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March 31, 2006

Record Die-Off Of Caribbean Coral Environment

Centuries-old Caribbean coral reefs are dying, quite suddenly, just in the past few months. AP (via ENN):

A one-two punch of bleaching from record hot water followed by disease has killed ancient and delicate coral in the biggest loss of reefs scientists have ever seen in Caribbean waters.

Researchers from around the globe are scrambling to figure out the extent of the loss. Early conservative estimates from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands find that about one-third of the coral in official monitoring sites has recently died.

"It's an unprecedented die-off," said National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Miller, who last week checked 40 stations in the Virgin Islands. "The mortality that we're seeing now is of the extremely slow-growing reef-building corals. These are corals that are the foundation of the reef ... We're talking colonies that were here when Columbus came by have died in the past three to four months."

Some of the devastated coral can never be replaced because it only grows the width of one dime a year, Miller said.

Coral reefs are the basis for a multibillion-dollar tourism and commercial fishing economy in the Caribbean. Key fish species use coral as habitat and feeding grounds. Reefs limit the damage from hurricanes and tsunamis. More recently they are being touted as possible sources for new medicines. [...]

On Sunday, [Puerto Rican biologist Edwin] Hernandez-Delgado found a colony of 800-year-old star coral — more than 13 feet high — that had just died in the waters off Puerto Rico.

"We did lose entire colonies," he said. "This is something we have never seen before." [...]

"We haven't seen an event of this magnitude in the Caribbean before," said Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch.

The Caribbean is actually better off than areas of the Indian and Pacific ocean where mortality rates — mostly from warming waters — have been in the 90 percent range in past years, said Tom Goreau of the Global Coral Reef Alliance. Goreau called what's happening worldwide "an underwater holocaust."

And with global warming, scientists are pessimistic about the future of coral reefs.

"The prognosis is not good," said biochemistry professor M. James Crabbe of the University of Luton near London. In early April, he will investigate coral reef mortality in Jamaica. "If you want to see a coral reef, go now, because they just won't survive in their current state." [...]

New NOAA sea surface temperature figures show the sustained heating in the Caribbean last summer and fall was by far the worst in 21 years of satellite monitoring, Eakin said.

"The 2005 event is bigger than all the previous 20 years combined," he said.

What happened in the Caribbean would be the equivalent of every city in the United States recording a record high temperature at the same time, Eakin said. And it remained hot for weeks, even months, stressing the coral. [...]

"This is probably a harbinger of things to come," said John Rollino, the chief scientist for the Bahamian Reef Survey. "The coral bleaching is probably more a symptom of disease — the widespread global environmental degradation — that's going on."

Crabbe said evidence of global warming is overwhelming.

"The big problem for coral is the question of whether they can adapt sufficiently quickly to cope with climate change," Crabbe said. "I think the evidence we have at the moment is: No, they can't. [Emphasis added]

The global effects of global warming are not some vague threats somewhere off in the indefinite future. They're happening now, more suddenly and more quickly than anyone anticipated. This is the challenge for our time.

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Somebody Tell Bush: That "Fundamental Debate" Is Over Environment  Politics

Two days ago, in response to a questioner from Australia, President Bush said this about global warming:

We — first of all, there is — the globe is warming. The fundamental debate: Is it manmade or natural. Put that aside.

RealClimate, an excellent site run by working climate scientists, had this response:

The first part is the silver lining: despite receiving novelist Michael Crichton in the White House recently, Bush obviously has not bought his theory that the globe is in fact not warming. Crichton is one of the last trend sceptics who deny the warming trend is real.

Rather, Bush adopts an attribution sceptic position: warming yes, but is it caused by humans? This position is equally out of step with science, where the debate over this question has also now been settled.

Data show that carbon dioxide levels are rising, they are now 30% higher than at any time during at least the past 650,000 years, and likely even the past several million years. This rise is caused entirely by human activities. This is also demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt by data - for a start, we know how much CO2 we have emitted, and the observed rise is equal to 57% of this (the rest has been taken up by ocean and biosphere). That carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping longwave radiation, is also a measured fact and well-established physics since the 19th Century...In equilibrium, you [would] expect a warming of 2 ºC based solely on the human-caused rise in greenhouse gas concentration. But there's a time lag due to ocean heat uptake ("thermal intertia"), so that up to half the expected warming would still be in the pipeline and not here yet (this is shown by models and confirmed by oceanographic data...). That means: this rough calculation shows that the human-caused increase in greenhouse gases can explain at least 1 ºC of global warming. The observed warming is 0.8 ºC - this is less than what would be expected from greenhouse gases alone, because greenhouse gases are of course not the only factor that affects climate - there is a cooling effect by aerosols which counteracts part of the warming.

What about a "natural" explanation for the observed global warming? There is none. Indicators and measurements of solar activity show no increasing trend over the past 60 years. The orbital cycles, which cause the ice ages, would currently tend towards cooling, if anything. There is no remotely feasible alternative explanation for the observed warming published in the scientific literature. The "fundamental debate" postulated by Bush is a media phenomenon - to use the words of ABC News, a "con job" by special interest groups. It is not a debate that is ongoing in the scientific community. The numerous, often hair-raising arguments that have been brought forward as part of this "con job" have been thoroughly refuted many times.

In summary, the following scientific findings can no longer credibly be argued to be in dispute:

(1) The observed large-scale warming of the atmosphere and ocean is an entirely expected, and in fact well-predicted, consequence of the human-caused accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

(2) There is no other reasonable scientific explanation for the observed warming. [Emphasis added]

It's impossible to know if Bush actually believes what he's saying. He is such an intellectually lazy and incurious man that it's entirely possible. But that's no excuse. Far from it. With the fate of millions hanging in the balance, a man in Bush's position has an absolute moral duty to educate himself on the issue and act in consonance with the best scientific opinion. This is no time for know-nothing frat boy leadership. This is a time for leadership by smart, conscientious, serious-minded grownups.

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Infernal Machine Energy

This is, uh, impressive (PowerPoint; link via Oil Drum). An open-pit mining machine capable of filling 100,000 large dump trucks a day. It takes an infernal machine to feed the dark Satanic mills.

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

This problem with illegal immigration is nothing new. In fact, the Indians had a special name for it. They called it "white people." — Jay Leno

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March 30, 2006

New Orleans: The Disaster Continues Disasters  Politics

Republican ideologues believe government cannot solve problems, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who believe in government and who want government to succeed: those are the people who can govern well. Consider New Orleans. Bill Quigley:

In New Orleans, seven months after Katrina, senior citizens are living in their cars...Korean War veteran Paul Morris, 74, and his wife Yvonne, 66,...have been sleeping in their two-door sedan since January. They have been waiting that long for FEMA contractors to unlock the 240 square foot trailer in their yard and connect the power so they can sleep inside it in front of their devastated home.

This tale of lunacy does not begin to stop there.

Their 240 square foot trailer may well cost more than their house. While FEMA flat out refuses to say how much the government is paying for trailers, reliable estimates by the New York Times and others place the cost at over $60,000 each.

How could these tiny FEMA trailers cost so much?

Follow the money.

Circle B Enterprises of Georgia was awarded $287 million in contracts by FEMA for temporary housing. At the time, that was the seventh highest award of Katrina money in the country. According to the Washington Post, Circle B was not even being licensed to build homes in its own state of Georgia and filed for bankruptcy in 2003. The company does not even have a website.

Here is how it works. The original contractor takes their cut and subcontracts out the work of constructing the trailer to other companies. Once it is built, they subcontract out the transporting the trailers to yet other companies which pay drivers, gas, insurance and mileage. They then subcontract out the hookups of the trailers to other companies and keep taking cuts for their services. Usually none of the people who make the money are local workers.

With $60,000 many people could adequately repair their homes.

Why not just give the $60,000 directly to the elderly couple and let them fix up their home? Ask Congress. FEMA is not allowed to give grants of that much. Money for fixing up homes comes from somewhere else and people are still waiting for that to arrive.

While many corporations are making big money off of Katrina, Mr. and Mrs. Morris wait in their car.

Craziness continues in the area of the right to vote.

You would think that the nation that put on elections with satellite voting boxes for Iraqis and Afghanis and Haitians and many others would do the same for Katrina evacuees. Wrong. There is no satellite voting for the 230,000 citizens of New Orleans who are out of state. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Advancement Project, ACORN and the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund have all fought for satellite voting but Louisiana and the courts and the U.S. Justice Department have said no.

The rule of thumb around here is that the poorer you are, the further you have been displaced. African Americans are also much more likely to be poor and renters — the people who cannot yet come back to a city where rents have doubled. They are the ones bearing the burdens of no satellite voting.

The people already back are much more affluent than the pre-Katrina New Orleans. The city is also much whiter. Many of those already back in New Orleans are not so sure that all of New Orleans should be rebuilt. The consequence of that is not everyone will be allowed to return. Planners and politicians openly suggest turning poor neighborhoods into green spaces. No one yet has said they want to turn their own neighborhood into green space — only other people's neighborhoods — usually poor people's neighborhoods. Those who disagree are by and large not here.

New Orleans has not been majority white for decades, but it is quite possible that a majority of those who are able to vote in the upcoming election will be white. Thus the decisions about the future of New Orleans are poised to be made by those who have been able to get back and will exclude many of those still evacuated. Guess what type of plans they will have for New Orleans? [Emphasis added]

The majority party in Washington thinks their responsibility ends when they decide which political crony to reward with a contract. They have no interest in governing, no interest in managing. Their interest is in plundering the treasury and accumulating power. Banana Republicans.

What is happening in New Orleans is a disgraceful national failure. Every time we countenance such failure, we grow weaker as a nation. Morally weaker. And if there ever was a time when we needed all our strength to face the challenges ahead, this is that time.

Posted by Jonathan at 11:05 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:34 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

You know Andrew Card? He resigned. I know what you're thinking: Who would leave a dream job like that? Finally somebody in the White House has an exit strategy. — David Letterman

Andy Card resigned. Finally a Republican leaving Washington not in handcuffs. — Jay Leno

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March 29, 2006

Absolute Bloody Chaos Iraq

Riverbend, the Iraqi woman who blogs at Baghdad Burning, yesterday posted this (excerpt):

I sat late last night switching between Iraqi channels (the half dozen or so I sometimes try to watch). It's a late-night tradition for me when there's electricity — [...]

I paused on the Sharqiya channel which many Iraqis consider to be a reasonably toned channel (and which during the elections showed its support for Allawi in particular). I was reading the little scrolling news headlines on the bottom of the page. The usual — mortar fire on an area in Baghdad, an American soldier killed here, another one wounded there... 12 Iraqi corpses found in an area in Baghdad, etc. Suddenly, one of them caught my attention and I sat up straight on the sofa, wondering if I had read it correctly.

E. was sitting at the other end of the living room...I called him over with the words, "Come here and read this — I'm sure I misunderstood..." He stood in front of the television and watched the words about corpses and Americans and puppets scroll by and when the news item I was watching for appeared, I jumped up and pointed. E. and I read it in silence and E. looked as confused as I was feeling.

The line said:

وزارة الدفاع تدعو المواطنين الى عدم الانصياع لاوامر دوريات الجيش والشرطة الليلية اذا لم تكن برفقة قوات التحالف العاملة في تلك المنطقة

The translation:

"The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area."

That's how messed up the country is at this point.

We switched to another channel, the "Baghdad" channel (allied with Muhsin Abdul Hameed and his group) and they had the same news item, but instead of the general "coalition forces" they had "American coalition forces".

[T]oday as it was repeated on another channel. [...]

It confirmed what has been obvious to Iraqis since the beginning — the Iraqi security forces are actually militias allied to religious and political parties.

But it also brings to light other worrisome issues. The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can't even trust its own personnel, unless they are "accompanied by American coalition forces". [...]

They've been finding corpses all over Baghdad for weeks now — and it's always the same: holes drilled in the head, multiple shots or strangulation, like the victims were hung. Execution, militia style. Many of the people were taken from their homes by security forces — police or special army brigades... Some of them were rounded up from mosques. [Emphasis added]

How bad does it have to be for the Ministry of Defence to go on the air and publicly advise people to ignore the orders of its own army and police unless they're accompanied by Americans. The same army and police that Bush says are "standing up" so US forces can "stand down."

The horror that is unfolding in that country is impossible to imagine. We have so much to answer for.

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Chomsky On Iraq And Oil 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Peak Oil

On Friday, the Washington Post hosted an online chat with Noam Chomsky. The first Q&A went right to the connection between Iraq and oil:

Q: Why do you think the US went to war against Iraq?

Noam Chomsky: Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, it is right in the midst of the major energy reserves in the world. Its been a primary goal of US policy since World War II (like Britain before it) to control what the State Department called "a stupendous source of strategic power" and one of the greatest material prizes in history. Establishing a client state in Iraq would significantly enhance that strategic power, a matter of great significance for the future. As Zbigniew Brzezinski observed, it would provide the US with "critical leverage" [over] its European and Asian rivals, a conception with roots in early post-war planning. These are substantial reasons for aggression — not unlike those of the British when they invaded and occupied Iraq over 80 years earlier, at the dawn of the oil age.

Reading this statement, one is struck by how rare such candor is in US public discourse. Pretty much everybody in the mainstream avoids stating the obvious: Iraq is about oil. Yes, other interests are served, but oil is the driver behind US foreign policy today and into the future. It's obvious, yet no one will say it.

Talk about the Emperor's New Clothes.

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Wombats Never Lie Activism  Environment

Everything we need to know, in a nutshell. (Flash, with sound)

Now we just have to learn it. While we still can.

[Thanks, Carie]

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:10 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Here now a list of requirements for Dick Cheney's "downtime suite": He wants bottled water. He wants decaffeinated coffee. He wants an ice bucket. He wants ammo. ... Cheney wants bottled water, decaffeinated coffee. He wants his lights on. He wants the temperature at 68 degrees, the TVs must be tuned to Fox news. I was thinking, "My God, I wish they would have put this much preparation into the Iraq War!" — David Letterman

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March 28, 2006

Reaching Higher

I defy you to watch this without smiling. Be sure to have the sound turned on. A beautiful, witty, and ultimately poignant performance.

(Some people have quibbled with the level of technical juggling skill involved, but I have to say I think they're missing the point.)

Posted by Jonathan at 08:13 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

The Fire Next Time Disasters  Environment

When Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, we got a preview of what awaits the world's coastal cities as global warming leads to bigger storms and higher sea levels.

In the interior, however, the global warming threat isn't floods, it's fire. Fire fed by drought, like the current drought in the Texas Panhandle that has led to the largest wildfires in Texas history. Texas officials say that if such wildfires were to reach Austin, they would be powerless: much of Austin would be lost. Austin American-Statesman (link via Viridian):

Authorities urged residents in six Panhandle towns to evacuate Wednesday and warned that the state's largest wildfire outbreak in history could cross into Oklahoma. [...]

Although this fire was raging in sparsely populated ranching country, Texas Forest Service Director James B. Hull warned Wednesday that such a fire striking Austin and Travis County would yield a more nightmarish fate.

"Austin is going to be the worst catastrophe Texas has ever seen," Hull said as he toured firefighting operations in the Panhandle. "The conditions we're having in the Panhandle right now, when it gets to Austin, it will be a tragedy."

Mix drought conditions and high winds in an urban-area forest like the cedar-covered hills of western Travis County and the area would be a tinder box of gigantic proportions, Hull said.

Austin Fire Department Battalion Chief Palmer Buck agreed: "It would not be what house we are going to save...it would be what neighborhood are we going to save."

The Fire Department does not have the resources to fight a major wildfire in the hills along Lake Austin or the rugged terrain of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve area, Buck said. [...]

The 1,800 volunteer fire departments with 40,000 firefighters are the backbone of protection in rural communities. But almost half those departments have budgets of $10,000 or less. Hull said volunteer departments often have old equipment and are not equipped to battle blazes that last days or weeks. [...]

When Sunday's 55-mph winds first fueled the Panhandle fires, the state at first could offer only minimal backup to local fire departments. The Texas Forest Service had a management team in Amarillo and, luckily, had been able to get five large air tankers from the U.S. Forest Service to fly from Albuquerque, N.M., and Ardmore, Okla., to drop fire retardant.

Typically, those planes would be fighting fires in other parts of the country, and Texas would have to rely on eight National Guard helicopters to fly large buckets of water to the fires. The war in Iraq, however, has reduced that option.

"There have been times when none of the helicopters were available," Hull said. [...]

Although state firefighting officials were able to predict the threat of the Panhandle fires because of the projected wind speeds, drought conditions and low humidity, they had no firefighting equipment on the ground to back up local operations. [...]

Part of the problem is the sheer size of the state.

"We're fighting fires all the way from Laredo to East Texas, through the Hill Country, to here in the Panhandle," Hull said. "We're stretched very thin." [...]

A study done by the Austin Fire Department in 2003 showed that about 50,000 homes in Travis County are in either extreme- or high-risk fire zones. [...]

"Texas still has a rural mentality," Hull said. "But with 22.5 million people, we are an urban state, and we have to plan for that urban catastrophe." [Emphasis added]

Sooner or later, it's really going to dawn on us what we've set in motion. Outside, a wind is rising.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:58 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

The president's mother, Barbara Bush, donated tax deductible money to the Katrina Relief...Now we find out the specific instructions — that the money be spent for educational software owned by her son, Neil. Because who can forget those tragic images of the poor black people on the rooftops in New Orleans holding up signs that said, "Send educational software." — Bill Maher

Posted by Jonathan at 10:53 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

The Long War 9/11, "War On Terror"  Energy  Iraq  Peak Oil

James Kunstler loves to go overboard, but in his latest missive, he's got a point: the Iraq debate is grounded in delusion. Kunstler:

This is how deluded the American public is now: Various polls are showing that the war in Iraq has reached new lows of unpopularity. The dumb bunnies in the news media are implying that when the numbers get low enough, we will pull our troops out and go home.

This is not going to happen. Our inordinate hubris has led us to believe that this conflict is optional.

Notice, too, that the war-weary public has done, and continues to do, nothing to change its habits of profligate oil use which have driven us to project our military into the Middle East. We have not even begun a discussion of what we might do. We just expect to keep running American society exactly the way it has been set up to run — as a nonstop demolition derby, with hamburgers and fries between laps around the freeway.

At the highest level of public discourse, the cluelessness is shocking. The New York Times Sunday Book Review ran a front-page piece yesterday on Francis Fukuyama's latest salvo, America at the Crossroads, which is largely about our Middle East war policy, without once using the word "oil." [...]

The plain truth is, if anything happens to upset the current management and allocation system of the the global oil markets, the industrial economies of the world will collapse, and America's will collapse hardest and worst because of the way we have arranged things for ourselves. The global oil markets currently revolve around Middle East oil production. If the region is overcome by instability, than it's simply GAME OVER. [...]

Our denial runs deep and hard. Even the educated minority (including the tech wonks) believe that we can run the freeways and the WalMarts on alternative fuels. They flatter themselves listening to the morning yammer about "renewables" on NPR as they make the daily commute from, say, the suburban asteroid belts of Northern Virginia into Washington, DC. They bethink themselves progressive, cutting edge, morally superior in their Priuses. [...]

What can we do? Oil man Jeffrey Brown of Dallas has made the interesting suggestion that we replace some or all of the national income tax with a substantial national gasoline tax. A congressional debate over that would be worth hearing. It would be a good start in concentrating our minds in the right direction: that is, toward the problems we have created for ourselves at home. There are many other things we could do also, from rebuilding our railroads to removing incentives for suburban development. They would all require major shifts in our behavior. We can either begin them voluntarily or wait for events to compel us to live differently. In the absence of that, our presence in Iraq is not optional. [Emphasis added]

Iraq is about oil. Obviously. And the oil problem isn't going away. We should understand, therefore, that the architects of the war — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice — have absolutely no intention of withdrawing US forces. Not till the oil runs out.

They have lied about everything else, and they will lie about this, too, but actions speak louder than words. We just need to look at the bases US forces are building in Iraq. AP (link via Deep Blade):

Balad Air Base, Iraq - The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a "heli-park" as good as any back in the States.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they're planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.

"I think we'll be here forever," the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base. [...]

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and other U.S. officials disavow any desire for permanent bases. But long-term access, as at other U.S. bases abroad, is different from "permanent," and the official U.S. position is carefully worded. [...]

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about "permanent duty stations" by a Marine during an Iraq visit in December, allowed that it was "an interesting question." He said it would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if "they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time."

In Washington, Iraq scholar Phebe Marr finds the language intriguing. "If they aren't planning for bases, they ought to say so," she said. "I would expect to hear 'No bases.'"

Right now what is heard is the pouring of concrete.

In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for U.S. military construction in Iraq, as American forces consolidate at Balad, known as Anaconda, and a handful of other installations, big bases under the old regime. [...]

"The coalition forces are moving outside the cities while continuing to provide security support to the Iraqi security forces," [Major Lee] English said.

The move away from cities, perhaps eventually accompanied by U.S. force reductions, will lower the profile of U.S. troops, frequent targets of roadside bombs on city streets. [...]

Al-Asad will become even more isolated. The proposed 2006 supplemental budget for Iraq operations would provide $7.4 million to extend the no-man’s-land and build new security fencing around the base, which at 19 square miles is so large that many assigned there take the Yellow or Blue bus routes to get around the base, or buy bicycles at a PX jammed with customers.

The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid — a typical sign of a long-term base. [...]

Here at Balad, the former Iraqi air force academy 40 miles north of Baghdad, the two 12,000-foot runways have become the logistics hub for all U.S. military operations in Iraq, and major upgrades began last year.

Army engineers say 31,000 truckloads of sand and gravel fed nine concrete-mixing plants on Balad, as contractors laid a $16 million ramp to park the Air Force's huge C-5 cargo planes; an $18 million ramp for workhorse C-130 transports; and the vast, $28 million main helicopter ramp, the length of 13 football fields, filled with attack, transport and reconnaissance helicopters. [...]

"[W]e're good for as long as we need to run it," [Lt. Col. Scott] Hoover said. Ten years? he was asked. "I'd say so." [...]

In the counterinsurgency fight, Balad's central location enables strike aircraft to reach targets in minutes. And in the broader context of reinforcing the U.S. presence in the oil-rich Mideast, Iraq bases are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, said a longtime defense analyst.

"Carriers don't have the punch," said Gordon Adams of Washington's George Washington University. "There's a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases." [...]

"It's a stupid idea and clearly politically unacceptable," [Anthony] Zinni, a former Central Command chief, said in a Washington interview. "It would damage our image in the region, where people would decide that this" — seizing bases — "was our original intent." [...]

If long-term basing is, indeed, on the horizon, "the politics back here and the politics in the region say, 'Don't announce it,'" Adams said in Washington. That's what's done elsewhere, as with the quiet U.S. basing of spy planes and other aircraft in the United Arab Emirates. [...]

From the start, in 2003, the first Army engineers rolling into Balad took the long view, laying out a 10-year plan envisioning a move from tents to today's living quarters in air-conditioned trailers, to concrete-and-brick barracks by 2008. [Emphasis added]

In its latest Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon stopped talking about a war on terror. Instead, they're talking about "the long war". They're not kidding.

It's all one big Gordian Knot: Iraq, peak oil, global warming. We need to understand that and not forget it. If we don't deal with energy, we will be stuck with war and catastrophic climate change. It's all one problem.

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March 27, 2006

Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

The FBI is investigating Americans — just for opposing the war. You know, maybe when we're done establishing a democracy in Iraq, we could try it over here. Stop, don't applaud, I don't want to get investigated! — Jay Leno

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March 26, 2006

Good Ol' Wikipedia Politics

This cuts right to the chase. Great stuff.

[Thanks, Kent]

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Reporting For The CIA Media  Politics

Americans are naive. We're brought up to believe that we've got a free news media, we've got real representative politics, and so on. The game may be rigged in other countries, but not here. So, we know that the NSA listens to every scrap of electronic communications overseas, but we take it on faith that they don't listen to communications here in the US. But then it turns out they do.

We know also that the CIA is skilled in manipulating the news media overseas. We know they manipulate other countries' political processes, funding this candidate, smearing that one, bolstering a regime here, creating chaos there. But we take it on faith that they don't apply those skills internally. Why? If they believe the national security is at stake, why wouldn't they conclude it is their duty to bring to bear every tool at their disposal?

Actually, we don't have to guess. In 1977, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame wrote an article for Rolling Stone that exposed the fact that hundreds of American journalists, including some of the biggest names in news, had secretly carried out assignments on behalf of the CIA. Bernstein:

[M]ore than 400 American journalists...in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. [...]

The Agency's relationship with the [New York] Times was by far its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials. [It was] general Times policy...to provide assistance to the CIA whenever possible.

...[T]he Agency's working relationship with the Times was closer and more extensive than with any other paper...

CBS was unquestionably the CIA's most valuable broadcasting asset. CBS president William Paley and [CIA Director] Allen Dulles enjoyed an easy working and social relationship...[CBS] allowed reports by CBS correspondents to the Washington and New York newsrooms to be routinely monitored by the CIA. Once a year during the 1950s and early 1960s, CBS correspondents joined the CIA hierarchy for private dinners and briefings. [Emphasis added]

200 reporters, Bernstein said, had gone so far as to sign secrecy agreements with the CIA. That was in 1977. But CIA infiltration of the American news media isn't exactly something a CIA-infiltrated news media is going to report on, so, in the 30 years since Bernstein's article, we haven't heard much more about it.

But SusanG at DailyKos (link via Xymphora) has posted an interview she did with Daniel Ellsberg, who speculates on the current state of affairs as seen through the prism of the Judith Miller affair. Excerpt below the fold.


Over 200 reporters, according to Bernstein, had signed secrecy agreements with the CIA. There were a number of individuals who did really work to put stories in that they wanted, to publish stuff they wanted. I believe that's what they were saying about Joe Alsop and Stewart Alsop, that they were essentially assets of the CIA, which means they would put out CIA line. Not because they were literal employees, but because they were friends with people in the CIA.

Q: But that's a thin line isn't it? I'm not sure that anybody said specifically, write a story that's very positive about X so that we look good. I think a lot of it is just an understanding of being a part of that establishment back then and they saw it as patriotism, from what Bernstein said.

Certainly that is a major aspect to the whole thing. They're not under the impression that they're working for and with the city machine or the mafia or something. This is the U.S. government, this is the CIA, this is the establishment.

But let me put a slightly different spin on it: Remember Sy Sulzberger was mentioned as one person who had a clearance. He had a column, and he denied it, but several people from the CIA said that on one occasion he called up for information, they gave him the briefing paper and he simply put the briefing in under his byline. He literally reproduced the whole briefing paper.

Now how often is that done? Remember, a lot of these people were putting out mainly opinion columns, not reporting news...like Joe Alsop and Stewart Alsop. How often did they call up their friend at the CIA who simply told them, here's what's going on. And they then go on to print, here's what's going on. They don't say, I was told by a high official. See, they say, this is the reality. This is what's really happening, here's the real news. Sometimes they would say, yes, I got this from some official, but other times they would just say, this is a result of my observations or this is they way I see it. How often was the way they saw it in their highly read column simply what Allen Dulles or Richard Helms told them and they believed it? It wasn't that they were just being servile, they're just presenting a crafted CIA line which has been given to them.

Here's the point I was really coming to: I was most struck in that by the idea of a secrecy clearance, as somebody who had had a dozen simultaneous clearances.

The relationship that that implies has a number of dimensions to it. One of them - it's just one, but it's an important one - is that you are led to believe (quite misleadingly actually) that if you violate that agreement, you will be prosecuted. You are violating a law. And even if you're not prosecuted, you will know you are violating a law if you break the terms of that agreement. They mention to you 18 USC 793 (d) and (e) and so forth - what I was charged with. And indeed, I was prosecuted.

Now the catch is, I was the first person ever prosecuted for it. No one had ever been prosecuted, but I didn't know that, and they don't know that, and most people don't know it to this day. Not one reporter in a hundred have I ever met - and I've talked to audiences of journalists - knows that I was the first person ever to be prosecuted.

However, every time you sign that agreement, you are confronted with these laws that say you are subject to prosecution, so they think they're violating a law if they put that out, that they will get prosecuted having agreed to this. A reporter who is just slipped something under the cover on one particular day or who was told something over lunch, a reporter who hasn't signed an agreement, I think, is unlikely to believe that he or she is in trouble if he puts it out. He's more likely to believe that the source will get in trouble.

A reporter who has signed that agreement is definitely led to believe that he or she is subject to prosecution if he breaks that agreement. That's the number one point.

Number two point is... Judith Miller said, I had a security clearance. Now I think she was telling the truth. They said, no, it was just a simple non-disclosure agreement or some misunderstanding, I think that's the cover story. She had a clearance. What would that mean?

It means that she's trusted by these people as one of the team. They're not giving it to her under threat, they're giving it to her because they trust her to carry this out. Wonderful self-esteem there and the feeling of being an insider, and your fellows don't have that. It means you will now get information that people who don't have that clearance will not get. You'll get it in part because you're trusted and because you have something to lose, they'll take it away. If you violate it, you won't get that stuff anymore. You infer from that that you will get information that others don't get because you'll be trusted not to print it unless they tell you it's all right.

My guess is very strongly that Judith Miller did have such a clearance and did have a background check and it meant that she was entitled to get information authoritatively that others were not entitled to get on the understanding that she has a lot to lose - namely a clearance - and not just the one source, but from a lot of sources. It gives her entrée. [...]

If she has a clearance, he could take her to a meeting, to a place, to anybody, and say, "This woman is okay, she's cleared."

I thought right away: Judith Miller, Judith Miller. She's one of Bernstein's people here. And remember, he says it was one of their most carefully guarded secrets that they had, that they kept the Church Committee from putting out. They gave them stuff on assassination instead; that was less scary.

In every case, Bernstein said, where a journalist had such an agreement, it was known to their boss - to their editor or publisher or both. So I infer from that that probably Bill Keller - possibly not - or Howell Raines, but certainly the publisher, Sulzberger, did know. Now let's go one step further. Bernstein quotes somebody at the CIA as saying, "Our greatest asset is the New York Times." All right. [...]

...I'm sorry, I would not be happy to have it proved that the New York Times, which is the first thing I read every morning is, after all, a government newspaper. And obviously there are limitations to that because there's no question that they do put out from time to time things that the government does not want out. I can say that I know that better than most.

But keep in mind that Nixon was not in fact unhappy to see the Pentagon Papers out, and he wanted to put more stuff out.

Q: And in order to be an effective instrument of the government, it has to sometimes challenge the government.

It should show a certain amount of independence from time to time, yes.

But the stuff that was coming out during the first Gulf War was exactly like what was coming out in the invasion of Iraq this time. If the coverage had been coming right out of a shop in the Pentagon, controlling every aspect of the television coverage of the first Gulf War, how different would it have been? I didn't see how it could have been different.

It's still going on.

Q: So how did they do it?

...The control of the war coverage was very, very effective. And these PR guys know what they're doing. They did it in Grenada. I believe they didn't allow any reporters in when the actual operation was going on. And in Panama, there was hardly any coverage and to this day there's never been any investigation of how many Panamanians had been killed in that attack on Noriega's headquarters.

Just from the outside, you look at that and you say: You know, they're acting as though it's a controlled press. So let me put into the pot just the hypothesis that to a greater extent than we are really aware, it is a controlled press. And it's not 100 percent and some of the exposes occasionally - not that many - even go beyond what is necessary to establish an appearance of independence and constitutes a real degree of independence. But I think it's just possible that when you look a flagship like the New York Times from which other papers take their cues as to what is news and what isn't, there may be a critical element of top-level people being actually on the team. It's clear that Judith Miller was on the team. I'm suggesting that that goes beyond a mere groupie-type enthusiasm for the policy. She was on the team, period. She was one of us. She's an insider, not an outsider, let's say.

The Bush family has intelligence ties going back several generations. George H. W. Bush was CIA Director. The name of CIA headquarters is the George Bush Center for Intelligence, for pete's sake. Think back to the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Do they pass the smell test? Or did the Bush forces manipulate them the way the CIA has long since learned to manipulate elections abroad?

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Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Everybody's excited about March Madness, the big NCAA basketball tournament. Here's how it works: It starts at 65, then 64, then 32, then 16. It's just like Bush's approval rating. — David Letterman

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March 25, 2006

Rising Sea Levels A Threat To Coastal Cities Environment

Storm surge floods low-lying coastal city: a true 21st-century story. New Orleans was only a preview. Guardian:

Half of Greenland and vast areas of Antarctica are destined to melt if global warming continues at the same pace until the end of the century, scientists warned yesterday. Their research shows that the loss of so much ice will trigger dramatic rises in sea levels, ultimately swamping low-lying regions of Essex, Lincolnshire and Norfolk and threatening the flood defences of cities such as London, Liverpool and Bristol. The last time so much ice was lost from the poles - in a period between ice ages 129,000 years ago - global sea levels rose by four to six metres.

Experts believe many coastal regions would suffer long before sea levels rose significantly, because even a minor rise will make storm surges more devastating and increase the risk of flooding. A rise of one metre would in effect close the port of London as the Thames barrier would need to be raised for 300 days a year to protect the city, according to one scientist.

The warning comes from climate scientists who combined historical records of Arctic and Antarctic ice melting with advanced computer models capable of predicting future environmental conditions. They found that if nothing is done to put the brakes on climate change, Greenland, the west Antarctic ice sheet and other expanses of polar ice will be warmed beyond a "tipping point" after which their melting is inevitable. [...]

"We showed that that level of warming will come later in this century unless we act on carbon emissions," said Professor Overpeck. "An Arctic warming of 3C to 5C is enough to cause four to six metres of sea level rise."

If temperatures do rise as the scientists predict, the ice at the poles will not be lost immediately. Enough ice is likely to melt within the next 100 years to raise sea levels by a metre, but ultimately the fresh water pouring into the North Atlantic would slow down the Gulf stream, which bathes Britain in warm water from the tropics, by a quarter. "These ice sheets have melted before and sea levels rose. The warmth needed isn't that much above present conditions," said Dr Otto-Bliesner.

The major concern is that unless climate change slows down significantly, the eventual loss of polar ice and subsequent six-metre rise in sea levels will be unavoidable. "There has been an increasing number of observations from the ice sheets suggesting they are responding faster to climate change than anticipated. Now along come our results showing these kinds of changes occurred in the past and lead to large ice sheet retreat and sea level rise. There's a threshold beyond which we'll be committed to this melting and sea level rise irreversibly in the future and that will come later this century," said Prof Overpeck. A one-metre rise in sea level would see the Maldives disappear, make most of Bangladesh uninhabitable and put cities such as New Orleans "out of business", according to Prof Overpeck. The research is published in two papers in the US journal Science today. [...]

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere stand at around 380 parts per million, but many scientists believe they will rise to 550ppm by the middle of the century. "If we were to experience a rise of one metre [in sea levels], we would have to improve sea defences around the country and that would be extremely costly. We wouldn't be able to use the port of London because the Thames barrier would have to be closed for much of the year," said Professor David Vaughan, a climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. [Emphasis added]

Republicans say we can't do anything to limit emissions because that would be bad for business. As if losing a bunch of coastal cities and ports will be good for business.

A core problem is that our existing commercial and governmental institutions have a short term focus. No one gets anywhere in business or politics by worrying about problems that are a few decades off in the future. But some problems just aren't short term problems.

[Thanks, Jeff]

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Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Osama bin Laden says the US won’t take him alive. If I were him, I'd hide somewhere lacking US federal presence. Might want to try New Orleans' 9th Ward. — Will Durst

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March 24, 2006


Just picked up my new Prius. Sweet car.

Think I'll go play. Maybe a post later tonight, maybe not. :-)

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 


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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Vice President Cheney says there is no civil war in Iraq and that the violence is directed towards us. Wow, talk about good news, bad news. — Will Durst

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March 23, 2006

USDA Stops Firm From Doing Extra Inspections On Its Own Beef Corporations, Globalization

This isn't a new story, but it was new to me, and it deserves a wider audience. Prepare to be outraged. LA Times (via ReclaimDemocracy.org):

Creekstone Farms is a little slaughterhouse in Kansas with an idea that would have had Adam Smith's mouth watering. Faced with consumers who remain skittish over mad cow disease — especially in Japan — Creekstone decided that all its beef would be tested for mad cow, a radical departure from the random testing done by other companies. It was a case study in free-market meatpacking entrepreneurship. That is, until the Bush administration's Department of Agriculture blocked the enterprise, apparently at the behest of Creekstone's competitors.

According to the Washington Post, Creekstone invested $500,000 to build the first mad cow testing lab in a U.S. slaughterhouse and hired chemists and biologists to staff the operation. The only thing it needed was testing kits. That's where the company ran into trouble. By law, the Department of Agriculture controls the sale of the kits, and it refused to sell Creekstone enough to test all of its cows. The USDA said that allowing even a small meatpacking company like Creekstone to test every cow it slaughtered would undermine the agency's official position that random testing was scientifically adequate to assure safety.

What it didn't say was that the rest of the meatpacking industry was adamantly opposed to such testing, which is expensive, and had no desire to compete with Creekstone's fully certified beef. "If testing is allowed at Creekstone," the president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. told the Post, "we think it would become the international standard and the domestic standard, too."

The Agriculture Department's Creekstone decision reveals the best thinking of Soviet central planning: The government shoots the innovator to preserve market stability. Though President Bush invokes free-market principles when it comes to industry downsizing, "outsourcing" jobs, media mergers and energy deregulation, those principles apparently have their limits when a company seeks to become an industry leader in consumer protection.

Located in the small town of Arkansas City, Creekstone is a model operation in an industry that often seems medieval. It traces the origins of its high-quality Black Angus beef to reduce the use of animals that have been given antibiotics. It pays high wages, employs humane slaughtering techniques (they make for better-tasting beef) and maintains a slow enough production line to guarantee worker safety and to ensure that animals are dead before they are butchered. Although the largest U.S. meatpacking companies have fought regulations that would force such practices, Creekstone — which has been in business since 1995 — has proved that some consumers will pay more for such corporate policies and the premium product that results.

The appearance of mad cow disease in the U.S. herd hit Creekstone's small operation hard. Much of its market was in Japan, where all cows are tested for the disease and where U.S. beef is banned because American meatpackers don't follow the same policy. So Creekstone's chief operating officer, Bill Fielding, announced that he would voluntarily test the 300,000 cows his company slaughters annually, to satisfy customers willing to pay the cost. Absent the test, Fielding says Creekstone may face bankruptcy and have to lay off its 790 workers.

The Department of Agriculture seems to have only one purpose in preventing Creekstone from testing — appeasing the big slaughterhouses. The USDA has a long history of doing the bidding of the meatpacking industry at the expense of the public. Indeed, in many academic studies, the department is presented as a textbook example of the problem of "agency capture," wherein an agency becomes so identified with the companies it regulates that it becomes an extension of those companies.

The allegations of agency capture have been magnified in the Bush administration, in which former industry executives hold key regulatory positions — Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman has a chief of staff who was the head lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. and a senior advisor who was the association's associate director for food policy.

When mad cow disease appeared in the United States, the department again took the industry line and resisted calls for added testing. Only after worldwide criticism did it reluctantly make such modest rule changes as requiring slaughterhouses to discard "downed" animals — cows so sick that they had to be dragged into slaughterhouses to be butchered. Most Americans were surprised to learn that the department had ever allowed such animals into the food supply in the first place.

The administration may be correct that testing every animal in the U.S. is unnecessary and not cost-effective. But why not let Creekstone find out what the market will bear? The position of the administration is an affront to anyone who believes in the free market. It's as if the Department of Transportation refused to allow Volvo to add air bags just to keep the pressure off other carmakers.

Congress should step in and end the department's monopoly over testing kits. It should also call for the removal of the officials involved in the decision. [Emphasis added]

Creekstone did end up laying off workers.

This is one of those stories that's so outrageous it just leaves you sputtering. Just to be clear, Creekstone wanted to do extra testing, not replace the USDA's testing. And it wanted to do the extra testing on its own dime. It wanted to respond to a market need. It wanted to produce a safer product.

Four companies — Tyson, Smithfield, Swift & Co., and Excel Corp. — control 80 percent of US meatpacking. Government "regulators," the White House, and much of the Congress dance to their tune. Who's looking out for consumers? Nobody.

Whenever big business and their hired guns in government start mouthing platitudes about competition and the free market, remember this story. And put your hand on your wallet.

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Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, Republicans are happier than Democrats. Well of course they are, they own everything. — Jay Leno

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March 22, 2006

Net Oil Available For Consumption Peak Oil

Norwegian Jan Herdal of oljekrisa.no (via EnergyBulletin) raises an essential point regarding Peak Oil.

We're all watching for the global peak in overall oil production, but another very important peak will come sooner — maybe it already has. That's the peak in what Herdal calls "net oil for consumption" — the amount of oil that's being produced minus the oil-equivalent of the energy used to find, extract, transport, and refine that oil.

The giant fields of light sweet crude were discovered long ago. What's left are the much smaller and harder to reach fields containing oil that's harder to refine. So the energy cost of each new barrel keeps going up. Which means the net energy value of each new barrel keeps going down. At the end of the day, it's not a question of how much oil is pumped out of the ground. It's a question of the net energy available for consumption. Excerpt:

Peak Oil is the buzzword among oil critics today, describing the point when global gross oil production peaks and starts on its irreversible decline. Although this is an important turn of the tide, we should not forget that net oil for consumption will peak long before peak oil. Possibly it already has.

There are two aspects of the law of diminishing returns related to oil production to consider.

The more important aspect is the gradually worsening energy net return on energy invested (ENROI). More oil and other forms of energy are expended in finding, producing and delivering the same amount of oil to the market. The industry must turn to smaller sources of oil that are costlier to exploit.

The few fields still being discovered on the Norwegian shelf are dwarfs compared to the big fields still in production (and that by now have been emptied for roughly three fourths of their extractable oil). [...]

In the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies are now drilling down to 30,000 feet. According to US Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, there are 530,000 producing oil wells in the US today (averaging less than 10 barrels production a day); still production is slowly declining.

Estimates differ, but it seems likely that between 3 and 5 barrels are now required to produce 10 barrels of oil in the US. Of 5 million barrels produced a day, perhaps only 3 million reach consumers.

This trend is global. Even in the Middle East, where this ratio for decades has been estimated to be 1:10, billions of dollars must now be spent just to keep production going.

New techniques, like horizontal drilling, seem to increase the oil output of a field, but they also require more energy. Production drilling takes a lot of energy. You have to drill more and longer wells to get the same amount of oil. Injection of water and gas also takes a lot of energy. Deeper and deeper offshore wells — the same.

When the global energy costs increase by 10 percent of the total production, practically the whole Saudi-Arabian oil production is down the drain.

The second factor to consider is oil quality, actually another side of the same issue. Oil on the world market is gradually becoming heavier (and increasingly sour, which is an environmental problem). Heavy oil is more difficult, more expensive and more energy intensive to refine into the lighter products demanded by the market, such as gasoline, diesel and airplane fuel.

The situation in the US is now a perfect illustration of the consequences of this trend. Refineries are flooded with heavy oil that they are not able to process. Oil reserves are up, while US imports of gasoline are also up 20 percent from February 2005 compared to the same month this year.

We will seriously misjudge our situation if we only focus on gross production Peak Oil and neglect the worsening quality of oil and worsening energy net return on energy invested (ENROI). [Emphasis added]

Oil spent getting other oil is like oil we never had.

Which is an enormously important point. It's not just Peak Oil that matters. It's the peak in net oil available for consumption. And as Herdal says, that peak may already be behind us.

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Feingold On Daily Show Tonight Media  Politics

Senator Russ Feingold is scheduled to appear on "The Daily Show" tonight. Should be good.

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

We just had the third anniversary of the Iraq war. So far so good! Whatever happened to that Mission Accomplished thing? I think now the only way to get rid of the Iraq war is to put it on NBC. — David Letterman

There are two sides in Iraq right now fighting. The side that hates us and the side that really hates us. — David Letterman

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March 21, 2006

Rising Ocean Temperatures Are The Culprit Environment

Many climate scientists have speculated that warmer ocean surface temperatures are the cause of increased hurricane intensities in recent decades, but some suggested that other causes may be more important. A new study settles the question: only ocean temperature is strongly correlated with the increase in storm intensity. Nature:

Warmer ocean waters are indeed a key factor in creating more devastating hurricanes, atmospheric scientists have found. The finding confirms what many have suspected: that rising temperatures are directly linked to the upswing in hurricane intensity seen in the past few decades.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta examined data for a range of climate variables thought to contribute to the formation of hurricanes in categories 4 and 5, the upper end of the strength scale. Only sea surface temperature showed a strong correlation with the observed increase in the occurrence of these storms since 1970.

And with sea temperatures set to rise still further, that means the next few decades could bring even more hurricanes like Katrina, which hammered New Orleans in August 2005. "The inference is that if you keep warming things up, you're going to get more intense storms," says Judith Curry, a member of the research team.

Climate scientists already know that, throughout the world, hurricanes have grown in intensity although not necessarily in frequency over the past few decades...So Curry and her colleagues examined existing data on a range of climate variables, correlating changes in these factors with trends in the occurrence of higher-category hurricanes.

Globally, only sea surface temperature increased in line with super-strong hurricanes, Curry's team reports in Science. [...]

Further rises in sea temperature could mean more devastating storms batter the world's hurricane-prone coastlines — with severe implications for those with a stake in the future of these regions.

"We're looking at a much worse risk than people were thinking about a year ago," says Curry. And with sea levels and rainfall set to increase as a result of global climate changes, the risk of flooding from such storms will grow, she adds.

"Some people will not return to New Orleans. They'll vote with their feet," Curry says. "And some places are going to become uninsurable." [Emphasis added]

Expect more scenes like we saw in New Orleans. As WorldChanging points out:

Places already damaged by storms stand every chance of being hit again, and political resistance to rebuilding at-risk cities will only grow with each big storm.

Imagine how demoralizing it will be to leave certain coastal cities largely in ruins, as is currently being done with New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Titanic sails blithely on, all engines ahead full.

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UN: Worst Mass Extinctions In 65 Million Years Environment

We're blindly sawing off the limb we're sitting on. The Guardian:

Humans have provoked the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65m years ago, according to a UN report that calls for unprecedented worldwide efforts to address the slide. The report paints a grim picture of life on earth, with declining numbers of plants, animals, insects and birds across the globe, and warns that the current extinction rate is up to 1,000 times faster than in the past. [...]

Released yesterday to mark the start of a UN environment programme meeting in Curitiba, Brazil, the report says: "In effect, we are currently responsible for the sixth major extinction event in the history of earth." A rising human population of 6.5bn is wrecking the environment for thousands of other species, it adds, and undermining efforts agreed at a 2002 UN summit in Johannesburg to slow the rate of decline by 2010. The global demand for biological resources now exceeds the planet's capacity to renew them by 20%.

The report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 from the secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, says: "The direct causes of biodiversity loss — habitat change, over-exploitation, the introduction of invasive alien species, nutrient loading and climate change — show no sign of abating." It is bleaker than a first UN review of the diversity of life, issued in 2001, and says the 2010 goal can only be attained with "unprecedented additional efforts".

About 6m hectares (15m acres) of primary forest are felled each year and about a third of mangrove swamps have been lost since the 1980s. In the Caribbean, average hard coral cover has declined from 50% to 10% in the last three decades. Up to 52% of higher bird species studied are threatened with extinction and the number of large fish in the North Atlantic has declined by two-thirds in the last 50 years.

The report concludes: "Biodiversity is in decline at all levels and geographical scales," and international travel, trade and tourism are expected to introduce more alien species to fragile ecosystems.

On the positive side, the number and size of protected areas is increasing, though most types of natural environment fall short of the target to protect 10%. About 12% of the land surface is protected, against 0.6% of the oceans. [Emphasis added]

I can't tell you how profoundly sad this makes me. This is not a small thing. This is not something that, once done, can be undone. It is the very definition of irresponsibility. In fact, it is in many ways the very definition of evil. We're doing the devil's work.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Ireland's Prime Minister was at the White House. He presented the president with a bowl of shamrocks. And in return, Bush handed over his traditional gift to other nations, nuclear technology. — Bill Maher

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March 20, 2006

Spanish-English Vocabulary Drill Media

No regular post tonight. Instead, here's something a little different. I've been studying Spanish for a while, and to help myself study, I wrote a little vocabulary drill program that runs on my PC.

A few days ago, it occurred to me that I could easily convert the program to run on the web so other people could use it, too. Besides, I wanted a reason to learn a little of the PHP programming language since it's hosted on so many web servers. So I set about converting the program to PHP, and the result is available here: http://www.pastpeak.com/spanish/vocab.php.

If you're interested in learning Spanish (or if you're a Spanish speaker learning English), go check it out. You create a "study set" of randomly selected words, then you can step through the set as many times as you need. When you've learned those words, create a new study set. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

At the moment the vocabulary consists of just 250 words, but I'll be adding more words all the time. I like the simplicity of it, but at some point I'll probabably add the ability to pick a specialized vocabulary (words related to shopping, say, or sports) and the ability to say you don't want to see a particular word anymore (because you're sure you know it).

Feedback is welcomed. Have fun, and I hope some of you find it useful.

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Bush's former domestic policy advisor Claude Allen, he's now charged with defrauding department stores. And when Bush heard about this, he was stunned. He was shocked. He had no idea he had a domestic policy adviser. — David Letterman

Tough day for the Bush administration. A guy named Claude Allen has been arrested and charged in Maryland with swindling Target and some other department stores out of refunds. He allegedly made off without about $5000 or so, which is officially the smallest amount of money ever stolen by a Republican. — Jimmy Kimmel

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March 19, 2006

Australia Hit With Category 5 Hurricane Environment

The northeast coast of Australia is being hit with a category 5 hurricane. AP:

A powerful tropical cyclone packing winds of up to 290 kilometers per hour (180 mph) has slammed into Australia's northeastern coast Monday after more than 1,000 tourists and local residents were evacuated to higher ground, the weather bureau said. [...]

The weather bureau on Monday upgraded the storm to a category five — the strongest category possible — and thousands of local residents were evacuated ahead of the cyclone's arrival.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, but officials predicted the storm could cause widespread devastation.

[Forecaster Jonty] Hall said conditions were "terrible" in the region, and warned of surging coastal tides and gale force winds along a 300-kilometer (186-mile) stretch of coast in northeastern Queensland.

"There's extremely dangerous conditions," he said. "We're starting to see a very dangerous storm surge come to shore ... It doesn't get much worse than this." [...]

Late Sunday, Queensland state Counter Disaster and Rescue Services executive director Frank Pagano compared the potential force of Larry to Katrina, which ravaged the United States' Gulf states in August last year, killing more than 1,300 people.

"This is the most devastating cyclone that we could potentially see on the east coast of Queensland for decades ... there is going to be destruction," Pagano told reporters in the state capital of Brisbane. [...]

Pagano warned residents to stay away from areas likely to become flooded, saying water often posed a much higher danger than gale force winds during cyclones.

"Buildings themselves may withstand the force of the winds because of our building codes, however, a category four and category five will be devastating," Pagano said. [Emphasis added]

Fortunately, no major city lies in the storm's path. The two largest cities that will be affected are Cairns, with a population of 125,000, and Townsville, population 160,000. Wikipedia has a page on the storm, here.

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"Nothing Less Than Complete Victory" Iraq

In his weekly radio address yesterday, President Bush once again conflated Iraq with 9/11, as he tried to cast the Iraq war in Churchillian moral terms. WaPo:

On the eve of the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion, President Bush yesterday promised to "finish the mission" with "complete victory," urging the American public to remain steadfast but offering no indication when victory may be achieved.

"More fighting and sacrifice will be required," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "For some, the temptation to retreat and abandon our commitments is strong. Yet there is no peace, there's no honor and there's no security in retreat. So America will not abandon Iraq to the terrorists who want to attack us again." [...]

A White House fact sheet on Iraq...buttressed the president's assertion last week that Iraqi security forces are assuming greater battlefield responsibility.

Democrats noted last week, however, that a recent Pentagon report said the number of "Level 1" Iraqi units capable of operating independently of the United States had dropped from one to zero. [...]

Three years ago, the fact sheet said, "life in Iraq was marked by brutality, fear and terror" and Iraqis "had no voice in their country or their lives." Today, it said, "the reign of terror has been replaced by a democratically elected government." [...]

"These past three years have tested our resolve," he said. "The enemy has proved brutal and relentless . . . and our troops have shown magnificent courage and made tremendous sacrifices" which, along with Iraqi sacrifices, had given Iraq a "historic opportunity" to rebuild itself.

"The security of our country is directly linked to the liberty of the Iraqi people," Bush said, "and we will settle for nothing less than complete victory." [Emphasis added]

Nothing less than complete victory. Can he possibly believe what he's saying? Meanwhile, former Iraq Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the BBC that Iraq has descended into civil war. CNN:

"We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is," [Allawi] said.

Although conditions have not passed the "point of no return," he said, if that point is reached, fragile efforts to build a new government "will not only fall apart but sectarianism will spread throughout the region, and even Europe and the U.S. will not be spared the violence that results." [Emphasis added]

Sounds like something less than complete victory to me.

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Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Earlier this week, the Pentagon launched the biggest air attack in Iraq since 2003. The White House said the attack will continue until President Bush's approval rating goes above 40%. — Jay Leno

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March 18, 2006

Bad Math Science/Technology

Via Pharyngula, I've discovered an interesting new blog, Good Math, Bad Math, in which a computer scientist named Mark Chu-Carroll looks at ways that people — creationists, especially — misuse mathematics in their arguments. Several recent posts of his debunk an argument one hears all the time. It's an argument that happens also to be a pet peeve of mine, and I think it's worth looking at.

The argument allegedly proves that life is too improbable to have arisen without a designer. It goes something like this. Proteins are constructed by chaining together amino acids (of which there are 20). Consider a relatively simple protein that consists of 100 amino acids. At each of the 100 positions in the chain, there are 20 possible choices, so the number of ways of constructing a 100-amino-acid protein is 20 to the 100th power, which is about 10 to the 130th power. So the probability of chaining together randomly selected amino acids and getting the given protein is 1 divided by 10 to the 130th power. Now 10 to the 130th power is a BIG number, MUCH bigger than the number of particles in the known universe, for example, so the construction of a protein is clearly too improbable (so the argument goes) to have happened by chance. QED

There are a number of problems with this argument. For one thing, the geometry of amino acids is such that not all chains are possible. But let's leave that aside. Let's stipulate that the probability of constructing our 100-amino-acid protein is 1 divided by 10 to the 130th power. Does the extreme improbability of that construction prove anything?

As you might have guessed, the answer is no. As Chu-Carroll points out, if you take two distinguishable decks of cards and shuffle them together, the number of possible shufflings is about 10 to the 160th power. So the probability of any given outcome when the decks are shuffled is about a million trillion trillion times less likely than the construction of our protein. It's a million trillion trillion times more miraculous, you might say. But that obviously doesn't mean that it's impossible to shuffle two decks of cards. The probability of a given outcome when shuffling is very, very small, but the probability of getting some outcome is 100%.

The fallacy in the protein argument is the implied assumption that life requires exactly that protein for it to work. Trying to create exactly that protein by random chance is like shuffling the decks and trying to get a specific outcome. Almost impossible. But organisms can function with lots of possible protein configurations. There is nothing unique about the protein configurations that have arisen. Lots of others would do. You can't look at the one that happened to arise and declare that its improbability proves that it couldn't have happened randomly, any more than you can look at the particular outcome of card shuffling and say that it proves that card shuffling is an impossible act. In either case, you're taking the result that happened to have occurred and working backwards. You're placing a constraint on the outcome that wasn't there when you were doing the shuffling in the first place.

What do you suppose happens when creationists play cards? Do they just sit there stumped, waiting for God to shuffle?

Update: [3/19 2:01PM] If you found that interesting, check out this two-part post from last year that looks at the fallacious use of probability arguments against evolution from a different angle.

Posted by Jonathan at 08:01 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

We're coming up to the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. I'm not sure how Bush is going to mark the occasion. I think we can rule out landing on an aircraft carrier and declaring mission accomplished. — Jay Leno

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March 17, 2006

V Media

Went to see V for Vendetta tonight. Not bad, but not great, and certainly not the high-voltage cultural lightning flash I was hoping for. Not for me, anyway. That movie still waits to be made.

Part of the problem, I think, is that having one of the leads perform his role from behind a rigid plastic mask robs the action of a lot of its drama and humanity. Natalie Portman holds up her end, but it's like she's playing opposite a manikin. We want to see an actor's face.

It also needed to be darker, more menacing, more chaotic, more filled with danger and dread. It's not enough to tell us things are bad — you've got to make us feel it for ourselves. You've got to make us take it seriously. Compare anything in V with that scene in Syriana where George Clooney gets tortured, and you'll see what I mean. The stakes being what they are, this is no time for a political movie to play it safe.

Still, the movie does get in its share of political barbs, and it's got some memorable images. Plus, the music over the closing credits is a hoot.

Bottom line: worth seeing if you like this kind of movie, but not the electrifying experience suggested by the trailers. That's how I saw it anyway. If you go and see it, let's hear your reactions in the comments.

Posted by Jonathan at 11:17 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Mexican President Vincente Fox announced that they have discovered oil under the Gulf of Mexico. In a related story, President Bush accused Mexico of having weapons of mass destruction. — Jay Leno

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March 16, 2006

Our Security Future Future  Global Guerrillas

The most interesting and perceptive writing that I've seen on the future of insurgency and war in an economically globalized and networked world has been coming from John Robb, both at his personal blog and his more formal Global Guerrillas site. He's got a book in the works, and he's just published an article at Fast Company that provides a good introduction to his ideas. Excerpt:

The conflict in Iraq has foreshadowed the future of global security in much the same way that the Spanish Civil War prefigured World War II. Unlike previous insurgencies, the one in Iraq is comprised of 75 to 100 small, diverse, and autonomous groups of zealots, patriots, and criminals alike. These groups, of course, have access to the same tools we do — from satellite phones to engineering degrees — and use them every bit as well. But their single most important asset is their organizational structure, an open-source community network very similar to what we now see in the software industry. It is an extremely innovative structure, sadly, and results in decision-making cycles much shorter than those of the U.S. military. Indeed, because the insurgents in Iraq lack a recognizable center of gravity — a leadership structure or an ideology — they are nearly immune to the application of conventional military force. Like Microsoft, the software superpower, the United States hasn't found its match in a competitor similar to itself, but rather in a loose, self-tuning network.

The second insight Iraq gives us is that the convergence of international crime and terrorism will provide ample fuel and a global platform for these new enemies. Al Qaeda's attack on Madrid, for example, was funded by the sale of the drug Ecstasy. And Moisés Naím, in his new book, Illicit, details how globalization has fostered the development of a huge criminal economy that boasts a technologically leveraged global supply chain (like Wal-Mart's) and can handle everything from human trafficking (Eastern Europe) to illicit drugs (Asia and South America), pirated goods (Southeast Asia), arms (Central Asia), and money laundering (everywhere). Naím puts the value of that economy at between $2 trillion and $3 trillion a year. He says it is expanding at seven times the rate of legitimate world trade.

This terrorist-criminal symbiosis becomes even more powerful when considered next to the most disturbing sign coming out of Iraq: The terrorists have developed the ability to fight nation-states strategically — without weapons of mass destruction. This new method is called "systems disruption," a simple way of attacking the critical networks (electricity, oil, gas, water, communications, and transportation) that underpin modern life. Such disruptions are designed to erode the target state's legitimacy, to drive it to failure by keeping it from providing the services it must deliver in order to command the allegiance of its citizens. Over the past two years, attacks on the oil and electricity networks in Iraq have reduced and held delivery of these critical services below prewar levels, with a disastrous effect on the country, its people, and its economy.

The early examples of systems disruption in Iraq and elsewhere are ominous. If these techniques are even lightly applied to the fragile electrical and oil-gas systems in Russia, Saudi Arabia, or anywhere in the target-rich West, we could see a rapid onset of economic and political chaos unmatched since the advent of blitzkrieg....It's even worse when we consider the asymmetry of the economics involved: One small attack on an oil pipeline in southeast Iraq, conducted for an estimated $2,000, cost the Iraqi government more than $500 million in lost oil revenues. That is a return on investment of 25,000,000%.

Now that the tipping point has been reached, the rise of global virtual states — with their thriving criminal economies, innovative networks, and hyperefficient war craft — will rapidly undermine public confidence in our national-security systems. In fact, this process has already begun. We've seen disruption of our oil supply in Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Colombia; the market's fear of more contributes mightily to the current high prices. But as those disruptions continue, the damage will spill over into the very structure of our society. Our profligate Defense Department, reeling from its inability to defend our borders on September 11 or to pacify even a small country like Iraq, will increasingly be seen as obsolete. The myth of the American superpower will be exposed as such.

Then, inevitably, there will be a series of attacks on U.S. soil. The first casualty of these will be another institution, the ultrabureaucratic Department of Homeland Security, which, despite its new extra-legal surveillance powers, will prove unable to isolate and defuse the threats against us. (Its one big idea for keeping the global insurgency at bay — building a fence between Mexico and the United States, proposed in a recent congressional immigration bill — will prove as effective as the Maginot Line and the Great Wall of China.)

But the metaphorical targets of September 11 are largely behind us. The strikes of the future will be strategic, pinpointing the systems we rely on, and they will leave entire sections of the country without energy and communications for protracted periods. But the frustration and economic pain that result will have a curious side effect: They will spur development of an entirely new, decentralized security system, one that devolves power and responsibility to a mix of private companies, individuals, and local governments. This structure is already visible in the legions of private contractors in Iraq... [Emphasis added]

Go read the rest. Robb foresees a privatized, decentralized, do-it-or-buy-it-yourself security future that will be familiar to readers of science fiction. Much of it is dark and dangerous, but he tries to end on a hopeful note:

By 2016, we may see the trials of the previous decade as progress in disguise. The grassroots security effort will do more than just insulate our gas lines and high schools. It will also spur positive social change: So-called green systems will quickly shed their tree-hugger status and be seen as vital components of our economic and personal security. Even those civilian police auxiliaries could turn out to be a good thing in the long run: Their proliferation — and the technology they'll adopt — will lead to major reductions in crime. [...]

On the national level, we'll see a withering of the security apparatus, but quite possibly a flowering in other areas. Energy independence and the obsolescence of conventional war with other countries will reduce tensions between the United States and the rest of the world. The end of oil will also force corrupt states, now propped up by energy income, to make the reforms they need to be accepted internationally, improving life for their people.

Perhaps the most important global shift will be the rise of grassroots action and cross-connected communities. Like the Internet, these new networks will develop slowly at first. After a period of exponential growth, however, they will quickly become all but ubiquitous — and astonishingly powerful, perhaps as powerful as the networks arrayed against us. And so we will all become security consultants, taking an active role in deciding how it is bought, structured, and applied. That's a great responsibility and, with luck, an enormous opportunity. Choose wisely. [Emphasis added]

Wild times ahead. Scary times. Challenging times. We no longer have the luxury of time to sit by and wait for the national government to make it all better. Government, as is becoming all too obvious, can't, or won't, in its present form, respond with sufficient agility — at least not at the national level — to cope with the ever-accelerating pace of events. We've all got to get up and get busy if we want to help drive outcomes in a positive direction. No big, centralized, top-down plan required. Find something to do and do it. Share what you learn. Learn from others. Network. Create an open-source insurgency for peace.

Update: [3/17, 11:57 AM] Here's a NYT op-ed that Robb wrote last October. A good summary of Robb's views regarding Iraq.

Posted by Jonathan at 09:45 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

We Were Warned Peak Oil

This weekend, CNN Presents will broadcast a special called "We Were Warned: Tomorrow's Oil Crisis." 8PM and 11PM Eastern time, both Saturday and Sunday. It will air on CNN International as well. Check times in your area.

Awareness is increasing.

Posted by Jonathan at 08:42 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Malaysian Leader: Era Of Cheap Oil Is Over Peak Oil

A Malaysian reader of Past Peak emailed from Singapore to point out the following article. It's a small world and getting smaller. AP:

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak has urged Malaysians to brace for further hikes in fuel prices, warning that the era of cheap oil was over. Malaysia, a net oil importer, heavily subsidizes fuel prices but the growing subsidy bill has taken a toll on state budget.

The government on Feb. 28 sharply raised retail prices of gasoline, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas by as much as 23 percent. Despite the hike, Malaysia's fuel prices remain among the lowest in Southeast Asia.

Najib, who heads the Cabinet committee on fuel, warned late Wednesday that global oil prices — currently hovering at $63 a barrel — could surge to $100 a barrel due to tight supply and strong demand, especially from rising economic giants China and India.

The possibility of U.N. sanctions against Iran, the No. 2 producer within OPEC, for its nuclear ambitions, will worsen the situation, he said, adding that some analysts had predicted oil prices to soar as high as $200 a barrel and this was not far-fetched.

"The cheap oil price era has ended. This is the reality that Malaysians and the world as a whole must accept. We can no longer hide from the fact that the price of oil [will] continue to rise," Najib was quoted as saying by the national Bernama news agency. [Emphasis added]

With the single exception of Roscoe Bartlett in the House, US politicians have been afraid to speak this frankly about what we're facing. It's pathetic.

[Thanks, Thanneer]

Posted by Jonathan at 08:35 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:36 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Bush said canceling the ports deal sends a bad message to the Arab world. You know, not like invading their countries, putting them on leashes, making them masturbate, but bad. — Bill Maher

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March 15, 2006

Iraq's Electricity At Three-Year Low Iraq

The right wing likes to say that we're not getting all the good news out of Iraq. All the great reconstruction work that's been done, for example. In their dreams. AP (via Xymphora), yesterday:

Electricity output has dipped to its lowest point in three years in Iraq, where the desert sun is rising toward another broiling summer and U.S. engineers are winding down their rebuilding of the crippled power grid.

The Iraqis, in fact, may have to turn to neighboring Iran to help bail them out of their energy crisis — if not this summer, then in years to come.

The overstressed network is producing less than half the electricity needed to meet Iraq's exploding demand. American experts are working hard to shore up the system's weaknesses as 100-degree-plus temperatures approach beginning as early as May, driving up usage of air conditioning, electric fans and refrigeration.

If the summer is unusually hot, however, "all bets are off," said Lt. Col. Otto Busher, an engineer with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division.

"We're living miserably," said housewife Su'ad Hassan, a mother of four and one of millions in Baghdad who have endured three years of mostly powerless days under U.S. occupation. Her family usually goes without hot water and machine washing, she said, and "often my children have to do their homework in the dim light of oil lamps."

Despite such hardships, Army Corps of Engineers officers regard their Restore Iraq Electricity project as one of the great feats in corps history, along with the building of the Panama Canal a century ago. [Emphasis added]

Like the building of the Panama Canal. Yeah, whatever. Milo Minderbinder lives.

Posted by Jonathan at 11:42 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Media Bias Media

Eric Boehlert:

[E]ven now the debate over Bush's slow motion demise is being framed very narrowly, as in, What do Republicans think of Bush's unpopularity? On Sunday, the New York Times published two articles addressing Bush's lack of support. Combined, the two articles quoted 16 sources, all 16 were Republicans. Not one Democrat or even one neutral political observer, such as a poli-sci prof or think tank guru, was quoted. On Monday, the Washington Post published a page 1 piece that gently asked the question, Why are senior White House strategists suddenly so ineffective? (Answer: They're tired.) The article quoted six people; all of them Republicans. And this week's Time magazine addresses Bush's obvious political woes. The article quotes five sources; all of them Republicans. So between the Times, the Post and Time articles, 27 sources were quoted and not one Democrat or independent was ever asked to voice their opinion about Bush's sagging performance.

P.S. Yes, that's the same Time magazine that just last month, busy pushing a Bush-is-back narrative, announced the president had "found his voice" and that relieved White House aides "were smiling again" after a turbulent 2005. Oops.

27-zip. Damned liberal media.

Posted by Jonathan at 10:51 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Incompetent-Idiot-Liar Politics

A new Pew Research poll (via Atrios) has Bush's approval rating at 33%, a new low.

But that's not the fun part. Check this out:

President Bush's declining image also is reflected in the single-word descriptions people use to describe their impression of the president. Three years ago, positive one-word descriptions of Bush far outnumbered negative ones. Over the past two years, the positive-negative balance has been roughly equal. But the one-word characterizations have turned decidedly negative since last July.

Currently, 48% use a negative word to describe Bush compared with just 28% who use a positive term, and 10% who use neutral language.

The changing impressions of the president can best be viewed by tracking over time how often words come up in these top-of-the-mind associations. Until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was "honest," but this comes up far less often today than in the past. Other positive traits such as "integrity" are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as "excellent" or "great" ­ terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.

The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent,"and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." [Emphasis added]

Too funny.

Posted by Jonathan at 10:20 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Mexico Announces New
Deep-Water Oil Field
Environment  Peak Oil

Mexico's President Vicente Fox has announced the discovery of a significant new deep-water oil field in the Gulf of Mexico. AP:

President Vicente Fox climbed aboard a drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday to formally announce a new deep-water oil discovery [called Noxal] he said could eventually yield 10 billion barrels of crude oil. [...]

Government estimates say the find could exceed reserves at the giant offshore field Cantarell, Mexico's largest oil field, which has seen its production decline but is still expected to yield 1.9 million barrels a day this year.

Luis Ramirez, chief executive of Mexico's government-run oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said Noxal is the fourth deep-water well explored by Pemex.

Ramirez said that while production tests will be conducted in coming weeks, "evidence found is sufficient to infer potential reserves to be discovered that could reach 10 billion barrels of crude oil equivalent."

"This number, compared with annual production of 1.6 billion barrels of crude, shows its strategic importance," Ramirez said, adding that crude oil production at Noxal likely won't begin for eight to 10 years. [Emphasis added]

10 billion barrels is a significant find, but here are some things to bear in mind:

  • 10 billion barrels is being cited as a best-case number. It remains to be seen if 10 billion barrels can actually be recovered.

  • The world currently uses 10 billion barrels of oil every four months.

  • Production at Noxal is 8-10 years away. By that time, other Mexican production will have declined significantly. As we saw a month ago, Mexico's Cantarell field, the world's second largest producer, is facing precipitous decline. Noxal will simply plug part of the hole left by declines in other fields.

  • According to an industry insider quoted at The Oil Drum, the new find "is supposed to be nearly as big as Cantarell, but is a lot heavier." That's what we would expect in a peak oil world: the light, sweet crude has mostly all been discovered. Now we're on to the harder-to-find, harder-to-produce, harder-to-refine oil.
  • All that being said, this discovery may indicate that Mexico's deep-water exploration has been spottier than previously thought. It's possible they'll find more. Which is good news on the peak oil front (though not wildly good news — as noted above, it just postpones peak by a few months).

    But every new find is bad news on the global warming front, and that is likely to turn out to be the bigger problem in the long run. Every new find is that much more carbon that will be pumped into the atmosphere, and it's that much longer that people will delay doing what has to be done to reduce carbon emissions and start to get a handle on the accelerating rate of increase in atmospheric CO2.

    People tend to follow the path of least resistance. As long as we've got relatively cheap oil, the path of least resistance will be to continue to burn it.

    [Thanks, Scott]

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Best. Quote. Ever. Quotes  Rights, Law

    Via AmericaBlog:

    Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn't place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.

    — Jamie Raskin, testifying Wednesday, March 1, 2006 before the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in response to a question from Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs about whether marriage discrimination against gay people is required by "God's Law."

    That quote's so good I just may have to get it as a tattoo.

    Ok, a t-shirt.

    Read Raskin's full statement here.

    [Thanks, Charyn]

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:54 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:43 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    It's now believed Iran has the capability to make nuclear weapons but hasn't done it yet. Which could be big trouble — because if there's one thing the Bush Administration won't tolerate, it's a middle eastern country that could have weapons of mass destruction, but doesn't. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:32 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 14, 2006

    Nanotech Induces Nerve Repair In Hamsters Science/Technology

    This is an amazing story, the stuff of sci-fi. And no doubt it's just the beginning. Since nanotech is progressing at an exponential rate, we're all going to be surprised as applications like this seem to appear out of nowhere. Our children are going to grow up in a very different world. BBC:

    Nanotechnology has restored the sight of blind rodents, a new study shows.

    Scientists mimicked the effect of a traumatic brain injury by severing the optical nerve tract in hamsters, causing the animals to lose vision.

    After injecting the hamsters with a solution containing nanoparticles, the nerves re-grew and sight returned. [...]

    Repairing nerve damage in the central nervous system after injury is seen as the ultimate challenge for neuroscientists, but so far success in this field has been limited.

    Nerve regeneration is set back by a number of factors, including scar tissue and gaps in brain tissue caused by the damage. And this can make treatment by medical and surgical methods very difficult.

    To find a novel way around these problems, the team based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, and Hong Kong University looked towards nanotechnology — a branch of science involving the manipulation of atoms and molecules.

    The researchers injected the blind hamsters at the site of their injury with a solution containing synthetically made peptides — miniscule molecules measuring just five nanometres long.

    Once inside the hamster's brain, the peptides spontaneously arranged into a scaffold-like criss-cross of nanofibres, which bridged the gap between the severed nerves.

    The scientists discovered that brain tissue in the hamsters knitted together across the molecular scaffold, while also preventing scar tissue from forming.

    Importantly, the newly formed brain tissue enabled the brain nerves to re-grow, restoring vision in the injured hamsters.

    "We made a cut, put the material in, and then we looked at the brain over different time points," explained Dr Rutledge Ellis-Behnke, a neuroscientist at MIT and lead author on the paper.

    "The first thing we saw was that the brain had started to heal itself in the first 24 hours. We had never seen that before — so that was very surprising."

    The scientists looked at young hamsters with actively growing nerve cells, and also at adult hamsters whose nerves had stopped growing.

    Dr Ellis-Behnke said the team was surprised to find that the nerves in the adult hamsters had re-grown after the injection.

    "We found that we had got functional return of vision and orientating behaviour, which was very surprising to us because we thought we would have to promote cell growth, through the growth factors."

    The researchers found the peptides were later broken down by the body into a harmless substance and excreted in the animals' urine three to four week after first injected. [...]

    "Eventually what we would look at is trying to reconnect disconnected parts of the brain during stroke and trauma."

    Dr Ellis-Behnke said that stroke and traumatic brain injury could have a major impact on an individual.

    "In order to try to restore quality of life to those individuals you can try to reconnect some disconnected parts to try to give some functionality in the brain for communication and other things like that. And that's where we think that this might be very useful," he added. [Emphasis added]

    An especially interesting thing about this story is the way the technique blends biology and nanotech. The molecules that were introduced (molecules that were constructed using nanotech methods) were essentially biological molecules — peptides, which are basically pieces of protein. They were molecules that the body knows how to interact with and how to break down and excrete. They did their job, and then they were gone without a trace. Fantastic stuff.

    Knowledge of the details of biology at the molecular scale is increasing at an exponential rate, and so is the technical ability to construct synthetic molecules. Put those two things together, as in the technique described above, and the possibilities truly are staggering. We ain't seen nothing yet.

    [Thanks, Maurice]

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:35 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:12 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    Because of various security lapses, some senators are calling for a probe of the security at the offices of the Department of Homeland Security. The investigation will be conducted by the Department of Irony. — Amy Poehler

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:08 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 13, 2006

    North Pole CO2 Rising Up To 3 Times Faster Than In 1990 Environment

    The global warming news just keeps getting worse. Things are deteriorating much faster than anyone anticipated, and the pace continues to accelerate. Now comes news that CO2 concentrations at the North Pole are rising 2.5 to 3 times faster than they were just a decade and a half ago. Guardian:

    Researchers have uncovered compelling evidence that indicates Earth's most vulnerable regions — the North and South Poles — are poised on the brink of a climatic disaster.

    The scientists, at an atmospheric monitoring station in the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, have found that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere near the North Pole are now rising at an unprecedented pace.

    In 1990 this key cause of global warming was rising at a rate of 1 part per million (ppm). Recently, that rate reached 2 ppm per year. Now, scientists at the Mount Zeppelin monitoring station have discovered it is rising at between 2.5 and 3 ppm. [...]

    In the last two decades, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from 350 to 380 ppm and scientists warn that once levels reach 500, there could be irreversible consequences that would tip the planet toward disaster: glacier melts triggering devastating sea-level rises and spreading deserts across Africa and Asia.

    Scientists and campaigners are desperate for politicians to reach agreements that will prevent the 500 ppm "tipping point" being breached in the next half-century. These new data suggest they may have a far shorter period of time in which to act.

    "Fortunately, this rate of rise of carbon dioxide is not yet seen round the world," added Strom. "However, it may be that we have been the first to detect it, and that we are seeing some kind of special effect that could have widespread consequences in a few years."

    One theory proposed by Strom is that heating of the oceans could be leading to the release of carbon dioxide. Other scientists suggest that as the world warms, the Arctic tundra — previously gripped by permafrost — may be giving off carbon dioxide as it melts, releasing gas from vegetation trapped within it that has now started to rot. Thus levels of the gas would increase with particular rapidity near the North Pole. [...]

    "The crucial point is that you can't look at the Arctic and Antarctic in isolation,' said Professor Chris Rapley, head of the British Antarctic Survey. 'What happens there has profound consequences for the rest of the planet."

    It was thought until recently that it would take up to 1,000 years for heat to penetrate the Greenland ice shield and melt it. But the latest data show that large parts of it are actually sliding in lumps into the sea. "That means it is likely to take far less time to raise sea levels," added Rapley. "And if Greenland's ice melts, [the UK] will be in trouble. There will be a seven-metre rise in the oceans. The Thames Barrier would be swamped." [Emphasis added]

    The world is being turned into a giant psychology experiment, where we get to stand back and watch with horror the enormous human capacity for denial. What's it going to take for people to wake up and act? I don't want to be cynical — cynicism at a time like this is a lousy survival strategy, for one thing — but a country that can watch New Orleans get washed away and pretty much put it out of their minds is a country that's going to need one hell of a wakeup call before people really let it sink in what we're up against.

    And of course we picked the absolute worst historical moment to put a bunch of anti-science know-nothings in power. It's a national disgrace. Shame on us and shame on them. They're going to have so much to answer for.

    It's time for grownups to step to the fore. It's time for all of us to demand the straight scoop, even if the news is grim. What we don't know, in this case, may well kill us.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:02 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Koufax Awards Voting Ends Tonight

    Just a friendly reminder that voting for the 2005 Koufax Awards ends tonight at midnight.

    The Koufax Awards are named for Sandy Koufax, one of the greatest left-handed baseball pitchers of all time. They honor the best of the left-wing blogs, in a variety of categories.

    PastPeak was nominated in two categories, Best Writing and Most Deserving of Wider Recognition. The page with links to all categories is here.

    The way it works is you cast your votes in the comments section of the page for a category (scroll down to the bottom of the page). If you cast a vote in one category, you have to wait a few minutes before you can cast a vote in another category.

    Check out the lists of nominated blogs; it's a great way to expand your horizons. And if you're so inclined, you might vote for PastPeak in the categories mentioned above. Gumpa and I would be grateful.


    Posted by Jonathan at 11:20 AM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Army Corps Of Engineers On Peak Oil Peak Oil

    What does the Army Corps of Engineers think about peak oil? Energy Bulletin links to an Army Corps of Engineers report titled Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations. Sounds like they've been reading Past Peak. Excerpt:

    The days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close. Domestic natural gas production peaked in 1973. The proved domestic reserve lifetime for natural gas at current consumption rates is about 8.4 yrs. The proved world reserve lifetime for natural gas is about 40 years, but will follow a traditional rise to a peak and then a rapid decline. Domestic oil production peaked in 1970 and continues to decline. Proved domestic reserve lifetime for oil is about 3.4 yrs. World oil production is at or near its peak and current world demand exceeds the supply. Saudi Arabia is considered the bellwether nation for oil production and has not increased production since April 2003. After peak production, supply no longer meets demand, prices and competition increase. World proved reserve lifetime for oil is about 41 years, most of this at a declining availability. Our current throw-away nuclear cycle will consume the world reserve of low-cost uranium in about 20 years....Coal supplies may last into the next century depending on technology and consumption trends as it starts to replace oil and natural gas.

    We must act now to develop the technology and infrastructure necessary to transition to other energy sources. Policy changes, leap ahead technology breakthroughs, cultural changes, and significant investment is requisite for this new energy future.

    Time is essential to enact these changes. The process should begin now. Our best options for meeting future energy requirements are energy efficiency and renewable sources. Energy efficiency is the least expensive, most readily available, and environmentally friendly way to stretch our current energy supplies. This ensures that we get the most benefit from every Btu used. It involves optimizing operations and controls to minimize waste and infusing state of the art technology and techniques where appropriate. The potential savings for the Army is about 30 per cent of current and future consumption. Energy efficiency measures usually pay for itself over the life cycle of the application, even when only face value costs are considered.

    Renewable options make use of Earth's resources that are not depleted by our energy consumption practices: namely solar, wind, geothermal, geoexchange, hydrology, tidal movements, agricultural products, and municipal wastes. Renewable options also make use of the large stretches of land in America, much of which is owned by the government. These options are available, sustainable, and secure. The affordability of renewable technologies is improving steadily and if the market is pulled by large Army application the cost reductions could be dramatic. [Emphasis added]

    So, whatever else is true, we know the Army knows about peak oil. We also know they realize that energy efficiency — i.e., conservation — is the most effective action to take near term. If only the White House would get that message.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:03 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    Earlier today, President Bush flew to New Orleans. There was an awkward moment when the president looked around and said "Oh my God, what the hell happened here?" — Conan O'Brien

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:01 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 12, 2006

    Feingold: Censure Bush For Spying Politics

    Russ Feingold will introduce a Senate resolution tomorrow censuring Bush for the NSA eavesdropping program. AP:

    "The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., told The Associated Press in an interview.

    A censure resolution, which simply would scold the president, has been used just once in U.S. history — against Andrew Jackson in 1834.

    Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., called the proposal "a crazy political move" that would weaken the U.S. during wartime.

    The five-page resolution to be introduced on Monday contends that Bush violated the law when, on his own, he set up the eavesdropping program within the National Security Agency in the months following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. [...]

    The resolution says the president "repeatedly misled the public" before the disclosure of the NSA program last December when he indicated the administration was relying on court orders to wiretap terror suspects inside the U.S.

    "Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president," Feingold said. "And, hopefully, he will acknowledge that he did something wrong." [...]

    The president's actions were "in the strike zone" in terms of being an impeachable offense, Feingold said. The senator questioned whether impeaching Bush and removing him from office would be good for the country.

    In the House, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, is pushing legislation that would call on the Republican-controlled Congress to determine whether there are grounds for impeachment. [...]

    Frist, appearing on ABC's "This Week," said that he hoped al-Qaida and other enemies of the U.S. were not listening to the infighting.

    "The signal that it sends, that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that is making our homeland safer, is wrong," Frist said. [Emphasis added]

    "Making our homeland safer." Frist thinks we're idiots.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:32 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:10 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    President Bush says America has caused an incredible transformation in Afghanistan. He said everything's being rebuilt, people are getting jobs, kids are going back to school. He said it works so well that he's thinking of trying it in New Orleans. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:07 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 11, 2006

    Molly, Molly, Quite Contrary Rights, Law

    Molly Saves the Day, who made waves recently when she posted the first installment of an instruction manual for setting up your own abortion clinic, has posted an illuminating, provocative, and tightly reasoned take on Roe v Wade. I think it will surprise you, and it will make you think. Recommended.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


    Via EuroTrib:

    I love these little reminders that reality is filtered through consciousness, mostly without our even knowing it. Objectivity is hard to come by.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:12 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Artists All Musings

    Sitting in the bookstore this afternoon, flipping through Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, I came across an arresting anecdote.

    Gordon MacKenzie, who has spent most of his adult life thinking about creativity, tells the story. When he goes to speak, as he often does, to a classroom full of kids, he'll pause to admire aloud the original artwork adorning the classroom walls, and then he'll ask, "How many of you are artists?" If it's a kindergarten or first grade class, all the hands shoot up. Second grade, three quarters of the hands, more tentatively. Third grade, just a few hands. Sixth grade, none.

    Appalling, when you stop and consider it. We start out bursting with creativity, free of self-consciousness and shame, curious, inquisitive, and interested. Then in a few short years we're taught to be narrow, tentative, and dull. It's what we're used to, so we never really stop to see it for what it is: a colossal societal failure. Self-defeating beyond measure.

    At this stage of human development and knowledge, there is no excuse for not doing better. And we really need to do better. As educators, as parents, as citizens. Given the challenges facing us and the ever-accelerating pace of change, we need people who are creative, people who are open to new ideas and experiences, people who can adapt readily and integrate the big picture, people for whom beauty is not an adornment or afterthought but an intrinsic measure of the goodness of a thing. In other words, we need artists — in all walks of life.

    This calls for a Gumpagraph.

    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    So ends today's sermon.

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:43 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:58 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    This week President Bush made a surprise visit to Afghanistan. The president said he heard it was a good place for an embattled leader to disappear into the mountains. — Tina Fey

    President Bush was also in Pakistan. Which is a little scary. When they landed there they landed in the dark with the lights off and all the shades pulled down. So if you count the Dubai deal, that's the second time President Bush has been operating in the dark. — Jay Leno

    At least in India he was greeted by thousands of people waving American flags. They were on fire. — Bill Maher

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:54 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 10, 2006

    They're All Bozos On That Bus 9/11, "War On Terror"  Politics

    It just keeps getting more grotesque. Somebody please make it stop. AP via the Guardian:

    The agency entrusted with protecting the U.S. homeland is having difficulty safeguarding its own headquarters, say private security guards at the complex.

    The guards have taken their concerns to Congress, describing inadequate training, failed security tests and slow or confused reactions to bomb and biological threats.

    For instance, when an envelope with suspicious powder was opened last fall at Homeland Security Department headquarters, guards said they watched in amazement as superiors carried it by the office of Secretary Michael Chertoff, took it outside and then shook it outside Chertoff's window without evacuating people nearby.

    The scare, caused by white powder that proved to be harmless, "stands as one glaring example" of the agency's security problems, said Derrick Daniels, one of the first guards to respond to the incident.

    "I had never previously been given training...describing how to respond to a possible chemical attack," Daniels told The Associated Press. "I wouldn't feel safe nowhere on this compound as an officer."

    Daniels was employed until last fall by Wackenhut Services Inc., the private security firm that guards Homeland's headquarters in a residential area of Washington. The company has been criticized previously for its work at nuclear facilities and transporting nuclear weapons. [Emphasis added]

    Besides the obvious Catch-22 lunacy of this, there's a deeper subtext that's very, very serious. The current occupants of the White House think their responsibility ends when they decide which political crony to reward with a contract. They have no interest in governing, no interest in managing. Their interest is in plundering the treasury and accumulating power. They think government can't solve problems, so that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many of them, in fact, would prefer to see government fail, for ideological reasons.

    Wackenhut's an ally, so they get the contract. Nobody pays the slightest attention to whether Wackenhut's actually doing the job it was hired to do.

    Only people who believe in government can govern well. People who believe that government can do good, that government can solve problems and make people's lives better, are people who will try their best to make government succeed, people who will pay attention and follow through. That's why the Clinton administration was infinitely more effective than the Bush administration has been. And Clinton was no progressive. He's basically what a Republican used to be — Eisenhower, say, or even Nixon. But at least he wanted government to perform well, and he hired a bunch of other people who felt the same way. That really does matter.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:37 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Mel & Floyd On The Web Humor & Fun  Media

    If you live here in Madison, you probably know about the "Mel & Floyd Show" on WORT radio. It's the funniest political commentary this side of The Daily Show.

    If you're not from Madison, you don't know what you've been missing, but now WORT's streaming on the Internet, so you can listen in from anywhere in the world.

    Fridays, 1 to 2 PM Central Time. Mark your calendars. Five stars.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:47 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    Republicans in Congress want to stop the sale of those six sea ports to that Dubai company even though President Bush supports the deal. Republican congressmen say this issue involves something even more important than loyalty to the president: saving their own asses on election day in November. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:54 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 09, 2006

    House Votes To Dump States' Food Safety Laws Politics

    SF Chronicle (via BuzzFlash):

    The House approved a bill Wednesday night that would wipe out state laws on safety labeling of food, overriding tough rules passed by California voters two decades ago that require food producers to warn consumers about cancer-causing ingredients.

    The vote was a victory for the food industry, which has lobbied for years for national standards for food labeling and contributed millions of dollars to lawmakers' campaigns. But consumer groups and state regulators warned that the bill would undo more than 200 state laws, including California's landmark Proposition 65, that protect public health.

    "The purpose of this legislation is to keep the public from knowing about the harm they may be exposed to in food," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, a chief critic of the measure.

    Several critics argued that the bill was rushed through the House without complete hearings as a favor to a specific industry — at the same time that members are talking about the evils of lobbying and proposing stricter ethical rules.

    Under the bill, any state that wanted to keep its own tougher standards for food labeling would have to ask for approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which has been criticized by food safety groups as slow to issue consumer warnings.

    The measure was approved after a debate in which House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco accused the Republican majority of "shredding the food safety net that we have built in this country."

    The measure passed 283 to 139, with the support of many Democrats...The legislation faces a tougher battle in the more evenly divided Senate, and there are signs of growing opposition to the measure. [...]

    A major target of the legislation is Prop. 65, which was approved by two-thirds of California voters in 1986 and requires labeling of substances that may cause cancer or birth defects. The law has inspired other states to follow suit with their own rules on food labeling that are more stringent than federal standards. [Emphasis added]

    Absolutely disgusting. Republicans claim they want to limit Federal power, that they're the party of states' rights, and they pull something like this. And a bunch of Democrats help them. Bought and paid for by the food industry giants. What a bunch of whores (with apologies to whores).

    I don't know about you, but I care about what I eat. I care about what my children eat. I'd kind of like to know if I'm eating something that causes cancer or birth defects. Call me picky. And in case you can't tell, this story just makes me furious.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:17 PM | Comments (5) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Big Brother's Got Computers Rights, Law

    Columnist Bob Kerr wrote recently about a couple who ran afoul of the Department of Homeland Security when they decided to pay down their credit card balance. Excerpt:

    [Walter and Deana Soehnge] paid down some debt. The balance on their JCPenney Platinum MasterCard had gotten to an unhealthy level. So they sent in a large payment, a check for $6,522.

    And an alarm went off. A red flag went up. The Soehnges' behavior was found questionable.

    And all they did was pay down their debt. They didn't call a suspected terrorist on their cell phone. They didn't try to sneak a machine gun through customs.

    They just paid a hefty chunk of their credit card balance. And they learned how frighteningly wide the net of suspicion has been cast.

    After sending in the check, they checked online to see if their account had been duly credited. They learned that the check had arrived, but the amount available for credit on their account hadn't changed.

    So Deana Soehnge called the credit-card company. Then Walter called. [...]

    They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted. [...]

    [DHS can do this because of] changes in something called the Bank Privacy Act. [Emphasis added]

    In case you had any lingering doubts about whether massive, automated surveillance of Americans — the kind of data-mining that was supposedly banned when Congress defunded the Total Information Awareness program — is still going on, this story is a reality check.

    Big Brother's got computers. I think we can safely assume those computers are scanning a whole lot more than just credit card payments.

    [Thanks, Mark]

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:57 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Poking Out Our Own Eyes Politics  Science/Technology

    AP reports that budget cuts are endangering the US fleet of remote-sensing satellites that monitor weather and the environment. Excerpts:

    Budget cuts and poor management may be jeopardizing the future of our eyes in orbit, America's fleet of environmental satellites, vital tools for forecasting hurricanes, protecting water supplies and predicting global warming.

    "The system of environmental satellites is at risk of collapse," said Richard A. Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Every year that goes by without the system being addressed is a problem." [...]

    Since [just last year], NASA has chosen to cancel or mothball at least three planned satellites in an effort to save money. Cost overruns have delayed a new generation of weather satellites until at least 2010 and probably 2012, leading a Government Accountability Office official to label the enterprise "a program in crisis." [...]

    NASA officials say that tight budgets tie their hands, forcing them to cut all but the most vital programs. The agency's proposed 2007 budget request contains $2.2 billion for satellites that observe the Earth and sun, compared to $6.2 billion for operating the space shuttle and International Space Station and $4 billion for developing future missions to the moon and Mars. [...]

    Meanwhile, the list of delayed, downsized and canceled satellites is a long one:

    NASA's Earth Observing System was conceived in the 1980s as a 15-year program that would collect comprehensive data about the planet's oceans, atmosphere and land surface. It was originally intended to send three generations of spacecraft into orbit at five-year intervals, but budget shortfalls limited the project to only one round of launches.

    Landsat, a series of satellites that have provided detailed images of the ground surface for more than 30 years, is in danger of experiencing a gap in service. Landsat 7, launched in April 1999, is scheduled to be replaced by a next-generation satellite in 2011. But if the existing satellite fails before that date and NASA has not developed a contingency plan, scientists, land managers and others who depend on Landsat images could be out of luck.

    The launch of a satellite designed to measure rainfall over the entire Earth, the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, has been pushed back to 2012. But the satellite it is designed to replace, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, can't possibly last that long. That means there will be a period of several years when scientists have no access to the accurate global precipitation measurements that help them improve hurricane forecasts and predict the severity of droughts and flooding.

    In December, scientists working on the Hydros mission received a letter canceling their program. They were developing a satellite that would measure soil moisture and differentiate between frozen and unfrozen ground, an increasingly important distinction since melting of the Arctic permafrost has accelerated over the past several decades. The satellite also would have improved drought and flood forecasting.

    Last month Scripps' Valero was notified that the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a project he has led for more than seven years, would be canceled. The spacecraft has already been built, but NASA is reluctant to spend the $60 million to $100 million it would cost to launch and operate it. [...]

    The observatory would have provided valuable information about how clouds, snow cover, airborne dust and other phenomena affect the balance between the amount of sunlight Earth absorbs and the amount of heat energy it emits. And because it would have hovered between Earth and the sun at a distance of roughly a million miles, it would have been able to observe the entire sunlit surface of the planet constantly. Such observations could greatly enhance scientists' understanding how much the planet has warmed in recent years and help them predict how much warmer it will get in the future. [Emphasis added]

    This is so dumb, so ignorant, so monumentally irresponsible, that it beggars belief. At a time when the Earth is going through changes that pose a significant threat to human welfare — maybe even human existence — we are voluntarily poking out our own eyes. Ground the space shuttle, if necessary. Better yet, take some money from the DOD. But for God's sake, if we ever needed this data, it's now.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:29 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:09 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    On the port deal, a lot of Republican congressmen are saying let's not rush to judgment, let's investigate it and be sure of our facts. Gee, too bad they didn't try that before we invaded Iraq. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:03 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 08, 2006

    Switchgrass To Ethanol Energy  Peak Oil

    In his State of the Union speech, President Bush made a point of mentioning switchgrass as a promising biomass input for ethanol production. The Oil Drum yesterday carried an illuminating post that looked at the hype vs. the reality regarding switchgrass. Excerpts:

    Switchgrass is a perennial grass native to the great plains, suitable for marginal lands because it grows well with relatively moderate inputs and can effectively protect soil against erosion. So far so good - one of the major attractions to switchgrass is that it is more environmentally friendly than corn....Best [yield] estimates [from switchgrass are] roughly 1000 gallons of ethanol per acre. Corn, by comparison, offers about...350 gallons per acre. This is why so many folks are beating their drums over switchgrass - in theory, it can be grown on marginal lands with ethanol yields 3 times that of corn with "minimal inputs." From this description, one gets the sense of legends in the making. Let's take a critical look at some of them.

    Legend 1: Switchgrass does not require fertilizer or irrigation...

    Fact: Switchgrass is a perennial grass, just like the grass in people's lawns. If you bag all your lawn clippings from your lawn, very quickly you will notice that your lawn will start to become yellow, and your "yield" (the number of times you have to mow) will decrease. This is because of the lack of fertilizer. Each time you remove biomass from an environment, you remove nutrients, and future yields will suffer. Switchgrass is exactly the same - if you harvest switchgrass for biomass, fertilizer must be applied in levels very similar to those applied if corn is the primary crop....In addition, phosphorous and potassium (potash) must be applied in amounts consistent to the amount of biomass removed, which actually exceed that necessary for corn.

    Regarding irrigation, it is true that you don't need to irrigate switchgrass, just like you never "need" to water your lawn. However, just like your lawn, switchgrass won't yield nearly as well if it doesn't have adequate moisture....Switchgrass yields vary strongly with precipitation - planting the dry plains, New Mexico, or Arizona with switchgrass will not yield much biomass.

    Legend 2: It is estimated that 15 percent of the North American continent consists of land that is unsuitable for food farming but workable for switchgrass cultivation. If all that land was planted with switchgrass, we could replace every single gallon of gas consumed in the United States with ethanol.

    Fact: There certainly is a significant amount of land that is non-productive for agriculture but could be planted with switchgrass....Switchgrass would certainly grow on [non-agricultural] land, but yields would not approach the 6-8 tons/acre on good agricultural land.

    Legend 3: Switchgrass yields a certain amount now, but in the future, with selective breeding, etc., it will yield much more.

    Fact: Switchgrass is a perennial, and needs to be seeded only once every decade. Is it reasonable to think that Monsanto is going to spend much research effort on seeds that they will only sell to farmers once a decade? Certainly one can select varieties of switchgrass that are more prolific..., but it is difficult to see that there will be much yield improvement beyond that, certainly not on timescales of a decade or so. For a wide variety of annually varying weather conditions, soil quality, etc., it is hard to argue that switchgrass yields will exceed the 6-8 ton/acre range. We've been growing alfalfa for many years for biomass with a very high incentive to increase yields per acre, without much success. Switchgrass probably won't be much different.

    Legend 4: Switchgrass is substantially cheaper as a feedstock than corn for producing ethanol.

    Fact: This is the big one. [...] Switchgrass must be cut, allowed to dry, raked, and then bailed for transport. For large, round bales of switchgrass (the cheapest method), estimated costs are $74/ton for 4 tons/acre yield, and $66/ton for 6 tons/acre yield. Presumably, that can be extended to $58/ton for 8 tons/acre yield, and so on. Note that these costs will generally be higher for smaller fields, another black mark against the use of [non-agricultural] land for growing switchgrass.

    On top of those costs, there will be transportation, which currently is about $0.25/ton per mile. How far will the switchgrass have to be transported? That's a bit more involved. A reasonable sized bioreactor facility would be 10,000 bbl/d, as 200 such facilities in the US would produce about 15% of the daily gasoline usage. Such a facility would use roughly 2 million tons of biomass feedstock per year, which is the output of 250,000 acres at 8 tons/acre. That is an area of roughly 400 square miles, or about 20 miles on a side. Given that rural roads don't run straight, that 20 miles is a fair figure for the average load to travel, leaving travel costs of $5/ton. So, we are talking something in the $60-70/ton range delivered to the bio-reactor. However, that is assuming 100% of the land around the bioreactor is switchgrass. If we instead only plant marginal land, the transportation distance would go up by a factor of 3 (due to the sparseness of the switchgrass fields) to $15/ton, leaving the total cost $70-80/ton. At 70 gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass, this suggests a minimum cost of $1/gallon ethanol simply to get the switchgrass to the facility. Yields less than 8 tons/acre will lead to proportionally higher costs.

    How does that compare to corn? That's a bit more dicey, as corn is heavily subsidized. Wholesale corn currently costs about $1.90/bushel, while the Iowa 2006 Crop Production Cost is $3.40 per bushel (if the difference between those numbers seems incredible, remember that you, the US taxpayer, are picking up the tab). Corn is much more dense than switchgrass biomass in terms of energy per unit mass, so transportation costs are much less, certainly under $0.10/bushel. At retail, this suggests a cost of $0.80 per gallon to get the corn to the ethanol facility based upon wholesale, and $1.40/gallon based upon the Iowa Crop Production cost of $3.40/bushel.

    Given that the switchgrass costs more to make into ethanol once at the bioreactor due to need for enzymes ($5-10/barrel or $0.20-$0.40/gallon plus extra energy used), there doesn't appear to be any advantage to switchgrass over corn for ethanol. [...]

    As a final note, there is sensitivity to energy prices in this analysis. However, it appears to go the wrong way for switchgrass....This suggests that corn may become more competitive with switchgrass as time moves forward and energy costs rise, exactly the opposite interpretation most people would have anticipated. [...]

    What's the moral in all of this? If corn ethanol is marginal on an energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) basis, it is very difficult to argue that biomass grown to make ethanol will be any better. To be blunt, if there are concentrated stocks of waste biomass in place, such as at lumber mills, then biomass ethanol probably makes sense. Otherwise, it appears to be more or less equivalent to corn based ethanol - in other words, a wash. [Emphasis added]

    The analysis seems plausible, and it appears to make the case that if switchgrass is better than corn for making ethanol, it's not by much. Which means that ethanol from switchgrass won't be a net energy winner any more than corn is. Ouch.

    One caveat: this analysis may be applicable in the near term only. Before long, currently unanticipated developments in bioengineering and nanotechnology may lead to entirely new ways of processing biomass, for example. The pace of technological change in bioengineering and nanotechnology (as in computer technology) is currently exponential, so we are likely to be fooled if we simply extrapolate the current pace of change linearly into the future — thinking, for example, that the next twenty years will lead to about as much change as the last twenty years. In fact, barring a catastrophic disruption in world systems, the amount of technological change over the next twenty years is likely to be orders of magnitude greater (possibly many orders of magnitude greater) than over the last twenty years.

    That's the (potentially) good news. The bad news is that we are faced with a near term problem right now — assuming world oil production is already peaking, as it appears to be. Technology may provide answers in time, but there is likely to be significant turmoil and hardship in the interim.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:14 PM | Comments (4) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:44 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    President Bush got off the plane in Pakistan and said, "Pakistan is a force for freedom in the Arab world." Only problem there is Pakistan is not free and they're not Arab. ... Earlier in the week he referred to the people of India as Native Americans. — Bill Maher

    Earlier today on his visit to Pakistan, President Bush mistakenly called Pakistan an Arab country instead of a Muslim country. Then he said, "Good thing no one over here takes that stuff seriously." — Conan O'Brien

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:41 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 07, 2006

    Molly Saves The Day Saves The Day Ethics  Rights, Law  Science/Technology

    South Dakota can ban abortions, but they can't ban knowledge. In response to the South Dakota law, Molly Saves the Day has stepped up with the first installment of a manual for performing safe abortions. Excerpt:

    In the 1960s and early 1970s, when abortions were illegal in many places and expensive to get, an organization called Jane stepped up to the plate in the Chicago area. Jane initially hired an abortion doctor, but later they did the abortions themselves. They lost only one patient in 13,000 — a lower death rate than that of giving live birth. The biggest obstacle they had, though, was the fact that until years into the operation, they thought of abortion as something only a doctor could do, something only the most trained specialist could perform without endangering the life of the woman.

    They were deceived — much like you have probably been deceived. An abortion, especially for an early pregnancy, is a relatively easy procedure to perform. And while I know, women of South Dakota, that you never asked for this, now is the time to learn how it is done. There is no reason you should be beholden to doctors — especially in a state where doctors have been refusing to perform them, forcing the state's only abortion clinic to fly doctors in from elsewhere.

    No textbooks or guides existed at that time to help them, and the equipment was hard to find. This is no longer true. For under $2000, any person with the inclination to learn could create a fully functioning abortion setup allowing for both vacuum aspiration and dilation/curettage abortions. If you are careful and diligent, and have a good grasp of a woman's anatomy you will not put anyone's health or life in danger, even if you have not seen one of these procedures performed.

    For the detailed how-to, see Molly's post. Further installments are in the works. Hopefully, this will be just the start. The colloborative possibilities of the Internet could enable the "open-source" development of a truly first-rate how-to manual.

    It's obviously a controversial move by Molly, and probably some of you reading this think Molly's wrong to do it and I'm wrong to help publicize it. But the thing is, women will continue to have abortions no matter what the law says. That has been true for centuries, if not millenia, and it's true now. Surely it's better that it be done safely. And those of you who believe a fertilized egg is the moral equivalent of an adult human being, I invite you to reflect on this.

    Update: [11:02PM] As long as we're talking about abortion, this is an intriguing video (via The Talent Show). Someone's not thinking too clearly.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:10 PM | Comments (9) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:32 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    The video tape that everybody is talking about this week is the one of President Bush being warned by federal disaster officials repeatedly the day before Katrina struck. They're constantly saying to him it's going to happen, and he doesn't ask a single question. I think it's a shame the president's performance was too late for this year's Oscars because, usually when you play a retarded guy, you're going to win. — Bill Maher

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Situational Science Humor & Fun  Science/Technology

    This is great. Does make me wince, though. If only it were just a joke.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:07 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 06, 2006

    Star Quality Humor & Fun

    From James Wolcott's Oscar post:

    Lauren Bacall, not the nicest star, but one who will be forever endearable for telling Norman Podhoretz to buzz off and stop bothering her at a party by snapping, "Can't you see I'm talking to my equals?"

    Damn! Wouldn't you love, just once before you die, to come up with a crack as perfect as that?

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Land Of The Free Rights, Law

    The US military's net blocks US troops in Iraq from accessing certain websites. Here's what a Marine reported to Wonkette:

    ...I had a few minutes today and thought I'd look and see what else was banned on the Marine web here. I think the results speak for themselves:

  • Wonkette - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.wonkette.com/) is categorized as: Forum/Bulletin Boards, Politics/Opinion."

  • Bill O'Reilly (www.billoreilly.com) - OK

  • Air America (www.airamericaradio.com) - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.airamericaradio.com/) is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion."

  • Rush Limbaugh (www.rushlimbaugh.com) - OK

  • ABC News "The Note" - OK

  • Website of the Al Franken Show (www.alfrankenshow.com) - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.airamericaradio.com/) is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion."

  • G. Gordon Liddy Show (www.liddyshow.us) - OK
  • Bringin' freedom and democracy to Iraq.

    It's annoying, but it's also spectacularly lame. As if the kids serving over there, kids who've grown up in an Internet-file-sharing-free-music-downloading-digital-photo-swapping-IM-buddy-list world, won't feel dissed by this. They're not stupid, even if the military insists on treating them like they are. More proof of cluelessness at the top.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:27 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Question War Activism  War and Peace

    The new, improved yellow ribbon.

    [Thanks, Maurice]

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:32 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:54 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    President Bush made a surprise trip to Afghanistan, and he promised the Afghanis that the United States would not cut and run. Then he got on his plane and left. — Conan O'Brien

    He was only in Afghanistan for four hours. That may not sound like much, but it's more time than he spent in the Texas National Guard. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:51 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 05, 2006

    A Crock Of — Manure Energy  Environment

    Not every alternative energy idea is a good one. The NYT has an illuminating op-ed today about the use of manure as a source of energy. Excerpts:

    Talk of reducing our dependence on foreign oil through alternative energy sources like biomass is everywhere these days — even on our president's lips. As a livestock farmer and environmental lawyer, I've paid particular attention to discussion about using manure as "green power." The idea sounds appealing, but power from manure turns out to be a poor source of energy. Unlike solar or wind, it can create more environmental problems than it solves. And it ends up subsidizing large agribusiness. That's why energy from manure should really be considered a form of "brown power."

    Manure is used mainly in methane digesters, incinerators and certain biodiesel plants. Digesters, often at dairy farms, liquefy manure, then put it in large tanks with anaerobic bacteria. As the liquid decays, the bacteria produce methane, which is purified and used like natural gas. Incinerators generate power by burning animal waste, usually from poultry. Biodiesel involves creating a gas from manure, then combining it with oil from animal fat or plants (often soybeans or corn).

    Government officials tout such projects as energy generation that benefits both nature and agriculture, and are pouring public funds into them. Few seem to question whether the projects make economic or environmental sense. And there are plenty of questions that need to be addressed. For starters, manure simply does not contain enough energy to produce cost-effective power. Studies show that manure power projects are probably not viable without large public subsidies and are likely to remain so. An analysis by researchers at the University of Minnesota's Applied Economics Department found that methane digesters are dependent on big subsidies to break even. [...]

    Part of the problem is that the digesters, incinerators and biodiesel plants are expensive to build and run. Cost and technical complexity make these manure power projects more economical when done on an industrial scale, with operations that produce vast quantities of manure. It's telling that one of the first major manure biodiesel plants in the United States will use the millions of pounds of waste produced by the 500,000 pigs at a Smithfield Foods operation in Utah.

    But even the largest projects require significant public money for construction and operation. This has also been Europe's experience with manure power projects.

    And those subsidies tend to help factory farms. Traditional farms, which usually both grow plants and raise animals, recycle manure as organic fertilizer and thus bear the full cost of handling their waste. But large livestock operations can't do that. They put their manure — and there is a great deal of it — in huge piles or storage pools that often leak into nearby streams and ground water and exude stenches that make life miserable for neighbors. For them, manure isn't valuable fertilizer but a vexing disposal problem.

    The stampede for power from manure gives these huge livestock operations a subsidized way to deal with this problem — and even gives them an incentive to expand. An article about methane digesters in The Des Moines Register quoted a farmer saying that doubling his dairy herd allowed him to justify the expense of a digester. This could well be a typical response, with manure power projects everywhere resulting in still larger herds and flocks.

    But as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization noted last month, concentrated livestock operations threaten the environment and human health in a way that traditional farms do not. It is increasingly clear that traditional, smaller-scale farming is better than factory farms for people, animals and the environment.

    Even manure power projects' immediate environmental benefits are dubious. Digesters, for example, don't make the manure disappear; instead, a manure slurry (which is sometimes larger than the original volume of manure) is left over and still has to be stored somewhere. Moreover, the slurry contains most of manure's original pollutants... [...]

    Despite President Bush's statement that biodiesel "is one of our nation's most promising alternative fuel sources," making biodiesel from manure is also unlikely to be an environmental gain. Burning biodiesel may increase a greenhouse gas, nitrogen oxide, according to the Energy Department. And the full environmental costs of biodiesel fuel include soil erosion and water pollution caused by growing the soybeans and corn used. These crops are now the leading cause of both nitrogen water pollution in the United States and soil erosion.

    Using manure as power sounds like a good idea, but it's not. The energy that can be generated from manure is not worth the expense. And by lowering industrial animal operations' cost of production, subsidizing manure power pushes family farms further toward the brink of extinction. Our money would be better spent investing in truly sustainable, sensible ways of producing energy and food. [Emphasis added]

    The agribusiness giants have the political muscle to push ideas like this, and on the surface it sounds like a great sustainability move: what could be better than reusing "waste"?

    But as this example shows, it's important to consider the full range of costs and consequences associated with alternative energy proposals. Just because we have to do something to deal with the impending energy crunch doesn't mean we have to do something stupid. And we don't have to subsidize stupidity with public funds.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:42 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:45 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    A web site called HeroBuilders.com is now selling a Dick Cheney action figure. The nice thing is the Cheney action figure fits right into your back pocket, so you can walk around and pretend you're an oil company executive. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:43 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 04, 2006

    Koufax Awards Voting Media

    Nominations for the 2005 Koufax Awards have been announced, and voting is open.

    The Koufax Awards are named for Sandy Koufax, one of the greatest left-handed baseball pitchers of all time. They are intended to honor the best of the left-wing blogs, in a variety of categories.

    PastPeak was nominated in two categories, Best Writing and Most Deserving of Wider Recognition. The page with links to all categories is here.

    The way it works is you cast your votes in the comments section of the page for the category (scroll down to the bottom of the page). When the comments list for a page gets too long, they may open a new one.

    Check out the lists of nominated blogs; it's a great way to expand your horizons. And if you're so inclined, you might vote for PastPeak in the categories mentioned above. Gumpa and I would be grateful.


    Posted by Jonathan at 06:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Bumper Sticker Humor & Fun

    Seen in traffic today:

    Evolution is only a theory.
    You know, like gravity.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:59 PM | Comments (6) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    2300 Iraq

    US troops killed in Iraq as of today: 2300.

    And God knows how many Iraqis. For what?

    No end in sight.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:43 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    They're now talking about bringing in a guy from Dubai to run the country. — Jay Leno, on Bush's low approval ratings

    Even Tom DeLay is saying this port deal is a big mistake. He said if the people of Dubai want to be involved in our government, they should do it through proper channels and write him a big giant campaign check. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:32 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 03, 2006

    Matthew Simmons: Outlook For 2006 Peak Oil

    World Oil, one of the two major oil industry trade journals, each year asks Matthew Simmons to write a column giving his outlook for the coming year in oil. Simmons is head of the oil industry's largest investment bank and author of Twilight in the Desert. He's also an outspoken proponent of the view that world oil production is peaking.

    Here's an extended excerpt from his outlook for 2006:

    Had deepwater oil not come of age in the last decade, conventional oil would have passed peak output. Even as deepwater drilling created several million bpd of added oil, non-OPEC supply outside the FSU has struggled for half a decade to stay flat, and now seems clearly in decline. The North Sea is in steep decline, and Mexico, China, Argentina, Oman, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Colombia seem to be experiencing irreversible declines.

    Non-conventional oil from Canada's oil sands and Venezuela's Orinoco region makes up about half of both producers' output. Non-conventional oil is now commercial, but it remains extremely energy-intensive to turn into usable form. Most new oil found globally is either heavy or sour, or both. What seems to have passed peak supply is light, sweet oil — the easiest oil to produce and the simplest to refine into light, finished product.

    Until 2005, OPEC had risen to the occasion and supplied constant surges in unexpected demand. Now it is clear — for anyone closely studying OPEC production announcements and other data on the true status of OPEC oil output — that the countries comprising OPEC membership are all producing at maximum levels. Over a dozen giant oilfield upgrades are underway throughout OPEC, but few will add significant new supplies before 2009.

    Moreover, all these "new" projects are complex oil fields that were found years ago and lacked the ingredients to be key producing fields. Some of these projects' performance risks are high enough that nobody should assume that they will happen on schedule, on budget or at projected output targets.

    The global lack of spare capacity now extends far beyond wellhead capabilities. By late summer 2005, every capable drilling rig in the world was in use...The backlog of planned, new wells that awaits an available rig is growing monthly. In the offshore market, the rig deficit by the start of 2005 was about 250 drilling months before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita took another 20 rigs out of commission; some permanently, some for just a matter of months. The resultant offshore drilling deficit compared to planned activities might now exceed 400 to 500 drilling months. Every key oil pipeline and processing facility is also at 100% capacity, as is global refining capacity. The oil system has never been so tight.

    Also, 2005 will go down in history books as perhaps the poorest year for exploration success for both oil and gas since World War II. This dismal success was not for lack of effort. Record amounts of funds are being plowed into E&P [exploration & production] capital spending, which is why all the world's rigs are now in use. [...]

    For oil markets, 2006 will be challenging, unless global economies quickly enter a steep recession. This is about the only event that will moderate demand growth before it outpaces supply. Already, some markets show signs of little demand growth, not because demand is low, but due to the physical limit of oil use having to stay within supply limits. One big "head fake" of 2006 will be when apparent demand seems stalled by lack of demand instead of lack of supply. The two are extremely different events, and hard to judge by a quick glance at weekly changes in EIA's oil inventory reports.

    As the rig shortage worsens and rates rise to dramatic levels, many newly planned projects will not materialize. There will also be a slowdown in deepwater exploration wells or drilling of necessary deepwater development wells. Rigs are insufficient for both to happen. The lack of rigs is also an easy proxy for all other key services needed to drill and complete complex wells that comprise most new projects.

    The industry is in the early stages of a people crisis. This people shortage will worsen throughout 2006. There is already widespread "stealing" of competitors' key people, or oil companies raiding the scarce personnel of their key service providers. New drilling assets coming onstream during the year will further strain the people shortage. For instance, when both land and marine rigs are added together, there are about 250 rigs on order for delivery in the next 12 to 18 months...Since an average drilling operation needs 35 to 50 people on-site on a 24/7 basis, this equates to a need to recruit and train 26,000 to 37,000 new drilling hands in a very short period. This figure assumes prompt delivery of new equipment and that the industry puts these units to use as added rigs instead of replacing worn-out, old rigs.

    Adding as many as 250 new drilling rigs might sound like a big expansion until it is put in perspective. There are about 3,000 drilling rigs in the world, so this "expansion" is only a little over 8%. Because most of the 3,000 existing rigs are about 25 years old, the industry soon needs to gear up for the challenge of how to replace the entire fleet over the next decade or two. The wear-and-tear of land and offshore rigs is like running a car in a demolition derby. If the industry leadership fails to address how to renew the drilling fleet, it will ensure a serious oil supply crisis. [...]

    Like it or not, 2006 will be eventful for oil. It will also be the year when the Peak Oil topic intensifies into a debate on the scale of climate change/global warming. So far, this Peak Oil debate has been muted to a very separate, small group of "extreme optimists" battling a small group of geologists, petro-physists and, on occasion, energy analysts or economists.

    Optimists often do not properly understand what "peak oil" means. They dismiss any worries by saying the world is unlikely to run out of oil in the next 30 to 75 years. Instead, these optimists need to grasp the simple fact that peaking does not mean running out. It means that supply no longer can grow, and it generally means the pending arrival of a production decline.

    Depending on the oil field type and the manner in which it has been produced, this decline can be either gentle or so steep that it resembles a production collapse. Optimists who scoff at peak oil also argue that new oilfield technologies will come to the rescue and make new supplies easy to create without realizing that there are few new technologies being invented today. This "embrace technology" group fails to appreciate that this same technology created the steep decline curves occurring in most oil provinces.

    Many leading peak oil advocates assume that this event is still a decade away, but they argue that steps to mitigate peak oil's arrival take so long to implement that the world must create a mitigation plan today. In my opinion, the most important peak oil aspect is defining peak as "a level of oil output that can safely be produced for at least a half-a-decade or more." Whenever an oil-producing field or region begins to approach this sustained peak productivity level, the safest formula to avoid a pending steep decline is to lower field production rates. Based on this definition, the world might now have exceeded sustained safe production. [Emphasis added]

    A few things to take away. People who dismiss peak oil concerns say that higher prices will naturally encourage more exploration and drilling and the problem will take care of itself. As Simmons stresses, however, the world is completely maxed out right now. There are no idle rigs. There is no idle pipeline or refining capacity. There is a serious shortage of experienced workers. There are definite limits to how quickly these shortages can be overcome.

    The other thing that peak oil optimists say is that rising prices will encourage the development of new technologies that will make it possible to drain oil fields more efficiently. That's a two-edged sword, however. Advanced technologies are already in use. They are very good at squeezing most of the toothpaste out of the tube. Unfortunately, they are so good at it that when the end comes, it comes suddenly. A number of oil fields are showing alarmingly steep decline rates as a result.

    Finally, as Simmons notes, when oil fields near peak the best thing to do is to ease off, slow production down. The amount of oil ultimately recovered will be greater, even if it will take longer. Unfortunately, everything today militates against such prudence. Oil producers everywhere are pumping flat out. That's why Simmons says we may already have "exceeded sustained safe production." We're pumping too fast, but we can't slow down. We're between a rock and a hard place.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:18 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Jon Stewart On Larry King Media

    Crooks and Liars has video of Jon Stewart's appearance Monday on Larry King Live. The smartest guy on tv interviewed by one of the dumbest. Still, lots of good stuff.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:28 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:03 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    President Bush, talking about the port deal, he said we Americans have nothing to fear from the Dubai government running our ports. I know a good way for President Bush to convince everyone of that — let the Dubai government handle his security. Hey if it's good enough for us, it should be good enough for him. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:00 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 02, 2006

    Denial, Despair — Or Activism? Activism  Environment

    From TedBlog (via TreeHugger):

    One of the more poignant points that Al Gore made in [February 22nd's] powerful speech about global warming was that a lot of people move directly from a state of denial about this issue to one of despair. People in the first state don't go out and try to change things because they don’t see a problem. People in the second state are often no more inclined to act because they think the situation is hopeless. The fact that these are the two most stable cognitive states on this issue probably explains why a lot of people do, in fact, remain in denial. It's human to avoid pain, and therefore perhaps natural to subconsciously choose a state of denial over the daily trauma of despairing for the future of humanity. [Emphasis added]

    My guess is that most of you who read PastPeak are too smart and too well-informed to choose denial: you already know better. Despair's not much of an option, either: it's not only self-defeating and pointless, it's no fun. That leaves activism. Activists are lucky. They get to interact with some of the brightest, most ethical and compassionate people on the planet. They get to look themselves in the mirror — and look their children in the eye — and know they're working on the side of the angels. And history is full of examples of movements that had miniscule beginnings against what seemed like overwhelming odds, only to triumph in the end. Forget denial. Forget despair. Activism is the only stance worth taking, if not for yourself, then for your children and the generations yet to come. It's part of the good life.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:21 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Capturing Bin Laden 9/11, "War On Terror"  Afghanistan  Politics

    In Afghanistan yesterday, Bush vowed that Osama bin Laden will be "captured and brought to justice." The FreewayBlogger replies:

    Well put.

    (See also this.)

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:08 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Evidence That Peak Oil Is Here Peak Oil

    The Oil Drum has a good capsule summary of evidence that peak oil (the peak in world oil production, after which it's all downhill) is either happening right now or will in the next year or two. Check it out.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:52 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    President Bush right now is in India. He's in India. So it's comforting to know that Quick-Draw Cheney has his finger on the button. — David Letterman

    President Bush also going to visit Pakistan. I think he wants to put them in charge of our airport security. — Jay Leno

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:35 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 01, 2006

    How Much Oil? Peak Oil

    The world has approximately 1 trillion barrels of conventional oil left in the ground, and the nations of the world consume about 85 million barrels of that oil every day.

    Here's a way to think about those numbers. 1 trillion barrels (at 42 gallons per barrel) works out to about 38 cubic miles, which is the volume of a cube about 3.4 miles on a side. That's enough to cover New York City's 300 sq. mi. land area to a depth of an eighth of a mile (a little more than the length of two football fields). That's it. That's what's left. In the world.

    At present, the world's consuming almost 1.2 cubic miles per year, and demand is growing by several percent a year.

    If all of that 38 cubic miles of oil could be pumped out of the ground at today's rate, and if consumption stayed constant at today's rate, the very last drop of conventional oil would be consumed 32 years from now. (If consumption were to continue to grow at current rates, the last drop of conventional oil would be consumed roughly a decade sooner.)

    But 32 years from now isn't the only date that matters. Other dates that matter are 1) when the world runs out of spare oil production capacity, and 2) when world oil production passes its peak and begins its inevitable and irreversible decline. The first of those dates has already arrived, as signalled by rising prices. Many analysts believe the second date, peak oil, is either already here, too, or is imminent.

    When it becomes clear that production has peaked and is on an irreversible downhill slope, when people wake up to the fact that each year the world's going to produce less oil than it did the year before — forever — it's suddenly going to feel like a very different world.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:28 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Caught On Tape Disasters  Politics

    AP reports that it has obtained video tape and transcripts of pre-Katrina briefings that show that Bush and Chertoff were warned explicitly that the levees might fail and that New Orleans residents gathering at the Superdome and elsewhere were very much at risk. AP:

    In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

    Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

    The footage — along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press — show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

    Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

    A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

    "I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

    The White House and Homeland Security Department urged the public Wednesday not to read too much into the video footage.

    "I hope people don't draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing," presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said, citing a variety of orders and disaster declarations Bush signed before the storm made landfall. "He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times." [...]

    "I have kind a sinking feeling in my gut right now," [New Orleans Mayor Ray] Nagin said. "I was listening to what people were saying — they didn't know, so therefore it was an issue of a learning curve. You know, from this tape it looks like everybody was fully aware."

    Some of the footage and transcripts from briefings Aug. 25-31 conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:

  • Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. [...]

  • Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees"...He later clarified [sic], saying officials believed, wrongly, after the storm passed that the levees had survived. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility even before the storm — and Bush was worried too. [...]

    Bush appeared from a narrow, windowless room at his vacation ranch in Texas, with his elbows on a table. Hagin was sitting alongside him. Neither asked questions in the Aug. 28 briefing.

    "I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm," the president said.

    A relaxed Chertoff, sporting a polo shirt, weighed in from Washington at Homeland Security's operations center. He would later fly to Atlanta, outside of Katrina's reach, for a bird flu event. [...]

    The National Hurricane Center's Mayfield told the final briefing before Katrina struck that storm models predicted minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane but he expressed concerns that counterclockwise winds and storm surges afterward could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun.

    "I don't think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern," Mayfield told the briefing. Other officials expressed concerns about the large number of New Orleans residents who had not evacuated. [Emphasis added]

  • FEMA's Mike Brown comes off comparatively well in the AP account, if you read the whole thing. Brown may have been in over his head, but he clearly was a whole lot more engaged than Chertoff and Bush. We all may have fallen for White House spin when we accepted Brownie as the designated scapegoat.

    Update: [8:49 PM] Crooks and Liars has video.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:43 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Desperation Iraq  Media

    From ThinkProgress:

    Flailing in desperation.

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:59 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
    Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
    © Kent Tenney 

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:14 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

    An Arab company might take over six American ports. President Bush says that he did not know of the plan. That is just so out of character. — David Letterman

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:12 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb