Monday, January 31, 2011

African Land Grabs (Dystopia)

From the Guardian:

Land grabs have grabbed global attention. It's on the agenda at the World Economic Forum this week, and as the trend for large land acquisitions accelerates, it has moved from being primarily a story about Middle Eastern petrodollars pouring into Africa, to a much more widely spread phenomenon affecting many parts of south-east Asia, such as the Phillipines, as well as Latin America.

In Cambodia, 15% of land has been signed over to private companies since 2005, a third of which are foreign. A new set of research studies from the International Land Coalition find the competition for land increasingly global and unequal.

Many of the deals are shrouded in secrecy, so the scale of what is happening is not clear, nor is it clear who is benefiting from these deals; a number of new reports try to tease these issues out, such as the International Institute for Environment and Development's analysis of legal contract, which is published on Monday.

It's not hard to see why the subject generates so much attention. It's partly the secrecy element, partly the fear: who is buying up the future? Large-scale land acquisition prompts all too vividly visions of a dystopian future in which millions of the hungry are excluded from the land of their forefathers by barbed wire fences and security guards as food is exported to feed the rich world.

This is no longer just a fear for the future. The US environmentalist Lester Brown points out in his new book, World on the Edge, that in 2009 Saudi Arabia received its first shipment of rice produced on land it had acquired in Ethiopia while at the same time the World Food Programme was feeding 5 million Ethiopians. Similarly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China has acquired 7 million hectares for palm oil production and yet millions of people in the DRC are dependent on international aid for food.

Brown warns that "land grabbing is an integral part of the global power struggle for food security". He argues that geopolitics for several centuries have been dominated by the issue of access to markets, but increasingly in the future this will be replaced by the overriding importance of access to supplies. Food importing countries are anxiously securing their food supplies, all too aware that exporting countries can impose export bans to meet their needs. In 2007 both Russia and Argentina, major grain exporters, put in place export bans and it sent waves of panic around the world, which have probably played a big part in fuelling land acquisition deals.

Much of the attention so far has focused on Africa. Most of the biggest deals have been in countries such as Ethiopia, Mali and Sudan. The imminently independent south Sudan has seen investors queuing up to exploit one of the areas of greatest potential for as yet under developed agricultural land. In comparison with many other areas of the world, land in Africa is very cheap; in Ethiopia, land can be leased for as little as $1 an acre.

China is acquiring land at the fastest rate, but South Korea is not far behind. It has now set up an agency specifically dedicated to making direct agreements with farmers and landowners to secure supplies.

Many African governments are defensive about the deals. Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi is expected to talk on the subject in Davos this week; in the past he has argued that investment in African agriculture is crucial to improve the continent's low agricultural productivity. He has argued that foreign investors bring in mechanisation and expertise which is vital for development. Many campaigners would agree that investment is badly needed, but insist that the future for African agriculture is not mechanised monocultures for export but supporting sustainable smallholder agriculture. They argue that the latter is far more likely to ensure food security for the poorest Africans.

Some land deals claim to try to meet the needs of smallholders and bring investment at the same time. When I visited Mali recently, a number of local campaigners argued that the Millennium Challenge Account project had invested in the irrigation needed and was training local farmers.

But this small example was outweighed by the enormous anxiety in Mali about the foreign investors who were leasing hundreds of thousands of hectares in a country where the population is rapidly expanding and the land suitable for agriculture is shrinking as the desert expands. Lester Brown rightly points out that the real issue here is not so much land deals as water deals. What is driving the land grabs is the scarcity of water. Saudi Arabia used to produce a lot of wheat, but it is the decline of its aquifers that is forcing it to look abroad to secure its future food.

Leasing and buying land are always ultimately about access to water, and in many parts of Africa this could be a major source of future conflict. Sudan and Ethiopia both feed water into the Nile; intensifying production in these areas could divert water. The Libyan lease of 100,000 hectares in Mali has involved the construction of a massive dam, diverting water from the Niger, a river on which several countries, including Niger and Nigeria, depend....

This phenomenon reflects all too starkly the powerlessness of smallholder farmers across the world. They lack the formal land rights or the access to political power in their countries which would enable them to ensure these deals worked in their interests. Instead, the future of their children is being sold over their heads.

"China speeds ahead of the rest" (on pollution)

From the

World carbon dioxide emissions are one way of measuring a country's economic growth too.

And the latest figures - published by the respected Energy Information Administration - show CO2 emissions from energy consumption - the vast majority of Carbon Dioxide produced.

A reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions is not only the goal of environmentalists but also of pretty much every government in the world. Currently 192 countries have adopted the Kyoto protocol with the aim of collectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5% of the 1990 levels by 2012.

The map, above (you can get it as a PDF file here) is produced by Guardian graphic artists Mark McCormick and Paul Scruton. It shows a world where established economies have large - but declining - carbon emissions. While the new economic giants are growing rapidly. This newly-released data is from 2009 - the latest available.

On pure emissions alone, the key points are:

• China emits more CO2 than the US and Canada put together - up by 171% since the year 2000
• The US has had declining CO2 for two years running
• The UK is down one place to tenth on the list, 8% on the year. The country is now behind Iran, South Korea, Japan and Germany
• India is now the world's third biggest emitter of CO2 - pushing Russia into fourth place
• The biggest decrease from 2008-2009 is Ukraine - down 28%. The biggest increase is Chile - up 74%

But that is only one way to look at the data - and it doesn't take account of how many people live in each country. If you look at per capita emissions, a different picture emerges where:

• Some of the world's smallest countries and islands emit the most per person - the highest being Gibraltar with 152 tonnes per person
• The US is still number one in terms of per capita emissions among the big economies - with 18 tonnes emitted per person
• China, by contrast, emits under six tonnes per person, India only 1.38
• For comparison, the whole world emits 4.49 tonnes per person

More graphs, etc. at link

"EPA knowingly approved bee-killing pesticide"

From Natural

A Colorado beekeeper recently obtained a leaked document revealing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows a popular crop pesticide is killing off honey bees, but has allowed its continued approval anyway. Despite opposition from its own scientists, EPA officials first gave the a-okay to Bayer CropScience's toxic pesticide clothianidin in 1993 based on the company's own flawed safety studies. But now it has been revealed that the EPA knew all along about the dangers of clothianidin and decided to just ignore them.

By now, most people know that honeybees are dying off at an incredibly disturbing rate. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), a condition where bees stray from the hive and never find their way back, is nixing millions of nature's pollinators every year. Previous studies have pinpointed various environmental toxins as the primary culprits, including toxic pesticides like clothianidin (

And the leaked document, which was written by the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, explains clearly that "[c]lothianidin's major risk concern is to nontarget insects (honey bees)" and that "[a]cute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis." The letter was in response to a request from Bayer to have clothianidin approval expanded for use on cotton and mustard in addition to its other approved uses.

So if clothianidin poses a significant threat against honey bees, and the EPA has known about this all along, why was it ever approved in the first place? And if Bayer's original safety studies have been shown to be contradictory to actual science, why has the EPA failed to go after Bayer for falsifying safety data? Apparently those who make the final decisions at the EPA have no actual interest in the truth and would rather cater to corporate interests at the expense of public health.

Several European nations have outlawed the use of clothianidin, including Germany, Francy, Italy and Slovenia. U.S. growers of conventional crops, however, continue to use the dangerous chemical thanks to corrupt EPA officials. And when all the honey bees die and there are no pollinators left to grow food, these same EPA officials will be responsible for the mass murder of millions of people.

Learn more:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Major Tipping Points & Consequences for Insurance


from page 25

from page 32

Topsy-Turvy Weather...

From the New York Times:

Judging by the weather, the world seems to have flipped upside down.

For two winters running, an Arctic chill has descended on Europe, burying that continent in snow and ice. Last year in the United States, historic blizzards afflicted the mid-Atlantic region. This winter the Deep South has endured unusual snowstorms and severe cold, and a frigid Northeast is bracing for what could shape into another major snowstorm this week.

Yet while people in Atlanta learn to shovel snow, the weather 2,000 miles to the north has been freakishly warm the past two winters. Throughout northeastern Canada and Greenland, temperatures in December ran as much as 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Bays and lakes have been slow to freeze; ice fishing, hunting and trade routes have been disrupted.

Iqaluit, the capital of the remote Canadian territory of Nunavut, had to cancel its New Year’s snowmobile parade. David Ell, the deputy mayor, said that people in the region had been looking with envy at snowbound American and European cities. “People are saying, ‘That’s where all our snow is going!’ ” he said.

The immediate cause of the topsy-turvy weather is clear enough. A pattern of atmospheric circulation that tends to keep frigid air penned in the Arctic has weakened during the last two winters, allowing big tongues of cold air to descend far to the south, while masses of warmer air have moved north.

The deeper issue is whether this pattern is linked to the rapid changes that global warming is causing in the Arctic, particularly the drastic loss of sea ice. At least two prominent climate scientists have offered theories suggesting that it is. But others are doubtful, saying the recent events are unexceptional, or that more evidence over a longer period would be needed to establish a link.

Since satellites began tracking it in 1979, the ice on the Arctic Ocean’s surface in the bellwether month of September has declined by more than 30 percent. It is the most striking change in the terrain of the planet in recent decades, and a major question is whether it is starting to have an effect on broad weather patterns.

Ice reflects sunlight, and scientists say the loss of ice is causing the Arctic Ocean to absorb more heat in the summer. A handful of scientists point to that extra heat as a possible culprit in the recent harsh winters in Europe and the United States.

Their theories involve a fast-moving river of air called the jet stream that circles the Northern Hemisphere. Many winters, a strong pressure difference between the polar region and the middle latitudes channels the jet stream into a tight circle, or vortex, around the North Pole, effectively containing the frigid air at the top of the world.

“It’s like a fence,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a researcher in Camp Springs, Md., with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

When that pressure difference diminishes, however, the jet stream weakens and meanders southward, bringing warm air into the Arctic and cold air into the midlatitudes — exactly what has happened the last couple of winters. The effect is sometimes compared to leaving a refrigerator door open, with cold air flooding the kitchen even as warm air enters the refrigerator...

James E. Overland, a climate scientist with NOAA in Seattle, has proposed that the extra warmth in the Arctic Ocean could be heating the atmosphere enough to make it less dense, causing the air pressure over the Arctic to be closer to that of the middle latitudes. “The added heat works against having a strong polar vortex,” he said.

Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at a company called Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Mass., has spotted what he believes is a link between increasing snow in Siberia and the weakening of the polar vortex. In his theory, the extra snow is creating a dense, cold air mass over northern Asia in the late autumn, setting off a complex chain of cause and effect that ultimately perturbs the vortex.

Dr. Cohen said in an interview that the rising Siberian snow might, in turn, be linked to the decline of Arctic sea ice, with the open water providing extra moisture to the atmosphere — much as the Great Lakes produce heavy snows in cities like Buffalo and Syracuse.... But Dr. Cohen acknowledges, as does Dr. Overland, that some of his ideas are tentative and need further research.

In interviews, several scientists recalled that in the decade ending in the mid-1990s, the polar vortex seemed to be strengthening, not weakening, producing mild winters in the eastern United States and western Europe.

At the time, some climate scientists wrote papers attributing that change to global warming. Newspapers, including this one, printed laments for winter lost. But soon after, the apparent trend went away, an experience that has made many researchers more cautious.

John M. Wallace, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, wrote some of the earlier papers. This time around, he said, it will take a lot of evidence to convince him that a few harsh winters in London or Washington have anything to do with global warming.

“Just when you publish something and it looks like you’re seeing a connection,” Dr. Wallace said, “nature has a way of humbling us.”


I could see how both warmer winters and colder winters could both be attributed to global warming - esp. when you know how much warmer it in the north when it is colder Europe and North America. It's silly to assume that the weather is going to be only warmer all over the place. Esp. when you have things like ocean currents changing because of the melting of fresh water, etc.

"Driving Straight Into Catastrophe"

From IPSnews:

PARIS, Jan 24, 2011 (IPS) - Despite repeated warnings by environmental and climate experts that reduction of fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is fundamental to forestalling global warming, disaster appears imminent. According to the latest statistics, unprecedented climate change has Earth hurtling down a path of catastrophic proportions.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the global consumption of primary energy in 2010 reached some 500 exajoules (EJ), a number just under the worst-case scenario formulated ten years ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, published in 2000, calculated the worst-case scenario as 525 EJ consumed in one calendar year.

The IEA found that coal was one of the largest sources of energy consumed in 2010, comprising approximately 27 percent of the total energy consumption. Coal, one of the cheapest sources of energy, is considered the filthiest of all, as far as greenhouse gases emissions (GHGE) are concerned.

Correspondingly, the global GHGE, measured as equivalent to carbon dioxide, reached at least 32 billion tonnes last year, only one step below the most pessimistic scenario imagined by the IPCC in 2000: 33 billion tonnes of CO2.

The results for 2010 were conditioned by the present global economic crisis – meaning that under normal economic circumstances, the numbers would have been higher. In other words, total consumption of energy in 2010 would have been worse than the most pessimistic scenario the IPCC formulated ten years ago had the global economy been in better shape.

These findings have prompted leading environmental experts to warn that humankind is racing towards destruction. (more here)

Some of the Worst Countries for Women

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Girls get just five years of formal education before going to work. They are four times more likely than men to contract HIV.

HAITI: Nearly 50 percent of women in the capital's shantytown, Cité Soleil, have beensexually assaulted - not surprising when you consider that rape was criminalized only three years ago.

NEPAL: The female literacy rate is at 35 percent; if girls aren't married off in their teens, there's a good chance they'll be sold by their families to sex traffickers.

SIERRA LEONE: This is the worst place to be a woman, according to the Human Development Report. Only 24 percent of women are literate, and one in eight die during pregnancy or childbirth. Life expectancy is 43.

AFGHANISTAN: A woman dies during childbirth every half-hour, the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Domestic violence is endemic; 87 percent of Afghan women have been assaulted by a family member.

From: Marie Claire

Friday, January 21, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Sick Gulf Residents Beg Officials for Help"

By Dahr Jamail

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, Jan 14, 2011 (IPS) - In an emotionally charged meeting this week sponsored by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, fishermen, Gulf residents and community leaders vented their increasingly grave concerns about the widespread health issues brought on by the three-month-long disaster.

"Today I'm talking to you about my life," Cherri Foytlin told the two commissioners present at the Jan. 12 meeting. "My ethylbenzene levels are 2.5 times the 95th percentile, and there's a very good chance now that I won't get to see my grandbabies…What I'm asking you to do now, if possible, is to amend [your report]. Because we have got to get some health care."

Ethylbenzene is a form of benzene present in the body when it begins to break down. It is also present in BP's crude oil.

"I have seen small children with lesions all over their bodies," Foytlin, co-founder of Gulf Change, a community organisation based in Grand Isle, Louisiana, continued.

"We are very, very ill. And dead is dead. So it really doesn't matter if the media comes back… or the president hears us, or… if the oil workers and the fishermen and the crabbers get to feed their babies and maybe have a good Christmas next year… Dead is dead…I know your job is probably already done, but I'd like to hire you if you don't mind. And God knows I can't pay you. But I need your heart. And I need your voice."

The commission, appointed by President Barack Obama, released its final report this week after a six-month investigation into the nation's worst-ever oil disaster.

The report recommended a massive overhaul of the oil industry's failed safety practices in the Gulf, as well as the creation of a new independent agency to monitor offshore drilling activity.

However, most of the 250 people at the meeting here focused on the health crisis that has exploded in the wake of the April 2010 disaster, leaving former BP clean-up workers and Gulf residents alike suffering from ailments they attribute to chemicals in BP's oil and the toxic dispersants used to sink it.

Dr. Rodney Soto, a medical doctor in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, has been testing and treating patients with high levels of oil-related chemicals in their bloodstream.

These are commonly referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Anthropogenic VOCs from BP's oil disaster are toxic and have negative chronic health effects.

Dr. Soto is finding disconcertingly consistent and high levels of toxic chemicals in every one of the patients he is testing.

"I'm regularly finding between five and seven VOCs in my patients," Dr. Soto told IPS. "These patients include people not directly involved in the oil clean-up, as well as residents that do not live right on the coast. These are clearly related to the oil disaster."

Nevertheless, U.S. government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with President Obama himself, have declared the Gulf of Mexico, its waters, beaches, and seafood, safe and open to the public.

Gulf residents at the meeting on Wednesday made sure the two commissioners were aware of the health crisis they are facing...

"Toxics Found in Pregnant U.S. Women in UCSF Study"

Multiple chemicals, including some banned since the 1970s and others used in items such as nonstick cookware, furniture, processed foods and beauty products, were found in the blood and urine of pregnant U.S. women, according to a UCSF study being released today.

Of the 163 chemicals studied, 43 of them were found in virtually all 268 pregnant women in the study. They included polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, a prohibited chemical linked to cancer and other health problems; organochlorine pesticides; polybrominated diphenyl ethers, banned compounds used as flame retardants; and phthalates, which are shown to cause hormone disruption.

Some of these chemicals were banned before many of the women were even born.

The presence of the chemicals in the women, who ranged in age from 15 to 44, shows the ability of these substances to endure in the environment and in human bodies as well, said lead author Tracey Woodruff, director of the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment...

Bisphenol A, a chemical used in cans and other food packaging that has been linked to health problems including brain development, was found in 96 percent of the women. A broken-down form of DDT, a pesticide banned in the United States in 1972, was found in virtually all the women.

Although some flame retardants were banned from clothing in the 1970s, Blum said, similar retardants were used in other consumer goods such as the foam in furniture, the plastic around television sets and even baby products. She blamed much of the ubiquitousness of the chemicals on California's strict flammability laws, which are often modeled by other states.

Dr. Sarah Janssen, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said the levels of exposure shown in the study were low, but she was concerned about fetal harm that could be caused by the mother's exposure to multiple chemicals acting together.

"The study's results show that unborn babies are exposed to a soup of chemicals - and furthermore, because the women in the study were tested for exposure to only a fraction of chemicals on the market - the study also suggests that pregnant women are likely carrying and passing onto their fetuses many more chemicals than have been reported here," she said.
Reducing exposure

While it is impossible to completely avoid exposure, here are some suggestions from health experts on reducing exposure to some harmful chemicals:

Eating: Eat a well-balanced diet, wash hands often and do not smoke. This will help maintain overall health and reduce some of the effects of harmful chemicals.

Microwaving: Avoid microwaving food in plastic. Use ceramic or glass instead.

Cleaning: Keep a clean home. Toxic chemicals are present in household dust and dirt.

Shopping: Choose products wisely - everything from paints, cleaning supplies to cookware and beauty products. Select safer, nontoxic products.

Source: UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment

Floods in Australia

A Photo Survey
Some examples:


__________________________A masive plume of muddy water flows from the Brisbane River mouth into Moreton Bay. Photo: Bruce Long

From Germaine Greer:
Australian floods: Why were we so surprised?
...So, yeah, as Australians say, the problem is rain. The ground is swollen with months of it. The new downpours have nowhere to go but sideways, across the vast floodplains of this ancient continent. We all learned the poem at school, about how ours is "a sunburnt country . . . of droughts and flooding rains". Groggy TV presenters who have been on extended shifts, talking floods for endless hours, will repeat the mantra, so hard is it wired into the heads of Australian kids. And yet we still don't get it. After 10 years of drought, we are having the inevitable flooding rains. The pattern is repeated regularly and yet Australians are still taken by surprise.

The meteorologists will tell you that the current deluge is a product of La Niña. At fairly regular intervals, atmospheric pressure on the western side of the Pacific falls; the trade winds blow from the cooler east side towards the trough, pushing warm surface water westwards towards the bordering land masses. As the water-laden air is driven over the land it cools and drops its load. In June last year the bureau of meteorology issued a warning that La Niña was about "to dump buckets" on Australia. In 1989-90 La Niña brought flooding to New South Wales and Victoria, in 1998 to New South Wales and Queensland. Dr Andrew Watkins, manager of the bureau's climate prediction services, told the assembled media: "Computer model forecasts show a significant likelihood of a La Niña in 2010." In Brisbane the benchmark was the flood of 1974; most Queenslanders are unaware that the worst flood in Brisbane's history happened in 1893. Six months ago the meteorologists thought it was worthwhile to warn people to "get ready for a wet, late winter and a soaked spring and summer". So what did the people do? Nothing. They said, "She'll be right, mate". She wasn't....

One of the penalties of living on the east coast, as most Australians do, is that all the rain that falls on the mountains known as the Dividing Range heads your way. Up here, at the top of the watershed, I have only to fear a landslide, which will happen if slopes now bulging with water actually burst. At sea level, it's anybody's guess. Meteorologists and hydrologists try to predict peak levels and peak times, and have to revise their estimates up and down like yo-yos.

The world is aware of what has been happening in Australia because so much of Queensland's capital city, Brisbane, the "most livable city in Australia", is now submerged in dirty brown water. Smaller towns in Australia have been flooded for months; some have been flooded five times since the beginning of December. What the rest of the world must be asking is why Australians don't take steps to minimise the destruction? In the southern US you could take your Chevy to the levee; Australians rarely build them. An eight-metre levee has kept the town of Grafton dry, though the Clarence river is in massive spate, but Yamba, further downstream has no levee and is under water. Goondiwindi has an 11-metre levee to protect it from the Macintyre river, but hydrologists have predicted a peak of 10.85 metres – far too close for comfort. Evacuations have begun....

In the case of Toowoomba, Grantham and Murphy's creek, there was nothing to be done. The Lockyer valley suffered a flash flood, in which a sudden deluge generated an eight-metre wave of water that ripped through the towns, drowning people in their cars, popping houses off their stumps, and whirling them down stream. The resulting TV footage has been seen by Australians hundreds of times. It is the stuff of nightmares, with cars and buses bouncing end over end down streets full of people clutching at anything they can find to avoid being swept away. The army is now involved in searching for the bodies of the 61 people still missing; there is no more talk of rescue. The total dead to date is 26....

The colour of the water reveals a terrible truth. What is being washed downstream is topsoil. The water moves so rapidly because so much of the land has been cleared....When the settlers first arrived on the coast of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, the rivers were navigable. As the "scrubs" (the settlers' way of referring to rainforest) were ripped out, the seasonal rains carried the topsoil into the rivers, which silted up and then began to flood.

The fresh water now entering the seas off Australia is expected to drift northwards to where the Great Barrier Reef is already struggling with rising sea temperatures. In ecological terms, worse, perhaps very much worse, is on the way. Australia owes it to the rest of the world to get a handle on its regular floods. Or she won't be right, mate.

The creatures of the rainforest are used to rain. After gorging on the treefrogs that are mating in a rainpool by the house, a night tiger snake has come up to sleep the day away on my verandah. A rufous fly-catcher is hunting for his breakfast under the verandah roof because there are no insects out in the rain. The regent bowerbird is enjoying his morning shower 50 metres up in the top of the quandong, meticulously grooming each gleaming feather.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Anger at the Government

I think it makes sense to be angry that the government is putting large corporations before the rights of people.

I think it makes sense to be angry that the government is spending too much on the military, is giving away too much to banks, is too influenced by those with money.

I don't think it makes sense for the majority of people to be angry that the government provides reasonable services like education, health, and welfare for those who cannot take care of themselves.

This government is supposed to be a government that represents the people - but when many of those people are persuaded by propaganda that supports the interests of the large corporations and the military, then what we have is a government that represents the large corporations and the military.

So if you want to be angry - be angry about that.

Mental Illness and Culture and Consequences

Another side of this (the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords - 6 killed, 13 wounded), is that the perpetrator was mentally ill. Some people would like to assume that that means it was a random act - as if the young man might have killed anyone. The fact is that he had singled out Gabrielle Giffords in particular. He shot her in the head (but she lived) and then he shot off many rounds with his automatic ammo cartridge. So there was some political connection. Also - she was concerned about the hate and threats coming from the Tea Party group - so I think that it is more than likely that perpetrator picked up on that. He also ranted about the Constitution, currency and other things that Tea Party people have also ranted about.

But beyond that - mental illness can also be part of a culture. For one thing, the way a culture is, can exacerbate stress. How difficult it can be to fit in, to start out in life. Expectations. Bullying has often show up to be a problem with the perpetrators of massacres by young people, though it hasn't been mentioned here that I know of. Jared Loughner may well have been Schizophrenic, but much of the Tea Party stuff exudes paranoia - so he may have naturally picked up on that. Being mentally ill does not make someone violent - but if someone listened to enough stuff that encouraged violence, as Tea Party people have been doing, it's not so hard to see that having an effect.

And the other thing is that it's the right-wing (and esp. Tea Partiers) that is against providing mental health services, just as they are against making health care accessible. It's all part of the same concept that those on the left support - the government providing services for those who need them. The delusion on the right is that people should take care of themselves, as if everyone is capable of that. So in their world, apparently even Schizophrenic people would all hold jobs. Really - I don't know what they expect. That their families will care for them? That churches will? They certainly don't want the government to - it's not in the constitution. Or maybe it is - but if it was - they would deny it. The only thing they want to government to do is provide the military and perhaps couple of other things. Maybe states could provide roads (but even those have been sold off).

My fear is that most of the people of the Right wing/Tea Party are mentally ill (and are at least delusional and somewhat paranoid) - and that could amount to third?half? of the country. So many people persuaded by nonsense - persuaded against what is in the interests of the vast majority of people in this country. There are too many people who will not accept reality and there are too many people who are all too happy to stir up anger at the government - as if we would be better off being run by a corporation (for the profit of those in power).

On Culture and Consequences

Concerning reactions in the wake of the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords (6 killed, 13 wounded)...

Gabrielle Giffords understood that words have consequences.That one's words can lead to actions by others.

"For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC. (from the HT-Bloomington)

Some people, including media personality Jon Stewart, like to pretend that words do not have consequences. That lyrics and tones of songs have no consequence. Essentially that the culture around us has no consequence. That art has no consequence - or affect on people. I very strongly disagree.
I think that the corporate media seeks to influence the culture, including our values and ideas and feelings and actions, as well as buying and voting decisions. That is not a delusion. They have reasons, such as a profit motive, such as maintaining power and influence. 
Other people seek to influence the culture by discovering and expressing the truth. While all of us have 'truths' that are unique (based on who we listen to, what we pay attention to, what actions and ideas have come into our circle of awareness - along with our own abilities to understand and analyze our surroundings), many of us realize that it is quite different to try to have one's truth based on scientific knowledge and controlled studies than it is to base one's truth based on the rants of people who hate science and who spew false facts (often taking things out of context or making them up entirely) and hate.
The truth is not always a happy thing. The  fact that the way we collectively live our lives causes Global Warming, Dead Zones, and Extinctions is not happy. Nor is Poverty and Inequality, etc. But even the tone of our speech (whether truth or falsehoods) has an effect. According to Dr. Douglas Fields, "Rudeness Is a Neurotoxin"
Jon Stewart, on his show, often makes fun of right-wing people who spout nonsense. Part of the effect of that is that people who watch can feel somewhat in community with others that watch, and are happy that others understand nonsense as nonsense. It is nice to see the hate-spouting people made fun of - to have them put into a context that dis-empowers their hate and nonsense. Stewart's show has become part of the liberal culture. So it's odd to see Stewart say that none of that could be expected to have an effect on others - nor could the hate speech that he makes fun of.
Stewart does not generally spout hate, that I am aware of. I think he can tend to be somewhat misogynistic (or at the very least - he will not be mistaken to be a feminist), as can other somewhat liberal pundits such as Bill Maher. I think that part of the "truth" that they have absorbed is the idea we are all separate and not connected (and that those in power should have no expectation of concern for those without power).
I remember Stewart's response to someone who challenged him on his apparent sexism (the lack of women and women's point of view on his show) was that "women are not funny". So was he being funny, or is that his truth - or is that the truth concerning the role of women in our society? Our culture has an overabundance of possibilities (though not an overabundance of feminists). 
On the one hand, artists want to be free to express themselves (I'm assuming this is Stewart's take), but people like Palin and Limbaugh, and Beck are not artists - even though they create fictions. To some extent, Maher and Limbaugh were/are on the same page - they were both against the idea that people should be "politically correct". The concept that they were against was the idea that people shouldn't go around spouting racist and sexist crap. That idea has gone even farther with the latest round of right-wingness - where not only do they (Palin, Limbaugh, Beck) want the right to be rude, they want to go around "Joking" that liberals or anyone who disagrees with them should be shot and killed.

Some would like to suggest that both sides are equally rude and vitriolic, but it is one of the leading figures of the right-wing, tea-party who is disseminating imagery of rifle targets on people and talking about reloading (Palin, but with a lot of support from others). They get a lot of people riled up, and they have a lot of influence. And they are in nearly complete denial about it.

Krugman had a good column today, A Tale of Two Moralities about the " deep divide in American political morality." There is only one side that is pushing to bring down the government as we know it - and right now that is the vitriolic right-wing. I think those who identify with that need to own up to what and who they are supporting and the message that is being sent out.

I also think that while artists should have freedom to express what they want - the art and artists that make it into the forefront sends a message about what kind of society we are. For instance, when artists who create art that is about being pro-macho and anti-women rise to the top (and when art by women is more likely to be excluded), that says that we are not moving forward as a society. It says that the ideology of rudeness, and of Limbaugh - the entrenched tradition of white-male domination is (still) winning. (And yes, Palin and other women support that ideology),

As artists, what we express about our society can have an influence. As consumers, what we consume, endorse, and spread around also has an influence. That's how society works.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Global Warming & Changes to Oceanic Currents

From Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology:

Corals provide evidence of changes to oceanic currents through Global Warming

Examination of deep sea corals reveals that there have been drastic changes to oceanic currents in the western North Atlantic since the 1970s. The influence of the cold water Labrador Current, which is in periodic interchange with the warm Gulf Stream, has been decreasing continually since the 1970s. Occurring at the same time as Global Warming this phenomenon is unique in the past 2000 years. These results are reported by researchers from the University of Basel and Eawag in the current edition of the scientific journal «PNAS».

One of the oldest known weather systems in the world is the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), the periodic variation of atmospheric pressure difference between the Azores and Iceland. It dictates not only whether the winters in Europe will be cold and dry or wet and warm, but also influences the oceanic currents in the North Atlantic. On the continental shelf off Nova Scotia, the NAO seems to control the interaction between different water masses. During positive phases, the oceanography of the north-west American continental shelf is dictated by a relatively warm water mass at 10 degrees Celsius which is salty and nutrient-rich, originating from the Gulf Stream. If the NAO is in a negative phase, the Labrador Current is dominant, a relatively cold water mass at 6 degrees Celsius, which is relatively nutrient-poor scarce and originates from sub-polar regions.

Using new geochemical methods, an international team of researchers including the biogeochemists Prof. Moritz Lehmann (University of Basel) and Dr. Carsten Schubert (Eawag – Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) were able to prove that a drastic change to a «warm water mode» occurred in the western North Atlantic in the early 1970s. This change, the timing of which coincides with and may be directly related to Global Warming, is unique in the last 2000 years.

Corals record climate data

The researchers made use of the fact that water masses carry different nitrogen isotopic signatures (different ratios of the stable nitrogen isotopes 15N und 14N) depending on their origins. These signals are then recorded in the biomass of deep sea corals hundreds of metres below the surface that feed on sinking organic particles from above. The deep sea corals thus allow a reconstruction of the oceanic current ratios over the last few decades. An exact dating of the individual samples is possible due to the corals’ production of easily identifiable annual growth rings. The researchers were able to show a clear reduction in the 15N/14N ratio since 1970 which indicates that the role of the cold Labrador Current, with a higher 15N/14N ratio is becoming less important.

Possible alternative bio-ecological or geochemical causes for such a change in the stable isotope ratio were able to be excluded by the researchers using component-specific nitrogen analyses of the corals. Depending on the food chain structure, changes occur in the 15N/14N ratio of specific amino acids in the corals’ individual annual growth rings. The nitrogen isotope signatures of the amino acids show that the food chain effect did not play a significant role at least since the 1970s.

Global Warming with consequences

Isotopic analysis of fossil deep sea corals from the same region confirms that the nitrogen isotope ratios and thus the oceanic current situation have remained practically unchanged over the past 2000 years. This indicates that the oceanographic change in oceanic currents of this scale, which has been occurring since the 1970s, is a unique occurrence within the past 2000 years.

The researchers suspect there is a direct connection between the changes in the oceanic currents in the North Atlantic and Global Warming primarily caused by human activities.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

"Bees in freefall as study shows sharp US decline"

From the Guardian:

The abundance of four common species of bumblebee in the US has dropped by 96% in just the past few decades, according to the most comprehensive national census of the insects. Scientists said the alarming decline, which could have devastating implications for the pollination of both wild and farmed plants, was likely to be a result of disease and low genetic diversity in bee populations.

Bumblebees are important pollinators of wild plants and agricultural crops around the world including tomatoes and berries thanks to their large body size, long tongues, and high-frequency buzzing, which helps release pollen from flowers.

Bees in general pollinate some 90% of the world's commercial plants, including most fruits, vegetables and nuts. Coffee, soya beans and cotton are all dependent on pollination by bees to increase yields. It is the start of a food chain that also sustains wild birds and animals.

But the insects, along with other crucial pollinators such as moths and hoverflies, have been in serious decline around the world since the last few decades of the 20th century. It is unclear why, but scientists think it is from a combination of new diseases, changing habitats around cities, and increasing use of pesticides.

Sydney Cameron, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, led a team on a three-year study of the changing distribution, genetic diversity and pathogens in eight species of bumblebees in the US.

By comparing her results with those in museum records of bee populations, she showed that the relative abundance of four of the sampled species (Bombus occidentalis, B. pensylvanicus, B. affinis and B. terricola) had declined by up to 96% and that their geographic ranges had contracted by 23% to 87%, some within just the past two decades.

Cameron's findings reflect similar studies across the world. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK, three of the 25 British species of bumblebee are already extinct and half of the remainder have shown serious declines, often up to 70%, since around the 1970s. Last year, scientists inaugurated a £10m programme, called the Insect Pollinators Initiative, to look at the reasons behind the devastation in the insect population.

Cameron's team also showed that declining species of bee had higher infection levels of a pathogen called Nosema bombi and lower genetic diversity compared with the four species of bee that were not in decline – B. bifarius, B. vosnesenskii, B. impatiens and B. bimaculatus.

The N. bombi pathogen is commonly found in bumblebees throughout Europe but until now has been largely unstudied in North America. The infection reduces the lifespans of individual bees and also results in smaller colony sizes...

The collapse in the global bee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon pollination by bees, which means they contribute some £26bn to the global economy.

Other identified causes of bee decline include parasites such as the bloodsucking varroa mite and viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Birds Falling from the sky (dead), fish kills

First it was in Arkansas on New Year's Eve, now another event in Louisiana. It's very weird.

From the Guardian, UK (since it has become international news):

t began, in portentous fashion, approximately half an hour before midnight on New Year's Eve, when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) began hearing reports of blackbirds falling from the sky in Beebe, a town of approximately 5,000 people in the centre of the state.

Before midnight struck thousands of birds dropped in an area about a mile long and half a mile wide, mostly dead but some still alive. A helicopter flight by AGFC officials found no other dead birds outside this small area. Some of the bodies were sent to the state's livestock and poultry commission laboratory, and others to the Wisconsin-based National Wildlife Health Centre.

It was not an unprecedented phenomenon, according to Karen Rowe, an AGFC ornithologist. She said: "Test results (in previous incidents) usually were inconclusive, but the birds showed physical trauma and the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail."

Keith Stephens, from the commission, said later that it was believed New Year's Eve fireworks could be a more likely cause, scaring the birds from their roosts and causing them to die from stress.

The birds were very common in the predominantly rural area, feeding mainly on grain, Stephens told CNN. "If someone was to shoot fireworks in an area where they were roosting, while they were asleep, then that could have been what caused their deaths," he said. He was "very confident" that further tests on the birds' bodies would find the cause.

Separately, up to 100,000 dead drum fish were found washed up along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near to Ozark, about 120 miles away.

The AGFC said disease appeared to be the culprit here, but that tests to confirm this would take up to a month to complete.
Then (From the Baton Rouge Advocate):

LABARRE — Hundreds of dead and dying birds littered a quarter-mile stretch of highway in Pointe Coupee Parish on Monday as motorists drove over and around them.

State biologists are trying to determine what led to the deaths of the estimated 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings on La. 1 just down the road from Pointe Coupee Central High School.

The discovery of the dead birds — some of which were lying face down, clumped in groups, while others were face up with their wings outstretched and rigid legs pointing upward — comes just three days after more than 3,000 blackbirds rained down from the sky in Beebe, Ark.

Necropsies performed Monday on the birds in Arkansas showed the birds suffered internal injuries that formed blood clots leading to their deaths, The Associated Press reported...

Slota also declined to speculate on a cause for the deaths, but he said a search of USGS records shows there have been 16 events in the past 30 years involving blackbirds where at least 1,000 of the birds have died seemingly all at once.