Archive for December, 2015

…from a letter to a friend….

Friday, December 25th, 2015
You have new angles I’ve never suspected.  A Marshal McLuhan fan, I’m thinking.
And I get what you are saying.  Everything is modified by media.
But it reminds me of the description of the classic discussion between a new meditator and a meditation teacher.
The teacher explains to the highly incredulous newbie that all those voices in his head – all that ego chatter, no matter how real it seems and no matter how omnipresent it is – it is not who they are.
He says that who you really are is the silence that sits quietly behind the ego’s chatter – and that this is true no matter whether you believe it or not.
“How can one know this is true?”, the student asks?
The teacher says “Simple logic. The chatter is like the contents of a bowl and the silence is the bowl.   You can take the ego’s chatter out and still have the bowl’s silence.  But you cannot remove the bowl and still have the ego’s chatter.  Hence we know which one is more fundamental.”
The media is like this.  It is omnipresent, it taints everything and everything is modified and shaped by it.  But, in the end, it is nothing without us.  Without us, it cannot exist though we can exist without it.
So, I acknowledge the media’s power but I can’t go so far as you and believe that nothing is happening but the media and its effects.
Under the firestorm of information echoing and feeding back on itself is the physical world, are the lives being lived and lost, is every child learning to walk and every human learning to love.
They say that the first thing a surgeon reaches for when they confronting a problem is a scalpel, or a carpenter a hammer.
Perhaps, after so many years in the media and so many years drinking its particular kool-aid, you have lost the sense that it is, in the end, a powerful overlay and a echo machine of a high order – but it is not the substrate.
One of the reasons I read so many things, as I’m sure you do, is because multiple cross correlations can tend to null out local effects.  It has been hard to get a ‘handle’ on ISIS.  Cultural echoes, media echoes, vested interest echoes, nationalistic echoes and more are all jamming the river of information with crap and bias.
But, unless I’m to believe that the media is the ground or substrate of the world, I have to believe that under its storm of echoes, there lies a deeper reality that, while perhaps difficult to see clearly, is there none the less.
I know you are an idealist and a realist and that it is a hard thing to be both.  And I know that people, myself very much included, can get burnt out by the world’s insanities and just go stale towards it all.  I hear some of that in your words, my friend.
In all of the insanity of this world, there still is a higher road.  And, in an amusing way, it is not through it but rather around it.
When Buddha said that when we wish reality to be different than it is, we only manufacturers unhappiness for ourselves, he was sharing a great truth.  There are a lot of truths like that lying about.  With them, one can embark on transcending rather than coping or conquering or even understanding the world.
Someone once said, “Be in the world but not of the world”.  Or, more graphically, as Ali said, “Float like a butterfly and string like a bee.”
All your criticisms have a very large grain of truth in them which you’ve won through hard experience and, undoubtedly, the loss of some skin.  But there’s more.
I spend a lot of time looking at this world square on trying to see its realities behinds its illusions.  But I remain joyful in spite of all that because I think there’s more.
And, if like an Existentialist or a Stoic, you look at it square and accept that there is one hell of a lot that cannot be changed, there still is all the rest to play in.  And one of the best areas to play in is your own mind and perceptions.  They are malleable, they are shapable and they are yours to own.  Intentional, incremental self transcendence is quite simply capable of being yours.
That was recorded lecture #43 from Dennis’ “Ministry to Burnt Out News Folk”.  Stay tuned next week when we offer a shampoo that will, with just one application, make you literally 20 years younger and twice as smart.
Until then, hang onto your willy and never give up,

Iranian hackers infiltrated U.S. power grid, dam computers, reports say

Thursday, December 24th, 2015
  • This is a scary article.  And reading it, you might be forgiven if you think this is something new and that our government’s security folks will be all over soon to quash it.
  • But,in fact, it is not new.  Not hardly.  The United State’s power structures have been under attack by foreign hackers and very likely compromised for sometime now.
  • Compromised how?  And how badly, you say?
  • Well, first they are compromised primarily because the Internet and the power grid networks involved are just simply too much and too complicated. The number of people who really understand technical stuff at this level are few. And the need to have our power infrastructure all up and running all the time is intense. We have thousands of facilities, thousands of people working in the industry and God only knows how many software vendors have written packages to help make it all run and sold the packages to the industry. Just think of how little you, your friends and your neighbors (and virtually all the people you know) really know about computers and networks and you’ll begin to see how few are protecting so many from so much.
  • And how badly are we compromised?
  • Well, you’ll have to read the article to get some idea of how badly we’re compromised – but know this:  this is not new.  Here’s a link to an article I posted back in April of 2009 – on this same subject.  You might read it first and then read the new article and see if you think ‘the government’s security folks will be all over [this situation] soon to quash it’.
  • Here’s a few quotes from the new article to get your juices flowing:
    • “The hackers have gained access to an aging, outdated power system. Many of the substations and equipment that move power across the U.S. are decrepit and were never built with network security in mind; hooking the plants up to the Internet over the last decade has given hackers new backdoors in.”
    • “Last year, Homeland Security released several maps that showed a virtual hit list of critical infrastructure, including two substations in the San Francisco Bay area, water and gas pipelines and a refinery. And according to a previously reported study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a coordinated attack on just nine critical power stations could cause a coast-to-coast blackout that could last months, far longer than the one that plunged the Northeast into darkness in 2003.”
  • dennis

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Iranian hackers breached the control system of a dam near New York City in 2013, and are also implicated in some of a dozen attacks that have infiltrated the U.S. power grid system in the last decade, say two separate reports.

The reports by the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press both raise concerns about the security of the country’s aging infrastructure.

Two people familiar with the dam breach told the Wall Street Journal it occurred at the Bowman Avenue Dam in Rye, New York. The small structure about 20 miles from New York City is used for flood control.

The hackers gained access to the dam through a cellular modem, the Journal said, citing an unclassified Department of Homeland Security summary of the incident that did not specify the type of infrastructure.

The breach came as hackers linked to the Iranian government were attacking U.S. bank websites after American spies damaged an Iranian nuclear facility with the Stuxnet computer worm.

Homeland Security spokesman S.Y. Lee would not confirm the breach to Reuters. He said the department’s 24-hour cybersecurity information-sharing hub and an emergency response team coordinate responses to threats to and vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure.

Meanwhile, about a dozen times in the last decade, sophisticated foreign hackers have gained enough remote access to control the operations networks that keep the lights on, according to top experts who spoke only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, the Associated Press found.

Security researcher Brian Wallace was on the trail of hackers who had snatched a California university’s housing files when he stumbled into one example: Cyberattackers had opened a pathway into the networks running the United States power grid.

Digital clues pointed to Iranian hackers. And Wallace found that they had already taken passwords, as well as engineering drawings of dozens of power plants, at least one with the title “Mission Critical.”

The drawings were so detailed that experts say skilled attackers could have used them, along with other tools and malicious code, to knock out electricity flowing to millions of homes.

The attack targeted Calpine Corp., a power producer with 82 plants operating in 18 states and Canada — it has one plant in Courtright, Ont. The hacking software appeared to originate in Iran, but the hacking group included members in the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Wallace was astonished. But this breach, The Associated Press has found, was not unique.

Capability to strike at will

These intrusions have not caused the kind of cascading blackouts that are feared by the intelligence community. But so many attackers have stowed away in the systems that run the U.S. electric grid that experts say they likely have the capability to strike at will.

The hackers have gained access to an aging, outdated power system. Many of the substations and equipment that move power across the U.S. are decrepit and were never built with network security in mind; hooking the plants up to the Internet over the last decade has given hackers new backdoors in.

Distant wind farms, home solar panels, smart meters and other networked devices must be remotely monitored and controlled, which opens up the broader system to fresh points of attack. Hundreds of contractors sell software and equipment to energy companies, and attackers have successfully used those outside companies as a way to get inside networks tied to the grid.

None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use

Saturday, December 19th, 2015
  • With truths like this laying about on the ground around us, is it any wonder some of us get discouraged about our prospects.
  • dennis

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The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.

While the notion is incredibly useful, especially in folding ecological concerns into economics, I’ve always had my reservations about it. Environmentalists these days love speaking in the language of economics — it makes them sound Serious — but I worry that wrapping this notion in a bloodless technical term tends to have a narcotizing effect. It brings to mind incrementalism: boost a few taxes here, tighten a regulation there, and the industrial juggernaut can keep right on chugging. However, if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.

To see what I mean, check out a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)

It’s a huge task; obviously, doing it required a specific methodology that built in a series of assumptions. (Plenty of details in the report.) But it serves as an important signpost pointing the way to the truth about externalities.

Here’s how those costs break down:

The majority of unpriced natural capital costs are from greenhouse gas emissions (38%), followed by water use (25%), land use (24%), air pollution (7%), land and water pollution (5%), and waste (1%).

So how much is that costing us? Trucost’s headline results are fairly stunning.

First, the total unpriced natural capital consumed by the more than 1,000 “global primary production and primary processing region-sectors” amounts to $7.3 trillion a year — 13 percent of 2009 global GDP.

(A “region-sector” is a particular industry in a particular region — say, wheat farming in East Asia.)

Second, surprising no one, coal is the enemy of the human race. Trucost compiled rankings, both of the top environmental impacts and of the top industrial culprits.

Here are the top five biggest environmental impacts and the region-sectors responsible for them:

UNEP: top five environmental impacts
Click to embiggen.

The biggest single environmental cost? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in China. The fifth biggest? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in North America. (This also shows what an unholy nightmare deforestation in South America is.)

Now, here are the top five industrial sectors ranked by total ecological damages imposed:


UNEP: top five industrial sectors by impact
Click to embiggen.

It’s coal again! This time North American coal is up at number three.

Trucost’s third big finding is the coup de grace. Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated. Ponder that for a moment: None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. Zero.

That amounts to an global industrial system built on sleight of hand. As Paul Hawken likes to put it, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.

This gets back to what I was saying at the top. The notion of “externalities” is so technical, such an economist’s term. Got a few unfortunate side effects, so just move some numbers from Column A to Column B, right?

But the UNEP report makes clear that what’s going on today is more than a few accounting oversights here and there. The distance between today’s industrial systems and truly sustainable industrial systems — systems that do not spend down stored natural capital but instead integrate into current energy and material flows — is not one of degree, but one of kind. What’s needed is not just better accounting but a new global industrial system, a new way of providing for human wellbeing, and fast. That means a revolution.

  • To the original article: