Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Laws of Sustainability

These may not be laws, because if you violate them, you don't get arrested, and no one goes to prison or even to hell. But it's safe to say that if we as a civilization ignore them, we do so at our own peril. They come from an article from the venerable Albert Bartlett.

First Law
Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.

A) A population growth rate less than or equal to zero and declining rates of consumption of resources are necessary conditions for a sustainable society.

B) Unsustainability will be the certain result of any program of "development," whether or not it is said to be "sustainable," that ignores the problem of population growth and that does not plan the achievement of zero or a period of negative growth of populations and of rates of consumption of resources.

C) The research and regulation programs of governmental agencies that are charged with protecting the environment and promoting sustainability" are, in the long run, irrelevant unless these programs address vigorously and quantitatively the determination of optimal population sizes that can be carried indefinitely and unless the programs study in depth the demographic causes and consequences of environmental problems.

D) Societies, or sectors of a society, that depend on population growth or growth in their rates of consumption of resources, are unsustainable.

E) Persons who advocate population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources are advocating unsustainability.

F) Persons whose actions directly or indirectly cause increases in population or in the rates of consumption of resources are moving society away from sustainability. (Advertising your city or state as an ideal site in which to locate new factories indicates a desire to increase the population of your city or state.)

G) The term "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron.

Second Law
The larger the population of a society, and/or the larger its rates of consumption of resources, the more difficult it will be to transform the society to the condition of sustainability.

Third Law
The response time of populations to changes in the total fertility rate is the length of time people live, or approximately fifty to seventy years. (The consequence of this is called "population momentum."

A) If we want the population sizes to be reduced or at least stabilized by the mid-twenty-first century, we must make the necessary changes in the total fertility rates before the end of the twentieth century.

B) We live in a time of short time horizons.

C) It will be difficult to convince people to act now to change course, when the full results of the change may not be apparent in those people's lifetimes.

Fourth Law
The size of population that can be sustained (the carrying capacity) and the sustainable average standard of living of the population are inversely related to one another.

A) The higher the standard of living one wishes to sustain, the more urgent it is to reduce population size.

B) Reductions in the rates of consumption of resources and reductions in the rates of production of pollution can shift the carrying capacity in the direction of sustaining a larger population.

Fifth Law
Sustainability requires that the size of the population be less than or equal to the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for the desired standard of living.

A) Sustainability requires an equilibrium between human society and stable ecosystems.

B) Destruction of ecosystems tends to reduce the carrying capacity and/or the sustainable standard of living.

C) The rate of destruction of ecosystems increases as the rate of growth of the population increases.

D) Population growth rates less than equal to zero are necessary, but are not sufficient, conditions for halting the destruction of the environment.

Sixth Law:
The benefits of population growth and of growth in the rates of consumption of resources accrue to a few individuals; the costs of population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources are borne by all of society.

A) Individuals who benefit from growth will continue to exert strong pressures supporting and encouraging both population growth and growth in rates of consumption of resources.

B) The individuals who promote growth are motivated by the recognition that growth is good for them. In order to gain public support for their goals, they must convince people that population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources are also good for society. This is the Charles Wilson argument: If it is good for General Motors, it is good for the United States.* (Yates, 1983).

Seventh Law
Growth in the rate of consumption of a non-renewable resource, such as a fossil fuel, causes a dramatic decrease in the life-expectancy of the resource.

A) In a world of growing rates of consumption of resources, it is seriously misleading to state the life-expectancy of a non-renewable resource "at present rates of consumption," i.e., with no growth.

B) It is intellectually dishonest to advocate growth in the rate of consumption of a non-renewable resource while, at the same time, reassuring people about how long the resource will last "at present rates of consumption."

Eighth Law
The time of expiration of non-renewable resources can be postponed, possibly for a very long time, by (i) technological improvements in the efficiency with which the resources are recovered and used; (ii) using the resources in accord with a program of "sustained availability" (Bartlett, 1986); (iii) recycling; (iv) the use of substitute resources.

Ninth Law
When large efforts are made to improve the efficiency with which resources are used, the resulting savings are easily and completely wiped out by the added resource needs that arise as a consequence of modest increases in population.

A) When resources are used more efficiently, the consequence often is that the "saved" resources are not put aside for the use of future generations, but instead are used immediately to encourage and support larger populations.

B) Humans have an enormous compulsion to find an immediate use for all available resources.

Tenth Law
The benefits of large efforts to preserve the environment are easily canceled by the added demands on the environment that result from small increases in human population.

Eleventh Law: (Second Law of Thermodynamics)
When rates of pollution exceed the natural cleansing capacity of the ecosystems, it is easier to pollute than it is to clean up the environment.

Twelfth Law: (Eric Sevareid's Law)
The chief cause of problems is solutions. (Sevareid, 1970)

A) This law should be a central part of higher education, especially in engineering.

Thirteenth Law
Humans will always be dependent on agriculture.

A) Supermarkets alone are not sufficient.

B) The central task in sustainable agriculture is to preserve agricultural land. The agricultural land must be protected from losses due to things such as (i) erosion; (ii) urbanization and development; (iii) poisoning by chemicals; (iv) salinization; and (v) waterlogging.

Fourteenth Law
If, for whatever reason, humans fail to stop population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources, nature will stop these growths.

A) Nature's method of stopping growth is cruel and inhumane.

B) Glimpses of nature's method of dealing with population that have exceeded the carrying capacity of their lands can be seen each night on the television news reports from places where large populations are experiencing starvation and misery.

Fifteenth Law
Starving people do not care about sustainability. If sustainability is to be achieved, the necessary leadership and resources must be supplied by people who are not starving.

Sixteenth Law
The addition of the word "sustainable" to our vocabulary, to our reports, programs, and papers, and to the names of our academic institutes and research programs, is not sufficient to ensure that our society becomes sustainable.

Seventeenth Law

Extinction is forever.


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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Balloon of Perception

As I was walking out of the restaurant today, a local well known architect was eating an even later lunch at the bar. He pointed to a picture of a barren desert in the newspaper.

"What's that" I said.

"The Everglades" he said. "And still people don't believe in Global Warming."

I walked out saying, "What scares me is What it WILL take".

One of the hallmarks of climate change is not just change, it is an increase in extreme weather events. Clearly,the southeast is suffering a record drought that is threatening Atlanta's water supply. But on the other side of the earth, China is seeing a record snowstorm even as it hits 80 degrees here today. Here is part of the story from Bloomberg:

Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- China's heaviest snowstorms in five decades crushed homes, grounded flights, disrupted electricity and left hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded, a week before millions take to the roads for Lunar New Year holidays.

As many as 5 percent of China's coal-fired power plants, which generate 78 percent of electricity, were shut because snow hampered coal shipments, the National Development and Reform Commission said today. Zhuzhou Smelter Group Co., China's largest zinc refiner, said shortages forced it to cut production.

More than a foot (34 centimeters) of snow fell yesterday in Nanjing in the east, the city's heaviest in 50 years, halting air and rail service, in turn delaying a third of ensuing flights in Beijing and Shanghai and throwing national train service into chaos. Military police kept order at the Beijing railway station today, where 400,000 passengers were stranded. clip

The bitter winter weather has hit at the peak of the biggest human migration on earth, when hundreds of millions of people head home to spend the Chinese lunar new year holiday, which falls next Thursday, with their families. more

According to the UN, extreme events are way on the rise:

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Rising food prices and extreme weather are sparking more humanitarian disasters around the world, the United Nations' top official for emergency relief warned on Tuesday.

Fourteen out of 15 U.N. "flash appeals" for help last year were a response to devastation caused by droughts, floods and hurricanes, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said.

"That is five more than in any other year," Holmes said during a visit to European Union headquarters in Brussels.

"We are seeing them (disasters) increase in intensity and number," he told a news conference, saying weather events could not always be directly linked with climate change."

No, not always, but definitely sometimes.

The news in the geographic state of the United States will be centered on Florida tonight, but not its everglades. And the media will continue to treat climate change as an unsettled news story that the jury is still out on.

How long can a people, an empire go on living inside the boundaries of its own neural network, unable to see outside of its balloon of perception?

How long can a people be led by power seeking baffoons?

Pretty long I think.

It is said by the wisest of our kind,

that we can only see what we are,

that the observer is the observed.

No wonder we must become the change

we wish the world to become.

And small wonder that change cannot be seen,

until that change,

changes you.


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Monday, January 28, 2008

Awaiting the Awakening

Last week, I posted part of a solar grand plan that appeared in Scientific American. Today, Stuart Staniford of the Oil Drum has posted his own. He calls it a straw man for now, but once again, it is a darn good start at getting our hands around the kind of future we need to envision.

Here is a small part of it:

"My basic approach is as follows:

Over the next fifty years, we're going to phase out most burning of fossil fuels, but they will still be used for petrochemicals and fertilizer (manufacture of which will be mainly in the Middle East). We will cope with short term energy problems by efficiency improvements, but in the long term we will power society predominantly by massive amounts of solar PV, with smaller amounts of wind, and legacy hydro.

We will use a global transmission grid to balance supply and demand between the nighttime and cloudy areas and the areas in the sun that generate power. Nuclear is avoided in the long term out of proliferation and waste concerns but is used in the short and medium term. Owners of fossil fuel infrastructure will be compensated at fair market value.

Ground transportation will be by a mix of electric cars and electrified public transport (in areas of high enough density). The car fleet will be moved through hybrids to plug-ins to full electrics as storage technology slowly improves. Developing countries will be encouraged to urbanize and develop as rapidly as feasible to reduce pressure on remaining wild ecosystems and to build public transport systems in their very dense cities.

Building heating and cooling will be transitioned predominantly to ground source heat pumps powered by electricity instead of burning fossil fuels.

Agriculture will remain predominantly industrialized, and ongoing yield improvements, particularly in the lower-yielding poor countries, are assumed to be able to feed the world. The residual oil production and modest and regulated amounts of biofuels will be used for certain applications where the advantages of liquid fuels are indispensible (predominantly heavy construction and agricultural machinery, shipping, and aviation).

There is considerable scientific uncertainty on the extent of soil depletion, but the assumption here is that at-risk areas will be placed in conservation reserves, and that, later in the century when energy becomes cheap again, restoration and remediation will be attempted.

The overall economic approach for implementation will be a hybrid "markets-within-a-plan" approach. A pure free market approach is likely to be disastrous (eg starving the poor to make biofuels for the rich, which will result in riots and revolutions). However, markets are very powerful drivers of innovation and efficiency when well designed.

We will set general goals with binding targets by treaty, and then use a combination of subsidy auctions, rights auctions, and reverse auction retirements of fossil fuel infrastructure to meet the binding targets. Market competition will improve the technology and drive down the required subsidies over time.

In general, this will require a massive global infrastructure project. It will be expensive, but it's not impossible. It seems very cheap compared to further uncontrolled experiments with the climate, or to allowing the world to descend into starvation and chaos by adopting dysfunctional approaches to our energy challenges.

It will place civilization on a tolerably sustainable footing for the longer term." more

More and more, thinkers and policy makers are making the connections they need to make to see the Unified Photonic Energy Web that slumbers in our collective consciousness.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Feminist Take on Hillary

During Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign I didn't buy the idea of a "feminist first lady.” I thought, and said then, if Hillary were a feminist she run for President herself. So I should be behind her 100% now. Right? Wrong.

I liked the work she did to try to get health care reform, and her speech at the Bejing World Women’s Conference was exceptional. I heard her speak in Austin, a typical stump speech, cardboard, didn’t buy the thousand dollar opportunity to speak to her backstage.

I paid attention to the Whitewater Savings & Loans scandal (hardest hit in this were seniors whose life savings disappeared).

Let’s look at the Clinton years, which she claims as her own political experience. Bill Clinton allowed weekly bombing raids on Iraq and continued sanctions which killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly children. In the name of economic responsibility, he made cuts in social programs that help US children and women on welfare. He failed to act in Rwanda allowing a horrific bloodbath which the United States might have helped stop. His legacy is mixed at best. The economy was good, but he initiated NAFTA, which started the end of American jobs, exploitation of foreign workers and environmental devastation.

People are missing something important here. Bill Clinton held the office of President of the United States.

Hillary Clinton was the first lady. She now claims those years as “experience” which will make her able, from “day one” to function as president. This experience may prepare her to, from day one, to be a First Lady, but not Commander in Chief.

As a feminist, that is important to me. It is dishonest to claim a spouse’s achievement for your own, a husband’s power as your power. That is one of the basic tenants of the feminism I embrace and it offends me every time I hear her claim Bill’s time in office as her experience.

Yesterday’s Truthout article by Scott Galindez, “Obama vs. Billary,” named the phenomenon.

Since I began feminist work in the early 70s in New Haven, CT, with the now famous New Haven Women’s Center, my understanding of the women’s movement has changed and grown almost daily.

But I have never abandoned that first insight — that women are not part of a man’s being, psyche, world. We are individual, free-standing beings.

My husband can build an entire house beginning with a pile of sticks on the ground. Either of my sons can accomplish a break job on a car in minutes. I cannot. It would fool hearted for one to hire me to build a house, or fix the brakes on their car. If I said I could do either based on the experience of my husband and sons, I would be lying.

As a feminist another aspect of the Clinton campaign bothers me enormously. Because of comments both Bill and Hillary have made, race and gender are now huge playing cards. The media is obsessed with them. It should work for her, so the play book goes, because if women go for Hillary and Blacks for Obama – demographics give us numbers like this: 50%+ people in the United States are woman, 10% or so are black (men and women both).

Swiftboaters are already smearing Obama with every sort of ridiculous lie. Clintons are silent. And the news media has from day one, coronated Hillary to be the Democratic winner. Why? I think it's because Republicans want to run against her. That said, is it a coincidence that the exit polls in New Hampshire were flipped by the actual "vote?" Will it happen again in S. Carolina today?

As a feminist, I see women’s movement in the context of other movements for justice. Women and people of color must work together to change the negative lock all the “isms” have on our lives. The Clinton strategy to marginalize Obama as the Black candidate, then split the Black vote with the progressive Southern card, to ask for women’s solidarity and to court the Latino vote is divisive of a coalition which I think it is good for America.

I think it does matter how one wins.

It’s not enough to elect a woman if you want to advance the status of women in the world. Thatcher showed us that. Nancy Pelosi is giving us a refresher course. We need an enlightened woman, free of corporate strings, separate from a political machine, an independent thinker, person, being -- not one who claims her husband's experience as her own.

A friend sent me this video by Walt Handelsman which sets a much lighter tone to my problems with the Clinton campaign than they probably deserve. I don't think they will be good for America, or for the world. You have to click off our site to see it. The YouTube piece here is from Black Box Voting.

©Susan Bright 2008

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.


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Friday, January 25, 2008

Our Core Function

Magritte At Pistol River

This is one of those days. As I looked over the events and statements of the day, there was a plethora. Of course the stimulus package to keep our economy from contracting is all over the front page. All the while, the geographic state of the US continues its presidential hypnotic spell on itself, hardly dealing with climate change, and completely avoiding Peak Oil.

On that Peak Oil front, the Chairman of Shell, the world's second largest oil company, just announced that it's coming in seven years:

"Jeroen van der Veer, Shell’s chief executive, said in an e-mail to the company’s staff this week that output of conventional oil and gas was close to peaking. He wrote: “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.”

He sees two scenarios:

The first scenario, “Scramble”, envisages a mad dash by nations to secure resources. With policymakers viewing energy as “a zero-sum game,” use of domestic coal and biofuels accelerates.It is a world, said the Shell chief, where “policymakers pay little attention to energy consumption – until supplies run short.”

The alternative scenario, “Blue-prints”, envisages a world of political cooperation between governments on efficiency standards and taxes, a convergence of policies on emissions trading and local initiatives to improve environmental performance of buildings."

Even Texas Monthly has discovered Peak Oil with several articles this month. In the interview with Matthew Simmons, Simmons says:

“The best we can hope for is a ten-year plateau,” Simmons says, skipping coffee. “This controversy is the single biggest risk for the twenty-first century.”

So can anything be done?

He looks sharply at me, the Coronado Club’s soft light reflected in his glasses, and shrugs, suddenly out of gas himself. “I’m a lot more concerned than I was three years ago,” he says."

"Standards of living will fall, and people will not be able to pay their debts. Lending will tighten, and eventually there will be major defaults. Growth will cease, and hoarding will set in as oil becomes increasingly rare. Then, according to Simmons, the wars will begin." more

Uh... I think the wars have begun. And standards of living have been dropping for some time. Overall quality of living in my view is in a nose dive.

Yet, in places as seemingly remote as Minnesota, some policy makers are getting the message, and they are discussing the real issues.

"Lerch said that to deal with the lack of oil, communities must:

1. Make long-term plans for dealing with transportation and land use.
2. Decide on a 100-year time frame for handling regional planning.
3. Address the issue of private energy consumption.
4. Engage the business community.
5. Build a sense of community and community resilience in dealing with these problems.

Meanwhile, in the Swiss Alps, the rich and powerful are meeting again in Davos, where they still say things like this:

"If we lose sight of our core function of serving our customers and creating shareholder value... we'll be out of our jobs," said Peter Sands, chief executive of international bank Standard Chartered."

We'll all be out of our jobs

if we are all dead. .


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Farmer in the Dell

We went to see the Real Dirt on Farmer John last night. It gave us a chance to try out the newly renovated Ritz Theater. Thank goodness we found a friend who moved over for us, because the theater was pretty full by the time we arrived. We enjoyed it a lot. Here is Roger Ebert's take of the film which was actually released in 05.

"The filming of "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" essentially began on that day in the 1950s when John Peterson's mother, Anna, brought home a Super-8 movie camera. A farmer's wife and school teacher from Caledonia, Ill., she filmed her family working in the fields, her children playing in the yard, the raising of a barn, the changing of the seasons and the harvest dinners supplied to neighbors who came to help with the threshing.

Her husband died at about the time her son, John, started to attend nearby Beloit College. By then it was the 1960s, and John and his friends took over the filmmaking; he was a farmer who was also a hippie, and his friends descended on the farm to create their art and, as was said in those days, do their thing. John had his hands full running the farm, a dairy and hog operation, and eventually too many bank loans came due and he had to sell most of it."

That's the set up of the film, and the old Super-8 scenes are particularly effective. After John sells most of the farm, he wanders around Mexico and returns to the farm from time to time, ultimately borrowing money from his mother, who is very much the heroine of the film, to help him buy seed to start up the farm again.

It was during this period that he started growing vegetables organically and his mother opened the "weigh and pay" stand in front of her house. Ultimately, John brands his farm products as Angelic Organics.

Ebert finishes with this:

"The miracle of Angelic Organics begins the day in the 1990s when some Chicago investors in Community Supported Agriculture buy one of his organic onions, call him up and offer to go into business with him. Today, the Peterson farm is co-owned and operated with his CSA partners, delivers fresh produce to hundreds of customers every week, has expanded and is working in a way Peterson's father could never have imagined. "

In case you've never heard of it, CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) is a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people become "members" (or "shareholders," or "subscribers") of the CSA.

Most CSA farmers prefer that members pay for the season up-front, but some farmers will accept weekly or monthly payments. Some CSAs also require that members work a small number of hours on the farm during the growing season.

In its most formal and structured European and North American form, CSAs focus on having:
A transparent, whole season budget for producing a specified wide array of products for a set number of weeks a year;
A common-pricing system where producers and consumers discuss and democratically agree to pricing based on the acceptance of the budget; and

A ‘shared risk and reward’ agreement, i.e. that the consumers eat what the farmers grow even with the vagaries of seasonal growing.

Thus, individuals, families or groups do not pay for "x" pounds or kilograms of produce, but rather support the budget of the whole farm and receive weekly what is seasonally ripe. This approach eliminates the marketing risks and costs for the producer and an enormous amount of time, often manpower too, and allows producers to focus on quality care of soils, crops, animals, co-workers—and on serving the customers.

It's also an example of how cooperation, not competition can work for each of us, if we will only band together and invest our energy and resources together for our common goods. For me, it was a wonderful demonstration of how we create the kind of world we all want.

As resource depletion, and climate change begin to truly effect the present system in ways that cannot be totally predicted or even modeled, new forms of social contract like community supported agriculture may well provide templates for our future well being.

Later in the evening, as we discussed the film, I mentioned how I thought the name wasn't such a good one, but I didn't have a better one in mind until I started writing this morning.

Maybe the "The Farmer in the Dell," the story of Farmer John.

A dell is a hollow or a small valley,

and as John, and Willie Nelson, and most family farmers know:

For the last generation,

theirs has been "a valley of dispair".


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sadiq Assaieg: This is Baghdad

This series of photos of Iraq before the Bush invasion, surprisingly, contains a photo by Alan Pogue, "Sister Yevette",1998.

This Is Baghdad

by Sadiq Assaieg
Translated by Soheil Najm
Poetic editing in English by Susan Bright

For: Tony Blair

This city is a miracle;
bombs thrown down at it,
smashed under our feet
like a broken watch,
as if reborn;
you can hear it ticking, under the debris,
you can sense its heart, and its lost parts.
A miracle city
in a state of dreaming and delirium;
history memorizes its poems.
Its houses are ruins
its buildings are forlorn,
yet colored flags
surrender to the touches of an April wind,
stabled on the roofs, and masts
sewn with worn patches
designed with simple artistic sense
remain to hail the limits of agony and loss.

It throbs and gleams under the sun,
coloring the faces of the poor and the streets
with the colors of sky and angels.
It is a city afflicted with dreams of future.
Its body is in flame
and its faucet is dry.
There is wrath, hunger
and teeth gnashing in its depths.
A city that history,
snipers, lovers, poets,
invaders, barbarians and oil thieves are ravenous for.
In every age they thought it dead —
a very long cry erupts
from the depths of her soul,
circulates in her air like broken waves:
"To die or not to die,
to live or not to live
to be or not to be
that is the question".

pupils of the preliminary school,
who had survived one hell of a bombing,
went out of their classes to the alley,
played a long penalty kick,
that split space like a flying dish,
sailing over laundry lines hung with wet clothes
to land, a new disaster,
breaking the neighbors' window.

At Abu-Ibrahim's café
which is well-known as the café of the "complicated group"
full of book lovers, poets and unemployed people,
human wind pipes come to blows in a resounding debate,
this time about a prose poem.
It’s the author, who is ready to fight anyone,
insisting that it is designed according to "Dadaism".
That is why it is afflicted with the bird-flue virus,
“No need to say that it bears a
Suq Mureidy* signature,”
commented another man,
bestowed with mistrust for modern art,
after he set down a domino piece,
while some others argued about
a new play described as "popular"
which someone described as the “essence
of misunderstanding”
of "pop" theory and visual art
after the World War, and
an acute wave of debate
blew up from the back row
about contents of the forth dimension,
Ibrahim al-Jaffari, **
and the end of history.

Not far from the hotel
of hajj Hamoodi al-Dori,
that is well-known as "The Greats' House"
at a public market
cars passed through crossing the bridge;
I saw them, in my eyes, flying,
speeding along the asphalt of the street
as if they were meteors,
a bride inside one of them,
she will lose her virginity this night,
the captain hajj Rzuqi
and the applause of the crowd people
in the shop of hajj Hamodi al-Doori,
near al-Mutanabi Street,
a radio with a bad teeth sang
a song of sympathy for Zuhur Hussein***
then came a new broadcaster,
to apologize about a mistake in broadcasting,
and about a simple change
for the time of the news,
according to Greenwich time,
and at three o'clock
exactly as the last raid was over
an Indian parrot sang in Arabic —
before a crowd of children surrounding it —
a Kahttan al-Madfaie 's(4) song "Mohammed oh Mohammed."
Then it climbed in arrogance onto
an artificial green bough
delighted by it’s own long,
bow tail.

Amazing city as I said.
Snipers, prophets and killers are searching for it,
angels, poets and saints.
East and west.
North and south.
One of the most beautiful cities in the world,
its depth are rocked by bombing everyday
without losing is balance.
Although its women
are whispering to their men in low voice at night,
lest the children wake
yet the men don’t hear despair,
go on.

A miracle city
its crescents are always drunk,
and their stars are drunk too.
Although bombs are thrown down at it
and it is smashed like a broken watch,
yet it stays ticking.
As if it were reborn,
risen from garbage,
on broken light wings —
a code for the forthcoming generations,
its heart still throbbing and throbbing
like the singing nightingale alarm of the broadcasting
ringing with all its strength, with power and steadiness,
in spite of everything remain
the words
this is Baghdad,
this is Baghdad,
this is Baghdad.

(1) Suq Mureidy: A public market in Baghdad.
(2) Ibrahim al-Jaffari: The Iraqi ex-prime minister.
(3) Zuhur Hussein: Iraqi woman singer who was well-known during the sixties.
(4) Kahttan al-Madfaie: Iraqi singer.

About the Author
Sadiq Assaieg: Born in Baghdad 1935.
Published book: The Song of the Rhinoceros, Baghdad 1973.

One of a series of videos made by young people in Iraq, since the invasion, -- signed Chat the Planet


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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Better Country

We woke up this morning to that whooshing sound of money being lost. Most of the world's capitalists markets were selling yesterday while the markets in New York were closed for MLK Day. So yesterday, there was an emergency meeting of the Fed which reduced the interest rate by 3/4 s of a percent to 3.5 percent from 4.25 percent. It was the first such extraordinary action by Bernanke and the first since 911.

Last night at dinner when someone predicted that the market would drop today, I responded that "no, they will throw everything they have at it" to stop the momentum of the sell off. An overnight rate decrease may not be everything, but it is unprecedented. And even though the American markets opened with a precipice, they have recovered reasonably well through the day.

I remarked as we hopped out of bed how silly this all is. The system would have us believe that the problem is us. We don't spend enough. It's like telling a 400 pound man that the reason his heart is failing is because he doesn't eat enough. It's truly remarkable that we fall for it.

The problem with the economy is not the fear that consumers will stop hawking their homes to buy more Chinese goods and electronic doo dads. It is not the interest rates. It is not the way our banking system creates money and capital. (even though that's one of the least understood aspects of the system ).

No the problem is this. The whole system is based on growth. And, if it doesn't grow, it contracts, and when it contracts, all kinds of bad things happen. Good hard working people lose their jobs. Then they lose their houses, their savings, their sanity.

Nobody wants that to happen, so we spend spend spend to keep the economy healthy. All the while, we deplete our finite resources, and fill our biosphere with carbon with hardly a calculation to the ramifications of our actions.

I mentioned this morning, as we listened to NPR, that humankind is a very long way from realizing what a crock of crap it all is, that we are galaxies away from seeing not only how silly and cruel the current economic system has become, but how relatively easy it would be to fix it. I opined that most of us can't seem to imagine a Bucky Fuller world where the earth's resources provide quite well for us all.

I googled alternative economic system and basically got nothing. Then, I thought about Oscar Wilde and his writings. Here is a piece from his Soul of Man:

"Up to the present, man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a machine to do his work he began to starve.

This, however, is, of course, the result of our property system and our system of competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment, and, having no work to do, become hungry and take to thieving.

The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, which is of much more importance, a great deal more than he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, every one would benefit by it. It would be an immense advantage to the community.

All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing.

At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man.

There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure - which, and not labour, is the aim of man - or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work.

The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.

And when scientific men are no longer called upon to go down to a depressing East End and distribute bad cocoa and worse blankets to starving people, they will have delightful leisure in which to devise wonderful and marvellous things for their own joy and the joy of everyone else.

There will be great storages of force for every city, and for every house if required, and this force man will convert into heat, light, or motion, according to his needs. Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.

Progress is the realisation of Utopias."

We can organize ourselves quite differently from the way
we presently manage our wellbeing.

But it won't occur to us until humanity looks out,

and seeing a better country,

sets sail.


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Monday, January 21, 2008

My Favorite Holiday

This is still my favorate holiday, even though quite a different Dr. keeps poking me in the eye. Here is the Dream Speech.

And here is the Vietnam speech that got him canned.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. MLK Nobel Acceptance Speech

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Winners and Losers

Unwilling or perhaps incapable of paying zero attention to the results of yesterday's democratic charade, I was reminded of just how weird and byzantine the whole nomination process actually is. As the night went on, it became clear that the winner had in fact lost, and the so called loser had actually won.

This obviously does not fit the graphics of the networks or the splendour of the process as it is so effectively hyped. It causes the equivalent of MSM cognitive dissonance. It's as if the Cowboys kicked the Giants all over the field gaining twice as much yardage, yet losing by one on the scoreboard. (I don't know if they did or not)

Problem is, when this happens in football, everyone knows who won, the guy with the most points. Seven years ago, Gore had a half million more votes, yet everyone seemed to understand that he was a few electoral votes shy without Florida, therefore he was behind.
Clinton got more votes yesterday, but Obama got more delegates, by 13 to 12. I would call that a tie at best, and a victory for Obama if you go by the scoreboard.

According to my addition, and based on this handy delegate map, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada have assigned their elected delegates in the following way. In Iowa, Obama got 16, Edwards 14, and Clinton 15. (Edwards edged Clinton out in the vote, but not in delegates) In New Hampshire, Obama got 9, Clinton got 9, and Edwards got 4. Yesterday, apparently Obama got 13 and Clinton got 12, even though this site only gives Obama 12. Edwards was shut out.

So, between these states, the totals are Obama 38, Clinton 36, and Edwards 18. But if you google delegate counts for democrats, you mostly get the AP version of delegate count which includes the so called "super delegates".

According to the AP, "In the overall race for the nomination, Clinton leads with 187 delegates, including separately chosen party and elected officials known as super delegates. She is followed by Obama with 89 delegates and Edwards with 50."

So who are these super delegates?

Scott Galindez has a good piece in Truth Out on it:

There are 852 super delegates, roughly 40 percent of the amount of delegates needed to win the nomination. The category includes Democratic governors and members of Congress, former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former vice president Al Gore, retired Congressional leaders such as Dick Gephardt and all Democratic National Committee members, some of who are appointed by party chairman Howard Dean.

There are 3,515 pledged delegates that are selected by the primary and caucus system.

Why Super Delegates?

Many see the system as undemocratic. It was set up as a safety net for party leaders to correct a "mistake" by the voters. It was a reaction to the McGovern nomination in 1972, and partly the Carter nomination in 1976. McGovern was seen as someone outside the mainstream. Party leaders wanted a way to influence the nominating process and rescue the party from a nominee they didn't think could win."

So, let's assume that the voters make a mistake and vote for Kucinich. The party regulars can then make it virtually impossible for him to be nominated. With super delegates representing 40 % of the delegates needed to win, the party favorite has an inside track to the nomination. That might help explain why Obama was pleased to announce Kerry's endorsement. He's also a super delegate.

The R's don't have this kind of thing.

It's kind of like voting for class president only to be overuled by the teacher.

So what if Obama gets the most delegates from the Primaries, but Clinton wins because of super delegates?

You might agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel:

"In 1988, Reverend Jesse Jackson challenged the notion that these appointed delegates be permitted to vote for the candidate of their choosing rather than the winner of the state’s caucus or primary. He was right to do so. Twenty years later, when the word “change” is being bandied about, isn’t it time for the Democratic Party to give real meaning to the word?

Strengthen our democracy by reforming the super-delegate system so that the people, not the party establishment, choose their candidate."

I agree.

Wouldn't democracy be stronger if the people, not the establishment chose our leaders.

But who would correct the mistake then?

And would that winner become a loser?


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Saturday, January 19, 2008

A National Solar Plan

There is a new report in Scientific American called a Solar Grand Plan by Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis . Here is a little piece of it:

"Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. A direct-current (DC) transmission backbone would also have to be erected to send that energy efficiently across the nation.

The technology is ready. On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers at rates equivalent to today’s rates for conventional power sources, about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation’s electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100.

The federal government would have to invest more than $400 billion over the next 40 years to complete the 2050 plan. That investment is substantial, but the payoff is greater. Solar plants consume little or no fuel, saving billions of dollars year after year. The infrastructure would displace 300 large coal-fired power plants and 300 more large natural gas plants and all the fuels they consume.

The plan would effectively eliminate all imported oil, fundamentally cutting U.S. trade deficits and easing political tension in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because solar technologies are almost pollution-free, the plan would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 1.7 billion tons a year, and another 1.9 billion tons from gasoline vehicles would be displaced by plug-in hybrids refueled by the solar power grid.

In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 62 percent below 2005 levels, putting a major brake on global warming. clip

In our plan, by 2050 photovoltaic technology would provide almost 3,000 gigawatts (GW), or billions of watts, of power. Some 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic arrays would have to be erected.

Although this area may sound enormous, installations already in place indicate that the land required for each gigawatt-hour of solar energy produced in the Southwest is less than that needed for a coal-powered plant when factoring in land for coal mining.

The authors finish with this:

"The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable U.S. energy system is not technology or money, however. It is the lack of public awareness that solar power is a practical alternative—and one that can fuel transportation as well.

Forward-looking thinkers should try to inspire U.S. citizens, and their political and scientific leaders, about solar power’s incredible potential. Once Americans realize that potential, we believe the desire for energy self-sufficiency and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will prompt them to adopt a national solar plan."

I have often spoken and written about the land use issue, demonstrating that we already use enough land with our existing power plants and mining areas to capture the photonic energy that surrounds us. But this is the first time I have seen it in a respected journal and report.

As forward looking as this report is, it doesn't really contemplate the kind of advancements that we will surely see in the world of photonics. It doesn't talk about power paint, or the architectural glass panels than will someday be on all commercial buildings. It doesn't include the rooftop areas found on our built infracture. It doesn't contemplate advancements in ultra capacitors. It does however assume reductions in price which are certainly achievable and necessary. And it builds the infractructure for a future Unified Photonic Energy Web.

And as I pointed out in the Opportunity Knocks post, we could have paid for this kind of future with the money we have already put into the war in Iraq. If we stop it now, we can apply the next 500 billion dollars towards the technologies of peace, not the fuels of war.

A solar grand plan is exactly the kind of future we must vision, and this one is a substantial and well considered first start.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Opportunity Knocks

I've got to rest my eyes a few days, so here is an oldie from the first year of EFA.. The important thing is to replace the 177 million a day used in the dated post with 275 million a day now. (not including any proration of the military budget) So, figures below can almost be doubled or halved. We are now in the fifth year of this war and the costs are numbingly obscene.

You do the math.

Opportunity Costs

In business and in life, there is this thing called opportunity cost.

The POTUS has a MBA you know,

so you know he's bound to talk about this stuff.

After all, he was a baseball club owner.

The true cost of something is what you give up to get it. This includes not only the money spent in buying (or doing) the something, but also the economic benefits (UTILITY) that you did without because you bought (or did) that particular something and thus can no longer buy (or do) something else. (check the utility link)

For example, the opportunity cost of choosing to train as a lawyer is not merely the tuition fees, PRICE of books, and so on, but also the fact that you are no longer able to spend your time holding down a salaried job or developing your skills as a footballer. These lost opportunities may represent a significant loss of utility.

Going for a walk may appear to cost nothing, until you consider the opportunity forgone to use that time earning money. Everything you do has an opportunity cost (see SHADOW PRICE). ECONOMICS is primarily about the efficient use of scarce resources, and the notion of opportunity cost plays a crucial part in ensuring that resources are indeed being used efficiently.

So the cost of the War in Iraq, which is staggering, is about $177 million

a day.

We spend more in one day in Iraq, than we have spent in total

on defending mass transit in this country,

which is somewhere around $130 million.

There is a billboard on Times Square which counts the Iraq war cost.

The billboard features a constantly updated clock counting

the cost of the Iraq war.

It increases at a rate of $177 million per day,

$7.4 million per hour,

and $122,820 per minute.

I want to focus on the lost opportunity cost for renewable energy .

Paul Gipe did it already, but I want to massage it a little,

because he made some conservative estimates in his analysis,

and his numbers are hard to get your head around.

So try this.

Every day that we stay in Iraq,

we lose the opportunity to put up 177 MWs of windpower.

(that's at 1,000 dollars KW, which I know is realistic)

177 MWs will annually provide about 500,000 MWhs of energy.

Assume you own a plug in hybrid car.

First, assume they exist.

Now, a standard all-electric car will get about 3 miles to the KWh.

When you compare it with a standard gasoline car

that gets 20 miles to the gallon,

it takes about six, maybe seven KWhs to equal a gallon of gas.

(don't worry that I am saying that 20,000 equals 140,000)

trust me.

So, 500,000,000 kWhs equals about 70,000,000 gallons of gasoline.

There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil, so that is what?

1,500,000 barrels? Its a little more actually.

Doesn't sound like much does it?

After all, we use over 20 million barrels every day.

But after 365 days, after investing 177 million dollars every day,

we now have 64,605 MWs of windpower that annually produce

550 million barrels.


That's around 7% of our annual oil consumption.

That's half our imports from Saudi Arabia.

In two years we're making over a billion barrels a year out of wind.

And we don't need Saudi oil at all.

In the fourth year, we replace Hugo. (Venezuela)

After eight years, we have replaced all imports.

We would have a national fleet of duel fuel plug in hybrid vehicles,

that are efficient and often non polluting.

And, we would have 6 thousand less dead and perhaps

40,000 less wounded and maimed soldiers. (the number is 80,000)

Rumsfeld says it may go on for 12 years.

I'll let him do the math on that.

The POTUS once made a joke at Yale about William F. Buckley Jr.

He said that while Buckley was at Yale, he wrote a book.

"When I was there", he said in his best stand up comedian routine,

"I read one".

Let's hope it was the one about opportunity costs.

Oh, and did I forget to say.

These barrels of oil from the wind are already paid for.

Knock, Knock.

Do the math.


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