Thursday, March 24, 2011

organized religion dying in 9 countries

CNN | Organized religion will all but vanish eventually from nine Western-style democracies, a team of mathematicians predict in a new paper based on census data stretching back 100 years.

It won't die out completely, but "religion will be driven toward extinction" in countries including Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, they say.

It will also wither away in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Switzerland, they anticipate.

They can't make a prediction about the United States because the U.S. census doesn't ask about religion, lead author Daniel Abrams told CNN.

But nine other countries provide enough data for detailed mathematical modeling, he said.

"If you look at the data, 'unaffiliated' is the fastest-growing group" in those countries, he said.

"We start with two big assumptions based on sociology," he explained.

The first is that it's more attractive to be part of the majority than the minority, so as religious affiliation declines, it becomes more popular not to be a churchgoer than to be one, he said - what Abrams calls the majority effect.

"People are more likely to switch to groups with more members," he said.

Social networks can have a powerful influence, he said.

"Just a few connections to people who are (religiously) unaffiliated is enough to drive the effect," he said.

The other assumption underlying the prediction is that there are social, economic and political advantages to being unaffiliated with a religion in the countries where it's in decline - what Abrams calls the utility effect.

"The utility of being unaffiliated seems to be higher than affiliated in Western democracies," he said. Fist tap Arnach.

on evolution, teachers stray from the lesson plan...,

NYTimes | Teaching creationism in public schools has consistently been ruled unconstitutional in federal courts, but according to a national survey of more than 900 public high school biology teachers, it continues to flourish in the nation’s classrooms.

Researchers found that only 28 percent of biology teachers consistently follow the recommendations of the National Research Council to describe straightforwardly the evidence for evolution and explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology. At the other extreme, 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism, and spend at least an hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.

That leaves what the authors call “the cautious 60 percent,” who avoid controversy by endorsing neither evolution nor its unscientific alternatives. In various ways, they compromise.

The survey, published in the Jan. 28 issue of Science, found that some avoid intellectual commitment by explaining that they teach evolution only because state examinations require it, and that students do not need to “believe” in it. Others treat evolution as if it applied only on a molecular level, avoiding any discussion of the evolution of species. And a large number claim that students are free to choose evolution or creationism based on their own beliefs.

Eric Plutzer, a co-author of the paper, said that the most enthusiastic proponents of creationism were geographically widely spread across the country.

More high school students take biology than any other science course, the researchers write, and for about a quarter of them it will be the only science course they take. So the influence of these teachers looms large.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

more drone and cruise missile strikes than all other nobel winners combined..,

Video - the Hon.Bro.Preznit delivers his Nobel acceptance speech.

DigitalJournal | The Bolivian President and a Russian political leader have launched a campaign to revoke Obama's honour after the US attacked Libya. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader and Vice-Chairman of the State Duma Vladimir Zhirinovsky released a statement today calling for the Nobel Prize Committee to take back the honour bestowed on US President Barack Obama in 2009.

Zhirinovsky said the attacks were "another outrageous act of aggression by NATO forces and, in particular, the United States," and that the attacks demonstrated a "colonial policy" with "one goal: to establish control over Libyan oil and the Libyan regime." He said the prize was now hypocritical as a result.

Bolivian President Evo Morales echoed the call: "How is it possible that a Nobel Peace Prize winner leads a gang to attack and invade? This is not a defence of human rights or self-determination." Morales won the Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights in 2006. He is amongst a number of left-leaning Latin American leaders who have denounced the attacks against Libya. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina have all criticised western media coverage of the Libyan crisis.

the stoner arms dealers

RollingStone | Packouz and Diveroli had picked the perfect moment to get into the arms business. To fight simultaneous wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration had decided to outsource virtually every facet of America's military operations, from building and staffing Army bases to hiring mercenaries to provide security for diplomats abroad. After Bush took office, private military contracts soared from $145 billion in 2001 to $390 billion in 2008. Federal contracting rules were routinely ignored or skirted, and military-industrial giants like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin cashed in as war profiteering went from war crime to business model. Why shouldn't a couple of inexperienced newcomers like Packouz and Diveroli get in on the action? After all, the two friends were after the same thing as everyone else in the arms business — lots and lots and lots of money.

"I was going to make millions," Packouz says. "I didn't plan on being an arms dealer forever — I was going to use the money to start a music career. I had never even owned a gun. But it was thrilling and fascinating to be in a business that decided the fate of nations. Nobody else our age was dealing weapons on an international level."

Packouz and Diveroli met at Beth Israel Congregation, the largest Orthodox synagogue in Miami Beach. Packouz was older by four years, a skinny kid who wore a yarmulke and left his white dress shirts untucked. Diveroli was the class clown, an overweight kid with a big mouth and no sense of fear. After school, the pair would hang out at the beach with their friends, smoking weed, playing guitar, sneaking in to swim in the pools at five-star hotels. When Packouz graduated, his parents were so concerned about his heavy pot use that they sent him to a school in Israel that specialized in handling kids with drug problems. It turned out to be a great place to get high. "I took acid by the Dead Sea," Packouz says. "I had a transcendental experience."

Returning home, Packouz drifted through two semesters at the University of Florida. Short of cash, he studied massage because it seemed like a better way to make money than flipping burgers. Nights, he sat around with his high school buddies getting high and dreaming of becoming a pop star. He wrote angsty rock ballads with titles like "Eternal Moment" — but it was hard to get a break in the music industry. With a shaved head and intense blue eyes, Packouz was plenty smart and plenty ambitious, in his slacker fashion, but he had no idea what to do with his life.

Efraim Diveroli, by contrast, knew exactly what he wanted to be: an arms dealer. It was the family business. His father brokered Kevlar jackets and other weapons-related paraphernalia to local police forces, and his uncle B.K. sold Glocks, Colts and Sig Sauers to law enforcement. Kicked out of school in the ninth grade, Diveroli was sent to Los Angeles to work for his uncle. As an apprentice arms dealer, he proved to be a quick study. By the time he was 16, he was traveling the country selling weapons. He loved guns with a passion — selling them, shooting them, talking about them — and he loved the arms industry's intrigue and ruthless amorality. At 18, after a dispute with his uncle over money, Diveroli returned to Miami to set up his own operation, taking over a shell company his father had incorporated called AEY Inc.

His business plan was simple but brilliant. Most companies grow by attracting more customers. Diveroli realized he could succeed by selling to one customer: the U.S. military. No government agency buys and sells more stuff than the Defense Department — everything from F-16s to paper clips and front-end loaders. By law, every Pentagon purchase order is required to be open to public bidding. And under the Bush administration, small businesses like AEY were guaranteed a share of the arms deals. Diveroli didn't have to actually make any of the products to bid on the contracts. He could just broker the deals, finding the cheapest prices and underbidding the competition. All he had to do was win even a minuscule fraction of the billions the Pentagon spends on arms every year and he would be a millionaire. But Diveroli wanted more than that: His ambition was to be the biggest arms dealer in the world — a young Adnan Khashoggi, a teenage Victor Bout.

To get into the game, Diveroli knew he would have to deal with some of the world's shadiest operators — the war criminals, soldiers of fortune, crooked diplomats and small-time thugs who keep militaries and mercenaries loaded with arms. The vast aftermarket in arms had grown exponentially after the end of the Cold War. For decades, weapons had been stockpiled in warehouses throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe for the threat of war against the West, but now arms dealers were selling them off to the highest bidder. The Pentagon needed access to this new aftermarket to arm the militias it was creating in Iraq and Afghanistan. The trouble was, it couldn't go into such a murky underworld on its own. It needed proxies to do its dirty work — companies like AEY. The result was a new era of lawlessness. According to a report by Amnesty International, "Tens of millions of rounds of ammunition from the Balkans were reportedly shipped — clandestinely and without public oversight — to Iraq by a chain of private brokers and transport contractors under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Defense."

This was the "gray market" that Diveroli wanted to penetrate. Still a teenager, he rented a room in a house owned by a Hispanic family in Miami and went to work on his laptop. The government website where contracts are posted is, known as "FedBizOpps." Diveroli soon became adept at the arcane lingo of federal contracts. His competition was mostly big corporations like Northrop Grumman, Lockheed and BAE Systems. Those companies had entire departments dedicated to selling to the Pentagon. But Diveroli had his own advantages: low overhead, an appetite for risk and all-devouring ambition. Fist tap Arnach.

evidence of extrajudicial death squads emerging in mexico

Video - Gen. Bibiano Villa - like a Robert Rodriquez character

narconews | Leaked State Department Cable Claims Juárez Business Leaders Hired Former Zetas for “Protection”

The drug war in Mexico has been depicted in the mainstream media, for the most part, as a conflict between brutal, rival “drug cartels” that are in a pitched battle over territory and for survival as the Mexican military seeks to restore order under the leadership of the brave and resolute President Felipe Calderón.

A U.S. State Department cable released last week through WikiLeaks pokes yet another hole in that bogus narrative, however. Given that fact, it is no surprise that the cable has been essentially ignored by the mainstream media, save one small daily, the El Paso Times — located in a U.S. border city across from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which registered more than 3,100 drug-war murders last year alone.

Diana Washington Valdez, a veteran drug-war reporter for the El Paso Times, in a March 16 story about the WikiLeaks cable, reported that a syndicate of Juárez businessmen hired a group of former Zetas (a paramilitary narco-trafficking group) to “protect themselves against kidnappings and extortions.”

The acknowledgement in an official U.S. document of the existence of this vigilante paramilitary group, which is funded by wealthy Juárez businessmen and has close ties to the Mexican military (the Zetas were founded by former Mexican special forces operatives), provides us with an important insight into the dynamics of the violence of the drug war in Mexico.

A similar alliance of former soldiers and wealthy business leaders (landowners) was the genesis for Colombia’s ruthless, right-wing paramilitary force known as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) [United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia]. The AUC grew out of a smaller vigilante death squad called Los Pepes, which was established in the early 1990s to battle narco-trafficking as well — in particular, the notorious Colombian bandito Pablo Escobar. The AUC, however, itself eventually became a major player in the narco-trafficking business and spread terror across Colombia by murdering thousands of Colombians — particularly those deemed to have leftist leanings, such as labor organizers and human rights activists.

The WikiLeaks cable, drafted by the U.S. consulate in Juárez in late January 2009, provides the following description of the Pepes-like paramilitary group established in Juárez:
There have been indications that local businesses are taking a different approach to self-protection, that of vigilantism. In October, the press carried stories of business people forming paramilitary groups to protect themselves from extortionists and kidnappers. On November 28 [2008], seven men were shot dead outside a school a few blocks from the Consulate, and placards were hung over their bodies (a fact not reported to the public) claiming that the executions were carried out by the `Yonkeros Unidos (United Junkyard Owners of Juárez)'.

In another notorious incident, a burned body was left outside a Juárez police station with its amputated hands each holding a gas fire starter, and with a sign saying that this would be the penalty paid by arsonists. During the week of January 11 [2009] an email circulated through Juárez, claiming that a new locally funded group called the `Comando Ciudadano por Juárez (Juárez Citizen Command, or CCJ)' was going to "clean (the) city of these criminals" and "end the life of a criminal every 24 hours."

City and state government officials have argued that there exists no evidence of a vigilante movement in Ciudad Juárez, and that the messages by the CCJ are a hoax. A Consulate contact in the press, however, suggests that the CCJ is a real self-defense group comprised of eight former `Zetas' hired by four Juárez business owners (including 1998 PRI mayoral candidate Eleno Villalba). According to the contact, the former `Zetas' paid a visit on local military commanders when they arrived in Juárez in September 2008, and purchased previously seized weapons from the army garrison. According to the contact, the former `Zetas' pledged not to target the army, and made themselves available to the army for extrajudicial operations. [Emphasis added.]
In addition to illuminating the cozy relationship between the Mexican military and this vigilante paramilitary group empowered to carry out “extrajudicial [outside the law] operations,” the State Department cable reveals a concern that the Mexican army itself may well be taking sides in Juárez’ drug war.

“The view is widely held that the army is comfortable letting the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels diminish each other's strength as they fight for control of the "plaza" (with a corollary theory being that the army would like to see the Sinaloa cartel win),” the State Department cable states.

pentagon a source of mexican narco-firepower

Video - Unclear how cartels are getting military grade weapons.

narconews | Another series of leaked State Department cables made public this week by WikiLeaks lend credence to investigative reports on gun trafficking and the drug war published by Narco News as far back as 2009.

The big battles in the drug war in Mexico are “not being fought with Saturday night specials, hobby rifles and hunting shotguns,” Narco News reported in March 2009, against the grain, at a time when the mainstream media was pushing a narrative that assigned the blame for the rising tide of weapons flowing into Mexico to U.S. gun stores and gun shows.

Rather, we reported at the time, “the drug trafficking organizations are now in possession of high-powered munitions in vast quantities that can’t be explained by the gun-show loophole.”

Those weapons, found in stashes seized by Mexican law enforcers and military over the past several years, include U.S.-military issued rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and explosives.

The State Department cables released recently by WikiLeaks support Narco News’ reporting and also confirm that our government is very aware of the fact that U.S military munitions are finding their way into Mexico, and into the hands of narco-trafficking organizations, via a multi-billion dollar stream of private-sector and Pentagon arms exports.

Narco News, in a report in December 2008 [“Juarez murders shine a light on an emerging Military Cartel”] examined the increasing militarization of narco-trafficking groups in Mexico and pointed out that U.S. military-issued ammunition popped up in an arms cache seized in Reynosa, Mexico, in November 2008 that was linked to the Zetas, a mercenary group that provides enforcement services to Mexican narco-trafficking organizations.

Tosh Plumlee, a former CIA asset who still has deep connections in the covert world, told Narco News recently that a special-operations task force under Pentagon command, which has provided training to Mexican troops south of the border, has previously “… found [in Mexico] hundreds of [U.S.-made] M-67s [grenades] as well as thousands of rounds of machine gun-type ammo, .50 [and] .30 [caliber] and the famous [U.S.-made] M-16 — most later confirmed as being shipped from Guatemala into Mexico as well as from USA vendors. …”

koch brothers exposed video series

Video - The Koch Brothers exposed

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

an odd rumination

Kunstler | I have a peculiar fantasy about Japan. It burbled up in my mind even before the earthquake-tsunami-reactor disaster, and I conceived it in rumination upon Japan's weird twenty-year-long economic malaise, as the nation's population shrank, and its debt climbed to astronomical heights, and its young people lost heart, and it seemed just to go through the motions of whatever modernity required of them - ship the cars, package the robot parts, show up at the salaryman drinking contest, get stuffed into another late-night commuter train. I don't claim to be a Japan expert, but I think all this was getting to them in a deep, major way. I think they perhaps secretly longed to get back to something like an older traditional Japanese society - the one before car assembly plants, big steel ships, chain reactions, and fluorescently-lighted pachinko parlors, back to the society that blossomed and fruited in cycles of centuries on those beautiful rocky, sea-washed islands into a culture saturated in artistry - unencumbered by idiot religions or the bothersome neediness of other nations.

I can't shake the odd feeling that Japan was looking for a way to get back to the 19th century, and perhaps even deeper beyond that - to the dream-time before they made the fateful decision to industrialize. The earthquake-tsunami-reactor moment is their chance now to begin that journey. Frankly, I don't know what else they can do. Japan imports over 95 percent of the fossil fuels it uses (that would be oil, coal, and natural gas). Does anyone think they'll be able to continue that indefinitely? Sorry, I just don't see it under any circumstances. And, anyway, the geographic region where the bulk of the world's oil comes from is in the process of blowing up. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are like some kind of mansion where fire has broken out simultaneously in the kitchen, the conservatory, the media room, the master bathroom, the chauffeur's apartment over the garage, and the pool house, and whenever the flames are doused in one spot, they break out in another. Yesterday it was Syria and Yemen. Bahrain is under lockdown. The Egyptians are having second thoughts about the loss of a grinding stability, trouble is stirring up in Kuwait, Iraq is like a crazy person in the rubber room of history, and who knows what kind of spells the vizeer Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is laying out in his Kevlar sanctum. There is just too much tension in the world and it is demanding release in the most vexing ways.

So, I can see the Japanese people - a deeply homogenous society - veering toward an as yet un-articulated consensus: let's just get out of the modern world. Let's go back home. Let's don the kimono and the hakama, get us some horses, sharpen the katana, and kick back in the chaniwa garden with a bowl of green tea - and forget about all that dirty, disgusting, dangerous, heavy manufacturing-for-export (to an insane world) nonsense. History may record their industrial adventure as a weird blip of activity in a much longer timeline. As it will for us and everybody else, I believe. In fact, this fantasy about the Japanese shrugging off the toils of modernity is exactly what all the other so-called advanced nations of the world will find themselves doing sooner rather than later as we all take the road back to a world made by hand. The Japanese may just be the pioneering exemplars of the universal process. Fist tap Dale.

A Review of Joe Bageant's Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir

JoeBaegent | Q: How do you know if you are rich, middle class or poor in America?

A: When you go to work, if your name is on the building -- you’re rich; if your name is on an office door -- you’re middle class; if your name is on your shirt -- you're poor…and, if someone else’s name is on your hand-me-down work shirt.

You always hear about natural-born musicians, artists, teachers, nurses, even businessmen. But what happened to the natural-born farmer and extended farm family when the rural-to-urban migration saw us go from 92% of Americans making their living (and dying) on the land in 1900 to around 2% today? What happened to the natural sense of community that engendered -- that "we're all in it together," culture we now long for? And, what about America's supposedly classless society? How's that working out for ya?

Joe’s memoir begins in 1951 at grandparents Maw and Pap’s small farm along Shanghai (it’s an Irish term) Road in Morgan County, West Virginia. Like many a homestead along the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was a multi-generational subsistence farm (“the farm was not a business”) that had been the norm in America before the great corporate-driven rural-to-urban shift that coincided with the end of World War Two.

Joe’s childhood days “Over Home” were whiled away on the usual attendant chores, hand-picking bugs off garden crops, watching Pap plow fields behind his draught horse or hand-harvest the large cornfield, sweating away with the adults during the all-hands-on-deck haying and wood cutting, helping with the late Autumn hog butchering, dodging the ever-present snakes and bullying older cousins and hunting with the adults or developing future hunting skills plinking holes in a broken metal bucket set on a fencepost.

A Multi-faceted American Tragedy
For the Christian teetotaler Pap -- who likely never brought in more than $1000 in any given year -- freedom “resided in yeoman property rights” -- the Jeffersonian ideal of an Agrarian Democracy. No one in Maw and Pap's hard-working extended family ever went hungry or homeless. As Joe notes, this rural system of subsistence farming and barter right up the great rural-to-urban migration was “an economy whose currency was the human calorie.”

And, that’s what this book is all about: the post WWII shift from Maw and Pap’s agrarian democracy to the urban-dominated/techno/bureaucratic/military/security/consumer Empire of today. He writes how that shift and the resulting class stratification has led us to the brink of economic and ecological collapse.

Joe notes: “Damn few of us grasp how the loss of traditional aesthetic and foundational values, the yeoman tradition, are connected with so much modern American tragedy.”

The rush to “agri-business;” the obesity/diabetes health crisis; the out-migration to teeming cities; the resulting army of disposable laborers; the meth epidemic devastating the “white working-class’s futureless young”… all are tragedies personal and political. It’s also the root of our ecological crisis. You just can’t have “ten thousand years of agriculture synthesized into money” without it. Joe posits, “In all likelihood, there is no solution for environmental destruction that does not first require a healing of the damage done to the human community.”

equilibrium and an invisible ideology

DebunkingEconomics | Economics as a discipline arose at a time when English society was in the final stages of removing the controls of the feudal system from its mercantile/capitalist economy. In this climate, economic theory had a definite (and beneficial) political role: it provided a counter to the religious ideology that once supported the feudal order, and which still influenced how people thought about society. In the feudal system the pre-ordained hierarchy of king, lord, servant and serf was justified on the basis of the ‘divine right of Kings’. The King was God’s representative on earth, and the social structure which flowed down from him was a reflection of God’s wishes.

This structure was nothing if not ordered, but this order imposed severe restrictions on the now dominant classes of merchants and industrialists. At virtually every step, merchants were met with government controls and tariffs. When they railed against these imposts, the reply came back that they were needed to ensure social order.

Economic theory–then rightly called political economy–provided the merchants with a crucial ideological rejoinder. A system of government was not needed to ensure order: instead, social order would arise naturally in a market system in which each individual followed his own self-interest. Smith’s phrase ‘the invisible hand’ came along rather late in the process, but the notion played a key role in the political and social transformations of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

An essential aspect of this market social order was equilibrium.

From the outset, economists presumed that the market system would achieve equilibrium. Indeed, the achievement of equilibrium was often touted as an advantage of the free market over any system where prices were set by fiat. Equilibrium was therefore an essential notion of the economic defence of capitalism: the equilibrium of the capitalist market would replace the legislative order of the now defunct feudal hierarchy.

More importantly, whereas the feudal order endowed only the well-born with welfare, the equilibrium of the market would guarantee the best possible welfare for all members of society. The level of individual welfare would reflect the individual’s contribution to society: people would enjoy the lifestyle they deserved, rather than the lifestyle into which they had been born.

If, instead of equilibrium, economists had promised that capitalism would deliver chaos; if, instead of meritocracy, economists had said that the market could concentrate inequality, then economists could have hindered rather than helped the transition to capitalism (though they more likely would have been ignored).

By the middle of the 19th century, the transition to capitalism was complete: what was left of feudalism was a mere vestige. But rather than the promised equilibrium, 19th century capitalism was wracked by cycles and enormous disparities of wealth. A major depression occurred roughly every 20 years, workers’ conditions would improve and then rapidly deteriorate, prices rise and then fall, banks expand and then collapse. New ‘robber barons’ replaced the barons of old. It appeared that, while promising a meritocratic equilibrium, capitalism had instead delivered unbalanced chaos. A new political challenge arose: that of socialism.

Once again, economics rose to the challenge, and once again equilibrium was a central tenet. This time the defence was mounted by what we today call neoclassical economics, since classical economics had been turned into a weapon against capitalism by the last great classical economist, Karl Marx.

In contrast to the hand-waving of Smith, the neoclassical economists of the late 19th century provided a substantive mathematical analysis of how equilibrium could be achieved by an idealised market economy, and how this equilibrium could be fair to all. However, unlike the earlier classical championing of capitalism, this technical edifice provided very little in the way of libertarian slogans for the battle against the ideology of socialism. Instead of arming capitalism’s defenders with rhetoric to deploy against socialists, it gave birth to the academic discipline of economics.

Capitalism eventually transcended the challenge of socialism, with little real assistance from economic theory. But while the economics had little impact upon capitalism, the need to defend capitalism had a profound impact upon the nature of economic theory. The defensive imperative, and the role of equilibrium in that defence, cemented equilibrium’s role as a core belief of economic theory.

At the beginning of the 3rd millennium, there is no competing social system against which capitalism must prove its superiority. Feudalism is long dead, and those socialist societies which remain are either socialist in name only, or bit players on the world stage.

Today, most economists imperiously dismiss the notion that ideology plays any part in their thinking. The profession has in fact devised the term ‘positive economics’ to signify economic theory without any value judgments, while describing economics with value judgments as ‘normative economics’–and the positive is exalted far above the normative.

Yet ideology innately lurks within ‘positive economics’ in the form of the core belief in equilibrium.[3] As previous chapters have shown, economic theory has contorted itself to ensure that it reaches the conclusion that a market economy will achieve equilibrium.[4] The defence of this core belief is what has made economics so resistant to change, since virtually every challenge to economic theory has called upon it to abandon the concept of equilibrium. It has refused to do so, and thus each challenge–Sraffa’s critique, the calamity of the Great Depression, Keynes’s challenge, the modern science of complexity–has been repulsed, ignored, or belittled.

This core belief explains why economists tend to be extreme conservatives on major policy debates, while simultaneously believing that they are non-ideological, and are in fact motivated by knowledge rather than bias.

If you believe that a free market system will naturally tend towards equilibrium–and also that equilibrium embodies the highest possible welfare for the highest number–then ipso facto, any system other than a complete free market will produce disequilibrium and reduce welfare. You will therefore oppose minimum wage legislation and social security payments–because they will lead to disequilibrium in the labour market. You will oppose price controls–because they will cause disequilibrium in product markets. You will argue for private provision of services–such as education, health, welfare, perhaps even police–because governments, untrammelled by the discipline of supply and demand, will either under or oversupply the market (and charge too much or too little for the service).

the human costs of different types of energy

Propublica | Since this time last year, we’ve seen a deadly mine disaster [1], the worst oil spill in U.S. history [2], and now a nuclear crisis in Japan [3]. That got us wondering—how does one compare or quantify the human cost of different sources of energy?

As it turns out, a Swiss research organization, the Paul Sherrer Institute, has been doing just that. Using data from the institute, we pulled together a few visualizations.

The top part of the graph shows the actual number of deaths from severe accidents in developed countries [4] from 1970 through 2008. The bottom part of the graph shows the number of deaths that might result [5] from a catastrophic event at an average site in the developed world. This does not show the worst case scenario for any situation, but it gives a sense of the relative risks associated with different sources of energy.

These numbers represent deaths in the developed world from severe accidents only, where at least five people were killed. The accidents have occurred at many stages of the energy supply chain, from coal mining to shipping oil to accidents at actual power plants.

It’s important to note that every-day energy use from fossil fuels kills far more people than accidents. By one estimate from 2000, pollution from power plants results in at least 30,000 premature deaths every year [6] in the United States alone.

the amount of fuel at fukushima DWARFS chernobyl

The Daiichi complex in Fukushima, Japan ... had a total of 1760 metric tons of fresh and used nuclear fuel on site last year, according to a presentation by its owners, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). The most damaged Daiichi reactor, number 3, contains about 90 tons of fuel, and the storage pool above reactor 4, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC's) Gregory Jaczko reported yesterday had lost its cooling water, contains 135 tons of spent fuel. The amount of fuel lost in the core melt at Three Mile Island in 1979 was about 30 tons; the Chernobyl reactors had about 180 tons when the accident occurred in 1986.

And see this.

That means that Fukushima has nearly 10 times more nuclear fuel than Chernobyl.

It also means that a single spent fuel pool - at reactor 4, which has lost all of its water and thus faces a release of its radioactive material - has 75% as much nuclear fuel as at all of Chernobyl.

However, the real numbers are even worse.

Specifically, Tepco very recently transferred many more radioactive spent fuel rods into the storage pools. According to Associated Press, there were - at the time of the earthquake and tsunami - 3,400 tons of fuel in seven spent fuel pools plus 877 tons of active fuel in the cores of the reactors.

That totals 4,277 tons of nuclear fuel at Fukushima.

Which means that there is almost 24 times more nuclear fuel at Fukushima than Chernobyl.

Monday, March 21, 2011

global energy crunch: how different parts of the world would react to a peak oil scenario

Global Energy Crunch | Peak oil theory predicts that oil production will soon start a terminal decline. Most authors imply that no adequate alternate resource and technology will be available to replace oil as the backbone resource of industrial society. This article uses historical cases from countries that have gone through a similar experience as the best available analytical strategy to understand what will happen if the predictions of peak oil theorists are right. The author is not committed to a particular version of peak oil theory, but deems the issue important enough to explore how various parts of the world should be expected to react. From the historical record he is able to identify predatory militarism, totalitarian retrenchment, and socioeconomic adaptation as three possible trajectories.

why so little looting in japan?

Slate | If your home was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a tsunami, and radiation from a nuclear power plant, you'd be forgiven for not remaining calm. Yet that's what many Japanese quake victims appear to be doing. People are forming lines outside supermarkets. Life is "particularly orderly," according to PBS. "Japanese discipline rules despite disaster," says a columnist for The Philippine Star.

Anyone who has seen Big Bird in Japan knows the shorthand for Japanese culture: They're so honest and disciplined! They're a collective society! They value the group over the individual! Of course they're not going to steal anything after the most devastating natural disaster of their lifetimes—unlike those undisciplined thieves in post-Katrina New Orleans and post-earthquake Haiti. Even if they're desperate for food, the Japanese will still wait in line for groceries.

There's a circularity to these cultural explanations, says Mark D. West, a professor at University of Michigan Law School: "Why don't Japanese loot? Because it's not in their culture. How is that culture defined? An absence of looting." A better explanation may be structural factors: a robust system of laws that reinforce honesty, a strong police presence, and, ironically, active crime organizations.

Honesty, with incentives. Japanese people may well be more honest than most. But the Japanese legal structure rewards honesty more than most. In a 2003 study on Japan's famous policy for recovering lost property, West argues that the high rates of recovery have less to do with altruism than with the system of carrots and sticks that incentivizes people to return property they find rather than keep it. For example, if you find an umbrella and turn it in to the cops, you get a finder's fee of 5 to 20 percent of its value if the owner picks it up. If they don't pick it up within six months, the finder gets to keep the umbrella. Japanese learn about this system from a young age, and a child's first trip to the nearest police station after finding a small coin, say, is a rite of passage that both children and police officers take seriously. At the same time, police enforce small crimes like petty theft, which contributes to an overall sense of security and order, along the lines of the "broken windows" policy implemented in New York City in the 1990s. Failure to return a found wallet can result in hours of interrogation at best, and up to 10 years in prison at worst.

Police presence. Japan has an active and visible police force of nearly 300,000 officers across the country. Cops walk their beats and chat up local residents and shopkeepers. Police are posted at ubiquitous kobans, police boxes manned by one or two officers, and in cities there's almost always a koban within walking distance of another koban. A survey in 1992 found that 95 percent of residents knew where the nearest koban was, and 14 percent knew the name of an officer who worked there. Cops are paid well—the force attracts many college graduates—and can live in cheap government housing. They also care a lot about public relations: The Tokyo Metropolitan Police even has a mascot, Pipo-kun, whose name means "people + police." They're good at their jobs, too: The clearance rate for murder in 2010 was an unbelievable 98.2 percent, according to West—so unbelievable that some attribute it to underreporting.* Fist tap Dale.

how much competition do we need in a civilized society?

Springerlink | Francesco Duina is an American associate professor and chair of the Sociology Department at Bates College, in Maine, USA, and visiting professor at the International Center for Business and Politics in Copenhagen, Denmark. His latest book ‘‘Winning’’ is about the American love for competition; a love not shared by all Americans, but dominant enough to shape how many Americans live. In the rest of the world, and certainly in more egalitarian nations like Denmark and the Netherlands, people have more reservations about competition (Data World Values Surveys). Duina describes the ‘‘American obsession’’ with competition and winning and losing very vividly. The bulk of the book is descriptive but in the last chapter Duina makes some critical normative remarks and proposes an alternative mind-set for the USA. This book is important because it poses the question how much competition we really need in rich nations, with high levels of economic and cultural productivity. The answer to this question is relevant in discussions about the role of governments and about the optimal levels of liberalization or regulation of markets. Duina’s suggestions to moderate and redirect competition by changing the American mind-set are valuable. His suggestions might have been more adequate, however, if he would have made a distinction between ‘competition for fun’ and ‘competition to survive’, and if he would have paid more attention to their different effects on happiness.

i call'em knuckledraggers for a reason...,

Physorg | The tendency to perceive others as "us versus them" isn't exclusively human but appears to be shared by our primate cousins, a new study led by Yale researchers has found.

In a series of ingenious experiments, Yale researchers led by psychologist Laurie Santos showed that monkeys treat individuals from outside their groups with the same suspicion and dislike as their human cousins tend to treat outsiders, suggesting that the roots of human intergroup conflict may be evolutionarily quite ancient.

The findings are reported in the March issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"One of the more troubling aspects of human nature is that we evaluate people differently depending on whether they're a member of our 'ingroup' or 'outgroup,'" Santos said. "Pretty much every conflict in human history has involved people making distinctions on the basis of who is a member of their own race, religion, social class, and so on. The question we were interested in is: Where do these types of group distinctions come from?"

The answer, she adds, is that such biases have apparently been shaped by 25 million years of evolution and not just by human culture.

why inequality matters

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research on the social determinants of health and on the societal effects of income inequality; his work has been published in many languages. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology. He is Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham Medical School, Honorary Professor at University College London and a Visiting Professor at the University of York. Richard co-wrote The Spirit Level and is a co-founder of The Equality Trust.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

the method is transparency, the goal is justice

Technology Review | Perhaps the best way to conceive of WikiLeaks is like this: it is a stateless, distributed intelligence network, a reverse image of the U.S. National Security Agency, dedicated to publicizing secrets rather than acquiring them, unconstrained and answerable to a single man.

The future of WikiLeaks
If WikiLeaks is not a media organization, is it another example of the Internet overthrowing our settled habits? That question is more interesting. By this formulation, WikiLeaks is to the state and corporations what Napster was to music or Google is to media as a business.

Shakespeare, Lord Annan recalled in his war memoirs, gave to Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida the haunting phrase "There is a mystery ... in the soul of the state." "That mystery is the intelligence services," Annan explained. He was thinking of his service on the United Kingdom's Joint Intelligence Staff 70 years ago. But the modern state has many allied organizations besides the intelligence services, including the management of large corporations and banks, who partake in its mystery. Julian Assange, the disordered soul of WikiLeaks, wants to explode the soul of the state.

The modern state, with its monopoly on violence, is not like the music industry or the media. It is properly jealous of its secrets, and more powerful and able than Assange understands. It will bitterly resent an attack by a crypto-utopian on its ability to "think." Assange has declared himself the state's enemy, and he will, in all likelihood, be comprehensively destroyed. WikiLeaks will vanish.

Once imagined, however, the technology of WikiLeaks cannot be forgotten and can easily be imitated. Other organizations, less radically activist, will create secure drop boxes for anonymous leaking. Already, the disgruntled former WikiLeaks volunteer, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, has said he will create a less threatening platform called OpenLeaks. It will, he says, publish nothing but, instead, function as a pipeline where sources designate the media organization to which they wish to leak: "We want to be a neutral conduit. That's what's most politically sustainable." Still more leak platforms are sprouting, including GreenLeaks, which will publish "information of environmental significance"; Brussels Leaks, which will expose the European Union; and Rospil, which will uncover Russia's secrets.

Predictably, media organizations want to replicate WikiLeaks's secure drop box, too. Recently, Al Jazeera launched a "Transparency Unit," which encourages its audience to submit "all forms of content" for "editorial review and, if merited, online broadcast and transmission on our English and Arabic-language broadcasts." The first product came in January, when Al Jazeera published the "Palestine Papers," 11 years' worth of secret documents created by the Palestinian Authority, describing negotiations with the Israeli government. The impression that emerges from them is that the Israeli government is no longer interested in securing a Palestinian state: it is a scoop that could not have existed without the Transparency Unit's drop box. Now other publications are considering their own. Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, is pondering how he can make it easier for sources to leak to his journalists.

WikiLeaks may not be with us for the long haul, but others will imitate its innovations, and they are likely to be more constrained and more responsible.

nuclear boy "explains" fukushima daiichi for kids...,

Video - Nuclear Boy explains Fukushima Daiichi Fist tap LongdeShizi.

science vs. money

From: "THE LEADING EDGE" Feb. 1983 M. King Hubbert: Science's Don Quixote ... (Published By: Society of Exploration Geophysicists (Pg.22)):

Hubbert first joined SEG in 1945 and quickly became an active member. He has served on the standing committee geophysical education, the standing committee on publications, and as editor of Geophysics (1947-49).

Hubbert has had serious health problems for several years... But, neither his ailments nor the recent adulation have eroded his zest for intellectual combat. In recent years, he has assaulted a target which he labels the culture of money that is gigantic event by Hubbert standards. His thesis is that society is seriously handi-capped because its two most important intellectual underpinnings, the science of matter-energy and the historic system of finance, are incompatible. A reasonable co-existence is possible when both are growing at approximately the same rate. That, Hubbert says, has been happening since the start of the industrial revolution but it is soon going to end because the amount the matter-energy system can grow is limited while money's growth is not.

"I was in New York in the 30's. I had a box seat at the depression," Hubbert says. "I can assure you it was a very educational experience. We shut the country down because of monetary reasons. We had manpower and abundant raw materials. Yet we shut the country down. We're doing the same kind of thing now but with a different material outlook. We are not in the position we were in 1929-30 with regard to the future. Then the physical system was ready to roll. This time it's not. We are in a crisis in the evolution of human society. It's unique to both human and geologic history. It has never happened before and it can't possibly happen again. You can only use oil once. You can only use metals once. Soon all the oil is going to be burned and all the metals mined and scattered."... That is obviously a scenario of catastrophe, a possibility Hubert concedes. But it is not one he forecasts. The man known a pessimist is, in this case, quite hopeful. In fact, he could be the ultimate utopian. We have, he says, the necessary technology. All we have to do is completely overhaul our culture and find an alternative to money. We are not starting from zero, he emphasizes. We have an enormous amount of existing technical knowledge. It's just a matter of putting it all together. We still have great flexibility but our maneuverability will diminish with time.

A non-catastrophic solution is impossible, Hubbert feels, unless society is made stable. This means abandoning two axioms of our culture the work ethic and the idea that growth is the normal state of affairs. Hubbert challenges the latter mathematically and concludes the exponential growth of the last two centuries is the opposite of the normal situation "It is an aberration. For most of human history, the population doubled only once every 32,000 years. Now it's down to 35 years. That is dangerous. No biologic population can double more than a few times without getting seriously out of bounds. I think the world is seriously overpopulated right now. There can be no possible solutions to the world's problems that do not involve stabilization of the world's population."

Hubbert's ideas about work are even more heretical. Work is becoming, he says, increasingly unimportant. He thinks it is conceivable that the future work week might be on the order of 10 hours. Indeed, because production will have to be limited by increasingly limited mineral resources that might be inevitable. And that, Hubbert stresses, could be the foundation of an earthly paradise...Most employment now is merely pushing paper around, He says. The actual work needed to keep a stable society running is a very small fraction of available manpower.

The key to making this cultural alteration is to come up with limitless supply of cheap energy. Hubbert feels the answer is obvious solar power and he does not feel more technological breakthroughs are needed before it can be made universally available. His faith is not that of a kneejerk trendy but that of a doubter who did much studying before his conversion. Fifteen years ago I thought solar power was impractical because I thought nuclear power was the answer. But I spent some time on an advisory committee on waste disposal to the Atomic Energy Commission. After that, I began to be very, very sceptical because of the hazards. That's when I began to study solar Power. I'm convinced we have the technology to handle it right now. We could make the transition in a matter of decades if we begin now.

Solar power is limited by astronomic time but not in human time frame. It's been there for billions of years and it will be going on for billions of years after we're gone. It also has another great advantage over conventional sources -- once the system is in place it is permanent. All that's required to keep it going is routine maintenance.

Harnessing an infinite supply of cheap energy is the key to Hubbert's technate, because of the leisure time it would generate. Look at the people who did remarkable things in the past. The Greeks. The English of a century ago. What did they have in common? They were highly educated and had a lot of leisure time. Of course not everyone with that combination did remarkable things, but the people who did do remarkable things generally had that combination.

In both cases, though, the opportunities for intellectual greatness were limited to a very few. The intellectual life of Greece was made possible because it was a slave society. England's was supported by great masses that lived in terrible poverty. But if the sun is conquered, education and leisure could be universal. It could result in the greatest intellectual renaissance of all time, Hubbert says.

His nominees for the leadership role in making this cultural change? His earth science peers... Intellectual leadership is, he says, their natural function.

A handful of men like Hutton, Lyell, and Darwin (1780-1880) changed the world. They gave us a geologic view of history instead of a Biblical view.

In the second stage, from 1880 until now, earth scientists became utilitarian and concentrated mostly on the search for ores, metals and fossil fuels. They did very little thinking about the broader subjects.

Now is the start of the third phase when the world is heading into intellectual turmoil... It needs guidance. The knowledge essential to competent intellectual leadership in this situation is pre-eminently geological "a knowledge of the earth's mineral and energy resources." The importance of any science, socially, is its effect on what people think and what they do. It is time earth scientists again become a major force in how people think rather than in how they live.

If Hubbert is right about man being on the brink of an unparalleled crisis, then men are going to have to make fantastic decisions “species-wide decisions" imminently.

This ability to make people, particularly the right people think, will be of inestimable worth. It may be Hubbert's greatest legacy.