Archive for the ‘CRITICAL’ Category

What Makes You Think We Can Grow Out of This?

Thursday, September 13th, 2012 of Minds — Donald Halcom writes: As I sit here pondering the current status of the USA, I am struck by the conclusion that all of the politicians, business men, and economist have reached. They all believe that the only solution to the current economic mess of the USA is growth. Only growth will solve our problems. In fact only sustained growth will do it. When all these people believe the same thing then I suspect that something is wrong. The mechanism by which the growth is to be obtained differs with respect to political persuasions, but it is always growth that will perform the miracle. The question then occurred to me —– Is sustained growth over decades even possible? Is such an assumption even valid?

The last time the world was in this predicament was after WWII.  All of Europe and the Orient were in shambles. The USA had a national debt of more than its GDP like it does now. The USA had one advantage. It was the only economy left whose manufacturing base was still viable. The USA had essentially financed WWII for the allies by selling bonds.

In 1945 the national debt as a percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) was 109%. Over the next 35 years the debt was paid down by the government represented by all the presidents (Democrat and Republican) from Truman to Carter until the debt as a percent of the GDP was 33%. When Reagan was elected president things changed. The debt began to rise almost continuously till in 2012 it was 102 percent of the GDP. The last four years have given the most precipitous rise. The next graph shows the recent history. In about 31 years we have accrued a debt as a percent of GDP almost equal to the debt of WWII.

Since WWII the USA has become a different country. We now have a world full of economic competitors. Our old monopoly is gone. Europe, parts of South America, the Middle East, the Far East and a few countries in Africa have all become major rivals for resources and trade.

The above data indicates that politics have been a major factor in the increase of the National Debt but that alone was not the problem. The demands of Banks, Wall Street and Hedge Funds have been major factors in increasing our economic woes. The debt from 2007 to the present, indicate these factors. Some claim that had we used the proper governmental legislation, then the debt crisis from 2007 onward could have been avoided. This is true, but that is water over the dam. Mankind has never been omniscient and will not be so in the future.

A balanced economy is like a see-saw, if you put too much weight on one end, it stops working. This is not rocket science. Our economy became unbalanced when too much money flowed to one end. How did this happen? Here goes. (09/13/12)


Everything Won’t Be Alright

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 Automatic Earth — Ashvin Pandurangi writes: Looking around at those… around me – family, friends, acquaintances and random faces in the crowd of apathy – the level of complacency is so concentrated I can taste it, yet I can’t even describe how bad it tastes. I’m not really talking about the understanding people lack about the numerous predicaments we face as a species – that’s definitely there too… but what I’m talking about is even worse. It’s the assumption that we can just go about our day to day lives, doing our day to day work, having our day to day fun… and humanity will eventually heal itself, no matter how bad the injuries sustained.

This is a cultural phenomenon that has infested the Western world, and refuses to be eradicated. It is where many of us ultimately place our hope and stake our lives, sometimes without even realizing we are doing it. We previously discussed the entertainment enemas that have penetrated modern culture (and the lives of deluded teenagers) in Culturally Programmed Myths of Omnipotence. They have given us the vision that we can always become bigger, “better” and stronger as individuals and nations, evolving towards God-like glory, no matter what obstacles are in our way – all of the stories about superheroes, vampires, werewolves, wizards, robots and aliens – it’s all about the propaganda of pernicious power.

We even see this mentality taking root in academia and scientific research through the field of “transhumanism” (very well portrayed in the documentary, TechnoCalyps). As you can probably guess from the name, transhumanism tells us that we are on the way to becoming something more, something other, than human beings. Forget random mutation and natural selection, the transhumanist says – we can circumvent all of the slow evolutionary nonsense that we only theorized about a century ago. Now we can transform ourselves into a new species over the course of a few decades with the help of modern technology and “intelligent designers”. Just a little bit ironic, don’t you think? …

Most importantly, though, I am here to make clear that no one is immune from the mentality that “everything is alright” or “everything can be alright”, including me. I have my own personal beliefs about how humanity can be preserved and even perfected, and I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with that. What’s wrong is when I forget to remind myself where those beliefs come from and where they are truly leading me. Do they simply make me feel good and comfortable and “enlightened”? Am I simply willing to swallow the red pill because someone slick tells me it will “open my eyes”?

Or is there something more fundamentally true about why I have deep concerns and why I have ultimate hope. What sacrifices are really required of myself and others to reach our maximum human potentials? I believe these are questions we must repeatedly ask ourselves, because the moment we become too comfortable and too uncritical of our beliefs, or the beliefs of others around us, is the moment that we become apathetic and willing to go wherever the world takes us. It is only when we confront the umcomfortable truths of our situation in this world that we will be able to become the best we can possibly be. (09/11/12)


Arctic Warming Accelerating! ! !

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 Polar Science — Scientists in the Arctic are warning that this summer’s record-breaking melt is part of an accelerating trend with profound implications. Norwegian researchers report that the sea ice is becoming significantly thinner and more vulnerable. Last month, the annual thaw of the region’s floating ice reached the lowest level since satellite monitoring began, more than 30 years ago. It is thought the scale of the decline may even affect Europe’s weather.

The melt is set to continue for at least another week – the peak is usually reached in mid-September – while temperatures here remain above freezing.

The Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) is at the forefront of Arctic research and its international director, Kim Holmen, told the BBC that the speed of the melting was faster than expected.

“It is a greater change than we could even imagine 20 years ago, even 10 years ago,” Dr Holmen said. “And it has taken us by surprise and we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us.”

The institute has been deploying its icebreaker, Lance, to research conditions between Svalbard and Greenland – the main route through which ice flows out of the Arctic Ocean. During a visit to the port, one of the scientists involved, Dr Edmond Hansen, told me he was “amazed” at the size and speed of this year’s melt.

“As a scientist, I know that this is unprecedented in at least as much as 1,500 years. It is truly amazing – it is a huge dramatic change in the system,” Dr Hansen said. “This is not some short-lived phenomenon – this is an ongoing trend. You lose more and more ice and it is accelerating – you can just look at the graphs, the observations, and you can see what’s happening.” (09/11/12)


Light Fights Cancer?

Monday, November 7th, 2011 Health — A study, published in Nature Medicine, showed how a drug could be created which sticks to tumours, but is then only activated when hit by specific waves of light. It means a treatment can be highly targeted and not damage the surrounding tissue. A cancer charity said the treatment showed early promise.

Currently, treatments for cancer can be separated into three categories: blasting it with radiation, surgically removing a tumour or using drugs to kill the cancerous cells. All have side effects and scientists are trying to come up with more precise therapies.

In this study, researchers at the National Cancer Institute, Maryland, used an antibody which targets proteins on the surface of cancerous cells. They then attached a chemical, IR700, to the antibody. IR700 is activated when it is hit by near infrared light. This wavelength of light can penetrate several centimetres into the skin. To test the antibody-chemical combination, researchers implanted tumours, squamous cell carcinoma, into the backs of mice. They were given the drug and exposed to near infrared light.

The study said: “Tumour volume was significantly reduced… compared to untreated control mice and survival was significantly prolonged. “This selective killing minimises damage to normal cells.” The authors said the combination was “a promising therapeutic and diagnostic agent for the treatment of cancer”. “Although we observed no toxicity in our experiments, clinical translation of this method will require formal toxicity studies,” they added. Dr Laura McCallum, Cancer Research UK’s science communications officer, said the research was promising.”

Using antibodies or photodynamic therapy to specifically target cancer cells have both been successful for treating some cancers, so combining the two together is certainly an exciting plan. (11/07/11)


Locals ‘Can Play Key Role in Helping Forests Recover’

Monday, November 7th, 2011 Environment — Involving local groups has been a key factor in halting the loss of forest cover in the Asia-Pacific region, a UN study has concluded. The report found that low-cost projects offered communities an incentive to protect the habitats in return for job opportunities and income sources. Such schemes also enhanced ecosystems, restored biodiversity and increase carbon storage, the authors added. The results were published at the start of the UN Asia-Pacific Forestry Week.

Despite the threats from illegal deforestation, forest fires and climate change, the Forest Beneath the Grass report – produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – said the region had “not only stopped the drastic decline in forest cover of the 1990s”, but had actually increased tree cover over the past decade. “The Asia-Pacific region has accomplished this feat of reversing the trend of forest loss faster than any other region in history,” said Eduardo Rojas, assistant director-general of the FAO’s Forestry Department.

The report credited “assisted natural regeneration” (ANR) projects as one of the key factors in turning the net loss of tree cover into an annual net gain. ANR is a forest restoration and rehabilitation technique that converts grass dominated areas into productive forests, based on the natural process of plant succession, encouraging the regeneration and growth of indigenous tree species.

One of the most invasive grass species is Imperata cyclindrica, also known as blady grass. Native to the region, it thrives on disturbed soil – such as roadsides and felled forests. Once established, it quickly forms a monoculture and suppresses other species from becoming established.

As opposed to more resource-intensive programmes, such as agro-forestry schemes or large-scale plantation projects, the authors highlighted how ANR schemes were relatively passive and cheap, allowing local communities to become actively involved. They added that while the vast grasslands provided grazing sites for cattle and roofing material, there were relatively few other benefits when the potential productivity of the area was taken into account. (11/07/11)


Beware of Greeks Bearing Referendums

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 New Yorker — John Cassidy writes: On Monday night, the nation’s Prime Minister, George Papandreou, shocked his colleagues, his countrymen, and the rest of the world by announcing he would hold a referendum on a new bailout package, which other European countries agreed upon last week as part of a broader effort to contain the continent’s debt crisis. Today, markets everywhere are plunging, which is hardly surprising.

Just when it seemed like there was going to be a respite from the debt crisis, albeit perhaps a temporary one, Papandreou has thrown the whole thing into question again. If the Greeks were to vote down the European rescue package, which involves yet another round of austerity measures, they would be opting for a sovereign debt default, and, in all probability, Greece’s exit from the euro zone. Even if the Greeks approve the package, the markets face two months of chronic uncertainty before a vote not expected until January.

With a parliamentary majority of just three votes for his Socialist Party government, Papandreou appears to have seen a referendum as a clever political gambit. While most Greeks oppose the tax increases and budget cuts that have come with successive European bailouts, they still strongly support membership of the European Union. In offering voters a referendum, Papandreou is effectively asking his countrymen to choose which option they like least: more austerity or an exit from the euro zone.

As of today, though, it looks like the Prime Minister was being too clever by half. From every side came angry denunciations of his action. The Irish foreign minister accused him of lobbing a “grenade” into the European rescue efforts, adding, “Legitimately there is going to be a lot of annoyance about it.” In Germany, politicians called for preparations to eject Greece from the E.U.

Greeks, too, are outraged. Six of Papandreou’s party colleagues called on him to resign. One quit the PASOK party. “They must be crazy,” a senior executive at one of Greece’s biggest companies told Reuters. “(T)his is no way to run a country.” With a parliamentary vote of confidence in his government scheduled for Friday, it is quite conceivable that by the end of the week Papandreou will be out office.

And yet, for all that, he has a point about Greece needing to make a definitive decision about what course it wants to follow. For months now, his political opponents have criticized him for accepting the onerous terms of the European bailouts, which include job cuts, tax increases, and privatization programs. But Greeks also seem reluctant to embrace the alternative path, which involves defaulting on its debts, leaving the euro zone, at least temporarily, and trying to make its way alone. Outside the euro zone, Greece could relaunch its old currency, the drachma, which would trade at a much lower rate than the euro, meaning its exports would be cheaper abroad. The country’s banking system would probably collapse—it’s pretty much a basket case already—inflation would rise, and there would be a period of chaos. But, relieved of its debts, the economy would eventually start growing again. At least that’s what happened to Argentina, which, back in 2002, defaulted on its debts and abandoned a one-to-one peg between the peso and the dollar. (11/03/11)


NPP Weather and Climate Satellite Launches

Monday, October 31st, 2011 Science — The US has launched NPP, its $1.5bn (£0.9bn) next-generation weather and climate satellite. NNP rode into its polar orbit on a Delta II rocket, lifting away from the Vandenberg, California, spaceport at 02:48 local time (09:48 GMT).

The two-tonne satellite has some onerous tasks ahead of it. NPP must test new-style Earth observing instruments while at the same time providing operational data to meteorologists for general forecasting. The satellite is a joint effort between US space agency Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), with input from the Department of Defense.

It has five instruments on board that will monitor a wide range of land, ocean, and atmospheric phenomena – from the temperature and humidity of the air, to the spread of algal blooms in the ocean; and from the amount of sunlight bouncing off clouds to the extent of Arctic ice.

Circling the globe at an altitude of 824km, NPP will become a key sentinel for watching over a changing Earth. Dr Jim Gleason, the NPP project scientist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, commented: “NPP’s observations will produce long-term datasets which will help scientists make better models, which then lead to better predictions, which hopefully can be used to make better decisions. These decisions can be as simple as ‘do I need to bring an umbrella?’, or as complex as ‘how do we respond to a changing climate?’.”

There is a concern, however, that NPP is being asked to do too much. Its climate role requires it to continue datasets acquired over the past 10 years by Nasa’s highly successful Earth Observing System satellites – Aura, Aqua, and Terra. But NPP must also bridge the gap between Noaa’s existing system of polar-orbiting weather satellites (the latest is Noaa-19) and the agency’s future fleet, known as the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

“The NPP mission design life is five years; it has propellant in its propulsion system for seven years,” explained Scott Asbury from Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, which built NPP. “Nasa is concerned about the longevity of the instruments on board. They were built to prove the instruments in the future operational system, and there were some anomalies in the development of the instruments that had to be overcome,” he told BBC News. (10/31/11)


Climate Change ‘Grave Threat’ to Security and Health

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 Environment — Officers in the UK military warned that the price of goods such as fuel is likely to rise as conflict provoked by climate change increases. A statement from the meeting adds that humanitarian disasters will put more and more strain on military resources. It asks governments to adopt ambitious targets for curbing greenhouse gases.

The annual UN climate conference opens in about six weeks’ time, and the doctors, academics and military experts represented at the meeting (held in the British Medical Association’s (BMA) headquarters) argue that developed and developing countries alike need to raise their game. Scientific studies suggest that the most severe climate impacts will fall on the relatively poor countries of the tropics.

UK military experts pointed out that much of the world’s trade moves through such regions, with North America, Western Europe and China among the societies heavily dependent on oil and other imports.

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, climate and energy security envoy for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), said that conflict in such areas could make it more difficult and expensive to obtain goods on which countries such as Britain rely. “If there are risks to the trade routes and other areas, then it’s food, it’s energy,” he told BBC News. “The price of energy will go up – for us, it’s [the price of] petrol at the pumps – and goods made in southeast Asia, a lot of which we import.”

A number of recent studies have suggested that climate impacts will make conflict more likely, by increasing competition for scarce but essential resources such as water and food. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, for example, recently warned that climate change “will increase the risks of resource shortages, mass migration and civil conflict”, while the MoD’s view is that it will shift “the tipping point at which conflict occurs”.

Alejandro Litovsky, founder of the Earth Security Initiative, said that even without the increasing effect of conflict, prices of essential goods were bound to rise. “From the year 2000 onwards, we have been seeing commodity prices climb, and this is not likely to stop,” he said. “It is primarily driven by resource scarcity, and the trends suggest that depletion of these natural resources is unlikely to be reversed in the near future without drastic interventions.” He also said that degradation of natural resources such as forests and freshwater was removing much of the resilience that societies formerly enjoyed.

Last week, multinational coffee house Starbucks warned that climate change threatened the world’s coffee supplies in 20-30 years’ time. (10/25/11)


Banks May Have a Dim Future?

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

The Automatic Earth — It’s time to make one thing clear once and for all: the financial institutions at the heart of our economic system are finished, broke, bankrupt. Since 2008, they have been kept alive only by gigantic infusions of our, the public’s, money. We have been, and still are, told this is only temporary, and that the money will help restore them to health and then be repaid, but temporary has been 3 years and change now and there’s no restored health anywhere in sight.

The opposite is true: Obama launches another -even more desperate- half-trillion dollar jobs plan, and Europe is devising another multi-trillion dollar plan aimed solely at keeping banks from going belly-up, because these banks have lost anywhere between 50% and 90% of their market capitalization in the past few years, despite the multi-trillion capital infusions(!), and are still loaded to the hilt with investments, in sovereign bonds, in each other, in derivatives, that are so toxic they could blow them up at any moment.

If this were not true, if there were any possibility left that the banks at the heart of the system could indeed be saved and restored back to health with public funds, their assets would all long have been marked to market, and market confidence would thus be fully restored. The fact that mark-to-market is still religiously shunned 3 years after Lehman should tell you all you need to know about what’s real and what’s not.

There is no hope, no indication, and no possibility, that pouring even more taxpayer and future taxpayer capital into the leaks would stop the floodwater from entering. The leaks are both too big, and too numerous. If a possibility existed to seal the leaks with public funds, it would have been implemented by now, everyone -from banks to governments- would have taken their share of losses and we would now be talking about preventing the next crisis, not about how to deal with the present one, which has only gotten deeper as we’ve gone along.

The meme that comes from our “leaders” is that by saving the banks -and that way only-, we will be able to save ourselves. The reality is, however, that the banks are being saved at our expense, and we get poorer fast because of it.

And it’s worse that that: the banks are beyond salvation, which means there can and will be no end to the constant flood of money from us, from the public coffers, towards the financial system, as long as present leadership, and their meme of saving banks to save ourselves, remain in control.

It’s only when we drop that meme that we can start moving towards a world that, though admittedly much poorer and simpler than the one we inhabit today, will be less depressing, and less prone to saddle us with our present widespread mental burden of paralyzing powerlessness. (10/2/11)


Alpha Radiation Has Success for Prostate Cancers

Friday, September 30th, 2011

BBC Health — A trial of a new cancer drug, which accurately targets tumours, has been so successful it has been stopped early. Doctors at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital gave prostate cancer patients a powerful alpha radiation drug and found that they lived longer, and experienced less pain and side effects. The medics then stopped the trial of 922 people, saying it was unethical not to offer all of them the treatment. Lead researcher Dr Chris Parker said it was “a significant step forward”.

Cancer Research UK said it was a very important and promising discovery. Radiation has been used to treat tumours for more than a century. It damages the genetic code inside cancerous cells.

Alpha particles are the big, bulky, bruisers of the radiation world. It is a barrage of helium nuclei, which are far bigger than beta radiation, a stream of electrons, or gamma waves. Dr Parker told the BBC: “It’s more damaging. It takes one, two, three hits to kill a cancer cell compared with thousands of hits for beta particles.” Alpha particles also do less damage to surrounding tissue. He added: “They have such a tiny range, a few millionths of a metre. So we can be sure that the damage is being done where it should be.”

In 90% of patients with advanced prostate cancer, the tumour will have spread to the bone. At this stage there are no treatments which affect survival.

The study looked at patients with these secondary cancers, as the source of radiation – radium-223 chloride – acts like calcium and sticks to bone. Half were given the radium-223 chloride drug alongside traditional chemotherapy, while the other patients received chemotherapy and a dummy pill. The death rate was 30% lower in the group taking radium-223. Those patients survived for 14 months on average compared to 11 months in the dummy group.

The trial was abandoned as “it would have been unethical not to offer the active treatment to those taking placebo”, said Dr Parker. He added: “I think it will be a significant step forward for cancer patients”. (09/30/11)