Saturday, January 31, 2009

simply pathetic.....,

intertribal tensions test eu rules...,

Washington Post | Workers carrying placards that said "British jobs for British workers" staged demonstrations at more than a dozen refineries and power stations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The workers are protesting a decision by Total, the French oil company, to award a $280 million contract to an Italian firm, IREM, for work at a plant in Lincolnshire, England. The project will involve about 400 foreign workers.

Nearly 2 million Britons are jobless, the highest unemployment level since 1997. As job losses mount, officials are reporting increasing antagonism toward foreign workers.

European Union rules require a free flow of labor among member nations. And officials have cautioned that such an important pillar of European unity should not be undermined by an economic downturn.

Hundreds of thousands of Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians and other newer members of the European Union flocked to Britain in recent years as the country's economy boomed. But as recession hit, and the buying power of Britain's pound has fallen sharply, increasing numbers of immigrants are returning home. Those who remain are competing with local workers for a far smaller pool of jobs.

serotonin hegemony?

Big Don shares science news;
LATimes | The normally solitary insects cluster when the brain chemical serotonin is high. The finding may be a step toward preventing crop damage, an expert says.

Desert locusts are normally solitary individuals who eke out a meager subsistence while avoiding others of their species. But when food sources become abundant, such as after a rain, they transform into ravening packs of billions of insects that can strip a landscape bare.

The key to the transformation, researchers said Friday, is the brain chemical serotonin, the chemical that in humans modulates anger, aggression, mood, appetite, sexuality and a host of other behaviors.

The locusts swarm when contact with one another triples their serotonin levels, British and Australian researchers reported in the journal Science.
I woke up this morning to find a message in my inbox from BD titled "serotonin hegemony". While the political implications of the animal model in question give pause - evoking as they do a serotonin re-uptake inhibited rave, the summer of love, godless communism, and biblical plagues - I have to give him props for the ergodic sweep of his gesture.

mexico city rationing water

LATimes | Already-scarce water gets even scarcer this weekend for millions of Mexicans.

One of the world's largest cities is launching a rationing plan in a drastic -- and some say overdue -- effort to conserve water after rampant development, mismanagement and reduced rainfall caused supplies to drop to dangerously low levels.

Starting Saturday, water will be cut or reduced to homes in at least 10 boroughs in Mexico City plus 11 other municipalities in the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital. The action affects an estimated 5.5 million people and includes neighborhoods ranging from affluent Lomas de Chapultepec on the western edge of the city to poor, densely populated Iztapalapa in the southeast.

Full service is expected to be returned sometime Tuesday. Similar cuts will be carried out every month until the rainy season begins, usually around May.

"We are running out of water," Jorge Efren Villalon, a senior official with the National Water Commission, told Mexican radio Thursday.

The level at the main reservoir from which this urban area of nearly 20 million people gets its water for drinking and washing has dipped below 60% of capacity, Villalon said, the lowest in 16 years.

Water management is one of the most daunting chronic problems, like trash disposal and traffic flow, plaguing sprawling cities across the world. Experts say Mexico has failed to take actions needed to upgrade aqueducts, pipes and treatment plants and has allowed construction projects in areas that should be used for catching runoff and replenishing aquifers.

california's historic drought

Reuters | A new survey of California winter snows on Thursday showed the most populous state is facing one of the worst droughts in its history, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said.

The state, which produces about half the United States' vegetables and fruit, is in its third year of drought and its main system supplying water to cities and farms may only be able to fulfill 15 percent of requests, scientists said.

The snowpack on California's mountains is carrying only 61 percent of the water of normal years, according to the survey by the state Department of Water Resources. Last year the snowpack held 111 percent of the normal amount of water, but spring was the driest ever recorded.

"California is headed toward one of the worst water crises in its history, underscoring the need to upgrade our water infrastructure by increasing water storage, improving conveyance, protecting the (Sacramento) Delta's ecosystem and promoting greater water conservation," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

"We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history," added Water Resources Director Lester Snow in a separate statement.

Friday, January 30, 2009

oh lawd.....,

The Republican National Committee has elected former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele the first black Republican National Committee chairman. Steele was the most moderate candidate in the field and was considered an outsider because he's not an RNC member. He beat back four challengers, including incumbent Mike Duncan, who was forced to withdraw from the field midway through the balloting in the face of a lack of support.

Comes now the new fangled face of the GOP's anti-Black propaganda.

ay, yai,yai,yai,yai,yai.....,

tightening-up on pakistan

Washington Post | Inside a chandeliered ballroom Thursday, Indian diplomats and business leaders and American officials held forth about a new "Cooperation Triangle" for the United States, China and India. But little mention was made at the Asia Foundation's conference on Indo-U.S. relations of the Indian government's recent diplomatic slam-dunk.

India managed to prune the portfolio of the Obama administration's top envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke -- basically eliminating the contested region of Kashmir from his job description. The deletion is seen as a significant diplomatic concession to India that reflects increasingly warm ties between the country and the United States, according to South Asia analysts.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have yet to comment on the Kashmir decision. But other South Asia experts say that taking Kashmir out of Holbrooke's hands may upset Pakistan and that there may be back-channel negotiations anyway.

u.s. blamed for global financial crisis

Times Online | The premiers of China and Russia accused America of sparking the economic crisis as the Davos political and business summit made a gloomy start.

Wen Jiabao and Vladimir Putin both blamed "capitalist excesses" for the global downturn, as one followed the other to the podium at the opening of the World Economic Forum last night.

The Chinese premier began with a speech asserting that the worst recession since the Great Depression had been caused by blind pursuit of profit.

In a thinly veiled attack on America, Mr Wen blamed “inappropriate macroeconomic policies of some economies” and “prolonged low savings and high consumption”.

He blasted the “excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit and the lack of self-discipline among financial institutions and ratings agencies”, while the “failure” of regulators had allowed the spread of toxic derivatives.

The Chinese leader called for faster reform of international financial institutions and for a “new world order” for the economy.

putin q&a after davos keynote address

Dallas News | After Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin gave a speech this week at the Davos summit on a variety of topics, Michael Dell (who knows something about building computers) asked in an open forum how the IT industry could help expand information technology in Russia.

Apparently that was the equivalent of insulting Putin's mother, as Fortune reports:
Russia has been allergic to offers of aid from the West ever since hundreds of overpaid consultants arrived in Moscow after the collapse of Communism, in 1991, and proceeded to hand out an array of advice that proved, at times, useless or dangerous.

Putin's withering reply to Dell: "We don't need help. We are not invalids. We don't have limited mental capacity." The slapdown took many of the people in the audience by surprise. Putin then went on to outline some of the steps the Russian government has taken to wire up the country, including remote villages in Siberia. And, in a final dig at Dell, he talked about how Russian scientists were rightly respected not for their hardware, but for their software. The implication: Any old fool can build a PC outfit.
Here's a video of the exchange (it happens right at the beginning). It's hard to tell from the video how much of the insult was intended and how much was just lost in translation, but Putin clearly isn't inviting Dell to open a factory in Volgograd.

putin's speech at davos

Russian Federation | The current situation is often compared to the Great Depression of the late 1920s and the early 1930s, and it is true that there are some similarities.

However, there are also some basic differences. The crisis has affected everyone in this era of globalisation. Regardless of their political or economic system, all nations have found themselves in the same boat.

There is a certain concept, called the perfect storm, which denotes a situation when Nature's forces converge in one point of the ocean and increase their destructive potential many times over. It appears that the present-day crisis resembles such a perfect storm.

Responsible and knowledgeable economists and politicians must prepare for it. Nevertheless, it always flares up unexpectedly-just like the Russian winter. We always make painstaking preparations for the cold season, yet it always arrives in an unexpected flash. The current situation is no exception, either. Although the crisis was simply hanging in the air, the majority did not want to notice the rising wave.

In the last few months, virtually every speech on this subject started with criticism of the United States. This time, however, I will do nothing of the kind.

I just want to remind you that, just a year ago, American delegates speaking from this rostrum emphasised the U.S. economy's fundamental stability and its cloudless prospects. Today, investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist. In just 12 months, they have posted losses exceeding the profits they made in the last 25 years-an unprecedented scope! This example alone reflects the real situation better than any criticism.

The time for enlightenment has come. We must calmly, and without gloating, without going into excessive details, assess the root causes of this situation and try to peek into the future.

In our opinion, the crisis was brought about by a combination of several factors.

the old ones return....,

Telegraph | The Turritopsis Nutricula is able to revert back to a juvenile form once it mates after becoming sexually mature.

Marine biologists say the jellyfish numbers are rocketing because they need not die.

Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: "We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."

While the talking apes pursue their self-destructive antics worldwide, the immortal spawn of the elder gods is awakening from its ancient slumber.

The nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh ... was built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults . . . until the end.
—H. P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"

frozen in indifference....,

Detroit News | Inside the abandoned Roosevelt Warehouse in Detroit, a body lies frozen in a block of ice. "Yeah, he's been down there since last month at least."

He was asked if he called the police.

"No, I thought it was a dummy myself," he said unconvincingly. Besides, Williams said, there were more pressing issues like keeping warm and finding something to eat.

"You got a couple bucks?" he asked.

Waiting for a response
There are at least 19,000 homeless people in Detroit, by some estimates. Put another way, more than 1 in 50 people here are homeless.

The human problem is so bad, and the beds so few, that some shelters in the city provide only a chair. The chair is yours as long as you sit in it. Once you leave, the chair is reassigned.

Thousands of down-on-their-luck adults do nothing more with their day than clutch onto a chair. This passes for normal in some quarters of the city.

"I hate that musical chair game," Ruben said. He said he'd rather live next to a corpse.

Zimbabwe abandons its currency

BBC News | The country is in the grip of world-record hyperinflation which has left the Zimbabwean dollar virtually worthless - 231m% in July 2008, the most recent figure released. Teachers, doctors and civil servants have gone on strike complaining that their salaries - which equal trillions of Zimbabwean dollars - are not even enough to catch the bus to work each day.

A 40-year-old Zimbabwean primary school teacher from the capital Harare, told the BBC news website earlier this week it cost nearly US$2 a day to travel to work, but inflation had reduced the average teacher's wage to the equivalent of US$1 a month.

He said he now made a living reselling maize to families in high density areas, as it made more money than teaching. Before the announcement, shops in Zimbabwe were increasingly demanding payment in US dollars - a reality acknowledged by Mr Chinamasa.

"In the hyper-inflationary environment characterising the economy, our people are now using multiple currencies alongside the Zimbabwean dollar. These include the [South African] rand, US dollar, Botswana pula, euro and British pound among others."

Correspondents say that although the local currency will still be printed, all prices will be set in US dollars, making the Zimbabwe dollar irrelevant.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

consequences of regional scale nuclear conflict

Abstract. We assess the potential damage and smoke production associated with the detonation of small nuclear weapons in modern megacities. While the number of nuclear warheads in the world has fallen by about a factor of three since its peak in 1986, the number of nuclear weapons states is increasing and the potential exists for numerous regional nuclear arms races. Eight countries are known to have nuclear weapons, 2 are constructing them, and an additional 32 nations already have the fissile material needed to build substantial arsenals of low-yield (Hiroshima-sized) explosives.

Population and economic activity worldwide are congregated to an increasing extent in megacities, which might be targeted in a nuclear conflict. We find that low yield weapons, which new nuclear powers are likely to construct, can produce 100 times as many fatalities and 100 times as much smoke from fires per kt yield as previously estimated in analyses for full scale nuclear wars using high-yield weapons, if the small weapons are targeted at city centers. A single “small” nuclear detonation in an urban center could lead to more fatalities, in some cases by orders of magnitude, than have occurred in the major historical conflicts of many countries.

We analyze the likely outcome of a regional nuclear exchange involving 100 15-kt explosions (less than 0.1% of the explosive yield of the current global nuclear arsenal). We find that such an exchange could produce direct fatalities comparable to all of those worldwide in World War II, or to those once estimated for a “counterforce” nuclear war between the superpowers.

Putin, Energy, the Russian Agenda

NYTimes | The titans of Russia’s energy industry gathered around an enormous map showing the route of a proposed new pipeline in Siberia. It would cost billions and had been years in the planning. After listening to their presentation, President Vladimir V. Putin frowned, got up from his chair, whipped out a felt pen and redrew the map right in front of the embarrassed executives, who quickly agreed to his alternative.

The performance, which was carried on state television in 2006, was obviously stage managed, but there was nothing artificial about its point. It was a typical performance for a leader who has shown an uncanny mastery of the economics, politics and even technical details of the energy business that goes well beyond a politician taking an interest in an important national industry.

“I would describe it as very much his personal project,” said Clifford G. Gaddy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and an expert in Russia’s energy policy. “It is the heart of what he has done from the very beginning.”

Indeed, from his earliest days in power in 2000, Mr. Putin, who left the presidency in 2008 and became prime minister, decided natural resource exports and energy in particular would not only finance the country’s economic rebirth but also help restore Russia’s lost greatness after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Just this month, Mr. Putin’s personal immersion in the topic was on full display as he ordered natural gas shut off to Ukraine, in the process cutting supplies to Europe. It was portrayed by the Kremlin as a protracted commercial dispute with Ukraine. But the hundreds of thousands of shivering gas customers in the Balkans and Eastern Europe sent an unmistakable message about the Continent’s reliance on Russian supplies — and Mr. Putin’s willingness to wield energy as a political weapon.

no more bogeyman....,

NYTimes | In his first White House televised interview, with the Al Arabiya news network based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, President Obama buried the lead: The war on terror is over.

Yes, the with-us-or-against-us global struggle — the so-called Long War — in which a freedom-loving West confronts the undifferentiated forces of darkness comprising everything from Al Qaeda to elements of the Palestinian national struggle under the banner of “Islamofascism” has been terminated.

What’s left is what matters: defeating terrorist organizations. That’s not a war. It’s a strategic challenge.

The new president’s abandonment of post-9/11 Bush doctrine is a critical breakthrough. It resolves nothing but opens the way for a rapprochement with a Muslim world long cast into the “against-us” camp. Nothing good in Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan or Iran could happen with that Manichean chasm.
Now that the GOP has lost its domestic moorings as the party of anti-Black backlash, comes the double-whammy of having its favorite external bogeyman snatched from the domain of the consensus hallucination. With no more islamo-fascist bogeymen to scare innocent tow-headed children at night - who will the base turn its attentions to in order to feed and satisfy its primal fear and loathing addiction?

gop - who are we?

Washington Post | "We're in this rebuilding time," Monica Notzon, a Washington-based Republican fundraiser, helpfully explained this month. "Trying to figure out who we are."

It is into this new world order, this Washington version of an existential whorl, that a steadfastly loyal group of Republicans descend this week, skidding into an iced-over landscape and holing up at the Capital Hilton beginning yesterday for a four-day winter meeting of the Republican National Committee. (Not to be missed on the restorative agenda: a "Reboot the RNC" open house.) They've themed the whole get-together "Republican for a Reason," and left it at that.

"Republican for a reason?" says Stephen Scheffler, a committeeman from Iowa, pausing before a banner carrying the slogan. "I don't know what that means."

This is not an occasion for high-fives. The committee is getting together to choose a new chairman, settling an unusually intense competition that includes former Maryland lieutenant governor and current omnipresent talking head Michael Steele. It will also consider whether to issue a call to put the kibosh on President Obama's stimulus plan and any future industry bailouts. A few young women in blue T-shirts hand out stickers promoting a candidate for chairman, Saul Anuzis, of Michigan. None of the other candidates seem to bother.

The members linger over soup in the hotel restaurant and chat quietly in the hallway. Ron Kaufman -- a committeeman who was tight with Daddy Bush -- tries to sell a couple of fellow members on the virtues of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead." Eventually the group files behind closed doors to commiserate in secret. Beginning today it will open things up for publicly consumable speechifying.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer

PBS | Robert Oppenheimer's life and legacy are inextricably linked to America's most famous top-secret initiative -- the Manhattan Project. But after World War II, this brilliant and intense scientist, tasked with the development of the atomic bomb and widely considered one of the most important minds of the twentieth century, fell from the innermost circles of American scientific policy. At the height of the Red Scare, the veil of suspicion fell over J. Robert Oppenheimer. He was accused of having communist sympathies and was pressed to explain his relationships with known communists.

This biography will present a complex and revealing portrait of one of the most influential American scientists. Interweaving interviews with family members, scholars and colleagues with dramatic recreations featuring Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck, and The Bourne Ultimatum), this film follows J. Robert Oppenheimer on a fascinating arc from the heady world of international physics to the top-secret Manhattan Project, and finally to the dark days of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.

agenda for U.S.-Russian relations in 2009

Brookings | As President Barack Obama takes charge of the Oval Office, he confronts a wary and assertive Russia among the many foreign policy challenges in his inbox. Moscow desires to reclaim “great power” status, an ambition fueled over the past five years by hundreds of billions of dollars in energy revenues. Its desires are colored by a bitter perception that the West took advantage of Russian weakness in the 1990s and that Washington has failed to take serious account of Moscow’s interests. Building a more sustainable relationship with Russia will not prove easy.

Securing Russian help in controlling nuclear materials, pressuring Iran not to acquire nuclear arms, and countering international terrorism is very much in the U.S. interest. Getting Russia right, however, will require a carefully considered, focused and sustained Russia policy, not just treating Russia as a function of the U.S. approach to other issues. Washington should seek to put U.S.-Russian relations on a more solid footing.

Building areas of cooperation not only can advance specific U.S. goals, it can reduce frictions on other issues. Further, the more there is to the bilateral relationship, the greater the interest it will hold for Russia, and the greater the leverage Washington will have with Moscow. The thin state of U.S.-Russian relations in August gave the Kremlin little reason for pause before answering the Georgian military incursion into South Ossetia with a large and disproportionate response. Washington should strive to build a relationship so that, should a similar crisis arise in the future, Russian concern about damaging relations with the United States would exercise a restraining influence.

nations barter to secure food...,

Financial Times | In a striking example of how the global financial crisis and high food prices have strained the finances of poor and middle-income nations, countries including Russia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Morocco say they have signed or are discussing inter-government and barter deals to import commodities from rice to vegetable oil.

The revival of these trade practices, used rarely in the last 20 years and usually by nations subject to international embargoes and the old communist bloc, is a result of the countries’ failure to secure trade financing as bank lending has dried up.

The countries have not disclosed the value of any deals, and some have refused even to confirm their existence. Officials estimated that they ranged from $5m for smaller contracts to more than $500m for the biggest.

Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, said senior government officials, including heads of state, had told the WFP they were facing “difficulties” obtaining credit to purchase food. “This could be a big problem,” she told the Financial Times.
Countries struggling to secure credit have resorted to barter and secretive government-to-government deals to buy food, with some contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"The true nature of the international system under which we were living was not realized until it failed. Hardly anyone understood the political function of the international monetary system; the awful suddenness of the transformation thus took the world completely by surprise... To liberal economists the gold standard was purely an economic institution; they refused even to consider it as a part of a social mechanism. Thus it happened that the democratic countries were the last to realize the true nature of the catastrophe and the slowest to counter its effects. Not even when the cataclysm was already upon them did their leaders see that behind the collapse of the international system there stood a long development within the most advanced countries which made that system anachronistic; in other words, the failure of market economy itself still escaped them." [p. 20]

"The transformation came on even more abruptly than is usually realized. World War I and the postwar revolutions still formed part of the nineteenth century. The conflict of 1914-18 merely precipitated and immeasurably aggravated a crisis that it did not create. But the roots of the dilemma could not be discerned at the time…The dissolution of the system of world economy which had been in progress since 1900 was responsible for the political tension that exploded in
1914." [p. 21]

THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, by Karl Polanyi; Beacon, 1957

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

lsd and dying

Digital Seance | Modern pharmacology’s ability to synthesize psychoactive drugs has made the psychedelic experience-one that can encourage memories to arise as well as induce and mimic an ecstatic, mystical state-a common and widespread phenomenon for many Americans, and especially for the baby boom generation. Now, some are beginning to regard these drug experiences as a way to prepare for the shift in consciousness that may occur in dying.

For many, the first glimpses of the transcendent power of dreams or controlled images arose with psychedelic drugs. And so, many therapists and physicians are now beginning to consider using these drugs as a means for helping patients prepare for death. In a way, it is utilizing what many baby boomers have already learned about merging with dream images or using controlled hallucinations, taking that to a next step for use in a far more disciplined and traditionally organized way.

Such preparatory, visionary experiences were once practiced only by Native American or Aborigine shamans or medicine men, within sacred ceremonies, and by non-Western cultures that incorporated as part of their social milieu the nonordinary states of mind that psychotropic plants can create.

The modern synthesis of plant medicines into psilocybin or LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), however, removed the religious moorings from these experiences, opening them to potential abuse as party drugs. At the same time, it introduced vast numbers of people to altered states of mind that previously had been known only through religious rites and visions.

real magic...,

New Dimensions | Mushrooms are our ancestors. Mycelium fields have a consciousness. Most importantly, they create the soil on which all of life on earth depends. And yet, we have identified less than ten percent of all species of mushrooms, and we're rapidly destroying the habitat they-and we-need to survive. As Paul Stamets says, "We are Neanderthals with nuclear weapons. I sense that our descendents are screaming back from the future saying, 'Wake up. Don't you see?' We have all this ability with Google, and the internet, and the ability to do DNA coding, and yet we don't have the most elementary understanding of the very organisms that generate the soil that gives us life." Mr. Stamets has made it his life's work to change that, and with this interview you can join him in that endeavor. You'll hear fascinating stories of the healing power of mushrooms, and how they may play a key role in reversing the destructive impact our modern technology and industry have had on our planet. His passion for his work is clear, and he's likely to inoculate you with a fascination for these organisms who have so very much to teach us. Listen free till February 4th.

second snow in recorded history

National | Snow covered the Jebel Jais area for only the second time in recorded history yesterday.

So rare was the event that one lifelong resident said the local dialect had no word for it.

According to the RAK Government, temperatures on Jebel Jais dropped to -3°C on Friday night. On Saturday, the area had reached 1°C.

Major Saeed Rashid al Yamahi, a helicopter pilot and the manager of the Air Wing of RAK Police, said the snow covered an area of five kilometres and was 10cm deep.

“The sight up there this morning was totally unbelievable, with the snow-capped mountain and the entire area covered with fresh, dazzling white snow,” Major al Yamahi said.

“The snowfall started at 3pm Friday, and heavy snowing began at 8pm and continued till midnight, covering the entire area in a thick blanket of snow. Much of the snow was still there even when we flew back from the mountain this afternoon. It is still freezing cold up there and there are chances that it might snow again tonight.”

Aisha al Hebsy, a woman in her 50s who has lived in the mountains near Jebel Jais all her life, said snowfall in the area was so unheard of the local dialect does not even have a word for it. Hail is known as bared, which literally translates as cold. “Twenty years ago we had lots of hail,” said Ms al Hebsy. “Last night was like this. At four in the morning we came out and the ground was white.”

unintended irony...,

DNI | "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World" is the fourth unclassified report prepared by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in recent years that takes a long-term view of the future. It offers a fresh look at how key global trends might develop over the next 15 years to influence world events. Our report is not meant to be an exercise in prediction or crystal ball-gazing. Mindful that there are many possible "futures," we offer a range of possibilities and potential discontinuities, as a way of opening our minds to developments we might otherwise miss.

Some of our preliminary assessments are highlighted below:

* The whole international system—as constructed following WWII—will be revolutionized. Not only will new players—Brazil, Russia, India and China— have a seat at the international high table, they will bring new stakes and rules of the game.
* The unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from West to East now under way will continue for the foreseeable future.
* Unprecedented economic growth, coupled with 1.5 billion more people, will put pressure on resources—particularly energy, food, and water—raising the specter of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.
* The potential for conflict will increase owing partly to political turbulence in parts of the greater Middle East.

As with the earlier NIC efforts—such as Mapping The Global Future 2020—the project's primary goal is to provide US policymakers with a view of how world developments could evolve, identifying opportunities and potentially negative developments that might warrant policy action. We also hope this paper stimulates a broader discussion of value to educational and policy institutions at home and abroad.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Deus ex Machina

IEEE Spectrum | Across cultures, classes, and aeons, people have yearned to transcend death.

Bear that history in mind as you consider the creed of the singularitarians. Many of them fervently believe that in the next several decades we’ll have computers into which you’ll be able to upload your consciousness—the mysterious thing that makes you you. Then, with your consciousness able to go from mechanical body to mechanical body, or virtual paradise to virtual paradise, you’ll never need to face death, illness, bad food, or poor cellphone reception.

Now you know why the singularity has also been called the rapture of the geeks.

The singularity is supposed to begin shortly after engineers build the first computer with greater-than-human intelligence. That achievement will trigger a series of cycles in which superintelligent machines beget even smarter machine progeny, going from generation to generation in weeks or days rather than decades or years. The availability of all that cheap, mass-­produced brilliance will spark explosive economic growth, an unending, hypersonic, tech­no­industrial rampage that by comparison will make the Industrial Revolution look like a bingo game.

At that point, we will have been sucked well beyond the event horizon of the singularity. It might be nice there, on the other side—by definition, you can’t know for sure. Sci-fi writers, though, have served up lots of scenarios in which humankind becomes the prey, rather than the privileged beneficiaries, of synthetic savants.


BBC Two | Smoking babies, naked festivals, cargo cults, cow-mud slinging and serpent-handling, are just a few religious rituals explored in a new eight-part series for BBC Two, Around The World In 80 Faiths.

The series follows Anglican vicar Peter Owen Jones (last seen in BBC Two's Extreme Pilgrim) on a year long journey across six continents in a quest to explore and understand 80 very different expressions of humankind's fascination with the divine.

Braving deserts, mountains and jungles, his travels take him from Voodoo Masses in West Africa to Taoism in the mountains of China, from spiritualism in the Bible belt to Islam in Syria, and from Shamen in Lapland to a polygamous sect in America.

The big six world religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism) are only part of the story. The enormous range of beliefs in the world is expressed in a rich diversity of rituals, in big and small religions, in denominations, in sects and in cults, in tribal faiths and in new religious movements.

If you want to see the episodes, unless you're in the UK, check them out at this youtube channel.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

circling the drain....,

Washington Post | The world economy is deteriorating more quickly than leading economists predicted only weeks ago, with Britain yesterday becoming the latest nation to surprise analysts with the depth of its economic pain.

Britain posted its worst quarterly contraction since 1980 on the heels of sharper than expected slowdowns reported from Germany to China to South Korea. The grim data, analysts said, underscores how the burst of the biggest credit bubble in history is seeping into the real economies around the world, silencing construction cranes, bankrupting businesses and throwing millions of people out of work.

"In just the past few days, we've had a big downward revision, we're seeing that an even bigger deceleration is on the way than we thought," said Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The depth of the troubles, analysts say, indicates that nations may need to spend more than the billions of dollars already planned on stimulus packages to jump-start their economies, and that a global recovery could take longer, perhaps pushing into 2010.

governance struggles in the UK

Guardian | Privately, something close to desperation is starting to develop inside government. After watching the slide in bank shares on Friday, one cabinet minister did not altogether joke when he said: "The banks are fucked, we're fucked, the country's fucked."

Speaking at a Fabian Society gathering at the weekend, Lord Mandelson was typically and disarmingly frank. "I'm not going to say to you I think we've now at least reached a set of measures and actions that almost for sure are going to work."

Referring to the banks, he said: "What they've got themselves into is so complex technically, so challenging that nobody responsible would say that this is all that needs to be done in order to put right what has gone wrong. "It's going to take more time, it's going to take more ingenuity."

As a Briton I can say that may well be an understatement. There are so many things deeply wrong with this country in so many areas that I believe we will be the first Western country to see a new Hitler emerge, so great will be the strife coming. I see it as only a matter of time. I get the feeling there's a very uneasy and hostile undercurrent in my country waiting to explode, and it seems to be building by the year - far right political parties have been rapidly gaining support for some time and it should explode as we're now heading into economic depression.
quoth Bro. Makheru;
I’m sure that there will be a xenophobic content of this unrest, but otherwise internecine conflict in Europe is just what the doctor ordered.

However, with Barack on the throne in America, once the dissidents on the left are carted away, there figures to be a rather smooth transition into martial law, except for the heavily armed right-wing patriots. I assume the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, which has been set up to quell civil unrest and do crowd control would handle them.
Every single place I've been questioned about my support of and vote for Obama Bro. Makheru, I've had one simple, consistent, and unwavering answer to offer - namely - that on his watch, certain definite backward social tendencies will not be permitted to return to fruition. The narrative die have been cast with regard to how the U.S. is going to role domestically. Agree or disagree with the policies, programs, and procedures as you see fit, but acknowledge the one definite upside fact of our political life, in the forseeable next stages of the clampdown i.e., our ability to continue to do so without concern for a dire impending need to emigrate elsewhere for the safety of kith and kin.

redrawing the european energy map

Radio Free Europe | There is no quick way for the European Union to penalize Russia and Ukraine for the gas dispute that led to a frosty two-week cutoff in natural-gas supplies this month. So, for the time being, the EU continues to receive one-quarter of its gas supplies from Russia -- and four-fifths of that via pipelines in Ukraine -- just as it did before the feud began.

But the 27-member bloc has already signaled that it will neither forgive nor forget, with EU officials exploring new energy alternatives that circumvent Ukraine, or Russia altogether.

In that sense, says Federico Bordonaro, an energy-security analyst with the Italian-based group, both Moscow and Kyiv lost something in the dispute. Moreover, with other transit countries like Belarus at the ready, one party's loss could well prove another's gain.

He says officials in Minsk are eager to "enhance the role" of the Yamal-Europe pipeline, a major route that stretches from western Siberia to Europe through Belarus, and adds that a second leg "could be carried out in a year or 18 months from now."

"It remains to be seen if everyone agrees with that," Bordonaro says, "but it's important to note that Belarus is trying to get some benefit from the Ukraine-Russia row in order to try and enhance its role as a key transit country, which could actually put it in competition with Ukraine."

Belarus has proven to be a difficult transit partner in its own right. During a pricing dispute in January 2007, Russia briefly suspended oil shipments through Belarus's Druzhba pipeline amid claims that Minsk was siphoning off shipments destined for Europe.

That row was quickly resolved, but for Russia, the ultimate goal remains a pipeline that runs directly to Europe uninterrupted by potentially quarrelsome post-Soviet neighbors.

it's a thin line.....,

Reuters | Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will try to persuade gas producer Uzbekistan that it should ignore the overtures of European suitors hunting for alternatives to Russian energy supplies.

Two weeks of fuel shortages caused by a row between Russia and Ukraine have galvanized European efforts to tap into non-Russian energy and Central Asian states are being courted.

Both Uzbekistan and its gas producing neighbor Turkmenistan pump all their exported gas via Russia, but are showing signs that they are open to new alliances -- a change that could threaten Russia's control over the region's energy.

"Uzbekistan, like its neighbors, is trying to diversify its relations," said Azhdar Kurtov of Russia's Strategic Research Institute. "That is noticeable ... in the gas sector."

Medvedev will meet Uzbek President Islam Karimov on Thursday at the start of a two-day visit, his first to the former Soviet republic since he was elected president last year.

Europe depends on Russia for a quarter of its gas and anxiety over the reliability of those supplies was increased by the Russia-Ukraine dispute, which disrupted flows to about 20 states in the European Union.

"It is unwise for one member state to rely on one country for its energy supplies. This was not secure," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said this week.

"We have to stop simply talking about energy security in Europe, and start doing something about it,"

Peak Water?

Times Online | A swelling global population, changing diets and mankind's expanding “water footprint” could be bringing an end to the era of cheap water.

The warnings, in an annual report by the Pacific Institute in California, come as ecologists have begun adopting the term “peak ecological water” — the point where, like the concept of “peak oil”, the world has to confront a natural limit on something once considered virtually infinite.

The world is in danger of running out of “sustainably managed water”, according to Peter Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute and a leading authority on global freshwater resources. Humans — via agriculture, industry and other demands - use about half of the world's renewable and accessible fresh water. But even at those levels, billions of people live without the most basic water services, Dr Gleick said.

A key element to tackling the crisis, say experts, is to increase the public understanding of the individual water content of everyday items.

A glass of orange juice, for example, needs 850 litres of fresh water to produce, according to the Pacific Institute and the Water Footprint Network, while the manufacture of a kilogram of microchips — requiring constant cleaning to remove chemicals — needs about 16,000 litres. A hamburger comes in at 2,400 litres of fresh water, depending on the origin and type of meat used.

The water will be returned in various forms to the system, although not necessarily in a location or at a quality that can be effectively reused.

There are concerns that water will increasingly be the cause of violence and even war.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

european leaders fear civil unrest

Ottowa Citizen | The latest spate of grim economic news here Thursday included a plunge in consumer spending in France, tumbling factory orders in the United Kingdom, predictions of an even deeper recession this year in Germany, and continued concern about the impact of billion-dollar bailouts of the continent's troubled banking system.

Politicians are warily eyeing the public mood that led earlier this week to riot police being forced to rescue Iceland Prime Minister Geir Haarde, whose limousine was pelted by eggs and drink cans hurled by protesters.

Iceland's government will almost certainly fall in coming days, London School of Economics professor Robert Wade told Canwest News Service Thursday.

"The situation is very tense and very unstable," said Wade, who has just returned from a visit to Iceland where he spoke to about 1,000 people about the crisis.

Thousands of protesters have participated in sometimes-violent street demonstrations in Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Greece in recent weeks.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned that Europe could face the kind of demonstrations that paralyzed several capitals in the spring of 1968.

But one analyst said Thursday that the comparison could be an understatement.

"I think fears have moved beyond chic academic protests a la May 1968 in Paris," said Fredrik Erixon of the Brussels-based European Centre for International Political Economy.

A more apt comparison for Iceland and some of the Baltic countries could be the French Revolution of 1789, he warned.

fist tap to RC

Friday, January 23, 2009

lovelock - last chance...,

New Scientist | Your work on atmospheric chlorofluorocarbons led eventually to a global CFC ban that saved us from ozone-layer depletion. Do we have time to do a similar thing with carbon emissions to save ourselves from climate change?

Not a hope in hell. Most of the "green" stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It's not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it'll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning. I am not against renewable energy, but to spoil all the decent countryside in the UK with wind farms is driving me mad. It's absolutely unnecessary, and it takes 2500 square kilometres to produce a gigawatt - that's an awful lot of countryside.

So are we doomed?

There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste - which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering - into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast.

Would it make enough of a difference?

Yes. The biosphere pumps out 550 gigatonnes of carbon yearly; we put in only 30 gigatonnes. Ninety-nine per cent of the carbon that is fixed by plants is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by consumers like bacteria, nematodes and worms. What we can do is cheat those consumers by getting farmers to burn their crop waste at very low oxygen levels to turn it into charcoal, which the farmer then ploughs into the field. A little CO2 is released but the bulk of it gets converted to carbon. You get a few per cent of biofuel as a by-product of the combustion process, which the farmer can sell. This scheme would need no subsidy: the farmer would make a profit. This is the one thing we can do that will make a difference, but I bet they won't do it.

holographic space-time

New Scientist | DRIVING through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn't look much: in the corner of a field stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a detector that stretches for 600 metres.

For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves - ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into "grains", just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. "It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time," says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

new world order or chaos?

Independent | Not since the inauguration of president John F Kennedy half a century ago has a new administration come into office with such a reservoir of expectations. It is unprecedented that all the principal actors on the world stage are avowing their desire to undertake the transformations imposed on them by the world crisis in collaboration with the United States.

The extraordinary impact of the President-elect on the imagination of humanity is an important element in shaping a new world order. But it defines an opportunity, not a policy. The ultimate challenge is to shape the common concern of most countries and all major ones regarding the economic crisis, together with a common fear of jihadist terrorism, into a strategy reinforced by the realisation that the new issues like proliferation, energy and climate change permit no national or regional solution.

The financial and political crises are, in fact, closely related partly because, during the period of economic exuberance, a gap had opened up between the economic and the political organisation of the world. The economic world has been globalised. Its institutions have a global reach and have operated by maxims that assumed a self-regulating global market. The financial collapse exposed the mirage. It made evident the absence of global institutions to cushion the shock and to reverse the trend. Inevitably, when the affected publics turned to their political institutions, these were driven principally by domestic politics, not considerations of world order. Every major country has attempted to solve its immediate problems essentially on its own and to defer common action to a later, less crisis-driven point.

So-called rescue packages have emerged on a piecemeal national basis, generally by substituting seemingly unlimited governmental credit for the domestic credit that produced the debacle in the first place, so far without achieving more than stemming incipient panic. International order will not come about either in the political or economic field until there emerge general rules toward which countries can orient themselves.

In the end, the political and economic systems can be harmonised in only one of two ways: by creating an international political regulatory system with the same reach as that of the economic world; or by shrinking the economic units to a size manageable by existing political structures, which is likely to lead to a new mercantilism, perhaps of regional units. A new Bretton Woods kind of global agreement is by far the preferable outcome.

ebola outbreak has experts rooting

Nature | When the Ebola Reston virus was discovered in pigs in the Philippines last year, it marked the virus's first known foray outside primates, and raised fears of a potential threat to human health.

Last week, a joint mission of 22 international health and veterinary experts returned from investigating the outbreak with more questions than answers about the virus's pathology and epidemiology.

The Ebola Reston virus was first discovered, in 1989, in crab-eating macaques imported to the United States from the Philippines. Since then, the virus has killed most infected monkeys, yet had no effect on the 25 people that it infected — unlike three of the four other strains of Ebola, which kill between 25% and 90% of the humans they infect.

Because few people come into close contact with primates in the Philippines, the risk of catching Ebola Reston in this way is relatively low. By contrast, the appearance of the virus in an important livestock species was unexpected and worrying, says Pierre Rollin, an Ebola expert at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, who was part of the mission to the Philippines. "We never thought that pigs could be infected," he says.

Once inside the pig, it may be possible for the virus to mutate into a version that is deadly to humans, as the avian influenza virus is thought to have done. "And we still don't know what it might do to someone who is immunocompromised by HIV or by drugs," Rollin adds.
Been collecting, if not connecting, these dots for a minute now. What is it with the low-level pandemic vibe in the zeitgeist? Must be that Agro-Defense facility in the works just up the road a stretch in Manhattan KS....,

Comes now a novelty in search of a purpose. does two things:

* It displays academics around the world in a tree format, according to what university/department they are affiliated with.

* It enables an academic to have an easy-to-maintain academic webpage. A sample page on is here:

Some very exciting research in the field of social networks psychology, could revolutionize the way academics approach their work. A recent study, by Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School, and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, reports on the social network effect factors involved with behavior change. The social network effect is at work not just in the halting of negative behaviors, such as smoking or unhealthy weight gain, but also in the spreading of positive life changes, as well. Remains to be seen what the objective of is besides generating page views, metadata, and the advertising and marketing value that that metadata will comprise.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

thorium cycle

Oil Drum | Excitement has recently been rising about the possibility of using thorium as a low-carbon way of generating vast amounts of electricity. The use of thorium as a nuclear fuel was extensively studied by Oak Ridge National Laboratory between 1950 and 1976, but was dropped, because unlike uranium-fueled Light Water Reactors (LWRs), it could not generate weapons' grade plutonium. Research on the possible use of thorium as a nuclear fuel has continued around the world since then. Famed Climate Scientist James Hanson, recently spoke of thorium's great promise in material that he submitted to President Elect Obama:

The Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is a thorium reactor concept that uses a chemically-stable fluoride salt for the medium in which nuclear reactions take place. This fuel form yields flexibility of operation and eliminates the need to fabricate fuel elements. This feature solves most concerns that have prevented thorium from being used in solid-fueled reactors. The fluid fuel in LFTR is also easy to process and to separate useful fission products, both stable and radioactive. LFTR also has the potential to destroy existing nuclear waste.

(The) LFTR(s) operate at low pressure and high temperatures, unlike today’s LWRs. Operation at low pressures alleviates much of the accident risk with LWR. Higher temperatures enable more of the reactor heat to be converted to electricity (50% in LFTR vs 35% in LWR). (The) LFTR (has) the potential to be air-cooled and to use waste heat for desalinating water.

LFTR(s) are 100-300 times more fuel efficient than LWRs. In addition to solving the nuclear waste problem, they can operate for several centuries using only uranium and thorium that has already been mined. Thus they eliminate the criticism that mining for nuclear fuel will use fossil fuels and add to the greenhouse effect.

wealthy men give women more orgasms

Times Online | Scientists have found that the pleasure women get from making love is directly linked to the size of their partner’s bank balance.

They found that the wealthier a man is, the more frequently his partner has orgasms.

“Women’s orgasm frequency increases with the income of their partner,” said Dr Thomas Pollet, the Newcastle University psychologist behind the research.

He believes the phenomenon is an “evolutionary adaptation” that is hard-wired into women, driving them to select men on the basis of their perceived quality. The study is certain to prove controversial, suggesting that women are inherently programmed to be gold-diggers.

However, it fits into a wider body of research known as evolutionary psychology which suggests that both men and women are genetically predisposed to ruthlessly exploit each other to achieve the best chances of survival for their genes.

The female orgasm is the focus of much research because it appears to have no reproductive purpose. Women can become pregnant whatever their pleasure levels.

Pollet, and Professor Daniel Nettle, his co-author, believed, however, that the female orgasm is an evolutionary adaptation that drives women to choose and retain high-quality partners.

British banks are 'technically insolvent'

More in from the RC-Net:
Independent | Britains biggest banks are "technically insolvent", Royal Bank of Scotland said yesterday, as the global banking industry was rocked by another day of turmoil, including the announcement of $23bn (£16bn) of new losses from Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, the giant US institutions.

Analysts working for RBS, one of several British banks to have received emergency funding from the UK Government last year, told the City that "the domestic UK banks are technically insolvent on a fully marked-to-market basis".

The warning does not mean British banks are about to go bust, because the assessment is purely theoretical, and RBS said the position was "not unusual at this stage in the economic cycle".

However, it will add to pressure on the Government to provide more support for the country's banks. Treasury officials are now set to spend this weekend in talks about a fresh round of measures, which could be unveiled as early as next week, to free up lending to households and major corporations hit by the credit crunch.

Is plague still a killer?

BBC News | Reports that "black death" has swept through an al-Qaeda camp in north Africa, killing dozens of trainees, are unproven, but the story highlights how plague has never been wiped out.

One of the "oldest identifiable diseases known to man", according to the World Health Organization (WHO), plague tends to be associated in the developed world with the Middle Ages.

The most notorious pandemic, during the 14th Century, wiped out about a third of the population of Europe.

Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, plague is primarily a disease of wild rodents that is spread by their fleas. It can be transmitted to humans by flea bites or contact with animals infected with the bacterium.

"There are diseases circulating like this in the world's rodents, and in many cases having very little impact on them," says Mike Begon, professor of ecology at the University of Liverpool.

"You could only get rid of plague if you got rid of all the rodents, and you are never going to do that." But Professor Begon adds: "When diseases can jump the species barrier to infect humans they can have a devastating effect."

As well as the medieval pandemic which led to the name "black death", because of victims' blackened skin, there have been two other worldwide outbreaks in the 6th Century and as recently as the second half of the 19th Century.

WHO still reports between 1,000 and 3,000 cases of plague every year; its figures show 182 deaths from the disease in 2003.

The organisation says plague remains endemic - present in a community at all times, but occurring in low frequency - in many countries in Africa, in the former Soviet Union, the Americas - including parts of the US - and Asia.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monetary union European depression

Telegraph | Events are moving fast in Europe. The worst riots since the fall of Communism have swept the Baltics and the south Balkans. An incipient crisis is taking shape in the Club Med bond markets. S&P has cut Greek debt to near junk. Spanish, Portuguese, and Irish bonds are on negative watch.

Dublin has nationalised Anglo Irish Bank with its half-built folly on North Wall Quay and €73bn (£65bn) of liabilities, moving a step nearer the line where markets probe the solvency of the Irish state.

A great ring of EU states stretching from Eastern Europe down across Mare Nostrum to the Celtic fringe are either in a 1930s depression already or soon will be. Greece's social fabric is unravelling before the pain begins, which bodes ill.

Each is a victim of ill-judged economic policies foisted upon them by elites in thrall to Europe's monetary project – either in EMU or preparing to join – and each is trapped.