Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On G8, G20, deficit and debt: 'Money is not real'

Jonathan Schwartz: Much of the world's elite understand exactly what they're doing:... use the economic catastrophe they themselves created as a pretext to kill the welfare state they've despised for 65 years.

James Galbraith, interviewed by Ezra Klein: We should be focusing on real problems and not fake ones... The idea that funding difficulties are driven by deficits is an argument backed by a very powerful metaphor, but not much in the way of fact, theory or current experience.

Digby: 'Money' is more real to our ruling class than are human beings.

National debts are treated today as if they were unforgiving gods with the power to control, alter and if necessary destroy a country. This financial trap is usually presented as if it were peculiar to our time, as well as being a profound comment on the profligate habits of the population...

9. A nation cannot make debts sustainable by cutting costs. Cuts may produce marginal savings, but savings are not cash flow...

11. Civilizations which become obsessed by sustaining unsustainable debt-loads have forgotten the basic nature of money. Money is not real. It is a conscious agreement on measuring abstract value. Unhealthy societies often become mesmerized by money and treat it as if it were something concrete. The effect is to destroy the currency's practical value.

12. An obsession with such false realities and with debt repayment indicates a linear, narrow managerial approach to economics. The management of an economy is the profession of finance-department technocrats, economists and bankers. Their approach is quite naturally one of continuity. This is a means of denying failure.

To treat money or debt as a contractual matter -- therefore open to non-payment or to renegotiation -- would mean treating the managerial profession as of secondary importance... What sensible people might see as originality or practicality, financial experts see as a threat to their professional self-pride...

Money is first a matter of imagination and second of fixed agreements on the willing suspension of disbelief. In other words, it is possible to approach the debt problem in quite different ways... What is difficult for a single country in contemporary circumstances is easy for a group, particularly if that group speak for the developed world. See: ETHICS.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

As if we didn't have enough to worry about

The end of the world as we know it
Astronomer Chris Impey, in The Independent: What kind of catastrophe would it take to end the world?

Astronomical intruders provide a potentially serious threat... Every century or so, a 10-meter meteor slams into the Earth with the force of a small nuclear device... Every few thousand years Earth can pass through unusually thick parts of the debris trail of comets, turning the familiar light show of a meteor shower into a deadly firestorm. Roughly every 100,000 years, a projectile hundreds of meters across unleashes power equal to the world's nuclear arsenals. The result is devastation over an area the size of England, global tidal waves (if the impact is in the ocean), and enough dust flung into the atmosphere to dim the Sun and kill off vegetation. That could ruin your day.

Then there's the "Big One.' About every 100 million years, a rock the size of a small asteroid slams into the Earth, causing global earthquakes, kilometre-high tidal waves, and immediately killing all large land animals. Creatures in the sea soon follow, as trillions of tons of vaporised rock cause drastic cooling and the destruction of the food chain based on photosynthesis...

When massive stars exhaust their nuclear fuel, the result is a titanic explosion called a supernova. The dying star brightens to rival an entire galaxy and emits high-energy particles that can destroy the ozone layer of a planet like Earth if it occurs within 30 light years...

A supernova is a small squib compared to a hypernova. In this dramatic and rare event, the violent collapse of a very massive star ejects jets of gas and high-energy particles at close to the speed of light, and for a few moments the star outshines the entire universe in gamma rays. If a hypernova went off within 1,000 light years, and Earth was within the narrow cone of high-energy radiation, we'd experience an immediate global conflagration.

On longer time scales, attention turns to the sheltering Sun. Our constant companion is midway through its conversion of hydrogen into helium. In about 5 billion years, its guttering flame will be extinguished. The Sun's diffuse envelope will engulf the Earth and turn it into a lifeless cinder... The biosphere will actually die much sooner. The Sun burns hot as it gets older, and in 500 million years a turbocharged version of global warming will turn the Earth into a global desert...

The end of the Milky Way will come slowly, in a stellar lockdown... In galaxies across the universe the lights will gradually go out, and after tens of trillions of years the universe will have faded to black...

Fifteen years ago, it was discovered that the cosmic expansion is getting faster. The cause is inferred to be dark energy -- a manifestation of the pure vacuum of space that has an effect opposite to gravity... If dark energy grows, it will cause the universe to unravel in about 20 billion years in a crescendo called the "Big Rip.' First galaxies, then stars, and finally atoms will be torn asunder... Nothing can survive; it's an outcome of crushing finality.

Absent the big rip, cosmic acceleration will steadily remove galaxies from view... On even longer time scales, familiar gravitational structures become unglued... Planets detach from their dead stars and drift through interstellar space... The proton is not stable and will decay... The decay of protons heralds a final drawn-out phase of disintegration... as everything falls apart...

We imagine the last inhabitants of the universe huddled around the evaporative glow of gamma rays from the last black hole, telling timeless stories about time. It was fun while it lasted.

Image source here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Spike in Arctic temperatures 'may be imminent'

Vancouver Sun: A world-renowned Ellesmere Island fossil site has shed startling new light on how warm the Canadian Arctic was about four million years ago -- and just how hot it could get in the coming decades.

Six researchers from Canada, the United States and the Netherlands have announced their findings after probing fossilized wood and the well-preserved remains of prehistoric plants and soil bacteria from Ellesmere's Beaver Pond site, a paleontological time capsule near the Eureka science station on Canada's northernmost land mass...

The team has shown that the High Arctic locale once had a relatively balmy average annual temperature of 0 C -- about 19 degrees warmer than today. The clearer picture of the ancient Arctic has potentially important -- and worrisome implications for how quickly and severely the region could witness a temperature spike given current climate-change trends, the researchers warn... 'Our results indicate that a significant increase in Arctic temperatures may be imminent.'...

The Beaver Pond site is only about four million years old and dates from a time when Ellesmere Island was at roughly the same High North latitude it is today. Furthermore, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during that time, the Pliocene era, was almost identical to the elevated CO2 levels of today's warmed-up globe -- making the Beaver Pond site an unusually accurate 'proxy' for the 21st century Arctic...

Image sources here and here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Maps of the day: Nuclear explosions since 1945

'1945-1998' by Isao Hashimoto
This is a screen shot. Go here for 'a haunting visualization' of 2053 nuclear explosions starting with the Trinity test at Los Alamos.

Tyler Durden, at Zero Hedge: Who needs a wartime nuclear exchange when you have peaceful countries nuking the gamma rays out of their own sovereign territories... with the US nuking the state of Nevada and its immediate neighbors about one thousand times. And keep in mind -- the fallout does not just miraculously disappear.

Idealist: If you're looking for fallout maps, you won't find any such map here or anywhere... Why? Because the executioners, to the best of their satisfaction, don't want you to see them. What you can and will see -- if you seek it -- are bits and pieces of the destruction: a high reading of radioactivity in wheat or milk here, or air over there, a trajectory map here, and a rare truthful analysis there. Put them together and you have what would happen in a small-but-non-mutually-destructive nuclear war (that we erringly refer simply to as the Cold War): the radioactive fallout circling -- for eons -- around the Earth and within her biosphere.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Afghanistan: 'declare a victory and leave'

Why the Taliban is winning in Afghanistan
William Dalrymple: During lunch, as my hosts casually pointed out the various places in the village where the British had been massacred in 1842, I asked them if they saw any parallels between that war and the present situation. 'It is exactly the same... Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests, not for ours.'... 'Since the British went, we've had the Russians... We saw them off, too.'... 'Next, it will be China. This is the last days of the Americans.'...

After the jirga was over, one of the tribal elders came over... 'Last month,' he said, 'some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, 'Why do you hate us?' I replied, 'Because you blow down our doors, pull our women by the hair and kick our children... We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and then your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time... In truth, all the Americans here know that their game is over. It is just their politicians who deny this.'

Gwynne Dyer: But what if Obama, Biden and Eikenberry really think (a) that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and (b) that it isn't important for the United States to win it anyway?... The best way to end the Afghan war is simply (as they used to say about Vietnam) to 'declare a victory and leave.' But they cannot say this out loud in the United States... So if [Obama] really wants to extract Americans,... then he is condemned to do so by subterfuge. He must engineer an apparent but temporary military success... and get out while the going's good. This is exactly how President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger got the United States out of the Vietnam War in 1973... If the Taliban understand his implicit message to them, they let him have a temporary 'victory' in order to get him out.

Michael Hastings: It's going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. 'It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win,' says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville. 'This is going to end in an argument.'... 'If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,' an adviser to McChrystal says... The very people that COIN seeks to win over -- the Afghan people -- do not want us there... So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war... Winning, it would seem, is not really possible.

What story are you working on now -- the Kandahar offensive?
That's the story I've been working on.
How is that offensive going?
I think it's in trouble, in serious trouble... We have this problem where we told our Afghan partners, if you don't want it, then we don't have to do it, and they said no and we said, well, we're doing it anyway. Now we're in a situation where we are eventually going to do it and we don't have the popular support of the locals... Petraeus is sort of a genius. He managed to turn what could have been catastrophic defeat in Iraq into a face-saving withdrawal. That's his mission in Afghanistan, to make it look like we didn't get run out.
Image source here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No oil on BC's coast? It's already happening

The Tyee: Flow of tar sands crude to Burrard Inlet rising, and will more than double: Kinder Morgan... If that happens, the further rise in tanker traffic will compound the risk of an environmental catastrophe in the Gulf Islands, potentially impacting the Fraser Estuary and San Juan Islands... traffic that may reach 150 vessels a year... 'People say they don't want oil tankers moving product off the west coast and I tell them it's happening now, guys, the horse is out of the barn.'

The Province: So why has there been so little public discussion about this development? Each of these tankers carries enough crude to exceed the infamous Exxon Valdez spill by several times... One has to question the wisdom of allowing a major crude-oil terminal to evolve inside a busy harbour and especially beyond the Second Narrows, an extremely narrow and shallow tidal passage.

The Tyee: These forces include: China's hunger for oil and investment in the Alberta oil sands. Washington's emerging resolve to regulate against high carbon emitting fuels like the oil sands. And Ottawa's resulting desire to find alternative Asian markets for oil sands oil. Add in stolid First Nations resistance to a proposed pipeline from the tar sands to Kitimat... Vancouver, the hometown of Greenpeace and the 'greenest city in the world' -- has quietly become a major outflow for controversial Alberta syncrude. The global forces driving these changes are converging on a narrow stretch of treacherous water.

The Tanker Threat to Georgia Strait and Vancouver
The Tyee: We're not talking of refined product here; we're not even talking about crude oil; we're talking the sludge, the sandy, oily mess that's coming out of the tar sands. The consequences of a catastrophe would be enormous. The Vancouver harbour would be closed indefinitely... Even if the ships all get out of Vancouver, the consequences of a disaster from there until they hit the high seas... are incalculable. The spillage would be aggravated by the large tides, which move four times a day, and by the wind with the effect of the Fraser River added to it.

The Georgia Straight: Rex Wyler, who is with a citizen's group called No Tanks: 'If you still have tankers coming in and out of Burrard Inlet, an oil spill anywhere along the coast is a problem.'... Two years ago, certified management accountant Bill Gannon noticed tankers traveling through Burrard Inlet. Gannon prepared a 'risk assessment' (.pdf)... 'Since then, local tanker traffic has increased to about two tankers per week.'

The Georgia Straight: 'Before I went, all I really had was a gut feel about this kind of stuff... What I've learned since I've been here is this: we don't currently possess the technology to clean up our own messes. And until we do, I don't want this around me.'

No Tanks website here.
Image source here: Second Narrows Bridge in Burrard Inlet received highest hazard rating by Coast Guard.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One-third of Americans would choose Canada

Most would move to Canada, if they could: Poll
Vancouver Sun: A majority of people from around the world would move to Canada is presented with the opportunity... The online survey of over 18,000 people in 24 countries, conducted by Ipsos Reid, showed that 53 percent of people... would like to live in Canada, if they could. Almost one-third (30 per cent) of Americans would choose Canada too, according to the poll results.

Eight in ten respondents (79 per cent) said they think Canadians enjoy one of the best qualities of life anywhere in the world. Seventy-two per cent believed that Canada is welcoming to immigrants... Seventy-nine per cent described Canada as being 'tolerant of people from different racial and cultural backgrounds.'

Globe and Mail: Among those who have completed only elementary education, the U.S. outstrips Canada by a considerable margin. But among those who have completed secondary education, Canada leads... The difference in education between immigrants to the two countries may explain why Canadian immigrants do better financially... The gap between immigrant income and the national median income is also more pronounced in the United States...

'The better-educated cohort may be more disposed to coming here because they feel opportunity is not as strong in the U.S.... We have a stronger support network, a stronger safety net, which may be a powerful incentive,' Dr. Jedwab said. 'Part of it also has to do with people with a greater knowledge of Canada... '[The findings] say something about the way Canada is perceived abroad by more educated segments of the planet.'
Image source here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice

and National Aboriginal Day

Nuxalk Sun Mask

The Telegraph: The sun has been the inspiration for hundreds of songs, but now scientists have discovered that the star at the centre of our solar system produces its own music. [Listen to it here.]

Astronomers at the University of Sheffield have managed to record for the first time the eerie musical harmonies produced by the magnetic field in the outer atmosphere of the sun. They found that huge magnetic loops that have been observed coiling away from the outer layer of the sun's atmosphere, known as coronal loops, vibrate like strings on a musical instrument. In other cases they behave more like soundwaves as they travel through a wind instrument...

The coronal loops are thought to be involved in the production of solar flares that fling highly charged particles out into space... When the sun's activity, and thus solar flare production, increases, the resulting 'space storm' can have catastrophic results here on earth, destroying electronic equipment, overheating power grids and damaging satellites... Studying the 'music of the sun' would provide new ways of understanding and predicting solar flares before they happen.
Image sources here and here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

June in Arctic Canada

Earth Observatory: Starting on June 6, everywhere north of the Arctic Circle is bathed in sunlight 24 hours a day... Signs of winter are still present, but sea ice in the Beaufort Sea has started to break up. A swath of open water, black in this image, separates the land from the dense pack of sea ice... In many places, particularly around Banks Island, the land-bound sea ice is blue, pointing to thin ice or the presence of water on the ice...

While frozen lakes punctuate the landscape with white, many lakes are clear. The Mackenzie River flows ice-free to a broad partially frozen delta. Trapped behind a dam of ice, the muddy brown waters blur across the triangular delta. The water that is getting through the ice carries sediment into the Beaufort Sea, coloring the waters near the short brown and green.

With access to constant light, flowing water, and warmer temperatures, plants are beginning to grow. The land around the Mackenzie River has a deep green hue. The line between tundra and forest runs through this image. The forest is dark green, while the tundra is still brown.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Snakes vanishing, likely cause is climate change

Why vanishing snake colonies have 'large-scale implications' for humanity
The Toronto Star: The first documented evidence of the baffling disappearance of up to 90 per cent of snake colonies in five disparate spots on the globe has 'large-scale' implications for humanity... And the 'most obvious cause, intuitively, would be climate change,' biologist Jason Head of the University of Toronto, told the Star.

'Snakes are top predators in their ecosystem,' says Head. 'They are regulators on rodents. If we remove that regulator, you can expect an increase in the number of disease vectoring (carrying) animals.' Venomous snakes are taking the biggest hit in the findings, which has serious consequences for medicine, said Head. 'Snakes are not an insignificant component of human society... There are large-scale implications' to the disappearance of some kinds of snakes, including the role of snake venom in medicine. 'You can draw your own conclusions.'

A recently published study in the journal Biology Letters involving painstaking research in England, Nigeria, Australia, Italy and France discovered eight species in 17 snake populations in those widely different climates that had 'declined drastically,' said Dr. Christopher Reading, lead researcher for the study. 'In some of the populations, the decline was 70 to 90 per cent... And the fact that it happened at all of the same time, irrespective of geography, indicates there is something at a higher level behind it.'...

'The scale and precision of this study' impressed Head. And while researchers were careful not to pin the mysterious decline on any one cause, the vastly different geologies of the regions, from tropical to temperate, suggested 'one ultimate driving mechanism,' with climate change the clearest culprit. 'It's alarming, to be honest,' Head said.
Image source here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Arar torture: US officials could be arrested

Canada investigating US officials over torture
The Raw Story: Canada's Mounties have been quietly running an investigation into US and Syrian officials linked to the arrest and deportation of a Canadian citizen who was tortured in a Syrian prison, and could lay criminal charges in the matter...

The news [came] the same day that the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal brought by Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian engineer who was detained at New York's JFK airport in 2002 on suspicion of terrorist links and flown to Syria, where he was tortured for the better part of a year... An inquiry into the matter held by the Canadian government exonerated Arar... in 2007 Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to Arar and offered him a $10.5 million settlement...

'The US should be conducting its own criminal investigation of the officials responsible... not covering for them,' attorney Maria LeHood of the Center for Constitutional rights said in a statement. 'Again the Canadians are doing the right thing.'

The Toronto Star: In a prepared statement, Arar said the U.S. high court's decision 'eliminates my last bit of hope in the judicial system of the United States. 'When it comes to 'national security' matters the judicial system has willingly abandoned its sacred role of ensuring that no one is above the law.'...

The decision to shift the investigation overseas... takes the RCMP down a legal road not widely traveled. Human rights activists note that only the governments of Spain and Italy have pursued terror-related criminal investigations beyond their borders involving American officials. 'It takes some amount of courage to stand up to the U.S. government and I give the RCMP full credit for that,' said LaHood...

[Arar's Canadian lawyer Paul] Champ said 'Charges would be followed by the issuing of warrants, which go then to Interpol. And if the individuals names enter any country that respects those warrants -- and that is most countries -- they would be arrested... This is not over. Mr. Arar's quest for accountability and justice has not come to an end.'
Image source here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ireland: Justice for the dead of Bloody Sunday

Irish Times: The killing of 14 civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday in January 1972 was 'unjustified,' Lord Saville's inquiry into the incident has concluded. The inquiry's 5,000 page report was heavily critical of the behaviour of the British army in Derry on that day and found that all those killed were innocent. The report states some of those who were killed or injured were clearly fleeing from the British paratroopers or going to the assistance of others who were dying...

The inquiry concluded that several of the troops who provided testimony about the events lied to the inquiry... British prime minister David Cameron said it had found none of the casualties posed any threat to British troops. He told the House of Commons no warnings were given, and that some of the soldiers lost control... 'On behalf of the Government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.'...

The report, completed over 12 years, investigated the mass killing of members of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association by members of the Parachute Regiment during a march in Derry on January 30th, 1972... Lord Saville's report said the soldiers of the support company who went into the Bogside, where the march was taking place, did so 'as a result of an order which should not have been given' by their commander... The support company 'reacted by losing their self-control... forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training' and the result was a 'serious and widespread loss of fire discipline.'...

An earlier inquiry into the events of the day by Lord Widgery was declared a whitewash and in 1998 prime minister Tony Blair called for a fresh inquiry.

This is a screen shot; for interactive map, go here.

Cameron 'deeply sorry' for Bloody Sunday: 'You don't defend the army by defending the indefensible or hiding from the truth. It is clear that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.'... Mr Cameron added that many soldiers lied about their role in events on the day and 'knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing.'...

In his report Lord Saville notes the Northern government, with the agreement of the British government, had introduced internment without trial of suspected terrorists in 1971 and banned marches and processions. He says the nationalist community in particular despised internment without trial. 'Many people were interned without trial, almost without exception Catholics from the nationalist community. Over the following months there were allegations that arose that those held had been mistreated, allegations that in significant respects were eventually found to have substance.' the report says.

'What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility against the army and exacerbated the violent conflict,' the Saville inquiry, which heard evidence from 921 witnesses between 2000 and 2005, reported. 'It was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.'

British media:

BBC: comprehensive stories, background, analysis and videos: 'What happened on Bloody Sunday was wrong.'

The Guardian: 'Saville inquiry strongly condemns behaviour of soldiers who opened fire and exonerates victims'

The Independent: 'Victims vindicated -- and parachute regiment disgraced'
The Telegraph: Cameron: 'I am deeply, deeply sorry'
Don Mullan: 'I shall never forget the silence that descended on my native town'

VIDEO: Amy Goodman interviews Eamonn McCann on Democracy Now! Includes historical and current footage. Back the video to 49:12 for singing of 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley' and more historical footage.

Wikipedia: Bloody Sunday
Image sources here, here, here and here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Afghan mineral report: Suspicious timing

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan
James Risen, The New York Times: The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan... including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium... American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war... The Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan.

Paul Jay, The Real News Network: What the NYT describes as... 'the previously unknown deposits' were in fact quite well known... Did the knowledge of these massive mineral deposits affect President Obama's decision to increase troop levels and widen the scale of operations in Afghanistan? Are Canada, the UK and other NATO countries aware of the USGS report?

Justin Elliot, TPM: American geologists who assessed Afghanistan's mineral deposits realized the potentially vast economic benefits of the minerals as far back as 2007, according to U.S. Geological survey documents from that time.

The 2007 assessment unveiled at the 3rd annual U.S.-Afghan Business Matchmaking Conference organized by the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

Katie Drummond, Danger Room: One retired U.S. official is calling the government's mineral announcement 'pretty silly.'... 'When I was living in Kabul in the early 1970s the [U.S. government], the Russians, the World Bank, the UN and others were all highly focused on the wide range of Afghan mineral deposits.'

Blake Hounshell, Foreign Policy: A series of recent news stories has deeply damaged the Obama administration's case for continued patience with U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign, which has shown little discernible progress... In short, things don't look good for the United States -- which makes me suspicious of the timing of this attention-grabbing story.

Huffington Post: Opponents of the war have questioned whether Monday's Times story is the Pentagon's latest attempt to persuade an increasingly frustrated American public that Afghanistan is worth the costs in blood and treasure.

Laura Rozen, Politico: Some detect an echo of Petraeus' effort 'to put a little more time on the Washington clock'... as he once described his public relations strategy... Another Washington Afghanistan hand said... 'It makes security much less likely... I am not at all the least bit optimistic that the Afghan people themselves will see the benefit of this.'... He read the minerals story that 'the administration really needs something to staunch the feeling that let's just get the hell out.'...

'Unfortunately, one becomes a cynic after all these years and all these stories,' an Afghan-American engaged in the country said of the news reports... 'My personal feeling is that all this hype is a distraction and misleading, as it builds up the expectations while we... have come up short on meeting the basic needs of the country.'

The Wall Street Journal, 01/27/10: The Mines Ministry has long been considered among Afghanistan's most corrupt government departments, and Western officials have repeatedly expressed reservations about the Afghan government awarding concessions for the country's major mineral deposits, fearful that corrupt officials would hand contracts to bidders who pay the biggest bribes -- not who are suited to actually do the work.

John Marshall, TPM: Vast natural resource wealth discovered in undeveloped countries has, to put it generously, a very uneven record of producing benefits for the countries as a whole... The unfortunate but very common pattern is that extractable natural resources produce autocratic, often kleptocratic, regimes, ruling by violence, which reliably get the stuff out of ground and into the hands of more developed and wealthier foreign countries... With so much in play right now about the future of the US mission in the country, the timing of the revelation is enough to raise some suspicions in my mind.

Paul Woodward, War in Context: In a culture so deeply molded by what I will call the advertising gestalt, America's most crippling deficit is a pervasive lack of interest in distinguishing between appearance and reality. Military campaigns have been turned into marketing campaigns viewed with the uncritical attention that attends most commercial communication.

Bob Herbert, NYT: The truth is that top American officials do not believe the war can be won but do not know how to end it.
Image source: USGS, 2007

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bill Reid: The Raven's Call

The Raven's Call explores Bill Reid's quest to understand Haida art, and, on the journey, discover his own roots. Includes photo biography, life story, his own words in print and audio, the perspectives of others, and a gallery of his work in sculpture, prints, and jewelry.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ancient shoe among oldest ever found

5,600-year-old-leather shoe found in Armenian cave
The Toronto Star: The shoe, 1,000 years older than the great pyramid of Egypt and 400 years older than Stonehenge... was in such pristine condition that at first researchers thought it was just a few centuries old. It was stuffed with grass that may have been used to keep the wearer's foot warm or to preserve the shoe's shape for storage...

'This is great luck, enthused archaeologist Ron Pinhasi of University College Cork, Ireland, who led the research team... The team attributed the unusual preservation to the cave's perennially cool temperature and low humidity and a concrete-like layer of sheep dung that sealed everything in and prevented fungi from destroying the remains... The artifacts date from the Chalcolithic or Copper Age, when the first metal tools began appearing.

Prior to the discovery, the oldest known footwear from Eurasia was found on Otzi, the iceman discovered on a glacier in the Otztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. Those shoes were about 5,300 years old, but were in relatively poor shape. They were moccasin-type footwear in which the sole is attached to an upper 'sock' with leather thongs. The oldest known footwear -- more sandal than shoe -- were discovered in Missouri and are about 6,900 years old. Made from woven fibers and leather, they are also in poor condition.

Associated Press: [The Armenian shoe] was made of a single piece of leather, laced up the front and back... Otzi's shoes were made of deer and bear leather held together by a single strap. The Armenian shoe appears to be made of cowhide... There was not reinforcement in the sole... The shoe is similar to a type of footwear common in the Aran Islands, west of Ireland, up until the 1950s... 'In fact, enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of this (Armenian) shoe and those found across Europe at later periods, suggesting that this type of shoe was worn for thousands of years across a large and environmentally diverse region,' Pinhasi said.
Image source here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Our shared animal intelligence

Our human cognitive abilities are not as unique as we once thought
Scientific American: Problem solving? Sorry, but crows and octopuses do that too. Tool use? Primates, birds and even fish have learned that trick... The collapsing divisions between animal and human minds is exactly what a group of scientists gathered to discuss...

The first topic of conversation was a behavior known as altruism: selflessly helping a stranger. Brian Hare... described a recent experiment on this kind of cooperation in bonobos -- primates that are in the same genus as chimpanzees... 'The smartest thing about bonobos is that they live in a society with very little violence.' said Vanessa Woods... Woods explained how close-knit groups of females work together to keep the peace in bonobo societies...

Klaus Zuberbuhler... has found the rudiments of language in certain monkeys. Vervet and Diana monkeys... have different alarm calls for different predators, reacting in the most appropriate way to signs of a leopard, eagle or snake... Monkeys aren't the only ones eavesdropping on each other -- birds listen for the distinct calls as well...

'Insects can accomplish some very sophisticated things without big brains,' said Jeremy Niven... 'It kind of makes you wonder why you need an extra billion neurons to be able to do something that a human does.'... Niven also highlighted footage from an experiment designed to shed light on whether bees have aesthetic sensibilities... Bees prefer Van Gogh's sunflowers to more classical flower portraits and to other colorful but flowerless paintings. 'It's not really science,' Niven said... 'but it's interesting nonetheless.'...

Hare explained that although many animals can think and make decisions, questions remain about whether animals can interpret the thoughts of others... One way to test this is to ask whether animals understand the same kinds of social cues human infants learn to recognize -- like voice, gesture and gaze... 'We've found that dogs are incredibly good at this.'... It's especially interesting that dogs are so good at taking social direction because chimpanzees, in contrast, rarely understand the same cues in the same kind of test. The chimps just don't get it. In some ways, neither do we.
Image source here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Canada's oil drill regs weakened in past five years

Why a Gulf-style oil spill would be even more devastating in Canada
The Toronto Star: What would happen in Canada's waters if an oil spill like the one in the Gulf Coast happened here? The answer is simple, according to Craig Stewart, director of the Arctic program for the World Wildlife Fund-Canada. 'Basically, we'd be screwed.'... ' We are drilling in even risker areas than the Gulf of Mexico.'...

Stewart thinks a spill is almost inevitable. But cleanup would be almost impossible... 'We would not be able to contain or clean up more than 5 per cent of spilled oil... And that's because in the Arctic we cannot clean up oil that flows under ice, and in the North Atlantic the rough seas would make it virtually impossible to contain the oil before it spread.'...

The deepest exploratory well in Canadian history being drilled right now in the Orphan Basin, 400 kilometers northeast of St. John's, Nfld, by Chevron... Three other exploratory deep-water wells are planned in Canada's Beaufort Sea over the next five years. One of them is being drilled by BP... 'The United States government estimates there is up to a 40 per cent chance of an oil spill in the American Beaufort Sea,' said Stewart... 'We would expect the same odds in Canada.'...

The U.S. regulates where drilling can take place. 'Canada does not,' he said. 'It's because we weakened our regulatory process over the past five years to remove requirements such as comprehensive environmental assessments, prescriptive safety equipment and relief-well capacity,' said Stewart.

The Toronto Star: Sandpipers and plovers, including red knots -- the latter of which is already on an endangered list -- all winter in South America and make their way to Canada's Arctic each spring. But first they stage -- or gather -- on the Louisiana coast to eat and rest before they head north. These birds were on the coast when the spill occurred... How many have died is anybody's guess... Other birds and fish will simply become part of a great wave of 'the disappeared.'...

But equally worrying... is the migratory birds' journey home this coming fall. The coastal shore of Louisiana is a staging area for their trip south as well. If the oil, which has seeped into the marshland, isn't cleaned up by the time the birds that escaped the spill the first time head south, the remaining oil could kill even more...

Also at risk are northern gannets, sea-feeding birds that life in the Gulf region during the winter and migrate to Canada's Atlantic coast in the summer, making their home off the coast of Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces in large colonies on cliffs... Many would have been killed by the oil... because the birds feed at sea... Part of a wave of wildlife lost forever.
Image source here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

'Shift towards a vegan diet is vital': UN

Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change

The Guardian: A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change... As the population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management...

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: 'Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.'

Vancouver Sun: Humanity needs to radically alter what it eats, according to an expert panel advising the United Nations on the planet's environmental challenges. Cattle and other animals are fed more than half the world's crops... Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of global freshwater consumption and 38 per cent of total land use, and is a major source of greenhouse gases, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution...

Canadian panel member Yvan Hardy, former chief scientist at Natural Resources Canada, said... that there is plenty of potential for 'disaster' on the horizon... 'Basically I think the world... has lost sight of what it takes to support our standard of living.' said Hardy. 'What we can extract from the earth, in terms of both natural resources and nutrients, is limited.'
Image source here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Airborne Toxic Event releases 'Neda'

I am Neda

From their Website: It is with full hearts that we write to you this morning to announce the release of our first song in almost two years. 'Neda' -- a song about Neda Agha-Soltan, whose brutal murder at the hands of the Iranian regime during the protests in Tehran last year made her a symbol of human rights the world over -- is now available on iTunes. All proceeds from the sale of the song will benefit Amnesty International. To purchase the song, click here.

In addition, we have made a web-only video for the song. The video is a retelling of the historic events surrounding Neda's death: the disputed Iranian presidential election, the brutality of the regime in cracking down on dissent, the desecration of Neda's grave, the massive movement towards freedom and peace in Iran... You can watch the video here or on YouTube.

There are a few things you can do to help:

1. Go to (the website we built to help the cause) and slick the 'ACT' button. The link will take you to the specific political action Amnesty International has crafted to urge the release of political prisoners in Iran.

2. Go to and click the 'DONATE' button and give money to Amnesty International. Not your whole paycheck. Just what you can afford. It is appreciated. It is necessary. It is good.

3. Blast out the link to the video on your Twitter and Facebook, Imeem, Myspace, email. We are asking you to help us tell this story, to allow it in some small way to enter the public consciousness, to change the subject on Iran from the horrific little man who has hijacked the country to Neda, a warm and independent, educated and loving soul who is a more fitting symbol of one of the world's great cultures.

4. Go to and upload a picture of yourself holding a sign saying 'I am Neda.' This is a simple act. A show of force. A personal sign that your support the cause of freedom. Make it your profile picture on Facebook.

There are a lot of us. We need each other, and we need your help.

On the day of her death, the last phone call Neda made before she was shot was to her mother. Her mother begged her to come home since everyone knew there were people being killed in the streets. Neda said, 'If I don't go, who will?'

This is the question we pose. If we don't raise our voices, who will?
Join us.

With all our love --
Mikel, Anna, Steven, Daren, Noah

Go here to watch Neda, the HBO documentary film.