Thursday, September 29, 2005

Has the world just changed

...thanks to a robust laptop for children for under $100?

Imagine tens or even hundreds of millions of children wired up with these.

Order a copy now!

...of Debating Globalisation. Hey, order two! If you don't believe me, listen to "the boy" Kev:

"This book should be compulsory reading for governments, researchers, and social justice activists. The contributions address what is arguably the single greatest challenge of our age: the unstable co-existence of mass poverty in the midst of global prosperity. Avoiding simple blueprints, the book makes a compelling case for a new pattern of globalization and an end to 'business as usual' global governance". - Kevin Watkins, Director UNDP Human Development Report Office

Inhofe and Crichton

together at last, on RealClimate.

Suspend your narcissism

"One of the novelties of Habermas's ...presentation 'Religion in the Public Sphere' was the commendable idea that 'toleration' -- the bedrock of modern democratic culture -- is always a two-way street. Not only must believers tolerate others' beliefs, including the credos and convictions of nonbelievers; it falls due to disbelieving secularists, similarly, to appreciate the convictions of religiously motivated fellow citizens. From the standpoint of Habermas's 'theory of communicative action', this stipulation suggests that we assume the standpoint of the other. It would be unrealistic and prejudicial to expect that religiously oriented citizens wholly abandon their most deeply held convictions upon entering the public sphere where, as a rule and justifiably, secular reasoning has become our default discursive mode. If we think back, for instance, to the religious idealism that infused the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, we find an admirable example of the way in which a biblical sense of justice can be fruitfully brought to bear on contemporary social problems".

From J├╝rgen Habermas and Post-Secular Societies.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Climate surprises

A report released today (see also here) that Arctic sea ice has shrunk for a fourth consecutive year is striking but by no means surprising.

More unexpected, it seems, was Hurricane Catarina, which struck Southern Brazil in March 2004.

This, Fred Pearce reported last week, is "the first and only hurricane recorded in the South Atlantic, where the textbooks say hurricanes should not form". Hurricanes are not expected in the South Atlantic until 2070 so Catarina may be an ominous sign that global warming is already making itself felt.

A force that gives us meaning

Andrew Brown's A new pornography of war is a must read (the URL in the Guardian's web version is mis-typed; it sould read www.nowthats[the rest]).

This takes one back to Chris Hedge's brillliant 2002 work War is a Force that Gives us Meaning, which is one of the few books on the topic to be studied closely and re-read.

Keep digging

Last week a study from the National Commission on Energy Policy published a study identifying the ways in which the United States is most vulnerable to an oil shock. Among the key possible causes are thought to be political unrest in Nigeria and terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia.

In today's tight conditions, taking just four per cent off the global oil market could cause the world price to go to $161 per barrel, the study says.

Reflecting on the challenges, James Surowiecki (on the financial page of The New Yorker, 26 Sep) reports that a greatly increased gasoline tax is the only measure that economists can agree on as certain to tackle the root cause of the problem - massively wasteful overconsumption.

Defining a high tax as progressive may seem counterintuitive, but this is only when you do not take into account the other ways in which [poor] people pay for apparently cheap petrol. (This point was well made to me by some academics on a recent visit to the US).

Surowiecki says:

"in political terms the gas tax's virtues - simplicity, tranparency, immediacy - are vices. Politicians prefer complex systems that allow them to satisfy particular constituencies, reward supporters, and disguise the true cost of things. And, strangely enough, voters implicity prefer indirect taxes to direct ones."

If one or both of these statements is or are true what prospect is there for reform in the US adequate to this most fundamental challenge? Are European nations and emerging powers really in any better position?

Bad dreams from the deep

There's widespread excitement about some pretty blurry photographs of a giant (eighteen metre) squid taken some nine hundred metres down in the ocean (Live giant squid caught on camera).

Architeuthis and its cousin Mesonychoteuthis are the stuff of dreams - mostly nightmares as men have projected their fears on the animals in an environment beyond their control, and more recently as surreal fantasies in an industrialised world where people feel more physically secure (see, for example this image from - where else? - Exquisite Corpse). More bizarrely and grimly, they have even functioned as mules in the drug trade.

But the real magic of these animals is revealed by the science: they hunt by means of bioluminesence in dark waters, and battle with sperm whales - mammals like ourselves.

And the real nightmare, as the BBC reports, may be that bottom trawling in the deep oceans is destroying squid breeding grounds, wiping out the animal and so starving the whales which depend on them. This would be the real snuff movie.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Scopes 2

Laurie Goodstein does a good job of setting the scene for the "intelligent design" (ID) trial which opened in Harrisburg Pennsylvania on 26 Sep (A web of faith, law and science in evolution suit).

I felt a pang of regret on reading this yesterday because for some time I contemplated attending the trial. In the end I decided to concentrate on another project, but I will be sorry to miss what promises to be high drama.

Drawing on Laurie Goodstein's article, here are two points that look key to me:

The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creation science in public schools was unconstitutional because it was based on religion. The plaintiffs will therefore - I guess - have to show beyond reasonable doubt that so-called "intelligent design" is based on religion. Showing it has no relation to science will be the easy part; but will that be enough in law?

The real issue here is not ID but social control, economic instability and deprivation. A
s the former science teacher and plaintiff Christy Rehm is reported as agreeing, the fuss over evolution "has obscured more pressing educational issues" like school financing, low parent involvement and classes that still train students for factory jobs as local plants are closing.

Costs of CCS

Alister Doyle for Reuters reports that the IPCC study of Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage puts the cost of generating electricity at about $0.04 to $0.06 per kilowatt hour, and that "using existing [CCS] technology would add $0.01 to $0.05 per kilowatt hour".

Monday, September 26, 2005

Kurzweil's singular dreaming

" the mid 2020s we will be able to meet our energy needs using very inexpensive nanotechnology-based solar panels that will capture the energy in the 0.03 per cent of the sunlight that falls on the Earth, which is all we need to meet our projected energy needs in 2030".

from Human 2.0, an article for the 24 Sep New Scientist by Ray Kurzweil - a useful introduction to his views on "the singularity" which quotes Stanislaw Ulam from 1958 -"an ever accelerating progress of technology...which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity...beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue".

Blair and Kyoto

There's been quite a to-do since it was reported that Tony Blair has "changed his thinking" about the Kyoto Protocol. Jonathon Porritt was among those who came thundering back today with "we have to do both" (i.e. innovation *and* targets).

It would be striking if the Prime Minister were to throw out the results of ten years of the best efforts and international negotiation, and the considered and settled policy of his government and its allies - not least as activity gathers pace in the US for cap-and-trade to a target and timetable (either - as with North East power generators - to a Kyoto limit, or to some more relaxed target).

But it's probably wise not to overestimate the significance of his statement. Britain is bound under international treaty to the Kyoto target that it now looks likely to miss. There are number of actors with a significant financial investment in the European Trading Scheme who would be likely to align with a wider political constituency to give him and the UK government a hard time if his remarks proved to be more than musing.

And it's important to recognise that "post-Kyoto" is highly uncertain, as EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas acknowledged late last week.

(note: Life Beyond Oil - a New Statesman supplement on UK energy edited by Emily Mann, and with my contribution on "more intelligent" energy use is now up on the web here)

(note 2: a second shaft of light on Blair's thinking is evidenced by remarks reported from Bill Clinton's parallel summit - see Jonathan Freedland here)

Friday, September 23, 2005

A good cause

The oil for ape campaign calls for:

  • an immediate end to all forest conversion to oil palm;
  • recognition of the customary land rights of local people;
  • reform of UK company law.
The first two demands sound good as ideals. But a scientist who has worked for many years in the region on oil palm and conservation tells me she thinks neither is achievable or wise as a campaign goal. The pressure for conversion to oil palm plantation is just too great. Better - in the sense it might actually be feasible - to pressure for mosaic of pattern of development that allows for corridors of older or logged over forest in between new plantations in which organg-utan and other animals can survive.

As for land rights for local people, well, yes, but be real about the way political power operates.

This scientist agrees, however, that pressure applied to big companies in consumer countries can work. It just needs to be well directed. So it may be that the third demand, timed as it is for the Company Law Reform Bill, can be more gounded.

FOE is bold here, with "every little hurts". How's about those words on banner beneath a picture like this outside your local branch of Tesco's?

But what about the rest of big consumer country oil palm demand - the other [90% or more?] in continental Europe, the US, Japan, China etc?

Not cheerful

...but probably right: Trevor Phillips here.

There may be as many as 100 British jihadis in Iraq, according to the CSIS.

Will there be some Oruba Square type events when they come home? Or will there be reactions on the UK mainland more like this in Northern Ireland?

Iraq "disintegrating"

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together ...All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." - Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal speaking at the Saudi embassy in Washington on 22 Sep.

"A bit of oomph"

"We may need the skills of Zimbabwe to help us" - South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on the need for land reform (reported 23 Sep) .

Thursday, September 22, 2005

UK exiting Iraq?

The dramatic events in Basra highlight the need for serious public analysis and debate about ways forward in Iraq - as more people begin to consider British presence unsustainable.

William Shawcross and Simon Jenkins on Newsnight on 21 Sep were marginally more useful than Galloway and Hitchens last week. It was striking how emphatic General Sir Michael Rose was on the same programme about the need to set a date to get out (and sticking to it).

Anne Clywd, currently Tony Blair's special envoy to Iraq, is an honourable person (Hitchens said last week that she has no memory of Galloway's presence among those championing the Kurdish cause when they most had need of friends in the 1980s), but her line about the "excellent" elections in Basra earlier this summer and the need to be patient looks less plausible as the extent of corruption and conflict become ever clearer.

I would like to understand more about how the various Shi'ia factions are lining up, and where this could lead. How far can Muqtadr al-Sadr and his allies go, and where will reported clashes with the Badr brigades, which are said to be both backed by Iran and loyal to the Baghdad government, go? Any pointers to more sound analysis welcome.

Quite robust, I think, was Donald Philips [?], formerly with the State Deparment [?] and now at Harvard University[?]. He told The World Tonight on 21 Sep that while every effort must be made to support the political process and reconstruction, it would be untenable to leave thousands of western troops in the crossfire of a full blown civil war. The best option was likely to be for western forces to withdraw north of the 35th parrallel and protect a Kurdish state as the "frontline in the forward march of freedom". Ho ho.

(Some insight comes from Peter Galbraith, previously noted here, and for an account of one serious attempt to grapple with the dilemmas see Confessions of a Humvee Liberal)


A graphic of strike probabilities from NOAA shows a 32 to 70% probability (as of 7am CDT) of it not hitting the US coast from roughly the Lousiana/Mississippi border to Texas at about Corpus Christi (but rather hitting the coast to the east or south west of that part of the Gulf coast).


"...all persons held as slaves within any State, or any designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever, free."

Emancipation Proclamation, 22 Sep 1862 - not before time in the Slave Nation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Polish fortunes

A report on The World Tonight stressed the tensions in Poland: a new class of super-rich, 18% unemployment and an average wage of around £5,000 ($9,000).

The reporter, Johnty Bloom, stressed the corruption of Polish political parties, and cited as evidence that no party had formed a government for more than one term.

But surely this is - relatively - good news for what Norman Davies has in another context termed "The First Ally".

A country that throws out corrupt politicians every time is in - relatively - good shape.


Rita has been upgraded to a category 5 hurricane as it heads in the general direction of Galveston and Houston, reports the New York Times.

Wolf Hilbertz tells a good story about the Galveston hurricane of 1900, which - according to this map - took a more southerly course than Rita (bisecting Cuba rather than going through the Florida Strait).

Spooks, wonks, pols, profs and other climate groupies

Since returning from the US on 18 September I've attended two meetings on energy and climate change.

The first, convened by the Westminster Energy Forum with RUSI on 19 September, was not overwhelming. Attendees have been asked not communicate what was said, but there was little new.

Valerie Caton, Director, Energy Security and Climate Change at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, summarised some UK government activity including the Global Opportunities Fund at her own department. I'm not divulging any secrets to say that one GOF energy effiency project with the Kaliningrad municipality showed a four fold return on investment within one year (invest $25,000, save $100,000: a 400% return per annum virtually risk free - text book Amory Lovins stuff). Russia holds the G8 presidency next year, and is choosing energy security as a key issue.

Robert Casamento, Head of Climate Change at Deloitte, showed more caution on nuclear power than I would have guessed. Christophe-Alexandre Paillard, from the Strategic Affairs Directorate at the French Ministry of Defence, was very good - direct and darkly funny - on regional energy security hotspots and the geopolitics of oil, but had far too little time allocated.

The second conference (earlier today, 21 Sep) launched Decarbonising the UK, a multi year study from the Tyndall Centre on how UK emissions can be cut by 60% by 2050. There was some quality here. I won't attempt to go into it now, except to note a first rate overview of the study from Kevin Anderson and an illuminating discussion between David King and attendees on political realism and being direct and effective about what the science says. And in his introduction, Elliot Morley was surprisingly OK - some plausible sounding words at least on the need to change the tax system and improve regulation, and caution on the costs of nuclear.

Earlier in the morning, the media (even Five Live!, noted Stephen Tindale of Greenpeace) had picked up on a key observation from the study - that everyone's carbon emissions in the UK will have to go to zero to allow for aviation growth and still meet the 60% target. This is a start, but misses the larger point that it must not be too long before we embrace a 90% target. Will Tyndall do the work? I had to leave early so don't know the answer yet. (A wild guess - "yes, if you pay us".)

On 12 September I wrote a piece on impacts of energy technologies for a supplement on energy to appear in the 23[?] September New Statesmen (to coincide with the Labour Party Conference). It's not great (written while on the run in the US); but I think it's useful as it looks at next steps as and where business, the NGO sector and others are on the same page (see, for example, George Monbiot and respondents).

In preview, a draft of my piece is attached as a comment to this post.

Fukuyama's apostasy

"The fact that Fukuyama portrayed the administration as having betrayed the very neoconservative agenda it had claimed to champion must have made his critique especially painful to his erstwhile mentor Wolfowitz. In particular, Fukuyama noted three foreign-policy blunders he predicted would harm the country’s prestige for years to come. The administration had launched an ill-conceived social-engineering project ('If the United States cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, D.C., how does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it?'); it had underestimated the importance of using international institutions to help legitimate U.S. foreign policy; and -- perhaps most hurtful to the neocons -- it had likened the threat of Islamic terrorism to the United States with the threat it posed to Israel, adopting 'the Israeli mind-set' regarding the Middle East. 'Are we like Israel, locked in a remorseless struggle with a large part of the Arab and Muslim world, with few avenues open to us for dealing with them other than an iron fist?' he asked"... " 'Lack of moral certainty is hardly the chief American problem today.' [says Fukuyama] Today, in fact, [he] believes America is more threatened by another of the modern vices [Leo] Strauss warned against: conformity"...

"Fukuyama suggests that the lesson some took from [the collapse of the Soviet Union] was twofold. First, it convinced them that all totalitarian regimes are ultimately hollow. In After Neoconservatism, he suggests that neoconservatives have inappropriately universalized the Eastern European experience. Second, it taught them that the more your critics tell you that you are wrong ('the Soviet Union will be around forever,' for example), the more likely you are to be correct. 'The rapid, unexpected, and largely peaceful collapse of communism validated the concept of regime change as an approach to international relations,' he explains. 'And yet this extraordinary vindication laid the groundwork for the wrong turn taken by many neoconservatives in the decade following that would have direct consequences for their management of the post–September 11 war on terrorism and the Iraq War.' "

The Neo-con who isn't - Robert S. Boynton

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Perfect sense

"I would not live forever because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever" - Miss Alabama responding to a question in the 1994 Miss USA contest (Philosopher's Magazine daily quote, 20 Sep).

Hugo's help and hogwash

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is always entertaining and provocative. His interview with Democracy Now! is no exception. A proposal to sell about 10% of Venezuelan oil in the US cheaply to poor people fits the bill. You can just imagine the expressions on faces at the American Enterprise Institute.

But the interview, in which he speaks unchallenged, contains a fair amount of bullshit. For example :

"The consumerism of the world is unbearable. The world of the U.S. people must come to understand, how this country with 5 percent of the world population only, consumes 25 percent of the oil and the energy of the world. I mean that type of consumption is totally unbearable and this planet cannot stand it any more. When we realized that the price of oil went up beyond 50 dollars, we initiated another cooperation scheme. We have created, therefore, Petrocaribe and we are going to start with small Caribbean and Caricom countries, and the larger Antillas such as Cuba, Jamaica, and Dominican Republic".

On the one hand the US consumes too much oil and the planet (by which, presumably, he means the environment) "cannot stand it". On the other hand Venezuela must sell more oil to others.

Rita, luck and money

"More than a quarter of the US refining industry, processing 4.5m barrels a day of crude oil, stands in the path of hurricane Rita, with three of the country’s five largest refineries there", says Carola Hoyos in the Financial Times (Opec scrambles in face of hurricane threat)

The area is less prone to flooding than New Orleans, she adds, where nearly 1m barrels a day of refining capacity remains shut because of the damage following hurricane Katrina in late August.

Monday, September 19, 2005

"Last Chance for Iraq"

"Iraq is well on the way to becoming a loose union of three separate and radically different states (or more, if the Shiites choose to divide themselves into two regions). This is not, as the constitution's critics suggest, a complete remaking of Iraq. It is merely the ratification of a breakup that has already happened".

Peter Galbraith: Last Chance for Iraq, New York Review of Books, 16 October edition (7 Sept byline)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ehrenreich on networking

"In networking, as in prostitution, there is no time for fascination" - Babara Ehrenreich: Bait and Switch.

A nuclear blessing from God

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, told journalists in New York on 15 September that atomic energy is "a blessing given by God". He said: "it's an opportunity. It is a clean energy. It is a healthy energy".

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Israeli legal moves

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that the government must consider re-routing part of the West Bank barrier it is building (see here).

And earlier in the week, Israeli retired Maj. Gen. Doron Almog decided not to disembark from an airplane at London's Heathrow airport out of fear that he would be arrested by British authorities for war crimes allegedly committed against Palestinian civilians (Israeli v Israel).

(Meanwhile, sad but not surprising to learn that things are not looking good in Gaza - Bad Start in Gaza)

Galloway Hitchens debate

Paul Owen has a good but curtailed account here.

I was there too. I think Chrisopher Hitchens was marginally less wrong than George Galloway, and plan to comment shortly on some things the debate raises.

World power survey

A Gallup International poll for the BBC World Service finds that only in Scandinavia and South Africa do the majority believe that they are ruled according to their wishes ('States not run by people's will').

47% world wide think elections in their countries are free and fair. But this average masks sharp differences. The figure is 55% for the US and Canada, up to 82% in countries of the European Union and 24% in West Africa.

The survey also found that only 13% of people trust politicians and only 16% think they should be given more power. More than twice as many (about a third) think writers and academics should have more power.

From the writers and academics I know, including the good ones, I'm not sure this is a good idea!

The survey also finds extreme differences of view in the near east between Israel and Egypt. Israelis have the strongest sense of national identity of any country in the world. Sixty percent say nationality was the most important thing to them, nearly double the global average. In Egypt 2% said nationality was most important to them. (Mid-east extremes in power survey)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Holy penguins

In March of the Conservatives, Jonathan Miller describes the enthusiasm with which some conservative Christians in the US have latched on the documentary March of the Penguins:

"Some of the circumstances [the penguins experience] seem... to parallel those of Christians," [says Ben Hunt, a minister at the 153 House Churches Network in In Sidney, Ohio]. "The penguin is falling behind, is like some Christians falling behind. The path changes every year, yet they find their way, is like the Holy Spirit."

The virtual absence of discussion of global warming or evolution from the film has contributed to this state of affairs. It might have helped, too, if the film makers had noted serial monogomy, prostitution (females "selling" sex to male penguins for treats) and champion projectile shitting in which some penguins excel.

Good films about animal behaviour can open new worlds of awareness of our own nature and the human place in the world. So may the film makers keep on trying!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Shooting babies

"People were shouting, 'Don't stand up!' but a woman rose when her child was killed to hold the body, crying, and a sniper shot her through the head too.

...When Jack Straw hosted the EU foreign ministers' summit earlier this month, he could have included the massacre on its agenda, but did not".

Death in Bobur Square - Ed Vulliamy interviews survivors of the Andijan massacre.

Oil price bets

Nobody knows what oil will cost on the world market next year, but James Hamilton of Chicago University does a useful service in a note attached to Clive Crook's comment Does Oil Have a Future? (The Atlantic, October 2005).

Going on data from options andfutures contracts at the New York Mercantile exchange - where people are staking money rather than just talking - the probabilities look roughly like this:

12% chance for less than $40 per barrel
40% chance for $40 to $60
29% for $60 to $80
13% for $80 to $100
6% for more than $100

Wonder, looting and drowning at Khan Yunis

A nine year old boy who lived a few yards from the beach saw it for the first time yesterday.

"Hundreds bypassed the dubious treasures of the settlements and headed for what they considered the real jewel. But the charge to the sea also brought tragedy. Three teenagers drowned after running in with no idea how to swim".

Chris McGreal, Glittering sea is the most precious treasure for many in regained land, 13 Sep.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

"Al Qaeda has now become Al Qaedaism"

"Today marks four years of war. Four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops ruled unchallenged in Japan and Germany. During those 48 months, Americans created an unmatched machine of war and decisively defeated two great enemies". Mark Danner: Taking stock of the forever war, 11 Sep 2005

I think Danner may be wrong in concluding that the pressure for the US to withdraw its troops from Iraq will become overwhelming. Any US administration is likely to judge that if US troops are pulled out of Iraq then Kuwait and Saudi will go down too, and with them the more or less ultimate control of what are thought to be two thirds of the world's proven oil reserves.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

As they say in Kiev

The pro-Tymoshenko daily paper Ukraina Moloda summed it up like this. "There is a Ukrainian saying: 'If your house burns down, the barn might as well burn down too.’ But in the current realities of our politics, it should be re-written to sound like this: ‘If your barn burns down, you might as well torch your house'. " The barn, in this case, is Petro Poroshenko, while the house is Ms Tymoshenko’s government. (Ukraine Press Review, David Couch, FT, 9 Sep)

Thinking about Ukrainian history, the old saying is easy to understand.

Smoking in China

"People often ascribe the inability to quit smoking to a weak will. In reality, it is well known that great men smoked, like Churchill, Mao Zedong, etc. The smokers all around us now are also people of outstanding character. They have great determination and strength. The courage they show in the face of unforseen events – a courage that many nonsmokers are unable to muster – is unforgettable".

From an essay on a tobacco information web site run by the Chinese government. The state monopoly on cigarettes in China provides 10 percent of government revenue. The Chinese buy 1.8 trillion cigarettes a year - about a third of the world total (quoted in Harper’s magazine, Sept 2005).

Murder meme

"The ...bombings in London [in July 2005] underline the possibility, suggested by [Farhad] Khosrokhavar, that the political virus of suicide terror, once confined to specific national liberation struggles, may have jumped the species barrier into a qualitatively new kind of transnational threat". (Christian Caryl Why they do it, 22 Sep)

"Every unhappy family...

is unhappy in its own way".

Powell piffle

Colin Powell's interview with ABC suggests he is only marginally better than his former colleagues in the administration, and is a long way from owning up to himself or anybody else about Iraq.

So, for example, this on Katrina is OK:

"It should have been a blinding flash of the obvious to everybody that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you can't expect everybody to evacuate on their own".

But I'm not ready to buy this:

"There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me".

Based on the evidence (see, for example Mark Danner on the Downing St memo), it looks as if Powell either did or really should have known better, and that he was acting as a useful idiot for the administration.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina comments

It's facile as well as grossly premature to settle on almost any short summary about Katrina and what it means, but (!) a comment on US National Public Radio this morning captures some of the essentials. The speaker observed: 1) that the wave over the levees was probably twenty feet or six metres (so shoring up the weaks spots wouldn't have helped); and 2) the only relief workers in a parish down river from New Orleans for a day or two after the hurricane were some fifty Canadian Mounties.

Other punctum(s) so far:

"It is currently pro forma for politicians to announce that [New Orleans] will be rebuilt, and doubtless it will be. Once. But if hurricanes like Katrina go from once-in-a-century storms to once-in-a-decade-or-two storms, how many times are you going to rebuild it?". (Bill McKibben Sucker's Bets for the New Century, 6 Sep).

"The administration's foreign policy is entirely constructed around American self-love - the idea that the U.S. is superior, that we are the model everyone looks up to, that everyone in the world wants what we have.But when people around the world look at Iraq, they don't see freedom. They see chaos and sectarian hatred. And when they look at New Orleans, they see glaring incompetence and racial injustice, where the rich white people were saved and the poor black people were left to die hideous deaths. They see some conservatives blaming the poor for not saving themselves. So much for W.'s 'culture of life'." (Maureen Dowd, Haunted by Hesitation, 7 Sep)

"I saw an entire platoon of soldiers in combat gear surrounding an already looted Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street – a Wal-Mart, incidentally, that many residents fought long and hard to keep out of the city. New Orleans prides itself for its lack of corporate uniformity, so we must be forgiven for not being particularly sanguine about uniforms, whatever their stated intentions". (Andrei Codescu New Orleans or Baghdad?, 7 Sep)

"When it was still unclear which way [a Hurricane] would go, school system employees in New Orleans on school system time driving school system vehicles using school system materials were sent to board up the superintendent's house." (Times Picayune editorial quoted by Bob Herbert in No Stranger to the Blues, 8 Sept)

"On Clouet Street, where a days-old fire continues to burn where a warehouse once stood, a man on a bicycle wheels up through the smoke to introduce himself as Strangebone. The nights without power or water have been tough, especially since the police took away the gun he was carrying - 'They beat me and threatened to kill me,' he says - but there are benefits to this new world. 'You're able to see the stars,' he says. 'It's wonderful'." (Dan Barry The Corpse on Union St, 8 Sep)

"...the second rule of rebuilding should be: Culturally Integrate. Culturally Integrate. Culturally Integrate. The only chance we have to break the cycle of poverty is to integrate people who lack middle-class skills into neighborhoods with people who possess these skills and who insist on certain standards of behavior". (David Brooks Katrina's Silver Lining, 8 Sep)

"Hurricane Katrina may have cost very wealthy people a lot of money. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it may have cost their heirs a lot of money. The cost came not from the direct effects of the disaster. It came because the hurricane's impact on the poor people who remained in New Orleans made it politically unattractive for the Senate to vote on repealing the estate tax this week." (Floyd Norris How to Assure the Very Rich Stay That Way, 9 Sep)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Glad that's sorted

"It has been established beyond doubt that the placebo-controlled, randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy." - A spokeswoman for The Society of Homeopaths on a study in The Lancet that showed homeopathic medicine works no better than placebos - BBC news online 29 August as quoted in New Scientist, 3 September.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Goodbye, tube alloys

Rest in peace Joseph Rotblat, a giant.


It looks as if Mohammed Sidique Khan, from beyond the grave, is reminding us that we are at war.

Thanks. Truly, you are a loss to the teaching profession.

A few guys like you are a worry. But a more fundamental concern for all of us in Britain is the reported increasing ghetto-isation of Muslim communities, presaging worse troubles ahead.

Leaving aside the question of who is responsible for the video, why does it appear now? For one thing, it's the end of the silly season; full strength politics is resumed. A lot more people are back at work and travelling on public transport.

From Portugal to Belarus

...but what about the energy supply?

Tim Garton-Ash on Poland's and Europe's revolutions is very nice. But before one gets too misty-eyed recall that a crucial gas pipeline from Russia to Berlin goes through the Baltic sea, bypassing Poland and the Ukraine.

Erst kommt das fressen, dann kommt die moral.

Heads down, intellects active

A good one from Paul Rogers.

Cities rather than tower blocks.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Katrina disaster was manmade

...but global warming was not to blame.

Or rather, it is premature and may never be possible to attribute this hurricane to human impacts on climate.

It can be said for certain, however, that the disaster for humans this time was a direct result of decisions taken by (other) humans. A recent paper for the American Society of Civil Engineers said:

"Human activity, directly or indirectly, has caused 1,500 square miles of natural coastal barriers to be eroded in the past 50 years. Human activity has clearly been a significant factor in coastal Louisiana land losses, along with subsidence, saltwater intrusion, storm events, barrier island degradation, and relative sea level changes."

...New Orleans and surrounding areas [will] now experience the full force of hurricanes, including storm surges that top levee systems and cause severe flooding as well as high winds".

Why city's defences were down, a 1 Sep Guardian article citing this analysis, puts too much emphasis on recent spending cuts. The point is that the situation always was unsustainable. For a better understanding, see Atchafalaya in John McPhee's The Control of Nature, first published back in 1989.

Another aspect of the disaster relating to human choice is the fact that evacuation plans for New Orleans did not seem to consider the plight of those too poor to afford private cars.

All this is not to say that global warming will not be a worry in future. If, as the evidence strongly indicates, the intensity of tropical cyclones increases as the atmosphere warms, then New Orleans may be just a beginning.

The best rememberanceI've seen so far is I'm just glad I saw it by Howell Raines - a sweet elegy (notwithstanding praise for the Aryan ethnic cleanser Andrew Jackson) with a bitter coda:

"The populism of Huey Long was financially corrupt, but when it came to the welfare of people, it was caring. The church-going cultural populism of George Bush has given the United States an administration that worries about the house of Saud and the welfare of oil companies while the poor drown in their attics and their sons and daughters die on foreign deserts".

My own memories of New Orleans will always be easy time with good friends, eating great food under a huge magnolia and listening to John Coltrane.

Aubrey Meyer, who began his professional life as a classical musician, writes: "
for musicians, Louisiana without New Orleans is like Austria without Salzburg".

Climate coalition launch

Around 500 people came together for this morning's launch of the stop climate chaos campaign, forming a giant human swirl on the Jubilee Gardens lawn just between Shell's giant tombstone-like building and the London Eye.

The first goal of
coalition behind the campaign is that the UK honour its pledge to reduce our emissions by 20% by 2010. (Holding the UK government to its own promises as radical politics! Does each member of the campaign make a pledge to do the same or more in their own lives?).

Bringing together development and environment NGOs is a good move, although there's a still long way to go beyond the much too scanty action points in the second edition of
Up in Smoke.

A report by Richard Black for BBC online highlights the religious element to the coalition. Yes, this could be quite politically interesting, including in the UK (albeit that largely secular development NGOs, which define the issue in terms of justice without reference to supernatural agents, appear to play at least as large a role in the coalition). Religious constituencies are large, and can bring voice and power to the party. Imagine if, say, Samaritan's Purse joined with the NEA in the States on this issue (see also faith and climate change).

Oh, and the lawn. I complained to Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace that lawns were a typical product of late high patriarchal eco-dumb capitalism (have you ever realised that the letter L appears both in the word 'lawn' and in 'Carlyle Group'? Aha! See?). Next time, a grassy meadow of native wildflowers, please Charlie. I'm sure the folks inside the Shell building would appreciate it. The music was just right, though.

(The pictures are mine except for the aerial shot, which comes from

TRWS review published

A short version of my review of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science appears on openDemocracy here.

The bell tolls

20,000 humans to every chimp is not enough, it seems (Apes extinct 'in a generation').

My observation is that time spent in close proximity to and study of gorillas, chimps or orang-utangs tells you a lot about what it is to be human. Because if we cannot observe what we share and do not share we cannot truly understand what we are like.

Goodbye, cousin.