Thursday, March 31, 2011

seppuku for the 21st century

Video - Harsh cinematic seppuku with a wooden sword.

Thiscantbehappening | Who will be the liquidators?

Whether Japan needs a few hundred volunteers to shovel boric acid on burning plutonium, or whether Japan needs 800,000 draftees, as in the Soviet Union, somebody’s got to do it.

Michio Kaku suggested the Japanese military, presumably because they are available and can fly helicopters. One could also argue that soldiers are paid to risk their lives for their country, and Japan has never needed them more.

Lets think about this, I say. The Japanese military is constitutionally forbidden to make war on anyone, so they are probably the nicest military in the world. And like every other military, it is full of young men who aren’t paid much, who haven’t lived much, who haven’t even started their families yet. Most important, Japanese soldiers bear no moral responsibility at all for the problem. Why should they die to solve it?

If someone has to die an agonizing, terrifying, nauseating, blistering, stinking, metastasizing death, who should be first guy to run into the Fukushima reactors with a bucket of wet cement?

I nominate Jeffrey Immelt.

Immelt is chairman and CEO of General Electric. General Electric designed all six of the faulty Fukushima reactors. General Electric built three of them. General Electric claimed it was safe to build these reactors next to the ocean in an earthquake zone. General Electric built 23 reactors in the United States exactly like the ones melting down right now in Japan. General Electric has made colossal profits promoting nuclear power in Japan and around the world. Jeffrey Immelt made $15.2 million last year.

He makes the most money, it’s his company, and he tells everyone else what to do. At any time since taking over GE in 2000, he could have said, “Those plants are too dangerous. We sold them to Japan. We need to shut them down.” He didn’t do that. Hence the nuclear waste in Tokyo’s drinking water belongs to Jeffrey Immelt.

This is what Immelt says on the GE website: “I’m out talking about this company seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with nothing to hide. We’re a 130-year-old company that has a great record of high-quality leadership and a culture of integrity.”

That is the statement of a moral turd. A shameless, sociopathic, moral turd. GE ran the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, one of the most polluted places on the planet. GE has paved parking lots with nuclear waste. GE has released vast clouds of radiation on innocent, unwarned people in United States just to see what would happen. GE has done radiation experiments on the testes of prisoners without properly warning them. GE dumped 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River, making it poisonous for generations. GE has refused to clean up the PCBs in the Hudson and elsewhere. GE has lied repeatedly about the PCBs. GE is a serial polluter of ground water. GE takes enormous pride in paying no corporate taxes in the United States. GE has been fined many times for defrauding the the Defense Department. GE has been fined many times for design flaws and safety violations at its nuclear plants in the United States. GE has shipped most of its operations overseas so it can pay workers less and get fined less. GE owns a big chunk of NBC and MSNBC, which has been covering Japan less and less as the meltdown gets worse and worse. GE sees to it that all those NBC Dateline true crime documentaries don’t inform anyone about GE crimes. And last, but far from least, GE launched the political career of Ronald Reagan.

For all that, GE has been named “America’s Most Admired Company” in a poll conducted by Fortune magazine.

For all that, Jeffrey Immelt has been named Chairman of Obama’s Economic Advisory Panel.

For all that, I say give Jeffrey Immelt a one-way ticket to Fukushima and a bucket of wet cement. While he’s pouring it on the burning fuel rods, he can throw in his MBA from Harvard.

Then give another one-way ticket and bucket of wet cement to Jack Welch, who was head of GE from 1981 to 2000. He can toss his #1 best-selling autobiography, Jack: Straight from the Gut, onto the fuel rods as well.

Then the Japanese get to pick between their prime minister and the head of the Tokyo Electric Power Company. But GE should go first. It’s the honorable way. Harakiri for the 21st century.

liquidators - martyrs of chernobyl

Video - Soviet martyrs who cleaned up Chernobyl after German robots failed in the intense radiation.

Wikipedia | Liquidators (Russian: ликвида́торы) is the name given in the former USSR to approximately 800,000 people who were in charge of the removal of the consequences of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl disaster on the site of the event
  • Personnel of the reactors
    • Yuri Korneev, Boris Stolyarchuk and Alexander Yuvchenko are the last surviving members of the Reactor No. 4 shift that was on duty at the moment of the catastrophe. Anatoly Dyatlov, who was in charge of the safety experiment at Reactor No. 4, died in 1995 of a heart attack.
  • The approximately 40 firefighters who were among the first to deal with the catastrophe
  • A 300-person brigade of Civil Defense from Kiev who buried the contaminated soil
  • Medical personnel
  • Various workers and military who performed deactivation and clean-up of the area
  • Construction workers who constructed the sarcophagus over the exploded reactor No. 4
  • Internal Troops who ensured secure access to the complex
  • Transport workers
  • A team of coal miners, who used their expertise to pump out the contaminated water to prevent its entrance into groundwater
  • Nikolai Melnik, Hero of the Soviet Union, a helicopter pilot who placed radiation sensors on the reactor[1]

Between 1986 and 1992, it is thought between 600,000 and one million people participated in works around Chernobyl and their health was endangered due to radiation. Because of the dissolution of the USSR in the 1990s, evaluations about liquidators' health are difficult, since they come from various countries (mostly Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, but also other former Soviet republics). Furthermore, the government of Russia has never been keen on giving the true figures for the disaster, or even on making serious estimates. However, according to a study by Belarusian physicians, rate of cancers among this population is about four times greater than the rest of the population. All the figures quoted by various agencies are controversial — see the main article, Chernobyl disaster for more on this.

  • In April 1994, a commemoration text from the Ukrainian embassy in Belgium counted 25,000 dead among the liquidators since 1986.
  • According to Georgy Lepnin, a Belarusian physician who worked on reactor #4, "approximately 100,000 liquidators are now dead", of a total number of one million workers.
  • According to Vyacheslav Grishin of the Chernobyl Union, the main organization of liquidators, "25,000 of the Russian liquidators are dead and 70,000 disabled, about the same in Ukraine, and 10,000 dead in Belarus and 25,000 disabled", which makes a total of 60,000 dead (10% of the 600 000, liquidators) and 165,000 disabled.

when the fukushima meltdown hits groundwater

Video - Professor Christopher Busby, of the European Committee on Radiation Risks says Fukushima much worse than Chernobyl.

Hawaiinewsdaily | Fukushima is going to dwarf Chenobyl. The Japanese government has had a level 7 nuclear disaster going for almost a week but won’t admit it.

The disaster is occurring the opposite way than Chernobyl, which exploded and stopped the reaction. At Fukushima, the reactions are getting worse. I suspect three nuclear piles are in meltdown and we will probably get some of it.

If reactor 3 is in meltdown, the concrete under the containment looks like lava. But Fukushima is not far off the water table. When that molten mass of self-sustaining nuclear material gets to the water table it won’t simply cool down. It will explode – not a nuclear explosion, but probably enough to involve the rest of the reactors and fuel rods at the facility.

Pouring concrete on a critical reactor makes no sense – it will simply explode and release more radioactive particulate matter. The concrete will melt and the problem will get worse. Chernobyl was different – a critical reactor exploded and stopped the reaction. At Fukushima, the reactor cores are still melting down. The ONLY way to stop that is to detonate a ~10 kiloton fission device inside each reactor containment vessel and hope to vaporize the cores. That’s probably a bad solution.

A nuclear meltdown is a self-sustaining reaction. Nothing can stop it except stopping the reaction. And that would require a nuclear weapon. In fact, it would require one in each containment vessel to merely stop what is going on now. But it will be messy.

Fukushima was waiting to happen because of the placement of the emergency generators. If they had not all failed at once by being inundated by a tsunami, Fukushima would not have happened as it did – although it WOULD still have been a nuclear disaster. Every containment in the world is built to withstand a Magnitude 6.9 earthquake; the Japanese chose to ignore the fact that a similar earthquake had hit that same general area in 1896.

Anyway, here is the information that the US doesn’t seem to want released. And here is a chart that might help with perspective.

Making matters worse is the MOX in reactor 3. MOX is the street name for ‘mixed oxide fuel‘ which uses ~9% plutonium along with a uranium compound to fuel reactors. This is why it can be used.

The problem is that you don’t want to play with this stuff. A nuclear reactor means bring fissile material to a point at which it is hot enough to boil water (in a light-water reactor) and not enough to melt and go supercritical (China syndrome or a Chernobyl incident). You simply cannot let it get away from you because if it does, you can’t stop it.

The Japanese are still talking about days or weeks to clean this up. That’s not true. They cannot clean it up. And no one will live in that area again for dozens or maybe hundreds of years.

the collapse of the largest asian power company...,

Video - BBC World Business Report Tokyo Electric Power Company's share price lost 70% of its value after the earthquake

France24 | The question of a full or partial government takeover of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has become more pressing in recent days as the company continues to struggle to bring its nuclear reactors at the Fukushima site under control.

As the pressure mounts on the tarnished company, it was reported Wednesday that the utility company’s president Masataka Shimizu has been hospitalised due to high blood pressure and dizziness.

A Japanese government minister reported on Tuesday that the government could impose state ownership on Asia's largest utility. Speaking to a press conference, National Strategy Minister Koichiro Gemba, said that it was “possible to hold various discussions on how TEPCO should function,” and added that the government could step in to pay the hefty compensation bills the company couldn’t cover.

However, confusingly, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a separate press conference that the government was “not at the moment considering nationalisation,” and TEPCO spokesman Hajime Motojuku told Reuters he was unaware of any nationalisation plans.

TEPCO has lost about $30 billion in market value since the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, which knocked out electricity at its Fukushima nuclear plant site and precipitated the country’s worst nuclear crisis in history.

Compounding costs

The rumours of nationalisation spurred a frantic selloff of TEPCO’s shares on Tuesday and Wednesday. The utility fell 100 yen on the Nikkei Wednesday, the maximum daily limit. The 18 percent drop came after a 19 percent slump a day earlier. Analysts believe that nationalisation could hurt the embattled company’s shareholders, but be good news for its bondholders.

As if the TEPCO's precarious financial position and its workers’ heroic efforts to avert an even uglier nuclear disaster were not enough, the firm is now also struggling with a spiraling PR disaster. The firm was already tarnished by the 2002 scandal involving the fabrication of data during safety inspections of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

“Japanese people don’t expect [TEPCO] to tell the truth,” Philip White, who works for the Tokyo-based anti-nuclear group CNIC, told FRANCE 24. “People are skeptical of what they are hearing from TEPCO and the government, but they do not have other sources of information.”

Radiation worries have been compounded by the rolling blackouts the company has had to enforce in the service area it covers. Nomura Holdings analyst Shigeki Matsumoto said this month that TEPCO will have to pay more than $1 billion every month on alternative fuels to make up for lost power capacity.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

tepco ceo hospitalized for exhaustion..,

Video - Don't drink the water in Tokyo.

Video - Fukushima containment crisis very far from over.

Guardian | Japanese officials have conceded they are no closer to resolving the nuclear crisis at Fukushima Daiichi power plant, as new readings showed a dramatic increase in radioactive contamination in the sea.

The pressure to make progress also took its toll on Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the plant's operator, whose chief executive, Masataka Shimizu, was taken to hospital on Tuesday night suffering from exhaustion.

The country's nuclear and industrial safety agency, Nisa, said radioactive iodine-131 at 3,355 times the legal limit had been identified in the sea about 300 yards south of the plant, although officials have yet to determine how it got there.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a Nisa spokesman, said fishing had stopped in the area, adding that the contamination posed no immediate threat to humans. "We will find out how it happened and do our utmost to prevent it from rising," he said.

The government's acceptance of help from the US and France has strengthened the belief that the battle to save the stricken reactors, now well into its third week, is lost.

On Tuesday, a US engineer who helped install reactors at the plant said he believed the radioactive core in unit 2 may have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor.

japan has lost race to save fukushima..,

Guardian | The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.

The warning follows an analysis by a leading US expert of radiation levels at the plant. Readings from reactor two at the site have been made public by the Japanese authorities and Tepco, the utility that operates it.

Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.

Workers have been pumping water into three reactors at the stricken plant in a desperate bid to keep the fuel rods from melting down, but the fuel is at least partially exposed in all the reactors.

At least part of the molten core, which includes melted fuel rods and zirconium alloy cladding, seemed to have sunk through the steel "lower head" of the pressure vessel around reactor two, Lahey said.

"The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," Lahey said. "I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards."

The major concern when molten fuel breaches a containment vessel is that it reacts with the concrete floor of the drywell underneath, releasing radioactive gases into the surrounding area. At Fukushima, the drywell has been flooded with seawater, which will cool any molten fuel that escapes from the reactor and reduce the amount of radioactive gas released.

fukushima is a creeping disaster...,

Spiegel | The technicians had tried for days to restore electricity to the remains of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. But then it was ordinary rubber boots, of all things, that would come to symbolize their desperation, helplessness and defeat.

On Thursday, the three men had made their way into the basement of the turbine building for reactor No. 3 to examine the situation there. When they returned later, they came fully equipped with tools and protective gear that included helmets, masks, rubber gloves and raincoats on top of their radiation suits.

The one thing the men were not prepared for was that suddenly they would be wading through more than a few inches of water. Two of the workers were only wearing ankle-high boots, which allowed the water to seep in. With wet feet, the men spent three-quarters of an hour working on the cables, despite the fact that their dosimeters were beeping for a long time.

The workers are now under observation at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences. The water at Fukushima was so contaminated that radioactive beta radiation burned their skin. In less than an hour, they were exposed to about 180 millisievert of radiation, or nine times as much as one nuclear power plant employee is exposed to in an entire year. "These kinds of burns will be causing problems for the men for a long time to come," says Peter Jacob, director of the Institute for Radiation Protection at the Helmholtz Center in Munich, Germany. Commenting on the exposure, a coworker of the three men said laconically: "We do pay attention. But now we have to be even more careful as we work."

The incident revealed, once again, how little experts know about the dangers that still lurk on the grounds of the ill-fated plant. No one had expected the radiation level in the water in the basement to be as high as it was. The levels of radiation in water in the basement of reactors No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reached record highs, with water at No. 2 measuring 1,000 millisieverts per hour. This was due to a partial core melt. Also, the containment vessel for the third reactor was apparently damaged, representatives of the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency concluded. Could this mean that there is a crack in the barrier between the highly radioactive core and the surrounding environment?

The beginning of last week offered grounds for cautious optimism. Power had been restored to the damaged reactor No. 1, a German concrete mixer was pumping water into the dangerously empty pool containing spent fuel rods in Unit 4, and there had been no explosions in the plant for an entire week. Two weeks after the disaster in Fukushima began, all of this sounded like good news.

'An Ongoing, Massive Release of Radioactivity'
Meanwhile, however, the engineers have been forced to realize that they have made almost no headway in restoring the cooling system. By Friday night, pumps were still not working in any of the damaged reactors. Up to 45 tons of sea salt have apparently accumulated in the containment vessels, complicating the cooling effort. The salt is crystallizing in warm spots and creating an unwanted layer of insulation. The engineers planned to start flushing fresh water into the reactors on Friday afternoon. But the reactors are only one problem. There's also the issue of the 3,450 spent fuel rods, which are red-hot, presumably severely damaged and exposed to the air in half-empty pools.

"We are experiencing an ongoing, massive release of radioactivity," says Wolfram König, head of Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection. "And everyone should know by now that this isn't over by a long shot." Nuclear expert Helmut Hirsch says: "All I hear is that people are wondering whether this will turn into a meltdown. But the thing is, it already is a partial meltdown." The difference, in this case, is that Fukushima is a creeping disaster.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

beyond maslow's hierarchy of needs

Transitioninaction | Chilean economist Max-Neef, proposed that human needs are seen as few, finite and classifiable. While the strategies may change in an attempt to meet them, the needs remain the same throughout the world, and at all times throughout history. In sharp contrast to a hierarchy, these needs are interrelated and interactive. This model replaces the notion that humans are driven by insatiable needs for consumption, replacing it with a notion of “satisfiers” which can either be genuine or false.

Max-Neef points out that an attempt to satisfy one need can inhibit or destroy others. For example, an ‘arms race’ satisfies the need for protection, while destroying the need for subsistence, freedom or participation. Materialism can express identity, while removing time for relaxation or subsistence of the biosphere. We have to learn to calculate the real costs of our needs, not just the obvious price-tag.
Formal democracy, which is supposed to meet the need for participation often disempowers and alienates; commercial television, while used to satisfy the need for recreation, interferes with understanding, creativity and identity – the examples are everywhere.
In contrast to satisfiers that violate or destroy, others are “synergic” where two or more satisfiers cooperate together for an even more gratifying outcome. Think of examples such as preventative medicine, group sing-a-longs, or breastfeeding. Every implementation of a satisfier has to be examined through the lens of its capacity to provide multiple benefits, or antagonisms to other satisfiers. In other words, we need to grasp the trade-offs. An essential feature of needs satisfaction is the evaluation of its benefits and costs.

While Western psychology has had a decidedly individual perspective, that model no longer fits the situation we’re facing. Embracing “Maslow’s Hierarchy” no longer fits the problems we are confronting. We have to get, on a cellular level, that economic growth is no longer a possibility. We either get or reject our place as a part of the biosphere, and not the Masters of it. It isn’t some romantic notion. It is preparation for a life that’s dramatically different from the one most of us are living now.
You learn extraordinary things [living among the poor]. The first thing you learn [from people] in poverty is that there is an enormous creativity. You cannot be an idiot if you want to survive. Every minute you have to be thinking: “What next? What next right now? What can I do here? What’s this? da da da. Your creativity is constant. In addition there are networks of cooperation, mutual aid, all sorts of extraordinary things, which you no longer find in our dominant society. .. which is individualistic, greedy, egotistical, etc. And sometimes, it is so shocking that you will find people happier in poverty than you would find in your own environment. Which also means that poverty is not just a question of money, it’s a much more complex thing.

Video - Manfred Max Neef U.S. is becoming an underdeveloping nation.

These are more than the words of an idealist. This is a vision for our time, a psychological view of humans that extend back well before the oil age, and will, if we survive, extend well into the future. Like Max-Neef, I listen to the stories of the poor, stories of survival, creativity, community. Unless we collectively begin to grasp the fundamental nature of this truth, and reject Petroleum-informed models of individualism–a belief that only wealth can bring tolerance and creativity–we will handicap ourselves beyond our imagination.

the paradox of crisis

Video - Naomi Klein on the paradox of crises around the world.

Transitionculture | I think more and more people are understanding that we have a deep crisis of inequality and what I’m trying to sketch out is how you must address inequality if you’re going to deal with climate change, both within our countries and between our countries. That is something that we don’t need to be terrified of, it’s actually something liberatory and exciting and I think that the number of people in the world who would be empowered by that vision is much greater than the number of people that would be frightened by that vision, but there are definitely people in the world who are frightened by that vision.

This is why I don’t think it serves to pretend that this is the issue that transcends all politics – it doesn’t! There has to be a redistribution of resources and the people that have the vast majority of those resources now are going to protect what they have. As soon as this starts feeling really threatening there will necessarily be some confrontations. This is what I was saying last night – the fact that American supremacy is threatened by climate action because a just climate response would see the US and other rich countries having less so that others could have more is what has stood in the way.

So what do we do about it, not talk about it? I get flack from some of the big green groups because I talk about climate debt and reparation and they say, “you’re just making our work harder, you’re just giving fodder to the right.” There is so much self-censorship around these issues. I wonder what would happen if we started telling the truth. Because this idea that we’re going to pull something over on people and maybe sneak it in – I don’t think it’s working.

Maybe it did work, but like I said, the whole discourse on the right is about how climate change is a socialist plot to bring in world government and redistribution of wealth! That’s the discussion that’s going on. We’re not in any way responding to it and laying out a world view and saying, “yeah, we do believe in internationalism and here’s why. We do believe in redistribution of wealth and here’s why we do think it will benefit your community and the vast majority of people on this planet and here’s why we don’t have to be afraid of it.”

We’re just going, “Green jobs, green capitalism, change your light bulbs, this isn’t as scary as you think.” It isn’t as scary as they think, but not because it isn’t a dramatic change. It’s not as scary as they think because we need those changes on a dramatic level in so many ways – it’s actually a gift to have the opportunity to change. But the idea that we can avoid a discussion, to me, is a failure to recognise that the discussion is happening, we’re just not participating in it, or letting them entirely define the terms of what we believe in. I don’t believe in world government but I do believe in an international climate agreement. So let’s talk about it!

bageant moves on...,

JoeBageant | Joe lived awhile down the lake. We would visit him of an afternoon, Vi and I, and find him, a bear of a man, bearded mountain Buddha, writing on the porch of his one-room place in Ajijic. Always he wore his old fishing vest, in which I suspect he was born, and sometimes he carried a small laptop in one of its pockets. Usually we adjourned to the living room, which was also the bedroom, dining room, and salon. He would fetch bottles of local red, or make the jalapeño martinis he invented -- there was a bit of mad chemist in him -- and we would talk for hours of art, music, the news, politics, and people. Especially people. Sometimes he grabbed one of the guitars from the wall and sang blues, at which he was good. I guess growing up dirt poor in West Virginia puts that kind of music in you.

Joe could fool you. He talked slow and Southern, lacked pretensions, and you could talk to him for weeks without realizing how very damned smart he was.
 One day we dropped in and he said he had just found that he had cancer. It went fast. He died Saturday.

Most who have heard of him have done so through his books, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, and Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. Deer Hunting is a curious work, a sleeper, that you can read the first time without noticing that it deserves a high place in American letters. He tells of that huge class of unnoticed people in America, the white underclass of a thousand small towns and countryscapes, of Winchester, Virginia where he lived and by implication to Waldorf, Maryland and King George, Virginia and, well, all over the Carolinas and the Cumberland Plateau and … everywhere. America thinks it is a middle-class country. It isn’t. Joe knew.

You wouldn’t see it at first as sociology. Sociology is supposed to be written in drab, repetitive, half-literate, numbingly narcotic prose that would make an anvil beg for mercy. Joe was more Twain. Never eat cocktail weenies out of the urinal, he said, no matter how high the betting gets, while talking of people working whole lives in jobs without benefits or retirement and generally getting screwed. He had no patience for smug commentators in Washington who talked at half a million bucks a year of how America was a land of opportunity if only you worked hard. It isn’t. He knew it. So did I, having grown up in rural King George County, Virginia, where the same people lived. He was exactly right. Fist tap Dale.

the kill team....,

Video - Eric Bates, discusses "Kill Teams" which killed Afghan civilians and kept body parts for trophies.

Rolling Stone | Early last year, after six hard months soldiering in Afghanistan, a group of American infantrymen reached a momentous decision: It was finally time to kill a haji.

Among the men of Bravo Company, the notion of killing an Afghan civilian had been the subject of countless conversations, during lunchtime chats and late-night bull sessions. For weeks, they had weighed the ethics of bagging "savages" and debated the probability of getting caught. Some of them agonized over the idea; others were gung-ho from the start. But not long after the New Year, as winter descended on the arid plains of Kandahar Province, they agreed to stop talking and actually pull the trigger.

Bravo Company had been stationed in the area since summer, struggling, with little success, to root out the Taliban and establish an American presence in one of the most violent and lawless regions of the country. On the morning of January 15th, the company's 3rd Platoon – part of the 5th Stryker Brigade, based out of Tacoma, Washington – left the mini-metropolis of tents and trailers at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in a convoy of armored Stryker troop carriers. The massive, eight-wheeled trucks surged across wide, vacant stretches of desert, until they came to La Mohammad Kalay, an isolated farming village tucked away behind a few poppy fields.

libya and the holy triumvirate

Video - Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich seek to defund Libya intervention.

KillingHope | Libya is engaged in a civil war. The United States and the European Union and NATO — The Holy Triumvirate — are intervening, bloodily, in a civil war. To overthrow Moammar Gaddafi. First The Holy Triumvirate spoke only of imposing a no-fly zone. After getting support from international bodies on that understanding they immediately began to wage war against Libyan military forces, and whoever was nearby, on a daily basis. In the world of commerce this is called "bait and switch".

Gaddafi's crime? He was never respectful enough of The Holy Triumvirate, which recognizes no higher power, and maneuvers the United Nations for its own purposes, depending on China and Russia to be as spineless and hypocritical as Barack Obama. The man the Triumvirate allows to replace Gaddafi will be more respectful.

So who are the good guys? The Libyan rebels, we're told. The ones who go around murdering and raping African blacks on the supposition that they're all mercenaries for Gaddafi. One or more of the victims may indeed have been members of a Libyan government military battalion; or may not have been. During the 1990s, in the name of pan-African unity, Gaddafi opened the borders to tens of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans to live and work in Libya. That, along with his earlier pan-Arab vision, did not win him points with The Holy Triumvirate. Corporate bosses have the same problem about their employees forming unions. Oh, and did I mention that Gaddafi is strongly anti-Zionist?

Does anyone know what kind of government the rebels would create? The Triumvirate has no idea. To what extent will the new government embody an Islamic influence as opposed to the present secular government? What jihadi forces might they unleash? (And these forces do indeed exist in eastern Libya, where the rebels are concentrated.) Will they do away with much of the welfare state that Gaddafi used his oil money to create? Will the state-dominated economy be privatized? Who will wind up owning Libya's oil? Will the new regime continue to invest Libyan oil revenues in sub-Saharan African development projects? Will they allow a US military base and NATO exercises? Will we find out before long that the "rebels" were instigated and armed by Holy Triumvirate intelligence services?

In the 1990s, Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia was guilty of "crimes" similar to Gaddafi's. His country was commonly referred to as "the last communists of Europe". The Holy Triumvirate bombed him, arrested him, and let him die in prison. The Libyan government, it should be noted, refers to itself as the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. American foreign policy is never far removed from the Cold War.

We must look closely at the no-fly zone set up for Iraq by the US and the UK (falsely claimed by them as being authorized by the United Nations) beginning in the early 1990s and lasting more than a decade. It was in actuality a license for very frequent bombing and killing of Iraqi citizens; softening up the country for the coming invasion. The no-fly zone-cum invasion force in Libya is killing people every day with no end in sight, softening up the country for regime change. Who in the universe can stand up to The Holy Triumvirate? Has the entire history of the world ever seen such power and such arrogance?

american right trapped in hyperbole and hypocrisy

Video - Newt Gingrich on Fox News Sunday.

Guardian | The tension between appealing to the base and to moderates is the perennial test of any successful candidate in national United States politics. To win the party nomination you must appeal to your motivated base. To take the country as a whole you generally must engage the wavering centre.

What is relatively new, however, is the level of logical dysfunction and hyperbole within the American right, trapped in a fetid media ecosystem where all the Kool-Aid has been spiked. In short, what you need to say and do to be credible within the Republican party essentially deprives you of credibility outside it. The Republicans seem to realise this, but like an obese glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet, they just can't seem to help themselves.

When asked which of their possible contenders they believe to be qualified for the job they can think of one, Mitt Romney, and even then barely 50% believe so. The person they say they like the most, Sarah Palin, is also the one they believe is least qualified: only 29% believe she can actually do the job.

This was evident in Iowa, the state that holds the first caucuses in theprimary process next year, where many of the possible candidates converged over the weekend. On Friday, at a forum for Iowa pastors called "Rediscovering God in America", Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, an outsider, vowed to do "everything that we can to stop abortion". The next day at the Conservative Principles Conference, where Barbour spoke, abortion didn't come up. "It is absolutely critical that we elect a new president," he said. "I think the best way, perhaps the only way, is for us to make sure the 2012 campaign is focused on policy." He added: "The American people agree with us on policy."

When it comes to Libya, Newt Gingrich has vacillated from "Exercise a no-fly zone this evening", on Fox News 12 days before bombing started, to "I would not have intervened" four days afterwards. Meanwhile, congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who once called for an investigation of "anti-American" lawmakers, told the conference: "It can't just be a Republican. Do you hear me? It can't just be a Republican." She urged Iowa conservatives to set the tone for the nation, saying: "We need to have people who have guts, who you won't see melt like wax when they get there."

Monday, March 28, 2011

the evolution will be socialized

Rushkoff | From the actions of the Egyptian government to the policies of Facebook, the monopolies of central banks to the corporatization of the Internet, we are witnessing the potential of a peer-to-peer networking become overshadowed by the hierarchies of the status quo. It’s time for us to gather and see what is still possible on the net, and what, if anything, can be built to replace it.

I have had a vague misgiving about the direction the net’s been going for, well, maybe 15 years. But until recently, it was more like the feeling when another Starbucks opens on the block, a Wal-Mart moves into town, or a bank forecloses unnecessarily on that cool local bookstore to make room for another bank.

Lately, however, what’s wrong with the net has become quite crystalized for me. It started with the corporate-government banishment of Wikileaks last year, and reached a peak with Egypt shutting off its networks to stave off revolution. The Obama administration seeking the ability to do pretty much the same thing in the US, Facebook’s “sponsored stories,” and the pending loss of net neutrality don’t help, either.

Here on Shareable, and then again in an OpEd for, I suggested we “fork” the Internet – that we accept the fact that the net is built on a fundamentally hierarchical architecture, surrender it to the corporations who run it, and consider building something else for ourselves. The Internet as built will always be subject to top-down government control and domination by the biggest corporations. They administrate the indexes and own the conduit. It has choke points – technological, legal, and commercial. They can turn it off and shut us out. A p2p network protected only by laws – that exists but for the grace of those in charge – is not a p2p network. It is a hierarchical network allowing itself to be used in a p2p fashion, when convenient to those currently in charge.

If we have a dream of how social media could restore peer-to-peer commerce, culture, and government, and if the current Internet is too tightly controlled to allow for it, why not build the kind of network and mechanisms to realize it?

search is google's castle, everything else is moat

TechCrunch | Google is moving in many directions—mobile, browsers, productivity apps, operating systems, social. At first glance, it may seem like it is trying ever so hard to move beyond its giant one-trick pony: search. What people keep forgetting is that it is a pretty good trick. Benchmark Capital VC Bill Gurley reminds us how good this trick is in an excellent post that looks at Google’s market expansion strategy not as one of a series of aggressive offensives, but rather a highly defensive strategy.

Warren Buffet famously describes the best businesses as “economic castles protected by unbreachable ‘moats.’” Search is Google’s economic castle (perhaps with other forms of online advertising such as display thrown in there), and everything else is a moat trying to protect that castle. Android is a moat. The Chrome browser is a moat. The Chrome OS is a moat. Google Apps is a moat. These are all free products, subsidized by search profits, that are intended to protect the economic castle that is search.

Gurley goes further and says not only does Google build moats around itself, but then it scorches the earth surrounding the moat:
So here is the kicker. Android, as well as Chrome and Chrome OS for that matter, are not “products” in the classic business sense. They have no plan to become their own “economic castles.” Rather they are very expensive and very aggressive “moats,” funded by the height and magnitude of Google’s castle. Google’s aim is defensive not offensive. They are not trying to make a profit on Android or Chrome. They want to take any layer that lives between themselves and the consumer and make it free (or even less than free). Because these layers are basically software products with no variable costs, this is a very viable defensive strategy. In essence, they are not just building a moat; Google is also scorching the earth for 250 miles around the outside of the castle to ensure no one can approach it. And best I can tell, they are doing a damn good job of it.
Remember, what is the default search engine of Android and Chrome? It’s Google. Android and Chrome are merely distribution nodes feeding into search. Without Android, Google would be more vulnerable to becoming displaced as the default search engine on mobile phones. The Chrome browser similarly keeps Google search front and center, just in case Firefox ever decides to go with Bing.

But the way that Google creates its moats, ravages the industries it enters because it offers it products for free or less than free. Carriers and cell phone manufacturers actually have an economic incentive to use Android. Google is essentially paying them to adopt it.

So don’t measure the success of Google’s new businesses by how much revenue or profit they generate directly. Measure it by how much they shore up Google’s core search business. Fist tap Dale.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

musical theory and ancient cosmology

New Universe | If science is conceived of as knowledge and philosophy as love of wisdom, then the invention of musical theory clearly is one of the greatest scientific and philosophical achievements of the ancient world. When, where, and how did it happen?

Assuming that Cro-Magnon man processed sound with the same biology we possess, humans have shared some fifty thousand years of similar auditory experiences. Musical theory as an acoustical science begins with the definition of intervals, the distance between pitches, by ratios of integers, or counting numbers, a discovery traditionally credited to Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C.

Not until the sixteenth century A.D., when Vincenzo Galilei (Galileo's father, an accomplished musician) tried to repeat some of the experiments attributed to Pythagoras, was it learned that they were apocryphal, giving either the wrong answers or none at all. Today, as the gift of modem archaeological and linguistic studies, our awareness of cultures much older than that of Greece has been phenomenally increased; this permits us to set aside the tired inventions about Pythagoras and tell a more likely story, involving anonymous heroes in other lands.

My story is centered in Mesopotamia. It demonstrates how every element of Pythagorean tuning theory was implicit in the mathematics and mythology of that land for at least a thousand years, and perhaps two thousand, before Greek rationalists finally abstracted what we are willing to recognize as science from its long incubation within mythology.

What seems most astounding in ancient Mesopotamia is the total fusion of what we separate into subjects: music, mathematics, art, science, religion, and poetic fantasy. Such a fusion has never been equaled except by Plato, who inherited its forms. Socrates' statement about the general principles of scientific studies in book 7 of Plato's Republic, with the harmonical allegories that follow directly in books 8 and 9, guides my exposition here. The Mesopotamian prototypes to which they lead us fully justify Socrates' treatment of his own tale as an "ancient Muses' jest," inherited from a glorious, lost civilization. Scholars who have become too unmusical to understand mankind's share in divinity, as Plato feared might happen, still can lean on him for understanding, for all of his many writings about harmonics and music have survived. (I must suppress here, for reasons of space, the extensive harmonical allegories of the Jews, whose parallel forms infuse the Bible with related musical implication from the first page of Genesis to the last page of Revelation.)

Music was as important in ancient India, Egypt, and China as it was in Mesopotamia and Greece. All these cultures had similar mythic imagery emphasizing the same numbers, which are so important in defining musical intervals; this raises doubts about whether any people ever "invented" acoustical theory. For instance, in any culture that knows the harp as intimately as it was known in Egypt and Mesopotamia, its visible variety of string lengths and economy of materials (strings require careful and often onerous preparation) encourage builders, as a sheer survival strategy, to notice the correlation between a string's length and its intended pitch.

Similarly, in China, where by 5000 B.C. the leg bones of large birds, equipped with tone holes appropriate for a scale, appear as paired flutes in ritual burials, the importance of suitable materials conditioned pipemakers to be alert to lengths. The basic ratios could have been discovered many times in many places, more likely by loving craftsmen and practitioners than by philosophers. Certainly, the discovery came no later than the fourth millennium B.C., before even the first Egyptian dynasty was founded or the Greeks had reached the Mediterranean shore.

are you there god? it's me, brain...,

Video - Red Balloon Finale

Slate | The scientific jury is still out on whether our species is unique among social mammals in being able to conceptualize mental states—other species, such as chimps, dogs, scrub jays and dolphins, may have some modest capacity in this regard. But there's absolutely no question that we're much better at it than the rest of the animal kingdom. We are natural psychologists, exquisitely attuned to the unseen psychological world. Reasoning about abstract mental states is as much a trademark of our species as walking upright on two legs, learning a language, and raising our offspring into their teens.

There is a scientific term for this way of thinking—"theory of mind." It's perhaps easiest to grasp the concept when considering how we struggle to make sense of someone else's bizarre or unexpected behavior. If you've ever seen an unfortunate woman at the grocery store wearing a midriff-revealing top and packed into a pair of lavender tights like meat in a sausage wrapper, or a follicularly challenged man with a hairpiece two shades off and three centimeters adrift, and asked yourself what on Earth those people were thinking when they looked in the mirror before leaving the house, this is a good sign that your theory of mind (not to mention your fashion sense) is in working order. When others violate our expectations for normalcy or stump us with surprising behaviors, our tendency to mind-read goes into overdrive. We literally "theorize" about the minds that are causing ostensible behavior.

The evolutionary significance of this mind-reading system hinges on one gigantic question: Is this psychological capacity—this theory of mind, this seeing souls glimmering beneath the skin, spirits twinkling behind orbiting eyes, thoughts in the flurry of movement—is this the "one big thing" that could help us finally understand what it means to be human? Could it tell us something about how we find meaning in the universe?

As a human being, you're prone to overextending your theory of mind to categories for which it doesn't properly belong. Many people remember fondly the classic film Le Ballon Rouge ("The Red Balloon," 1956) by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, in which a sensitive schoolboy—in reality Lamorisse's own 5-year-old son, Pascal—is befriended by a good-natured, cherry-red helium balloon. Absent dialogue, the camera follows the joyful two, boy and balloon, through the somber, working-class streets of the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris, the glossy red balloon contrasting sharply with the bleak old-Europe atmosphere while adults, oblivious to the presence of an inanimate object that has apparently been ensouled by an intelligent gas, are largely indifferent, even hostile, to the pair. Eventually, a mob of cruel children corners the boy and begins pelting the "kindhearted" balloon with stones, ultimately popping it.

modern homunculism - the brain is not an explanation

APS | Brain scans pinpoint how chocoholics are hooked. This headline appeared in The Guardian a couple years ago above a science story that began: “Chocoholics really do have chocolate on the brain.” The story went on to describe a study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of chocoholics and non-cravers. The study found increased activity in the pleasure centers of the chocoholics’ brains, and the Guardian report concluded: “There may be some truth in calling the love of chocolate an addiction in some people.”

Really? Is that a fair conclusion to draw from the fMRI data in this study, reported in the European Journal of Neuroscience? Brain stories have become very popular in the news pages in recent years—and brain imaging stories especially, in part because of the colorful “pictures” that often accompany the data and analysis. But how much can we really conclude from these images? How skeptical should we be, as readers of the science pages in the paper?

A growing number of scientists, including many who study the brain, are calling for more caution from scientists, both in reporting and interpreting fMRI data. Among them is University of Illinois neuroscientist Diane Beck, who in a recent article in Perspectives on Psychological Science discussed both the appeal and the pitfalls of popular stories about the brain and behavior.

The difficulties of these stories begin with the technology itself, the sheer complexity of which makes accurate reporting a challenge. Despite those colorful images in the journals and news pages, the fMRI is not a photograph—not even close. An fMRI image is actually constructed from the complex interplay of radio waves and the magnetic properties of hemoglobin. That familiar head-shaped image is the final product of highly sophisticated mathematics and modeling and statistical analysis—much of which neuroscientists themselves don’t fully understand.

Even this paraphrase of mine is a gross oversimplification. The problem is that the final product—the brain image—looks like a photograph, and that’s how most readers take it, as a simple snapshot of the brain in action. That’s in part because the simplicity of the message is appealing: Complicated behavior X lights up brain area Y. But such reductionism, Beck argues, lacks any explanatory power. Consider the chocoholic example again: Leaving aside the fact that chocoholic is not a recognized diagnosis, what does this study actually show? It shows that people who define themselves as chocolate cravers have more activity, relative to people who do not define themselves as chocolate cravers, is certain pleasures centers of the brain. That is, the sight and taste of chocolate activated the brain’s reward system in cravers, documenting . . . what? Well, documenting that some people find chocolate more rewarding than others. As Beck notes, we probably don’t need a brain scan to corroborate what most people probably already believe anyway.

But it’s the brain—it’s biological—which gives readers more confidence in a behavior than the behavior itself. Why isn’t it good enough to simply ask a lot of people if they crave chocolate? Chances are some would say yes and some would say no. The fact that the brain’s reward center is relatively more active in cravers doesn’t add much—and it certainly doesn’t verify that a self-proclaimed chocoholic is akin to a heroin addict or alcoholic.


National Geographic | The word "Anthropocene" was coined by Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen about a decade ago. One day Crutzen, who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering the effects of ozone-depleting compounds, was sitting at a scientific conference. The conference chairman kept referring to the Holocene, the epoch that began at the end of the last ice age, 11,500 years ago, and that—officially, at least—continues to this day.

"'Let's stop it,'" Crutzen recalls blurting out. "'We are no longer in the Holocene. We are in the Anthropocene.' Well, it was quiet in the room for a while." When the group took a coffee break, the Anthropocene was the main topic of conversation. Someone suggested that Crutzen copyright the word.

Way back in the 1870s, an Italian geologist named Antonio Stoppani proposed that people had introduced a new era, which he labeled the anthropozoic. Stoppani's proposal was ignored; other scientists found it unscientific. The Anthropocene, by contrast, struck a chord. Human impacts on the world have become a lot more obvious since Stoppani's day, in part because the size of the population has roughly quadrupled, to nearly seven billion. "The pattern of human population growth in the twentieth century was more bacterial than primate," biologist E. O. Wilson has written. Wilson calculates that human biomass is already a hundred times larger than that of any other large animal species that has ever walked the Earth.

In 2002, when Crutzen wrote up the Anthropocene idea in the journal Nature, the concept was immediately picked up by researchers working in a wide range of disciplines. Soon it began to appear regularly in the scientific press. "Global Analysis of River Systems: From Earth System Controls to Anthropocene Syndromes" ran the title of one 2003 paper. "Soils and Sediments in the Anthropocene" was the headline of another, published in 2004.

At first most of the scientists using the new geologic term were not geologists. Zalasiewicz, who is one, found the discussions intriguing. "I noticed that Crutzen's term was appearing in the serious literature, without quotation marks and without a sense of irony," he says. In 2007 Zalasiewicz was serving as chairman of the Geological Society of London's Stratigraphy Commission. At a meeting he decided to ask his fellow stratigraphers what they thought of the Anthropocene. Twenty-one of 22 thought the concept had merit.

The group agreed to look at it as a formal problem in geology. Would the Anthropocene satisfy the criteria used for naming a new epoch? In geologic parlance, epochs are relatively short time spans, though they can extend for tens of millions of years. (Periods, such as the Ordovician and the Cretaceous, last much longer, and eras, like the Mesozoic, longer still.) The boundaries between epochs are defined by changes preserved in sedimentary rocks—the emergence of one type of commonly fossilized organism, say, or the disappearance of another.

The rock record of the present doesn't exist yet, of course. So the question was: When it does, will human impacts show up as "stratigraphically significant"? The answer, Zalasiewicz's group decided, is yes—though not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect.

domestic violence rises 10% after NFL upsets

Physorg | Calls to the police reporting men's assaults on their wives or intimate partners rose 10 percent in areas where the local National Football League team lost a game they were favored to win, according to an analysis of 900 regular-season NFL games reports researchers in a paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Football games are emotionally laden events of widespread interest, typically garnering 25 percent or more of a local television viewing audience. The disappointment of an unexpected loss, the researchers concluded, raises the risk that football fans may react inappropriately.

In contrast, co-authors David Card, Ph.D., and Gordon Dahl, Ph.D., found no decrease in reports of violence following an unexpected win by the local team or by the team's loss in a game that was expected to be close.

"Our results suggest that the overall rise in violence between the intimate partners we studied is driven entirely by losses in games that matter most to fans," Card said. The timing of the calls to police also indicated that violence occurred within a narrow window roughly corresponding to the final hour of a game and the two hours after.

Card and Dahl say their findings confirm earlier work suggesting that unexpected disappointments affect us more strongly than pleasant surprises. "This is not limited to football," Card said. "Someone who gets a speeding ticket on the way home, for example, might also be more likely to act out in a way he would later regret."

Card and Dahl compared the pre-game betting odds to the game results of regular-season games for six NFL teams—the Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans—between 1995 and 2006. This information was matched to records collected from 763 jurisdictions in the relevant states from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a database of local police reports.

In one-third of the games they tracked, the local team was expected to win by four or more points. When the favored team lost, however, Card and Dahl's analysis revealed a spike in reports of violence by men against a female partner at home, as compared to weeks the home team did not have a game.

This pattern was most pronounced for losses the authors judged to be more emotionally charged.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

billionaires flourish as inequalities deepen and economies "recover"

RebelNews | The bailouts of banks, speculators and manufacturers served their real purposes: the multi-millionaires became billionaires and the later became multi-billionaires. According to the annual report of the business magazine Forbes there are 1,210 individuals - and in many cases family clans - with a net value of $1 billion dollars (or more). There total net worth is $4 trillion, 500 billion dollars, greater than the combined worth of 4 billion people in the world. The current concentration of wealth exceeds any previous period in history; from King Midas, the Maharajahs, and the Robber Barons to the recent Silicon Valley - Wall Street moguls of the present decade.

An analysis of the source of wealth of the super-rich, the distribution in the world economy and the methods of accumulation highlights several important differences with major political consequences. We will proceed to identify these specific features of the super-rich, starting with the United States and follow with an analysis of the rest of the world.

The "economic crises" of 2008-2009 inflicted only temporary losses to some (US-EU) billionaires and not others (Asian). Thanks to trillion dollar/Euro/yen bailouts, the billionaires class has recovered and expanded, even as wages in the US and Europe stagnate and 'living standards' are slashed by massive cutbacks in health, education, employment and public services.

What is striking about the recovery, growth, and expansion of the world's billionaires is how dependent their accumulation of wealth is based on pillage of state resources; how much of their fortunes were based on neo-liberal policies which led to the takeover at bargain prices of privatized public enterprises; how state de-regulation allows for plunder of the environment to extract resources at the highest rate of return; how the state promoted the expansion of speculative activity in real estate, finance and hedge funds, while encouraging the growth of monopolies, oligopolies and conglomerates which captured "super profits" - rates above the 'historical level'. Billionaires in the BRICs and in the older imperial centers (Europe, US and Japan) have been the primary tax beneficiaries of reductions and elimination of social programs and labor rights.

What is absolutely clear is that the state not the market plays a essential role in facilitating the greatest concentration and centralization of wealth in world history, whether in facilitating the plundering of the treasury and the environment or in heightening the direct and indirect exploitation of labor .

The variations in the paths to 'billionaire' status are striking: in the US and UK, the parasitical - speculative sector predominates over the productive; among the BRICs - with the exception of Russia diverse sectors incorporating manufacturers, software, finance and agro-mineral billionaires predominate. In China the abysmal economic gap between the billionaires and the working class, between real estate speculators and dispossessed household is lead to increasing class conflict and challenges, forcing significant increases in wages (over 20% the past 3 years) and demands for increased public spending on education, health and housing. Nothing comparable is occurring in the US , EU or in the other BRICs.

The sources of billionaire wealth are , at best,only partially due to 'entrepreneurial innovations'. Their wealth may have begun, at an earlier phase, from producing useful goods and services; but as the capitalist economies 'mature' and shift toward finance, overseas markets and the search for higher profits by imposing neo-liberal policies, the economic profile of the billionaire class shifts toward the parasitical model of the established imperial centers.

The billionaires in the BRICs, Turkey and Israel contrast sharply from the Middle East oil billionaires who are 'rentiers' living off 'rents' from exploiting oil and gas and overseas investments especially in the FIRE sector. Among the BRICs only the Russian billionaire oligarchs resemble the rentiers of the Gulf. The rest, especially Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and Turkish billionaires have taken advantage of state promoted industrial policies to concentrate wealth under the rhetoric of 'national champions', promoting their own 'interests' in the name of a "successful emerging economy". But the basic class questions remains: "growth for whom and who benefits?". So far the historical record shows that growth of billionaires has been based on a highly polarized economy in which the state serves the new class of billionaires, whether parasitical speculators as in the US, rentier pillagers of the state and environment such as Russia and the Gulf states or exploiters of labor such as in the BRICs.
Post Script

The Arab revolt can be seen in part as an effort to overthrow 'rentier capitalist clans'. Western intervention in the revolts and support of the "opposition" military and political elites is an effort to substitute a 'neo-liberal' capitalist ruling class.This "new class"would be based on the exploitation of labor and dispossession of current crony-clan-kin owners of resources Major enterprises would be transferred to multi-nationals and local capitalists. Much more promising are the internal working struggles in China and to lesser degree in Brazil and the rural based Maoist peasant and tribal movements in India which oppose rentier and capitalist exploitation and dispossession.

we're number one!

Yes | From President Obama to Sarah Palin, our politicians are constantly invoking America’s superiority and exceptionalism or exhorting us to be Number 1. Yet from health care to education to environmental performance, we’re more often found at the bottom of the list of developed countries. It’s a good idea to set aside the rhetoric of national greatness and ask ourselves how we dropped to the basement on so many important issues—and what we should do to climb out.

To see where America stands not so proud, consider the advanced, well-to-do democracies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the rich countries’ club. To focus on America’s peers, I am excluding the former Soviet bloc countries as well as Mexico, Turkey, Korea, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Greece. In the remaining group of 20 affluent countries, America is, indeed, Number 1 or close to it in a number of categories: the 26 indicators of poor performance listed below.

It’s a good idea to set aside the rhetoric of national greatness and ask ourselves how we dropped to the basement on so many important issues—and what we should do to climb out.

To our great shame, America now has:
  • The highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
  • The greatest inequality of incomes;
  • The lowest government spending as a percentage of GDP on social programs for the disadvantaged
  • The lowest number of paid holiday, annual and maternity leaves;
  • The lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
  • The worst score on the UN’s gender inequality index;
  • The lowest social mobility;
  • The highest public and private expenditure on health care as a portion of GDP, 
yet accompanied by the highest:
o Infant mortality rate
o Prevalence of mental health problems
o Obesity rate
o Portion of people going without health care due to cost
o Low birth weight children per capita (except for Japan)
o Consumption of anti-depressants per capita
  • The shortest life expectancy at birth (except for Denmark and Portugal);
  • The highest carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption per capita;
  • The lowest score on the World Economic Forum’s Environmental Performance 
Index (except for Belgium), and the largest Ecological Footprint per capita 
(except for Belgium and Denmark)
  • The highest rate of failing to ratify international agreements;
  • The lowest spending on international development and humanitarian 
assistance as a percentage of GDP;
  • The highest military spending as a portion of GDP;
  • The largest international arms sales;
  • The most negative balance of payments (except New Zealand, Spain and 
  • The lowest scores for student performance in math (except for Portugal and Italy) (and far down from the top in both science and reading);
  • The highest high school drop out rate (except for Spain);
This is exceptionalism we don’t need. Thankfully, America is also Number 1 or near the top in a number of positive indicators, including in the overall Human Development Index. But we are also far down the rankings, though not (yet) at the bottom, on others also not listed here. For example, the U.S. ranks only 13th on The Economist’s Democracy Index, right below the Czech Republic.


Der Spiegel | It was in the spring of 1962 that farmer Nels Allison first noticed something was ominously wrong. "Son of a bitch," he said to his wife. Sheep were always "the first to lie down and die" when something was amiss on Allison's farm near Basin City, a rural town near the Columbia River in the far northwestern corner of the continental United States. He started referring to that deadly night "the Night of the Little Demons."

Although the Allisons have long since passed away, the shock endures. As chronicled by journalist Michael D'Antonio in his 1993 book Atomic Harvest, their tale is one of thousands of horror stories that took place in the area surrounding Hanford, Washington, the site of America's first full-scale plutonium production facility. The site haunts the locals to this day -- and imperils them.Hanford is America's original atomic sin. At this giant facility sprawled over 586 square miles (1,517 square kilometers), a four-hour drive southeast of Seattle into the vast emptiness of Eastern Washington, the United States once produced most of its nuclear raw materials for the Cold War. Though it was decommissioned in 1988, it remains the most contaminated location in the entire Western Hemisphere.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently revised its timetable for Hanford's decontamination, the biggest environmental cleanup in American history. The end date was moved back, once again. It now hopes to finally wrap up this Herculean task by September 2052 -- more than 108 years after Hanford was opened.

Friday, March 25, 2011

goal-driven vs. means-driven governance

Telegraph | A few weeks before the tsunami struck Fukushima’s uranium reactors and shattered public faith in nuclear power, China revealed that it was launching a rival technology to build a safer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper network of reactors based on thorium.

This passed unnoticed –except by a small of band of thorium enthusiasts – but it may mark the passage of strategic leadership in energy policy from an inert and status-quo West to a rising technological power willing to break the mould.

If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape and may avert a calamitous conflict over resources as Asia’s industrial revolutions clash head-on with the West’s entrenched consumption.

China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.

Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.

“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert.

“If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself,” he said.

“They operate at atmospheric pressure so you don’t have the sort of hydrogen explosions we’ve seen in Japan. One of these reactors would have come through the tsunami just fine. There would have been no radiation release.”

alternative fuels useless to the military

NYTimes | The United States would derive no meaningful military benefit from increased use of alternative fuels to power its jets, ships and other weapons systems, according to a government-commissioned study by the RAND Corporation scheduled for release Tuesday.

The report also argued that most alternative-fuel technologies were unproven, too expensive or too far from commercial scale to meet the military’s needs over the next decade.

In particular, the report argued that the Defense Department was spending too much time and money exploring experimental biofuels derived from sources like algae or the flowering plant camelina, and that more focus should be placed on energy efficiency as a way of combating greenhouse gas emissions.

The report urged Congress to reconsider the military’s budget for alternative-fuel projects. But if such fuels are to be pursued, the report concluded, the most economic, environmentally sound and near-term candidate would be a liquid fuel produced using a combination of coal and biomass, as well as some method for capturing and storing carbon emissions released during production.

The findings by the nonprofit research group, which grew out of a directive in the 2009 Defense Authorization Act calling for further study of alternative fuels in military vehicles and aircraft, are likely to provoke much debate in Washington.

The Obama administration has directed billions of dollars to support emerging clean-energy technologies even as Congress has been unwilling to pass any sort of climate or renewable energy legislation.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is seeking to improve the military’s efficiency and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels over the coming decade, devoting $300 million in economic stimulus financing and other research money toward those goals.

RAND’s conclusions drew swift criticism from some branches of the military — particularly the Navy, which has been leading the foray into advanced algae-based fuels.

a global energy war looms

Telegraph | Here’s an alarming chart to ponder (click to enlarge). HSBC has calculated what would happen to energy consumption by 2050 given plausible forecasts for economic growth and assuming no constraint on resources, or that humans carry on using energy in the “taken for granted” way they do at the moment.

As you can see, demand in China, India and other emerging markets soars, but there is also quite considerable growth from advanced economies too. The big picture is that with an additional one billion cars on the road, demand for oil would grow 110pc to more than 190 million barrels per day. Total demand for energy would rise by a similar order of magnitude, doubling the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to more than three and a half times the amount climate change scientists think would keep temperatures at safe levels.

It scarcely needs saying that regardless of the environmental consequences, energy industries would struggle to cope, and more likely would find it impossible. We may or may not already be perilously close to peak oil – or maximum productive capacity – but nobody believes the industry could produce double what it does at the moment, however clever it becomes in tapping previously uncommercial or inaccessible reserves.

If something can’t happen, then it won’t, so is all that forecast growth in the developing world just a question of wishful thinking that will soon be dashed by the constraints of finite energy? Not necessarily, says HSBC’s economics team. The world can still accommodate high growth, but only if there is a collective change in behaviour, including much greater energy efficiency, a big change in the energy mix, and urgent development of carbon capture technologies so as to limit the damage of fossil fuel usage.

As I’ve written on several occassions before, the big prize here is the US, where per capita use of oil is far higher than anywhere else in the world. If this consumption were reduced to European levels, as is perfectly possible without damage to living standards, it would remove a demand source equal to Saudi Arabia’s entire current output of oil.

So it should indeed be possible to accommodate the rise of China and other emerging markets without exhausting resources or destroying the planet. But it’s going to require massive collective will, of a type the US and others have been unwilling to contemplate up until now.

koch and native american reservation oil theft

VeteransToday | Just what is this Koch Industries? Should it be called a “company?” If so we need to re-think the idea of what a company and a business is supposed to be. Even the brother of Koch Industries owners David and Charles Koch called the company an “organized crime” operation.

Koch money is a key driver of the conservative movement. Almost every [1] conservative-movement rock [2] you turn over [3] has Koch money [4] crawling around [5] under it. As the movement becomes more and more of a pay-to-play operation, conservatives of every stripe do more and more to protect and enrich the Koch operation. This has included blocking, disrupting and avoiding official investigations of accusations. It also includes funding front groups to advance the political and financial interests of the company and its owners.

Theft Of Oil From Reservations
Oppose The Future [6] has the story of how Koch Oil [7] was caught stealing oil from an Indian Reservation, reducing or removing the incomes of so many poor residents.

At some point in 1987, Thurmon Parton’s royalty checks for the three oil wells he inherited from his mother suddenly dropped from $3,000 a month to a little over $1,000. He and his sister, Arnita Gonzalez, members of the Caddo tribe, lived near Gracemont, Oklahoma, a town of a few hundred people on a small grid on the prairie.

Those modest royalties were the only source of income each of them had.

What happened to Mr. Parton, Ms. Gonzales and Ms. Limpy had nothing to do with the wells or how they were producing. Their oil was being stolen. And all of the evidence pointed to the same culprit: Koch Oil, a division of Koch Industries
This is an important story today because it helps us understand the nature of the Koch operation, which has so much influence over our politics and even livelihoods today. It also helps us understand why our government not only appears to be influenced, but often to be outright corrupted. From the story
In the spring of 1989, a Special Committee on Investigations of the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Indian Affairs was formed to look into concerns that the path to tribal self-rule was impeded by fraud, corruption and mismanagement from all sides.

Within a span of months, the Special Committee determined that “Koch [Oil] was engaged in systematic theft, stealing millions in Oklahoma alone.” BLM, even with a tip that Koch was behaving improperly, hadn’t done a thing.
Oppose The Future [7] lays out the story and details of the oil theft. There is also the story of the years following.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

transforming mass consciousness

Alternet | The California ballot initiative for partial marijuana legalization (Proposition 19) may have been defeated for the moment, but nevertheless more than four million voters said "yes" to it. Between the recent reduction in California's penalties for use -- now reduced to a fine for possession of under an ounce of marijuana -- and the burgeoning medical marijuana industry, clearly the times are a-changin'. There are many hundreds of thousands of certified medical marijuana users in California, and twelve other states now have some reduction in marijuana criminalization as well. With scientific research into the clinical effects of psychedelics also burgeoning and a growing number of papers indicating benefit for various psychiatric conditions (post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, terminal illnesses, and drug addiction), thereby bolstering historic claims for clinical utility, and with the horrific costs of failed prohibition more and more obvious to the public, decriminalization -- if not legalization -- has become more of a possibility. With this as background, it is imperative to undertake a public reevaluation of where we are with respect to psychedelic use, its risks, and its potential to support personal, spiritual, and cultural transformation.

The History: Ancient and Modern

Psychoactive substance-induced alteration of consciousness is ages old, the specific history dependent on humans' particular geographic location and corresponding native plant habitats. The remarkable discovery, perpetuation, refinement of use, and sacralization of psychoactive substances in early and stone age cultures testifies to the timeless human interest in transcending "ordinary" historical and cultural realities.

Marijuana use dates at least to 4000 years BCE -- the earliest cultivated plant remains known having been dated to that time. Humans and marijuana have co-evolved, influencing each other reciprocally in terms of cultivation and culture.

The use of mushrooms and other psychoactive plants in Mesoamerica is undoubtedly thousands of years old and was ineradicable despite the deliberate murder of practitioners by the Inquisition and genocidal suppression of indigenous cultures by the European colonizers.

In fact, Europe was desperately poor in psychedelics, these being limited to the toxic tropane alkaloids contained in mandrake, henbane, and poisonous nightshades such as datura (popularly known as thorn-apple, jimson weed, or devil's trumpet). European consciousness developed its particular distortions in concert with the addictive and easily manufactured toxin known as ethanol, which is of limited value for mental and spiritual transformation.