Archive for July, 2007

070731 – Tuesday – St. Marys, KS

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

It’s raining in North East Kansas. Flood warnings in several areas near where we are. We hit a major cloud burst coming out from Topeka this morning just like yesterday. The weatherman says it may rain on and off all the time we’re here. That’s great by me – I like this warm rain. I’m just hoping for a big thumderstorm. I like the noise and excitement of it <smile>.

We’ve been having a good time visiting with Sharon’s family here at the family farm. I’ve looked around here and realized how differerent their experiences were from mine growing up. Sharon and her brothers were born here and their lives have always orbited around this land and house that her relatives homesteaded and built back in the late 19th century. I, on the other hand, was born in New York and raised in Southern California and lived in not less that 35 different places from when I was 15 until 1990 when Sharon and I married and moved to Washington State.

I hope to take some pictures later today and post them here of the farm.

I’ve been trying to talk everyone into mounting an expedition over to Manhatten to look for a nursery so we can have a look around at what running a nursery in this part of the country looks like. It’s also fun to go for a ride in a new place.

I’ve been using my spare time to read a book on Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and I think I’ve got it – which puts me a lot closer to have total control over the presentation of this blog. I’m also wanting to redo the site which our business uses. it is long overdue for a face-lift.

Cheers from Pottawattamie County in Northeastern Kansas!

070730 – Monday – Topeka

Monday, July 30th, 2007

We travelled yesterday.   Seattle to Chicago to Kansas City and then took a rental car to Topeka where we have a room for four days.   We’re off in an hour or so for St. Marys, Kansas, where Sharon grew up.   Her mother and two brothers are there at the farm.

Cheers, until tomorrow.

Peak Tech?

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

– I just read a piece by Jim Kunstler (author of The Long Emergency) over on his Blog, Clusterfuck Nation. it was entitled, Peak Tech?

– I have to say I agree with everything he’s saying. We are in very deep yogurt and we are defintely not doing the right things to get out of the mess – which only means we’re going to fall farther and farther into it. I think that the Peak Oil business will, perhaps, come on slower than many Peak Oil pundits are claiming – but it will come.

Here’s a link to his piece: :arrow:

Electronic Voting Machines – a major danger to American democracy

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

– Well, I thought I wasn’t going to post anymore until I returned from our trip but when I saw the juxtaposition of these two stories, I just had to sit down and write a bit more.

– First, we have the story that the democrats in the Senate, lead by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have backed away from requiring all states to employ so-called voter-verified paper records in their systems – even though earlier this year, she called for enacting such changes by 2008.

– Then, next, we have news in from the San Francisco Chronicle which is reporting that computer security researchers throughout the University of California system managed to crack the security on every voting machine they tested that has been approved for use in the state.

– Yeah. If you aren’t concerned yet, take a cruise through these earlier stories I posted on this topic: , , , , , , , , ,

– This is a serious problem, folks. If you are still not sure, ask an expert computer programmer what the chances are that voting machines without verification trails can be hacked.

– I’ve listed this post under “The Perfect Storm”, “Capitalism & Corporations” and “CrashBlogging” because the same urges which cause Capitalism and corporations to be about profits and not people, are also behind the efforts to corrupt our voting systems so that folks can attain power by stealth that they could not attain through a fair ballot box.

070728 – Saturday – Traveling

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Sharon and I are off in the morning for Kansas to see her family so I’ll be gone until August 2nd.  So, they’ll be no posts during that period.

Bomb by Bomb, Japan Sheds Military Restraints

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

– Oil is going to get tight as the Peak Oil issue slowly creeps up on us. The US’s involvement in Iraq is thought by many to really be about cornering and controlling significant oil in the region to ensure the US’s continuing ability to supply its economy with this essential material. China, India, and Europe are also all looking for how they can establish control over the oil they will need to continue growing.

– Japan is a particularly interesting case. 95% of their oil is imported and without a guaranteed supply, they could easily revert to a medieval fishing and farming culture. No one imagines that they will let this come about without a struggle.

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ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — To take part in its annual exercises with the United States Air Force here last month, Japan practiced dropping 500-pound live bombs on Farallon de Medinilla, a tiny island in the western Pacific’s turquoise waters more than 150 miles north of here.

The pilots described dropping a live bomb for the first time — shouting “shack!” to signal a direct hit — and seeing the fireball from aloft.

“The level of tension was just different,” said Capt. Tetsuya Nagata, 35, stepping down from his cockpit onto the sunbaked tarmac.

The exercise would have been unremarkable for almost any other military, but it was highly significant for Japan, a country still restrained by a Constitution that renounces war and allows forces only for its defense. Dropping live bombs on land had long been considered too offensive, so much so that Japan does not have a single live-bombing range.

Flying directly from Japan and practicing live-bombing runs on distant foreign soil would have been regarded as unacceptably provocative because the implicit message was clear: these fighter jets could perhaps fly to North Korea and take out some targets before returning home safely.

But from here in Micronesia to Iraq, Japan’s military has been rapidly crossing out items from its list of can’t-dos. The incremental changes, especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, amount to the most significant transformation in Japan’s military since World War II, one that has brought it ever closer operationally to America’s military while rattling nerves throughout northeast Asia.

In a little over half a decade, Japan’s military has carried out changes considered unthinkable a few years back. In the Indian Ocean, Japanese destroyers and refueling ships are helping American and other militaries fight in Afghanistan. In Iraq, Japanese planes are transporting cargo and American troops to Baghdad from Kuwait.

Japan is acquiring weapons that blur the lines between defensive and offensive. For the Guam bombing run, Japan deployed its newest fighter jets, the F-2’s, the first developed jointly by Japan and the United States, on their maiden trip here. Unlike its older jets, the F-2’s were able to fly the 1,700 miles from northern Japan to Guam without refueling — a “straight shot,” as the Japanese said with unconcealed pride.


– 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.

Chinese Air Pollution Deadliest in World, Report Says

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Kevin Holden Platt in Beijing, China
for National Geographic News
July 9, 2007

China the world’s fastest growing economy, has earned another startling superlative: the highest annual incidence of premature deaths triggered by air pollution in the world, according to a new study.

A World Health Organization (WHO) report estimates that diseases triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens each year, and polluted drinking water kills another 95,600. (Related: “China’s Pollution Leaving Mountains High and Dry, Study Finds” [March 8, 2007].)

Air pollution is estimated to cause approximately two million premature deaths worldwide per year,” said Michal Krzyzanowski, an air quality adviser at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Krzyzanowski worked with WHO to look at costs and casualties of pollution across the globe. He helped the group develop new air quality guidelines that set out global goals to reduce deaths from pollution.



Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

– This is an excerpt from Lester R. Brown’s book, Plan B 2.0.

– Sometimes it is hard to give folks the big picture they need in order to be able to see the Perfect Storm coming in the future. They get a few bits and pieces here and there and they say or think, that can’t be enough to add up to a global catastrophe.

– Well, Lester Brown pulls a lot of facts and figures here together on the related subjects of water tables and rivers and, in aggregate, it is extremely sobering. And remember, these two elements are only a prt of what the Perfect Storm hypothesis is about.

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As the world’s demand for water has tripled over the last half-century and as the demand for hydroelectric power has grown even faster, dams and diversions of river water have drained many rivers dry. As water tables fall, the springs that feed rivers go dry, reducing river flows.

Scores of countries are overpumping aquifers as they struggle to satisfy their growing water needs, including each of the big three grain producers–China, India, and the United States. More than half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling.

There are two types of aquifers: replenishable and nonreplenishable (or fossil) aquifers. Most of the aquifers in India and the shallow aquifer under the North China Plain are replenishable. When these are depleted, the maximum rate of pumping is automatically reduced to the rate of recharge.

For fossil aquifers, such as the vast U.S. Ogallala aquifer, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain, or the Saudi aquifer, depletion brings pumping to an end. Farmers who lose their irrigation water have the option of returning to lower-yield dryland farming if rainfall permits. In more arid regions, however, such as in the southwestern United States or the Middle East, the loss of irrigation water means the end of agriculture.

The U.S. embassy in Beijing reports that Chinese wheat farmers in some areas are now pumping from a depth of 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet. Pumping water from this far down raises pumping costs so high that farmers are often forced to abandon irrigation and return to less productive dryland farming. A World Bank study indicates that China is overpumping three river basins in the north–the Hai, which flows through Beijing and Tianjin; the Yellow; and the Huai, the next river south of the Yellow. Since it takes 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain, the shortfall in the Hai basin of nearly 40 billion tons of water per year (1 ton equals 1 cubic meter) means that when the aquifer is depleted, the grain harvest will drop by 40 million tons–enough to feed 120 million Chinese.

In India, water shortages are particularly serious simply because the margin between actual food consumption and survival is so precarious. In a survey of India’s water situation, Fred Pearce reported in New Scientist that the 21 million wells drilled are lowering water tables in most of the country. In North Gujarat, the water table is falling by 6 meters (20 feet) per year. In Tamil Nadu, a state with more than 62 million people in southern India, wells are going dry almost everywhere and falling water tables have dried up 95 percent of the wells owned by small farmers, reducing the irrigated area in the state by half over the last decade.

As water tables fall, well drillers are using modified oil-drilling technology to reach water, going as deep as 1,000 meters in some locations. In communities where underground water sources have dried up entirely, all agriculture is rain-fed and drinking water is trucked in. Tushaar Shah, who heads the International Water Management Institute’s groundwater station in Gujarat, says of India’s water situation, “When the balloon bursts, untold anarchy will be the lot of rural India.”

In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas–three leading grain-producing states–the underground water table has dropped by more than 30 meters (100 feet). As a result, wells have gone dry on thousands of farms in the southern Great Plains. Although this mining of underground water is taking a toll on U.S. grain production, irrigated land accounts for only one fifth of the U.S. grain harvest, compared with close to three fifths of the harvest in India and four fifths in China.

Pakistan, a country with 158 million people that is growing by 3 million per year, is also mining its underground water. In the Pakistani part of the fertile Punjab plain, the drop in water tables appears to be similar to that in India. Observation wells near the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi show a fall in the water table between 1982 and 2000 that ranges from 1 to nearly 2 meters a year.

In the province of Baluchistan, water tables around the capital, Quetta, are falling by 3.5 meters per year. Richard Garstang, a water expert with the World Wildlife Fund and a participant in a study of Pakistan’s water situation, said in 2001 that “within 15 years Quetta will run out of water if the current consumption rate continues.”

Iran, a country of 70 million people, is overpumping its aquifers by an average of 5 billion tons of water per year, the water equivalent of one third of its annual grain harvest. Under the small but agriculturally rich Chenaran Plain in northeastern Iran, the water table was falling by 2.8 meters a year in the late 1990s. New wells being drilled both for irrigation and to supply the nearby city of Mashad are responsible. Villages in eastern Iran are being abandoned as wells go dry, generating a flow of “water refugees.”

Saudi Arabia, a country of 25 million people, is as water-poor as it is oil-rich. Relying heavily on subsidies, it developed an extensive irrigated agriculture based largely on its deep fossil aquifer. After several years of using oil money to support wheat prices at five times the world market level, the government was forced to face fiscal reality and cut the subsidies. Its wheat harvest dropped from a high of 4 million tons in 1992 to some 2 million tons in 2005. Some Saudi farmers are now pumping water from wells that are 1,200 meters deep (nearly four fifths of a mile).

In neighboring Yemen, a nation of 21 million, the water table under most of the country is falling by roughly 2 meters a year as water use outstrips the sustainable yield of aquifers. In western Yemen’s Sana’a Basin, the estimated annual water extraction of 224 million tons exceeds the annual recharge of 42 million tons by a factor of five, dropping the water table 6 meters per year. World Bank projections indicate the Sana’a Basin–site of the national capital, Sana’a, and home to 2 million people–will be pumped dry by 2010.

In the search for water, the Yemeni government has drilled test wells in the basin that are 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) deep–depths normally associated with the oil industry–but they have failed to find water. Yemen must soon decide whether to bring water to Sana’a, possibly by pipeline from coastal desalting plants, if it can afford it, or to relocate the capital. Either alternative will be costly and potentially traumatic.

Israel, even though it is a pioneer in raising irrigation water productivity, is depleting both of its principal aquifers–the coastal aquifer and the mountain aquifer that it shares with Palestinians. Israel’s population, whose growth is fueled by both natural increase and immigration, is outgrowing its water supply. Conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians over the allocation of water in the latter area are ongoing. Because of severe water shortages, Israel has banned the irrigation of wheat.

In Mexico–home to a population of 107 million that is projected to reach 140 million by 2050–the demand for water is outstripping supply. Mexico City’s water problems are well known. Rural areas are also suffering. For example, in the agricultural state of Guanajuato, the water table is falling by 2 meters or more a year. At the national level, 51 percent of all the water extracted from underground is from aquifers that are being overpumped.

Since the overpumping of aquifers is occurring in many countries more or less simultaneously, the depletion of aquifers and the resulting harvest cutbacks could come at roughly the same time. And the accelerating depletion of aquifers means this day may come soon, creating potentially unmanageable food scarcity.

While falling water tables are largely hidden, rivers that are drained dry before they reach the sea are highly visible. Two rivers where this phenomenon can be seen are the Colorado, the major river in the southwestern United States, and the Yellow, the largest river in northern China. Other large rivers that either run dry or are reduced to a mere trickle during the dry season are the Nile, the lifeline of Egypt; the Indus, which supplies most of Pakistan’s irrigation water; and the Ganges in India’s densely populated Gangetic basin. Many smaller rivers have disappeared entirely.

Since 1950, the number of large dams, those over 15 meters high, has increased from 5,000 to 45,000. Each dam deprives a river of some of its flow. Engineers like to say that dams built to generate electricity do not take water from the river, only its energy, but this is not entirely true since reservoirs increase evaporation. The annual loss of water from a reservoir in arid or semiarid regions, where evaporation rates are high, is typically equal to 10 percent of its storage capacity.

The Colorado River now rarely makes it to the sea. With the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and, most important, California depending heavily on the Colorado’s water, the river is simply drained dry before it reaches the Gulf of California. This excessive demand for water is destroying the river’s ecosystem, including its fisheries.

A similar situation exists in Central Asia. The Amu Darya–which, along with the Syr Darya, feeds the Aral Sea–is diverted to irrigate the cotton fields of Central Asia. In the late 1980s, water levels dropped so low that the sea split in two. While recent efforts to revitalize the North Aral Sea have raised the water level somewhat, the South Aral Sea will likely never recover.

China’s Yellow River, which flows some 4,000 kilometers through five provinces before it reaches the Yellow Sea, has been under mounting pressure for several decades. It first ran dry in 1972. Since 1985 it has often failed to reach the sea, although better management and greater reservoir capacity have facilitated year-round flow in recent years.

The Nile, site of another ancient civilization, now barely makes it to the sea. Water analyst Sandra Postel, in Pillar of Sand, notes that before the Aswan Dam was built, some 32 billion cubic meters of water reached the Mediterranean each year. After the dam was completed, however, increasing irrigation, evaporation, and other demands reduced its discharge to less than 2 billion cubic meters.

Pakistan, like Egypt, is essentially a river-based civilization, heavily dependent on the Indus. This river, originating in the Himalayas and flowing westward to the Indian Ocean, not only provides surface water, it also recharges aquifers that supply the irrigation wells dotting the Pakistani countryside. In the face of growing water demand, it too is starting to run dry in its lower reaches. Pakistan, with a population projected to reach 305 million by 2050, is in trouble.

In Southeast Asia, the flow of the Mekong is being reduced by the dams being built on its upper reaches by the Chinese. The downstream countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Viet Nam–countries with 168 million people–complain about the reduced flow of the Mekong, but this has done little to curb China’s efforts to exploit the power and the water in the river.

The same problem exists with the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which originate in Turkey and flow through Syria and Iraq en route to the Persian Gulf. This river system, the site of Sumer and other early civilizations, is being overused. Large dams erected in Turkey and Iraq have reduced water flow to the once “fertile crescent,” helping to destroy more than 90 percent of the formerly vast wetlands that enriched the delta region.

In the river systems just mentioned, virtually all the water in the basin is being used. Inevitably, if people upstream use more water, those downstream will get less. As demands continue to grow, balancing water demand and supply is imperative. Failure to do so means that water tables will continue to fall, more rivers will run dry, and more lakes and wetlands will disappear.

To the original…

China postpones pollution report

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

China has indefinitely postponed the release of an environmental report on the costs of economic development.

Several local governments are reported to have objected to the release of “sensitive” information about the pollution they cause.

Government officials from different departments also appear to disagree on how to calculate the figures.

But despite the setback, the man in charge of the scheme says the research should continue.

The project – to calculate how much money pollution costs China each year, the so-called “green gross domestic product” – was launched in 2004.

But the scheme seems never to have progressed smoothly.

Rare insight

Figures for 2004 – which revealed pollution cost China about 511bn yuan ($68bn, £33bn) or 3% of GDP – were not released until late last year.

Although officials have promised on a number of occasions to release the results for 2005, these figures have yet to materialise.

Now Wang Jinnan, the technical head of the project, has told the Beijing News that the release will be “postponed indefinitely”.

“Some local governments are quite sensitive about the research and calculations for their provinces,” he said.

“Separate trial provinces and municipalities have formally issued a request not to publish the calculation results, and have exerted pressure.”

Mr Wang added that despite the difficulties, the research should continue.

There also appears to be a difference of opinion between the State Environmental Protection Administration and the National Bureau of Statistics.

Earlier this month, NBS head Xie Fuzhan seemed to cast doubt on whether a figure for the “green GDP” could even be calculated.

Wang’s comments give a rare insight into the arguments going on within the government about how to achieve sustainable development.

They also show that even admitting how much damage pollution causes in China is a sensitive topic.

Last month, the Financial Times said the Chinese government had successfully removed controversial figures from a forthcoming World Bank report.

It said China had objected to statistics that revealed some 760,000 people died prematurely from air and water pollution each year.

To the original…

Tiny Brain No Problem for French Tax Official

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

– For those who worry about the competence of their tax officials, here’s a story to put your minds at rest:

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From Spiegel On-Line International:

Something that many people secretly believed has been confirmed: You don’t actually need a brain to work in a tax office. A French civil servant has been found to have a huge cavity filled with fluid in his head — yet lives a completely normal life.

The commonly spouted wisdom that people only use 10 percent of their brain power may have been dismissed as a myth, but one French man seems to be managing fine with just a small fraction of his actual brain.

In fact the man, who works as a civil servant in southern France, has succeeded in living an entirely normal life despite a huge fluid-filled cavity taking up most of the space where his brain should be.

Neurologists at the University of Marseille described the incredible case in the latest edition of the medical journal Lancet published Friday.

They describe how the 44-year-old man went to the hospital in 2003 because he felt a mild weakness in his left leg. When the doctors went to look at his brain to see if the problem lay there, they found, well, pretty much nothing but a great black hole.

The man told the hospital that as a child he had suffered from hydrocephalus (also known as “water on the brain”), a condition in which an abnormal ammount of cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain cavities, causing pressure inside the skull. To treat the condition, a valve known as a “shunt” had been inserted in his head to drain away the fluid when he was a six-month old baby. It was removed when he was 14.

This information prompted the doctors to give him a computed tomography scan (CT) and a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI). They then saw that there was what they — somewhat euphemistically — called a “massive enlargement” of the lateral ventricles, chambers that hold the fluid which cushions and protects the brain and which are usually tiny.

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And the same story as ScienceDaily reported it…