Wednesday, November 13, 2013

world at the crossroads - free computer game

skepticalscience | One can write hundreds of articles and books, but still it will be just passive transfer of knowledge. If one could only sit behind the control panel of our civilization and steer it through history… It would help understand why in the XX th century our history happened this way, it would let us look into the future and understand how our various decisions will influence it. Then, if something would go wrong, we could draw conclusions and try again. And once again, until everything is fine…

Do you know "Limits to growth"? Forty years ago scientists of the Club of Rome prepared a computer model, showing that our exponentially growing economy, based on nonrenewable resources, is on a collision course with reality, heading for a crash. They also showed, that our deliberate intervention in the system’s dynamics can prevent the disaster.

Here comes "World at the Crossroads" – a highly playable Windows computer game, prepared by the Polish ASPO chapter together with European Regional Environmental Center. The game simulates the rise of the industrial civilization, from 1900 to 2200. It can be viewed as a model of The Limits to Growth, commissioned by the Club of Rome in 1972, converted into a strategy game that helps understand systems dynamics and complex interactions between Earth and human civilization.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

the real danger will come from the government clampdown

activistpost | The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent $80M to fortify federal buildings in New York apparently in preparation for civil disturbances and possible food riots on November 1st. The DHS plans included armed private guards who would protect IRS and other buildings against attack by fellow Americans.

Other officials joined in ringing an alarm bell. Margarette Purvis, head of New York City's Food Bank – the largest one in the nation – also suggested that food riots were likely to break out in NYC. In a well-timed interview with Salon (10/29/13), Purvis hinted she might not even be averse to unrest. Salon reported, “Rather than 'trying to raise a dollar' to avert disaster privately, she [Purvis] said, a solution will require Americans to 'raise their voices', because 'the avenue has to be activism'.”

The proximate cause of the expected unrest was November 1st cuts to the food stamp program, which resulted from the expiration of a 2009 stimulus bill. The New York Times estimated that benefits for a family of four will fall $36 a month; for a single adult, it will fall $11. The most current data available (July) indicates that nearly 48 million Americans are on food stamps, or approximately one-seventh of the population. More reductions are expected over coming months as a result of Congressional renegotiations on a farm bill.

It is difficult to know how seriously to take the fact that the term “food riots” has entered the vocabulary of the American media and its bureaucrats. Both parties have a vested interest in creating panics. The media wants ratings and government wants an excuse for more social control. But a few aspects of the food riot talk seem clear enough.

The government seems to have been shaken by a glitch that occurred last month, bringing down part of the Electronic Benefits Transfer System (EBT); the system enables electronic food stamps. When recipients were not allowed to 'purchase' food, they flooded twitter with threats of rioting. When two Wal-Marts in Louisiana allowed purchases even though they could not verify the e-balance on the EBT cards, the stores were “legally looted”; that is, people with next to no balance stripped them of hundreds of dollars in goods. One woman with a balance of .49 cents tried to 'buy' $700 worth but was thwarted when EBT reconnected.

In short, a limited and temporary breakdown in EBT caused looting to break out and riots to be threatened. What would have emerged from a nationwide and permanent disruption?

But the real danger is more likely to come from a government clamp down rather than from rioting. The cut backs have not been severe. Heritage Foundation policy analyst Rachel Sheffield explained that food stamps is “one of 80 federal means-tested programs that provide food, housing, medical care to poor and low income Americans.” And the government certainly continues to promote the program. An October 16th, 2013 Cato study entitled “The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform” found that over $41.3 million was being spent annually to market food stamps to prospective recipients. Nevertheless, the government is not likely to waste a good crisis. Fist tap Dale.

learning how to die in the anthropocene

NYTimes | The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.

The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die. Fist tap Arnach.

the plot against france...,

NYTimes | By the numbers, then, it’s hard to see why France deserves any particular opprobrium. So again, what’s going on? 

Here’s a clue: Two months ago Olli Rehn, Europe’s commissioner for economic and monetary affairs — and one of the prime movers behind harsh austerity policies — dismissed France’s seemingly exemplary fiscal policy. Why? Because it was based on tax increases rather than spending cuts — and tax hikes, he declared, would “destroy growth and handicap the creation of jobs.” 

In other words, never mind what I said about fiscal discipline, you’re supposed to be dismantling the safety net. 

S.& P.’s explanation of its downgrade, though less clearly stated, amounted to the same thing: France was being downgraded because “the French government’s current approach to budgetary and structural reforms to taxation, as well as to product, services and labor markets, is unlikely to substantially raise France’s medium-term growth prospects.” Again, never mind the budget numbers, where are the tax cuts and deregulation? 

You might think that Mr. Rehn and S.& P. were basing their demands on solid evidence that spending cuts are in fact better for the economy than tax increases. But they weren’t. In fact, research at the I.M.F. suggests that when you’re trying to reduce deficits in a recession, the opposite is true: temporary tax hikes do much less damage than spending cuts. 

Oh, and when people start talking about the wonders of “structural reform,” take it with a large heaping of salt. It’s mainly a code phrase for deregulation — and the evidence on the virtues of deregulation is decidedly mixed. Remember, Ireland received high praise for its structural reforms in the 1990s and 2000s; in 2006 George Osborne, now Britain’s chancellor of the Exchequer, called it a “shining example.” How did that turn out? 

If all this sounds familiar to American readers, it should. U.S. fiscal scolds turn out, almost invariably, to be much more interested in slashing Medicare and Social Security than they are in actually cutting deficits. Europe’s austerians are now revealing themselves to be pretty much the same. France has committed the unforgivable sin of being fiscally responsible without inflicting pain on the poor and unlucky. And it must be punished. Fist tap Arnach.

Monday, November 11, 2013

on veterans day....,

Locker rooms all across the NFL sound similar to the one in Miami, and every team in the league has an Incognito on its roster.  To be a fly-on-the-wall in any NFL program would expose us to language and culture harshly redolent with racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and any other sort of inflammatory language you can imagine hearing. Despite laws to the contrary and a buttload of lawsuits to show for them, how many of our workplaces are completely absent of any and all behaviors that, if made general public knowledge, could be seen as a breach of etiquette, ethics, and law? Is the chattering class serious that we must respect Jonathan Martin's feelings and needs and make our assessments of Incognito and the Dolphins exclusively on that basis? 

Where men are required to depend on one another, the spoken word doesn't even come from the same psychological spigot as it does among a bunch of food-powered, make-work sissies dressed up in suits and acting important. Soldiers within a unit can say and do whatever they want with each other, because what appears as hostility in the slack-jawed world appears to the soldiers as a means of alleviating tension and building interpersonal rapport. At a very fundamental and objectively real level, the language doesn't matter, because at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. The derogatory nature of the language loses its offensiveness when seemingly antagonistic soldiers are literally putting their lives in each others hands when engaging the enemy. It doesn't matter what color or ethnicity or religion the man next to them is, because, once the bullets start flying, everyone's lives are in the hands of the "other."

Now the NFL locker room isn't a barracks, and despite all the militaristic language we use when describing the gridiron, the line of scrimmage will never be the same as a killing field.  That said, have we reached a point where the perception of society's rules is entirely defined by society's weakest link(s)? The Miami Dolphins players are majority black. Of those players, only one has voiced offense regarding Incognito's behavior.  Accusing all these other players of speaking the way they do to keep their employers happy, labelling them sellouts and uncle Toms, and pretending that the extremely odd man out in that context is the bellweather for truth - is.a.priori.ridiculous.  The logic of fellow Dolphins in defending Incognito has been similar to that found at a military squad level. Epithets lose their meaning, because for many teammates, they know that Incognito is going to back them up and support them on the field, in the bar room, and every place else their collective dirt gets done.

Blacks and whites who are all dressed up but with nothing useful to do would of course never dream of using the "n-word". These same dressed-up, spineless, slack-jawed saducees will scurry across the street with a quickness to avoid encountering an unfamiliar black adolescent in a hoodie. These very same "diversity" and "difference" respecting judges and jurors of "the rules of the rest of society" never use a racial epithet while engaged in their food-powered make-work, but when you get right down to it, their stuck-up and craven response to an unfamiliar adolescent in a hoodie is vastly more offensive than the unvarnished barracks-room/locker-room trash talk coming from men of action.

Wherever sausage is made, wherever wheels meet the road, wherever teams are gelled and stuff actually gets done, all manner of "politically incorrect" stuff gets said as a matter of course. Team members embarked on missions of destruction are not, however, the only people who let their hair down with one another. The process of creating involves paring back all the dampers and baffles that keep a stick permanently up the butts of those firmly ensconced in the land of do-nothing, pretend respectibility and constant, reflexive lying.

Toxic masculinity emanating from the barracks has done more over the course of the past 70 years to foster, promote and defend diversity than all the slack-jawed and perpetually aggrieved academics, scandal-chasing lawyers, and lying politicians combined.

tsa and pigs...,

nsfw | How -- and why -- the left and right united to turn TSA agents into public enemy number one.

On Friday morning, 23-year-old Paul Ciancia walked into Terminal 3 of the Los Angeles LAX airport, pulled a Smith & Wesson AR-15 semi-automatic rifle from a duffel bag and started shooting his way through a security checkpoint. He specifically targeted TSA agents, killing one screener and wounding three other people before an airport cop took him down with a shot to the face. 

At first police suspected that the shooter was a disgruntled former TSA employee. But a different picture emerged a few hours later: Ciancia was an anti-government conspiracy nut who came to LAX specifically to kill TSA agents.

One witness said she looked directly into Ciancia's eyes and heard him "curse the TSA." Several FBI sources told reporters that Ciancia carried a rambling racist and homophobic note that touched on "fiat currency" and the New World Order, denounced TSA oppression and described himself as a "pissed-off patriot" who "wanted to kill TSA and pigs" to "instill fear" into their "traitorous minds."

While details about the LAX shooter continue to emerge, it has become clear that Paul Ciancia is a mentally unstable individual who had come under the sway of some very toxic anti-government conspiracy theories. 

But one question remains: Why did he focus his hatred on the TSA? Out of all the possible federal agencies to choose from, what convinced him that airport screeners - who don't have arrest powers and aren't allowed to carry weapons - are the root of all government evil, and deserve to be hunted down and killed like animals?

In a way, it was just a matter of time before something like this happened. 

For the past three years, a vicious PR campaign has demonized and dehumanized TSA screeners. Launched by the libertarian-right, this smear offensive sought to equate the TSA in the public mind with the worst people imaginable: Nazis, rapists, gropers, child molesters and sadistic enforcers of a police state. 

The right-wing echo chamber would routinely trot out violent tropes and racist and homophobic language describing the TSA as Obama's "private army" and calling on liberty-loving Americans "to do something" to stop this "bureaucratic monster." 

But while this anti-TSA campaign was created by the libertarian-right, it was enabled and strengthened by the left. Some of the most prominent progressive and leftie bloggers and journalists took an active part in the TSA media witch-hunt.

 They joined the right in labeling the TSA as America's enemy within, unaware that underneath the big-brother rhetoric and feigned right-wing concern about civil liberties, the anti-TSA campaign was really a union-busting operation with a specific set of political goals: to prevent the TSA from unionizing, to privatize airport security and to introduce Israeli-style racial profiling into the airport-screening process.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

a culture and environment that's REALLY gotten out of hand...,

zerohedge | We’ve long said that the greatest short-term threat to humanity is from the fuel pools at Fukushima. The Japanese nuclear agency recently green-lighted the removal of the spent fuel rods from Fukushima reactor 4′s spent fuel pool. The operation is scheduled to begin this month.
The head of the U.S. Department of Energy correctly notes:
The success of the cleanup also has global significance. So we all have a direct interest in seeing that the next steps are taken well, efficiently and safely.
If one of the pools collapsed or caught fire, it could have severe adverse impacts not only on Japan … but the rest of the world, including the United States. Indeed, a Senator called it a national security concern for the U.S.:
The radiation caused by the failure of the spent fuel pools in the event of another earthquake could reach the West Coast within days. That absolutely makes the safe containment and protection of this spent fuel a security issue for the United States.
Hiroaki Koide – a nuclear scientist working at the University of Kyoto – says:
I’m worried about whether Tepco can treat all the 1,331 [spent-fuel] assemblies without any problem and how long it will take.
Award-winning scientist David Suzuki says that Fukushima is terrifying, Tepco and the Japanese government are lying through their teeth, and Fukushima is “the most terrifying situation I can imagine”.

Suzuki notes that reactor 4 is so badly damaged that – if there’s another earthquake of 7 or above – the building could come down. And the probability of another earthquake of 7 or above in the next 3 years is over 95%.

Suzuki says that he’s seen a paper that says that if – in fact – the 4th reactor comes down, “it’s bye bye Japan, and everyone on the West Coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that’s not terrifying, I don’t know what is.” Fist tap Big Don.

not teh black...,

espn | Mass incarceration has turned segments of Black America so upside down that a tatted-up, N-word-tossing white goon is more respected and accepted than a soft-spoken, highly intelligent black Stanford graduate.

According to a story in the Miami Herald, black Dolphins players granted Richie Incognito "honorary" status as a black man while feeling little connection to Jonathan Martin.

Welcome to Incarceration Nation, where the mindset of the Miami Dolphins' locker room mirrors the mentality of a maximum-security prison yard and where a wide swath of America believes the nonviolent intellectual needs to adopt the tactics of the barbarian.

I don't blame Jonathan Martin for walking away from the Dolphins and checking himself into a hospital seeking treatment for emotional distress. The cesspool of insanity that apparently is the Miami locker room would test the mental stability of any sane man. Martin, the offspring of Harvard grads, a 24-year-old trained at some of America's finest academic institutions, is a first-time offender callously thrown into an Attica prison cell with Incognito and Aaron Hernandez's BFF Mike Pouncey. Dolphins warden Jeff Ireland and deputy warden Joe Philbin put zero sophisticated thought into what they were doing when they drafted Martin in the second round in 2012.

You don't put Jonathan Martin in a cell with Incognito and Pouncey. You draft someone else, and let another team take Martin. The Dolphins don't have the kind of environment to support someone with Martin's background. It takes intelligence and common sense to connect with and manage Martin. Those attributes appear to be in short supply in Miami.

"Richie is honorary," a black former Dolphins player told Miami Herald reporter Armando Salguero. "I don't expect you to understand because you're not black. But being a black guy, being a brother is more than just about skin color. It's about how you carry yourself. How you play. Where you come from. What you've experienced. A lot of things."

I'm black. And I totally understand the genesis of this particular brand of stupidity and self-hatred. Mass Incarceration, its bastard child, Hurricane Illegitimacy, and their marketing firm, commercial hip-hop music, have created a culture that perpetrates the idea that authentic blackness is criminal, savage, uneducated and irresponsible. The tenets of white supremacy and bigotry have been injected into popular youth culture. The blackest things a black man can do are loudly spew the N-word publicly and react violently to the slightest sign of disrespect or disagreement.

not teh gay....,

salon | Add in this video of Incognito ranting and using the n-word and it’s easy to see how someone like Martin would be a ready target. Martin’s high school coach, Vic Eumont, says he is not surprised, telling the Palm Beach Post:
“Bullies usually go after people like him,” Eumont said. … “Before he wasn’t around Nebraska, LSU kind of guys. He’s always been around Stanford, Duke, Rice kind of players.”
“He always wanted to make everybody happy and make friends and not be a problem. All of his teachers loved him. All of his teammates loved him. His nickname was Moose and he was happy to have that. He was always ‘yes or no sir,’ do whatever you ask him to do. I can see where somebody that’s a bully will take advantage of him, and rather than him say anything would just hold it inside.
“I can see where if somebody was bullying him he would take that to heart, and be concerned and think it was his fault.”
 In addition, there is the culture of an NFL locker room, where being “soft” and “different” are bad things. If Martin was a real man, he would have brawled with Incognito, the thinking goes. Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter has an eye-opening article quoting league personnel men (not players, management) calling Martin “weak” and a “coward” for reporting the bullying instead of handling it himself. Trotter’s conclusion?:
Incognito is a despicable human being if he’s guilty of what’s been alleged, but in the NFL teams will put up with drug dealers, dog fighters, drunk drivers who kill someone and racists if they can help them win games. Said one personnel man: “Incognito is an A-Hole, however I’m pretty sure you would want him beside you if you are in a bar fight. Tough as nails.”
Which brings us back to the gay issue. Any openly gay player will, by the very nature of being out, be “different” from his teammates. He could face the same pressures that Martin did for that reason, and would be expected to fight back lest he be called soft and weak. However, there are huge caveats to keep in mind before assuming that what Martin faced is what a gay player would face. So much would depend on the player’s personality and his relationship with his teammates, coaches and management. A well-liked player who fits in as one of the guys — despite being gay — could make his sexual orientation a non-issue quickly.

Let’s not use the Martin case to make a sweeping statement about how a gay player would be treated. What happened to him is bad enough and is a reminder that bullying can happen to anyone, regardless of their status or sexual orientation.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

manners are medieval...,

npr | From that very first time we're first scolded for putting our elbows on the table at great-aunt Millie's house, we're inducted into the world of manners. After that, it's a lifetime of "pleases" and "thank yous," and chewing with our mouths closed.

But where did all of this civility come from? We can't give all the credit (or blame) to the English, but the average Brit says "sorry" eight times per day, so it's a pretty good place to start.

In his new book, Sorry! The English and their Manners, Henry Hitchings traces the history of today's customs back to medieval times, when polite behavior was a necessary precaution against violence at mealtimes. He spoke with NPR's Don Gonyea about the roots of English manners and etiquette, and the difference between the two.

On the difference between etiquette and manners
Etiquette, to me — I'm not saying it is inherently wrong, but it is a veneer. It is a code of cosmetic practices. It's about how long you should wear an armband after your second cousin dies, or what size your greeting card should be, or which fork you should use. And those things are not totally trivial, but ultimately they're not indicators of someone's inherent goodness or otherwise. And I think the problem is that manners essentially has an image problem. When I talk about [the doctrine of etiquette taking the marrow out of manners], I'm really talking about fundamental principles to do with sensitivity to others, respect for other people and their space, their belongings, and it just seems to me that the moment etiquette becomes the centerpiece of the agenda, manners and morality are essentially divorced. And I suppose I'd like to put the morality back at the center of the discussion of manners.

the misalignment of politics and reality

kunstler | Now, in the last hours of the cheap oil economy, the forty year miracle of the Sunbelt boom dwindles and a fear of approaching darkness grips the people there like a rumor of Satan. The long boom that took them from an agricultural backwater of barefoot peasantry to a miracle world of Sonic Drive-ins, perpetual air-conditioning, WalMarts, and creation museums is turning back in the other direction and they fear losing all that comfort, convenience, and spectacle. Since they don’t understand where it came from, they conclude that it was all a God-given endowment conferred upon them for their exceptional specialness as Americans, and so only the forces of evil could conspire to take it all away.
Hence, the rise of a sanctimonious, hyper-patriotic putz such as Rick Santorum and his take-back-the-night appeal to those who sense the gathering twilight. And the awful ordeal of convictionless pander and former front-runner Mitt Romney drowning in his own bullshit as he struggles to extrude one whopper after another just to keep up with the others in this race to the bottom of the political mud-flow.
There is an obvious dither backstage now among those who cynically thought they could manipulate and control these dark impulses of the frightened masses as the candidates all pile into a train wreck of super-PAC obloquy. Won’t some level-headed adult like the governors of New Jersey and Indiana step up and volunteer? Is this finally its Whig Moment – the point where the Republican Party has offended history so gravely that it goes up in a vapor of its own absurdity? I hope so. The conservative impulse is hardly all bad. We need it in civilization. But it can’t be vested in the sheer and constant repudiation of reality.
The opposing Democrats have their own problem with reality, which is that they don’t tell the truth about so many things despite knowing better, and, under Obama, they act contrary to their stated intentions often enough, and in matters of extreme importance, that they deserve to go down in flames, too. Just as there is a place for conservatism in civilized life, there is also a place for the progressive impulse, let’s call it – for making bold advance in step with the mandates of reality and an interest in justice for all those along on the journey.

The Democrats under Obama don’t want to go to that place. They want to really go to the same place as the fretful Sunbelt fundamentalists, but by a different route – and that place is yesterday, by means of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable. Mr. Obama is pretending that an economic “recovery” is underway when he knows damn well that the banking system is just blowing smoke up the shredded ass of what’s left of that economy. He pretends to an interest in the rule of law in money matters but he’s done everything possible to prevent the Department of Justice, the SEC, and a dozen other regulatory authorities from functioning the way they were designed. He has never suggested resurrecting the Glass-Steagall act, which kept banking close to being honest for forty years. He never issued a peep of objection about the Citizens United case where the Supreme Court tossed the election process into a crocodile pit of corporate turpitude (he could have proposed a constitutional amendment redefining corporate “personhood.”). He declared he’d never permit a super-PAC to be created in his name, and now he’s got one. Mr. Obama represents a lot of things to a lot of people. He is mainly Progressivism’s bowling trophy, its symbol of its own triumphant wonderfulness in overcoming the age old phantoms of race prejudice. Alas, that’s not enough. Where exactly is the boundary between telling “folks” what they want to hear and just flat-out lying? Fist tap Nakajima Kikka.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Kansas' shift from far right to very wrong...,

pitch | Suicides are up in Kansas — way up.

An October report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment revealed that 505 Kansans killed themselves in 2012, a startling 31.5 percent jump from the 384 suicides committed in 2011.

That sobering increase can be attributed, in part, to ripple effects from the recession. Suicide numbers tend to climb in economically challenging times.

But the spike also correlates to state policy. From 2009 to 2012, Kansas cut 12.4 percent from its mental-health budget — the ninth-largest decrease in the nation over that period. In Sedgwick County, where 88 people took their lives in 2012, the community mental-health center has lost more than half its state funding since 2009.

The KDHE's report shines a morbid light on one of the consequences of a business-obsessed state ignoring the needs of its citizens: More people die.

Poke around Kansas and you'll see variations on this theme. Government agencies and institutions that are already squeezed end up starved by the state and further stretched, and citizens struggle to receive basic services. In Kansas, this isn't merely the product of a lousy national economy. It's the result of Gov. Sam Brownback and a willing state Legislature testing the crackpot tea-party idea that gutting government operations, while eliminating business and income taxes, makes Kansas a desirable place to live and work.

But life under Brownback is a bewildering existence, and some days that seems almost by political design. Every week, there's news of some new budgetary atrocity or comically backward piece of legislation being floated. Are guns really allowed in courthouses now? Are public schools actually so underfunded that the revenue formula is unconstitutional? What was that thing about outlawing all sustainable practices? Was that an Onion article? How are you even supposed to keep up with all this nonsense, let alone keep your head above the mudslide?

Before the clowns in the Kansas Legislature suit up for another season of high jinks in January, here's The Pitch's guide to all the depressing events occurring in the state. Remember: Brownback is up for re-election next year, and his approval rating is hovering around 35 percent. No flower blooms forever, not even in the Sunflower State.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

deep defects in medical industrial economics...,

technologyreview | Because of medical insurance, co-pay reductions, and expanded access programs for the uninsured, relatively few Americans pay more than a few thousand dollars per year for even the most expensive drugs. The primary customers in the United States are not patients or even individual physicians, although physicians can drive demand for a drug; rather, the customers are the government (through Medicare and Medicaid) and private insurance companies. And since the insurer or government is picking up the check, companies can and do set prices that few individuals could pay. In the jargon of economics, the demand for therapeutic drugs is “price inelastic”: increasing the price doesn’t reduce how much the drugs are used. Prices are set and raised according to what the market will bear, and the parties who actually pay the drug companies will meet whatever price is charged for an effective drug to which there is no alternative. And so in determining the price for a drug, companies ask themselves questions that have next to nothing to do with the drugs’ costs. “It is not a science,” the veteran drug maker and former Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer told me. “It is a feel.”

There are inherent problems with a system where the government is one of the biggest payers, and where doctors, hospitals, insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, drug companies, and investors all expect to profit handsomely from treating sick people, no matter how little real value they add to patients’ lives or to society. Drug companies insist that they need to make billions of dollars on their medicines because their failure rate is so high and because they need to convince investors it is wise to sink money into research. That’s true, but it’s also true that the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, buys more than 50 percent of its prescription drugs. And it buys them at prices designed to subsidize the rest of the industrial world, where the same drugs cost much less, although most poor governments can’t afford them at even those lower prices.

Still, we have to ask: When is the high price of a drug acceptable? Perhaps it is one thing when Vertex charges $841 for two pills a day—every day of a patient’s life—for medicine that will save that life, and quite another when Sanofi offers a cancer drug that is twice as expensive as its alternative but offers no obvious advantages.

rising energy costs lead to recession and eventual collapse...,

thebull | How does the world reach limits? This is a question that few dare to examine. My analysis suggests that these limits will come in a very different way than most have expected–through financial stress that ultimately relates to rising unit energy costs, plus the need to use increasing amounts of energy for additional purposes:
- To extract oil and other minerals from locations where extraction is very difficult, such as in shale formations, or very deep under the sea;

    - To mitigate water shortages and pollution issues, using processes such as desalination and long distance transport of food; and
    - To attempt to reduce future fossil fuel use, by building devices such as solar panels and electric cars that increase fossil fuel energy use now in the hope of reducing energy use later.
We have long known that the world is likely to eventually reach limits. In 1972, the book The Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows and others modeled the likely impact of growing population, limited resources, and rising pollution in a finite world. They considered a number of scenarios under a range of different assumptions. These models strongly suggested the world economy would begin to hit limits in the first half of the 21st century and would eventually collapse.

The indications of the 1972 analysis were considered nonsense by most. Clearly, the world would work its way around limits of the type suggested. The world would find additional resources in short supply. It would become more efficient at using resources and would tackle the problem of rising pollution. The free market would handle any problems that might arise.

The Limits to Growth analysis modeled the world economy in terms of flows; it did not try to model the financial system. In recent years, I have been looking at the situation and have discovered that as we hit limits in a finite world, the financial system is the most vulnerable part because of the system because it ties everything else together. Debt in particular is vulnerable because the time-shifting aspect of debt “works” much better in a rapidly growing economy than in an economy that is barely growing or shrinking.

The problem that now looks like it has the potential to push the world into financial collapse is something no one would have thought of—high oil prices that take a slice out of the economy, without anything to show in return. Consumers find that their own salaries do not rise as oil prices rise. They find that they need to cut back on discretionary spending if they are to have adequate funds to pay for necessities produced using oil. Food is one such necessity; oil is used to run farm equipment, make herbicides and pesticides, and transport finished food products. The result of a cutback in discretionary spending is recession or near recession, and less job availability. Governments find themselves in  financial distress from trying to mitigate the recession-like impacts without adequate tax revenue.

One of our big problems now is a lack of cheap substitutes for oil. Highly touted renewable energy sources such as wind and solar PV are not cheap. They also do not substitute directly for oil, and they increase near-term fossil fuel consumption. Ethanol can act as an “oil extender,” but it is not cheap. Battery powered cars are also not cheap.

The issue of rising oil prices is really a two-sided issue. The least expensive sources of oil tend to be extracted first. Thus, the cost of producing oil tends to rise over time. As a result, oil producers tend to require ever-rising oil prices to cover their costs. It is the interaction of these two forces that leads to the likelihood of financial collapse in the near term:
- Need for ever-rising oil prices by oil producers.
- The adverse impact of high-energy prices on consumers.
If a cheap substitute for oil had already come along in adequate quantity, there would be no problem. The issue is that no suitable substitute has been found, and financial problems are here already. In fact, collapse may very well come from oil prices not rising high enough to satisfy the needs of those extracting the oil, because of worldwide recession.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

network mapping of urban environmental stewardship groups...,

stewmap | Who, what, where, why and how are environmental stewardship groups working across the urban landscape? The Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project (STEW-MAP) seeks to answer the question: What are the social and spatial interactions among civic groups who conserve, manage, monitor, advocate for, and educate the public about their local environments (including water, land, air, waste, toxics, and energy issues)

overpopulation, overconsumption, and collapse of the nest...,

stanford | A major shared goal of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) and Sustainability Central  is reducing the odds that the “perfect storm” of environmental problems that threaten humanity will lead to a collapse of civilization.  Those threats include  climate disruption, loss of biodiversity (and thus ecosystem services), land-use change and resulting degradation, global toxification, ocean acidification, decay of the epidemiological environment, increasing depletion of important resources, and resource wars (which could go nuclear).  This is not just a list of problems, it is an interconnected complex resulting from interactions within and between what can be thought of as two gigantic complex adaptive systems: the biosphere system and the human socio-economic system.  The manifestations of this interaction are often referred to as “the human predicament.”   That predicament is getting continually and rapidly worse, driven by overpopulation, overconsumption among the rich, and the use of environmentally malign technologies and socio-economic-political arrangements to service the consumption. 

All of the interconnected problems are caused in part by overpopulation, in part by overconsumption by the already rich.  One would think that most educated people now understand that the larger the size of a human population, ceteris paribus, the more destructive its impact on the environment.  The degree of overpopulation is best indicated (conservatively) by ecological footprint analysis, which shows that to support today’s population sustainably at current patterns of consumption would require roughly another half a planet, and to do so at the U.S. level would take four to five more Earths.

The seriousness of the situation can be seen in the prospects of Homo sapiens’ most important activity: producing and procuring food.  Today, at least two billion people are hungry or badly in need of better diets, and most analysts think doubling food production would be required to feed a 35% bigger and still growing human population adequately by 2050.  For any chance of success, humanity will need to stop expanding land area for agriculture (to preserve ecosystem services); raise yields where possible; increase efficiency in use of fertilizers, water, and energy; become more vegetarian; reduce food wastage; stop wrecking the oceans; significantly increase investment in sustainable agricultural research; and move feeding everyone to the very top of the policy agenda.  All of these tasks will require changes in human behavior long recommended but thus far elusive. Perhaps more critical, there may be insurmountable biophysical barriers to increasing yields – indeed, to avoiding reductions in yields – in the face of climate disruption.  

the story of urban density and creativity is a hoax...,

newgeography | “The heresy of heresies was common sense”—George Orwell

The stories we tell affect the lives we lead. I do not mean to be abstract here. I mean, literally, the stories that are told make up a kind of meta-reality that soaks in us to form a “truth”. This “truth” affects policy, which affects investment, which affects bricks and mortar, pocketbooks, and power. Eventually, the “truth” trickles down into a more real reality that defines the lives of the powerless.

The story du jour in urban policy is one of density. The arc of the story is that cities are places where “ideas come to have sex”. The lovechild is innovation. The mood lighting is creative placemaking.
The Kama Sutra of density reads this way: creative people cluster in cities that are good at lifestyle manufacturing. The more people that are sardined the higher likelihood there will be “serendipitous” encounters. The more serendipity in a city the better chance the next “big thing” will occur. The next “big thing” will lead to a good start-up, which will lead to an agglomeration of start-ups, termed an “Innovation District”. Detroit becomes Detroit 2.0 then.

The story of density is a seductive story. Society-making is sobering and full of harsh realities. The story of density is seamless, velvety. It is no wonder the story gets sold, implemented, and then told and re-told, despite the validity and logic of the story being pretty awful.

Take the recent New York Times piece entitled “What It Takes to Create a Start-up Community”. In it, the writer interviews urbanist Richard Florida. “Population density, [Florida] said, allows for the serendipitous encounters that inspire creativity, innovation and collaboration,” reads one key passage in the piece.

The story goes on to highlight the emerging tech hub of Boulder as the exemplar of the story of density. One problem: Boulder, a city of less than 100,000, isn’t dense, with a population per square mile of 3,948. The writer moves the goal posts a bit and says the city “is an unusual case of density”, before going on to question whether a start-up community can be created in a city like Detroit that “lacks density”. Yet Detroit, despite being a land mass comprised of one-third vacant land, is denser than Boulder, at 5,144 people per square mile. In all, Aristotle would have a field day with the piece.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

who owns the u.s. public debt?

bnarchives | This dissertation offers the first comprehensive historical examination of the political economy of US public debt ownership. Specifically, the study addresses the following questions: Who owns the US public debt? Is the distribution of federal government bonds concentrated in the hands of a specific group or is it widely held? And what if the identities of those who receive interest payments on government bonds are distinct from those who pay the taxes that finance the interest payments on the public debt? Does this mean that the public debt redistributes income from taxpayers to public creditors? Who ultimately bears the burden of financing the public debt?

Despite centuries of debate, political economists have failed to come to any consensus on even the most basic facts concerning ownership of the US public debt and its potential redistributive effects. Some claim that the public debt is heavily concentrated and that interest payments on government bonds redistribute income regressively from poor to rich. Others insist that the public debt has become very widely held and instead redistributes income progressively. The lack of consensus, I argue, boils down to both the empirical and theoretical problems that plague existing studies.

Empirically, only a handful of studies have attempted to map the ownership pattern of US federal government bonds, and even fewer have made efforts to measure the redistributive effects associated with a given ownership pattern. And to make matters worse, those few studies that do attempt to map the pattern of US public debt ownership make little effort to theorize in any systematic way the distributive and redistributive dimensions of the public debt.

Anchored within a ‘capital as power’ theoretical framework, my purpose in this is to shed some much-needed light on the dynamics of distribution and redistribution that lie at the heart of the public debt. I show for the household and corporate sectors how over the past three decades, and especially in the context of the current crisis, the ownership of federal bonds and federal interest has become rapidly concentrated in the hands of dominant owners, the top 1% of households and the 2,500 largest corporations. Over the same period the federal income tax system has done little to progressively redistribute the federal interest income received by dominant owners. In this way, this dissertation argues that, since the early 1980s, the public debt has come to reinforce and augment the power of those at the very top of the hierarchy of social power.

the republican(teatard) war on the poor

RollingStone | The way the program to provide the poor with the bare minimum of daily nutrition has been handled is a metaphor for how the far right in the House is systematically trying to take down the federal government. The Tea Party radicals and those who either fear or cultivate them are now subjecting the food-stamp program to the same kind of assault they have unleashed on other settled policies and understandings that have been in place for decades. Breaking all manner of precedents on a series of highly partisan votes, with the Republicans barely prevailing, the House in September slashed the food-stamp program by a whopping $39 billion and imposed harsh new requirements for getting on, or staying on, the program. The point was to deny the benefit to millions.

poverty in america is mainstream

NYTimes | Few topics in American society have more myths and stereotypes surrounding them than poverty, misconceptions that distort both our politics and our domestic policy making. They include the notion that poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans, that the poor are impoverished for years at a time, that most of those in poverty live in inner cities, that too much welfare assistance is provided and that poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough. Although pervasive, each assumption is flat-out wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high. My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line).

Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events.

In addition, half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time.

Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans. For most of us, the question is not whether we will experience poverty, but when.

Monday, November 04, 2013

the tedium of building, rallying, and serving a permanent mass-membership is indispensable...,

NYTimes | Part of the appeal of plutocratic politics is their power to liberate policy making from the messiness and the deal making of grass-roots and retail politics. In the postwar era, civic engagement was built through a network of community organizations with thousands of monthly-dues-paying members and through the often unseemly patronage networks of old-fashioned party machines, sometimes serving only particular ethnic communities or groups of workers. 

The age of plutocracy made it possible to liberate public policy from all of that, and to professionalize it. Instead of going to work as community organizers, or simply taking part in the civic life of their own communities, smart, publicly minded technocrats go to work for plutocrats whose values they share. The technocrats get to focus full time on the policy issues they love, without the tedium of building, rallying — and serving — a permanent mass membership. They can be pretty well paid to boot. 

The Democratic political advisers who went from working on behalf of the president or his party to advising the San Francisco billionaire Thomas F. Steyer on his campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline provide a telling example. Twenty years ago, they might have gone to work for the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy or run for public office themselves. Today, they are helping to build a pop-up political movement for a plutocrat. 

Plutocratic politics have much to recommend them. They are pure, smart and focused. But at a time when society as a whole is riven by an ever widening economic chasm, policy delivered from on high can get you only so far. Voters on both the right and the left are suspicious of whether the plutocrats and the technocrats they employ understand their real needs, and whether they truly have their best interests at heart. That rift means we should all brace ourselves for more extremist politics and a more rancorous political debate. 

Where does that leave smart centrists with their clever, fact-based policies designed to fine-tune 21st century capitalism and make it work better for everyone? 

Part of the problem is that no one has yet come up with a fully convincing answer to the question of how you harness the power of the technology revolution and globalization without hollowing out middle-class jobs. Liberal nanny-state paternalism, as it has been brilliantly described and practiced by Cass R. Sunstein and like-minded thinkers, can help, as can shoring up the welfare state. But neither is enough, and voters are smart enough to appreciate that. Even multiple nudges won’t make 21st-century capitalism work for everyone. Plutocrats, as well as the rest of us, need to rise to this larger challenge, to find solutions that work on the global scale at which business already operates. 

The other task is to fully engage in retail, bottom-up politics — not just to sell those carefully thought-through, data-based technocratic solutions but to figure out what they should be in the first place. The Tea Party was able to steer the Republican Party away from its traditional country-club base because its anti-establishment rage resonated better with all of the grass-roots Republican voters who are part of the squeezed middle class. Mr. de Blasio will be the next mayor of New York because he built a constituency among those who are losing out and those who sympathize with them. Politics in the winner-take-all economy don’t have to be extremist and nasty, but they have to grow out of, and speak for, the 99 percent. The pop-up political movements that come so naturally to the plutocrats won’t be enough.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

dark ecology

orion | I’VE RECENTLY BEEN reading the collected writings of Theodore Kaczynski. I’m worried that it may change my life. Some books do that, from time to time, and this is beginning to shape up as one of them. 

It’s not that Kaczynski, who is a fierce, uncompromising critic of the techno-industrial system, is saying anything I haven’t heard before. I’ve heard it all before, many times. By his own admission, his arguments are not new. But the clarity with which he makes them, and his refusal to obfuscate, are refreshing. I seem to be at a point in my life where I am open to hearing this again. I don’t know quite why. 

Here are the four premises with which he begins the book:
1. Technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster.
2. Only the collapse of modern technological civilization can avert disaster.
3. The political left is technological society’s first line of defense against revolution.
4. What is needed is a new revolutionary movement, dedicated to the elimination of technological society.
Kaczynski’s prose is sparse, and his arguments logical and unsentimental, as you might expect from a former mathematics professor with a degree from Harvard. I have a tendency toward sentimentality around these issues, so I appreciate his discipline. I’m about a third of the way through the book at the moment, and the way that the four arguments are being filled out is worryingly convincing. 

Maybe it’s what scientists call “confirmation bias,” but I’m finding it hard to muster good counterarguments to any of them, even the last. I say “worryingly” because I do not want to end up agreeing with Kaczynski. There are two reasons for this. 

Firstly, if I do end up agreeing with him—and with other such critics I have been exploring recently, such as Jacques Ellul and D. H. Lawrence and C. S. Lewis and Ivan Illich—I am going to have to change my life in quite profound ways. Not just in the ways I’ve already changed it (getting rid of my telly, not owning a credit card, avoiding smartphones and e-readers and sat-navs, growing at least some of my own food, learning practical skills, fleeing the city, etc.), but properly, deeply. I am still embedded, at least partly because I can’t work out where to jump, or what to land on, or whether you can ever get away by jumping, or simply because I’m frightened to close my eyes and walk over the edge. Fist tap Nakajima Kikka.

turning detroit into farms and forest?

financialpost | For Greg Willerer, Detroit’s new urban frontier is a lot like the Wild West: Grow enough food to support your family, make do with what you have and rely on your neighbours when you need help.

“For all intents and purposes, there is no government here,” said Willerer, 43, checking the greens and other crops he is growing on an acre off Rosa Parks Boulevard, across from an abandoned house with broken windows. “If something were to happen we have to handle that ourselves.”

Willerer has had to handle everything from vegetable thieves and lead-poisoned soil to zoning codes as an agricultural pioneer in Detroit, which last month became the biggest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy protection. With automobile jobs gone for good and thousands of abandoned lots blighting the landscape, some in the region are promoting urban farming — small-scale and largely geared toward booming local- and organic-foods markets — as a way toward growing a healthier economy.

Urban agriculture has been embraced by city planners from coast to coast. In New York, the city has invested US$600,000 in expanding Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farming business that’s planning to open a business incubator. Seattle is breaking ground on a “food forest,” planting seven acres of fresh produce open to the public.

Bankruptcy Filing
Detroit, which filed an US$18-billion bankruptcy July 18, is reeling from the loss of more than 435,000 jobs in its metro area from 2000 to 2010, according to federal data. Michigan ranked last among U.S. states in employment growth in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States from the first quarter of 1995 through the first quarter of this year.

This has left it with an abundance of underused property. The city is spread over 139 square miles (360 square kilometres), and has an estimated 150,000 vacant and abandoned parcels — an amount of land roughly the size of Manhattan, according to a report this year by Detroit Future City, a planning project created by community leaders.

Converting some of that land to farming could clean up blight and grow jobs, regional officials say. With sufficient consumer demand and the emergence of a local food-processing industry, 4,700 jobs and US$20-million in business taxes could be generated, according to a 2009 study.

“It will help,” said Mike DiBernardo, an economic development specialist with Michigan’s agriculture department. “We have so much blighted land that we can create opportunities for entrepreneurs, and we can give people in the community something to be excited about.”

what do occupy protestors think about pepper spraying cop being awarded $38,000?

vice | Remember pepper spray cop? He's the campus police officer at the University of California, Davis who decided to handle a seated line of peaceful, non-threatening Occupy demonstrators in the most rational way he could: by calmly firing a stream of pepper spray directly into their eyes from close range, like a landscape gardener squirting pesticide at some overgrown flowerbeds. 

At first, everyone was outraged at Officer John Pike's blasé manner of temporarily blinding peaceful protesters, then the internet got involved, turned the image into meme—photoshopping Pike into basically every pop culture image ever created—and everyone kind of forgot about it. Until last week, when it emerged that he has been awarded $38,000 in workers compensation by California's Department of Industrial Relations—more than the $30,000 each of his victims received—for the "psychiatric injuries" he's experienced since that day in November of 2011. UC Davis will foot the bill, in addition to the $70,000 the school paid him in salary while he was on adminstrative leave. 

I spoke to Bernie Goldsmith—an ex-Wall Street attorney and social activist who was an Occupy organizer at UC Davis and there the day of the pepper spraying—about what his fellow protesters think of Pike's payout.

initial food stamp cuts went into effect last week...,

WaPo | The region’s most vulnerable residents will find themselves reshuffling their budgets Friday when a temporary boost to the federal food stamps program expires, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars used by families to keep food on the table.

Nationally, the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will be reduced by $5 billion after a vast expansion over the past five years. In the District, about 61 percent more residents use food stamps than did in 2007, according to data from NeighborhoodInfo DC. That amounts to more than 144,000 residents, or nearly one in every four.

The increases were also stark in the suburbs. In Montgomery County, for example, there was a 183 percent increase in residents using food stamps, from about 25,000 to 71,000 today. Similar increases were seen in Prince George’s and Fairfax counties.

The impact of the cut on individuals will vary widely, but experts estimate that those on food stamps will receive between 5 and 8 percent less. For example, a family of three with no income will see monthly benefits reduced by $29, to $497 from $526.

“That could be lunch for a week,’’ said Deborah Carroll, administrator of the District’s Economic Security Administration. “It will definitely have an effect on how people access food.”

States have largely declared that little can be done on their part to help augment the program. In Maryland, which has a goal of ending hunger by 2015, officials are still working to get more families whatever SNAP benefits they can, according to Brian Schleter, the state’s spokesman for the Department of Human Services. In Virginia, in which one in every 10 residents receive food stamps, officials are encouraging people to seek help from local charities and churches.

A number of those organizations have said they are already stretched thin because of increasing demand, fewer donations and sequestration-related cuts.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Weekend Multimedia Homework Assignment

china unveils nuclear submarine fleet and u.s. attack strategy

WashingtonTimes | “This is the first time in 42 years since the establishment of our navy’s strategic submarine force that we reveal on such a large scale the secrets of our first-generation underwater nuclear force,” the Global Times said in a lengthy article titled “China for the First Time Possesses Effective Underwater Nuclear Deterrence against the United States.”

The article features 30 photos and graphics detailing, among other things, damage projections for Seattle and Los Angeles after being hit by Chinese nuclear warheads and the deadly radiation that would spread all the way to Chicago.

China’s sub fleet is reportedly the world’s second-largest, with about 70 vessels. About 10 are nuclear-powered, and four or more of those are nuclear ballistic submarines capable of launching missiles.

Heavily influenced by Soviet naval models that stressed underwater forces, China’s nuclear submarine development began with the reverse-engineering of a Soviet Golf-class conventional-powered sub in the 1950s.

In the 1980s, China developed its first ballistic missile sub, the Type 092 Xia-class, which has 12 launch tubes for the Julang (Giant Wave)-1 missiles. The JL-1 had a limited range and failed multiple test launches.

In 2010, a new class of missile sub, the Type 094 Jin class, entered the service. It is capable of launching 12 to 16 JL-2 missiles with a range of about 8,700 miles, covering much of the continental U.S. with single or multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicle warheads.

Chinese calculations for nuclear attacks on the U.S. are chillingly macabre.
“Because the Midwest states of the U.S. are sparsely populated, in order to increase the lethality, [our] nuclear attacks should mainly target the key cities on the West Coast of the United States, such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego,” the Global Times said.

“The 12 JL-2 nuclear warheads carried by one single Type 094 SSBN can kill and wound 5 million to 12 million Americans,” the Global Times reported.

China also has developed land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles — notably the DF-31A, which has a range of 7,000 to 7,500 miles.

“If we launch our DF 31A ICBMs over the North Pole, we can easily destroy a whole list of metropolises on the East Coast and the New England region of the U.S., including Annapolis, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Portland, Baltimore and Norfolk, whose population accounts for about one-eighth of America’s total residents,” the Global Times said.

All the state-run press reports stressed the point that the PLA’s missile submarines are now on routine strategic patrol, “which means that China for the first time has acquired the strategic deterrence and second strike capability against the United States.”

“Our JL-2 SLBMs have become the fourth type of Chinese nuclear missiles that threaten the continental United States, after our DF-31A, DF-5A and DF-5B ICBMs,” said the Global Times.

Friday, November 01, 2013

how mental simulations serve the animal-culture interface

wakeforest | Five empirically based critiques have undermined the standard assumption that conscious thought is primarily for input (obtaining information from the natural environment) or output (the direct control of action). Instead, we propose that conscious thought is for internal processing, to facilitate downstream interaction with the social and cultural environment. Human consciousness enables the construction of meaningful, sequential thought, as in sentences and narratives, logical reasoning, counting and quantification, causal understanding, narratives, and the simulation of events (including nonpresent ones). Conscious thought sequences resemble short films that the brain makes for itself, thereby enabling different parts of brain and mind to share information. The production of conscious thoughts is closely linked to the production of speech because the human mind evolved to facilitate social communication and information sharing, as culture became humankind's biological strategy. The influence of conscious thought on behavior can be vitally helpful but is mostly indirect. Conscious simulation processes are useful for understanding the perspectives of social interaction partners, for exploring options in complex decisions, for replaying past events (both literally and counterfactually) so as to learn, and for facilitating participation in culture in other ways.

science is telling us all to revolt!

newstatesman | Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012, Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and “be arrested if necessary”, because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence”.
Some scientists need no convincing. The godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen, is a formidable activist, having been arrested some half-dozen times for resisting mountain-top removal coal mining and tar sands pipelines (he even left his job at Nasa this year in part to have more time for campaigning). Two years ago, when I was arrested outside the White House at a mass action against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, one of the 166 people in cuffs that day was a glaciologist named Jason Box, a world-renowned expert on Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

“I couldn’t maintain my self-respect if I didn’t go,” Box said at the time, adding that “just voting doesn’t seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also.”

This is laudable, but what Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

That’s heavy stuff. But he’s not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems – particularly the climate system – is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.