Sunday, December 21, 2003

The destruction of Christiania?

One of the most successful and well-organized of hippie-style
alternative communities is Christiania in the middle of Copenhagen.
Begun in the 1970s by a group of Danes who moved in as squatters
on an abandoned military base, the village is renown for its
eccentric architecture, its methods of self-government, its innovative
"Christiania" bicycles (now marketed around the world), its lovely bars
and restaurants, and, of course, the drugs - marijuana and hashish -
sold openly at kiosks on "Pusher Street." About one thousand people
now live in this community.

But, according to recent reports, it's all about to end. The conservative
government of Denmark, renown for its repressive, anti-immigrant policies
and promotion of individualism and bare knuckles capitalism, has
decided to turn its anger on this peaceful, thriving experiment. The
people of Christiania will be removed and its environment culturally
cleansed, replaced by modern amenities and luxury apartments.

Here's a story from The Guardian on this sad turn of events.

There are many good sources of information and photographs
about Christiania, its democracy, bicycles, houses, and history.

Anyone interested in imaginative alternatives to the plastic dreariness
of modern life, anyone interested in indigenous wellsprings of design
and the fostering of diversity in social and economic life, should tune in
and speak out against the small-minded decision to destroy Christiania.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Have a secure Christmas and police state New Year

As I waited in line at my local U.S. post office today, I read a notice
announcing the end of "Operation Dear Abby." Evidently, in happier
times the post office would send packages to soldiers overseas
without any specific person identified as the recipient; if one addressed
a gift to "Operation Dear Abby" or to "Any Servicemember," the
item would be paired with a soldier chosen at random. The flier on
the wall said that the program had been scrapped in response to
"security" concerns.

A recent story in an Illinois newspaper reports Pentagon fears that "terrorists
would use [Operation Dear Abby] dump chemical or biological toxins into
the military mail."

"It's not that we don't want things to go to our soldiers," said
Lt. Col. Alicia Tate-Nadeau.

"It's an issue of force protection, of keeping them out of harm."

.... This holiday season, Defense officials are discouraging the
shipment of any bulk mail items, even from family members or
loved ones.

"'America has had a strong tradition of sending cards and packages
to troops, but in this case, whenever we do that, it poses a security
risk and bogs down the shipping system, so that it takes longer
to send things like replacement pieces of equipment,' she said."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Soon to appear on the North Chatham post office bulletin board:

If you spot a bearded man in a red suit coming down your chimny,
notify authorities immediately! It's likely an "enemy combatant."

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Finally confirmed: PowerPoint makes you stupid

I've seen it countless times. Otherwise intelligent colleagues, students and
leaders of important organization stand up to give what turn out to be
remarkably silly presentations on topics that could be rich in substance.
A significant part of the problem has to do with the popularity of the beguiling
but vastly limited PowerPoint program that has become the norm for talks
everywhere, from middle schools to academic conference to corporate boardrooms.
Now a panel investigating the the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle
has determined that the focus and judgment of NASA managers may have
undermined by excessive reliance on PowerPoint. The New York Times

"In August, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA released
Volume 1 of its report on why the space shuttle crashed. As expected, the
ship's foam insulation was the main cause of the disaster. But the board also
fingered another unusual culprit: PowerPoint, Microsoft's well-known
''slideware'' program.

NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex
information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional ink-and-paper
technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage
during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint
slide -- so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that
it was nearly impossible to untangle. ''It is easy to understand how a senior
manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses
a life-threatening situation,'' the board sternly noted.

PowerPoint is the world's most popular tool for presenting information. There
are 400 million copies in circulation, and almost no corporate decision takes
place without it."

* * * * * *
The story goes on to cite Edward Tufte, expert on graphical presentations
of data and ideas, who criticizes an obvious feature of PowerPoint: its use of
skimpy, low resolution bullet points that actually contain very little information.
To this I would add the tendency speakers who use PowerPoint to repeat
the words on the screen, e.g., "Conclusions from our Strategic Planning Process,"
rather than say anything of substance.

This is additional evidence of a larger malady -- widespread deteroriation of
social intelligence caused by excessive reliance on computers. "New media

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Comparing responses to Sputnik and 9/11

Michael Halloran, professor of rhetoric and colleague at Renssealear,
offers a thoughful comparison of America's response to two shocking events.

Letter to editor:
Today's leaders can learn from how we responded to Sputnik

First published: Saturday, December 6, 2003

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made
satellite to orbit Earth, and in the view of many the prototype of the
Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

No one died as a direct result of Sputnik, but in other important ways
the blow to the United States signaled by the incessant beeping of
Sputnik was comparable to that signaled by the incessantly repeated
images of jets crashing into the World Trade Center towers that filled
our TV screens in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.

In both cases, the economic, technological and military might that had
made us feel invulnerable was shown to be inadequate.

In both cases, we suddenly recognized an enemy capable of end-running
our defenses and threatening our existence.

In response to Sputnik, Congress declared an "educational emergency" and
passed the National Defense Education Act, providing federal assistance
to education and research in science, mathematics and the modern foreign
languages. The NDEA fueled a transformation of American education from
kindergarten through the university and created intellectual capital
that the United States and indeed the world continue to benefit from to
this day. A case might be made that the Cold War was ultimately won by
the decades of scientific and technological advances set in motion by
the National Defense Education Act.

So what has been the educational response to 9/11? Has any political or
educational leader had the vision to declare a new educational emergency
and propose a national response to it? Surely our intelligence failures
revealed by the event itself and our gross ignorance of Islamic cultures
that continues to be revealed are evidence of needs that ought to be
filled by a strengthened national educational and research infrastructure.

How often have we heard of the desperate need for fluent speakers of
Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and other relevant languages? How much of current
Arabic thought are we missing because books published in Arabic
countries are not being translated into English? (Hint: Go to the Web site, search under "books" for "translations from
Arabic," and note how few of the results are of recent vintage, and how
many of those that do come up are marked "out of print.")

The Puritan divines of Colonial New England used to preach about
"fetching good out of evil." In our own time, an enormously powerful
network of scientific research laboratories is a good that was fetched
out of the evil signaled by the launch of Sputnik. A similarly powerful
network of research and scholarship focused on such subjects as Middle
Eastern languages and cultures, techniques of intelligence gathering and
analysis, and the conduct of international diplomacy is a good we ought
to be trying to fetch out of the evil we experienced on 9/11. Where are
the political and educational leaders who will develop the plan?


Troy, New York

* * * * * * * * *
It's sad to realize that none of America's prominent political leaders have
explored the powerful comparison Halloran sketches here. Framing the
response to 9/11 as a "war" has rendered most politicians and much of
the U.S. populace brain dead when it comes to seeking creative reponses
to our present situation.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I confess that I was a beneficiary of
the National Defense Education Act which financed the first three
years of my education in graduate school. This scholarly work prepared
me to defend my country by resisting several unwise, unjust, costly,
socially calamitous wars. - Langdon]

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Sorrows of Empire: grim diagnosis from a noted political scientist

An excerpt from Chalmers Johnson's new book, The Sorrows of
Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
, offers
an extremely dreary, but all-too-plausible summary of America's
situation at home and abroad.

"The sorrows of empire are the inescapable consequences of the
national policies American elites chose after September 11, 2001.
Militarism and imperialism always bring with them sorrows. The
ubiquitous symbol of the Christian religion, the cross, is perhaps
the world's most famous reminder of the sorrows that accompanied
the Roman Empire--it represents the most atrocious death the
Roman proconsuls could devise in order to keep subordinate
peoples in line. From Cato to Cicero, the slogan of Roman leaders
was "Let them hate us so long as they fear us."

Four sorrows, it seems to me, are certain to be visited on the United
States. Their cumulative effect guarantees that the U.S. will cease
to resemble the country outlined in the Constitution of 1787. First,
there will be a state of perpetual war, leading to more terrorism
against Americans wherever they may be and a spreading reliance
on nuclear weapons among smaller nations as they try to ward off
the imperial juggernaut. Second is a loss of democracy and Constitutional
rights as the presidency eclipses Congress and is itself transformed from
a co-equal "executive branch" of government into a military junta. Third
is the replacement of truth by propaganda, disinformation, and the
glorification of war, power, and the military legions. Lastly, there is
bankruptcy, as the United States pours its economic resources into
ever more grandiose military projects and shortchanges the education,
health, and safety of its citizens. All I have space for here is to touch
briefly on three of these: endless war, the loss of Constitutional liberties,
and financial ruin.

. . . . .
In my judgment, American imperialism and militarism are so far
advanced and obstacles to its further growth have been so completely
neutralized that the decline of the U.S. has already begun. The
country is following the path already taken by its erstwhile
adversary in the cold war, the former Soviet Union. The U.S.'s
refusal to dismantle its own empire of military bases when the
menace of the Soviet Union disappeared, combined with its
inappropriate response to the blowback of September 11, 2001,
makes this decline virtually inevitable.

There is only one development that could conceivably stop this
cancerous process, and that is for the people to retake control
of Congress, reform it and the election laws to make it a genuine
assembly of democratic representatives, and cut off the supply
of money to the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.
That was, after all, the way the Vietnam War was finally brought
to a halt.

John le Carré, the novelist most famous for his books on the role
of intelligence services in the cold war, writes, "America has entered
one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I
can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs
and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam
War."15 His view is somewhat more optimistic than mine. If it is just
a period of madness, like musth in elephants, we might get over it.
The U.S. still has a strong civil society that could, at least in theory,
overcome the entrenched interests of the armed forces and the
military-industrial complex. I fear, however, that the U.S. has indeed
crossed the Rubicon and that there is no way to restore Constitutional
government short of a revolutionary rehabilitation of American democracy.
Without root and branch reform, Nemesis awaits. She is the goddess of
revenge, the punisher of pride and arrogance, and the United States is
on course for a rendezvous with her."

The full text of the article, "Sorrows of Empire," can be found at the
web site of Foreign Policy in Focus.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Constitution? We don't need no stinking Constitution!

General Tommy Franks, leader of U.S. forces in the war on Iraq,
has an interview in Cigar Aficianado magazine in which he expresses
severe doubt that the Constitution would survive an attack on
country by weapons of mass destruction.

A summary from reports:

Discussing the hypothetical dangers posed to the U.S. in the wake
of Sept. 11, Franks said that “the worst thing that could happen”
is if terrorists acquire and then use a biological, chemical or nuclear
weapon that inflicts heavy casualties.

If that happens, Franks said, “... the Western world, the free world,
loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we’ve
seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that
we call democracy.”

Franks then offered “in a practical sense” what he thinks would
happen in the aftermath of such an attack.

“It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a
terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the
Western world – it may be in the United States of America –
that causes our population to question our own Constitution and
to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of
another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then
begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution. Two steps,
very, very important.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It's always interesting to learn what our leaders are thinking.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

London protesters use mobile technology to ruin Bush PR images

Here’s a story from the BBC about clever attempts to ruin
the scenic spectacles Bush handlers hope to capture during
his visit with Queen Elizabeth and the Poodle.

“Protesters angry about the "security bubble" around President
George Bush on his UK visit are being asked to use gadgets to be
heard and seen.

The Chasing Bush campaign is asking people to "disrupt the PR"
of the visit by spoiling stage-managed photos.

They are being encouraged to send location reports and images
by mobile to be posted on the Chasing Bush site.

"We want to give people a chance to be a visible voice of
dissatisfaction," said campaign organiser Tim Ireland.

Technologies like text messaging and weblogs have been
Successfully used in the past to co-ordinate routes and
meet-up points for mass protests.

But the gadgets are now being used more proactively to make
protests more visible and disrupt any potential stage-managing
of the President's visit.”

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Smithsonian celebrates weapons of mass destruction

The shameful history of attempts to exhibit the Enola Gay, the airplane
that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, has opened a new
chapter. A museum site recenlty organized by the Smithsonian National
Air and Space Museum, new facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at
Washington Dulles International Airport, will feature the Enola Gay as its centerpiece.
According to the History News Nework, "Fully restored, the Enola Gay will be displayed
as a 'magnificent technological achievement.'

"A coalition of scholars, religious leaders, veterans, scientists, and citizen activists
plan to protest the exhibit in its current form. They claim that it lacks historical
context and fails to address the controversy surrounding the bombings or
information on casualties. Arguing that the "celebratory nature of the exhibit
gives legitimacy to the 1945 bombing," the coalition joins other groups that
have already objected to the exhibit. According to Peter Kuznick, professor of
history and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University,
who drafted the committee's statement, "We are not opposed to exhibiting the
Enola Gay...we welcome any exhibition that will spur an honest and balanced
discussion of the atomic bombings in 1945 and of current U.S. nuclear policy."

In early episodes during the 1990s, planned exhibitions of the Enola Gay
that called attention to deaths and destruction caused by the bomb were
censored because they cast a bad light on the American military. Now that flaw
has been repaired and thought control restored. Visitors to the Smithsonian can
view with pride the curators' patriotic celebration of U.S. airpower and weapons
of mass destruction.

File under "History - politically correct."
The global spread of HIV

A map prepared by the BBC provides graphic depiction of the
spread of HIV AIDS around the world. There is much good
information and comment on the BBC web page as well, including
Robin Lustig's "The genocide of a generation."

Also important is a BBC poll that shows astonishing levels of ignorance
about the causes and prevention of AIDS, especially in China. The
survey also finds that world public opinion is clear about one crucial
matter: Their governments are not doing enough to fight the disease.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

More on global warming

From CNN today:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Melting of glaciers in the Patagonian ice fields of southern
Argentina and Chile has doubled in recent years, caused by higher temperatures,
lower snowfall and a more rapid breaking of icebergs, a study suggests.

. . . .

The researchers concluded that the Patagonia ice is melting faster now due to
warmer air temperatures, a decrease in precipitation and a more rapid breaking
of pieces of icebergs into the ocean, known as calving.

The study was conducted by Eric Rignot of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California; Andres Rivera of the University of Chile in Santiago,
and Gino Casassa of the Center of Scientific Studies in Valdivia, Chile.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Phytoplankton vanishing at a rate that alarms scientists

Were it not for reassurances from the Bush administration that global warming
is (a) not happening and (b) would not be of any significance even if it were,
this report would be worrisome. From a story by David Perlman in the San Francisco Chronicle ....

"Plant life covering the surface of the world's oceans, a vital resource that
helps absorb the worst of the "greenhouse gases" involved in global warming,
is disappearing at a dangerous rate, scientists have discovered.

Satellites and seagoing ships have confirmed the diminishing productivity
of the microscopic plants, which oceanographers say is most striking in the
waters of the North Pacific -- ranging as far up as the high Arctic.

Whether the lost productivity of the plants, called phytoplankton, is
directly due to increased ocean temperatures that have been recorded
for at least the past 20 years remains part of an extremely complex puzzle,
says Watson W. Gregg, a NASA biologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center
in Greenbelt, Md., but it surely offers a fresh clue to the controversy over
climate change.

According to Gregg, the greatest loss of phytoplankton has occurred
where ocean temperatures have risen most significantly between the
early 1980s and the late 1990s. In the North Atlantic summertime, sea
surface temperatures rose about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit during that
period, Gregg said, while in the North Pacific the ocean's surface temperatures
rose about 7/10ths of a degree.

While the link between ocean temperatures and the productivity of
plankton is striking, other factors can also affect the health of the plants.
They need iron as nourishment, for example, and much of it reaches them
in powerful winds that sweep iron-containing dust across the oceans from
continental deserts. When those winds diminish or fail, plankton can suffer.
There have been small but measurable decreases in the amount of iron
deposited over the oceans in recent years, according to Gregg and his colleagues.


The significant decline in plankton productivity has a direct effect on the
world's carbon cycle, Gregg said. Normally, he noted, the ocean plants
take up about half of all the carbon dioxide in the world's environment
because they use the carbon, along with sunlight, for growth, and release
oxygen into the atmosphere in a process known as photosynthesis.

Primary production of plankton in the North Pacific decreased by more
than 9 percent during the past 20 years, and by nearly 7 percent in the
North Atlantic, Gregg and his colleagues determined from their satellite
observations and shipboard surveys. Combining all the major ocean basins
of the world, Gregg and his colleagues found the decline in plankton
productivity more than 6 percent."

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Clash of civilizations -- Wesley Clark's view of the preparations

The Village Voice has a story by Sydney H. Schanberg about a new book, Winning Modern Wars, written by General Wesley Clark. Evidently the neocons in the Bush administration took him into their confidence about plans for the emerging Pax Americana
in all its arrogant ugliness.

- - - - - - -
Schanberg writes:

"Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general who is one of 10 candidates for the
Democratic nomination for president, has written a new book that is just arriving on bookstore shelves. Called Winning Modern Wars, it’s mostly about the Iraq
war and terrorism—and it is laced with powerful new information that he held
back from the public when he was a CNN military commentator during the Bush administration’s preparations for the war.

For example, he says he learned from military sources at the Pentagon in
November 2001, just two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks on
New York and Washington, that serious planning for the war on Iraq had already
begun and that, in addition to Iraq, the administration had drawn up a list of six other nations to be targeted over a period of five years.

Here’s what he writes on page 130:
"As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior
military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going
against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part
of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries,
beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan." Clark
adds, "I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned."

He never disclosed anything like this information in any of his CNN commentaries
or in the opinion columns he wrote for print media at the time. If Americans had
known such things, and if the information is accurate, would they have supported
the White House’s march to war? Would Congress have passed the war resolution
the White House asked for?

On the next page of the book, 131, Clark writes: "And what about the real sources
of terrorists—U.S. allies in the region like Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? Wasn’t
it the repressive policies of the first, and the corruption and poverty of the second,
that were generating many of the angry young men who became terrorists? And
what of the radical ideology and direct funding spewing from Saudi Arabia? Wasn’t
that what was holding the radical Islamic movement together? . . . It seemed that
we were being taken into a strategy more likely to make us the enemy—encouraging
what could look like a ‘clash of civilizations’—not a good strategy for Winning the war
on terror."

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Closing the Chatrooms

A fairly large piece of Internet utopia is closing down. As reported
by Reuters, Microsoft is draining the sewer that, alas, has
flooded its MSN chatrooms.

"LONDON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp. announced on Wednesday
it would shut down its Internet chat rooms in 28 countries,
saying the forums had become a haven for peddlers of junk
e-mail and sex predators.

"The straightforward truth of the matter is free unmoderated
chat isn't safe," said Geoff Sutton, European general manager
of Microsoft MSN, told Reuters.

From October 14, the software giant will shut down its MSN
chat services in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and
much of Latin America, forcing millions of message board
users to find alternative online forums to discuss the topics of the day.

In those regions, said Microsoft, the chat was free and
unsupervised, giving rise to a nefarious element that
bombarded users with "spam" mail, much of which was
pornographic and, in some cases, allowing pedophiles to
prey on children."

..... "In the United States, Canada and Japan, Microsoft
will introduce an unsupervised chat service solely for subscribers,
who are considered more accountable because their billing details
and identities are on record with the company.

"It's a signal that some of the joyful early days of the Internet
have moved on a bit. Chat was one of those things that was a bit
hippyish. It was free and open. But a small minority have changed
that for everyone. It's very sad," Sutton said.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I wonder if Yahoogroups and other prominent chatrooms will
now take similar steps.

In the early days of euphoria about the Internet, it was considered
bad form to talk about the need to control misbehavior on the Net.
Libertarian freedom was to prevail and only the best of human
traits would be on display. No need to worry about greed, explotation,
corporate domination, the corruption of democracy, or the ordinary
evils that afflict social groups. When I called attention to the need
to pay attention to such matters, I was dismissed as overwrought and
probably "anti-technology." But if one sees technologies as forms of
social and political organization, eventually one has to figure out how
to balance the good with the bad. To postpone confronting these problems
merely exacerbates them, as the MSN debacle clearly demonstrates.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Terrorizing America's climate scientists

There’s new evidence of Bush administration attempts to bully E.P.A. scientists studying global climate change. The Observer notes:

"Emails and internal government documents obtained by The Observer show that officials have sought to edit or remove research warning that the problem is serious. They have enlisted the help of conservative lobby groups funded by the oil industry to attack US government scientists if they produce work seen as accepting too readily that pollution is an issue.

Central to the revelations of double dealing is the discovery of an email sent to Phil Cooney, chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, by Myron Ebell, a director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI is an ultra-conservative lobby group that has received more than $1 million in donations since 1998 from the oil giant Exxon, which sells Esso petrol in Britain.

The email, dated 3 June 2002, reveals how White House officials wanted the CEI's help to play down the impact of a report last summer by the government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in which the US admitted for the first time that humans are contributing to global warming. 'Thanks for calling and asking for our help,' Ebell tells Cooney.

The email discusses possible tactics for playing down the report and getting rid of EPA officials, including its then head, Christine Whitman. 'It seems to me that the folks at the EPA are the obvious fall guys and we would only hope that the fall guy (or gal) should be as high up as possible,' Ebell wrote in the email. 'Perhaps tomorrow we will call for Whitman to be fired,' he added. ….

Former EPA climate policy adviser Jeremy Symons said morale at the agency had been devastated by the administration's tactics. He painted a picture of scientists afraid to conduct research for fear of angering their White House paymasters. 'They do good research,' he said. 'But they feel that they have a boss who does not want them to do it. And if they do it right, then they will get hit or their work will be buried.'"

* * * * * * * *

Of course, this is not an isolated case. The breakdown of any rational relationship between science and policy making is one of the hallmarks of the Bush administration. "Facts" are mere constructs to serve predetermined ideological objectives.
Those who object to this way of doing things are threatened and intimidated. It's interesting that we hear so little from the scientific community about this reign of terror. Perhaps the gravy train of research funding is lavish enough to buy their acquiescence.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Thoughts on Howard Dean

I went down to the City of Hudson for a Howard Dean rally this afternoon.
While I've always had a favorable view of Dean, I must say I was strongly
impressed by his talk, both the substance and the way he delivered it.

He began with reminiscences of the Civil Rights movement and its contributions
to American life. From there he recalled the sense of community that
flowed from that movement, noting that the policies and attitude of the
Bush administration has generated not community but division, both among
Americans and in America’s relationship to the rest of the world.
Significantly, he noted Bush’s emphasis on “quotas” in his opposition to
the affirmative action case before Supreme Court, saying that Bush chose to
sow division by playing “the race card.” Dean went on to talk about the 3
trillion dollars that Bush has given to his wealthy friends in tax cut
legislation, as well as the billions spent on the war in Iraq, noting some
of the urgent needs to which this money could be applied in the U.S. –
early education, health insurance for all citizens, veterans pensions,
broadband for rural economies, renewable energy, etc. Especially telling
were his comments about the financial and social costs of our burgeoning
prison population which, he observed, are all the more appalling given the
fact that elementary school teachers can identify the four or five kids in
their classes who are most at risk of winding up in jail. Wouldn’t it make
more sense, he asked, to address the problems of possible future prisoners
while they are just young children with obvious needs?

Dean took special care to attack Bush’s record on defense and security.
How are we more secure having destroyed respect for America around the
globe? What good does it do national defense to wreck the kinds of
cooperation that we know are necessary to quell international conflict?
His approach on these key points struck me as sensible and likely to strike
a responsive chord even among those who have supported Bush’s war policies
until now.

At the heart of his message this afternoon was the conviction that the
American people themselves must join together to take back their country
from the clutches of the cynically self-interested Bush cabal. The hope
for renewal must come from the combined efforts of people in communities
like Hudson, New York.

A fairly large crowd listened and responded enthusiastically. Dean came
across as a straight shooter, a man from the heartland with a no nonsense
vision of the country’s problems and possibilities. Speaking with humor
and modesty, he seemed anything but full of himself, a welcome change from
so many of the politicians we hear these days. Win or lose, we are lucky to
have Howard Dean’s voice gaining prominence in the presidential campaign.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Your Daily Dose of Fear from Bush
(don’t worry, children, he’ll protect us)

Social scientists and concerned citiizens have begun paying attention
to the disempowering rhetoric Bush and his people routinely use to frighten the
public and foster dependency upon the President and support for his perpetual
“war on terrorism.” A short article on this no longer subtle tactic is Renata Brooks’
“Bush Dominates a Nation of Victims.” Now an anonymous anthropologist at
the University of Louisiana, Lafayette has edited the text of Bush's Speech on
Iraq, September 7, 2003, identifying the references to terror, violence and death.

>deadly attacks
>mass destruction
>terrorist threat
>torture chambers
>mass graves
>violence and terror
>international terrorism
>ideologies of terror
>foreign terrorists
>terrorist groups
>inflict harm
>war on terror
>a lengthy war
>a different kind of war
>war on terror
>destroying the terrorists
>against the terrorists
>future attacks
>precise strikes against enemy targets
>enemy weapons
>killed hundreds
>hunting for them
>terrible weapons
>terrorist attacks
>war on terror

Friday, September 12, 2003

Edward Teller's "contributions"

Edward Teller, 95, physicist and tireless Cold War advocate for nuclear
armaments, died this past week.

He was renown as “the father of the H-bomb.” When I was a grad
student in Berkeley during the middle 1960s, I lived briefly in an apartment
just across the street from Teller and would occasionally see him ambling
down the path to his car. I had to suppress an urge to yell out “Hi, Dad!”

Beyond his work on the atomic and hydrogen bomb projects, Teller is
best known for (1) destroying the career of his friend Robert Oppenheimer
during 1954 government hearings on Oppenheimer’s security clearance
and (2) boosting the idea of the “Star War” missile defense shield to
Ronald Reagan and anybody foolish enough to take the plan seriously.

If any of the devices Teller built and promoted are ever put into use, we
can kiss the planet goodbye. The man may have accomplished some good
during his lifetime, but I am unaware of it.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

The Bush administration's attack on the environment

Bill Moyer's recent interview for Grist, reprinted in The Utne Reader
offers good insight into the Bush administration's full scale onslaught on
every aspect of environmental protection. Moyer's assessment of the source
of this attack is clear and persuasive:

"Their god is the market -- every human problem, every human need,
will be solved by the market. Their dogma is the literal reading of the
creation story in Genesis where humans are to have "dominion over
the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle,
and over all the Earth, and over every creeping thing ..." The administration
has married that conservative dogma of the religious right to the
corporate ethos of profits at any price. And the result is the politics of
exploitation with a religious impulse."

Comparing the fate of the earth to the centuries old devastation of
Iraq, Moyers comments:

"By the time we all wake up, by the time the media starts doing
their job and by the time the public sees what is happening, it
may be too late to reverse it. That's what science is telling us.
That's what the Earth is telling us. That's what burns in my consciousness.

Consider the example of Iraq. Once upon a time it was such a lush,
fertile, and verdant land that the authors of Genesis located
the Garden of Eden there. Now look at it: stretches upon stretches
of desert, of arid lands inhospitable to human beings, empty of
trees and clean water and rolling green grasses. That's a message
from the Earth about what happens when people don't take care of it.
No matter what we do to Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains a wasteland
compared to what it was. American policy makers see only the black
oil in the ground and not the message that all the years of
despoliation have left."

* * * * * * *

The article notes that the Bushies in Washington simply refuse
any interviews with Moyers' "NOW" television program. It's more
testimony of the increasingly totalitarian stance taken by this gang. I'm
increasingly puzzled as to why well-meaning old school Republicans
put up with such heavy handed, destructive tactics, why there aren't
more James Jeffords jumping ship. Perhaps American politics finally
has become the equivalent of the medieval "Ship of Fools."

Friday, August 29, 2003

GMOs: The less information the better?

Heeding complaints by the United States, Canada and Argentina, the
Word Trade Organization has agreed to review European Union
restrictions on genetically modified organisms. The fallback position
for the EU is to install a comprehensive labeling system. From a
BBC story on WTO and GMOs:

EU farm ministers agreed last month to move from a blanket ban to
a stringent system of labelling when GM ingredients are used either
in foodstuffs for human consumption or in animal feed.

But the US says that will still discriminate against its farmers, given
the much more widespread use of GMOs in US agriculture. The vast
majority of US soy, for example, is GM.

The US insists that there is no scientific evidence proving damage to
either human health or the environment, and that the EU's "precautionary
principle" goes too far.

- - - - -

I first heard views of this kind advanced by supermarket managers in
the Northeast who opposed labeling milk produced with artificial bovine growth
hormone. From those peddling the latest applications of science, it's
fascinating to hear arguments that it's unwise giving people a simple
piece of truthful information -- "this product was made with...."

Evidently, ignorance is bliss. We shouldn't bother people with knowledge
we've decided they don't need.

Hey, Europeans, shut up and eat your GM soy flour!

Friday, August 22, 2003

Energy wake-up call? Quick! Hit the snooze button!

Julian Borger's article in The Guardian does a fine job of summarizing what
is known about the deeper sources of the power blackout, namely the
mania for privatization and deregulation in the Bush administration and elsewhere
in the U.S. It turns out that electrical transmission lines are not an attractive
source of profits for energy corporations. And since public spending on the
power grid has been explicitly rejected by our Republican Congress, investment
in the wires, towers and other apparatus has steadily declined in recent years.
Borger links the mentality of "let the market do it all" and cronny capitalism to
problems in Iraq and the war on terrorism as well.

from Borger:

"In the process of deregulating the industry, no one has found a way of making
investment in transmission lines pay. That is true politically, as well as financially.

Before the blackout, it was much easier to get elected on a programme of high
defence spending than to go to the voters on a record of generous expenditure
on transmission. Pylons and relay stations are not that sexy."


"The idea of public investment does not fit into the Bush-Cheney mission, with
the patriotic exception of defence. But even there, the cult of privatisation has
had a powerful and damaging influence.

The administration had to be coerced into nationalising airport security screening
services long after it was apparent that private companies were failing at the task.
Lip-service security is profitable. Real security is not.

The privatisation of defence contracting has also left soldiers in Iraq, supposedly
the ultimate heroes in the Bush pantheon, without proper supplies, living
quarters or even enough water in the desert heat. All these things were supposed
be provided by private companies, according to reams of contracts signed
before the war.

The trouble is that contractors fall over themselves to sign multi-million dollar
deals in peacetime but, when the shooting starts, their employees frequently
refuse to drive their trucks towards the action."

I wonder why British and European journalists seem to have a better
understanding of our problems than our American scribblers and talking
heads? Perhaps it has to do with how journalists in the different cultures
are chosen and who pays for their "services."

Friday, August 15, 2003

Your energy wake-up call

I was on the BBC Newshour this afternoon, talking about
America's excessive expectations about energy. Here are some
passing thoughts on the experience of the past couple of days.

As people in positions of authority try to track down the sources
of the great power blackout of August 14, 2003, it’s fascinating
to follow what’s being floated.

On the one hand we’re being told that nobody knows what caused
the power blackout affecting 50 million people. On the other hand
we’re assured that terrorism was definitely not a factor in the problem.
I take this to be a test of our ability to hold two contradictory ideas in
mind at the same time without having a nervous breakdown.

I’m also impressed by the fact that American politicians, including
Mayor Bloomberg, have identified the haywire as located somewhere
in Canada. (Oh, those evil Canadians – socialized medicine, legal marijuana,
gay marriage, power blackouts…where will it end?) Meanwhile, Canadian
officials are just as certain that the cause can be found in Ohio or another
inept power plant south of the border.

From public figures we now hear the stern message that the present
calamity is a “wake-up call.” But will this be yet another energy “wake-up call”
that nobody heeds after the dust has settled? There have been numerous
non-turn turning points of this kind since the middle 1960s – the great New York
blackout of 1965, the energy crisis of 1973-74, a similar energy crisis in the late
1970s, the great power blackout of 1977, the West Coast blackout of 1996,
and so forth. In the aftermath of energy shortages or system breakdowns
people often talk about the need to rethink our relationship to energy and
change our ways of living. A historian’s assessment of the lessons from one
such period concludes, “The massive blackout of 1965 had many ramifications.
It forced Americans to reconsider their dependence on electricity, and propelled
electrical engineers to reexamine the power grid system.” Energy companies and
planners took “preventative measures governing interconnections and reliability,
so that a similar failure would not happen again.” (Blackout History Project)
Yes, we fixed that problem, and just in time too!

In the late 1970s, President Carter declared the energy crisis “the moral
equivalent of war,” and asked all Americans to turn down the lights and turn down
the heat. This was not a popular position, however. People laughed at Jimmy Carter
for appearing on TV wearing a sweater and talking about our energy habits as a
moral issue. When Ronald Reagan was elected president he declared an "oil glut"
and once again the citizenry felt justified in the excessive use of electricity and gasoline.
God bless our "way of life."

Having lived through several episodes of this kind, I feel as if I’m in a hotel and the
phone rings: “Hello. This is your energy wake-up call. Now you can go back to sleep.”

Monday, August 11, 2003

Better late than never: debunking Powell’s U.N. dog and pony show

Last February, Colin Powell appeared before the U.N. Security Council
to give what he claimed was conclusive evidence of Iraq’s existing stock
of chemical and biological weapons as well as Saddam Hussein’s ongoing
project to develop nuclear bombs. At the time there was almost no effort
among U.S. journalists or politicians to scrutinize and evaluate specific
points in Powell’s dog and pony show. One had to turn to British and European
newspapers to find careful, knowledgeable analyses of the various claims in
Powell’s presentation, analyses that were fairly consistent in raising serious
doubts about the quality of the evidence Powell offered and the conclusions
he drew from it. But “patriotic” Americans were expected simply to trust
Mr. Powell and rally behind our Glorious Leader.

Well, now some in the American press, moving beyond the “16 words in the
State of the Union Address” syndrome, are finally getting around to examining
the February speech, finding its data and reasoning devoid of any real substance.
Here’s a story from the Associated Press that appeared recently in The Kansas City Star,
right in America’s heartland (is Heartland beginning to question Homeland?).
The piece goes through Powell’s major claims one-by-one, noting that none of them
have been confirmed by intensive post-war investigations.

Here’s one slice of the Associated Press analysis.

“Nerve agent production

Powell said that Iraq produced 4 tons of the nerve agent VX.

"A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons," he said.

Powell did not note that most of that 4 tons was destroyed in the 1990s
under U.N. supervision. Before the invasion, the Iraqis made a "considerable effort"
to prove they had destroyed the rest, doing chemical analysis of the ground
where inspectors confirmed that VX had been dumped, the U.N. inspection
agency reported May 30.

Experts at Britain's International Institute of Strategic Studies said that any
pre-1991 VX most likely would have degraded anyway.

No VX has been reported found since the invasion.”


Good work, guys, but where were you when we needed this?

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Anti-Globalization Woodstock in Southern France

Here's a story from The Age, an Australian newspapger, one that's not
likely to make the major news outlets.

Of special note here is the presence of Manu Chao, a fascinating
French/Spanish/world singer with strong commitments and
a very lively, politically aware sense of humor.


100,000 protest globalisation

August 10, 2003 - 11:55AM

Some 100,000 people attended an "anti-globalisation Woodstock" in southern France overnight, with controversial eco-warrior Jose Bove leading the mass opposition to crucial World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Mexico next month.
Earlier in the day the crowds were even bigger, up to 150,000 according to officials or 200,000 according to organisers at the start of the three-day rally.

Bove, fresh out of jail for uprooting genetically modified crops, and still serving time doing community service, spearheaded the rally, declaring that the month of September will "not be hot, it will burn".

He was referring to the WTO talks scheduled for next month in Cancun, Mexico.
Organisers from a coalition of anti-globalisation groups said their aim was to draw attention to the dangers to democracy posed by the WTO, trade liberalisation and multinational corporations.

The three-day Larzac 2003 festival included speeches, debates, street theatre and film shows, as well as a rock concert featuring French singer Manu Chao and British group Asian Dub Foundation.

For 30 years the stunning Larzac plateau has been an emblematic location for the French left, after veterans of the 1968 student movement successfully joined forces with local farmers to resist government attempts to turn it into an army shooting range. Bove himself works as a sheep farmer on the plateau.

In June 2000, around 50,000 activists camped near Millau for a rally that coincided with the trial of Bove and nine others for vandalising a McDonald's restaurant.
Bove eventually served six weeks in jail in 2002 for that offence, and in June this year returned to prison for uprooting genetically modified crops. He was freed last month on condition that he would participate in community service.

Manu Chao took the stage at the event dubbed the "anti-globalisation Woodstock" at 1am today (9am AEST) after several earlier acts interspersed with rallying speeches.

"We are sure that today is a great day for the social movement because despite our differences, we have found the common viewpoints," said farmers' confederation official Nicolas Duntze. "Farmers have learned to understand the youths in the suburbs and entertainment industry workers have understood the farmer," he added.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Underming the objectivity of science policy

An important quest in post-Kuhnian philosophy and sociology
has been to cast doubt on standards of "objectivity" in scientific
knowledge. Scholars have been eager to show how a variety of social,
cultural and political elements influence what science claims
to know. As valuable as these insights certainly are, there has long
been a shadow lurking in the wings. What would happen if faith in
objectivity were replaced by a cynical sense of "socially constructed"
knowledge used to advance political agendas?

A recent study by the minority staff of the Government Reform
Committee charges that manipulating data to advance
preconceived, ideological ends has been a central project of the
Bush administration, not only in claims about weapons of mass
destruction and other whoppers used to justify war in Iraq, but
in a host of public policy issues as well.

Bush Misuses Science Data, Report Says

New York Times

ASHINGTON, Aug. 7 — The Bush administration persistently manipulates scientific data to serve its ideology and protect the interests of its political supporters, a report by the minority staff of the House Committee on Government Reform says.

The 40-page report, which was prepared for Representative Henry A. Waxman, the committee's ranking Democrat, accused the administration of compromising the scientific integrity of federal institutions that monitor food and medicine, conduct health research, control disease and protect the environment.

On many topics, including global warming and sex education, the administration "has manipulated the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings," the report said.

"The administration's political interference with science has led to misleading statements by the president, inaccurate responses to Congress, altered Web sites, suppressed agency reports, erroneous international communications and the gagging of scientists," the report added.

The full report on scientific flim-flam by Bush and his associates
can be found on Congressman Waxman's web page.

What can scholars in science and technology studies say about
this? "So what else is new? It was always thus." Many academics
have believed that vanquishing the ghost of objectivity would be
a welcome contribution to progressive causes. Is such confidence
still warranted?

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Progress on the March (continued) -- A summer camp for computer addicts

Sorry to have been away from the weblog for a while. I've been vacationing
in coastal Maine. Upon my return I ran across this story about a holiday
retreat of a different sort.

There are, of course, a great many things people grow pathologically
attached to in our addictive, consumer society. But reports of kids
getting hooked on computers are of special note because the
machines are still widely touted as being (in and of themselves) of tremedous
educational value. We still have not begun to weigh adequately the balance
of social cost and benefit in the heralded computer revolution.

Computer cure at camp for children
Ben Aris in Berlin
Wednesday August 6, 2003
The Guardian

Given half a chance Daniel, who is 13, will spend up to 12 hours a day staring
at a computer screen. He weighs 110kg (17st), has no friends at school, and
has been in constant trouble with his teachers. The problem faced by Daniel
(not his real name) is all too familiar in Germany, where a growing number of
children are addicted to playing computer games or surfing the internet.

In a desperate effort to reconnect him with real life his parents booked him into
the Boltenhagen summer camp, Europe's first school for teenage computer addicts,
where children are taught how to make friends, exercise and play games.
The camp, on the Baltic coast, is run by an evangelical charity, but the course is
funded by the German social security services and the children are from all denominations.

Ute Garnew, the camp director, said the demand for the 60 places had been so high
since it opened in February that parents, "really have to fight to get a place".

There is only one computer on the site and the children are allowed to use it for only
half an hour a day, and are not allowed to play games or surf the net.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

So this is progress: human hybrids in the lab

As reported in the Washington Post, scientists have recently
produced an ethically dubious work of art. What would these
creatures have been if allowed to come to term?

Scientists Produce Human Embryos of Mixed Gender

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 3, 2003; Page A10

Scientists in Chicago have for the first time made human embryos
that are part male and part female, raising ethics questions and
prompting calls for more oversight of the rapidly evolving field of
human embryo manipulation.

The experiments, described at a meeting of the European Society
of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Madrid, proposed to
answer basic questions about human embryo development and
to foster therapies for congenital diseases.

The hybrid embryos were destroyed after six days, when they
had grown to a few hundred cells organized into a microscopic,
mixed-gender ball, according to a written synopsis of the work
submitted by the research leader, Norbert Gleicher of the Center
for Human Reproduction.

Such work is legal in the United States if federal funds are not
used and if the male and female embryos that Gleicher merged
were freely donated for research, as Gleicher reported they were.
Nonetheless, his presentation yesterday drew criticism from some
fellow scientists at the meeting, according to a report from Madrid.
Reuters news service quoted one official of the society as saying,
"There are very good reasons why this type of research is generally
rejected by the international research community."

The experiments also angered U.S. opponents of human embryo
research and prompted some ethicists to refresh their long-standing
call for a national debate about the pros and cons of human embryo
studies -- and perhaps creation of a national ethics board to review
proposed experiments.

"I don't know if this work is 'right' or 'wrong,' but it should be reviewed
and discussed long and hard before it's done," said George Annas, a
professor of health law and bioethics at Boston University. "It's one
thing if the right-to-life community has problems with your work. But
if scientists hear you talk about your work for the first time and say
it's outrageous, that says something."


New logic for Bush leaguers

As quoted in the Boston Globe, Ari Fleischer recently issued the following
challenge on the missing weapons of mass destruction:

Fleischer said that not only would the United States find chemical and
biological weapons in Iraq, but that ''I think the burden is on those
people who think he [Saddam Hussein] didn't have weapons of mass destruction to tell
the world where they are.''

By the same token, try out the logic of the following proposition:

"I think the burden is on those people who think gnomes and fairies do not exist
to tell the world where they are.”

One can hear Limbaugh and O’Reilly yelling: “Yeah, come on, you liberal pinkos,
show us where they’ve gone or shut up!”

Friday, June 27, 2003

Yet more on the conquest of nature: destruction of Amazon rainforest intensifies

Perhaps only on the BBC -- not Fox, CNN, much less Tweedledum and Tweedledummer --
does one find headline news that "New satellite information from Brazil has
revealed a sharp increase in the rate of destruction of the Amazonian rainforest."

"The information shows the speed of deforestation increased by 40% between
2001 and 2002 to reach its highest rate since 1995. Figures from the National
Institute for Space Research (INPE) show more than 25,000 square kilometres
of forest were cleared in a year - mainly for farming.

Environmentalists have expressed alarm at the development which represents
a sharp reversal of a trend in which destruction had been slowing.

'The rate of deforestation should be falling, instead the opposite is happening,'
said Mario Monzoni, a project co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth in Brazil."

Thursday, June 26, 2003

The conquest of nature (again): Superweeds foil GM crop plans

One widely heralded feature of genetically modified crops is that they
can be designed to be herbicide resistant. Farmers can spray poisons
with impunity, killing the "weeds," while the desired crops survive.
Thus, Monsanto's "Roundup ready" GM plants survive a good spraying of
Roundup, the company's pungent weed killer. Alas, recent research
indicates that the weeds are still on job, evolving in ways that make them
"Roundup ready" too!

A story from The Independent reports the findings of a researcher in the U.S.

"The paper, by Professor Bob Hartzler of the Department of Agronomy at
Iowa State University, reveals that in the past seven years, up to five weed
species have been found with resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, best
known by the Monsanto trade name Roundup. The resistance has come
about not through gene transfer from GM herbicide-tolerant crops, as some
have feared, but through natural evolution.

Glyphosate is a "broad spectrum" herbicide, meaning that, originally, it killed
everything, including crops. GM crops were developed to be tolerant of the
herbicide, so it could be applied throughout the growing season.

Two GM crops proposed for commercial growth in Britain, fodder beet and sugar
beet, are glyphosate-tolerant. But weeds have been found in Australia, Chile,
Malaysia and California and other areas of the US, that glyphosate cannot kill.

.... Pete Riley, Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, said: "Companies like Monsanto
have spun GM crops and their weedkillers as having less impact on the
environment, but the fact of resistant weeds undoubtedly means more weedkillers,
and means the impact on the environment will be greater.

'These discoveries remove a central plank from the whole argument for GM crops.'"

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Orwellian Newspeak on climate change

A report on the state of the environment that the Environmental Protection Agency
will release soon shows evidence of the Orwellian Newspeak that characterizes so
many Bush administration pronouncements. According to the New York Times, the
original E.P.A. draft of the report's section on global climate began with the words,
"Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment

That seems admirably clear and sensible.

After Bush's people did their linguistic massage, however, the section now reads,
"The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components
make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop
useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global
environment in the future."

If one of my students gave me a paper with such babble, I'd recommend an emergency
visit to the campus Writing Center.

Evidently, the EPA report deletes any mention of the likelihood that pollution from
automobiles and industrial production contributes to climate change. Perhaps its
time to demand an immediate ceasefire in the Bushies undeclared war
on the English language.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

San Francisco affirms the precautionary principle

Here is some very good news. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently
adopted "the precautionary principle" as the basis for all of its environmental
management policies. While the principle exists in many forms, the basic idea
is that society takes precautionary action on matters involving risky technology before
there is scientific certainty of cause and effect.

The principle has been affirmed in the Rio Declaration (1992) and the World Charter
for Nature (1982). The step taken by the S.F. supervisors is important because it
seeks to realize the idea within the practical, every day policies employed by a major U.S.

The current issue of Rachel's Environment and Health News has the
full story.

"The long political road to the June 17 vote began when San Francisco mayor
Willie Brown hired Jared Blumenfeld to head the city's Department of the Environment.[1]
Under Blumenfeld's guidance, San Francisco government spent more than 2 years
studying and debating how to integrate the precautionary principle into city- and county-wide policy.
It was Blumenfeld who corraled the political resources to put precaution on the agenda in San Francisco.

But the dream of a city guided by the precautionary principle originated with a breast cancer
activist -- Joan Reinhardt Reiss of the Breast Cancer Fund (San Francisco). At least three years
ago, she phoned Carolyn Raffensperger of the Science and Environmental Health
Network (Ames, Iowa), the leading proponent of precautionary thinking in the U.S. Reiss also
contacted attorney Sanford Lewis (Waverly, Mass.), who drafted preliminary language for an
ordinance. Seeds were planted."

Here is part of the Board of Supervisors declaration.


The following shall constitute the City and County of San Francisco's Precautionary Principle policy.
All officers, boards, commissions, and departments of the City and County shall implement the
Precautionary Principle in conducting the City and County's affairs:

The Precautionary Principle requires a thorough exploration and a careful analysis of a wide range
of alternatives. Using the best available science, the Precautionary Principle requires the selection
of the alternative that presents the least potential threat to human health and the City's natural
systems. Public participation and an open and transparent decision making process are critical
to finding and selecting alternatives.

Where threats of serious or irreversible damage to people or nature exist, lack of full scientific
certainty about cause and effect shall not be viewed as sufficient reason for the City to postpone
measures to prevent the degradation of the environment or protect the health of its citizens. Any
gaps in scientific data uncovered by the examination of alternatives will provide a guidepost for
future research, but will not prevent protective action being taken by the City. As new scientific
data become available, the City will review its decisions and make adjustments when warranted."

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Bush's delusions of empire

Eric Hobsbawm writes of the Bush administration's vision of empire
in light of earlier episodes of imperialism.

"The British empire had a British, not a universal, purpose, although
naturally its propagandists also found more altruistic motives. So the
abolition of the slave trade was used to justify British naval power,
as human rights today are often used to justify US military power. On
the other hand the US, like revolutionary France and revolutionary
Russia, is a great power based on a universalist revolution - and therefore
on the belief that the rest of the world should follow its example, or
even that it should help liberate the rest of the world. Few things are
more dangerous than empires pursuing their own interest in the belief
that they are doing humanity a favour.

The cold war turned the US into the hegemon of the western world.
However, this was as the head of an alliance. In a way, Europe then
recognised the logic of a US world empire, whereas today the US government
is reacting to the fact that the US empire and its goals are no longer
genuinely accepted. In fact the present US policy is more unpopular than
the policy of any other US government has ever been, and probably than
that of any other great power has ever been."

Hobsbawm's piece, orginally published in Le Monde, can be found in
The Guardian version here.

Monday, June 09, 2003

The Open Society and its new enemies

George Soros, financial wizard and philanthropist, has written a fierce
but thoughtful critique of Bush administration policies and those who
fashion them.

“A dominant faction within the Bush administration believes that
international relations are relations of power. Because we are unquestionably
the most powerful, they claim, we have earned the right to impose our will
on the rest of the world.

This position is enshrined in the Bush doctrine that was first enunciated
in the president's speech at West Point in June 2002 and then incorporated
in the National Security Strategy last September.

The Bush doctrine is built on two pillars: First, the United States will do everything
in its power to maintain its unquestioned military supremacy, and second, the
United States arrogates the right to preemptive action. Taken together, these two
pillars support two classes of sovereignty: the sovereignty of the United States,
which takes precedence over international treaties and obligations, and the sovereignty
of all other states, which is subject to the Bush doctrine. This is reminiscent of
George Orwell's "Animal Farm": All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”

Soros follows the thinking of philosopher Karl R. Popper in advocating the ideals of
an “open society.” Now he sees the open society threatened by the nation that was
once its best hope.

Soros' essay originally appeared in The American Prospect.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Big Brother -- candid photo

Close-up from hearings of the House Judiciary Committee
on the Patriot Act and other measures enacted after the 9/11 attacks.

Homeland security: Are we there yet?

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Tax "cuts" and the redistribution of wealth

Over the past half century the trend has been to transfer wealth from
lower and middle socio-economic layer to those in the upper strata.
Here are a couple of stories about the redistributive effects of the Bush
tax "cuts," one from Newsday on property tax hikes in New York,
another from The Seattle Times on the child tax credit that excludes
poor families.

"Tax Hikes All Over Map"

"Republicans forced to defend tax cut that skips some poor families"

For general information on how the U.S. increasingly resembles
a banana republic with vast disparities of wealth, the data is here

The interesting question, of course, is how the great mass of people
who are hurt by such policies remain passive as their standard of
living declines and the quality of life in their communities hits the skids.

Is the corporate/state propaganda machine that strong? Yes, for now.

Is the drug of war and flag waving patriotism enough to deflect people
from consulting their self-interest? Evidently.

Will any political leaders step forward who are brave enough to call
attention to this vast, ongoing swindle? We’ll see.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Vocabulary for the day: synonyms for "puppet"

Chalabi, Ahmed: “The Americans are even split over whom to back:
the Pentagon is still committed to its pet politician, the formerly exiled
businessman Ahmed Chalabi, who has no particular constituency in Iraq.
The State Department, which has always distrusted Chalabi, backs a
moderate Sunni Muslim leader, Adnan Pachachi.”
(from the Independent, May 25, 2003)

Quisling, Vidkun (1887-1945), Norwegian politician, whose collaboration with
the Nazis...during World War II (1939-1945) made his name synonymous
with traitor. In the 1930s he found the National Union, a Fascist party
that received subsidies from Germany. After the Nazi invasion of Norway
in 1940 the National Union was declared the only legal party. The Germans
installed Quisling as prime minister in 1942 and throughout the war he
collaborated with the Nazis. Quisling was tried and executed after the war.
(from Encarta)

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The shame of Rockford College

At the commencement exercises at Rockford College recently,
journalist Chris Hedges was booed off the stage for speaking frankly
about war and empire in our time. Rockford, a small liberal arts college
eighty miles northwest of Chicago, evidently has not taught its students the
liberal art of listening to opposing points of view. Ironically, the belligerent
“patriotism” exhibited by a large minority in the audience served to
illustrate the lament and warning that formed the basis of Hedges’ address.

“We have forfeited the good will, the empathy the world felt for us after 9-11.
We have folded in on ourselves, we have severely weakened the delicate
international coalitions and alliances that are vital in maintaining and promoting
peace and we are part now of a dubious troika in the war against terror with
Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon, two leaders who do not shrink in Palestine or
Chechnya from carrying out acts of gratuitous and senseless acts of violence.
We have become the company we keep.

The censure and perhaps the rage of much of the world, certainly one-fifth of the
world's population which is Muslim, most of whom I'll remind you are not Arab,
is upon us. Look today at the 14 people killed last night in several explosions in
Casablanca. And this rage in a world where almost 50 percent of the planet
struggles on less than two dollars a day will see us targeted. Terrorism will become
a way of life, and when we are attacked we will, like our allies Putin and Sharon, l
lash out with greater fury. The circle of violence is a death spiral; no one escapes.
We are spinning at a speed that we may not be able to hold. As we revel in our military
prowess -- the sophistication of our military hardware and technology, for this is what
most of the press coverage consisted of in Iraq -- we lose sight of the fact that just
because we have the capacity to wage war it does not give us the right to wage war.
This capacity has doomed empires in the past.

‘Modern western civilization may perish,’ the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned,
‘because it falsely worshiped technology as a final good.’”

Here is the complete text of Hedges' speech, including evidence of audience disruption.
Perhaps the Rockford mob would have been happier with the display at last weekend’s
graduation ceremony at my university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – a flyover by
a B-2 Stealth Bomber!

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Another victory in the invasion and "conquest of nature"

As I was growing up in California, textbooks and audio visual materials were
full of references to a wonderful development unfolding -- "man's conquest of
nature." Signs of progress in this regard included "draining the swamps,"
"clearing the forests," "damming the rivers," and "forcing plants and animals
to serve human needs." Here's an excerpt from a news story about a recent
victory in this grand tradition, the rapid destruction of the world's most valued
fish species.

Ocean species depleted by fishing
Worldwide numbers down 90 percent since the 1950s
Rick Weiss, Washington Post
Thursday, May 15, 2003

Industrial fishing has decimated every one of the world's biggest and most
economically important species of fish, according to a detailed global analysis
that challenges current fisheries protection policies.

Fully 90 percent of each of the world's large ocean species, including cod,
halibut, tuna, swordfish and marlin, have disappeared from the world's oceans
in recent decades, according to the Canadian analysis -- the first to use data
going back to the beginnings of large-scale fishing in the 1950s.

The new research found that fishing has become so efficient that it typically
takes just 15 years to remove 80 percent or more of any species unlucky
enough to become the focus of a fleet's attention. Some populations have
disappeared within just a few years.

"You'd think the ocean is so large, these things would have someplace to
hide," said Ransom Myers, who with fellow marine ecologist Boris Worm
of Dalhousie University in Halifax conducted the new study. "But it doesn't
matter where you look, the story is the same. We are really too good at
killing these things."

Friday, May 09, 2003

Citizens panels and the nanotechnology bill in Congress

As part of my testimony to Congress on April 9, I suggested that among the activities
employed to assess the societal and ethical dimensions of nanotechology, the nation
should now include citizens panels. Evidently, the idea was well received. A couple
of versions of a proposal of this kind were debated on the floor of the House of Representatives
on Wednesday May 7 and one of them, the Republican version, was adopted in the
language of H.R. 766, the bill that passed. The Senate takes up similar legislation soon.

A press release on the nanotechnology bill can be found on the Committee on Science
web page.

Here is the relevant section of the legislation as it now stands.

[Section 3 (b)] (5) ensure that societal and ethical concerns, including environmental concerns and the potential implications of human performance
enhancement and the possible development of nonhuman intelligence, will be addressed as the technology is developed by--

(A) establishing a research program to identify societal and ethical concerns related to nanotechnology, and ensuring that the results of such research
are widely disseminated;

(B) insofar as possible, integrating research on societal and ethical concerns with nanotechnology research and development, and ensuring that
advances in nanotechnology bring about improvements in quality of life for all Americans;

(C) requiring that interdisciplinary research centers under paragraph (1)(C) include activities that address societal and ethical concerns; and

*******(D) ensure through the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office established under section 6 and through the agencies and departments that
participate in the Program, that public input and outreach to the public are both integrated into nanotechnology research and development and
research on societal and ethical concerns by the convening of regular and ongoing public discussions, through mechanisms such as citizens panels,
consensus conferences, and educational events, as appropriate; . . .

My specific suggestions to the committe can be found in the testimony
on my web page.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Inverted totalitarianism -- Sheldon Wolin's argument

Sheldon Wolin, political theorist who is now emeritus professor of politics
at Princeton, writes about the phenomenon of "Invertered Totalitarianism"
in the May 19 issue of The Nation.

"No doubt these remarks will be dismissed by some as alarmist,
but I want to go further and name the emergent political system
"inverted totalitarianism." By inverted I mean that while the current
system and its operatives share with Nazism the aspiration toward
unlimited power and aggressive expansionism, their methods
and actions seem upside down. For example, in Weimar Germany,
before the Nazis took power, the "streets" were dominated by
totalitarian-oriented gangs of toughs, and whatever there was of
democracy was confined to the government. In the United States,
however, it is the streets where democracy is most alive--while the
real danger lies with an increasingly unbridled government."
None dare call it fascism

It’s interesting that the topic of fascism and totalitarianism should arise in
discussions about politics in the U.S.A. at present. But what is "fascism"? It's
helpful to notice that one-dimensional definitions are of little help in characterizing
political systems. There are numerous relevant features, each of which can be
arrayed along a spectrum from low to high.

What are some of the social and political elements of states commonly called
“fascist”? Below are some familiar features. Try rating the condition of
contemporary America on a scale from 0 (low) to 10 (high) for each of the

intense nationalism and myth of the great nation

militarism and push for military build-up

blind support for a "great leader"

government by one political party

concentration of power behind an inflexible political ideology

suppression of civil liberties

suppression of labor

rigged elections

close links between corporate and state power

propaganda using the "big lie" techniques

uniform political messages in all mass media

thorough surveillance of citizens and dossier keeping

expansion of police power

hatred of peoples and religions declared "alien" or threatening

detention camps for suspect populations

imperialistic foreign policy

Now add your score on these items and divide by 16. What's your
average score?

How's America doing?

Friday, May 02, 2003

Use the difficulty

This wonderful story and piece of advice came to me from writer, thinker and
dear friend, Tim Stroshane.

"There's a motto I got from a producer in repertory theater. I was in
rehearsals, waiting behind a door to come out while a couple on-stage were
having a row. They started throwing furniture and a chair lodged in front of
the door. My cue came and I could only get halfway in. I stopped and said,
"I can't get in. The chair's in my way." And the producer said, "Use the
difficulty." I said, "what do you mean?" And he said, "Well, if it's a
drama, pick up the chair and smash it. If it's a comedy, fall over it." This
idea stuck in my mind, and I taught it to my children -- that any situation
in life that's a negative, there is something positive you can do with it.
"Use the difficulty" -- it's like a motto in our family."
--actor Michael Caine

Saturday, April 26, 2003

The boys and their toys -- gender and war in Iraq

Although there has been much comment about the jingoistic nationalism, triumphalism and lack of balance in American news coverage in the war in Iraq, little notice has been given to a feature that oozed from just about every story -- the heavily macho undercurrent in much of the journalism. The following excerpt from the Daily Telegraph offers an interesting commentary on this dimension of the shabby reporting characteristic of today's brain dead news troops.

Kate Adie attacks 'macho' Gulf war coverage

By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
(Filed: 19/04/2003)

Kate Adie, the former BBC chief news correspondent,
has criticised the "macho" coverage of the Gulf war,
which she said ignored rape, rarely sought out a
woman's viewpoint and patronised female soldiers.

Miss Adie, who made her reputation as a war
correspondent in the last Gulf war, said the conflict
was a determinedly "Boy's Own area", with tabloid
newspapers in particular retaining an 18th-century
view of women.

"Time and again I have been conscious of a
wholesale concentration on the technical, tactical
aspects of warfare, the anorak syndrome, small
boys' fascination with toys," she told a Royal Society
of Arts debate in Manchester.

"It means that those things which conventionally
interest the male audience are concentrated on, and
women disappear from a landscape in which tanks
are rolling and missiles shooting."

Miss Adie said women who were not soldiers were
frequently depicted as miserable, helpless victims. A
typical camera shot was of elderly women in
shadows sitting forlorn next to ruined houses.

"Women fade into the background of the actual
action but they might have opinions that they wish
to add. But there is noticeable embarrassment if
women intrude into what is conventionally a male
playing field still."

Friday, April 25, 2003

Questions on the origins of the SARS virus

The excerpt below comes from an essay published recently by the Institute of Science in Society.

SARS and Genetic Engineering?

The complete sequence of the SARS virus is now available, confirming it is a new coronavirus unrelated to any previously
known. Has genetic engineering contributed to creating it? Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins call for an investigation.

The World Health Organisation, which played the key role in coordinating the research, formally announced on 16 April that a
new pathogen, a member of the coronavirus family never before seen in humans, is the cause of Severe Acute Respiratory
Syndrome (SARS).

"The pace of SARS research has been astounding," said Dr. David Heymann, Executive Director, WHO Communicable Diseases
programmes. "Because of an extraordinary collaboration among laboratories from countries around the world, we now know with
certainty what causes SARS."

But there is no sign that the epidemic has run its course. By 21 April, at least 3 800 have been infected in 25 countries with
more than 200 dead. The worst hit are China, with 1 814 infected and 79 dead, Hong Kong, 1 380 infected and 94 dead, and
Toronto, 306 infected, 14 dead.

A cluster of SARS patients in Hong Kong with unusual symptoms has raised fears that the virus may be mutating, making the
disease more severe. According to microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, at the University of Hong Kong, the 300 patients from a
SARS hot spot, the Amoy Gardens apartment complex, were more seriously ill than other patients: three times as likely to suffer
early diarrhoea, twice as likely to need intensive care and less likely to respond to a cocktail of anti-viral drugs and steroids.
Even the medical staff infected by the Amoy Gardens patients were more seriously ill.

John Tam, a microbiologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong studying the gene sequences from these and other patients
suspects a mutation leading to an altered tissue preference of the virus, so it can attack the gut as well as the lungs.

The molecular phylogenies published 10 April in the New England Journal of Medicine were based on small fragments from the
polymerase gene (ORF 1b) (see Box), and have placed the SARS virus in a separate group somewhere between groups 2 and 3.
However, antibodies to the SARS virus cross react with FIPV, HuCV229E and TGEV, all in Group 1. Furthermore, the SARS virus
can grow in Vero green monkey kidney cells, which no other coronavirus can, with the exception of porcine epidemic diarrhea
virus, also in Group 1.


Coronaviruses are spherical, enveloped viruses infecting numerous species of mammals and birds. They contain a set of
four essential structural proteins: the membrane (M) protein, the small envelope (E) protein, the spike (S) glycoprotein,
and the nucleocapside (N) protein. The N protein wraps the RNA genome into a ‘nucleocapsid’ that’s surrounded by a
lipid membrane containing the S, M, and E proteins. The M and E proteins are essential and sufficient for viral envelope
formation. The M protein also interacts with the N protein, presumably to assemble the nucleocapsid into the virus.
Trimers (3 subunits) of the S protein form the characteristic spikes that protrude from the virus membrane. The spikes
are responsible for attaching to specific host cell receptors and for causing infected cells to fuse together.

The coronavirus genome is a an infectious, positive-stranded RNA (a strand that’s directly translated into protein) of
about 30 kilobases, and is the largest of all known RNA viral genomes. The beginning two-thirds of the genome contain
two open reading frames ORFs, 1a and 1b, coding for two polyproteins that are cleaved into proteins that enable the
virus to replicate and to transcribe. Downstream of ORF 1b are a number of genes that encode the structural and
several non-structural proteins.

Known coronaviruses are placed in three groups based on similarities in their genomes. Group 1 contains the porcine
epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), porcine transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV), canine coronavirus (CCV), feline
infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV) and human coronovirus 229E (HuCV229E); Group 2 contains the avian infectious
bronchitis virus (AIBV) and turkey coronavirus; while Group 3 contains the murine hepatitis virus (MHV) bovine
coronavirus (BCV), human coronavirus OC43, rat sialodacryoadenitis virus, and porcine hemagglutinating
encephomyelitis virus.

Where does the SARS virus come from? The obvious answer is recombination, which can readily occur when two strains of
viruses infect a cell at the same time. But neither of the two progenitor strains is known, says Luis Enjuanes from the
Universidad Autonoma in Madrid, Spain, one of the world leaders in the genetic manipulation of coronaviruses.

Although parts of the sequence appeared most similar to the bovine coronavirus (BCV) and the avian infectious bronchitis virus
(AIBV) (see "Bio-Terrorism & SARS", this series), the rest of the genome appear quite different.

Could genetic engineering have contributed inadvertently to creating the SARS virus? This point was not even considered by
the expert coronavirologists called in to help handle the crisis, now being feted and woed by pharmaceutical companies eager to
develop vaccines.

A research team in Genomics Sciences Centre in Vancouver, Canada, has sequenced the entire virus and posted it online 12
April. The sequence information should now be used to investigate the possibility that genetic engineering may have contributed
to creating the SARS virus.

If the SARS virus has arisen through recombined from a number of different viruses, then different parts of it would show
divergent phylogenetic relationships. These relationships could be obscured somewhat by the random errors that an extensively
manipulated sequence would accumulate, as the enzymes used in genetic manipulation, such as reverse transcriptase and other
polymerases are well-known to introduce random errors, but the telltale signs would still be a mosaic of conflicting phylogenetic
relationships, from which its history of recombination may be reconstructed. This could then be compared with the kinds of
genetic manipulations that have been carried out in the different laboratories around the world, preferably with the
recombinants held in the laboratories.