Archive for October, 2006

061017 – Tuesday

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

A day off to do the things I want to do all day. What a pleasure it is.

I’ve posted a few articles on this site about various things today. One was particularly interesting. It was by an Australian fellow named Ian Dunlop and he wrote in a Sydney, Australia, newspaper here about the conjunction of three factors that are going to “drag us into the abyss”. I couldn’t agree more and I’m happy to see other folks writing on what I’ve taken to calling the perfect storm.

Not too long ago here, I wrote about the new Virtual Reality things going on at SecondLife. There’s a story out today here that Reuters has opened a new bureau within the SecondLife virtual world.

… Reuters will have journalists reporting and writing financial and cultural stories within and about Second Life as part of the London-based company’s strategy to reach new audiences with the latest digital technologies.

Now one has to believe that with various large corporations jumping in, that some sort of critical mass has been passed and the thing is happening for … virtual.

The pump fun at the nursery will be continuing this week. So far, the new substitute pump is working and maintaining its prime. I’ll be buying a larger pump over the next few days and changing the electrical system from three-phase to single-phase (unless I can hire a pump expert to do it for me).

I’m also begining to get that panic-stricken feeling that usually preceeds a burst of activity. I’m thinking about how little time remains before I depart for New Zealand and how very much I have to do yet. Yikes!

All in all, though, things are good. Our business is doing as expected for this time of the year.

Unholy trinity set to drag us into the abyss

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

– This article discusses the convergence of three of the factors of the Perfect Storm Hypothesis; Peak Oil, Global Climate Change and Water Shortages. It’s good that people are beginning to see that the conjunction of these factors is more worrying and significant than the fact of the isolated existence of any one of them.

– Dunlop discusses what he calls the “Tragedy of the Commons” and the fact that humanity needs to change, from the winner-take-all individualism which has created so many of the “commons” problems, to a more co-operative individualism, where managing the global and local “commons” is paramount.”

– I find his idea resonates strongly with the idea of the Cycle of Civilization expressed on Paul B. Hartzog’s Panarchy site. My only reservation is that humanity has nevergone through one of these ‘cycles’ before so there’s no certainty that we will accede to it when our changing circumstance demand that it’s time. And my fear is that in our arrogance and in our blind acting out of our biological imperatives, we will blindly go on as we are until nature itself forces the change on us to our great and enduring pain (along with the rest of the biosphere, which will also have to pay for our sins).

By Ian Dunlop in the Sydney Morning Herald of 16 Oct 06

Scorched earth

We are about to experience the convergence of three of the great issues confronting humanity. Climate change, the peaking of oil supply and water shortage are coming together in a manner which will profoundly alter our way of life, our institutions and our ability to prosper on this planet. Each is a major issue, but their convergence has received minimal attention.

Population is the main driver. In the 60 years since World War II, the world population has grown at an unprecedented rate, from 2.5 billion to 6.5billion today, with 9 billion forecast by 2050. That growth has triggered insatiable demand for natural resources, notably water, oil and other fossil fuels. Exponential economic growth in a finite world hitting physical limits is not a new idea; we have experienced limits at a local level, but we have either side-stepped them or found short-term solutions, becoming overly confident that any global limits could be similarly circumvented.

Today, just as the bulk of the world’s population is about to step on to the growth escalator, global limits emerge that are real and imminent. The weight of scientific evidence points to the fact the globe cannot support its present population, let alone an additional 2.5 billion, unless we embrace change.

Climate change, peak oil, water shortage and population are contributing to a “tragedy of the commons”, whereby free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource doom the resource through over-exploitation. The benefits of exploitation accrue to individuals, whereas the costs are borne by all.


Warning over global bird flu plan

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Bird Flu or something like it such as Ebola, are very unpredictable cards in humanitiy’s deck. Certain elements of the Perfect storm Hypothesis, like Peak Oil and Falling Water Tables, are developing slowly and we’ll have some warning on them. But, something like a pandemic will come out of left field and rip through the world’s countries like a wildfire.

– It is typical of people and their attention spans that interest in the potential problems with Bird Flu have migrated to the back burner because nothing, so far, has happened. Perhaps it never will, or perhaps nature is still ambling her way towards that final fatal genetic mutation that will change H5N1Bird Flu from a desease primarily of birds to one that jumps from person to person by airborne means.

– If you think that governments have got the situation well in hand, consider their different approaches to the Antiviral Medications vs. Flu Vaccines question with regard to Bird Flu. It is chilling that the authors of this study say that, “We cannot expect to vaccinate more than 14% of the world’s population within a year of pandemic” and that 62% of the nations examined have plans to protect their populations by makeing Flu Vaccines their first line of defense

– If you believe in insurance policies, it would make very good sense to get a round of the anti-viral medicines; Tamiflu and Relenza and store them in a cool dry place in case you and your family need them in the future. Unless you are a medical professional or highly placed in the government or military, I don’t think any of us should be depending on their government to supply these to us when the storm breaks. Indeed, 62% of the governments surveyed will tell you to wait until vaccines are developed. Nope, the $100 to $200 USD it will cost you to put aside Flu Antiviral medicnes could be the best insurance you ever bought.


A third of countries which have drawn up flu pandemic plans have failed to set out how they would distribute medical treatment, a report has found.

Researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Ben Gurion University Israel studied 45 national pandemic plans.

They warned resources would be scarce, so decisions on who should get drugs or vaccines should be made in advance.

They said prioritising treatment could help reduce death and disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged every country to develop and maintain a national plan on bird-flu.

It also recommends nations prioritise the allocation of pharmaceutical resources among the population.


Researchers looked at 19 plans from developed nations and 26 from developing countries. In total, these represented around two-thirds of the world’s population – 3.8bn people.

The countries included the US, Norway, Australia, India, China, Serbia, Bahrain, Israel, South Africa, UK, Mexico, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore.

The report, Priority Setting for Pandemic Influenza: An Analysis of National Preparedness Plans, found almost half of the plans they examined favoured antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, while 62% prioritised giving citizens a flu vaccine.

This was an unexpected finding, researchers said, as antiviral treatment may be the only pharmaceutical intervention available in some countries.

“We cannot expect to vaccinate more than 14% of the world’s population within a year of pandemic.”


Women Infected With Toxoplasmosis Are More Likely To Have Boys Than Girls

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

– The subject of Toxoplasmosis is one we’re written on before here.


Women infected with dormant toxoplasmosis are more likely to give birth to boys than women who are Toxoplasma negative, according to research by S. Kankova and colleagues from the Departments of Parasitology, Microbiology and Zoology, Charles University; the Centre of Reproductive Medicine; and GynCentrum, in the Czech Republic.

They found that the presence of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii in the mothers’ blood, one of the most common parasites in humans with a worldwide prevalence of 20-80%, increased the likelihood that these women would give birth to a boy. This is the first study [1], published in Springer’s journal Naturwissenschaften this week, to suggest an effect of parasitic infection on the sex of a baby.


Iraq: The Reality

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

– I haven’t, to date, written anything about current U.S. Foreign Policy. It isn’t that I don’t care or don’t have opinions but it is, rather, that I think that the issues I generally blog about are going to cut a far deeper swath through our future than most current events or the squabbles between the Democrats and the Republicans here in the U.S. (whom I refer to as Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee since very little of what they yammer about as they oppose each other bears at all on the issues which I think are pressing, immediate and extremely dangerous to all of our futures).

– But, in spite of all that, I found the following article poignant and sad about what really happening on the ground in Iraq. I don’t have any good ideas of how to get out of this mess, and a great mess it is, but it’s worth reading just to realize what day to day life there is like behind all the impersonal statistics.

– And, this story does,after all, bear on my main Perfect Storm theme in that this sort of political chaos is likely to spread ever wider so long as inequality, ignorance and radical faith-based philosophys continue to dominate human affairs.


Published on Thursday, October 12, 2006 by the Independent / UK

Iraq: The Reality

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was supposed to bring them freedom democracy and peace. But murder, kidnap and lawlessness have become the facts of life for the people of Iraq. In an exclusive extract from his new book, Patrick Cockburn describes the terrifying disintegration of a nation.
by Patrick Cockburn

A sense of utter lawlessness permeated everyday life in Baghdad as the war approached its fourth year in spring 2006. In his Memoirs of an Egotist Stendhal describes how, when he visited a city, he tried to identify the 10 prettiest girls, the 10 richest men and the 10 people who could have him executed; he would have had his work cut out in Baghdad. Veils increasingly concealed girls’ faces, the rich had fled the country – and almost anybody could have you killed. To give a picture of Baghdad, surely the most dangerous city in the world at this time, it is worth explaining just why a modern-day Stendhal would be in trouble if he tried to identify any of the three categories he mentions.

Iraqi women used to enjoy more freedom than almost anywhere else in the Muslim world, apart from Turkey. Iraq was a secular state after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958. Women had equal rights in theory and this was also largely true in practice. These were eroded in the final years of Saddam Hussein as Iraqi society became increasingly Islamic. But under the constitution negotiated with the participation of the American and British ambassadors and ratified by the referendum on 15 October 2005, women legally became second-class citizens in much of Iraq. About three quarters of the girls leaving their schools at lunchtime in central Baghdad now wore headscarves. The reason was generally self-protection. Those girls who were truly religious concealed all their hair, and these were in a minority. The others left a quiff of hair showing, which usually meant that they wore headscarves solely because they were frightened of religious zealots.

There was also a belief that kidnappers, the terror of every Iraqi parent, would be less likely to abduct a girl wearing a headscarf because they would suppose she came from a traditional family. This is not because of religious scruples on the part of kidnappers but because they thought old-fashioned families were likely to belong to a strong tribe. Such a tribe will seek vengeance if one of its members is abducted – a much more frightening prospect for kidnappers than any action by the police.

The life of women had already become more restricted because of the violence in Baghdad. Waiting outside the College of Sciences in Baghdad one day was a 20-year-old biology student called Mariam Ahmed Yassin, who belonged to a well-off family. She was expecting a private car, driven by somebody she trusted, to take her home. Her fear was kidnapping. She said: “I promised my mother to go nowhere after college except home and never to sit in a restaurant.” Her father, a businessman, had already moved to Germany. She volunteered: “I admire Saddam very much and I consider him a great leader because he could control security.”

Mariam’s father was part of the great exodus of business and professional people from Iraq. A friend suffering from a painful toothache spent hours one day ringing up dentists only to be told again and again that they had left the country. If Stendhal was looking for the 10 richest Iraqis he would have had to begin his search in Jordan, Syria or Egypt. The richer districts of the capital had become ghost towns inhabited by trigger-happy security guards. In some parts of Baghdad property prices had dropped by half. Well-off people wanted to keep it a secret if they sold a house because kidnappers and robbers would know they had money. “Some 5,000 people were kidnapped between the fall of Saddam Hussein and May 2005,” said the former human rights minister Bakhtiar Amin.


About publicly funded health care

Friday, October 13th, 2006

– Did you know that the United States is the only country in the developed world without a tax supported public healthcare system? That’s an amazing thing but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Most people think that private healthcare delivers better service than public healthcare – but they are wrong. Decades of statistics show that private healthcare leads to poorer public health.

– The Fall 2006 issue of Yes Magazine is dedicated to health issues and it is all well worth reading but the story I’ve linked to, below, is the one that will most likely to make you sit up with amazment.

Has Canada Got the Cure?
by Holly Dressel

Publicly funded health care has its problems, as any Canadian or Briton knows. But like democracy, it’s the best answer we’ve come up with so far.

Should the United States implement a more inclusive, publicly funded health care system? That’s a big debate throughout the country. But even as it rages, most Americans are unaware that the United States is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t already have a fundamentally public–that is, tax-supported–health care system.

That means that the United States has been the unwitting control subject in a 30-year, worldwide experiment comparing the merits of private versus public health care funding. For the people living in the United States, the results of this experiment with privately funded health care have been grim. The United States now has the most expensive health care system on earth and, despite remarkable technology, the general health of the U.S. population is lower than in most industrialized countries. Worse, Americans’ mortality rates–both general and infant–are shockingly high.

Different paths

Beginning in the 1930s, both the Americans and the Canadians tried to alleviate health care gaps by increasing use of employment-based insurance plans. Both countries encouraged nonprofit private insurance plans like Blue Cross, as well as for-profit insurance plans. The difference between the United States and Canada is that Americans are still doing this, ignoring decades of international statistics that show that this type of funding inevitably leads to poorer public health.


Will The Next Election Be Hacked?

Friday, October 13th, 2006

– this is an ongoing concern that can’t seem to gain deep traction in the popular press. There have been a few articles here, here, here, and here. Some would say that’s because these stories have no merit. Others would say it’s because big media is owned by those with vested interests in supressing stories like this.

Given what I know about how easy it is to hack computers and also given the corruption that always festers where big money and political power collect, I know which way I’m placing my bets.


Fresh disasters at the polls — and new evidence from an industry insider — prove that electronic voting machines can’t be trusted

From Rolling Stone Magazine

The debacle of the 2000 presidential election made it all too apparent to most Americans that our electoral system is broken. And private-sector entrepreneurs were quick to offer a fix: Touch-screen voting machines, promised the industry and its lobbyists, would make voting as easy and reliable as withdrawing cash from an ATM. Congress, always ready with funds for needy industries, swiftly authorized $3.9 billion to upgrade the nation’s election systems – with much of the money devoted to installing electronic voting machines in each of America’s 180,000 precincts. But as midterm elections approach this November, electronic voting machines are making things worse instead of better. Studies have demonstrated that hackers can easily rig the technology to fix an election – and across the country this year, faulty equipment and lax security have repeatedly undermined election primaries. In Tarrant County, Texas, electronic machines counted some ballots as many as six times, recording 100,000 more votes than were actually cast. In San Diego, poll workers took machines home for unsupervised “sleepovers” before the vote, leaving the equipment vulnerable to tampering. And in Ohio – where, as I recently reported in “Was the 2004 Election Stolen?” [RS 1002], dirty tricks may have cost John Kerry the presidency – a government report uncovered large and unexplained discrepancies in vote totals recorded by machines in Cuyahoga County.

Even worse, many electronic machines don’t produce a paper record that can be recounted when equipment malfunctions – an omission that practically invites malicious tampering. “Every board of election has staff members with the technological ability to fix an election,” Ion Sancho, an election supervisor in Leon County, Florida, told me. “Even one corrupt staffer can throw an election. Without paper records, it could happen under my nose and there is no way I’d ever find out about it. With a few key people in the right places, it would be possible to throw a presidential election.”

Chris Hood remembers the day in July 2002 that he began to question what was really going on in Georgia. An African-American whose parents fought for voting rights in the South during the 1960s, Hood was proud to be working as a consultant for Diebold Election Systems, helping the company promote its new electronic voting machines. During the presidential election two years earlier, more than 94,000 paper ballots had gone uncounted in Georgia – almost double the national average – and Secretary of State Cathy Cox was under pressure to make sure every vote was recorded properly.

Hood had been present in May 2002, when officials with Cox’s office signed a contract with Diebold – paying the company a record $54 million to install 19,000 electronic voting machines across the state. At a restaurant inside Atlanta’s Marriott Hotel, he noticed the firm’s CEO, Walden O’Dell, checking Diebold’s stock price on a laptop computer every five minutes, waiting for a bounce from the announcement.

Hood wondered why Diebold, the world’s third-largest seller of ATMs, had been awarded the contract. The company had barely completed its acquisition of Global Election Systems, a voting-machine firm that owned the technology Diebold was promising to sell Georgia. And its bid was the highest among nine competing vendors. Whispers within the company hinted that a fix was in.


U.S. Trade Gap Widens to $69.9 Billion

Friday, October 13th, 2006

I’ve written before on the subject of the growing US Trade Deficit.  The US Government itself doubts that this behavior is sustainable.  But, it goes on and on carrying us into an ever shakier future….


Published: October 12, 2006

Most areas of the country have seen “few signs” of higher inflation in recent weeks, a new regional survey showed.

The Federal Reserve’s study, released today, also said that despite widespread cooling in residential housing, the nation’s economy is still expanding at a healthy pace.

The report, known as the beige book, surveyed economic conditions in all 12 Fed districts from late August to early October. It was generally more upbeat than the one released last month, which depicted a broader economic slowdown punctuated by less robust consumer spending, weakening residential home sales and high energy prices.

Since that survey, which looked at the economy from mid-July to late August, energy prices have come down and consumer spending has picked up.In a separate report today, the Commerce Department said the nation’s trade gap widened in August to a surprisingly large $69.9 billion, setting a new record for the ever-growing disparity between what Americans import and export.

More… :Arrow:

– this is in the NY Times and they require a password to read their stuff on-line. It is free and easy to get one and you only need to do it once.

061012 – Thursday – pumps and bush

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Well, I’ve tried to avoid politics on this blog, other than as they bear on the Perfect Storm ideas but this little video clip is just too funny to pass by. Here’s Will Farrell’s rendition of President Bush on Global Warming:

Will Ferrell – Bush on Global Warming

Other than that great bit of humor, today has been a bit of a trial. My wife and I, in case you don’t know, run a wholesale/retail nursery on 25 acres just outside of the town of Monroe in the State of Washington here in the northwestern corner of the United States. Well, yesterday, our main irrigation pump failed after serving us well for two years and three months and that’s a major bummer and a very big event because it risks our very livelihood.

So, as you can well imagine, it jumped right to the top of my list of things to deal with. And, after I diagnosed the problem, I’m a bit embarrased to admit it was basically my fault that this happened. Two years ago, when I installed the last pump, I failed to put in pump-protection circuitry to protect the pump (which in addition to the grief it is causing me, costs about $800 and takes not less than a week to get a replacement for). So, we reap what we sow, eh?

Another wrinkle is that the old pump was a 230v 3-phase model and those are rare. Part of the delay involved in getting another one is that when you need one, they generally have to go to the factory and make one up as they don’t tend to keep the rare one’s sitting on the shelf.

We were using 3-phase because that’s what they were doing here before we bought the nursery and we just went along with it. Later, as I learned more, I found out that we don’t really have 3-phase power here. We just have the (US standard) normal 230v single phase power. In order to run 3-phase pumps, someone in the past had installed special circuity which converts single phase and, using capacitors, makes it mimic 3-phase. This is lame because power-efficiency is the main reason to run 3-phase and by just mimicing 3-phase, we suffer the inconvenience of using, maintaining and replacing 3-phase gear but not reaping any of the benefits of it.

So, as this saga has unfolded, I’ve pulled the burnt up 2.5 HP pump (burnt up because the pump lost its prime and ran dry and fried itself because I’d negelected to install pump-protection circuitry) and I’m in the process of replacing it with a 1.0 HP replacement (also 3-phase) which I just happened to have setting here as a spare. I’m doing this ASAP because I can then get water out to our 50+ greenhouses which are getting pretty dry (read economic disaster). In the mean time, it gives me a breather to contenplate my next move.

So, do I want to replace the 2.5 HP 3-phase pump with another of the same type – custom made – and a week’s time getting here for $800? Mmmmm. Not too keen on it. The alternative is to rip out the circuitry that converts 230v single phase to mimic 3-phase and then install a new replacement 2.5 HP single-phase pump which might be a bit cheaper and will sure be available on much shorter notice (as in it might even be on the supplier’s shelf when we call). And, let’s not foreget that this time I’ll also install the pump protection circuity .

So, when I’ve finished plumbing in the replacement 1 HP pump tomorrow and water is flowing again, I’ll have to study the electrical circuitry (all of which is 10 to 15 years old, full of cobwebs and junk and mostly looks like a nightmare) and see if I’m confident enough to order the single phase pump and then take everything down again (read risk factor) and redo the electrics and then put it all back together again in a day or two. No pressure here…nope, not a bit – just love this stuff.

It’s one of the things I alternatively love and then hate about this business. You can’t really be in it without being able to be a jack-of-all-trades and sometimes that’s fun but sometimes it’s downright scary.

Ah, and as an aside, I’ve got two of my guys up on the roof of my rental manufactured home ripping off the roofing and the plywood to sort out the cronic leaks there. That was particularly fun, to step away from the pump disasters and go over and observe the roof laid open to the rafters and to discover how very very shabbily made manufactured homes truely are and this one has, apparently, already suffered an earlier attempt at roof repair that was done by some one who probably should have been shot before being allowed up on the roof – for their good and for mine . But, my guys are competent so I know we’ll get it right this time. We just need to spend some time and money on it and that’s always easy, right? Grrrr.

So, friends, thanks for listening to all this whining. I’d love to be playng on the Internet and blogging on environmental issues but today the great python called ‘making and preserving a living’ has got a strong grip on my reality.


061010 – Tuesday – Endings and musings

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

It’s an introspective day today. Things have finally slowed down here from the tulmult of the last few weeks and I’ve been able to stop and reflect and make thoughtful choices.

One thing I decided was to drop writing my Nature Bats Last column for the local newspaper. I sent in my final column today. My desire to write the columns has been waning of late. There’s a feeling that I’m shouting into the wind and getting only silence back. I’m thinking that if those readers who’ve been following along haven’t gotten the big drift by now, another five or 10 articles isn’t going to make any difference. And I’m finding that it’s work to put the articles together and that other than the brief glow of ego I feel each time I see a new column of mine in print, that I’m getting very little for the time and effort and it’s getting annoying to have to fire myself up again each week to crank out 750 words on one of the deadly harbingers of future doom and submit it by a certain time.

My blogging here is better but it’s suffering from lack of quality time in which to write my own thoughts rather than simply putting up references to pre-existing news stories that reinforce my hypotheses. And, I have to admit, it suffers some as well from a lack of readership in a medium swarming with millions of minds. But, I have the feeling that there are possibilities yet to be realized with it whereas with the columns, I think it’s mostly wasted time now.

I was also reflecting that one thing I think I really miss from being younger was that pervasive feeling that something really new and amazing might just be around the next corner. An idea, a person, a movement, a book – something could and probably would show up and make the world amazingly new for awhile. There was, of course, also the crackle of youth and hormones talking in our ears then. To stand up and streach like a cat full of muscles and to feel the juice in your veins as you walked out to meet the new day which might hold anything was good.

These days, the world is a mess and I have very slim hopes that anyone’s going to come out of the woodwork with a radical and brand new idea to turn it all around. These days, I look at the youth full of hormones and cat muscles and optimism and their ‘take-no-prisoners’ attitutes and I just see them as living in a dream within a box bigger than they can yet see. And I question why anyone should tell them. The future will find us all soon enough.

I’m beginning to draw up lists of the various things I want to accomplish while I’m in New Zealand this winter. It’s only a month now before I leave and I know how fast that time will fly by. Strange to think that while the winter storms are breaking here, I’ll be in Christchurch at the height of summer. While I’m there, I’ll be working on this web site, programming in Win32 for the software that we use here at the nursery on PDAs, reading various books and exploring the South Island. I’d hoped to ship my motorcycle down this year but the logistics will be too complicated given that I won’t have a fixed address until late December or early January and by then, I’ll only be a month away from returning.

A week or so ago, I had a look at the SecondLife (SL) phenomenon. It’s an amazing thing that’s going on there. it was just a few years ago that most of us read Snowcrash and then, the ideas seems interesting but remote. Now, SL is becoming a major event in virtual space. People have businesses, own virtual land and make SL money which is actually redeemable or real money out here in RealLife (RL).

I downloaded SecondLife and tried to install it here but none of my systems has a new enough video card to deal with the graphics requirements. That was a bit of a shock as I thought that while my stuff might be a few years old, it was good quality. Once again, the kids on the skate boards have whipped by me and my walker out here in RealLife (RL).

So, I’m debating if I have a plausible reason for upgrading one of my systems – other than so I can try SL out – and thus far, my skills at rationalization haven’t been up to the task – but I’m still working the problem.

I think I found out what I am today. Or perhaps, what I feel like I am. I’m a Cassandra. Wikipedia defines a Cassandra as, “is a term applied to predictions of doom about the future that are not believed, but upon later reflection turn out to be correct.” I think if I had the naming of thiswebsite to do over again, I might call it CassandraRedux.

Well, I’m off to try out some web cams so Sharon and I can communicate with audio and visual while I’m in New Zealand. Ah, techie-stuff (as he rubs his hands together), that’s always better then messing about in real life.