Thursday, June 30, 2005

For the record

openDemocracy has published an article by Richard Burge in which he argues that certificates of carbon storage in vegetation and soils in projects from developing should be included from the EU Emission Trading Scheme.

In my view the piece is, at best, not especially helpful (by contrast, see Up in Smoke which may be useful even if and where it's wrong). Having just edited a debate on the politics of climate change, I would not have published it.

A further comment here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Immelt - before the glaciers do

"General Electric... have committed to doubling annual investment in clean energy technology research and development to €1.25bn.

Instead of a top-down approach that could potentially stifle creativity and innovation, we are investing most of our new funding at the research level, making sure that these new funds go directly into those innovation engines that offer the most promise. We also plan to double energy-efficient product revenues over the next five years and will lead by example by making big cuts in our our own greenhouse gas emissions. If GE were to continue to grow as we project, by 2012 our emissions would have gone up more than 40 per cent. Instead, we are committing to reduce them by 1 per cent.

Climate change will top the agenda at the Group of Eight summit next week and we support the European Commission’s proposed directive to improve energy efficiency and manage energy demand. We also applaud the UK government’s recent decision to invest £40m ($73m) in cleaner electricity generation from coal and gas as well as for hydrogen and fuel cells.

However, these commitments and the prospect of exciting new technologies mean little if elected leaders on both sides of the Atlantic – along with industry and other stakeholders – cannot work together to develop coherent processes and consistent policies.

In the US, the lack of a coherent energy policy has slowed the exploitation of new innovations. While great progress has been made, we have failed to realise fully the opportunities that exist in wind, solar, clean coal, nuclear power and other renewable resources. The result is that the US has watched Europe and others advance, strengthening their economies and security".

From A consistent policy on cleaner energy by Geoffrey Immelt in the Financial Times, 29 June (sub only).

A prelude to do Ron Ron tonight.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Model climate post

Real Climate goes from strength to strength with this 22 June rebuttal of the Wall St Journal's 21 June editorial. There is real merit in some of the comments - 80 at the time of writing (see here).

Strange meeting

An unplanned meeting yesterday midday with Jem Finer at his Centre of the Universe project in the University Park (see here).

A good conversation for half an hour or so, touching on just about everything that is fascinating. His artist's shed a treasure of maps and icons.

Jem's next project features Captain Beefheart played at ultra-slow speed. Time and perception stretched to the limits (he knows the Long Now people).

Later in the day, I sent him contact details for Tom Goreau and Wolf Hilbertz, half jokingly suggesting he create a submerged inverted biorock ziggurat on the equator in the Maldives at the site of ancient astronomical observatories (now erased and denied by the Islamists).

But earlier, walking back from the meeting, I imagined a sculpture I might make: a small helical ziggurat in stone or clay that follows the golden section in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. From the centre at the top, a gentle stream of water.

Hmmm, the garden ornament at the centre of the universe? Well, it beats a gnome.

As I was getting back on my bike at the edge of the park, a large bee flew very close to the sensitive skin on the inner side of my lower fore-arm. I could feel the draft from its wings in the clear, calm air.

This was a good part of a new day.

I went out towards dusk and walked down by the river past Iffley Lock. A group of teenage boys hurled abuse at me ("You dick. You fucking dick...You fucking fucking dick" etc.) and started throwing stones. They were about forty yards away and were very bad shots - or at least it sounded that way as I heard the stones in the bushes behind me and the water in front. I turned round to look at them as I was in the middle of a call to my father in Canada by mobile phone. Never seen them before. I waved and walked on.

James Fallows 2016 memo

[California’s] solution to its financing crisis on its high-end campuses was defter – especially the “great Pacific Partnership” between the University of California and Tsinghua University in Beijing. This was a win-win arrangement, in which the Chinese Ministry of Education took over the funding of the UC Berkeley physics, computer-science and biology laboratories, plus the genomics laboratory at UC San Francisco in exchange for a 51 percent share of all resulting patents.

James Fallows's Countdown to a Meltdown - a master strategy memo to an independent candidate for the US presidency in January 2016 - is, on first reading, as good as I had heard.

It needs more reflection than I have yet given it (it’s not accessible online without subscription and I only got hold of a hard copy yesterday). Some parts of the scenario may well unravel on closer inspection – and, of course that may be part of his point; but there’s enough in here to be useful for some time. For example:

Everything changed in 2001. But it didn’t all change on September 11…Before there was 9/11 there was June 7, 2001. For our purposes modern economic history began that day. [On that day, the Bush administration] was…able to persuade [Congress] to authorize a tax cut that would decrease federal tax revenues by some $1.35 trillion between then and 2010... From that point on the US government had less money to work with than it had under the previous eight presidents…And as we will see, these cuts – the first of three rounds – did so just when the country’s commitments and obligations had begun to grow.

Cutting to the chase in 2016:

Here is our challenge

* Our country no longer controls its economic fundamentals

* Compared with the America of the past, it has become stagnant, classbound and brutally unfair

* Compared to the rest of the world, it is on the way down

Interesting to see Paul Krugman's piece in the 27 June NYT The Chinese Challenge, in which he makes the jump to the Chinese already being smarter today than the Japanese were in the 80s in that they are buying US stuff that is not prestiege but actually worth something. This accelerates a part of the Fallows scenario.

Nicolas Kristof's Glide Path to Ruin, also 27 June, has Fallows overtones too:

President Bush has excoriated the "death tax," as he calls the estate tax. But his profligacy will leave every American child facing a "birth tax" of about $150,000.

This is also a time to re-read last Ocobter’s interview with Louis Wells at the Harvard Business School (here). Fallows likely read the Business Professors’ letter.

Also worth at least two looks is John Elkington's American Cyclops, published in his blog on June 10 (and not on openDemocracy: sorry, John! - thanks for sending it that very evening) .

Monday, June 27, 2005

My favourite (ex) non-monarch

Simeon Sax-Coburg, heir to the Bulgarian throne, stood for office, got himself elected Prime Minister of Bulgaria and now - it seems - has been thrown out in a peaceful election. This is the kind of monarch one can live with.

Bulgaria as case for marginal hope. It sure ain't Belarus. European dream not dead.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Chinese pygmy, Israeli giant?

China's nuclear arsenal quite some distance behind Israel's if The Bulletin's report is correct, and rumours about Israel's capability are not exaggerated (here).

Yes, but in Israel every sperm is sacred.

Cows yellow, tigers red

What - in my head or yours - are "well known facts" and what are not? When are we surprised by the knowledge of another and when are we surprised by an apparent gap in their knowledge?

This question came to me when reading Simon Baron-Cohen's review of Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson (here).

I've read a little ( not very much around) about a few aspects of this the subject before. Temple Grandin's work on animal perception and behaviour and her theory of autism do look important, and Baron-Cohen's review is useful.

I didn't know that the reason cows are wary of yellow is because, like most mammals (monkeys? and primates among the exceptions) cows have dichromatic vision: they just see blue and green. As Baron-Cohen recounts:

"That means that a yellow object is very clear to them - it has the highest contrast. Humans have trichromatic vision - we see blue, green and red - while birds see four basic colours (blue, green, red and ultraviolet)".

I was vaguely but not precisely aware of dichromatic vision in many animals, but do not recall ever knowing that birds are quadro(?)chromatic - although I guess this is an obvious well known fact to some. [What can we imagine, and what can we reproduce in our mere three dimensions of a bird's vision?]

By contrast, I was surprised that Baron-Cohen, a distinguished scientist (with some talented brothers/relations including the guy who worked with the MST in Brazil and Ali Gee), writes:

"I was delighted to learn [from this book] that elephants use infrasonic and possible even seismic communication...And I was distressed to read that male chimpanzees wage territorial war in just the same way as humans do, resulting in many deaths. Or that the stereotypically friendly dolphin has been observed to engage in gang rape of an isolated female".

These three examples seem incredibly obvious and well known to me (is Baron-Cohen for real in this apparent ignorance?).

Talking of animals, Sara Wheeler makes a good case for reading Ruth Padel's Tigers in Red Weather, which examines the fate of the world's tigers. It looks a little like a book on another species vaguely forming in my mind (though in my case probably without the personal angst) . Probably, in my ignorance, there are already several good books of the kind I imagine writing already out there.

Iran's Putin?

"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an obscure figure when he was appointed mayor of Tehran in the spring of 2003.

He was not much better known when he entered the presidential election campaign.

He reportedly spent no money on his campaign - but he was backed by powerful conservatives who used their network of mosques to mobilise support for him" (full profile here).

"Iran's Putin" occurs to me as a nice soundbite, but the differences between revolutionary Iran and the (post) Soviet/ Russian situation are surely more significant than the similarities.

Green thoughts in a green shade

To Green College yesterday afternoon for the 25th anniversary garden party. I found a snail had hitched a ride across a very busy Oxford inside the pedal of my bicycle. Cristina and I met Mike Mason, CEO of Climate Care outside the Central furniture store on the way, and Mike offered me his old rosewood table.

Good to see some old faces at the party including Kristina Plenderleith (who worked so much with the late Darell Posey) and Jeff Burley, professor of forestry (still active). Also, Michael Peerie, the garderner who does such a wonderful job on the gardens there and years ago helped me get my own tiny garden going (I worked at Green College from 1992 to 1994 for Crispin Tickell's environment policy unit).

We had strawberries and cakes with the wonderful Jane Moser, who was so amazing with Darrell through his long and very difficult illnesses and death. Jane had recently been to Kentucky and had visited Darrell's family (long of Henderson, Kentucky - Darrell was a direct descendent of George Washingon's aide de camp): his 81 year old mother shares many of his characteristics but has even more energy, it seems.

And then Jane introduced me to Charles Barclay, who I had last seen when, as seventeen year olds, we shared a tent in an expedition to Arctic Norway in 1980 (it rained for four weeks: I read Anna Karenina for the first time).

I had no idea what happened to Charlie after that. Turns out he studied astronomy in St Andrews, became a teacher, married and has three children, and now, an FRAS, is Director of the Marlborough College Blackett Observatory. He introduced me to his good friend Roger Davies, the head of astrophysics at Oxford. Roger Davies, of course, knows my brother in law John Huchra, and we touched on the battle to save the Enlightenment. His son Frank is doing War Studies at King's College, London, and would be a good candidate for an internship at openDemocracy.

Charlie, Roger Davies and the Oxford astronomers are good people, with a very postive outlook. They obviously enjoyed having Jem Finer, formerly of The Pogues, as their artist in residence until June this year.

Then to the serious part of the afternoon: Roger Harribin's key note annivesary lecture. The poor guy had been asked to speak on "Can democracy save the planet?".

Roger Harrabin ducked the question - he said "No" at the top of his remarks - and instead showed and then talked about and around three short films he'd made for Newsnight - one on ocean acidification (Prof Eretz? from Eilat and Carol Turley at the PML), a second on the sequestration challenge (clean coal technology in the US and geological capture demonstration by BP in the Sahara, remote controlled from Sunbury), and a third on bringing cheap solar cooking systems to rural Gujurat.

The talk was largely unstructured but Roger is good in almost all circumstances, and brought a number of things together well. A few questions from the stellar audience (James Lovelock was there, but didn't comment - I was told Richard Doll - one of the people I most admire - was there too, but didn't see him) including Crispin Tickell who was more optimistic than most about getting the Chinese - at least - and maybe, eventually the Indians, more fully and meaningfully on board. The Chinese scientists and leaders understand the full gravity of the threat to water supplies and from sea level rise, he said, while the implications of a possible shift in the South Asian monsoon were beginning to sink in in India.

I gave Roger a hard time about the Today programme's "even-handed" treatment of so-called climate sceptics and the scientific consensus. This was a little unfair as I would guess that nobody fights harder than Roger to change the grossly irresponsible and unprofessional approach of the editors and producers at Today towards climate change science.

Through gritted teeth, Roger gave the diplomatic answer he has to as a BBC employee - that there was an "intense internal debate" going on. He added that the recent statement from the G8 academies of science plus those of China, India and Brazil might help finally shift things (the Royal Society had pressed for something even stronger he said).

He added that one needed to understand the culture of journalism. Journalists are by nature sceptical - mischief makers - and there's particular pressure at the BBC not be perceived as being too supportive of power and government (he did not mention David Kelly).

I interrupted to say that scepticism has nothing to do with it. Properly defined, the word means careful examination and scrutiny of reliable evidence. This has nothing to do with what's going at Today.

What I did not say is that it's a pretty bad state of affairs where influential players at the BBC choose to deny or distort best truthful evidence precisely because those in positions of power accept it. This is the George Galloway approach to life.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Honour...and bleach

"Then he forced the three women to drink bleach before strangling Rudaina, who was eight months pregnant".

Chris McGreal's report on an apparent rise of killings of Palestinian women (Guardian, 23 June) is a useful bit of journalism.

Judicious in his first choice of example - the murder of a 22 year old woman by her father - because the family in this case was Christian.

This makes the point that honour killing is not specifically Muslim - something worth remembering.

How, if at all, does one understand and deal with this kind of violence, especially (or so it seems) of men towards women and towards the relatively weak in so many societies and circumstances? (see also "
raping a three-year-old and a 75-year-old seems beyond comprehension" here).

What connection, if any, in the Palestinian case, to wider climate of violence, poverty and hopelessness?

"We're trying to save their lives, but they're not helping us by getting in our way."

Max Hastings (Guardian, 24 June) was impressed by a film called A Company of Soldiers, which follows a unit of the US 8th Cavalry fighting in Iraq:

There was a powerful which a bored and jumpy soldier impulsively put a bullet into a dog. Its owner emerged from his house, bent over his pet's corpse for a moment, then walked away, throwing up his hands in impotent misery. Whatever commanded that man's loyalty six months ago, who can doubt which side he is on today.

Hastings is not hopeful:

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British senior representative in Iraq, thinks it somewhere between difficult and impossible to remedy US policy failures in the immediate aftermath of the war. He is probably right. Bush is still many months off being ready to quit and leave the country to resolve its own fate. But this is coming to seem the likeliest outcome. The most notable irony of a comparison between Indochina and Iraq is that American defeat in 1975 brought about Vietnamese unification, while American failure in Iraq will almost certainly precipitate that country's fragmentation.

Hasting column contrasts with Paul Krugman's 24 June New York Times column The War President (here) , which is more pessimistic and angry - and, for all its incision, arguably too narrow because it takes so little account of non-US perspectives.

Haass on deterrence and regime change

in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs

From the conclusion:

"Deterrence is a way to make the best of a bad situation. Military action or, more precisely, the threat of it can buttress diplomatic prospects. But diplomacy should be the heart of U.S. policy toward both [North Korea and Iran] -- because it could succeed, because it must be shown to have failed before there is any chance of garnering support for other policies, and because all the other options are so unattractive".

(Full text here)

Koran to quark

Michael Bond has a moderately interesting interview with Masoud Adib, head of philosophy at Mofid University in Qom in Iran (New Scientist, 25 June in print edition). Adib says:

Values from your religion should govern everything you do. In this there is no difference between Islam and other religions...You can have knowledge of a secular science within the framework of a religious life.

People tend to make two mistakes. One is to try to derive the details of life from religion - for example, looking to religion for the answers to why everything happens...The other is to loosen the religious framework so much that you think you can derive the ultimate aim of life from the empircal.

One of the major reasons a lot of Muslims do not do well in science is that they make the first mistake.

(full text behind barrier here)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A place where thought has been valid

Yes, this still counts:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Crime and prejudice

Nick Davies's continuing investigation into the failures of Britain's criminal justice system burns with white hot anger today (see here).

One of the starkest points in the article comes in relation to Tony Blair's speech of 19 July last year in which the Prime Minister jettisoned at a stroke all the good work that could have been done for the sake of populist approval.

In Davies's account, the Daily Mail and its ilk are truly the forces of darkness.

But what, I found myself wondering, would Melanie Philips and co themselves make of Davies's analysis?

On what grounds would they not accept what he sees as the cast iron logic of all criminological study that points to the benefits and the need of supporting offenders rather than punishing them in ways that lead to ever worse situations?

How would they construct their arguments? Would they even need to? Or is prejudice and vitriol enough?

A chink of light?

"There's a new feeling in the air about global warming. It's a sense that the Bush administration may finally be held to account, by the media and by Congress, for four years of obstruction and denial while a planetary problem steadily worsened".

....or so writes Chris Mooney in an article posted in American Prospect on 20 June (here).

And it does look to be the case that an amendement to pending energy legilsation passed by the Senate on 21 June, which calls for voluntary reductions in some emissions and spending money to promote technology to reduce pollution is not altogether in the wrong direction (see here).

But is Mooney writing more in hope than on the basis of the evidence? My impressions from various sources (including a brief conversation with a provost at a major US university which channels very large sums for basic scientific research from the federal government) is that - from evolutionary theory to planetary physics - the battle to keep the Enlightenment alive in the United States is still steadily being lost.

Could the likely consequences of the policies of the present administration and many of its forseeable successors prompt enough Americans to wake up?

Or could we see more darkness visible? One doesn't have to look far to see what happens when modern societies reject rationality.

As Real Climate so usefully anatomises (22 June), the Wall St Journal is very much at it.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


For everything else there's Mastercard. Cooney lands job with ExxonMobil.

"Phil Cooney did a great job and we appreciate his public service and the work that he did, and we wish him well in the private sector."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Craven A: for your throat's sake

Robert Matthews in 12 June Telegraph (here) has a clever combination of bait and switch, manipulation, falsehood and attempts to discredit by insinuation.

For example: Richard Adams on adaptation is placed in such a way as to suggest the mainstream scientific and policy community does not stress importance of adaptation; and the Bjorn Lomborg quote "Economic studies clearly show it will be far more expensive to cut greenhouse gases than to pay for the cost of adapting to a warmer planet".

I don't have the time to critique the whole piece now, but on the Lomborg example, go back to Stephen Schneider in Dec 2001:

"Note that Lomborg offers a wide-ranging estimate for how much it would cost to control climate change but only one figure for how much the climate change itself would cost us. In reality, the cost of climate change itself is generally considered -- by the very economists whom Lomborg quotes for costs of control -- to be much more uncertain than the cost of controlling climate change. In other words, this putative statistician quotes a range of costs when convenient but not a range of benefits when inconvenient. Neither does he tell us, as any assessor should -- let alone a statistician writing a popular book! -- that these are very crude estimates grounded in subjective assumptions at every stage. To imply that the costs are empirically determined is to completely misunderstand the situation, or misrepresent Bayesian statistics (subjective) as frequentist probabilities (objective)". (full text here).

And on adaptation, see Camilla Toulmin in openDemocracy:

"The experience of the Sahel shows that people adapt to changes in climate, but the process is not cost-free. Governments can help or hinder such adaptation. In theory, they can enable movement across national frontiers. They can strengthen local institutions. They can install more transparent systems for outsiders to gain access to land. They can encourage technical and financial support for small-scale irrigation activity. They can provide reliable channels for migrants’ remittances, which have become key to the livelihoods of many families.

But overall in the Sahel, in practice, governments have played little role in making adaptation possible – rather it was people, their families, communities and local institutions, that allowed for innovative ways of dealing with difficult times". (full text here)

Iraqi constitutional process

"In setting up the constitutional committee, Iraq's transitional national assembly passed up the opportunity to create a broad-based institution, opting instead for one drawn exclusively from its own ranks. Given Sunni Arab under-representation in the assembly, this community will not figure prominently in drafting the document that will shape the new Iraq and, not least, their role in it. In turn, their exclusion from so critical an undertaking can only serve to bolster Sunni Arab support of the insurgency.

A better way would be to seek broader representation of drafters, drawing additionally on Sunni Arab politicians as well as representatives of Iraq's budding civil society...

...After two years of fumbling and stumbling in Iraq, the US has to get this one right, as there is unlikely to be another chance. It should encourage its Iraqi friends to set up a representative drafting committee to solicit views from the Iraqi public at the outset of the negotiations, and extend the deadline by six months. Only thus, and through a legitimate political process more generally, can there be any hope that the sectarian divisions and debilitating insurgency will be overcome".

International Crisis Group president Gareth Evans and Middle East project director Joost Hilterman in the Financial Times, 13 June (here).

Meanwhile , other evidence to take into account (if not exactly ground truthing as he is writing from Amman), Dahr Jamail on "state sponsored civil war", 10 June.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Torture lite

"So, on the basis of the scant amount of information available to those of us who will never be shown interrogation logs, I still think the case for actual torture remains shaky even by the most amoral and pragmatic standard.

What then of torture lite? What about the crudely brandished threat of unbearable pain or the carefully calibrated administration of somewhat bearable pain as routine techniques for shocking and disorienting a prisoner, conveying to him a sense of hopelessness from which there is only one possible escape?

It's a question that few theorists care to debate openly. How many lives would have to be demonstrably saved before such intimidation and punishment achieve a kind of moral sanction? If it could be shown with some certainty that, say, 10,000 lives would be saved, few purists would argue against the infliction of pain. If the number was a much smaller multiple of 10 and the degree of uncertainty candidly acknowledged, the true murkiness of the issue in the real world would have to be faced".

From “Interrogating ourselves” - an honest, thoughtful but unsatistfactory 8,000 word article by former New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld (here).

Good to see Doonesbury back on the topic.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

"Rotting undead corpse of irony "

Right on, Sean Caroll and Sisyphus shrugged.

See Danner (cited below) quoting Joseph G:

"Arguments crude clear and forcible, and appeal to emotion and instincts, not intellect. Truth [is] unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology".

And Sidney Blumental in today's Guardian (here).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

"Forget the founding fathers"

Barry Gewen in the NYT book review:

Observed from across the Atlantic, the story of the Revolution looks very different from the one every American child grows up with. To see that story through British eyes, as Stanley Weintraub's ''Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire: 1775-1783'' enables us to do, is to see an all-too-familiar tale reinvigorated. Weintraub reminds us that justice did not necessarily reside with the rebels, that the past can always be viewed from multiple perspectives. And he confronts us with the fact that an American triumph was anything but inevitable. History of course belongs to the victors. If Britain's generals had been more enterprising, if the French had failed to supply vital military and financial assistance, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and the rest would be known to us not as political and philosophical giants but as reckless (and hanged) losers, supporting players in a single act of Britain's imperial drama. We would all be Canadians now, with lower prescription drug costs and an inordinate fondness for winter sports...

...Fifty years ago, Louis Hartz expressed the hope that the cold war would bring an end to American provincialism, that international responsibility would lead to ''a new level of consciousness.'' It hasn't happened. In the 1950's, two wide oceans and a nuclear stockpile allowed Americans to continue living blithely in their imagined city on a hill, and the student revolts of the 60's and 70's, if anything, fed the notion that the rest of the world was ''out there.'' ''Bring the troops home'' was the protesters' idea of a foreign policy.

But the disaster of 9/11 proved that the oceans do not protect us and that our nuclear arsenal, no matter how imposing, will not save our cities from terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. Today, there is no retreating into the provincialism and innocence of the past. And because withdrawal is not an option, the work of the globalizing American historians possesses an urgency unknown to scholars of previous generations. The major lesson the new historians must teach is that there is no longer any safe haven from history's horror story. Looking forward is unnerving, but looking backward is worse. The United States has no choice. Like it or not, it is obliged to take a leading role in an international arena that is unpredictable and dangerous, hopeful perhaps, but also potentially catastrophic.

(full text here)

Commodify your wonder

Robert MacFarlane touches on something essential in the conclusion to his series on literature and landscape when he writes of those moments of encounter that take us to the heart of things (see here).

For me, as for many others over many years, it is at such moments that I have felt most fully alive to the beauty of existence. Often but not always, such "encounters" have been in solitude where in fact one feels
least alone.

We are in a dire situation when "autism toward nature" (see here) means that, for example, 94% of British children are unable to identify native trees - beech, ash, birch, hazel (Woodland Trust, April 2005), but that people burn with desire for Landrovers named "Tuareg" or "Bedouin".

As noted in a previous post, I sympathise with MacFarlane's approach, and will endorse his proposal - echoing Barry Lopez - for a new series bringing together the best in nature writing from around the British Isles (returning to the isles, or other places where we started, and knowing them for the first time).

My first thought for the series is Hogg's and Bull's Herefordshire Pomona - so wonderfully described by George Monbiot and featured in luminous exhibition at the Ashmolean which I happened to see today - A new flowering: one thousand years of botanical art.

But I do this with limited optimism. Here, maybe, is a reason. The same, 4 June issue of the Guardian book review that carries MacFarlane's essay also carries a review by the sane journalist Andy Beckett of
The Rebel Self: How the Counterculture Became the Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter (see here).

Heath and Potter follow Thomas "Commodify-Your-Dissent" Frank in arguing that "enemies" of "consumer capitalism" misunderstand and profoundly underestimate it.

So one can create another product - in this case a classic book series - that may itself be both part of the problem and part of the solution? Like so much shaped by human desire and organised into material form, even books can be two-edged swords.

On the downside, the classic UK nature books series could become yet another set of positional goods for those who want to set in opposition to - "better than" - the established order.

The upside can come with learning to better recognize and manage the destructive aspects of desires and how to enhance their positive sides. This is an endless process with no guarantee of success. It's worth a try, though, and maybe these books could help.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Did Dr Strangelove never leave?

In a grim mood when I wrote this.

What are you going to do with that?

When we arrived with our cameras a few moments later, we found a dark swamp of blood and broken bodies and, staggering about in it, the bereaved, shrieking and wailing amid a sickening stench of cordite. Two men, standing in rubber boots knee-deep in a thick black lake, had already begun to toss body parts into the back of a truck. Slipping about on the wet pavement, I tried my best to count the bodies and the parts of them, but the job was impossible: fifty? sixty? When all the painstaking matching had been done, sixty-eight had died there.

As it happened, I had a lunch date with their killer the following day.

from Mark Danner's 15 May commencement address at Berkeley, quoted by Tom Dispatch on 30 May here.

As an English major myself, still failing after more than twenty years, and about to enter another period of economic uncertainty, Mark Danner remains an inspiration.