Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Greenpeace blocks Suncor at tar sands

Greenpeace disrupts Canada's largest energy company

Greenpeace: Activists from Canada, France, Germany and Brazil have shut down a bitumen conveyor belt and blocked a bridge at the Suncor Energy site on the Athabasca River north of Fort McMurray.

Live streaming video from the action is here.

Activists locked down on the bridge have erected a banner reading 'Bridge to Climate Hell.' Other activists have floated a banner on the Athabasca reading 'Dying for Climate Leadership.' to focus attention on the disregard for the river and the people who rely on it.

The river banner also speaks to the failure of the Canadian government and world leaders to fight climate change.

The action comes two weeks after the successful Greenpeace blockade at a Shell open-pit mine and a week after Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's leading body on climate change, said that Canada is failing on climate action, and should consider putting the tar sands on hold.

Watch for updates on the Greenpeace web site.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dimona: Israel's 'original sin'

The Most Dangerous Nuclear Facility in the Middle East

Juan Cole, Informed Comment: There is no good evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. It has offered to allow regular International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of the newly announced facility near Qom, which would effectively prevent it from being used for weapons production.

There is a secret nuclear facility in the Middle East, however, producing plutonium and not just enriched uranium, which has the capacity to make 10 nuclear warheads a year.

It is Israel's ongoing nuclear weapon production that drives the nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Saddam wanted a bomb because Israel had one. The Iranians were then worried both about an Iraqi and an Israeli bomb. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others are annoyed at their geostrategic helplessness in the face of Israeli nukes.

Israel's nuclear arsenal is the region's Original Sin.
Image source here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Quotes for the day

Arundhati Roy: As a writer, a fiction writer, I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry. (In 'What Have We Done to Democracy?')

Whishaw said that when he agreed to take the role, [director Jane] Campion told him that he should know as much about how poets approach their craft as possible... "She said 'You have to experience the world as poetry to have a poet's view of life. You can see poetry in everything, and poetry only reveals itself over time.'

"I visited his house and did everything I could to get myself closer to being in his spirit. I spent some time in class with a poet and we touched on some of the technical things. But Keats said, 'Poetry should come as naturally as leaves to a tree.' He was a smart man and educated himself to the technical stuff, but when he was writing, he was receiving it from somewhere else." ('Ben Whishaw channels poetic John Keats in Bright Star')

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Water here, water there

The Washington Post: Climate researchers now predict the planet will warm by 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century even if the world's leaders fulfill their most ambitious climate pledges, a much faster and broader scale of change than forecast just two years ago, according to a report released by the United Nations Environment Program...

The significant global temperature rise is likely to occur even if industrialized and developed countries enact every climate policy they have proposed at this point. The increase is nearly double what scientists and world policymakers have identified as the upper limit of warming the world can afford in order to avert catastrophic climate change... Sea level might rise by as much as six feet [1.8 metre] by 2100 instead of 1.5 feet, as the IPCC had projected, and the Arctic may experience a sea-ice [free] summer by 2030, rather than by the end of the century.

BBC News: Greenland and parts of Antarctica are losing large volumes of ice to the oceans as their glaciers get thinner, a NASA satellite has revealed... A full melt of the Greenland ice would push sea level up by about 7m (20ft)... The swiftness with which some of the glaciers now move towards the sea far outstrips the rate at which ice can be restored to the land through precipitation. As a consequence, these glaciers are shown in the Icesat data to be falling in height -- some dramatically so...

The findings re-affirm what many suspect -- that the reduced elevation of these glaciers is not the result of changes in precipitation or melt, but the increased speed at which they now move... In many places in both Antarctica and Greenland, glaciers are being confronted by warmer waters which are eroding their fronts... The break-up of floating ice shelves that would normally constrict glacier flow has also contributed to the observed acceleration. And in some regions, increased air temperatures are having an effect.

The New York Times: Data from three spacecraft indicate the widespread presence of water or hydroxyl... 'It's so startling because it's so pervasive,' said Lawrence A. Taylor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a co-author of one of the papers that analyzed data from a NASA instrument aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 satellite. 'It's like somebody painted the globe.'...

The Chandrayaan-1 data looked at sunlight reflected off the Moon's surface and found a dip at a wavelength where water and hydroxyl absorb infrared light. Dr. Taylor estimated the concentration at about one quart of water per cubic yard of lunar soil and rock [approximately 1 litre per cubic metre}.
Image sources here and here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The US 'culture of cruelty'

A mean streak in the US mainstream
Mary Dejevsky, The Independent: When we Europeans -- the British included -- contemplate the battles President Obama must fight to reform the US health system, our first response tends to be disbelief. How can it be that so obvious a social good as universal health insurance, so humane a solution to common vulnerability, is not sewn deep into the fabric of the United States?... It is because very many Americans simply do not agree that it is a good idea...

The point is that, when on 'normal,' the needle of the US barometer is not only quite a way to the political right of where it would be in Europe, but showing a very different atmospheric level, too. For there is a mean and merciless streak in mainstream US attitudes, which tolerates much more in the way of inequality, deprivation and suffering than is acceptable here, while incorporating a large and often sanctimonious quotient of blame.

Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: Citizens are increasingly constructed through a language of contempt for all noncommercial public spheres and a chilling indifference to the plight of others... There is a growing element of scorn on the part of the American public for those human beings caught in the web of misfortune, human suffering, dependency and deprivation... Underlying the culture of cruelty... was the legalization of state violence, such that human suffering was now sanctioned by the law, which no longer served as a summons to justice...

The ideology of hardness and cruelty runs through American culture like an electric current, sapping the strength of social relations and individual character, moral compassion and collective action, offering up crimes against humanity that become fodder for video games and spectacularized media infotainment... that promotes a 'symbiosis of suffering and spectacle.'

Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weller, The Washington Post: Americans' views of political issues and their partisan attachments are being increasingly shaped by gut-level worldviews. On one side of many issues are those who see the world in terms of hierarchy, think about problems in black and white terms, and struggle to tolerate difference. On the other are those who favor independence over hierarchy, shades of gray over black-white distinctions, and diversity over sameness.

We call this dividing line an authoritarian one, and we find that what side of the line people fall on explains their positions on a wide-ranging set of issues, including race, immigration, gay rights, civil liberties, and terrorism... We find an extraordinarily strong correlation between racial resentment of blacks and opposition to health care reform.

Dday: I would say that in general, opposition to any social insurance program for the less fortunate meets head-on with racial animus. Whether the presumed leader of this policy shift is white or black, a substantial portion of those with racial resentment pictures that leader as delivering their tax dollars to the undeserving other...

What these professors are really probing is the lizard brain, the tribal identifiers that often bubble to the surface, in unguarded moments, as racism. It's almost too neat and simple to simply call it racial in intent. It goes much deeper to a visceral resentment, a put-upon persecution complex, this constant paranoia that someone else is getting a better deal... It's purely an emotional release to explain whatever personal failings or lack of compassion already exists...

These thoughts have taken decades if not hundreds of years to wind through the American lizard brain. It will take perhaps as much time to wind them out.
Image source here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

From the journals of Mahmoud Darwish

As if he were asleep

He woke up all at once. He opened the window onto a faint light, a clear sky and a refreshing breeze. He felt his body, limb by limb, and found it was intact. He looked at the pillow and saw that no hairs had fallen out in the night. He looked at the sheet and say no blood. He switched on the radio and there were no reports of new killings in Iraq or Gaza or Afghanistan. He thought he was asleep. He rubbed his eyes in the mirror and recognized his face easily. He shouted: 'I'm alive.' He went into the kitchen to prepare coffee. He put a spoonful of honey in a glass of fat-free milk. On the balcony he saw a visiting canary perched on a tub of flowers he'd forgotten to water. He said good morning to the canary and scattered some breadcrumbs for it. The canary flew away and alighted on the branch of a bush and began to sing. Again, he thought that he must be asleep. He looked in the mirror once more and said: 'That's me.' He listened to the latest news report. No new killings anywhere. He was delighted by this peculiar morning. His delight led him to his writing desk, with one line in his head: 'I'm alive even though I feel no pain.' He was filled with a passionate desire to make poetry, because of a crystal clarity that had descended upon him from some distant place: from the place where he was now! When he sat hat the writing desk he found the line 'I'm alive even though I feel no pain,' written on a blank sheet of paper. This time he didn't just think he was asleep. He was sure of it.

From A River Dies of Thirst, Translated by Catherine Cobham

Monday, September 21, 2009

And about that Afghan Army...

Meet the Afghan Army
Is It a Figment of Washington's Imagination?

Ann Jones, TomDispatch: American military planners and policymakers already proceed as if, with sufficient training, Afghans can be transformed into scale-model, wind-up American Marines. That is not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. No matter how many of our leaders concur that it must happen -- and ever faster...

What is there to show for all this remarkably expensive training?... My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist. It may well be true that Afghan men have gone through some version of 'Basic Warrior Training' 90,000 times or more. When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through ANA training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name.

In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training, but it's a needlessly complicated way to unintentionally deliver such minimal humanitarian aid. Some of these circulating soldiers are aging former mujahidin -- the Islamist fundamentalists the US once paid to fight the Soviets -- and many are undoubtedly Taliban...

Recently Karen DeYoung noted in the Washington Post that the Taliban now regularly use very sophisticated military techniques -- 'as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the US Army's Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments.' Of course, some of them have attended training sessions which teach them to fight in 'austere environments,' probably time and time again. If you were a Talib, wouldn't you scout the training being offered to Afghans on the other side? And wouldn't you do it more than once if you could get well paid every time?...

There is, by the way, plenty of evidence that Taliban fighters get along just fine, fighting fiercely and well without the training lavished on the ANA and the ANP. Why is it that Afghan Taliban fighters seem so bold and effective, while the Afghan National Police are so dismally corrupt and the Afghan National Army a washout?

When I visited bases and training grounds in July, I heard some American trainers describe their Afghan trainees in the same racist terms once applied to African slaves in the US: lazy, irresponsible, stupid, childish, and so on. That's how Afghan resistance, avoidance, and sabotage look to American eyes. The Taliban fight for something they believe -- that their country should be freed from foreign occupation. 'Our' Afghans try to get by...

'Our' Afghans are never going to fight for an American cause, with or without American troops, the way we imagine they should. They're never going to fight with the energy of the Taliban for a national government that we installed against Afghan wishes, then more recently set up to steal another election, and now seems about to ratify in office, despite uncontrovertible evidence of flagrant fraud. Why should they? Even if the US could win their minds, their hearts are not in it.
Image source here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Preparing for disaster

Rivka Galchen: These grand weather-control ideas, charted in mathematical detail, are works of the scientific imagination. I myself think of them as poems. They are constrained not by meter or rhyme or genre but by the stuff of our real world. We're used to thinking of constraints as a way to enhance the artistic imagination; we're just not used to these particular constraints, the laws of our universe as we understand them.

When we treat certain scientific imaginings as pragmatic undertakings rather than as a kind of art, we end up with bumbling disasters, occasionally profound evil, and now and again something like a smallpox vaccine and affordable clean-water resources for millions of people. But as a way of dreaming rigorously, these poems of science might be like Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal, or Lewis Carroll's 'Jabberwocky.' Or like the work of the Marquis de Sade.

Leslie Fiedler, on Simone Weil: This world is the only reality available to us, and if we do not love it in all its terror, we are sure to end up loving the 'imaginary,' our own dreams and self-deceits, the utopias of politicians, of the futile promises of future reward and consolation which the misled blasphemously call 'religion.'

Nicholas Fraser: Humans aren't generous or even coherently motivated by self-interest. They are what they are -- nothing is to be done about it. All you can do is notice things and work hard at surviving.
-- 'A Man of Extinction,' Harper's (October 2009)
Image source here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

After the lament

Chris Turner: We fell into casual conversation in that easy way men do when there's a fire to be tended, and talk turned to my recent communion with the Great Barrier Reef. One of the locals, a maker of elegant slide didgeridoos of his own design, said something about how the future didn't look very bright for the reef.

'Not unless we really make some changes, no,' I replied, shooting for a note of pragmatic optimism.

'Nah,' chimed in a ponytailed dude named Angus who was assembling pizzas. 'It's gone, mate. Might as well start getting used to the idea.'

I didn't know what to say to that, so I busied myself with the cheese grater. His tone had sent me reeling for reasons I couldn't place until much later. It wasn't grave or accusatory, not glib nor gleefully nihilistic. It was a win-some-lose-some tone, a shooting-the-breeze-around-the-bonfire tone. The tone of someone who'd already reached some sort of difficult reconciliation a good while back with the notion that there was nothing so sacred or durable that it exists beyond the reach of this tumult. It was the tone, I guess, of someone who'd dedicated his life to the step that came after the lament.

Friday, September 18, 2009

US racist crazies: 'Now the mask is off'

The Return of the Repressed
Michelle Goldberg,
The American Prospect: Even if you believed that compassionate conservatism was always a bit of a con, it's amazing to see how quickly it has vanished, and how fast an older style of reaction, one more explicitly rooted in racial grievance, has reasserted itself...

For the last 15 years, the right-wing populism has been substantially electrified by sexual anxiety. Now it's charged with racial anxiety... The messianic, imperialistic, hubristic side of the right has gone into retreat, and a cramped, mean and paranoid style has come to the fore...

It's not, after all, as if the Christian right was something completely removed from the old racist right -- they were initially deeply intertwined... As racism grew politically unacceptable, the Christian right was able to channel resentment over the decline of white male privilege into a Kulturkampf directed at more acceptable enemies, like gays and lesbians. The movement convinced itself that it was in a righteous struggle against a culture of death, not a culture of diversity. Now the mask is off.

Frank Schaeffer, to Rachel Maddow: We have a subculture... that is bred from birth, through home school, Christian school, evangelical college, whatever to reject facts as a matter of faith... Can Christianity be rescued from Christians?... When you see a bunch of people going around thinking that our President is the anti-Christ you have to draw one of two conclusions.

Either these are racists looking for any excuse to level the next accusation or they're beyond crazy. And I think beyond crazy is a better explanation and that evangelical subculture has rotted the brain of the United States of America. We have a bit slice of our population waiting for Jesus to come back. They look forward to Armageddon...

A group of people who are resentful because they know they've been left behind by modernity, by science, by education, by art, by literature... These people are standing on a hill top waiting for the end and this is a dangerous group to have as neighbors. And they're our national neighbors... It's a disaster.

CNN: William Jelani Cobb, who has written extensively about race and politics, said Obama's election has also rekindled the historic rancor some whites feel against successful blacks... 'The upsurge of riots at the beginning of the 20th century was driven in part by the fact that blacks were perceived to be moving up in society -- at the expense of whites... Now we have a black president, which means, on its most basic level, that a black man has more power than any single white citizen in this country... Whether people want to admit it or not, I suspect the Tea Party crowd believes that the currency of whiteness has been devalued.'

David Michael Green, Common Dreams: The folks most aggrieved and most estranged from their senses of late are precisely the people who were bought off of their sanity at every turn with the latest form of bigotry du jour, used to assuage their ever-diminishing sense of relative social status. Over and over again, the people I see on my television screen acting absolutely and incoherently stupid in their senseless rage seem to be little more than fat, white, Southern, sixty-something racist good ol' boys.

Well past their sell-by dates, they've of course gotten tremendous help cranking it up again. That's no surprise. I'm not sure these crackers are smart enough to even be stupid without coaching...

It takes a willful act of ignorance (something we see a lot of these days) not to perceive the United States as the latest in history's failing empires... Unlike Rome, this puppy is taking decades, rather than centuries, to collapse.

Empires come and go, of course. Rising and falling is what they do... What is truly frightening to contemplate, however, is what happens when an empire falls in the era when technological capacity absolutely dwarfs political maturity? And what happens if that occurs not just anywhere, but in arguably the most immature, self-serving and self-indulgent of developed societies on the planet?
Image source here.

Meanwhile, down under...

Antarctic Ozone Hole 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harpercons get it 'just about exactly backwards'

US works to reduce prison population as Canada boosts sentences
Canadian Press: Viewed through the lens of the latest American research in crime prevention, Canada's government got things just about exactly backwards... Justice Minister Rob Nicholson proudly announced proposed changes that would increase sentences for convicted white collar criminals, without providing any additional resources for investigating and prosecuting such crimes...

Improved targeting of police resources is a theme explored in depth by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA whose latest book, When Brute Force Fails: how to have less crime and less punishment, is being published later this month...

He advocates sharply targeting police activities while ramping back stiff US prison sentences. 'Not only is certainty and swiftness (of conviction) more important than severity, severity is the enemy of certainty and swiftness.' said Kleiman. He makes the case on a number of levels, ranging from court resources to probation practices. But the most obvious conflict is financial.

Americans are learning a hard lesson: bulging prisons chew up scarce taxpayer resources... After 30 years of tough-on-crime measures, at least 22 American states are moving to close prisons, halt expansions or delay new construction... A judicial panel in California this summer ordered the state to release 43,000 prisoners over the next two years to ease extreme overcrowding...

With 2.3 million prisoners among a population of 300 million, the United States has by far the highest per capita prison population in the developed world... The US per capita incarceration rate has quintupled in 40 years. Yet the debate continues over whether crime rates have been influenced, and how... Forced by strained budgets to revisit justice policies, at least 26 states are cutting corrections budgets this fiscal year...

So what what actions are governments taking? Increased use of house arrest, more judicial discretion in sentencing, repeal of mandatory minimum drug sentences, reinstating early release programs, increased and improved use of probation -- in short, the kinds of measures that are being pushed exactly the opposite direction in Canada with virtually no political debate...

Sharon Dolovich, a transplanted Canadian who teaches law at Georgetown University in Washingon [DC] and specializes in corrections research,... recognizes the political allure that makes rational discussion of criminal justice policy difficult... 'People have psychological and emotional reactions. They don't actually think about the effects.' Dolovich has a stark warning for her native country. 'Don't be trapped in misleading political rhetoric that will put Canada on a path that will be deeply regretted three decades from now.'


A Nation of Jailers: Measured in constant dollars and taking account of all levels of government, spending on corrections and law enforcement in the United States has more than quadrupled over the last quarter century. As a result, the American prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history.

Hellhole: The United States now has five per cent of the world's population, twenty-five per cent of its prisoners, and probably the vast majority of prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement

Death penalty keeps US in bad company: Here's a list of countries where you don't want to find yourself when it comes to human rights: Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Iraq, Pakistan, and the good ol' US of A. Those six states execute more of their citizens than any others. The US is the fourth-worst offender.

Sen. Webb: Prisons a 'national disgrace,' must be reformed: The Virginia lawmaker noted soaring numbers of drug offenders in prison, and charged that four times more mentally ill people are incarcerated than are in mental health hospitals.
Image source here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

'Designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize'

UN Fact Finding Mission finds strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Gaza conflict; calls for end to impunity

The New York Times: The report called Israel's military assault on Gaza 'a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.'

The mission -- led by Richard Goldstone, a respected South African judge and once the lead war crimes prosecutor for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda -- did not attempt an exhaustive look at the war, instead focusing on 36 cases that it said constituted a representative sample. In 11 of these episodes, it said the Israeli military carried out direct attacks against civilians, including some in which civilians were shot 'while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags.' In all but one of these civilian attacks, the report said, 'the facts indicate no justifiable military objective' for them.

The report cited other possible crimes by the Israelis, including 'wantonly' destroying food production, water and sewerage facilities; striking areas, in an effort to kill a small number of combatants, where significant numbers of civilians were gathered; using Palestinians as human shields; and detaining men, women and children in sand pits. It also called Israel's use of weapons like white phosphorus 'systematically reckless'...

Judge Goldstone said the panel heard extensive testimony, conducting 188 interviews and reviewing 10,000 pages of documents and 1,000 photographs. After Israel refused to allow the investigators into the country, the Human Rights Council paid for Israeli witnesses to give testimony in Geneva.

The panel rejected the Israeli version of events surrounding several of the most contentious episodes of the war... Asked about accusations that he was anti-Israel, Judge Goldstone acknowledged he was Jewish and said, 'It is grossly wrong to label a mission or to label a report critical of Israel as being anti-Israel.
Image source here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Breaking: Greenpeace tar sands blockade

Live feed and text updates

Greenpeace stages Alberta oilsands blockade
Vancouver Sun: Activists from the environmental group Greenpeace say they have seized a giant dump truck and shovel at Shell's Albian Sands open-pit mine north of Fort McMurray.

A news release from the group says protesters from Canada, the US and France entered the mine site at 8 a.m. and blockaded the truck and shovel by chaining together pickup trucks. Two groups of activists then scaled the machines and chained themselves down while a third unveiled a giant banner reading: 'Tar Sands: Climate Crime.'

Mike Hudema, a spokesman for the group, said they are prepared to remain at the site until their message is heard. 'We have supplies to be here for an extended period of time,' Hudema said. 'We have over 25 people on the site all dedicated because of the tremendous environmental and human rights price tag associated with the tarsands.'

Hudema said the action was timed to coincide with Wednesday's meeting in Washington between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama. The protest, he said, would continue until their message reached the two leaders.

The action also comes less than three months before Copenhagen 2009, the next major global summit on climate change.
Image source: Reuters, The Edmonton Journal

Monday, September 14, 2009

US right projecting its shadow on Obama

Not racism; projection
From The Dish: A common meme on the left is that racism is driving the hatred of Obama. I think the root is deeper and scarier: it is shadow projection...

American mythology says that we are the good country, and to maintain the pure version of that belief, we are willfully ignorant of our faults. In the minds of many 'patriotic' Americans, we have no dark side. Unwilling to own our dark side, we project our shadow onto others...

The right is projecting its shadow onto Obama... The more evil revealed about the right's excesses on torture, on wars of choice, or nearly destroying the economy, the more evil Obama will look in their eyes, as they cannot tolerate owning responsibility, because in their own minds they are only good...

Racism makes Obama the Other, but shadow projection is an even more powerful (if interrelated) force than simple racism, and it is very susceptible to the mob mentality... This will not end well. Now that Obama is carrying their shadow, only a dramatic event from outside could change it.

(Or, they could gain awareness of their disowned dark side, and tolerating the inevitable pain of that experience, integrate into a healthy whole. This would require white, middle-class middle-aged Americans -- the primary protesters -- to acknowledge that white middle class Americans are not all goodness and light and start taking responsibility for white privilege, their environmental choices, effect of class on economic status, etc. Don't hold your breath.)

The more those on the right deny their own failings, the more their internal unease will increase, the more the hatred of Obama will grow, and the more the need to do something will increase. No wonder the right is going bat shit crazy. In the movie playing in their minds, the enemy is within the gates.
Image source here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bird score

Birds on the Wires
Jarbas Agnelli: Reading a newspaper, I saw a picture of birds on the electric wires. I cut out the photo and decided to make a song, using the exact location of the birds as notes (no Photoshop edit). I knew it wasn't the most original idea in the universe. I was just curious to hear what melody the birds were creating. I sent the music to the photographer, Paulo Pinto, who I Googled on the Internet. He told his editor, who told a reporter and the story ended up as an interview in the very same newspaper. Here I've posted a short video made with the photo, the music and the score (composed by the birds).
Music made with Logic.
Video made with After Effects.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What's race got to do with it?

A startling new analysis of the difference between Canadian and US healthcare funding

Gregory P. Marchildon, LRC: While the concept of race lacks a biological basis, categorization by race continues to shape relations within societies, particularly in those countries where slavery was a central institution for centuries, or where settlement involved the displacement of large numbers of indigenous peoples. For example, because of the legacy of slavery, the racial division between African Americans and white Americans is the single most important theme in the national narrative of the United States...

In his new book, National Health Insurance in the United States and Canada: Race, Territory and the Roots of Difference, Gerard Boychuk explains why the politics of race prevented the introduction of universal health care in the United States. He also introduces a bold new hypothesis as to why Canada did the opposite...

The different paths taken by the two countries have fascinated and perplexed commentators and social scientists on both sides of the 49th parallel for decades... Canadians increasingly perceived health care as a collective right rather than an individual benefit, a social service rather than a commodity to be bought and sold on the marketplace. This policy divergence produced a different way of viewing the world, a difference reflected in everyday language -- health care is generally described as an industry by Americans and as social policy by Canadians. However, the consequences of this policy divergence go beyond the philosophic...

In the United States, opposition to universality went well beyond an ideological preference for the market and hostility to the state... The more deep-rooted issue was the threat by health reform proposals to segregated health services. Southern congressional representatives, the majority of whom were Democrats, were viscerally opposed to reforms that might have required white people to be treated in hospitals, nursing homes and medical clinics alongside black patients. Segregationalist sentiment was also a pronounced feature of organized labour, and the unions worked with conservative Democrats as well as the most vocal opponent of universal health care, organized medicine. The American Medical Association was itself a segregated organization and opposed universal health care for racial as well as political and economic reasons in the 1940s and '50s.

It was only after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced the desegregation of all public programs funded by the American government that the racial objections to universality receded and the political and economic objections to universality and government intervention took priority...

Health care has become one of the key differences between the two countries... Canada continues to be influenced by a set of social democratic values that are very much in the minority south of the border... A more collectivist approach to health care in the US seems to fly in the face of the more highly individualistic ethos that underpins both major political parties as well as civil society. On the other hand, the American emphasis on individual rights combined with the legacy of the civil rights movement may lead to health care being declared a fundamental right by the courts. This would strengthen the hand of those political leaders who feel that it is time, finally, for all Americans to have universal access to essential health care. Race once prevented this from occurring, and now, the intersection of race and rights may allow it to happen.
Image source here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

After the fall

American Power and the Fall of Modernity (Part I)
Michael Vlahos, The Globalist: The dynamic force of US military and cultural interventions is like a force of nature... But someone who can look critically at our past actions can also unerringly survey the topography of the human future. It is a human landscape where so-called nation-states simply abandon billions of their citizens...

We American revel in a kind of stupidity: We disbelieve what our eyes see and put our massive state energies into the necessary narrative that our policies bring stability. Yet, our interventions only make the chaos grow.

For two centuries and more, collective belonging and meaning has been a state enterprise... Yet now that very vision is in deep recess or near-death, even as the regulatory structures of nation-states keep expanding... The air is coming our of modernity's tires -- first in the marginal places run by European colonialism, and then increasingly in the places where modernity began. Where it falters, other cultural forms rise to take up the slack...

In their stead -- especially in the faux nation-states sloughed off by European colonialism -- equally passionate local and universalistic visions have risen up. They lay their claims not in the consumer and social welfare-driven economies of the developed world, but with societies in need. They flourish where the demand for identity is greatest...

Today 60% of human society has been left behind. Scores of so-called nation-states cannot support raw human needs -- or simply care not to -- and billions are effectively being abandoned. However, these neglected people are self-organizing. New communities emerge and new identities are revealed.

Societal transformation takes the of rising poor communities that the state can no longer control -- or wants to control. Add to this anxious elites who seek the security of gated lifestyles and the retreat of security services who begin to carve our their own personal nest egg -- and you have a portrait of a nation-state becoming something different. It is a mosaic of local identities, held together by a loose weave or relationships intermediated by the state.

Consider the Early Middle Ages -- the time of decompression after Rome's fall... Much like then, the current period of Late Modernity is seeing state systems eroding at the edges, and even in their centers. The core constituencies continue to claim and operate the state apparatus, but those who have been left behind must seek other places of belonging and meaning.

Even in societies with working state administrations, the non-state continues to flourish... While the state remains effective, its base is shrinking to those more elite constituencies for whom it provides real security and services. Meanwhile in the developed world, modernity's first nation-states have neither the money nor the commitment to reclaim their lost stature and authority...

Global networks will continue, but only for those who manage to 'make it' by the first decades of this early-21st century. Unable to aid the 60% left behind, humanity's prosperous minority -- whether they admit it or not -- is increasingly looking to its own defense and preserving the integrity of a smaller system that is still viable. Globalization is now all about a minority living defensively within a seething non-state majority...

But why is it already too late?... Fossil fuels supplies are dwindling, and the global environment is fast deteriorating. Techno-miracles could help, but the world recession is starving investment in alternative and green energy, no matter how bold the rhetoric. When we finally come out of the current economic slump, we will be hit by a liquid energy crunch. And we will be desperately short of alternative energy to fill in the gaps... When we emerge from that crisis, we will then have to confront the first big impacts of climate change: tormenting weather, crop crashes, a world water shortage and dying oceans. Then there is the inevitable pandemic threat.

These will be existential shocks. A robust world network might tolerate these reasonably well, but a world network made weaker by the riotous spread of non-state actors may struggle. The downside we face is not that globalization will come crashing down. Rather it is that our world may begin to look increasingly like the world of Late Antiquity.
Image source here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Solidarity Forever

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run

There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;

Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one --

But the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

In our hands is placed a power grater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.

-- Ralph Chaplin, 1915
Image source here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

'Only one culprit for the warming Arctic'

Canadian Press:
A groundbreaking study that traces Arctic temperatures further back than ever before... provides real-world evidence to back mathematical climate models that suggest greenhouse gases are behind global warming.

'There are no other forcing factors at work other than the greenhouse gas composition of the atmosphere that could explain the dramatic warming that took place,' said Darrell Kaufman, the paper's lead author...

Kaufman and nearly three dozen scientists used data from tree rings, lake sediments and glacial ice deposits from 23 sites around the circumpolar world to track average summer temperatures for every decade of the last two millennia -- 1,600 years longer than had ever been done before...

The measurements showed that from Year 1 to about 1900, summer Arctic temperatures were slowly decreasing by about 0.2 every 1,000 years... But things began to change at the 20th century's outset... Four of the Arctic's five warmest decades occurred after 1950. Warmest of all was 1999-2008, with average temperatures about 1.4C higher than they would have been if the cooling trend had continued.

The study says the constancy of other major variables about that time -- no large volcanic eruptions, for example -- suggests there could only be one culprit for the warming Arctic: carbon dioxide emissions that began increasing rapidly during the Industrial Revolution.

Arctic is the warmest it's been in 2,000 years
AP: The Arctic is experiencing its warmest temperatures in 2,000 years, even though it should be cooling because of changes in the Earth's orbit that cause the region to get less direct sunlight... 'If it hadn't been for the increase in human-produced greenhouse gases, summer temperatures in the Arctic should have cooled gradually over the last century,' said Bette Otto-Bleisner, a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist and co-author of a study of Arctic temperatures...

It is the latest in a drumbeat of reports on warming conditions in the Arctic, including:
-- Alaskan waters are turning acidic from absorbing greenhouse gases faster than tropical waters...
-- Sea ice in the Arctic is more than just shrinking in area; it is thinning dramatically. The volume of older crucial sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk by 57 per cent from the winer of 2004 to 2008.
-- Shrinking glaciers, coastal erosion and the march north of destructive forest beetles formerly held in check by cold winters...

'Greenhouse gases from human activities are overwhelming the Arctic's natural climate systems,' commented NCAR scientist David Schneider, a co-author of the study... As the Arctic warms there is less snow and ice to reflect solar energy back into space and the newly exposed dark soil and dark ocean surfaces absorb solar energy and warm further, accelerating the warming process.

Canadian Press: A new report says Arctic climate change is happening faster than anyone anticipated and may soon be forcing more rapid warming on the rest of the planet... 'We thought by 2050, multi-year (sea) ice would be cut in half, said [Craig] Stewart from Ottawa. 'Well, it happened in 2007.'

But the biggest worry is the so-called methane hydrates -- methane frozen in ice molecules that exists in vast volumes in permafrost and continental shelves around the circumpolar globe. Cold and high pressure have so far kept that methane -- a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide -- out of the atmosphere. Underground methane, however, has recently been observed bubbling up in Arctic Russia...

'The carbon in that methane is the equivalent of all the coal, oil and gas combined worldwide.' said Stewart. 'If that methane gets released, that will become the single greatest driver of climate change anywhere in the world.'...

Greenland is losing enough ice every year to supply 280 cities the size of Los Angeles with water, and the rate is increasing. Antarctica loses almost as much. That has led researchers to sextuple their estimates of sea level rise, to 1.2 metres by 2100. About one-quarter of the earth's population lives in low-lying coastal regions...

Major weather patterns such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, which affect both storms and precipitation throughout Asia, Europe and North America, are strongly influenced by what happens in the Arctic... 'The Arctic does have a huge influence on global circulation patterns,' said Stewart. 'The ability for the Arctic to essentially serve as a refrigerator for the planet is the key to our existing climate.'
Image source here.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Interactive website tracks US air strikes

Our bombs: An interactive website and documentary film that looks at the human cost, psychological reasoning, and strategic implications of US air strikes.