oh now we see that biofuels are no good' -- yeah, well, it's a little late in the day to roll up that industry in quick time.  Meantime, the downsides of biofuels pile up faster and faster. 

Welcome to the 21st Century, wherein "back to the drawing board" takes on a whole new meaning. You have to wear rolllerblades just to catch up with the board.

Another reason an emergency is afoot is that the human brain's highest cognitive functions are the first to go in the fetus when the mother carrying the fetus is severely malnourished. 

Don't quote me on this but I vaguely recall the phenomenon was first studied in organized fashion during a famine in an African country, maybe Ethiopia, maybe something like 40 years ago.  The tragic circumstances, which could never be humanely replicated in the lab, provided brain scientists with the rare opportunity to study what happens to the human brain when it's born of a severely malnourished mother.  

I do clearly recall one scientist saying there was no way to make up the difference; babies born of the famine would never be able to process highly abstract information when they grew up.  

That turned out to be the problem in Haiti. Many of the mothers there were severely malnourished, even resorting to eating baked mud to fill up their stomachs. USAID and some other agencies got the idea of turning the country into a mini-Shenzhen factory plantation, to get the Haitians working. Then they found out many of the Haitians they tried to train for the factory work couldn't mentally process the instructions needed to work on the assembly line.

Much modern factory work is demanding on the higher cognitive functions; the manuals can require a college education to understand

So that's how a city that wasn't built for that many people got stuffed with a rapid influx of tens of thousands, many of whom died in the 2010 earthquake.  Haitians from all over the country had piled into Port au Prince, waiting for their factory jobs, jobs that never materialized.  

The situation exists even here in the USA.  There is so much food, so many free feeding programs, that one would have to be living far out in the boonies to ever go hungry.  But that doesn't take into account dope.  

Doper pregnant women can be so strung out on crack or meth or heroin or whatever that they're too messed up to hie themselves to the soup kitchens, food banks, etc.  Their offspring show the same brain damage found in famine babies.  It could be the same for offspring of alcoholics.

The point is that we shouldn't have to see the bodies piled up or waves of drought refugees trying to get across a national border before recognizing there's an emergency.  

Americans are very limited in what they can do to solve the water shortage crises in other countries -- except in one respect. That is the famous Monkey See Monkey Do aspect of human nature. 

It was barely 15 minutes before protests against police brutality broke out in the USA before Israelis just had to have their own protests.

No matter how many complaints there are about America, everyone wants to have what the top dog has and act the way the top dog does.  That impulse applies through history. Gurdjieff once observed that around the turn of the last century, you could sell anything to the Russians if you called it French. 

Part of the impulse is competitive, of course, but that's just the point.

The biggest thing Americans could do for the rest of the world right now is get very busy in a very obvious way dealing with their own water problems.  That would make it chic, you understand.  


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