Archive for May, 2009

Alarm Sounded On Social Security

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

– Social Security will be broke by 2037 and Medicare by 2017.  Those are today’s best guesses.   And, if our economic problems continue to worsen, which they show every sign of doing, then these figures will get worse and the time between now and when these systems go broke will get shorter.

– At 61 years old, it is conceivable that Social Security’s bankruptcy could impact me, but I doubt it.   And Medicare will be irrelevant to me because I will have been in New Zealand long before then.   But, my wife’s nine years younger than I am and my boys are 29 and 40 now.

– As Americans, the younger you are, the higher the likelihood that you will see and be impacted by the failures of these systems.   Congress has known about this problem  for literally decades and they could not find the will to fix it in the good times.   What do you think the chances are that they are going to fix it in the midst of a recession?   Un-hum, that’s what I thought too.

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Report Also Warns Of Medicare Collapse

The financial health of the Social Security system has eroded more sharply in the past year than at any time since the mid-1990s, according to a government forecast that ratchets up pressure on the Obama administration and Congress to stabilize the retirement system that keeps many older Americans out of poverty.

The report, issued yesterday by the trustees who monitor the government’s two main forms of help for the elderly, shows that Medicare has become more fragile as well and is at greater risk than Social Security of imminent fiscal collapse. Starting eight years from now, the report says, the health insurance program will be unable to pay all its hospital bills.

The findings put a stark new face on the toll the recession has taken on the two enormous entitlement programs. They also intensify a political debate, gathering strength among Democrats and Republicans, over how quickly President Obama should tackle Social Security when health-care reform is his administration’s most urgent domestic priority.


American Chemistry Council: Balancing Trivia With Toxic Violence

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

It’s common knowledge that given a choice of two tasks, of varying impact, most people in the civilized world will choose to do the easiest, even if the outcome is of little or no importance. Given the choice of walking a mile to your destination, or getting in the car and driving a mile – regardless of the environmental and social impact of cars – most people will choose to drive. Or rather, “choose” to drive.

I put the word “choose” in quotes because it’s not really a choice at all; civilized society conspires to make the option that is of most benefit to the capital economy the most favourable “choice”, even if it means that the “choice” runs counter to what most people would do given a genuine freedom and an absence of persuasive factors (e.g. advertising, social engineering, lack of alternatives) that steer the individual in the direction of the best choice for the economy. Recycling is a serious offender, not because there is anything intrinsically bad about recycling most materials, but because it is presented by society as an environmental “choice”: you can choose to recycle and be “green” or you can choose not to recycle and not be green.

What other choice is there? What about choosing to do any number of things that are substantially more important than recycling; like reducing your primary consumption of goods, repairing what you already have, reusing what others have no need of, bartering or exchanging goods and services, or just giving stuff away because it means the recipients will buy less of that stuff new. And then there is not filling the skies with toxic gases; not pouring millions of gallons of effluent into seas and rivers; not garnishing the biosphere with a cocktail of persistent chemicals then leaving others to sort out the mess later.


– Thanks to The Sietch Blog for this one.

Healthcare in Holland

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

– I hear from my conservative friends, and read in portions of the U.S. press, about how terrible socialized medicine is; the long waits, the shabby service and the absence of advanced medical technologies.

– I’ve interacted some with the health care system in New Zealand and that hasn’t been my finding at all.

– And, watching Michael Moore’s movie, Sicko, has convinced me that it is probably not the case in Canada, Britain or France as well.

– A friend of mine who moved to Exeter in Britain last year has writen on her Blog about about her experiences of the British system and I thought it sounded pretty good.

– Now, here’s an article from Mother Jones about a family that’s just spent 18 months in Amsterdam and their take on it is positive as well.

Sounds like there might be a pattern here, eh?

– I personally think that the big corporate world has captured the American medical system in its net and has turned it into a system for the generation of profit rather than a system that puts our health first.   I also think that the more these folks can convince us (the American public) that socialized medicine is a terrible evil, the longer that can continue to avoid losing their cash-cow.

– Think I’m cynical?   Read on.

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So what does Russell Shorto think of Dutch healthcare after spending 18 months in Amsterdam?

My nonscientific analysis — culled from my own experience and that of other expats whom I’ve badgered — translates into a clear endorsement. My friend Colin Campbell, an American writer, has been in the Netherlands for four years with his wife and their two children. “Over the course of four years, four human beings end up going to a lot of different doctors,” he said. “The amazing thing is that virtually every experience has been more pleasant than in the U.S. There you have the bureaucracy, the endless forms, the fear of malpractice suits. Here you just go in and see your doctor. It shows that it doesn’t have to be complicated. I wish every single U.S. congressman could come to Amsterdam and live here for a while and see what happens medically.”


The article referenced within this article is very much worth a read as well.  You can see it here:

Captive Knowledge

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

The funding for academic research has been taken over by business

Why is the Medical Research Council run by an arms manufacturer? Why is the Natural Environment Research Council run by the head of a construction company? Why is the chairman of a real estate firm in charge of higher education funding for England?

Because our universities are being turned by the government into corporate research departments. No longer may they pursue knowledge for its own sake: now the highest ambition to which they must aspire is finding better ways to make money.

At the end of last month, unremarked by the media, a quiet intellectual revolution took place. The research councils, which provide 90% of the funding for academic research in Britain(1), introduced a new requirement for people seeking grants: now they must describe the economic impact of the work they want to conduct. The councils define impact as the “demonstrable contribution” that research can make to society and the economy(2). But how do you demonstrate the impact of blue skies research before it has been conducted?

The idea, the government says, is to transfer knowledge from the universities to industry, boosting the UK’s economy and helping to lift us out of recession. There’s nothing wrong, in principle, with commercialising scientific discoveries. But imposing this condition on the pursuit of all knowledge does not enrich us; it impoverishes us, reducing the wonders of the universe to figures in an accountant’s ledger.

Picture Charles Darwin trying to fill out his application form before embarking on the Beagle. “Explain how the research has the potential to impact on the nation’s health,
wealth or culture. For example: fostering global economic performance, and specifically the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom … What are the realistic timescales for the benefits to be realised?”(3) If Darwin had been dependent on a grant from a British research council, he would never have set sail.

The government insists that nothing fundamental has changed; that the Haldane Principle, which states that the government should not interfere in research decisions, still holds. Only the research councils, ministers say, should decide what gets funded.

This is humbug of the same species as newspaper proprietors use. Some of them insist that they never interfere in the decisions their newspapers make. But they appoint editors who share their views and know exactly what is expected of them. All the chairmen of the five research councils funding science(4), and the chairs of the three higher education funding councils(5) (which provide core funding for universities) are or were senior corporate executives.


Carbon Nanotubes: Innovative Technology Or Risk To Health Or Environment?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

– I’ve written before about my concerns on the nanotechnology they are gleefully rolling out into our environment.   :arrow:, :arrow:, ➡

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Carbon nanotubes have made a meteoric career in the past 15 years, even if their applications are still limited. Recent research results show that – apart from their favorable mechanical and electrical properties – they also have disadvantageous characteristics.

One aspect which has rarely been considered so far is now addressed by researchers of the research center Forschungszentrum Dresden-Rossendorf. “If the application of products and commodities containing carbon nanotubes will increase in the future, then there will be a higher probability for the tubes to get into the environment during their production, usage or disposal, to be distributed there, and to bind pollutants such as heavy metals on their way trough the environment”, says Harald Zaenker, scientist at the FZD.

Via water into the environment

An important way for carbon nanotubes of getting into the environment is the way via the water. In their original state, the flimsy carbon fibers with a diameter of less than 50 nanometers (1 nanometer = 1 millionth of a millimeter) are hardly water-soluble. At first glance, they should therefore not be mobile in groundwater, lakes etc., i.e. they should rapidly settle or deposit. However, carbon nanotubes are able to form colloidal solutions if their surface structure is changed. Changes in the surface structure can be brought about deliberately during the production of the tubes or can be induced by natural processes if the tubes are released into the environment.

A colloidal solution, unlike a true solution of water-soluble substances, is a solution in which the apparently dissolved substance is finely dispersed in the solvent forming tiny particles. These particles are still much bigger than the molecules of a dissolved substance in a true solution. As colloids, carbon nanotubes might be transported anywhere in environmental waters. It is known meanwhile that the tubes can even penetrate cell walls and, thus, might theoretically be able to enter also animal or human cells. In addition, changes in the surface structure of carbon nanotubes cause another effect: their capability to bind heavy metals is increased.


Saw the new Star Trek movie

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

starfieldFun stuff.   I’ve always loved Star Trek.   And, they’ve been brilliant with this one.   They’ve managed to twist the entire Star Trek / Enterprise story around so that they can essentially begin the entire series of movies again – with all new young actors.   Brilliant.

Syler from Heros is Spock which I think is a pretty inspired move too.

Go see it – you’ll have fun and it’ll take your mind off what a mess the world is in.

Russia to build floating Arctic nuclear stations

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

– I’ve written about this looming problem of competition for resources in the Arctic before: , , , , , and .

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Environmentalists fear pollution risk as firms try to exploit ocean’s untapped oil and gas reserves

Russia is planning a fleet of floating and submersible nuclear power stations to exploit Arctic oil and gas reserves, causing widespread alarm among environmentalists.

A prototype floating nuclear power station being constructed at the SevMash shipyard in Severodvinsk is due to be completed next year. Agreement to build a further four was reached between the Russian state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, and the northern Siberian republic of Yakutiya in February.

The 70-megawatt plants, each of which would consist of two reactors on board giant steel platforms, would provide power to Gazprom, the oil firm which is also Russia’s biggest company. It would allow Gazprom to power drills needed to exploit some of the remotest oil and gas fields in the world in the Barents and Kara seas. The self-propelled vessels would store their own waste and fuel and would need to be serviced only once every 12 to 14 years.

In addition, designers are known to have developed submarine nuclear-powered drilling rigs that could allow eight wells to be drilled at a time.

Bellona, a leading Scandinavian environmental watchdog group, yesterday condemned the idea of using nuclear power to open the Arctic to oil, gas and mineral production.

“It is highly risky. The risk of a nuclear accident on a floating power plant is increased. The plants’ potential impact on the fragile Arctic environment through emissions of radioactivity and heat remains a major concern. If there is an accident, it would be impossible to handle,” said Igor Kudrik, a spokesman.

Environmentalists also fear that if additional radioactive waste is produced, it will be dumped into the sea. Russia has a long record of polluting the Arctic with radioactive waste. Countries including Britain have had to offer Russia billions of dollars to decommission more than 160 nuclear submarines, but at least 12 nuclear reactors are known to have been dumped, along with more than 5,000 containers of solid and liquid nuclear waste, on the northern coast and on the island of Novaya Zemlya.


– Hat tip to Cryptogon for this story

Don’t leave our survival to the greens

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

– I don’t know if I agree fully with the point of view expressed here but I think there has to be some truth in it.   It does seem true that if another book or speech, clearly explaining the predicament that we’re in, would cause us to wake up and take action – well, we’d have done it by now.   The current approaches do not seem to be working.

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The west won’t be mobilised on climate change by utopian demands that we give up our standard of living, argues Will Hutton. A visionary plan that can be backed by the public is critical.

The green movement as it stands should receive the last rites. Its only hope is for a complete overhaul. Its mystic, utopian view of nature and its attachment to meaningless notions such as sustainable development or the precautionary principle should be done away with. It is time to move on.

Or so says professor Anthony Giddens in his new book, The Politics of Climate Change. It is not that Giddens disputes that mankind is dangerously warming up the planet. The scientific evidence is overwhelming; the risk of a global calamity all too real.

It is just that he has the chutzpah to acknowledge what is obvious. Despite the threat, and the mounting evidence, there is no hope of mobilising western governments and the public into action by appeals to green utopianism or impossible demands to give up our current standard of living. There needs to be a new language, a focus on climate change alone, because that is what counts and is a practical route forward that makes sense to the mass of people. Otherwise, we really are lost.


Another one bites the dust, literally: Bolivia’s 18,000 year-old Chacaltaya glacier is gone

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Like the Wicked Witch of the West, the world is melting — and fast.

The University of Zurich’s World Glacier Monitoring Service reported earlier this year, “The new data continues the global trend in accelerated ice loss over the past few decades.” The rate of ice loss is twice as fast as a decade ago.  “The main thing that we can do to stop this is reduce greenhouse gases” said Michael Zemp, a researcher at the University of Zurich’s Department of Geography.

This is all sadly consistent with other recent research (see Another climate impact comes faster than predicted: Himalayan glaciers “decapitated” and AGU 2008: Two trillion tons of land ice lost since 2003 and links below).

And this country isn’t being spared — see “Another climate impact coming faster than predicted: Glacier National Park to go glacier-free a decade early.”

But the story of the week, from the Miami Herald, is Chacaltaya, which means ”cold road” — and like our Glacier National Park, it is gonna need a new name [maybe “not-so-cold cul-de-sac”]:

If anyone needs a reminder of the on-the-ground impacts of global climate change, come to the Andes mountains in Bolivia. At 17,388 feet above sea level, Chacaltaya, an 18,000 year-old glacier that delighted thousands of visitors for decades, is gone, completely melted away as of some sad, undetermined moment early this year….


UN ‘stunned’ by scale of bail-out

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

– Yes, isn’t it amazing we’ve found ALL this money to try to fix the financial systems – when we could hardly find any to help fix the world’s environmental problems?

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The UN’s head of environment has been left “stunned” by the billions of dollars pumped into ailing companies following the global financial crisis.

Achim Steiner told the BBC One Planet programme that he had fought for years to secure much smaller sums to tackle poverty and climate change.

“We waited perhaps a decade to get $5bn ($3.3bn) to accelerate development of renewable energy,” he said.

We now see $20bn (£13.3bn) paid [to] a car company simply to keep it alive.”

He said he was surprised that such huge amounts had “suddenly been found” to tackle the crisis.

‘False story’

Vast sums of money have been spent on bank bailouts in the UK and the US alone.

Billions more has been promised in aid for struggling industries, such as automotive manufacturers.

But Mr Steiner, who is based in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, warned we are passing the bill to the next generation, and stressed that if extra investment is not found to tackle climate change, the bail-outs would be “a terrible waste of money”.