Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
"Useless collective punishment", says Yossi Alpher.
Looking ahead, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley write:
Glen Greenwald cites George Washington to argue that the U.S. is a 'slave to Israel.'
The question of what ought to be done on the Arab–Israeli front remains unanswered, and that may not be a bad thing. With so much that is novel, and with so much having gone so wrong for so long, basic issues should first be addressed. Among them are the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of US mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests and the benefits that would accrue to America from its resolution. One also might ponder reasons behind America's chronic ineffectiveness in persuading lesser powers (Arafat, Hamas, Syria, or Hezbollah) to acquiesce in its demands, a pattern that suggests incapacity to identify local political forces, understand their interests, or comprehend their appeal.
Raising such questions might lead to heretical answers, or impractical ones, or none at all. But it is preferable to a headfirst rush to follow costly familiar patterns and to seek the comforting embrace of ideas that have been tried but never worked or that were never tried but can no longer work. Among the flurry of recommendations the next administration will receive, Obama could do worse than consider some simple advice. Don't rush. Take time, take a deep breath, and take stock.
Friday, December 26, 2008
[Some] amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.-- report
(The title of this post is from Man and The Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 by Keith Thomas, 1983)
29 Dec: 'I will believe "new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels" when I see them,' says Jake Young.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Pursuing the Bush administration for crimes long known to the public may amount to a kind of hypocrisy, but it is a necessary hypocrisy. The alternative, simply doing nothing, not only ratifies torture; it ratifies the failure of the people to control the actions of their government.-- Scott Horton
Another study claims to have shown the first evidence of "calculated reciprocity" in non-human primates, between orangutans (24 Dec)
Monday, December 22, 2008
The appearance of large zones of low-oxygen or no-oxygen along exposed outer coasts like Oregon and Washington came as a complete surprise. If someone had told me this rich, diverse, productive ecosystem could rapidly become a ‘dead zone’, I would have thought they were nuts. And yet we’ve seen the seasonal appearance of hypoxia in 6 of the last 6 years. Francis Chan’s close examination of all data on dissolved oxygen from the last 6 decades off the Oregon coast gives a sense of how very bizarre the last 6 years have been. The data show that the normal situation off our coasts is well oxygenated waters, with only 1 of 10,000 records showing any hypoxia. The recent transformation of this ecosystem from one dominated by a diverse assemblage of rockfish, crabs, sea stars, anemones, sea cucumbers, flatfish, lingcod and more to one devoid of life except microbes has been stunning, wholly unexpected and downright scary. We know that many of the fish and some of the crabs seem to be able to swim or scuttle away from the low-oxygen waters, and in some cases they reappear once the levels of oxygen return to normal, but we do not know the long-term consequences of an annual die-off of the habitat-forming, bottom-dwelling species, many of which live to be decades old.-- Jane Lubchenco
(See also ocean suffocation?)
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Asked whether it is "Mission Accomplished?", he said, first, that British troops did well in adverse circumstances (being greatly below necessary strength and having to react to events) and added, "I wonder what the four million displaced [Iraqis] would think about what has actually happened and the thousands of civilians have been killed. There are downsides as well as upsides."
Ah, but Mr Blair insisted, Saddam was "uniquely evil".
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
So how can we displace a fraud?, ask Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Pablo Triana:
Not by preaching nor by rational argument (believe us, we tried). Not by evidence. Risk methods that failed dramatically in the real world continue to be taught to students in business schools, where professors never lose tenure for the misapplications of those methods. As we are writing these lines, close to 100,000 MBAs are still learning portfolio theory – it is uniformly on the programme for next semester. An airline company would ground the aircraft and investigate after the crash – universities would put more aircraft in the skies, crash after crash. The fraud can be displaced only by shaming people, by boycotting the orthodox financial economics establishment and the institutions that allowed this to happen.See also Michael Lewis on The End:
Why bother to overturn your parents’ world when you can buy it, slice it up into tranches, and sell off the pieces?
* the IEA is taken to task for changing its estimate of the oil price in 2030 (in today's prices) from about $60 to $120. But it should surely be evident that any estimate for so far ahead will in large part be arm waving. Remember that oil prices have plunged over recent months, for a variety of factors, from over $140 to under $50. Few people saw this coming. How can one expect them to forecast more accurately more than 20 years hence, given the much greater number of factors involved?There is more, but I think the problems boil down to a search for greater certainty than is possible. This is illustrated by the description of the IEA report as "gospel" for the petroleum industry, a term that implies that, right or wrong, it is a text accepted with almost uncritical faith. But that's not the case: the report is an important and in this year's case evidence-based contribution to the debate, but one hedged with caveats.
* the precise year that oil production is likely to plateau: again, this should be treated with real caution: it's quite possible the new IEA report is wrong.
* sounding a warning on social dislocation in the U.S. as a result of 'peak oil'. But serious social disruption is likely already given the current economic crisis, and 'peak oil' has not been a factor in the genesis of that crisis (high oil prices in 2008 occurred for other reasons). Beware one dimensional explanations. 
* the conclusion that "either the world economy comes to rely on tar sands for transport oils or economy screeches to a halt." No: there is scope to anticipate the problem and act -- as, for example, is reported to be happening in Denmark and Israel or China.
Ashdenizen recently noted Andy Revkin's observation that "climate change is [just] a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite." That's true enough, but it's also the case that our knowledge is necessarily finite and inadequate the challenges ahead.
This does not mean, of course, that we do not have enough information and understanding to see that the challenges are very large and very serious, and to recognize that governments, and others, need to wake up and get moving.
 In a Jan 2006 article, Jeremy Leggett cites Roger Booth, "who spent his professional life at Shell, and who now believes that, when the peak does hit: 'A crash of 1929 proportions is not improbable.' ". Well, we are experiencing a crash of 1929 proportions. Was this a result of peak oil, or was it, rather, the result of a financial system rotten to the core?
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
It's almost as if one took seriously the words of Chuck Ramkissoon, a character in Joseph O'Neill's Netherland:
All people, Americans, whoever, are at their most civilized when they’re playing cricket. What’s the first thing that happens when Pakistan and India make peace? They play a cricket match. Cricket is instructive, Hans. It has a moral angle. ... I say, we want to have something in common with Hindus and Muslims? Chuck Ramkissoon is going to make it happen. With the New York Cricket Club, we could start a whole new chapter in U.S. history. Why not?[P.S. 12 Nov: James Wood writes that "Netherland was consistently misread as a 9/11 novel, which stints what is most remarkable about it: that it is a postcolonial re-writing of The Great Gatsby." ]
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
The Carbon Budget Proposal [put forward by China at Poznan] suggests that emission allowances could be set at 2.33 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year for each person on the planet in the period 1900 to 2050 as part of a goal of halving world emissions by 2050...-- from Give everyone CO2 permits, say scientists
..."You might say this is in favor of China," says Jiahua Pan, who led the study. "It's not the case. China's own "carbon budget" would be roughly in balance at 2.33 tonnes per capita over the period 1900 to 2050, he says.
Convenient for China. What is the assumed total carbon budget?
David Adam on expecting the worst.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
P.S. 8 Dec: A report on violence spreading to neighbouring CAR.
Jean Pierre Bemba is to be prosecuted by the ICC, which -- of course -- George W. Bush and his fellows refused to allow the U.S. to join. Earth to United States, will you join us now?
The weakness of the Kennedy team [was] “the difference between intelligence and wisdom, between the abstract quickness and verbal facility which the team exuded, and true wisdom, which is the product of hard-won, often bitter experience.” That difference was clearly delineated in Vietnam, where American soldiers, officials and reporters could see that the war was going badly even as McNamara brusquely wielded charts and crunched numbers to enforce his conviction that victory was assured.-- Frank Rich quoting David Halbertsam
Saturday, December 06, 2008
What's going on here?
In The Real Swindle, Boykoff quoted Revkin:
The media seem either to overplay a sense of imminent calamity or to ignore the issue altogether because it is not black and white or on a time scale that feels like news. This approach leaves society like a ship at anchor swinging cyclically with the tide and not going anywhere. What is lost in the swings of media coverage is a century of study and evidence....[Inadequate media translations of climate change have generated] probably more public confusion and cynicism about what is going on.P.S. thunder from Kevin Watkins over Poznan
Friday, December 05, 2008
The most virulent kind of 'shock doctrine' in the world today may actually be that of the government of Zimbabwe, which is not exactly Friedmanite (see, e.g., ICG, Amnesty).
[But in Zimbabwe, Mahmood Mamdani argues, Mugabe
has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not just in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa. In any case, the preoccupation with his character does little to illuminate the socio-historical issues involved.]
Thursday, December 04, 2008
The moral code of these Wall Street executives corresponds to stage one of Lawrence Kohlberg’s famous stages of morality: “The concern is with what authorities permit and punish.” Morally, they are very young children.-- George Packer
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Andy Revkin mentions another simple analogy that also seems helpful: slowing emissions of carbon dioxide is somewhat like slowing credit-card spending and expecting your debt to shrink.
The London opera houses have had more taxpayer money than the British marine power industry over the past few years.writes Chris Goodall.
It should not, of course, have to be either/or, and neither I nor, I am sure, Chris Goodall would want to suggest such a thing.
But in these straitened times, how about those in the performing arts concerned about climate change (on which, for example, see Ashdenizen) twin up with enlightened actors and investors in areas like marine renewables?
Der Fliegende Holländer und das Sea snake.
Les Pêcheurs de Perles, brought to you by tidal power.
Riders from the Sea, powered by offshore wind turbines.
Good to see someone as sensible as this attacking the myth that nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon sources of electricity.
See too Chris Goodall's UK energy top ten.
The Committee on Climate Change said a cut of 21% on 2005 levels was needed for the UK to play its fair share in combating dangerous change.It proposes firm carbon budgets for the next three five-year periods.-- BBC
What is required is an expansion of support to low-carbon research and development, demonstration projects, and the creation of niche markets, on a much larger scale than we are currently seeing. And the key progressive message is that here, as in so many other areas, is that the free market will not deliver.-- Matthew Lockwood
Monday, December 01, 2008
Clinton noted during the campaign that the United States could “obliterate” Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel. Olmert chose different language. He noted “a megalomania and a loss of proportion in the things said here about Iran.” Once again, his words are instructive.-- Roger Cohen
The panel [of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism] is banking on the fact that some of its Democratic members - including Wendy Sherman, Graham Allison and Tim Roemer - have advised President-elect Barack Obama on national security issues and could serve in senior positions in his administration.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Mumbai could represent something rather different in the history of terrorism, and possibly something far more disturbing even than global jihad. Perhaps we have come to the point where casually self-radicalised, sociopathic individuals can form a loose organisation, acquire sufficient weapons and equipment for a few thousand dollars, make a basic plan of action and indulge in a violent expression of their generalised disaffection and anomie.Certainly, though, the attacks in Mumbai got vastly more attention in UK media (and I guess elsewhere internationally) than, for example the riots in Nigeria in which, it appears, many more people died.
1 Dec: Steve Coll
4 Dec: Armchair Generalist
5 Dec: Juan Cole
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Suddenly...the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him.-- Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death
Friday, November 28, 2008
Both the crisis of 1997-98 and the bursting of the dot-com bubble probably had the perverse effect of making both investors and public officials more, not less, complacent. Because neither crisis quite lived up to our worst fears, because neither brought about another Great Depression, investors came to believe that Mr. Greenspan had the magical power to solve all problems — and so, one suspects, did Mr. Greenspan himself, who opposed all proposals for prudential regulation of the financial system.-- Paul Krugman
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
At 13, walking to school, Saviano saw a car with a man’s legs sticking out of the front side-window. He had been turned upside down by the force of machine-gun bullets. When the police pulled the dead man out, an erection was poking through his torn clothes. The young Saviano stared, fascinated...-- Tim Parks reviews Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano
It seems that deeper even than the scandal of the Camorra, for Saviano, is the scandal of death itself. ‘Having seen dozens of murdered men, spattered with blood and dirt, giving off disgusting smells, corpses met by onlookers with curiosity or professional indifference, or kicked aside like toxic waste or wept over in desperation, I have grasped only one thing for sure, an idea so basic it seems dumb: death stinks.’
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Frankly, we can carry on killing the enemy and they can carry on trying to kill us for as long as they like, but we're not achieving anything", says Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Darby.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
A “carbon tax with 100 percent dividend” is required for reversing the growth of atmospheric CO2. The tax, applied to oil, gas and coal at the mine or port of entry, is the fairest and most effective way to reduce emissions and transition to the post fossil fuel era.-- from Tell Barack Obama the Truth – The Whole Truth by James Hansen.
He says "Criticisms are welcomed."
24 Nov: Andy Revkin quizzes Joe Romm's response
Friday, November 21, 2008
That is, get the guys inside the tent who have authority with constituencies you don't and use/work with them to do the right thing (drop torture, push for peace in Israel/Palestine etc.)? I don't know.
P.S. 22 Nov: A NYT analysis on the 'tilt to the center'.
P.S. 25 Nov: George Packer.
This has to be the worst government in the world. I recall a BBC correspondent earlier this year reporting that a minister spent more on his daughter's wedding than (I think) the *entire* country's education budget.
29 Nov: "It is easy, of course, to be outraged. Anger is cheap." -- Andrew Harding
Thursday, November 20, 2008
As far as I understand, 'Hoder' is, first, a proud Iranian nationalist. To him this seems to mean supporting a strong Iran -- complete with its Islamic Revolution, nuclear (weapons) power and all -- a nation ready to engage in dialogue with other countries from a position of strength.
Those who, reportedly, had him arrested don't seem to have got that.
P.S. Solana Larsen cautions on rumours, and says:
We published a note on GV Advocacy with "arrested" in quotation marks:Certainly, the comments on the GV note indicate sharply diverging views as to what may be going on.
And Ethan Zuckerman has written something more extensive in his blog:
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
To govern Afghanistan is a bit like being a Chicago ward politician in the 1920s. It involves understanding power.-- Rory Stewart, in Afghanistan -- Thirty Years of Conflict and Chaos.
Barack Obama understands power politics. But that doesn't mean that it's a good idea to be there in the first place.
Maybe not the cleverest place to go sticking a great big cross, guys.
The Interviewer, Steve Kroft: When the price of oil was at $147 a barrel, there were a lot of spirited and profitable discussions that were held on energy independence. Now you’ve got the price of oil under $60.-- from Shock to Trance energy pattern.
Barack Obama: Right.
Mr. Kroft: Does doing something about energy, is it less important now than….?
Mr. Obama: It’s more important. It may be a little harder politically, but it’s more important.
Mr. Kroft: Why?
Mr. Obama: Well, because this has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it’s not important, and we start, you know, filling up our S.U.V.’s again. And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It’s part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it.
P.S. More at Climate Progress.
...a country, and a people, always has a choice in each generation, of whether to do the right thing. They are not prisoners of their ancestors.-- from A quantum of anti-imperialism by Juan Cole.
Craig's Bond is an intimation of the sort of Britain that could have been, if Tony Blair had stood up to Bush and refused to be dragged into an illegal war of choice, and into other actions and policies that profoundly contradicted the principles on which the Labour Party had been founded (and you could imagine Craig's Bond voting for Old Labour...
Cole notes that Bond's controller is bound through her masters to the U.S. cause. In real life Britain's former 'M' seems to have a little more oomph. (See Sanity from M)
26 Nov: Quantum of Wallace
Monday, November 17, 2008
Obama has stated: "A world without nuclear weapons is profoundly in America's interest and the world's interest. It is our responsibility to make the commitment, and to do the hard work to make this vision a reality. That's what I've done as a senator and a candidate, and that's what I'll do as president."-- from Can Obama Say No to Nuclear Weapons?. But the Indians, for one, take a different view.
P.S. 18 Nov. See Report on Nuclear Security Urges Prompt Global Action.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The brownish haze, sometimes more than a mile thick and clearly visible from airplanes, stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. During the spring, it sweeps past North and South Korea and Japan. Sometimes the cloud drifts as far east as California.-- U.N. Report Sees New Pollution Threat.
after a stint as a press officer at the record label RCA, Freud was introduced by his father to the spoon-bender, Uri Geller, and the pair came up with a lucrative wheeze: convincing an Australian mining company to pay Geller £250,000 to dowse for gold. Freud took 10%, and he was off...
the leading non-OECD economies such as China and India would need to join a global emissions reduction framework, as well as all OECD members. The price of emissions in such a system would have to be high: $180 (€143, £119) per tonne of carbon dioxide to get to 450ppm in the atmosphere, compared with Wednesday’s price of about $23 in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
a) Reinforce grid to allow better connection to EU and greater capacity from Scotland to England. Link to Norwegian hydro as most secure source of emergency power. Without changing the way the National Grid is regulated, renewables will be held up by decades thanks to 'first come, first served' rules. Chapter 1 of book.Among the striking points Chris Goodall made last night was that the average Brit consumes, directly and indirectly, enough energy to keep two electric kettles boiling 24 hours a day (more on that here).
b) Hundreds of millions a year in subsidy, enhanced tariffs, prizes for tidal and wave power. UK has competitive advantage. Large export potential. Infant industry. Chapter 3
c) Electric car subsidy. Pay people to drive them. Set up charging infrastructure. Battery technology is nearly competitive with liquid fuels. Needs a sustained push and we can decarbonise private driving. Chapter 6
d) Eco-renovations. Copy the Germans and introduce sustained and plausible programme of incentivising major (85% +) improvements in energy efficiency of existing (not new) buildings. Chapter 5
e) Join with other EU governments to back Sahara concentrated solar power. (see TREC) Chapter 2
f) Don't do Feed-In Tariffs for small renewables. Do Feed-In Tariffs for big renewables and phase out ROCs. Far more bang for the buck.
g) Ban coal unless with carbon capture. Offer prizes, and guaranteed prices for CCS delivered power.Chapter 8
h) Large research programme into improving soil carbon storage in tropics. Biochar, pastoral, land management improvements. Chapters 9 and 10
i) See if we can Areva to guarantee €3bn for a PWR reactor as they did with FInland. Epilogue
j) Major programme of land use planning to grow energy crops for fuel, ethanol for cars and fuel cells. Chapter 7.
He also has an incisive take on The Nuclear New Deal.
P.S. See Friedman on fixing a flat,and Joe Romm on Obama and energy and bailing out auto: " if the Medium Two actually use the $25 billion Congress authorized in September for retooling their factories to make fuel-efficient cars, then that money will be going to good use." James Surowiecki says "one of the big reasons why bailing out the automakers feels necessary is precisely because we let Lehman Brothers fail."
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds, -
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved, - still warm, - too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
Monday, November 10, 2008
[Marcus] Raichle and a handful of others are finally tackling this fundamental question - what exactly is the idling brain up to, anyway? Their work has led to the discovery of a major system within the brain, an organ within an organ, that hid for decades right before our eyes. Some call it the neural dynamo of daydreaming. Others assign it a more mysterious role, possibly selecting memories and knitting them seamlessly into a personal narrative. Whatever it does, it fires up whenever the brain is otherwise unoccupied and burns white hot, guzzling more oxygen, gram for gram, than your beating heart.-- from The secret life of the brain by Douglas Fox.
"It's a very important thing," says Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's not very frequent that a new functional system is identified in the brain, in fact it hasn't happened for I don't know how many years. It's like finding a new continent."
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Do you think poetry can play any practical or meaningful role in changing minds and hearts on environmental issues? In the past you have conceded that no poem is strong enough to stop a tank, so my question is: can a poem stop an SUV?-- Seamus Heaney in conversation with Dennis O'Driscoll
I think that one answers itself. What has happened, however, is that environmental issues have to a large extent changed the mind of poetry. Again, it's a question of the level of awareness, the horizon of consciousness within which poet and audience operate. There are those like Gary Snyder and Alice Oswald for whom these matters are an explicit concern, but at this stage nobody can have an uncomplicated Hopkinsian trust in the self-refreshing powers of nature. Yet if Philip Larkin were writing his poem on water nowadays, it would still be in order for him to end on a note of reverence, and "raise in the east / A glass of water / Where any-angled light / Would congregate endlessly". I suppose I'm saying that defiance is actually part of the lyric job.
Open Secrets reports that Rahm Emanuel "was the top House recipient in the 2008 election cycle of contributions from hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investment industry".-- Wikipedia.
P.S. 12 Nov: Hedge fund billionaires to come out blinking into the spotlight.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues -- indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.Jonathan Raban outs Obama as an intellectual.
Back in the '70s, conservative intellectuals loved to talk about "radical chic," the well-known tendency of educated, often wealthy liberals to project their political fantasies onto brutal revolutionaries and street thugs, and romanticize their "struggles." But "populist chic" is just the inversion of "radical chic," and is no less absurd, comical or ominous.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Only fools find joy in the prospect of climate engineering. It's also foolish to think that risk of significant climate damage can be denied or wished away,” he said. “Perhaps we can depend on the transcendent human capacity for self-sacrifice when faced with unprecedented, shared, long-term risk, and therefore can depend on future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But just in case, we'd better have a plan.-- Ken Caldeira
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
You may set the Negro free, but you cannot make him otherwise than an alien to the European. Nor is this all we scarcely acknowledge the common features of humanity in this stranger whom slavery has brought among us. His physiognomy is to our eyes hideous, his understanding weak, his tastes low; and we are almost inclined to look upon him as a being intermediate between man and the brutes.-- Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1835)
Read, for example, this and this.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Sunday, November 02, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
I will always tell you what I think and where I stand. I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you when we disagree. And, most importantly, I will open the doors of government and ask you to be involved in your own democracy again.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
World will struggle to meet oil demand, says The Financial Times (The IEA expects oil consumption in 2030 to reach 106.4m barrels a day, down from last year’s forecast of 116.3m b/d).
But peak oil, more accurately termed elsewhere oil, remains a red herring (see this and this).
After Hiroshima, the Japanese scientists concluded, correctly, that the United States must have labored long and hard to create enough U-235, the difficult-to-extract fissionable isotope of uranium used in atomic bombs, and that they probably did not have any left—the Hiroshima bomb was a one-time shot, at least for now. After Nagasaki, however, these scientists recognized the plutonium used in that bomb and understood that it must have come from a working reactor—and, therefore, there would be more where that bomb came from. The authors [of The Nuclear Express, Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman] surmise the scientists’ advice to the Japanese war cabinet after Nagasaki: “Better take this one seriously; better accede to American demands; there are probably more plutonium bombs.”-- Steve Coll.
If this is accurate, it creates a different context for reflection on whether the United States should have delivered a warning shot. Of course, in one important sense, the moral equation remains unchanged—the U.S. decision-makers could only proceed from the knowledge they possessed; they could not factor in how well-educated Japanese nuclear-weapons scientists would react. Still, it does suggest that if the U.S. had conducted a demonstration bombing with its uranium-based weapon, it might not have made a decisive impression on the Japanese at all.
We’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.-- Sarah Palin, quoted by Hendrick Hertzberg
Teddy Roosevelt, John McCain's favourite president, was also branded a socialist, notes Andrew Sullivan
To the ancient Greeks, Arcadia was a rural idyll. Instead of a lush, bucolic landscape, I found one devastated by the hunt for fossil fuels. Sixty per cent of Greece’s electricity is derived from lignite (brown coal). This involves bulldozing whole landscapes to feed the nearby power station. In Megalopolis I found Greece’s second largest lignite mine. The village of Anthohori in Arcadia was wiped off the map - the church of Santa Maria was all that remained.-- Stuart Franklin
the idea that a quick recession would purge the world of past excesses is ludicrous. The danger is, instead, of a slump, as a mountain of private debt – in the US, equal to three times GDP – topples over into mass bankruptcy. The downward spiral would begin with further decay of financial systems and proceed via pervasive mistrust, the vanishing of credit, closure of vast numbers of businesses, soaring unemployment, tumbling commodity prices, cascading declines in asset prices and soaring repossessions. Globalisation would spread the catastrophe everywhere.-- Martin Wolf
Many of the victims would be innocent of past excesses, while many of the most guilty would retain their ill-gotten gains. This would be a recipe not for a revival of 19th-century laisser faire, but for xenophobia, nationalism and revolution. As it is, such outcomes are conceivable.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
...There is...no escaping the need for politics, for a robust international agreement that, among other things, commits America to sharing the burden for helping China and India develop without burning their piles of coal; building wind farms in Mongolia is even more crucial than in Minnesota.-- Bill McKibben.
...[Tom] Friedman can't easily deal with such [analysis] precisely because of the tenets of the conventional wisdom, American style, which is that fundamental change in direction is essentially impossible. The world is a growth machine and "nobody can turn it off."...
[He] can't see these new probabilities because they conflict with the one great imperative of the conventional wisdom, which is optimism. Just as you can't run for commander-in-chief on any platform other than "Our best days are still ahead of us," so you can't run for pundit-in-chief either. But those instincts can get you in trouble. Friedman, after all, supported the war in Iraq with a similarly glib but upbeat forecast. The day of the invasion he weighed the two schools of thought: the Europeans were predicting "more terrorism, a dangerous precedent for preventive war, civilian casualties," while Bush was arguing "that it will be a game-changer—that it will spark reform throughout the Arab world and intimidate other tyrants who support terrorists."
He chose wrong there, and of course deplores it now; my guess is he'll rue his dismissal of international diplomacy, and of the possibility that the world should consider more fundamental shifts than technological change alone. Global warming, above all, should give one pause—after all, we are making our mark now in geological, not human, time. But pause doesn't seem to be one of his modes.
McCain is right in detecting signs of growing class resentment; some of the angry are turning up at McCain-Palin rallies, where the mood has been not so much socialist as national-socialist.-- Steve Coll
The problem isn’t lack of education—it’s that of a self-isolating political subculture gone rancid.-- George Packer
Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured.-- Christopher Hitchens
National Socialists here, End timers here
On average, common species are flowering seven days earlier than they did in Thoreau’s day...[Researchers have] determined that 27 percent of the species documented by Thoreau have vanished from Concord and 36 percent are present in such small numbers that they probably will not survive for long.-- from Thoreau Is Rediscovered as a Climatologist
“It’s targeting certain branches in the tree of life...They happen to be our most charismatic species — orchids, mints, gentians, lilies, iris.”
Monday, October 27, 2008
It will be hard to surpass the campaign of 1876, when Republican Rutherford Hayes accused his Democratic opponent, Samuel Tilden, of having picked up syphilis from a prostitute; in turn, Democrats accused Hayes of shooting his mother after a night of boozing. (In the end, Hayes stole the election by rigging votes in three southern states.)-- from Ken Silverstein on the crowd-sourcing of Obama smears
The first African-American nominated for the office of vice president was Frederick Douglass in 1872 with Victoria Woodhull as the candidate for president on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
image: The Election (1) by William Hogarth, 1754.
"Inexpert and delusory outlook", "a sense of self-adoration", "profound ignorance", subscribing to "superstitious religiosity", magic and the occult.No, not Sarah Palin (although it's close), but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the words of some of his domestic critics in Iran, as reported by Akbar Ganji in his analysis for Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec 08).
Cheney and Khamanei as the benevolent godfathers.
[P.S. 28 Oct: Elaine Sciolino scolds Robert Baer for peddling ignorance and misunderstanding]
Congo, Greece under the colonels, and the present day U.S. provide the grist.
Congo, Greece (when it was a brutal military dictatorship), the United States.
Saddam Hussein, supported for two or three decades by the U.S. (and others), partly rose to the attention in the Ba'ath thanks to his creativity and virtuosity in the development and application of an alternative set of procedures. He used to offer some of his clients a menu to choose from, like a chef.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
To properly support dualism...non-materialist neuroscientists must show the mind is something other than just a material brain. To do so, they look to some of their favourite experiments, such as research by [Jeffrey M. Schwartz] in the 1990s on people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Schwartz used scanning technology to look at the neural patterns thought to be responsible for OCD. Then he had patients use "mindful attention" to actively change their thought processes, and this showed up in the brain scans: patients could alter their patterns of neural firing at will.-- from Creationists declare war over the brain. In addition to the faulty reasoning by Schwartz and the Christianists, an irony here is that the technique employed in the attempt to prove their point -- mindfulness -- comes from the Buddhist tradition, which in its core teachings is atheist.
From such experiments, Schwartz and others argue that since the mind can change the brain, the mind must be something other than the brain, something non-material. [But] in fact, these experiments are entirely consistent with mainstream neurology - the material brain is changing the material brain.
P.S. In the first of a series of essays in Nature about 'being human', Pacal Boyer concludes:
Some form of [magical] thinking seems to be the path of least resistance for our cognitive systems. By contrast, disbelief is generally the result of deliberate, effortful work against our natural cognitive dispositions — hardly the easiest ideology to propagate.
The purpose was to help highlight for non-specialists a phenomenon that may prove to be important. As noted here, Ralph Keeling has suggested 'ocean oxygen deprivation'. But it's not clear to me that 'ocean suffocation' is any less accurate or more sensational than, for example 'ocean acidification', which is now a widely accepted term.
Anyway, this needs attention from people better-trained and wiser than me.
P.S. 24 Oct: After discussion involving distinguished oceanographers and others the wiki stub is now labeled ocean deoxygenation.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
There is, after all, something simply irreplaceable about reading a piece of writing at length on paper, in a chair or on a couch or in bed. To use an obvious analogy, jazz entered our civilization much later than composed, formal music. But it hasn’t replaced it; and no jazz musician would ever claim that it could. Jazz merely demands a different way of playing and listening, just as blogging requires a different mode of writing and reading. Jazz and blogging are intimate, improvisational, and individual—but also inherently collective. And the audience talks over both.-- from Why I blog by Andrew Sullivan
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
We often give a pass to racists by noting that they were "of their times." Fair enough, and I know Hawaii was a different beast, but still, today, let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. Let us remember that Barack Obama learned the great lessons of life from courageous white people. Let us speak of those who do what normal, right people should always do when faced with a child--commit an act love. Here's to doing the right thing.-- Ta-Nahesi Coates.
See also Tomasky.
Monday, October 20, 2008
All for ourselves and nothing for other people seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.-- Adam Smith quoted by Susan George in We must think big to fight environmental disaster. George's vision is unity around the common purpose of facing up to the challenge. Touchingly, she looks back to her wartime childhood in Akron, Ohio:
Yes, there were still worker-management conflicts, but on the whole it was a time of opportunity, especially for women and minorities. Workers were well paid, everyone pitched in, "victory gardens" were cultivated, children used their allowances to buy war stamps, petrol was rationed. The country had never been so united before - or since.Elsewhere, Nick Turse and Tom Englehardt highlight the costs of present economic troubles (car burning for insurance money has to be an icon of anti-sustainability).
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
A deep rift over anti-terror policy has opened up within Pakistan's political class, as extremist violence and an economic crisis push the country to the verge of collapse...-- report from The Guardian. Panicky or a fair summary?
P.S. Fasih Ahmed asks whether Pakistan can stay afloat (10 Oct).
The 150-strong population [on the Aegean island of Agathonisi] has been overwhelmed as it tried to cope with an influx of immigrants that by last week had surpassed 4,100 in number...-- report in The Guardian.
...Last year nearly 200 men, women and children were buried in unnamed graves, mostly on [Greek] islands where their bodies had washed up.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
A moderator's job is to help things run smoothly -- to facilitate firmly but to be inconspicuous. But if, as I have been asked, I am to say something at the very start, I may try to articulate a question that, I guess, is in many people's minds -- viz. how, if at all, might the current financial crisis influence prospects and opportunities? 
Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek thinks this crisis has a silver lining:
Amid all the difficulties and hardship that we are about to undergo, I see one silver lining. This crisis has—dramatically, vengefully—forced the United States to confront the bad habits it has developed over the past few decades. If we can kick those habits, today's pain will translate into gains in the long run.Turning to the natural world, Pavan Sukhdev, lead author of a recent report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, has said:
Whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today's rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year.But what of the human debt to the oceans? How many get-out-of-jail-free cards are we relying upon them to gives us (as, for example, climate buffers and/or new and so far unregulated resource for exploitation such as"elsewhere oil")? And how many inescapable penalties are we incurring as a result of a "consume now, pay later" approach?
The Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood invites us to re-examine our attitudes to debt:
It is told of Nelson Mandela that, after much persecution, and when he was finally freed from the prison where he'd been put by the apartheid government in South Africa, he said to himself that he had to forgive all those who had wronged him by the time he reached the prison gates or he would never be free of them. In other words, the antidote to revenge is not justice but forgiveness.Finally, some words of inspiration from two sons of Lübeck. Willy Brandt:
Could we not begin to lay the basis for that new community with reasonable relations among all people and nations, and to build a world in which sharing, justice, freedom and peace might prevail? (Brandt Report, 1983)and Thomas Mann:
The beautiful word begets the beautiful deed. (The Magic Mountain)Footnote
 This is part of the XVII Malente Symposium: More than Water - Oceans and Global Responsibility.
 Added 13 Oct: In the event I also mentioned the U.S. Presidential election -- another issue front centre of global public concern, and contrasted these words of Sarah Palin's with the clarity of Jacqueline McGlade.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
It is hard to escape the fear, even the despair, that this whole area - all of Naples, all of southern Italy - is suitable only for a rain of fire from the heavens, or maybe a 1,000-year quarantine, like an ethical or indeed literal Chernobyl.-- from a review of Gomorrah.
Friday, October 10, 2008
A professed libertarian, [Alan Greenspan] counted among his formative influences the novelist Ayn Rand, who portrayed collective power as an evil force set against the enlightened self-interest of individuals. In turn, he showed a resolute faith that those participating in financial markets would act responsibly.-- from Taking Hard New Look at a Greenspan Legacy by Peter S. Goodman
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
By no means the country's only challenge, but clearly significant.
[P.S. an Israeli comments on the threat to "that one"]
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Monday, October 06, 2008
RovePalinMcCain are throwing the kitchen sink at Obama. As Schopenhauer observed, the last trick, the ultimate strategy, is, when you see that your opponent is winning, to 'become personal', to 'leave the subject altogether and turn your attack to his person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character.'
They're at war with words and truth itself (see here and here).
Obama has music on his side as well as words. Listen here and here.
...Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;...
String along a chain of nouns in the form of politically symbolic platitudes—“Hockey Mom Pitbull Joe Six Pack Wasilla Main Street Reform Soccer Mom Every Day American People Maverick”—and you have practically the whole of her program, her policies, her world view.-- George Packer
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Friday, October 03, 2008
That said, it's hard to see how an Obama administration will avoid the mother of all train wrecks in Afghanistan and Pakistan (on which see, e.g., Paul Rogers and Afghan 'dictator' proposed).
P.S. 5 and 6 Oct: Afghan victory hopes played down and Bloodiest year so far in Afghanistan.
Not in the pink anymore.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Burying the NPT for now, consider what Wikipedia (as of 9am 2 Oct) says about the economic considersations:
the U.S. ...expects that [the] deal could spur India's economic growth and bring in $150 billion in the next decade for nuclear power plants, of which the U.S. wants a share. It is India's stated objective to increase the production of nuclear power generation from its present capacity of 4,000 MWe to 20,000 MWe in the next decade. However,... Dalberg, [a consultancy which] advises the IMF and the World Bank...[concludes] that for the next 20 years such investments are likely to be far less valuable economically or environmentally than a variety of other measures to increase electricity production in India. They have noted that U.S. nuclear vendors cannot sell any reactors to India unless and until India caps third party liabilities or establishes a credible liability pool to protect U.S. firms from being sued in the case of an accident or a terrorist act of sabotage against nuclear plants.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
But the id rears its head too in footage of Obama emphasising before the swelling massed ranks of AIPAC, again and again, that he will do everything -- EVERYTHING -- in his power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Obama must surely have understood that the message as heard by that audience was clear: he is ready to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran.
It is to be hoped that, if elected, Obama will stick to what he has said are his core values. This would translate into, among other things, respect for Iran's right to be secure and achieve political and social change on its own terms, the elimination of the threat of nuclear attack by ALL regional powers, and real justice and restitution for the Palestinians.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
The rise in global carbon dioxide emissions last year outpaced international researchers' most dire projections...In 2007, carbon released from burning fossil fuels and producing cement increased 2.9 percent over that released in 2006, to a total of 8.47 gigatons, or billions of metric tons, according to the Australia-based Global Carbon Project...More.