Archive for May, 2008

Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Speculators blamed for driving up price of basic foods as 100 million face severe hunger

Giant agribusinesses are enjoying soaring earnings and profits out of the world food crisis which is driving millions of people towards starvation, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. And speculation is helping to drive the prices of basic foodstuffs out of the reach of the hungry.

The prices of wheat, corn and rice have soared over the past year driving the world’s poor – who already spend about 80 per cent of their income on food – into hunger and destitution.

The World Bank says that 100 million more people are facing severe hunger. Yet some of the world’s richest food companies are making record profits. Monsanto last month reported that its net income for the three months up to the end of February this year had more than doubled over the same period in 2007, from $543m (£275m) to $1.12bn. Its profits increased from $1.44bn to $2.22bn.


– Research thanks to Kathy G. 

Growing Deficits Threaten Pensions

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

– One aspect of the Perfect Storm Hypothesis that is particularly hard to convey is the collateral damages part of it. A problem in one area is not typically an isolated event. In a complex world like ours, everything basically connects to everything else at some level.

– The currently unfolding economic situation in the U.S. economy is one such. It may have started with the Sub-Prime melt-down but other dominoes are still continuing to fall as the consequences roll through the system. The melt-down, itself, was made worse by other preexisting problems. The deep U.S. trade deficit, the shifting of manufacturing and technical jobs offshore, the huge amounts being spent on the Iraq War. All of these have served to ‘weaken the patient’ in advance of the Sub Prime debacle.

– The article I’m reporting on here, “Growing Deficits Threaten Pensions” is one of the follow-on consequences of a weakening economy. And, if these pensions fail to deliver what all the folks who’ve spent an entire working career assuming they would deliver, then what? Then what?

– People at the end of their career suddenly finding out that they have no retirement? People who’ve done their half of the pension bargain at every step of the way – only to find out that the other side isn’t going to do theirs?

– I’ll make a prediction here… When it turns out that pensions funds fail and everyone starts asking who is responsible, there’s going to be a lot of talking heads, lawyers and fund managers explaining how it wasn’t their fault and, in the end, no one will be responsible. But, just watch and see if any of those ‘explainers’ got caught up in the damage – or did they walk away richer than they began?

– Sorry to be such a cynic but in an age of failing pension funds for the ‘little people’ and golden handshakes for the fund managers, I am a bit soured on it all.

– There was a piece of ‘humor’ the other way on one of the financial Blogs I follow. It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek word problem for those aspiring for a financial career. It went like this:

In a given year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rises 8.3 percent, the NASDAQ rises 7.6 percent, and the S&P 500 rises 7.9 percent. If, in that same period, you manage a $29 billion hedge fund that loses 11.6 percent, how large a year-end bonus are you entitled to? (Round to the nearest $10 million.)

– Funny, eh?

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Accounting Tactics Conceal a Crisis For Public Workers

The funds that pay pension and health benefits to police officers, teachers and millions of other public employees across the country are facing a shortfall that could soon run into trillions of dollars.

But the accounting techniques used by state and local governments to balance their pension books disguise the extent of the crisis facing these retirees and the taxpayers who may ultimately be called on to pay the freight, according to a growing number of leading financial analysts.

State governments alone have reported they are already confronting a deficit of at least $750 billion to cover the cost of the retirement benefits they have promised. But that figure likely underestimates the actual shortfall because of the range of methods they use to make their calculations, including practices that have been barred in the private sector for decades.


Nuclear’s CO2 cost ‘will climb’

Friday, May 9th, 2008

– I’m not a fan of nuclear power. Until we work out a good way to deal with the waste, we are just robbing Peter to pay Paul and pushing the whole mess caused by our irresponsibility onto future generations who will get to deal with it.

– In spite of that, I’ve invested some money in PKN an ETF which focuses on the nuclear industry. While I don’t like nuclear, I think it is pretty inevitable that we (mankind) will be going down that road because the oil’s running out and we don’t seem to be smart enough to accept that fact and implement viable alternatives now – while we still can.

So, in the end, we will leave ourselves no choice and nuclear power will be massively built out. What smart monkeys we are.

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The case for nuclear power as a low carbon energy source to replace fossil fuels has been challenged in a new report by Australian academics.

It suggests greenhouse emissions from the mining of uranium – on which nuclear power relies – are on the rise.

Availability of high-grade uranium ore is set to decline with time, it says, making the fuel less environmentally friendly and more costly to extract.

The findings appear in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

A significant proportion of greenhouse emissions from nuclear power stem from the fuel supply stage, which includes uranium mining, milling, enrichment and fuel manufacturing.

Others sources of carbon include construction of the plant – including the manufacturing of steel and concrete materials – and decomissioning.

The authors based their analysis on historical records, contemporary financial and technical reports, and analyses of CO2 emissions.

Experts say it is the first such report to draw together such detailed information on the environmental costs incurred at this point in the nuclear energy chain.


See also: and

Ocean Dead Zones Growing; May Be Linked to Warming

Friday, May 9th, 2008

The world’s hypoxic zones—swaths of ocean too oxygen-deprived to support fish and other marine organisms—are rapidly expanding as sea temperatures rise, a new study suggests.

Researchers have tracked a decline in dissolved oxygen levels since 1960 in the tropical Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which has extended the size of these undersea deserts and intensified their effects.

The oxygen level in these zones “is below the critical oxygen level for fish and other large marine animals,” said team leader Lothar Stramma, of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel in Germany.

The team constructed a time line of oxygen concentrations at depths of between 985 and 2,295 feet (300 and 700 meters) using oxygen data records going back 50 years. The results fit predictions of the effects of global warming.

The oxygen declines were found to be most marked in tropical Atlantic regions, the study team reports in the latest issue of the journal Science.

In the east Atlantic, for example, the low-oxygen layer was found to have increased in height by 85 percent, growing from 1,215 to 2,265 feet (370 to 690 meters).

“The vertical area covered by some of these layers has almost doubled in the Atlantic,” Stramma said.

Conditions have also become more suffocating for life within these hypoxic waters, he said.

“In general this low-oxygen zone had widened, and in some areas the oxygen value also got lower.”


Fertilizer use and ocean dead zones

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Nice chart in the New York Times showing the use of fertilizer around the world and where the world’s oceanic dead zones are located.

Go here to see the chart:

– 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, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

080508 – Facing up

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

This is a personal post about a decision I came to tonight. Nothing earth shaking – I’ve just decided to let go of one of my life’s deep pleasures – because it is time.

Tonight, I decided I’m done with racquetball; a sport I’ve played with great love and enjoyment for 35 years; since I first learned it in college.

RacquetballIt’s the last time I will move through space with millions of my neurons tracking the ball, predicting its trajectory, noting where the other players are, developing moment to moment strategy, estimating timing, ensuring balance while moving, knowing the three dimensional space around me and experiencing the coordination of this beautiful body that the Beloved has given me.

The last time to feel the swing, estimate the force, think where I want the ball to go and be conscious and observant in the midst of the execution of neural programs that have been deepening themselves in this body and mind for most of my life. Neural sequences that flow like a ballet that I am privileged to watch from the inside. Intimate and possessive and pleased that this, this beauty and passion and animal joy are mine to feel.

I’ve loved this sport deeply for so many years. I’ve played it left handed, I’ve played it right handed, I’ve taught it to two sons and to many friends. I’ve played it in competition and I’ve played it for fun. And if my body has strength today at 60, it is largely because of the many years I’ve danced the light three-dimensional fanstastic with that flashing blue ball.

Thanks you, my Beloved, for these experiences .

So tonight, after an hour of hard play with men much younger than myself, I realized that I was lucky, yet again, in that I hadn’t blown out my knee or damaged my elbow.

There’s been a deep truth looking me in the face for sometime now. I’ve had surgery on both knees from the hard sports I’ve played. The most recent operation just last year. I’ve blown out my lower back and my left wrist rubs bone against bone at the base of the thumb.

I know that every time I play now, I risk going through a door marked “permanent damage – no return”.

I don’t want to have my knee replaced but, if I blow one of them out again, that’s the likely outcome.

Right now my right elbow just hurts from the power swings that I should have given up at 40 and that I’m still slamming at 60. And maybe the next time, that ache may not go away in a week. Maybe next time, something will tear away.

At 60, I’m beginning to think about conservation. My body is no longer invincible and sure to heal flawlessly. I could, in a careless or unlucky moment, lose serious functionality for the rest of my life.

Right now I can walk, my hands work and I can do real work and do it well. Right now, my body is strong and sound despite all the hard use I’ve given it. I’m thinking that these things, this functionality, has a deep value to me and the quality of my remaining life.

And I know that every time I play now, I am gambling them.

RacquetballTonight, as I drove home from playing, I weighed these things against the desires of that old athlete. The one that loves the dance, loves the airborne turn in the air and the racquet’s sweep and the feeling as it all comes together as the racquet finds the ball and physics and neural magic unfold together in the hanging moments of light and sound.

And I decided that in spite of this love, it is time. Time now, before I buy myself a deep regret in exchange for ‘just one more game’.

I’ve had a good long run – far better than most folks in this life and there is much I still want to do in these next decades and I need the functionality of this body to see me through those things.

So be it then. I’m giving my racquetball gear to my son, Christopher and I’m going to let go of something I’ve deeply loved, as of tonight.

Thank you, Beloved, for all of these experiences. You have given me such a rich and varied life and I am very deeply grateful. Even for this. For it is all part of life.

Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD, passes away

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Blotter ArtThe news has carried this story quite a bit over the last few days so there’s not a lot I can add here to the basic facts.

Hofmann’s discovery had a big effect on me during my college years and opened my thinking up in many ways. LSD is definitely not for everyone. But I am not in agreement with the policies of most governments on this substance. I think in controlled circumstances it has a place in our pharmacology, in our psychological therapies and it our quests for personal enlightenment.

One of the best comments I saw on Hofmann’s passing this week was over on the Unknowngenius blog where the author said,

Albert Hofman, discoverer of the lysergic acid diethylamide compound (better known under its initials) and advocate of a mature, non-repressive approach to psychedelic drug experimentation, died this week at the age of 102.

Yet another tragic example of a young life cut short by the evils of drugs.

Some links on Albert (R.I.P.):

– to the Albert Hofmann Foundation

– Albert Hofmann on Wikipedia

– Albert Hofmann via Erowid – a number of remembrances of the man in different newspapers may be found here.

China ‘May Lease Foreign Fields’

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

– I’ve felt for some time that China would use its vast financial resources (the result of being on the other end of the U.S.’s trade deficits) to deal with its impending oil shortages.   I’ve also thought that as food supplies get short, they’ll do the same thing there as well and simply go out and buy the food they need.  Supplies may be short but China, if anyone, can afford to buy their way through the situation.  

– Of course, the effects of a big buyer unleashed like this will be bad for the rest of the world and prices in general – but then, that’s a given.   I’m not saying China will be wrong to do this.   No way.   Any of us would do this if we were in that situation.   I’m just reading the tea-leaves here and watching the future unfold a bit forward of where we are now.

– Thanks to Cryptogon, I picked up on this story about the news that China is considering leasing fields for food production in foreign countries.    The future is taking form.

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China could lease overseas farming land to beat rising food prices, according to reports from Beijing.

Soaring grain prices have encouraged the ministry of agriculture to consider the scheme, according to the Beijing Morning newspaper.

Chinese enterprises would lease or even buy farmland in Latin America, Australia and the former Soviet Union.

The land in production could replace Chinese farmland lost to rapidly growing cities and industrial zones.


Shortage of Laborers Plagues India

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

India, a nation of 1.1 billion, has a chronic labor shortage, in the area where it needs workers most.

As it grows rapidly — tilting from a stagnant, rural economy to a developing, urban one — India is building thousands of new homes, offices, malls, airports, roads, ports, power plants and industrial parks.

So many projects are now under way in India that the pool of workers with even the most basic skills is running dangerously dry. The shortage of bricklayers, rod benders, welders, wall painters and other skilled and semiskilled laborers is threatening to slow the construction of projects that are key to the nation’s economic growth.



Beetle tree kill releases more carbon than fires

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” A Biblical proverb for our times, it turns out….

The bark beetle is devastating North American trees (see “Climate-Driven Pest Devours N. American Forests“).

Global warming has created a perfect climate for these beetles — Milder winters since 1994 have reduced the winter death rate of beetle larvae in Wyoming from 80% per year to under 10%, and hotter, drier summers have made trees weaker, less able to fight off beetles.