Around the web
From John Michael Greer
It was definitely the sort of week that could benefit from a little comic relief. The Ebola epidemic marked another week of rising death tolls and inadequate international response . Bombs rained down ineffectually on various corners of Iraq and Syria as the United States and an assortment of putative allies launched air strikes at the Islamic State insurgents; since air strikes by themselves don’t win wars, and none of the combatants except Islamic State and the people they’re attacking have shown any inclination to put boots on the ground, that high-tech tantrum also counts in every practical sense as an admission of defeat, a point which is doubtless not lost on Islamic State. Meanwhile stock markets worldwide plunged on an assortment of ghastly economic news, with most indexes giving up their 2014 gains and then some, and oil prices dropped on weakening demand, reaching levels that put a good many fracking firms in imminent danger of bankruptcy.
In the teeth of all this bad news, I’m pleased to say, Paul Krugman rose to the occasion and gave all of us in the peak oil scene something to laugh about. My regular readers will recall that Krugman assailed Post Carbon Institute a couple of weeks ago for having the temerity to point out that transitioning away from fossil fuels was, ahem, actually going to cost money. His piece was rebutted at once by Post Carbon’s Richard Heinberg and others, who challenged Krugman’s crackpot optimism and pointed out that the laws of physics and geology really do trump those of economics.
From Mother Jones
ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic state that’s attempting to establish a caliphate across large areas of Iraq and Syria, publishes a glossy English-language propaganda magazine called Dabiq, complete with slick graphics and high-quality photos. Dabiq is one of the group’s recruitment tools, coupled with its strong social media presence. The magazine, whose name references the location of Islam’s mythical Armageddon (a town in northern Syria), bills itself as an “informative” source for the activities of ISIS fighters, while preaching on holy topics and issuing decrees. Its producers claim that Allah approves the message: ISIS has “not a mustard seed of doubt regarding this.”
In any case, the fourth issue of Dabiq just came out, and it justifies all sorts of terrible things ISIS and its fighters may do in the name of Allah. Here are 10 of the worst examples, with quotations:
I’ve been advancing a thesis for several months with friends that World War III is now underway. It’s just that it’s not the war we thought it would be, that is, a confrontation between major powers with the possibility of a nuclear exchange. Instead, we are getting a set of low-intensity, on-again, off-again conflicts involving non-state actors (ISIS, Ukrainian rebels, Libyan insurgents) with confusing and in some cases nonexistent battle lines and rapidly shifting alliances such as the shift from fighting the Syrian regime to helping it indirectly by fighting ISIS, the regime’s new foe.
There is at least one prominent person who seems to agree with me, the Pope. During a visit to a World War I memorial in Italy last month Pope Francis said: “Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.”
In citing many well-known causes for war, he failed to specify the one that seems obvious in this case: the fight over energy resources. It can be no accident that the raging fights in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the Ukraine all coincide with areas rich in energy resources or for which imported energy resources are at risk. There are other conflicts. But these are the ones that are transfixing the eyes of the world, and these are the ones in which major powers are taking sides and mounting major responses.
Water has become a commodity, Karen Piper tells Salon, and the world’s poor are paying the price
When you talk about human rights, not to mention human necessities, there’s not much more fundamental than water. The United Nations has even put it in writing: it formally “recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”
That’s the theory, at least. In practice? Well, on Monday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes arrived at a different conclusion from that of the U.N., in a ruling on Detroit’s hotly contested practice of cutting off water access to tens of thousands of residents who can’t pay their bills. “It cannot be doubted that water is a necessary ingredient to sustaining life,” Rhodes conceded. Yet there is not, he continued, “an enforceable right to free and affordable water.” Water, in the eyes of the court, is apparently a luxury.
According to Edward Snowden, people who care about their privacy should stay away from popular consumer Internet services like Dropbox, Facebook, and Google.
Snowden conducted a remote interview today as part of the New Yorker Festival, where he was asked a couple of variants on the question of what we can do to protect our privacy.
His first answer called for a reform of government policies. Some people take the position that they “don’t have anything to hide,” but he argued that when you say that, “You’re inverting the model of responsibility for how rights work”:
Dr Helen Caldicott’s new book, Crisis Without End: the Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima, is a compilation of the symposium she organized at the New York Academy of Medicine in March 2013.* The latter was a virtual Who’s Who of nuclear physicists and radiation health experts. In the short video below, she gives a brief overview of the nuclear accident at Fukushima and the systematic cover-up by the US and Japanese government of the on-going threat it poses to all global inhabitants.
What Actually Happened at Fukushima?
Following a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that knocked out their cooling systems, three nuclear reactors experienced core meltdowns. When a meltdown occurs, the core overheats to the point that it melts through the containment vessel into the grounds. Driven by the intense heat of continuous chain reactions, the molten mass continues to spew radiation into the environment over an extended period.
The mountain streams that flow under the stricken reactors absorb this radiation from the molten cores and carry it to the Pacific Ocean. Approximately four tons daily of radiation-contaminated water has been flowing into the Pacific Ocean for 3 ½ years.
The Phoebus cartel engineered a shorter-lived lightbulb and gave birth to planned obsolescence…
On 23 December 1924, a group of leading international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would alter the world for decades to come. Present were top representatives from all the major lightbulb manufacturers, including Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, and the United States’ General Electric. As revelers hung Christmas lights elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the worldwide incandescent lightbulb market, with each national and regional zone assigned its own manufacturers and production quotas. It was the first cartel in history to enjoy a truly global reach.
The cartel’s grip on the lightbulb market lasted only into the 1930s. Its far more enduring legacy was to engineer a shorter life span for the incandescent lightbulb. By early 1925, this became codified at 1,000 hours for a pear-shaped household bulb, a marked reduction from the 1,500 to 2,000 hours that had previously been common. Cartel members rationalized this approach as a trade-off: Their lightbulbs were of a higher quality, more efficient, and brighter burning than other bulbs. They also cost a lot more. Indeed, all evidence points to the cartel’s being motivated by profits and increased sales, not by what was best for the consumer. In carefully crafting a lightbulb with a relatively short life span, the cartel thus hatched the industrial strategy now known as planned obsolescence.
“The Hillary Letters”, trumpets the Fox News headline. “Clinton, Saul Alinsky correspondence revealed.”
Here’s the story: In 1971, Yale law student Hillary Rodham sent a letter to famed community organizer Saul Alinsky. Alinsky’s secretary replied to the letter. Due to the villainous reputation Alinsky has earned by now in certain conservative circles, the new revelation caused a bit of a stir. But for the vast majority of people who’ve never heard of Alinsky, let alone know why his connection to Clinton is supposed to be a bad thing, it’s worth asking: who is this guy, and why does he matter?
1) Who is Saul Alinsky?
Saul Alinsky is the father of community organizing.
Organizing begins with the premise that (1) the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; (2) that the only way for communities to build long-term power is by organizing people and the money [they raise] around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership—and not one or two charismatic leaders—can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions [and "grassroots" people].
The key to community organizing is that it’s not about winning on any one issue. It’s about creating broad coalitions, and training community members to conduct hardball campaigns that let them win on lots of issues. “Professional organizers focus on building community and power,” Miller writes. “Issues are simply tools for the building process.”
One of Alinsky’s insights was to realize how many stakeholders there were to organize. He saw that the same grievances connected ordinary citizens, labor unions, churches, small businesses, and more — and if you could somehow get all those groups together, they were almost unstoppable. And he did get them together…
Full story here…
From George Monbiot
Pointless, joyless consumption is destroying our world of wonders.
This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing.
If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% its vertebrate wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress?
In fairness to the modern era, this is an extension of a trend that has lasted some two million years. The loss of much of the African megafauna – sabretooths and false sabretooths, giant hyaenas and amphicyonids (bear dogs), several species of elephant – coincided with the switch towards meat eating by hominims (ancestral humans). It’s hard to see what else could have been responsible for the peculiar pattern of extinction then.
As we spread into other continents, their megafaunas almost immediately collapsed. Perhaps the most reliable way of dating the first arrival of people anywhere is the sudden loss of large animals. The habitats we see as pristine – the Amazon rainforest or coral reefs for example – are in fact almost empty: they have lost most of the great beasts that used to inhabit them, which drove crucial natural processes.
From John Michael Greer
Lately I’ve been rereading some of the tales of H.P. Lovecraft. He’s nearly unique among the writers of American horror stories, in that his sense of the terrible was founded squarely on the worldview of modern science. He was a steadfast atheist and materialist, but unlike so many believers in that creed, his attitude toward the cosmos revealed by science was not smug satisfaction but shuddering horror. The first paragraph of his most famous story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” is typical:
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
It’s entirely possible that this insight of Lovecraft’s will turn out to be prophetic, and that a passionate popular revolt against the implications—and even more, the applications—of contemporary science will be one of the forces that propel us into the dark age ahead. Still, that’s a subject for a later post in this series. The point I want to make here is that Lovecraft’s image of people eagerly seeking such peace and safety as a dark age may provide them is not as ironic as it sounds. Outside the elites, which have a different and considerably more gruesome destiny than the other inhabitants of a falling civilization, it’s surprisingly rare for people to have to be forced to trade civilization for barbarism, either by human action or by the pressure of events. By and large, by the time that choice arrives, the great majority are more than ready to make the exchange, and for good reason.
From Club Orlov
You have the worst quality of life in the developed world—by a wide margin.
If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.
I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.
I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.
From The Guardian
What happens when you can reach out and digitally touch someone? We forget how to interact face-to-face, that’s what…
Apple didn’t simply shrink the iPhone and strap it on your wrist, Tim Cook insisted. “Because you wear it, we invented new, intimate ways to connect and communicate.”
The Apple Watch won’t just vibrate when you choose someone to text; you can reach out and vibrate that person’s watch from across the globe. “We thought hard on how to enable a new form of communication,” Apple’s Kevin Lynch said onstage earlier this month. “We’ve created something called digital touch.”
A 37-year-old man has been executed in Iran after being found guilty of heresy and insulting prophet Jonah, according to human rights activists.
Mohsen Amir-Aslani was arrested nine years ago for his activities which the authorities deemed were heretical. He was engaged in psychotherapy but also led sessions reading and reciting the Qur’an and providing his own interpretations of the Islamic holy book, his family said.
Amir-Aslani was hanged last week for making “innovations in the religion” and “spreading corruption on earth”, but human rights activists said he was a prisoner of conscience who was put to death because of his religious beliefs. He had interpreted Jonah’s story in the Qur’an as a symbolic tale.
From Jim Hightower
Jeff Bezos has forged an empire by exploiting low-wage workers and Even by the anything-goes ethical code of the corporate jungle, Amazon.com’s alpha male, Jeff Bezos, is considered a ruthless predator by businesses that deal with him. As overlord of Amazon, by far the largest online marketer in the world (with more sales than the next nine US online retailers combined), Bezos has the monopoly power to stalk, weaken, and even kill off retail competitors—going after such giants as Barnes & Noble and Walmart and draining the lifeblood from hundreds of smaller Main Street shops. He also goes for the throats of both large and small businesses that supply the millions of products his online behemoth sells. They’re lured into Amazon by its unparalleled database of some 200 million customers, but once in, they face unrelenting pressure to lower what they charge Amazon for their products, compelled by the company to give it much better deals than other retailers can extract.
Lest you think predator is too harsh a term, consider the metaphor Bezos himself chose when explaining how to get small book publishers to cough up deep discounts as the price for getting their titles listed on the Amazon website. As related by Businessweek reporter Brad Stone, Bezos instructed his negotiators to stalk them “the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.” Bezos’ PR machine tried to claim this sneering comment was just a little “Jeff joke,” but they couldn’t laugh it off, for a unit dubbed the “Gazelle Project” had actually been set up inside Amazon.
I played fiddle at a small-town, country dance last night with several other musicians and it was a merry enough time because that kind of self-made music has the power to fortify spirits. About half the dancers were over 40 and the rest were teenage girls. The absence of young men was conspicuous. Toward the end of the evening, it was just girls dancing with girls. A wonderful and fundamental tension was not present in the room.
The young men are out there somewhere in the country towns, but this society increasingly has no use or no place for them, except in the army. There is absolutely no public conversation about the near total devaluation of young men in the economic and social life of the USA, though there is near-hysterical triumphalism about the success of young women in every realm from sports to politics to business, and to go with that an equal amount of valorization for people who develop an ambiguous sexual identity.
There really is no local forum for public discussion in the flyover regions of the USA. The few remaining local newspapers are parodies of what newspapers once were, and the schools maintain a fog of sanctimony that penalizes thinking outside the bright-side box. Television and its step-child, the internet, offer only the worst temptations of hyper-sexual stimulation, artificial violence, and grandiose wealth-and-power fantasies. There aren’t even any taverns where people can gather for casual talk.
Portrait of Michel de Montaigne by Salvador Dalí, 1947.
From Brain Pickings
Don’t worry about death, pay attention, read a lot, give up control, embrace imperfection.
“Living has yet to be generally recognized as one of the arts,” Karl De Schweinitz wrote in his 1924 guide to the art of living. But this is an art best understood not as a set of prescriptive techniques but, perSusan Sontag’s definition of art, a form of consciousness — which means an understanding that is constantly evolving.
In How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer(public library), British biographer and philosophy scholar Sarah Bakewell traces “how Montaigne has flowed through time via a sort of canal system of minds” and argues that some of the most prevalent hallmarks of our era — our compulsive immersion in various forms of lifestreaming, our incessant social sharing, our constant oscillation between introspection and extraversion as we observe our private experiences more closely than ever so we can record and frame them more perfectly in public — can be traced down to this one proto-blogger, the godfather of the essay as a genre:
From Thom Hartmann
Despite what you might hear on Fox So-Called News, Obamacare really is working.
Uninsured rates are dropping, premiums are a lot lower than expected, and in the states that have expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of working Americans now have access to free, I repeat, free healthcare.
Everywhere you look, there’s good news to be found about healthcare reform. Even so, for-profit insurance companies and for-profit hospitals are still finding new ways to screw people over.
This Woman Is Battling a Mega-Church, One Tweet at a Time…
Mars Hill Church, a 15-location megachurch headed by Pastor Mark Driscoll (who infamously referred to women as “penis homes”) has, in the past few weeks, been facing a growing controversy over its power structure, bullying of attendees and staff, and Driscoll’s inflammatory online (and in-pulpit) statements regarding (among other things), the status of women within the church, and marriage. Attendance is way down; Mars Hill is firing staff and closing branches, and Driscoll is taking a six-week hiatus.
Hey, have you heard the one about Seattle’s Mars Hill megachurch system slowly and publicly collapsing? The reasons have been covered by everyone from the New York Times to blogs devoted to ex-members sharing their experiences attending (any one of 13) Mars Hill locations.
[...] The ten acres that holds the Wakefields’ house is the last scrap of a legacy of farming that started when Sharon’s family moved out from Oklahoma to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Jim introduces Sharon as “Dust Bowl Sharon,” and she smiles but gives Jim a playful glance like maybe he’s in trouble.
David and Sharon have been fighting for years to stay in business, have successfully made it through past droughts by abandoning land and shrinking their acreage. They describe what the land used to look like, the rows of cotton, green plants tufted white, the fields teeming with workers at harvest time.
Sharon shows me an old illustration from the Encyclopedia Britannica, a barnyard and farmhouse, crops in neat rows in the distance, a farmer harvesting wheat. A boy rides a brown horse. A woman in a white apron feeds the chickens.
“This was my dream since I was a girl,” she says. “This is all I ever wanted.”
They bought the land in 1976. They raised their kids here, made it a special place for the grandkids. At the edge of the yard sits a line of tractors. They’ve kept them all, dating back to a tractor Sharon’s grandfather once used, a tractor they take pride in saying still runs. Sharon says they planted every tree. A eucalyptus towers above us, and I begin to realize this land won’t just be sold, but all of this—the trees, the tractors, the house — might soon be gone.
We’ve circled the house and stand back in their little yard. I ask what they’ll do now. David steals a glance at Sharon. “When we go I’ll never look back up that drive again. It’ll just be too hard.”
Sharon says that when as kids they’d see a house and land being sold her father would say, “That’s someone’s broken dream.” She peers out beyond the green of her trees as the sun sets hard over the dusty, barren land. “This is our broken dream.”…
Full story here…