Sunday, July 31, 2005

Prophetic nonsense

OK. I know I said I won't have anything to do with the warped fundy wackiness of so-called "Christian" apocalyptic "literature" like the awful Left Behind series. Truthfully, I probably can't criticize those books as effectively as Fred Clark at slacktivist can, so go visit his weekly LB series archive when you're done here.

But, I couldn't resist a free shot at such nonsense when I came across this BS at the books' website (I just hope going there didn't give me a virus):

One of the hardest things for American prophecy students to accept is that the United States is not clearly mentioned in Bible prophecy, yet our nation is the only superpower in the world today.
-- Tim LaHaye

What explains this scriptural silence? Mark Hitchcock, contributing editor to the Left Behind Prophecy Club, outlines four possible explanations on why America is not specifically referred to in prophecy.

Possibility 1
America will still be a powerful nation in the last days, but the Lord simply chose not to mention her specifically.

This is possible, but it seems unlikely. In Scripture, the dominant political and military power in the end times is centered in the Mediterranean and in Europe. This scriptural silence concerning America seems to indicate that by the time the tribulation period arrives, America will no longer be a major influence in the world.

Possibility 2
America is not mentioned specifically in Scripture because she will be destroyed by other nations. She will suffer a fall from the outside.

Those who hold this theory are quick to point to the notion that America will be crippled by a nuclear attack. However, in recent days the terrorist attacks on our nation have led some to conclude that our own freedom and technology will be the Achilles' heel that brings us down.

Possibility 3
America is not mentioned in Bible Prophecy because she will have lost her influence as result of moral and spiritual deterioration. She will suffer a fall from the inside.

As you can imagine, this is a very popular view today in light of the moral malaise we see all around us. Proponents of this view have no trouble citing alarming statistics related to drug use, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, children born out of wedlock, divorce, pornography, abortion and on and on.

Possibility 4
America is not mentioned in Bible Prophecy because she is brought to her knees by the Rapture.

If the rapture were to happen today and all the true believers in Jesus Christ were whisked away to heaven in a split second, America would be devastated. It is estimated that America will lose somewhere between 25 and 65 million citizens: Christians and their small children. Not only would the country lose a minimum of 10% of her population, but she would also lose the very best, the "salt and light" of this great land (see Matthew 5:13-14).

These people need a very loud wake-up call.

This line says it all: "the dominant political and military power in the end times is centered in the Mediterranean and in Europe." The scriptures these people like to quote were written at least 2000 years ago. America isn't mentioned because she didn't exist.

Many of the Old Testament "prophecies" refer to Assyria, Persia, or Babylonia not as symbols but in reality because those nations dominated the Middle East for long periods of time. The Book of Daniel and other "prophecies" have nothing to do with 21st Century life.

Similarly, the New Testament "prophecies" refer to ROME, which was then the superpower, and are largely veiled political statements slamming the imperial regime and its occupation of Judea. At best, they were somebody's reasonable assumptions that, in the then-not-too-distant future, the tensions in Judea would boil over and spark a massive Roman backlash. Such a thing did happen in CE 70, culminating in the infamous seige of Masada and the sacking of Jerusalem. At worst, they were an expression of someone's serious psychological disorder; we often see such pronouncements coming from the disturbed minds of schizophrenics.

When valid, such predictions need no divine guidance, just a good grounding in politics and social issues. "Prophecies" that are so grounded are more likely to be clearly expressed and accurate, or at least disprovable. That's also true of some of the things we've been talking about in this blog -- peak oil, nuclear war, etc. I don't believe in prophecy, but I do believe in reasonable predictions based on fact.

Anti-occupation "prophets" and "messiahs" pop up frequently when a people is undergoing severe cultural crisis. Anthropologists and historians have documented this phenomenon very clearly among several Native American tribes in the late 1800s (Wovoka's Ghost Dance was the most famous), the Cargo Cults of Papua New Guinea, Mayan end-time prophecies that date back to interaction with the Toltecs, and elsewhere. I'd bet that if we looked at a random selection of cultures who faced oppression by an expansionist society, we'll find similar stories in most of them.

Stories that claim to peer centuries into the future really come in two types. The best of it exists in modern science fiction. Those authors make no claims of prophecy, but our distant descendants might find what they wrote to be true and affix the label of "prophet" on some of them long after the fact. If their insight into how today's technology and society may change stands the test of time, they should be honored then, but hopefully not in a religious sense. The thought of somebody finding the works of good SF writers like Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, or David Brin "sacred" in CE 3000 is unnerving & ridiculous... probably even to them.

I do not, BTW, consider Left Behind to be SF, even if it's shelved as such in stores. To be science fiction it has to be based in some conception of science, even a mistaken one, not nonsense.

The vast majority of stuff purported to predict the future is so confusing it could mean anything, or nothing, and is very easily twisted into any form proponents wish to twist it. That, of course, is particularly easy if the "prophecy" was written a long, long time ago, in some language nobody can now read, or one that wasn't written in the first place. That's the big problem with most biblical "prophecy" and New Age distortions of the legends of various Native peoples.

The most obvious case is Nostradamus. Have you ever tried reading his weirdness? It's a mishmash of (mostly) French, Latin, Spanish and words the guy made up himself. There are several translations (I'll admit, I once owned Erika Cheetham's version), but they often disagree. Even when they do agree, what they say frequently makes no sense.

There's more like this nonsense all over the Web, and such BS riddles prophetic communication throughout history. Certainly, "prophecy" is communication, and at times it's done with good intentions, usually as part of an effort to renew the culture it comes from.

But Left Behind and similar claims of modern bible-prophecy (Hal Lindsey, the so-called Dominionists, and their ilk) represents the worst kind of chiliasm. Instead of being creative and forward-looking, today's fundamentalists steal and distort their prophecy from a culture (ancient Judaism) that's not their own. Unlike Wovoka and the others I noted, they do not promote renewal of the culture that gave them birth; in fact, they promote its destruction as a requirement for their own narcissistic salvation. Although they talk about fighting cultural decay, they are actually a cause of it, because they impede and reject genuine efforts at renewal.

Such peddlers of "prophecy" & distorted reality need to be reined in by the rest of us before their delusions become self-fulfilling and cause a lot of suffering.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Hiroshima redux

This week's Guardian has an incredible spread on the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings, with an edited version of John Hersey's original article (later lengthened into the book Hiroshima), interviews with survivors who were then kids, etc. Be sure to read the various articles linked to part two.

Once done... write your senators, congressmen, etc., telling them to stop the madness and oppose new nuclear weapons. We can and should make changes now... but part of me is afraid it'll take another Hiroshima before we do and that if that happens it won't just be one or two cities. Prove me wrong.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Misc. news links

This shouldn't surprise anyone...

Poll: Americans Say World War III Likely


Poll results like those couldn't possibly have anything to do with events like this could they?...

Senate Debates New Nuclear Bunker-Buster Plan

By David Ruppe
Global Security Newswire (7/23/05)

WASHINGTON — U.S. senators today debated a renewed effort to block a feasibility study on developing a new earth-penetrating nuclear weapon (see GSN, July 1).

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) placed an amendment to the fiscal 2006 Defense Authorization bill that would transfer $4 million designated for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator to the D.C. National Guard for use on mass casualty event training and equipment.

Voting on that and other amendments to the bill is not expected until Tuesday at the earliest.

A similar amendment to the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill that would have redirected the money toward paying down the national debt was defeated 53-43 in June, despite support from several Republicans.

The House this year has approved no appropriations for the bunker-buster study. It did, though, authorize in its version of the authorization bill money for the Air Force to conduct a study on the weapon. Democrats say that would allow analysis only of a conventionally armed penetrator. Republicans say the authorization would allow study of the nuclear option.

The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator study was until last year conducted by the Energy Department. Congress provided no funding for the program for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The Bush administration this year requested the $4 million to conduct a crucial field test of the weapon that would involve slamming a mock version into a large concrete block.

Kennedy said the Bush administration’s interest in funding the study shows “they do not have their priorities straight,” and that the money could better be spent on defense against conventional terrorism such as this month’s bombings of London’s mass transit system.

Pursuit of the weapon also “threatens to launch a new nuclear arms race” by undermining efforts to roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and a suspected Iranian effort, he said.

“The administration would like us to develop something that we don’t need. That would endanger us by its very existence,” he said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.), who sponsored the Defense Authorization bill, said continuation of the study does not mean the United States would necessarily build the weapon. Specific approval from Congress would be necessary for advanced development, he said.

“I assure my colleagues, I assure the American public, that Congress is monitoring each step of this program,” he said.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the study would not fuel an arms race, noting the United States has reduced its nuclear arsenal by more than 13,000 warheads since the late 1980s.

The study “certainly does not indicate that we are in a warmongering mode,” he said.

The Bush administration disclosed last year a plan to develop, with congressional approval, the penetrator over five years for an estimated $486 million.

A National Academy of Sciences report in April concluded that a high-yield nuclear penetrator used to strike a deeply buried target could produce up to 1 million casualties if detonated near a populated area (see GSN, April 18).

Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that in response to the program, potential adversaries would be tempted “to put that deeply buried target under a city, under a historic or religious site,” making use of the weapon improbable.


Lockheed Expects to Test Bunker-Buster This Year

SOURCE: Global Security Newswire 7/14/05

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control is expected to test four prototypes of a new U.S. bunker-buster bomb later this year, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, July 1).

Lockheed is working with U.S. Navy scientists as part of the Defense Department’s Threat Reduction Initiative. News of the tests was first reported in the British weekly New Scientist, according to AFP.

The missile is designed to create an air pocket in front of the weapon as it falls to the ground. In theory, this pocket will force the earth to the sides once the weapon reaches the surface, creating a hole for the missile to penetrate. This would allow the weapon to reach buried targets, such a WMD storage facilities

The idea of an air pocket comes from torpedoes that create gas bubbles around themselves, allowing the weapon to move faster because it is traveling through water vapor as opposed to liquid water, AFP reported.

“Lockheed Martin hopes the supercavitating missile will reach 10 times the depth of the current Air Force record holder, the huge BLU-113 bunker-buster, which can break through seven meters of concrete (22.7 feet) or 30 meters (100 feet) of earth,” AFP quotes New Scientist as saying.

A thinner casing on the conventionally armed weapon would allow it to carry more explosives than the existing version, according to AFP (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo News, July 14).


from The Guardian, 7/21/05, letter to the editor:

The myth that the US had to drop nuclear weapons on Japan to end the second world war and thus save lives is still prevalent. Winston Churchill later asserted: "It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the bomb fell." The US had two main goals. One was to dominate the Far East after the war. The other was to gain advantage over the Soviet Union in the post-war settlement. This was a criminal act and a massive human catastrophe which must never be forgotten - and never repeated.

Kate Hudson
Chair, CND


Saturday, July 23, 2005

DOE report is height of delusion

Title: Recommendations for the Nuclear Complex of the Future
Authors: Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure Task Force (David Overskei, Chair)
Draft report from US Dept of Energy, July 2005.


"As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities." ~Voltaire


Amazing. Just when I thought public policy regarding nukes couldn't get more absurd, I found this DOE task force report released July 13.(All quotes below, unless clearly stated otherwise, come from the report, but all emphasis in them is mine.)

The absurdities and, worse, blatant contradictions litter the reports 36 pages (excluding appendices, which go on forever). Repeatedly, the task force writers argue a need to support non-proliferation efforts by developing a new generation of nuclear weapons based on what they call the "Reliable Replacement Warhead." and more than that, instituting a system by which the US can continuously develop new weapons over time once new ones get old.

"To demonstrate the US is committed to arms reduction, the Task Force recommends that Pantex focus on the aggressive dismantlement of the Cold War stockpile, while the Complex begins replacing the Cold War stockpile with the sustainable stockpile of the future." (vii)

WTF?!? This is a lot like taking the print version of Hustler away from the kids but giving them internet access to the VoyeurWeb. How does this promote arms reduction?

At one point, they acknowledge that the existing Moscow Treaty calls for reduction to a total of 1700-2200 "operationally deployed strategic nukes" by 2012. That number, however, DOESN'T include the rest of the stockpile, much of which can be made operational very quickly. Later, the report says the total will be "substantially smaller" than present, but also says DOD requires a stockpile "if force augmentation is needed to meet an expanding threat." In essense, the DOD is saying we have to be ready for another arms race, even though the whole objective of this report is to ensure more accurate, effective wpns, which would make huge quantities irrelevant.

Obviously, you know where I stand -- we need to abolish them as soon as possible. But even if we assume there's a need to keep the ability to produce them (as, for example, some of James Morrow's characters suggest in This is the Way the World Ends), we do not need more warheads. With just the existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), the US is perfectly capable of dealing unprecedented damage and suffering to any nation who threatens us. (Not that any really do.)

"Cost-benefit" stupidity

The report often talks about cost savings by creating a new Consolidated Nuclear Production Center (CNPC) to replace the several locations that now manufacture nuclear weapons and parts. And "cost-benefit" talk is rife, as in, "A risk-informed cost-benefit analysis should be performed on all programmatic, safety and security recommendations. Rational decisionmaking should balance risks and benefits while implementing change."

"Cost analysis of designs should extend from inception to disposition," they write. That makes sense if you're talking about toasters or computers, but it leaves out some very important calculations when the item in question is intended to obliterate whole cities. Will this analysis include the low-probability but incredibly high-negative-outcome risk that the things might be used?!? If it does not, then anything the "cost-benefit" report says is bullshit.

To me, this nonsense is similar to their various references to "margin", as in creating "high margin conservative designs." What does THAT mean? I assume they intend it to mean "high effectiveness," but since there's no benefit to ever USING them, the only "high margin" I can see in this process is high PROFIT margin for the industries they want to make them... but I'll come back to that.

The way the entire report is written strongly implies that they intend to build a ton of new nukes, let them sit there for a few decades, then dismantle them without ever using them. Obviously, we should never use them, but if we design them intending to never use them, then let's not build them at all.
This is an economic black hole of limitless depth, a perpetual siphon for billions in taxpayer funds with no redeeming cultural value.
Instead, let's save the money, resources, scientific time, unnecessary risks, and other things wasted by their production for use in more socially beneficial scientific pursuits like the space program or cleaning up our environmental errors.

In fact, they claim that "implementing all recommendations now will increase near-term costs substantially, but with substantial future cost reductions" once the CNPC is fully operational. However, the very next line is directly contradictory: It says the plan assumes "accelerated dismantlement rates" and "no reduction in the currently supported stockpile." Which is it? How can you assume both???

"The CNPC should be designed to handle 300 weapons per year" including "producing and dismantling at a rate of 125 devices per year" by 2030 on just one shift, with the possibility of a second (and third?) shift if more wpns are desired. I don't see how that's going to reduce our overall number of nukes, even if the existing site (called Pantex) is devoted solely to destroying old weapons. They later note the entire system is 20+ years behind in dismantling existing wpns "under current planning of dismantlement rates."

Industrial follies

As I noted earlier, the Task Force aims to hand off much of the production process to private industry. That's scary, especially since they argue, "The DOD should work to relax the military chracteristics of its nuclear weapons" so they can be more easily manufactured. WTF??? There should never be anything BUT military characteristics of nukes! This sounds (unintentionally, I'm sure) like they want civilian nukes. Can I buy one? I'll take the blue one on that shelf there. It's a little heavy so make sure you double-bag it.

Snark aside, they mean that the process should be simplified so that fairly common automated industrial processes can build future nukes, thus reducing the number of people actually handling dangerous materials, making the weapon parts more interchangable, and supposedly reducing costs. That's great in theory. But I have a problem with that, too, for a few reasons.

I. Simplicity: They want "pit designs that are simpler to fabricate and thus conducive to lower production cost and higher throughput." Translation: easier to make lots of them for fewer bucks. Sounds like a market for terrorists, who would find it easier to steal the ideas than the weapons themselves.

The effort to convert most of the process to an automated one is ostensibly to reduce costs, increase efficiency and reduce human exposure to the toxins... But I think this will simply further dehumanize the horrors nukes present. If a human is actively building these things, there's always a chance they'll realize how awful they are and begin to fight for a nuke-free world (maybe even sabotaging production so it doesn't explode at all?), but more distance will make them more likely to just see it as "another job." Building nukes should NEVER be seen as "just a job" any more than serial murder or dumping toxins in rivers should be.

II. Security: The report is probably accurate in saying that the current system of "guards, guns and gates" at the 8 wpns-related facilities "increases cost with no apparent limit." By consolidating the system, it would certainly be easier to maintain security of the weapons and facilities, although the weapons' existence is itself the cause of that insecurity.

They want to improve security, but why is the "more economical industrial security" model better? As we've seen, computers have been responsible for numerous false warnings due to errors or outside hacking that could've led to nuke war if a human being hadn't been there to prevent it. Likewise, industrial computers are often being hacked, as the recent spate of "identity theft" cases proves. Industrial security is no panacea. Given the horrible nature of these devices, we should have both technology and well-armed human beings guarding them. Again, the fact that they exist at all means insane wackjobs will want them because of the destruction they can do.

III. Staffing: "The enduring key to maintaining a safe, reliable stockpile of nuclear weapons is the quality of people who make expert judgments and their sustained dedication to their work." In general, that's true, but given what we're discussing, it's also incredibly absurd in two key ways:

1. Reliable nukes are by definition NOT safe for civilization to have. Period. They're only somewhat less dangerous than unreliable nukes, especially if the unreliability might cause the bomb to go off in storage. Of course, if the unreliability would prevent the bomb from detonating at all, that's a different issue!

They argue their proposed changes "should lead to a new family of nuclear weapons ... incorporating state-of-the-art surety requirements." Huh? Do they mean certainty of explosive effectiveness, or safety of handling? I suspect latter, which makes this incredibly delusional. That feeling is reinforced elsewhere by references to older weapons containing beryllium and other toxic materials "now subject to environmental, safety, and health restrictions." Let's see... the builder can go home sure he's not being poisoned except by the knowledge he's building a thing designed to kill millions. If he has any conscience, that's a great trade-off -- healthy body with a traumatized mind.

(Oh, and I also love the "family" reference. Mr. Bomb, can I take your daughter to the prom? I promise she'll be home by two minutes to midnight...)

2. A key goal of this report is to automate as much of the system as possible, thus eliminating the human element, at least from direct production. Having fewer people consolidates expert judgment into the hands of those who have more vested interest in continuing the insanity and usually those who can't see how absurd their work is. The world can do without that kind of "dedication."

Logically, nobody should have first-hand experience of how these weapons work, b/c thet means they've been used. Unfortunately, as we all know, they have been. But the fact that we've had a test ban since the early 1990s and nobody's used one in combat since 1945 is seen as a problem by the nuclear delusion squad.

They wrote, "In some critical skill areas, this on-the-job training takes 5 or more years to gain sufficient experience, and such training may not be possible in the future." (I sure hope so!) Specifically, they note the declining numbers of people with testing experience, saying, "This reinforces the absolute necessity of resuming design activities now...."

That would give the upcoming generation of weapons scientists opportunity to train with those who tested the existing nukes, a rational thing to do if we were talking about anything but nuclear weapons. With nukes, however, we run into an obvious moral quandary: How will that give the upcomers, or future generations, test experience themselves? At some points they mention that computer tech makes it possible to design "for certification without (underground tests)", but elsewhere say the new CNPC will have the capability to put a new weapon through such a test w/in 18 months of starting design work and recommends keeping the Nevada test site operational.

To me, this seems like a between-the-lines suggestion that resuming testing is itself the "absolute necessity" in their eyes. Between real tests and Chernobyl, we've had decades of experience in what that does to people...

There were several other disturbing points, but I think I've made my point. This is a bad plan from any genuinely long-term point of view, since our survival may require eliminating nukes altogether.

They claim centralizing the process will enable them to "Record lessons learned from the past." Obviously, though,they haven't learned much, have they? They clearly slept through the crucial class in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wiped off the planet. Yes, they were rebuilt, but that's only b/c there were outsiders to provide care who hadn't experienced the Bomb firsthand. Encouraging this plan only makes future Hiroshimas and Nagasakis more likely.

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

"Off the Grid"

An episode of the FX series "30 Days"
Aired week of July 13, 2005

Without preparation, for most people transition to a post-industrial culture will be a shock. The "guinea pigs" of this show, Vito and Jahari, are no exception.

Typical Americans from the Bronx, they live a high tech, energy-guzzling, unsustainable lifestyle that would require 12.5 Earths to support humans if everyone lived that way. That's called the ecological footprint.

I assumed while watching that they were tallied together, or 6.25 each, but maybe not -- I tried the test purposely putting in all of the most energy-using answers with a randomly selected Manhattan zipcode (10080) and came out to 13.5. When I took the test for my own lifestyle, it came out better than that, but still falls well into the unsustainable realm:

FOOD... 5.4
SHELTER... 6.9


Not good! I know a fair part of my lower than average score is because I try to recycle a lot, have a fairly fuel efficient car, try to make sure things get turned off, and basically like natural darkness. But I also drive a LOT more than I want to -- there's no public transit near home, and as a freelance reporter I have to go where the news is, although the plus is that I frequently work from home and don't have a daily commute.

A few days ago, a thunderstorm knocked out our power for about 4 hours... and I liked it. No background hum, no idiot box squawking, plenty of candles for light. I actually grumbled when it came back on, but know it wouldn't have been easy for a long period since our well is electrically-pumped, most of our food's in the fridge, our stove's electric, etc.

In short, my lifestyle is beholden to the grid... and I don't like that. But I don't have the money to install solar panels (if the trees around my house would even let enough light in for them to be useful) or to reinsulate the house more efficiently. I'd love to live in an ecovillage like the show's Dancing Rabbit village (outside Kirksville, MO), and want to convince Jenn (my gf) to do so... but she's a lot less concerned about this stuff than I am.

Anyway, back to the show:

Despite what some naysayers argue, ecovillages are NOT abandoning modern technology & trying to live like ancient people. Common sense says we cannot practically do that, for several reasons, including our much larger population and the fact that most people know about as much about our ancestors' methods of surviving off the land as they do about particle physics.

Instead, many ecovillages & similar groups espouse what is in fact high technology, but not wasteful technology -- things our ancestors would still find to be magical -- and combine that with practices our ancestors would indeed recognize. For the Dancing Rabbit folks, that's solar panels, fluorescent lights, a computer, and a car fueled by biodiesel and alcohol alongside hand-hoed crops fertilized by "hu-manure," insulation based on straw and plaster, heat and hot water provided by wood fires, and indoor lavatories resembling old-style outhouses with sawdust(?) as deodorizer.

The one thing I have a little problem with is their veganism; while our ancestors probably did have a much higher percentage of vegetable food in their diet than we do, they also had meat. I like meat. I understand and agree with the DR point that corporate husbandry practices are notoriously bad for the environment and that beef-raising is especially wasteful, but there are other ways of raising meat, and hunting it wild is something people have done since we came down from the trees.

I might be wrong, but my feeling is that a vegan lifestyle is something that can only be sustained in an advanced society. In times of subsistence, meat is usually the fastest way to get most of the nutrients the body requires for survival. I seriously doubt there's ever been a tribal culture that avoided meat in some form (including fowl or fish) when they could get it, and in some climates meat is the only food source capable of supporting human life. (The Inuit tribes before Europeans came are agreat example; the Arctic has almost no plant life, and their food supply was almost entirely hunted.)

Vito had a problem with that; and both "guinea pigs" had issues with several elements of the DR lifestyle. For them, however, there was always the knowledge that the change is temporary -- if they choose to, they could go back to their consumptive ways once home in the Bronx. # Losing the products and ease of our everyday lifestyle upset them, and if it were permanent, would make even those of us who are sympathetic to a DR-like lifestyle realize just how addicted to the complex web of national/global commerce we are.

# Vito & Jahari said they'd adopt some conservation methods, but I found Jahari more likely to actually do it. It would be interesting to see how they live a month or so after returning from DR.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Two Ozzy songs

Artist: Ozzy Osbourne
from the album "The Ultimate Sin" (1986)

A few songs on this album are about variations of our subject; I'm just posting the two most appropriate songs here. I don't really agree with the second one, but the imagery in both is strong...


"Killer of Giants"

If none of us believe in war
Then can you tell me what the weapon's for?
Listen to me everyone:
If the button is pushed
There'll be nowhere to run.

Giants sleeping, giants winning
Wars within their dreams
Till they wake
When it's too late
And in God's name blaspheme.

Killer of Giants
Threatens us all
Mountains of madness
Standing so tall...
Marches of protest
Not stopping the war
Or the Killer of Giants
The Killer of Giants.

Mother Nature
People state your
Case without it's worth
Your seas run dry,
Your sleepless eyes
Are burning red alert

Killer of Giants
Threatens us all
Mountains of madness
Standing so tall...
Rising so proudly
It has nowhere to fall...
This Killer of Giants
This Killer of Giants.



"Thank God for the Bomb"

Like moths to a flame
Is man never gonna change?
Time's seen untold aggression
And infliction of pain...

If that's the only thing that's stopping war...

Thank God for the Bomb (X4)
Nuke ya, nuke ya.

War is just another game
Tailor made for the insane
But make a threat of their annihilation
And nobody wants to play

If that's the only thing that keeps the peace...


Today was tomorrow, yesterday.
It's funny how time can slip away
The face of the doomsday clock
Has launched a thousand wars.

As we near the final hour,
Time is the only foe we have.

When war is obsolete,
I'll thank God for war's defeat,
But any talk of Hell freezing over
Is all said with tongue in cheek.

Until the day the war drums beat no more...


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Monday, July 04, 2005

Two articles: oil & nukes

These pretty much speak for themselves. Two long-running global situations that could very easily combine to create huge problems in the not too distant future...


When the oil wars blow
The more China flexes its economic muscle, the more American
politicians are crying foul

Will Hutton
Sunday July 3, 2005

The Observer/Guardian Unlimited

Occasionally, there are tipping-point moments and we are witnessing one at the moment. Seismic change is afoot. As oil prices breach $60 a barrel and pessimists warn that the world could be as little as 10 years away from a first-order resources crisis, China's largest oil company, CNOOC, has launched a £10 billion bid for one of the US's juiciest medium-sized oil companies, Unocal.

The world's two biggest continental economies are suddenly head to head over who controls increasingly scarce oil. The stuff of pulp novels at airport bookstalls is a reality.

The reaction in the US has been immediate, aggressive and hypocritical. Much Congressional sound and fury has been vented on Russia for not opening up more to US oil companies which want to buy strategic reserves. Now that the boot is on the other foot - China buying an American oil company and its reserves - US congressmen and senators are deploying President Putin's arguments as their own. America's oil, jobs and national security are at issue, they blaze, and an investigation is already
under way to see whether China's bid should be blocked on national security grounds. It is rigged to take months.

The Chinese, for their part, implausibly plead innocence. Assuming the improbable rhetoric of a Wall Street investment banker, the chairman of CNOOC, 71 per cent owned by the communist People's Republic of China, says that the bid will be good for shareholders on both sides of the Pacific.

It certainly offers Unocal shareholders more cash than rival American oil company Chevron was offering, but only because the Chinese government has lent CNOOC a $2.5bn interest-free loan to support the loan and subsidised billions more. This is hardly fair play but Unocal shareholders aren't complaining.

Nor will CNOOC sack any Unocal workers in America as Chevron plans, it says, and promises not to export any oil and gas from the US to China. It portrays itself as a benevolent, wronged and misunderstood good fairy.

What it wants, and is paying well over the odds for, is Unocal's oil reserves. It plainly calculates that today's $60 a barrel oil price is just the beginning of a sustained rise in oil prices that will make Unocal, even at £10bn, a snip. China's interest is obvious. After the US, it is now the world's largest oil importer and acquiring some strategic reserves is vital.

CNOOC's full name is telling; the China National Offshore Oil Company - an organisation committed to offshore exploration. China is the world leader in developing robotic underwater exploration submersibles; in 1994, it built a robot capable of working at depths of 3,000 feet. Now, according to the People's Daily, it has one that can work at up to 20,000 feet. The Chinese want oil very badly.

And they want it to be imported into China by oil pipeline and not by tankers from the Middle East under the watchful eye of the US navy. The US controls the sea lanes and thus the viability of China's economy, as it regularly lets the Chinese know by shadowing Chinese oil tankers.

The US has pre-empted China's attempts to build oil pipelines from the Caspian into China. Unocal's attraction is that its oil reserves are all in central and southeast Asia, and once owned by China can be moved into China overland.

This is a new great geopolitical game and neither the Chinese nor American military are impressed by arguments that the market must rule and that great powers in today's globalised world no longer need strategic oil reserves. The US keeps six nuclear battle fleets permanently at sea supported by an unparalleled network of global bases not because of irrational chauvinism or the needs of the military-industrial complex, but because of the pressure they place on upstart countries like China.

Japan's decision this year to abandon its effort to build its own oil company and attempted strategic reserve was an overt acceptance of its dependent position. China is not ready to make the same admission of defeat.

No country has offered such a comparable challenge to the world order since Germany's rise at the end of the 19th century. Like China today, it wanted markets and raw materials; like China today, it confronted a world ordered around the needs of the existing powers; like China today, its gigantic size and explosive growth could not be ignored. Germany built fleets and scrambled for colonies in Africa. Today, China builds fleets and scrambles for oil reserves. The open question is whether it will end in another 1914.

The optimistic reply is that China is being much cleverer than the Kaiser's Germany. It has expanded by opening up to the world, so giving its great power rivals a stake in its growth; 400 of the US's top 500 companies manufacture in China. Wal-Mart, the US's largest retailer, is founded on cheap Chinese imports. China may have built up immense foreign currency reserves, but it judiciously lends them to the US, so financing the US's trade deficit.

Although oil prices are troublingly high, some experts like Erasmus University's Professor Peter Odell believe that, far from oil reserves running out, the earliest world production might peak is well after 2050, and that takes no account of more efficient energy use. Today's upward oil price spike won't last long. There is more than enough oil for China.

The pessimistic reply is that's not how it feels or how the game is currently being played. Even if there is enough oil, it is in parts of the world that are endemically volatile. As Paul Roberts points out in The End of Oil, the geological formations that create oil have already been identified and the easily exploitable reserves are rapidly depleting.

There is a Panglossian tendency to overstate oil reserves by oil-producing countries and oil companies alike, as we have learned from Shell. Oil production is set to peak much earlier.

In any case, what matters is less reality than perceptions of reality; the European powers didn't need colonies in Africa to ensure their prosperity, they just believed they did, as China believes it needs oil reserves in Asia today. And there are the third, fifth and seventh US fleets as a constant reinforcer of its instincts.

Nobody knows how this drama will play out. The optimists could be right. But judge the vitriolic tone of the letter from 40 congressmen to President Bush complaining about CNOOC's bid; look at the disposition of US naval power; recognise the force of China's conviction that it must never again be humiliated as it was in the 19th century and its will to catch up with the West; and plot the growth of China's oil demand as its economy doubles again.

The best way of avoiding war is not to dismiss its possibility as outlandish; it is to recognise how easily it could happen and vigilantly guard against the risk. Too few in Washington or Beijing are currently doing that.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005


Coming to grips with doomsday

Tom Plate / Syndicated columnist

Seattle Times, Thursday, June 30, 2005 - 12:00 AM

LOS ANGELES — The policy of the United States, at the moment the world's only superpower, lacks an overall sense of urgency about the spread and possible use of nuclear weapons. In all probability, this lapse will someday lead to immense tragedy.

The world has been sitting on a ticking time-bomb for six decades. It is an inexplicable miracle rather than superior national-security policy or international-control management that a nuclear weapon hasn't exploded on one or more population centers.

Don't, of course, run this superficial observation by the Japanese, who still have the painful memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not for nothing that this technologically brilliant but overpopulated nation remains, despite recent militant uptick emotions, on the whole anti-nuclear and pacifist.

But Japan someday will go nuclear if North Korea establishes itself as a palpable nuke power, as with Pakistan and India, a pair of competing nuclear powers. Russia still has piles of nukes; the British and the French have not relinquished their stockpiles; Israel denies — unconvincingly to many — that it has the bomb; Iran denies — equally unconvincingly to many — any intention of developing a nuclear capability. And so it goes.

The U.S. takes the prize, though. It maintains (on 24-hour alert, hair-trigger status, no less) more than 10 times (at least) as many nuclear warheads as there are nations in the world. This absurd and risky overreadiness has drawn new fire here from warriors old and new.

The late President Ronald Reagan, though anything but a dove while in office, appears to have been a passionate nuclear abolitionist both behind the scenes and deep in his heart, in the view of author and academic Paul Lettow. His "Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons" has been raising major eyebrows in circles liberal as well as conservative and has been helping generate a sense of national unease about the defects of our non-proliferation policy and the lack of a serious nuclear-reduction/disarmament policy.

The newly aroused anti-nuclear campaign in America has been joined with octogenarian vehemence by Robert McNamara, now 89 no less. The former defense secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, has in newspaper interviews and op-ed essays been a one-man band warning of the inherent (or, as he puts it, "insane") dangers of so many ready-to-blow nukes in so many countries. His regrets about the Vietnam War and his unmistakable intellect have added a touch of establishment credibility to the abolitionist position.

This has enhanced the credibility of enduring firebrands like Helen Caldicott, the near-legendary Australian physician who has all but dedicated her life to the anti-nuclear campaign. Take a look, for illustration, at the astoundingly energetic Website of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, with whom Caldicott and many others are allied.

There's a feeling in the air that the anti-nuclear movement is gaining traction. The war in Iraq is obviously going badly and the hawks and neo-cons in Washington, if not exactly in retreat, seem not to be pounding their chests with such prideful arrogance these days. The recent endless United Nations summit-retreat on advancing the venerable Non-Proliferation Treaty was a colossal and embarrassing failure. The United States — which has brutally tabled the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and even raised the probability of funding further nuclear-weapons research — refuses to conform to the NPT's call for drawing down existing nuclear arsenals.

As Alyn Ware of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy has put it, "... It is impossible to prevent nuclear proliferation while the nuclear-weapons states insist on maintaining large stockpiles of weapons themselves. It's like a parent telling a child to not smoke while smoking a pack of cigarettes in their face. It's not going to work. ... "

The smoking gun is North Korea. We have invaded a country that possessed no weapons of mass destruction at the cost of more than 1,700 U.S. lives, unknown U.S. treasure and countless Iraqi lives, while fumbling big-time as Pyongyang played hardball on the nuclear issue. We have obviously got our national security-policy priorities upside down.

Thus we desperately need those fearless non-governmental organizations like the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation — not to mention old warriors like McNamara and Caldicott — to continue to campaign tirelessly if we are not to realize the kind of nuclear calamity that, present trends unchecked, seems increasingly predictable.

UCLA professor Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is founder and director of UCLA's Media Center.

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Trauma & apocalyptic thinking

In response to my last post, T wrote in part:
We are living in an age of lost humanity. We no longer know the definition of reaching out and seeing a friend in the eyes of a stranger

I think there are still many people who can reach out that way, but there are certainly forces in society that are pushing people apart, forces that need to be confronted. Some of them have been around since civilization began and gain force periodically due to civilization's unfortunate tendency to create a relative handful of people who believe (wrongly) that they can most benefit by taking as much as possible from others.

This handful of people isn't the same every time -- no "Illuminati" or other wacky conspiracy theory here. But they are often of a similar personality type, namely, sociopathic.

Often, the perpetrators are authoritarian fundamentalists of various stripes, sometimes religious, sometimes political, sometimes both (not that there's much difference in practice; generally, only the names differ). Personally, I believe that most fundies react the way they do because they have themselves been traumatized in some major fashion but refuse to acknowledge that and instead have absorbed the victim/abuser ideology. The two cannot exist separately and are often seen in the same person depending on the current situation. Such folks do not really trust or care about others b/c they do not trust themselves (if they did, they wouldn't ID themselves and everyone else as "sinners," for example.)

While those folks DO most clearly demonstrate the problem, they are actually symptoms of it more than the causes. (That doesn't excuse their actions when they manipulate and/or brutalize others, however. We are not responsible for what happens to us, but we are responsible for what we do because of it.)

Unfortunately, since trauma afflicts a large number of people, it has large-scale social effects. especially when unacknowledged. Nobody is entirely free of trauma in some form, but only a relatively small percentage of people are actively trying to see how it might be affecting them and each other. Many have internalized the belief that they are "bad" for the horrors that befell them, that such horrors are "human nature", but feel/have been taught they cannot do anything about it. That can make it easy to turn a blind eye to hypocrisy, to promote violent "solutions," to react without enough thought, and to accept as "normal" situations of long-term fear, secrecy, and oppression (such as the world's possession of enough nuclear weapons to kill us several times over).

I believe the traumas people inflict on each other aren't due to some flaw in humanity, but to the fact that we have been trying to live in crowded, hierarchal, sedentary, impersonal cultures that clash with the way humanity and human emotions evolved over most of our species' history. Emotionally, we're still (semi-)nomadic hunter-gatherers who react best in small groups and in circumstances where changes aren't happening too quickly. That doesn't mean we can't adapt to modern circumstances, just that it takes time to do so, and the kinds of changes today are overwhelming the adaptability of too many people.

For some of them, the feeling of being overwhelmed breeds individual mental and/or physical illness. For some, it breeds addiction to ideologies that promise "salvation" in religious, political, technological or other form, often including violent destruction of an extremely generalized abuser (personally, I see that as a collective mental illness). But for others, it serves as a wakeup call to take action ....

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