Archive for June, 2006

Bird flu vaccine ’10 years away’

Friday, June 30th, 2006

I haven’t talked a lot on this blog yet about Avian Bird Flu (ABF) but it has certainly been a topic of conversation and concern among myself and my friends.

Many countries and medical authorities have been playing down the threat of ABF and saying that if a pandemic breaks out, we can simply crank up our vaccine production facilities and manufacturer sufficient doses to protect our populations though they need to wait until an actual outbreak occurs because only then will they have a genetic handle on the specific target organism to manufacturer the vaccine against. I never belived this in the past because I had read elsewhere that historically with all the vaccine production facilities in the world running full bore, we have never produced vaccine quanities sufficient for more than a minor fraction of the world’s population.

Now we find out in the BBC article referenced here that the ability to produce a viable vaccine against ABF could be 10 years away. There is a lot more to say on this subject and I hope to write more on it but for now, here’s the link to a story that appeared on BBC News today:

Also worth reading: and: and:

HR 2679 – The Public Expression of Religion Act

Friday, June 30th, 2006

How the GOP Summer Agenda Would Remove Penalties for Religious Freedom Violations

House Republicans have announced their legislative plan for the rest of the summer, leading up to the mid-term elections in November. Hidden in the “American Values Agenda,” amid the traditional fare is the “Public Expression of Religion Act (HR 2679).” The bill, which got a hearing in the House Constitution Subcommittee last week, would keep state and local governments from having to pay damages or attorney’s fees as a result of violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Think about that. Imagine your local government decides to teach a version of creationism in science class, or promote atheism in social studies, lead evangelistic prayers during official government meetings, or offer government grants for Christian conversion efforts. This bill would effectively remove your ability to hold the government accountable. And, to add insult to that injury to your religious liberty (…and it is your religious liberty. When the religious freedom of any of us is threatened, we are all threatened.), you as the plaintiff would be required to pay the massive legal fees it takes to bring such a lawsuit proving unconstitutional actions.


A Victory for the Rule of Law

Friday, June 30th, 2006

The Supreme Court’s decision striking down the military tribunals set up to try the detainees being held in Guantánamo Bay is far more than a narrow ruling on the issue of military courts. It is an important and welcome reaffirmation that even in times of war, the law is what the Constitution, the statute books and the Geneva Conventions say it is — not what the president wants it to be.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni being held in Guantánamo, has been charged with conspiring to help Al Qaeda. The Bush administration has contended that he and the other prisoners there are not covered either by Congressional laws governing military trials or by the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners of war. Instead, Mr. Hamdan was put on trial before a military tribunal where defendants can be excluded from the proceedings and convicted based on evidence kept secret from them and their lawyers. Prosecutors can also rely on hearsay, coerced testimony and unsworn statements.


I’m outa phrase … can you help?

Thursday, June 29th, 2006


I’ve created this blog and, as you might well imagine, I intend to use it as a device to engage people in talking and thinking about our global problems. But, I’ve run into a problem. I need a simple intuitive phrase with which to refer to my central subject.

To illustrate my point and my problem, here’s my theme statement as taken from the blog’s first light posting:
We will focus on a gathering storm of problems confronting mankind and the planet’s other biological inhabitants. The thread common to all of these problems is humanity itself. Mankind’s evolution of higher intelligence has freed it from the checks and balances which have tended to preserve order in the natural world since biological evolution first began on Earth.

Each of the subjects discussed in this column illustrates the fact that while humanity has developed higher intelligence, it has not developed the commensurate level of wisdom to balance it.

These are stories of the overuse of natural resources without consideration of what we’re going to do when they run out.

These are stories of humanity’s destructive impact on the integrity of the physical and biological systems around us in the world – systems upon which we are deeply dependent.

These are stories of how humanity’s greed and shortsightedness, both individual and collective, repeatedly lead to severe imbalances in the distribution of essentials like food, water, shelter, education and information. And these imbalances, in turn, lead to problems like overpopulation and fundamentalism.

And, finally, it is a meta-story about how the problems mankind is causing are potentiating and empowering each other to create a ‘perfect storm’ of consequences. Consequences which are going to fundamentally alter the physical and biological systems of the planet and degrading the kind of environment we will be leaving to our children for hundreds, if not thousands, of generations.

The following are some of the subjects which we will consider:
Peak Oil, Global Warming, Falling Water Tables, Rising Ocean Levels, Biodiversity Loss, Over Population, Failing Fisheries, Pollution, Rich vs. Poor Gap, The Invisible Hand, Fundamentalism, Globalism, Post-Modernism, Women’s Literacy, Food Shortages, Fresh Water Shortages, Terrorism, Pandemics, Desertification, Gender-Benders, Corporate Power, Bubble Economics, The Gulf Stream Conveyor, and the Marginalization of Science.
This is an incomplete list and other subjects will be added.

In my view, each of these impending problems can be visualized as a line on a graph. Each line fatally creeping towards some non-linear tipping point. And, standing back from the graph a bit, you can see that all of them are converging powerfully on our future.

As a line from a 1950’s song about ‘Big Bad Leroy Brown‘ once said, ‘If the left one don’t get you – the right one will’.

So, the phrase I’m looking for will refer, in a pithy intuitive way, to this approaching conjunction, this perfect storm of disasters. Words and phrases like “Peak Oil’, ‘Global Warming’, ‘Gender Benders’ and ‘Desertification’ all have the quality I’m looking for. I just haven’t found the right phrase for their aggregate.

Have you heard an appropriate phrases that would fit the bill? If so, I’d love to hear it so I can use it as a succinct way to refer to my central theme. If you have any thoughts on who else or where else I might pursue this inquiry, it would be much appreciated.

Ecology and Political Upheaval

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Jeffrey D. Sachs of the Earth Institute has written an article saying that small changes in climate can cause wars, topple governments and crush economies already strained by poverty. I agree with this and consider it part of the Perfect Storm of unfolding future events that I’m always talking about.

I’m not at all sure that he goes far enough, however. Civilization, in many ways, is like a house of cards we’ve been building. Year by year, we build it higher and year by year it balances and hangs together but ever more precariously.

I think that other factors, which are part of the Perfect Storm hypothesis, are also more than capable of creating the same disruptions. Consider desertification or the falling water tables around the world. Consider the ever growing national debt of the United States. Consider the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Consider impending Peak Oil. And finally, consider the effects of Globalization.

Each of these has the ability to drive us through tipping points into the chaos beyond. All that is required is that something essential like food or water or the petroleum needed to produce our food should go into short supply.

Globalization is making the house-of-cards particularly fragile. Its been pasting wide-spread economies together and making them dependent on each other. Once chaos begins from any cause, these fragile links will break and the economies who’ve unwisely become dependent on them will stumble badly too as a result.

It’s all interconnected and finely balanced and the are multiple issues ticking down to tipping time. So, Sachs is right but I just don’t think he’s cast a wide enough net yet to catch the full scope of the futures waiting for us in the wings of the next decade or two.

Here’s the beginning of Sach’s article and a link to the rest:


Careful study of the long-term climate record has shown that even a minor shock to the system can cause an enormous change in outcome, a nonlinear response that has come to be called “abrupt climate change.” Less well recognized is that our social and economic systems are also highly sensitive to climate perturbations. Seemingly modest fluctuations in rainfall, temperature and other meteorological factors can create havoc in vulnerable societies.

Recent years have shown that shifts in rainfall can bring down governments and even set off wars. The African Sahel, just south of the Sahara, provides a dramatic and poignant demonstration. The deadly carnage in Darfur, Sudan, for example, which is almost always discussed in political and military terms, has roots in an ecological crisis directly arising from climate shocks. Darfur is an arid zone with overlapping, growing populations of impoverished pastoralists (tending goats, cattle and camels) and sedentary farmers. Both groups depend on rainfall for their livelihoods and lives. The average rainfall has probably declined in the past few decades but is in any case highly variable, leaving Darfur prone to drought. When the rains faltered in the 1980s, violence ensued. Communities fought to survive by raiding others and attempting to seize or protect scarce water and food supplies.


A Convenient Endorsement for Gore

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

This gets it right whereas the piece a week or so ago on Slashdot was simply a hit piece by a shill from the oil and coal industry.

The nation’s top climate scientists are giving An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy.

The former vice president’s movie — replete with the prospect of a flooded New York City, an inundated Florida, more and nastier hurricanes, worsening droughts, retreating glaciers and disappearing ice sheets — mostly got the science right, said all 19 climate scientists who had seen the movie or read the book and answered questions from The Associated Press.


Scientists urge evolution lessons

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

The world’s top scientists have joined forces to call for “evidence-based” teaching of evolution in schools.

A statement signed by 67 national science academies says evidence on the origins of life is being “concealed, denied, or confused” in some classes.

It lists key facts on evolution that “scientific evidence has never contradicted”.

These include the formation of Earth 4.5 billion years ago, and the onset of life at least 2.5 billion years ago.

“We know of schools in various parts of the world where the children are told that the Earth is about 8,000 years old,” said Yves Quere, co-chair of the Inter Academy Panel on International Issues, the global network of science academies.


Cold Turkey

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Here’s a great piece from Kurt Vonnegut that appeared in May of 2004.   He’s always been one of my favorite authors and I like his slap-you-in-the-face style here.   Enjoy.

Cold Turkey by Kurt Vonnegut

Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.


When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is 81, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four of them adopted.

Many of you reading this are probably the same age as my grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations and government.

I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express. It is about his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.

I have to say that’s a pretty good sound bite, almost as good as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, 500 years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.

The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.

But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, who’ve said how we could behave more humanely, and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?

How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!


There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.

But, when you stop to think about it, only a nut case would want to be a human being, if he or she had a choice. Such treacherous, untrustworthy, lying and greedy animals we are!

I was born a human being in 1922 A.D. What does “A.D.” signify? That commemorates an inmate of this lunatic asylum we call Earth who was nailed to a wooden cross by a bunch of other inmates. With him still conscious, they hammered spikes through his wrists and insteps, and into the wood. Then they set the cross upright, so he dangled up there where even the shortest person in the crowd could see him writhing this way and that.

Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?

No problem. That’s entertainment. Ask the devout Roman Catholic Mel Gibson, who, as an act of piety, has just made a fortune with a movie about how Jesus was tortured. Never mind what Jesus said.

During the reign of King Henry the Eighth, founder of the Church of England, he had a counterfeiter boiled alive in public. Show biz again.

Mel Gibson’s next movie should be The Counterfeiter. Box office records will again be broken.

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.


And what did the great British historian Edward Gibbon, 1737-1794 A.D., have to say about the human record so far? He said, “History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”

The same can be said about this morning’s edition of the New York Times.

The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

So there’s another barrel of laughs from literature. Camus died in an automobile accident. His dates? 1913-1960 A.D.

Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

But I have to say this in defense of humankind: No matter in what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got there. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on, which could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the games that were already going on when you got here were love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf and girls’ basketball.

Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.

Actually, this same sort of thing happened to the people of England generations ago, and Sir William Gilbert, of the radical team of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote these words for a song about it back then:

I often think it’s comical
How nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.

Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other? If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut.

If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it easy for you.

If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re a liberal.

If you are against those perversions and for the rich, you’re a conservative.

What could be simpler?


My government’s got a war on drugs. But get this: The two most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal.

One, of course, is ethyl alcohol. And President George W. Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41. When he was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the sauce, stop gargling nose paint.

Other drunks have seen pink elephants.

And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.

We’re spreading democracy, are we? Same way European explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we now call “Native Americans.”

How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today.

So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget. Hail to the Chief.

That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be asked to repay.

Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because they have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the People.

About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I’ve been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn’t seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No problem.

I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.

But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver’s license! Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.

And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.

When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any more of those. Cold turkey.

Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it?

Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.

And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.

Spread of Islamic Law in Indonesia Takes Toll on Women

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Perhaps the one constant in this world is change but this deep truth is largely ignored by fundamentalist religions of all types who attempt to stop and even turn back the clock. Their efforts always eventually fail but in the mean time, their consequences in terms of human suffering are immense. It is widely understood that the current overconsumption of the world’s resources is driven by humanity’s population growth and that this growth, in turn, is largely driven by the lack of education and reproductive choices among the world’s women. In Indonesia, yet another incarnation of fundamentalist religion is arising disempowering women with all the terrible consequences that will bring. And, lest we be too smug, these self-same forces, guised within different religions, are arising around the globe including here in the U.S.

TANGERANG, Indonesia, June 24 — To a passer-by, the dress and demeanor of Lilis Lindawati would have attracted little attention as she waited in the dark in this busy industrial city for a ride home.

She wore green pants, a denim jacket, beige sandals with modest heels, burgundy lipstick and penciled eyebrows. Her black hair flowed freely, unencumbered by a head scarf, the sign of a religious Muslim woman that is increasingly prevalent in Indonesia but not mandatory.

In a now widely recounted incident, Mrs. Lindawati, 36, was hustled into a government van that clammy February evening by brown-uniformed police, known as tranquillity and public order officers.

“They put about 20 of us in the police station and then went out again to target the hotels,” she said, telling the story as she sat on the floor of her family’s two-room, $12-a-month rental, her husband beside her.

She was charged with being a prostitute under a new local law forbidding lewd behavior, and in an unusual public hearing attended by local dignitaries and residents, she was sentenced with some of the other women to three days in jail.


RSS – a simple tutorial

Monday, June 26th, 2006

RSS BandiIf you are like me on the computer, you have one or more websites you like to visit most times you sit down at the screen. For me, it’s CNN for news. For my wife, it’s EBay for various treasures.

Of late, the number of sites I’ve been visiting has expanded and it’s become tedious to move from one to the other though my Favorites list or using icons I’ve dropped on the screen. But I’ve discovered a real time saver technology called RSS.

RSS is generally accepted to stand for Really Simple Syndication. If you are a techno-weenie and would like to read an in-depth piece on RSS, try this Wikipedia article. Here, I’m going to tell you in simple terms what RSS can do for you and how to set it up on your system.

There are many RSS programs available. I run RSS Bandit here and because it is the one I’m familiar with, I’m going to talk about it. You can download a free copy of RSS Bandit here.

RSS programs like Bandit, are often referred to as ‘news aggregators’. You give them a list of websites and blogs you are interested in and the program will watch these sites for you automatically and note when ever new content appears on any of them. On my system, a small box appears at the lower right of my screen periodically saying something like ’10 new postings on 5 sites”. I can dismiss or ignore this box if I want (it goes away automatically in a minute or so) or I can click on it and RSS Bandit will expand onto my screen and show me a list of all of my sites of interest and which ones have new content. And, I can read the new content right there within Bandit without having to actually go to the website or blog which is really convenient. Or, if I’m too busy to look at the new stuff now, it will hang onto it and continue to accumulate it until I’m ready. RSS Bandit runs silently in the background and puts a negligible load on your system so you never know it is there until you need it.

Unless you’ve been paying attention to RSS technology, you may not know that many websites and blogs these days provide RSS feeds. To link a web site or a blog to RSS Bandit, you simply give Bandit the URL (the web address – something like once and ask it to locate and connect to any RSS feeds on that site. That’s it. From then on, it will watch that site and as many others as you like for you automatically.

Now, here’s the shameless plug in all of this. If you download and install a copy of RSS Bandit on your system and you want to test it, well why not use my blog to do so?

Directions: (asumes RSS Bandit is installed – those directions are further down)

– In RSS Bandit, pull the File menu down and choose ‘New Subscription’
– The Add Subscription Wizard will appear – click ‘Next’
– Click ‘I will enter the URL of the web feed or page’ if it is not already checked – click ‘Next’
– Enter ‘‘ without the quotes and make sure the ‘Auto discover’ box is checked – click ‘Next’
– RSS Bandit will search for an RSS feed and then show you its title and category – click ‘Next’
– It will offer you the opportunity to enter a username and Password. This is not necessary here – click ‘Finish’
– Next, it offers you some configuration choices. Just leave these and click ‘Finish’
– You are done.

You can manually run RSS Bandit each time you fire up your computer. I prefer, however, to add RSS Bandit to my Startup folder so it will run each time I start my system so that it is always there scanning the sites I am interested in automatically.

Before you know it, you will have added 10 or 15 different websites and blogs to RSS Bandit and be able to scan what’s new and interesting in a matter of seconds rather than minutes. That’s great news – it leaves more time in the day to hang out at Starbucks.

Directions for installing RSS Bandit:

Now, explaining how to download and install RSS Bandit gets a bit more complicated and I could write for a very long time here explaining how to do it if you are not a computer literate type. But, a better plan is to find someone you know who is a bit computer literate and have them do it for you. Just about any 12 to 18 year old should be up to the task of following the simplified instructions just below. If you’ve ever passed the ‘program your VCR’ test successfully, you could try it yourself.

Basically, they have to go to the RSS Bandit website here and look around until they find the download area. Make sure they get the latest and greatest version. My copy is version Anything equal to or later than that should be fine. They should download the installation package to your system and place it into a folder of its own. Then they will Unzip it into the same folder and this will generate a file named RSSBandit Installer.msi. Once they have RSSBandit Installer.msi, they should right mouse click on it and choose ‘Install’. When the Installer asks questions, the default answers should be just fine. When they are done, a nice little RSS Bandit Icon should be sitting out on your desktop. If you want Bandit to run automatically each time you start your system, ask them to copy this Icon into your Startup folder.

Happy RSS’ing.