Archive for April, 2007

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at age 84

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

– A free thinker who expanded many of our minds. May we be blessed with more like him.

– In 2005, he characterized the Bush administration as, “upper crust C-students who know no history or geography“.   That made me smile. 


NEW YORK — Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Cat’s Cradle,” died Wednesday. He was 84.

Vonnegut, who often marveled that he had lived so long despite his lifelong smoking habit, had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

The author of at least 19 novels, many of them best-sellers, as well as dozens of short stories, essays and plays, Vonnegut relished the role of a social critic. He lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he felt were dehumanizing people.

“I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations,” Vonnegut, whose watery, heavy-lidded eyes and unruly hair made him seem to be in existential pain, once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater as transparent vehicles for his points of view. He also filled his novels with satirical commentary and even drawings that were only loosely connected to the plot. In “Slaughterhouse-Five,” he drew a headstone with the epitaph: “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”


070411 – Wednesday – Surgery day

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

I’m departing in the next few minutes to have an athroscopy proceedure done on my right knee. I damaged it in November in New Zealand. I’ll be back in a few hours and hobbling about for the next week or so. I had this done on the left knee about ten years ago and it went well.

Wish me luck, dear readers.



Later.   it all seemed to go well.   I’m sitting here now in a pain reliever induced fog (smiling a lot) and goofing off.   Won’t be much serious intellectual stuff possible until at least tomorrow.   Until then, I’m in Dilbert-land.


UK schools are dropping teaching the Holocaust

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

– This is utterly amazing. If the holocaust happened, and I believe it did, then why should anyone fear to teach it? But, in the UK, teachers are choosing to not teach about it to avoid offending Muslim students who’ve been taught otherwise. Amazing.


Story #1:

Story #2:

16Apr07 follow up from Snopes, the urban legend people:

– By the way, before I published this piece orginally, I checked with Snopes to see if it was bogus and found nothing.   As you’ll see, if you follow the new Snopes link, it is only partially true.

Coral Reef Collapse Spells Danger For Millions

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Science Daily Island communities that depend on coral reef fisheries could face a hungry future, according to new research from the University of East Anglia, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), and Simon Fraser University in Canada, published in Current Biology.

The report on island coral reef fisheries reveals that over half (55%) of the 49 island countries reviewed were being exploited unsustainably. Fish landings are currently 64% higher than can be sustained. In order to support this level of exploitation, an additional 75,000 km2 of coral reef would be needed – an area 3.7 times greater than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. These figures will nearly triple by 2050, given current human population growth projections.

Katie Newton, of the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences, undertook a survey of the landing catches of 49 island nations across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

“Millions of people are dependent on coral reef fisheries. We are facing a global crisis among communities which have limited alternative livelihoods or major food sources,” she said.


070410 – Tuesday – more Kim Stanley Robinson

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

I know I wrote just the other day about the fact that I’m reading a book, Sixty Days and Counting, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s a great book and an excellent finish to his trilogy on the global climate change crises.

When I wrote last time, I quoted a section from his book and I said that I hoped he’d forgive me for the transgression. Well, I’m afraid his book is just too good and I’m going to do it again. I expect his book company lawyers will be knocking on my door any day now.

The following is a discussion, from the book, between the newly elected President’s science advisory staff, led by Charlie, people from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change and people from the World Bank. They are not seeing eye to eye about the world’s problems and it makes for interesting reading. When I was reading this, I just wanted to stand up and shout, “Yes!”



This meeting with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN organization, might be a good venue for exerting some pressure. The IPCC had spent many years advocating action on the climate front, and all that while they had been flatly ignored by the World Bank. If there was now a face-off, a great reckoning in a little room, then it could get interesting.

But the meeting, held across the street in the World Bank headquarters, was a disappointment. These two groups came from such different world-views that it was only an illusion they were speaking the same language; for the most part they used different vocabularies, and when by chance they used the same words, they meant different things by them. They were aware at some level of this underlying conflict, but could not address it; and so everyone was tense, with old grievances unsayable and yet fully present.

The World Bank guys said something about nothing getting cheaper than oil for the next fifty years, ignoring what the IPCC guys had just finished saying about the devastating effects fifty more years of oil burning would have. They had not heard that, apparently. They defended having invested 94 percent of the World Bank’s energy investments in oil exploration as necessary, given the world’s dependence on oil – apparently unaware of the circular aspect of their argument. And, being economists, they were still exteriorizing costs without even noticing it or acknowledging such exteriorization had been conclusively demonstrated to falsify accounts of profit and loss. It was as if the world was not real – as if the physical world, reported on by scientists and witnessed by all, could be ignored, and because their entirely fictitious numbers therefore added up, no one could complain.

Charlie gritted his teeth as he listened and took notes. This was science verses capitalism, yet again. The IPCC guys spoke for science and said the obvious things, pointing out the physical constraints of the planet, the carbon load now in the atmosphere altering everything, and the resultant need for heavy investment in clean replacement technologies by all concerned, including the World Bank, as one of the great drivers of globalization. But they had said it before to no avail, and so it was happening again. The World Bank guys talked about rates of return and the burden on investors, and the unacceptable doubling of the price of the kilowatt hour. Everyone there had said all of this before, with the same lack of communication and absence of concrete results.

Charlie saw that the meeting was useless. … The bank guy was going on about differential costs, “and that’s why it’s going to be oil for the next twenty, thirty, maybe even fifty years,” he concluded. “None of the alternatives are competitive.”

Charlie’s pencil tip snapped. “Competitive for what?” he demanded.

He had not spoken until that point, and now the edge in his voice stopped the discussion. Everyone was staring at him. He stared back at the World Bank guys.

“Damage from carbon dioxide emission costs about $35 a ton, but in your model no one pays for it. The carbon that British Petroleum burns per year, by sale and operation, runs up a damage bill of fifty billion dollars. BP reported a profit of twenty billion, so actually it’s thirty billion in the red, every year. Shell reported a profit of twenty-three billion, but if you add the damage cost it would be eight billion in the red. These companies should be bankrupt. You support their exteriorizing of costs, so your accounting is bullshit. You’re helping bring on the biggest catastrophe in human history. If the oil companies burn the five hundred gigatons of carbon that you are describing as inevitable because of your financial shell games, then two-thirds of the species on the planet will be endangered, including humans. But you keep talking about fiscal discipline and competitive edges in profit differentials. It’s the stupidest head-in-the-sand response possible.”

The World Bank guys flinched at this. “Well,” one of them said, “we don’t see it that way.”

Charlie said, “That’s the trouble. You see it the way the banking industry sees it, and they make money by manipulating money irrespective of effects in the real world. You’ve spent a trillion dollars of American taxpayers’ money over the lifetime of the bank, and there’s nothing to show for it. You go into poor countries and force them to sell their assets to foreign investors and to switch from subsistence agriculture to cash crops, then when the prices of these crops collapse you call this nicely competitive on the world market. The local populations starve and you then insist on austerity measures even though your actions have shattered their economy. You order them to cut their social services so they can pay off their debts to you and your financial community investors, and you devalue their real assets and then buy them on the cheap and sell them elsewhere for more. The assets of that country have been strip-mined and now belong to international finance. That’s your idea of development. You were intended to be the Marshall Plan, and you’ve been the United Fruit Company.”

One of the World Bank guys muttered, “But tell us what you really think,” while putting his papers in his briefcase. His companions snickered, and this gave him courage to continue: “I’m not gonna stay and listen to this,” he said.

“That’s fine,” Charlie said. “You can leave now and get a head start on looking for a new job.”

The man blinked hostilely at him. But he did not otherwise move.

Charlie stared at him for a while, working to collect himself. He lowered his voice and spoke as calmly as he could manage. He outlined the basics of the new mission architecture, including the role that the World Bank was now to play; but he couldn’t handle going into detail with people who were now furious at him, and in truth had never been listening. … So Charlie wrapped it up, then gave them a few copies of the mission architecture outline, thick books that had been bound just that week. “Your part of the plan is here in concept. Take it back and talk it over with your people, and come to us with your plan to enact it. We look forward to hearing your ideas. I’ve got you scheduled for a meeting on the sixth of next month, and I’ll expect your report then.” Although, since we will be decapitating your organization, it won’t be you guys doing the reporting, he didn’t add.

And he gathered his papers and left the room.


Whooooo-ya … if only.

To Fortify China, Soybean Harvest Grows in Brazil

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

– I’ve been pointing out for some time that as China’s ability to feed itself begins to falter due to increasing population, eating higher on the food chain as a result of growing affluence, desertification and diminishing water supplies, they will inevitably draw from their huge balance of trade surplus funds and simply go out into the world market and buy what they need with impunity. It makes sense – who wouldn’t?

– But, while it makes sense for them, it is inevitably going to wreak havoc with the affordability and availability of food supplies for the rest of the world with a special emphasis on the world’s poorer nations. And this, in turn, will lead to social unrest and increasing political fundamentalism as no one likes to starve quietly.


RONDONÓPOLIS, Brazil — For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese have turned soybeans into tofu, a staple of the country’s diet.

But as its economy grows, so does China’s appetite for pork, poultry and beef, which require higher volumes of soybeans as animal feed. Plagued by scarce water supplies, China is turning to a new trading partner 15,000 miles away — Brazil — to supply more protein-packed beans essential to a richer diet.

China’s global scramble for natural resources is leading to a transformation of agricultural trading around the world. In China, vanishing cropland and diminishing water supplies are hampering the country’s ability to feed itself, and the increasing use of farmland in the United States to produce biofuels is pushing China to seek more of its staples from South America, where land is still cheap and plentiful.

“China is out there beating the bushes,” said Robert L. Thompson, a professor at the University of Illinois who is a former director of agricultural and rural development at the World Bank. The goal, he said, is “to ensure they have access to long-term contracts for minerals and energy and food.”


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, recently, a friend of mine suggested the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

070410 – Tuesday – A great example of local activism

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

I’ve added a new website, G.R.I.T., to the list of websites that I like and support on this Blog. You will find the list of these websites along the right side of your browser screen if you scroll down.

G.R.I.T. stands for Governmental Responsibility, Integrity and Truth. It is a website focused on issues having to do with local government here in the Western Washington Sky Valley area.

For those of you who follow this Blog from a distance, this may seem to be of remote interest but I encourage you to have a look. Local governments in any and all parts of the world could be much improved if their local citizens focused on and tracked the behavior, decisions and rational of their elected representatives with the same fervor and passion that these folks do. I guarantee you that very little happens in the town of Sultan, Washington, that is not closely examined, discussed and debated thanks to these people and the entire area is much the better for it.

U.S. Southwest Drought Could Be Start of New Dust Bowl

Monday, April 9th, 2007

The unprecedented drought that has gripped the southwestern United States isn’t almost over, researchers say, it may have only just begun.

That’s the consensus of all but 1 of the 19 climate models used as the basis for this week’s upcoming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to a new analysis.

Richard Seager, a senior research scientist with the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, and co-authors report their findings today in the online advance version of the journal Science.

Based on the climate models, the U.S. Southwest and parts of northern Mexico could become as arid as the North American Dust Bowl conditions of the 1930s, the study authors report.

“If these models are correct, the levels of aridity of the recent multiyear drought [will] become the new climatology of the American Southwest,” the team writes.


Global warming: a load of hot air?

Monday, April 9th, 2007

– Here’s a well written middle-of-the-road review of the pros and cons of Global Warming from Australia. There’s something here for both skeptics and supporters. Personally, I think the vast preponderance of data backs the global warming supporters but both sides have good points.


Despite freak weather and looming extinctions, scientists are divided by a new row over whether global warming matters – a row the world’s politicians have been quick to exploit as the Kyoto treaty approaches deadline. By Stephen Cauchi.

It is 2070 and the Pacific nations of Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Palau, Tonga and French Polynesia are but a memory, swamped decades ago by rising sea levels.

Up north, the Arctic is now little more than an oversized iceberg, and the Inuit and polar bears are long gone. What is left of it will melt by century’s end, allowing ships to sail over the North Pole all year round.

In Melbourne, storm surges have been given a lethal edge thanks to rising sea levels. Lowlying areas such Elwood, St Kilda, Williamstown, Werribee, Mordialloc and South Melbourne are flooded during bad storms, causing severe damage to homes, Luna Park, St Kilda Marina and the Phillip Island penguin colony.

Snow cover in the Victorian and NSW alps has shrunk 90 per cent since 2000, and skiers are forced to go to New Zealand. Melbourne has double the days over 35 degrees in summer that it once did, and yearly rainfall is two-thirds of what it was. Crop-killing drought in the bush is the norm.

This is the worst-case scenario for global warming, as forecast by the CSIRO and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Recent weather has been ominously supportive of it. Last year was the world’s third-hottest year on record (most of the hottest years on record have happened since 1990; 1998 was the hottest). Victoria has just had its hottest December in 130 years. Europe’s once-in-450 years summer is estimated to have killed 20,000 people and research released this week predicted such heatwaves on the continent every 20 years.

Other forms of life are also expected to die. A paper in Nature last week predicted global warming would kill one million plant and animal species by 2050. Writing in the journal Science, the British Government’s chief scientist, Sir David King, last week warned that global warming was a more serious threat than global terrorism.

So the 1990s debate about whether global warming theory is a left-wing panic attack is over, right? Wrong.

There have always been scientists, organisations and governments who have remained deeply sceptical of global warming. Now they have received new ammunition with the publication of serious research papers that set out to debunk the whole theory. The debate has not only damaged academic reputations; it has been hijacked for political purposes in a way that threatens to undermine the imperative for science to be objective and value-free.

Conservative politicians in the US, which is refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gases, have leapt on the research. “With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people?” asked Senator James Inhofe, the Republican chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee in July. “It sure sounds like it.”

Such rhetoric concerns the purists. “Climate science is at its absolutely most political,” says Patrick Michaels, a climatologist at the University of Virginia. Roger Pielke, from the University of Colorado, agrees: “On the climate issue, we appear to be on the brink of having Republican science and Democrat science.”


Climate Change: Study Maps Those At Greatest Risk From Cyclones And Rising Seas

Monday, April 9th, 2007

“Climate change is not a natural disaster but has largely been caused by wealthy countries emitting greenhouse gases during their industrialisation,” says McGranahan. “Yet the poorest countries that have contributed least to the problem are most vulnerable to its effects. It is therefore incumbent on rich nations to help poorer ones to adapt to the changes ahead.”


Science Daily  The first global study to identify populations at greatest risk from rising sea levels and more intense cyclones linked to climate change will be published next month in the peer-reviewed journal Environment and Urbanization.

The research shows that 634 million people one tenth of the global population live in coastal areas that lie within just ten metres above sea level.

It calls for action to limit the effects of climate change, to help people migrate away from risk and to modify urban settlements to reduce their vulnerability. But it warns that this will require enforceable regulations and economic incentives, both of which depend on political will, funding and human capital.

Key findings of the study by Gordon McGranahan of the International Institute for Environment and Development (UK) and his colleagues, Deborah Balk and Bridget Anderson, at the City University of New York and Columbia University, are that:

  • Nearly two-thirds of urban settlements with more than 5 million inhabitants are at least partially in the 0-10 metre zone.
  • On average, 14 percent of people in the least developed countries live in the zone (compared to 10 percent in OECD countries).
  • 21 percent of the urban populations of least developed nations are in the zone (11 percent in OECD countries).
  • About 75% of people in the zone are in Asia. 21 nations have more than half of their population in the zone (16 are small island states).
  • Poor countries and poor communities within them are most at risk.