U.S. Wakes Up to New (Silk) World Order

About Those Missiles…
222

by PEPE ESCOBAR

The real Masters of the Universe in the U.S. are no weathermen, but arguably they’re starting to feel which way the wind is blowing.

History may signal it all started with this week’s trip to Sochi, led by their paperboy, Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and then with President Putin.

Arguably, a visual reminder clicked the bells for the real Masters of the Universe; the PLA marching in Red Square on Victory Day side by side with the Russian military. Even under the Stalin-Mao alliance Chinese troops did not march in Red Square.

As a screamer, that rivals the Russian S-500 missile systems. Adults in the Beltway may have done the math and concluded Moscow and Beijing may be on the verge of signing secret military protocols as in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The new game of musical chairs is surely bound to leave Eurasian-obsessed Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski apoplectic.

And suddenly, instead of relentless demonization and NATO spewing out “Russian aggression!” every ten seconds, we have Kerry saying that respecting Minsk-2 is the only way out in Ukraine, and that he would strongly caution vassal Poroshenko against his bragging on bombing Donetsk airport and environs back into Ukrainian “democracy”.

The ever level-headed Lavrov, for his part, described the meeting with Kerry as “wonderful,” and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the new U.S.-Russia entente as “extremely positive”.

So now the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration, at least apparently, seems to finally understand that this “isolating Russia” business is over – and that Moscow simply won’t back down from two red lines; no Ukraine in NATO, and no chance of popular republics of Donetsk and Lugansk being smashed, by Kiev, NATO or anybody else.

Thus what was really discussed – but not leaked – out of Sochi is how the Obama administration can get some sort of face-saving exit out of the Russian western borderland geopolitical mess it invited on itself in the first place.

About Those Missiles…

Ukraine is a failed state now fully converted into an IMF colony. The EU will never accept it as a member, or pay its astronomic bills. The real action, for both Washington and Moscow, is Iran. Not accidentally, the extremely dodgy Wendy Sherman — who has been the chief U.S. negotiator in the P5+1 nuclear talks — was part of Kerry’s entourage. A comprehensive deal with Iran cannot be clinched without Moscow’s essential collaboration on everything from the disposal of spent nuclear fuel to the swift end of UN sanctions.

Iran is a key node in the Chinese-led New Silk Road(s) project. So the real Masters of the Universe must have also — finally — seen this is all about Eurasia, which, inevitably, was the real star in the May 9 Victory Day parade. After his pregnant with meaning Moscow stop — where he signed 32 separate deals — Chinese President Xi Jinping went to do deals in Kazakhstan and Belarus.

So welcome to the New (Silk) World Order; from Beijing to Moscow on high-speed rail; from Shanghai to Almaty, Minsk and beyond; from Central Asia to Western Europe.

By now we all know how this high-speed trade/geopolitical journey is unstoppable — spanning the Beijing-led, Moscow-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICs Development Bank. Central Asia, Mongolia and Afghanistan — where NATO has just lost a war — are being inexorably pulled into this trade/geopolitical orbit covering all of central, northern, and eastern Eurasia.

What could be called Greater Asia is already shaping up — not only from Beijing to Moscow but also from business center Shanghai to gateway-to-Europe St. Petersburg. It’s the natural consequence of a complex process I have been examining for a while now — the marriage of the massive Beijing-led Silk Road Economic Belt with the Moscow-led Eurasia Economic Union (EEU). Putin described it as “a new level of partnership.”

The real Masters of the Universe may have also noted the very close discussions between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the deputy chairman of the Central Military Council of China, Gen. Fan Changlong. Russia and China will conduct naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Japan and will give top priority to their common position regarding U.S. global missile defense.

There’s the not-so-negligible matter of the Pentagon “discovering” China has up to 60 silo-based ICBMs – the CSS-4 – capable of targeting almost the whole U.S., except Florida.

And last but not least, there’s the Russian rollout of the ultra-sophisticated S-500 defensive missile system — which will conclusively protect Russia from a U.S. Prompt Global Strike (PGS). Each S-500 missile can intercept ten ICBMs at speeds up to 15,480 miles an hour, altitudes of 115 miles and horizontal range of 2,174 miles. Moscow insists the system will only be operational in 2017. If Russia is able to rollout 10,000 S-500 missiles, they can intercept 100,000 American ICBMs by the time the U.S. has a new White House tenant.

Once again, the real Masters of the Universe seem to have done the math. Can’t reduce Russia to ashes. Can’t win in the New (Silk) World Order. Might as well sit down and talk. But hold your (geopolitical) horses; they might still change their mind.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

This piece first appeared at Asia Times.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/19/u-s-wakes-up-to-new-silk-world-order/

Deadly food poisoning is lurking

A new highly contagious, antibiotic-resistant bug has arrived

A frightening new Scientific American report details the growing threat of shigella across the United States

Deadly food poisoning is lurking: A new highly contagious, antibiotic-resistant bug has arrived
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific AmericanThe kinds of bacteria that can cause food poisoning lurk all around us. These germs can be especially easy to pick up when traveling internationally as well as in places, such as children’s day cares, which are hard to keep clean. The infections usually clear up on their own but sometimes require hospitalizations and hefty doses of antibiotics to expunge. Unfortunately, the bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment.

The latest bad news came in April when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an outbreak of Shigella sonnei that has become resistant to ciprofloxacin—one of the last remaining medications in pill form that can kill the germ. Since then a Scientific American investigation shows the worrisome strain is still circulating in the U.S. a year after it first emerged.

Shigella bacteria typically cause about 500,000 diarrheal illnesses and 40 deaths in the U.S. every year. Children who are malnourished and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of developing severe cases. Symptoms include diarrhea that is sometimes bloody, fever and abdominal pain, and typically last about a week.

The bacteria occur naturally in the U.S. but, heretofore, people typically caught ciprofloxacin-resistant strains while traveling internationally. In the current outbreak, however, many people who became sick had not recently been out of the country, which proves that the multidrug-resistant bug has now established a firm domestic presence.

The CDC has confirmed 275 cases of ciprofloxacin-resistant shigella across the country from May 2014 to May 2015, according to data obtained exclusively byScientific American (see chart below). Although these figures appear small, they almost certainly represent but a tiny fraction of the true number of ciprofloxacin-resistant cases. Shigella infections are supposed to be reported to the CDC but a lot of people who get sick do not go to the doctor. And those who do are sometimes not tested for the presence of shigella, let alone drug resistance.

Vulnerable populations are some of the hardest hit in this outbreak, including cases linked to a day care center, homeless people in San Francisco and HIV-positive individuals in Philadelphia. As few as 10 shigella germs can cause an infection—making the bacteria virtually undetectable as it quickly spreads in contaminated food and water or from person to person.

Other drugs that the pathogen has overcome in the past include ampicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline. Anna Bowen, a medical officer in the CDC’s Waterborne Diseases Prevention Branch and lead author of the April study, says the CDC has identified some cases in this outbreak that were resistant to all of the oral treatment options currently available. The next line of defense is a broader-spectrum, more expensive antibiotic that must be administered via injection or an intravenous line.

Whereas labs can test for ciprofloxacin resistance, there are currently no standardized tests to identify if a shigella infection is resistant to azithromycin, which is the go-to drug for children. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved ciprofloxacin only for adults.) “Almost no clinical labs are doing this sort of testing,” Bowen says, “and so patients are being treated kind of blindly since the providers don’t know if azithromycin is an appropriate choice or not.”

Lag time in reporting is another issue. San Francisco, for example, is tracking nearly two times the number of cases that the CDC counts as confirmed for the city—228 cases versus 119. Cora Hoover, director of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, says they have slightly different case definitions because as the city agency on the ground investigating this outbreak they want assurance all possible patients are identified; also it takes so long to confirm a case. Public health officials normally follow up with each patient, and lab tests can take weeks.

It can take around a month to confirm a case of shigellosis is both antibiotic-resistant and part of the same outbreak, though it varies. Generally, once a doctor identifies a shigella infection, he or she reports it to the city or state public health agency and sends a stool sample to the lab to confirm the diagnosis. The lab grows or “cultures” the bacteria and reports its findings back to the doctor and agency in about a week. The health agency then reports the case to the CDC, which tests a selection of cases for antibiotic resistance via the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System and its national laboratory network, PulseNet. Results from PulseNet’s genetic testing of sample cases can be complete within a couple of weeks.

By the time the full picture of a single case is confirmed, the patient is usually better. Caroline Johnson, director of the Division of Disease Control at Public Health for the City of Philadelphia, says her division usually suspects that a case is part of an outbreak but does not know for sure until the full results are in.

Peter Gerner-Smidt, chief of the CDC’s Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch and PulseNet, says labs will gradually move away from having to culture bacteria to identify them. As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more accessible, state labs will eventually be able to get that information by determining the whole DNA sequence of each sample. This approach will hopefully reveal antibiotic-resistance more quickly, he says, but it will likely take years before these tests are widely used.

Because of the increasing threat of multidrug-resistant shigella, the CDC and other health agencies recommend doctors only prescribe antibiotics for severe cases. Shigellosis can actually clear up on its own with proper hydration and rest. Preventionis therefore the best weapon for controlling resistant shigella, Bowen says, particularly because the U.S. cannot regulate antibiotic overuse in other countries, but it still affects patients here.

“Problems with antibiotic resistance anywhere are problems with antibiotic resistance everywhere,” she says. “There are no borders when it comes to antibiotic resistance, and we have all got to be vigilant.”

 

 

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/05/19/deadly_food_poisoning_is_lurking_partner/?source=newsletter

Fracking linked to earthquakes and increased levels of radon in homes

fracking_diagram

By Philip Guelpa
4 May 2015

A newly released study indicates that a significant correlation exists between areas where fracking (high volume hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal directional drilling used to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits) is taking place and elevated levels of radon.

Radon is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas, a known carcinogen, which accumulates in homes and commercial buildings. It is a radioactive decomposition product of radium-226, and is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and Johns Hopkins University.

In a separate study, government researchers identified a statistically significant correlation between increased seismic activity and the proximity of injection wells used to dispose of huge quantities of contaminated fracking wastewater.

Neither of these findings is entirely surprising. It has been known for years that the fracking process employs huge quantities of water and a witch’s brew of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals to break open the shale bedrock in order to release oil and natural gas trapped within. It is also known that, in addition to the hydrocarbons, the resulting wastewater “backflow” may also bring up harmful heavy metals and radioactive materials. However, the industry and its political supporters have consistently denied that this is of concern.

The findings regarding radon are based on analysis of over 860,000 measurements taken in Pennsylvania homes and other buildings from 1989 to 2013. Levels of radon began to increase noticeably in 2004 as fracking activity intensified. Between 2005 and 2013, 7,469 fracking wells were drilled in the state.

Radium is a naturally occurring inclusion in the shale deposits being fracked. As it decomposes into radon gas, it normally travels to the surface in varying quantities and can accumulate in building basements, posing a health danger to the occupants. However, the significant increase in radon levels in recent years correlated with the expansion of fracking strongly suggests a cause and effect relationship, posing a marked increase in health risk.

Joan Casey of University of California Berkeley, a coauthor of the study, said in a statement released by Johns Hopkins University that, “By drilling 7,000 holes in the ground, the fracking industry may have changed the geology and created new pathways for radon to rise to the surface.”

Among the study’s findings was that radon concentrations were 21 percent higher in buildings that used well water as compared to municipal sources. Buildings in rural areas where fracking is prevalent were found to have radon in concentrations 39 percent higher than those in urban areas, where fracking is not taking place.

Radon has a half-life of about four days. Within 20 days it has lost 95 percent of its radioactivity. Therefore, the source of radon contamination must be in close proximity to the locations where increased levels have been found.

The new study contradicts earlier findings by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, published in January, that there is “little potential for additional radon exposure to the public” due to fracking. Last fall, earlier DEP studies downplaying the dangers of fracking were brought into question when it was revealed that they omitted measurements on many important contaminants. Given that the state’s politicians are heavily supportive of fracking, the latest DEP study must be viewed as suspect. The reliability of the UC/Johns Hopkins results is bolstered by the very large sample size of the data used and the fact that the source of the data is the DEP itself.

Another study, published last October, using data from five states, found elevated levels of eight toxic chemicals near fracking sites. These included benzene and formaldehyde, both known carcinogens. And, a September study by the National Institutes of Health found that Pennsylvanians who live close to natural gas wells are twice as likely to report skin and respiratory problems as residents who live farther away.

Not only does fracking pose dangers stemming from the release of toxic and radioactive materials, but the disposal of the huge quantities of contaminated wastewater that result is also a major problem. Treating this effluent to make it safe to return to the environment is technically difficult and expensive. Most sewage treatment plants are not capable of accomplishing this task. Therefore, the industry employs various methods to make the waste “disappear.”

One favored method is the injection of the fracking fluid deep underground, where it is supposedly “sequestered,” preventing environmental contamination. In Oklahoma, more than 50 billion gallons of wastewater went into disposal wells in 2013 alone, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Not only does this make the water unavailable for future use, an especially troublesome problem for arid areas, but it is becoming increasingly evident that introducing large quantities of water under pressure into geologic formations where it did not formerly exist is resulting in seismic disturbances—earthquakes.

A study by the US Geological Survey, released last Thursday, demonstrates a clear correlation between the increasing frequency of earthquakes and the injection well disposal of fracking wastewater. In Oklahoma, the hardest-hit state, earthquakes are hundreds of time more likely than they were a few years ago, before the underground disposal began. Elevated seismic activity associated with this practice was found in eight other states as well.

According to the report, Oklahoma is now experiencing quakes of magnitude 3 or greater at the rate of one or two a day. Previously, such events occurred there only once or twice per year. The state government has been forced to publicly acknowledge the link between the increased seismic activity and fracking wastewater injection wells.

This comes after years of denials by industry and government representatives across the country. There has been only limited regulation of fracking fluid disposal using this method. In 1988 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited a loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which regulates hazardous and solid waste, exempting the waste from oil and gas exploration, development, and production from oversight, leaving responsibility to even weaker or nonexistent state regulations.

Earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater are capable of producing structural damage. In 2011, Oklahoma experience a magnitude 5.6 quake, which is the largest yet recorded that can be linked to fracking wastewater disposal. The cumulative effect of increasing numbers of disposal wells, especially when concentrated in close proximity appears to increase not only the frequency but also the intensity of such events.

Estimates suggest that quakes of magnitudes up to 7 or 8 could result from this practice. This is within the range of naturally occurring tremors that caused major damage. For example, the 1995 Los Angeles earthquake reached 6.7 and the San Francisco quake of 1989 measured 6.9.

Further confirmation of the link between well disposal and earthquakes comes from the observation that in the few areas where this practice has been halted, the frequency of quakes has dropped dramatically.

The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), a state regulatory agency, stated in an official report, “The commission finds increased seismic activity constitutes an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare. The commission finds damage may result if immediate action is not taken.” However, in deference to the power of the petroleum industry, the order is limited to areas where an increase in earthquake activity has already been observed.

The influence of the industry over state regulators is illustrated by a recently revealed incident in Oklahoma. As shown by emails obtained under the freedom of information law, the state seismologist, Austin Holland, was summoned to a meeting in 2013 with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas tycoon Harold Hamm. Hamm, who has been called the founding father of the US fracking boom, expressed his “concern” that earthquakes were being linked to the fracking process. Holland indicated that meeting was “intimidating.” This was reportedly at least the second such meeting with industry executives.

The pattern seen emerging from multiple efforts by a variety of researchers consistently points to one conclusion: the combination of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal directional drilling used to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits, as currently practiced, poses a marked and immediate danger to human health and the environment. Despite persistent industry claims to the contrary, the process itself and the resulting waste create safety hazards.

Leakage and spillage expose humans, both industry workers and residents in nearby communities, as well as plants and animals in the environment, to carcinogens and other toxic materials at unsafe concentrations. Furthermore, tremendous quantities of water, contaminated by the fracking process, are difficult or impossible to safely return to the environment. Efforts to sequester the wastewater by injection deep underground not only remove it from any further practical use, a concern especially in more arid regions, but also causes increasingly dangerous earthquakes.

The vast proliferation of fracking in the US, where it is currently being conducted in 18 states, and increasingly around the world, is driven by a combination of the unfettered drive for profit by energy companies and increasing geopolitical rivalries without regard to the consequences.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/04/frac-m04.html

 

US admits FBI falsified evidence to obtain convictions

5009374e79347.image

By Kate Randall 

20 April 2015

The US Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that over a more than two-decade period before 2000, nearly every FBI examiner gave flawed forensic hair testimony in almost all trials of criminal defendants reviewed so far, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The cases examined include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death, 14 of whom have been either executed or died in prison. The scandal raises the very real probability that innocent people have been sent to their deaths, and that many more wrongfully convicted are languishing on death rows across the US due to FBI analysts’ fraudulent testimony.

Testimony involving pattern-based forensic techniques—such as hair, bite-mark, and tire track comparisons—has contributed to wrongful convictions in more than a quarter of the 329 defendants’ cases that have been exonerated in the US since 1989. In their pursuit of convictions prosecutors across the country have often relied on FBI analysts’ overstated testimony on hair samples, incorrectly citing them as definitive proof of a defendant’s guilt.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project are assisting the government in the nation’s largest post-conviction review of the FBI’s questioned forensic evidence. The groups determined that 26 of 28 examiners in the elite FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.

The nation’s courts have allowed the bogus testimony, masquerading as definitive scientific evidence of defendants’ guilt, to railroad innocent people and consign them to decades in prison, life in prison, or death row and the execution chamber.

Federal authorities launched an investigation in 2012 after a Post examination found that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people nationwide since at least the 1970s. Defendants in these cases were typically charged with murder, rape and other violent crimes.

The scandal involves about 2,500 cases in which FBI examiners gave testimony involving hair matches. Hair examination is a pattern-based forensic technique. It involves subjective examination of characteristics such as color, thickness and length and compares them to a known source.

There is no accepted scientific research on how often hair from different people may appear the same, and any hair “matches” must be confirmed by DNA analysis. However, the Post ’s 2012 review found that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of matches of hair found at crime scenes to the hair samples of defendants. The FBI gave flawed forensic testimony in 257 of the 268 trials examined so far.

In 2002, a decade before the Post review, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing revealed that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time.

In Washington, DC, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have carried out an investigation into all convictions based on FBI hair testimony, five of seven defendants whose trials included flawed hair evidence have been exonerated since 2009 based on either DNA testing or court appeals. All of them served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.

In an interview with the Post, University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results of the DC investigation reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system. “The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” he said.

Those exonerated since 2009 in DC include:

* Donald Eugene Gates was incarcerated for 28 years for the rape and murder of a Georgetown University student. He was ordered released in December 2009 by a DC Superior Court Judge after DNA evidence revealed that another man committed the crime. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of an FBI analyst, who falsely linked two hairs from an African-American male to Gates.

* Kirk L. Odom was wrongfully imprisoned for more than 22 years for a 1981 rape and murder. He completed his prison term in 2003, but it was not until July 2012 that DNA evidence exonerated him of the crimes. A DC Superior Court order freed him from remaining on parole until 2047 and registering as a sex offender.

* Santae A. Tribble was convicted in the 1978 killing of a DC taxi driver. An FBI examiner testifying at Tribble’s trial said he had microscopically matched the defendant’s hair to one found in a stocking near the crime scene. In 2012, DNA tests on the same hair excluded him as the perpetrator, clearing the way for his exoneration.

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in those cases where FBI analysts gave flawed forensic testimony. However, in some 700 of the 2,500 cases identified by the FBI for review, police or prosecutors have not responded to requests for trial transcripts or other information. Biological evidence is also not always available, having been lost or destroyed in the years since trial.

Although defense attorneys argue that scientifically invalid testimony should be considered a violation of due process, only the states of California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant their testimony or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence given at trial.

In a statement responding to the new scandal’s eruption, the FBI and Justice Department vowed that they are “committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance” and that are “also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

The scandal over fraudulent testimony, however, only reveals the corrupt and anti-democratic character of the US prison system as a whole. The United States locks behind bars a greater proportion of its population than any other country, topped off by the barbaric death penalty that is supported by the entire political establishment.

Whatever the hypocritical posturing of the Obama White House, it cannot bring back the years spent in prison by the wrongfully convicted or the lives of those likely executed for crimes they did not commit.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/20/hair-a20.html

Happiness And Intelligence: Rare Combination?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernest Hemingway had an interesting statement:

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.

This was quoted in an interesting article that described an inverse relationship between intellect and happiness. Accordingly to the article, the culprit is largely education:

Western society is not set up to nurture intelligent children and adults, the way it dotes over athletes and sports figures, especially the outstanding ones. While we have the odd notable personality such as Albert Einstein, we also have many extremely intelligent people working in occupations that are considered among the lowliest, as may be attested by a review of the membership lists of Mensa (the club for the top two percent on intelligence scales).

Education systems in countries whose primary interest is in wealth accumulation encourage heroes in movies, war and sports, but not in intellectual development. Super intelligent people manage, but few reach the top of the business or social ladder.

Although it’s definitely a debatable assertion, it’s nonetheless an interesting and controversial idea. What I gather is that the “happiness” the article harps on is grounded on moral values or prioritization that is assigned by society which is implemented and disseminated by the educational system. What society “values” highly: wealth, sports, etc.–are what defines “happiness” or success.

However, is intelligence necessarily antithetical to these values? I think there’s an implicit error here in that the article seems to differentiate or dichotomize between reason (intelligence) and emotion (happiness) when there isn’t necessarily a gap between the two. This is very apparent in thus further excerpt:

Children develop along four streams: intellectual, physical, emotional (psychological) and social. In classrooms, the smartest kids tend to be left out of more activities by other children than they are included in. They are “odd,” they are the geeks, they are social outsiders. In other words, they do not develop socially as well as they may develop intellectually or even physically where opportunities may exist for more progress.

Arguably these four “streams” are really just two: mental and physical. And these two streams are really just one: since the brain is a physical organ, and the mental stream encompasses intellect, emotion, and sociology. However by dividing a person into body and mind and the mental into further compartments, on the one hand it may give insight into human motivations, but on the other hand it may also be an excellent excuse for contradictory behavior.

Consider the following statements:

  • “Follow your heart instead of your brain.”
  • “Follow society instead of yourself.”
  • “Follow the right path, regardless of how you feel.”
  • “Follow what makes you happy, instead of what makes sense.”

Although these statements imply varying motivations: all these motivations take place in the mind, and are all still the province of reason/rationality. The contradictions and conflicts implied in these statements all exist in the mind.

The heart doesn’t make decisions–it simply pumps blood. It’s the brain that chooses the emotional route instead of the logical one. And arguably, in this case, the emotional route becomes the logical one for the person who chooses it. Society doesn’t choose for an individual, it’s the individual who values society that chooses to follow soceity’s dictates. The social need is still in the mind. Right or moral path vs. emotion is another version of heart vs. brain. In this case by choosing the right path–you are in effect putting morality as part of your logic or reasoning. What was really in conflict are the choices of what morality to value, not a choice between morality and emotion.

So back to happiness–which is an emotion, which is part of the mind. A happy person isn’t happy because he values certain things (e.g. wealth or the body) above intellect. In reality it is his intellect that produces the emotion–his intelligence that values those things. A sad person isn’t unhappy because he chooses intellect above all things–but perhaps those things his intelligence values are lacking in his life.

Maybe the proper question is not a dichotomy between the mind and happiness–but what kind of happiness the mind is looking for.

Finally–this doesn’t touch yet on that other controversial dichotomy: that of the body (which includes the brain and the mind), and the spirit/soul.

https://thecriticalthinker.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/happiness-intelligence/

Water, Capitalism and Catastrophism

Living Under the Shadow of a Sixth Extinction
0

by LOUIS PROYECT

Two films concerned with water and environmental activism arrive in New York this week. “Groundswell Rising”, which premieres at the Maysles Theater in Harlem today, is about the struggle to safeguard lakes and rivers from fracking while “Revolution”, which opens at the Cinema Village next Wednesday, documents the impact of global warming on the oceans. Taking the holistic view, one can understand how some of the most basic conditions of life are threatened by a basic contradiction. Civilization, the quintessential expression of Enlightenment values that relies on ever-expanding energy, threatens to reduce humanity to barbarism if not extinction through exactly such energy production.

This challenge not only faces those of us now living under capitalism but our descendants who will be living under a more rational system. No matter the way in which goods and services are produced, for profit or on the basis of human need, humanity is faced with ecological constraints that must be overcome otherwise we will be subject to a Sixth Extinction. Under capitalism, Sixth Extinction is guaranteed. Under socialism, survival is possible but only as a result of a radical transformation of how society is organized, something that Marx alluded to in the Communist Manifesto when he called for a “gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.”

“Groundswell Rising” covers some of the same ground as Josh Fox’s “Gaslandia” but is more about the activism that has taken off ever since people became aware that fracking was a threat to their health and economic well-being. While most of us are probably aware that water that catches fire is probably not a good thing to drink, PBS veteran filmmakers and brothers Matt and Renard Cohen make the case that fracking’s economic benefits are dubious at best. For every farmer or rancher who has leased his land for drilling, there are many homeowners living nearby who get nothing but the shitty end of the stick: pollution, noise and a loss of property value.

One of these homeowners in rural Pennsylvania inherited his house and land from his father who taught Craig Stevens “conservative rightwing values” but it was exactly those values that turned him into an anti-fracking activist. Rooted in a space that has belonged to his family for 180 years, Stevens was shocked to discover that Chesapeake Gas owned the mineral rights underneath his land without ever having been given access to anything on the surface. His property has become collateral damage as mud spills poured across his land from nearby hills where Chesapeake cut trees in order to create a clearing for their equipment. The noise and fumes that emanate from the drilling have destroyed his way of life, so much so that Stevens is happy to speak at rallies alongside people whose views on private property are radically different than his own.

What gives the film its power is the attention paid to people like Stevens who organized petition drives and showed up at town council meetings to voice their opposition to fracking. They look like Tea Party activists or Walmart shoppers, mostly white and plain as a barn door, but they know that they do not want drilling in their townships and are willing to fight tooth and nail to prevent it. For all of the left’s dismay about its lack of power, the film’s closing credits reveal that there are 312 local anti-fracking groups in Pennsylvania made up of exactly such people who will likely be our allies as the environmental crisis deepens.

The film benefits from a number of experts on fracking who have become increasingly politicized as the White House and its friends in the Republican Party push for fracking everywhere as part of a strategy ostensibly to make American energy-independent but more likely to increase profits for a decisive sector of the capitalist economy. Chief among them is Tony Ingraffea, a Cornell professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department with a long career consulting for companies that would likely see eye to eye with the oil and gas industry. A Mother Jones profile pointed out:

Ingraffea isn’t the likeliest scientific foe of fracking. His past research has been funded by corporations and industry interests including Schlumberger, the Gas Research Institute, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman. His original doctoral work, in the 1970s, involved the study of “rock fracture mechanics”—in other words, how cracks in rock form and propagate, a body of knowledge that is crucial to extractive industries like oil and gas. “I spent 20, 25 years working with the oil and gas industry…helping them to figure out how best to get oil and gas out of rock,” Ingraffea explains.

But it was exactly such a background that prepared him to become a whistle-blower who now warns about the dangers of earthquakes and water contamination from fracking. Like Craig Stevens, Tony Ingraffea came to realize that there were some things more important than corporate profits, namely the right of citizens not to be poisoned by polluted water.

Besides causing earthquakes and making water undrinkable, fracking has another downside that runs counter to the claims made for it. As an alternative to the coal burning that is responsible for greenhouse gases that cause global warming, fracking also imposes a severe toll. According to Ingraffea, up to 8 percent of the methane gas that is created as part of the natural gas extraction process leaks into the environment where it hastens global warming. Because it is 80 to 90 times more potent than coal in creating the greenhouse effect, its unintended consequences negate its advertised benefits.

Global warming’s impact on the oceans is what led 36-year-old Canadian filmmaker to make “Revolution”, a film that is a follow-up to the 2007 “Sharkwater”. “Sharkwater” was made to protest their slaughter for shark fin soup, a delicacy in Chinese restaurants that has been reduced drastically partially as a result of the campaign the film helped to inspire.

“Revolution” emerged out of concerns that had been troubling Stewart ever since a question was posed to him during the Q&A of a screening of “Sharkwater”. If all marine life is facing extinction by the end of the 21stcentury, what good does it do to protect sharks that cannot survive when fish beneath them on the food chain have disappeared?” The film shows Stewart scratching his head after hearing the question and failing to come up with an answer. It is the new film that now tries to provide one.

Before making films, Stewart was a photographer who worked for the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s magazines. His skills with underwater photography and an undergraduate science degree were the preparation he needed to make the two films.

The first 1/3rd of “Revolution” consists of underwater footage of some of the world’s best-known coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. These reefs consist of millennia of accreted organic material that serves as a hub for all sorts of fishes. Without them, marine life will certainly disappear. But to Stewart’s consternation, it is the coral reef that is disappearing. Without them, there will be no fish, including the shark that sits on the underwater empire’s throne.

This discovery led him on a search to understand what was causing the collapse of coral reefs. It turned out that a rise in ocean temperature is to blame. While most people are familiar with the threat that carbon emissions pose to the atmosphere, it is arguably more of a threat to life underneath the water. CO2 gas leads to acidification in ocean waters and thus the bleaching of coral reefs that finally leads to their destruction.

Once this became apparent to Stewart, he embarked on a mission to hear what global warming activists were doing and to put himself at their disposal. The fruit of this is contained in the final 1/3rd of the film as he shows up at the Climate Change Conference that took place in Cancun in 2010 where he was appalled to learn from activists that his native country was the world’s leading polluter. On their behalf, he accepted the Swiftian inspired “Fossil of the Day” award for Canada, a country that is host to the Alberta Tar Sands drilling sites. Activists have fought to close it for the same reasons that activists oppose fracking in the USA: it despoils the land and water while it increases global warming. It is the source of the natural gas that would have been transported by the Keystone XL pipeline, which was overruled by Obama but remains a threat to the environment as long as big oil and gas interests continue to buy politicians. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said she was “inclined” to approve Keystone XL. Does anybody think that she will do anything differently as President?

Largely as a result of the publication of books like Elizabeth Colbert’s “The Sixth Extinction” and Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”, as well as a myriad of scientific reports warning about the collapse of human and animal life as the 21st century stumbles forward on a path of environmental degradation, a debate has opened up on the left about what our response should be.

In the collection “Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth”, Eddie Yuen takes issue with an “apocalyptic” streak in exactly such articles since they lead to fear and paralysis. A good deal of his article appears to take issue with the sort of analysis developed by Naomi Klein, a bugbear to many convinced of the need to defend “classical” Marxism against fearmongering. Klein is a convenient target but the criticisms could easily apply as well to Mike Davis whose reputation is unimpeachable.

Klein’s latest book has served to focus the debate even more sharply as her critics accuse her of letting capitalism off the hook. This is not how Swedish scholar Andreas Malm views Klein’s work. In an article on “The Anthropocene Myth” that appeared in Jacobin, Malm credits Klein with laying bare “the myriad ways in which capital accumulation, in general, and its neoliberal variant, in particular, pour fuel on the fire now consuming the earth system.”

He sees Klein as an alternative to those who believe that “humankind is the new geological force transforming the planet beyond recognition, chiefly by burning prodigious amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas.” Some who share this belief, according to Malm, are Marxists.

Those who adhere to the Anthropocene myth tend to elevate the use of fire as a kind of original sin. Malm quotes Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill: “The mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.”

This evokes the myth of Prometheus, the Greek god who was punished for bestowing fire to mankind and who was admired by Karl Marx for the words that Aeschylus attributed to him: “In simple words, I hate the pack of gods.”

While I am inclined to agree with Malm that it is the drive for profit that explains fracking and all the rest, and that the benefits of energy production are not shared equally among nations and social classes, there is still a need to examine “civilization”. If we can easily enough discard the notion of the “Anthropocene” as the cause of global warming, the task remains: how can the planet survive when the benefits of bestowing the benefits of “civilization” across the planet so that everyone can enjoy the lifestyle of a middle-class American (or German more recently) remains the goal of socialism?

Eddie Yuen was most likely alluding to this problematic by citing the 1970s Italian revolutionary graffitiL

Con la rivoluzione caviale per tutti.

(After the revolution, caviar for everyone.)

This is presented as an alternative to the call some theorists and activists for a “managed downsizing of the scale of industrial civilization.” Speaking in the name of the poor in the Global South, Yuen wonders why they should forsake automobiles, air conditioning and consumer goods in order to pay for the climate debt incurred by their former colonial masters.

Ironically, this was the same argument made in the NY Times on April 14th by Eduardo Porter in an article titled “A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development”. He refers to the West’s environmental priorities blocking the access to energy in countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia now flocking to China’s new infrastructure investment bank that will most certainly not be bothered by deforestation, river blockage by megadams, air pollution and other impediments to progress.

Porter is encouraged by the findings of the Breakthrough Institute in California that has issued an “Eco-modernist Manifesto” that, among other things, proposes the adoption of nuclear energy to reduce greenhouse emissions. Not surprisingly, the Breakthrough people urge the rapid expansion of agricultural technology in the countryside and the resettlement of displaced farmers into the city since that would reduce the environmental impact on the land by backward rural folk.

For a useful response to the Breakthrough Institute, you might read Steve Breyman’s CounterPunch article titled “Climate Change Messaging: Avoid the Truth”. Breyman is appalled by their support for nuclear energy and fracking, even if muffled.

While Eddie Yuen would certainly (I hope) not identify with such charlatans, I am afraid that there is a strain of techno-optimism that is shared by both parties. Yuen’s article is filled with allusions to Malthusianism, a tendency I have seen over the years from those who simply deny the existence of ecological limits. While there is every reason to reject Malthus’s theories, there was always the false hope offered by the Green Revolution that supposedly rendered them obsolete. In 1960 SWP leader Joseph Hansen wrote a short book titled “Too Many Babies” that looked to the Green Revolution as a solution to Malthus’s theory but it failed to account for its destructive tendencies, a necessary consequence of using chemicals and monoculture.

The real answer to Malthusianism is the reunification of city and countryside as called for by Karl Marx so as to provide crops with the natural fertilizers that were common before urban life became necessary for industrial production based on profit—in other words, capitalism. In the midst of the industrial revolution, the river Thames gave off a stench of human excrement that was unbearable for those living too close while wars were fought off the coast of Latin America to gain control of the guano necessary for crops. This contradiction persists to this day, even if it takes different forms.

Finally, on Eddie Yuen’s glib reference to caviar, there’s a need to understand that even if Malthus was wrong about food production, nature is not like the goose that laid the golden eggs. Caviar comes from sturgeons. The International for the Conservation of Nature  warns that they are more endangered than any other marine life:

Twenty seven species of sturgeon are on the IUCN Red List with 63 percent listed as Critically Endangered, the Red List’s highest category of threat. Four species are now possibly extinct.

Beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea is listed as Critically Endangered for the first time along with all of the other commercially important Caspian Sea species, which are the main producers of wild caviar. Beluga sturgeon populations have been decimated in part due to unrelenting exploitation for black caviar – the sturgeon’s unfertilized eggs – considered the finest in the world. The other species, Russian, stellate, Persian and ship sturgeon have also suffered declines due to overfishing as well as habitat degradation in the Caspian Sea region.

How will a future society guarantee everyone a comfortable and secure life? This question is not exactly germane to the struggles we are engaged with today, but there will come a time when our grandchildren or great-grandchildren will be forced to contend with it. To think of a way in which homo sapiens and the rest of the animal and vegetable world can co-exist, however, will become more and more urgent as people begin to discover that the old way of doing things is impossible. Films such as those reviewed in this article and the debate opened by Naomi Klein’s book and the question of “catastrophism” make this discussion more immediate than they have ever been. I look forward to seeing how the debate unfolds.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/17/water-capitalism-and-catastrophism/

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Preserving a Site and a Ghastly Inventory

CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

OSWIECIM, Poland — To visit Auschwitz is to find an unfathomable but strangely familiar place. After so many photographs and movies, books and personal testimonies, it is tempting to think of it as a movie-set death camp, the product of a gruesome cinematic imagination, and not the real thing.

Alas, it is the real thing.

That is why, since its creation in 2009, the foundation that raises money to maintain the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau has had a guiding philosophy: “To preserve authenticity.” The idea is to keep the place intact, exactly as it was when the Nazis retreated before the Soviet Army arrived in January 1945 to liberate the camp, an event that resonates on Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Thursday.

It is a moral stance with specific curatorial challenges. It means restoring the crumbling brick barracks where Jews and some others were interned without rebuilding those barracks, lest they take on the appearance of a historical replica. It means reinforcing the moss-covered pile of rubble that is the gas chamber at Birkenau, the extermination camp a few miles away, a structure that the Nazis blew up in their retreat. It means protecting that rubble from water seeping in from the adjacent ponds where the ashes of the dead were dumped.

Photo

A display of childrens’ shoes belonging to some of the victims of the camps.CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

And it means deploying conservators to preserve an inventory that includes more than a ton of human hair; 110,000 shoes; 3,800 suitcases; 470 prostheses and orthopedic braces; more than 88 pounds of eyeglasses; hundreds of empty canisters of Zyklon B poison pellets; patented metal piping and showerheads for the gas chambers; hundreds of hairbrushes and toothbrushes; 379 striped uniforms; 246 prayer shawls; more than 12,000 pots and pans carried by Jews who believed that they were simply bound for resettlement; and some 750 feet of SS documents — hygiene records, telegrams, architectural blueprints and other evidence of the bureaucracy of genocide — as well as thousands of memoirs by survivors.

The job can be harrowing and heartbreaking, but it is often performed out of a sense of responsibility.

“We are doing something against the initial idea of the Nazis who built this camp,” said Anna Lopuska, 31, who is overseeing a long-term master plan for the site’s conservation. “They didn’t want it to last. We’re making it last.”

The strategy, she said, is “minimum intervention.” The point is to preserve the objects and buildings, not beautify them. Every year, as more survivors die, the work becomes more important. “Within 20 years, there will be only these objects speaking for this place,” she said.

The conservators are walking a less-trodden path in restoration. “We have more experience preserving a cathedral than the remains of an extermination camp,” said Piotr Cywinski, 43, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which runs the site. Auschwitz, he said, “is the last place where you can still effectively take the measure of the spatial organization of the progression of the Shoah.”

Last year, a record 1.5 million people visited to take that measure, more than three times the number in 2001, putting even more strain on the aging buildings.

Between 1940 and 1945, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest of the death camps, 90 percent of them Jews. The camp encompasses 500 acres, 155 buildings and 300 ruins.

Over the years, there have been dissenting views about the preservationist approach. “I’m not convinced about the current plans for Auschwitz,” saidJonathan Webber, a former member of the International Auschwitz Council of advisers, who teaches in the European Studies program at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. “If you have a very good memorial, you could achieve that without having to have all this effort on conservation and restoration,” he added.

The preservation lab, with high-end technology, opened in 2003. One afternoon last week, Nel Jastrzebiowska, 37, a paper conservator, was using a rubber eraser to clean a row of papers in files. They were letters on Auschwitz stationery, written in German in rosy prose designed to slip past the censors. “I’m in good health,” one read, adding, “Send me money.”

On a nearby table sat the second horn part to Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien (Op. 45), which had been played by the death camp’s orchestra. Ms. Jastrzebiowska would preserve the page as it was, she said, and keep the smudges showing that the pages had been turned. “The objects must show their own history,” said Jolanta Banas-Maciaszczyk, 36, the leader of the preservation department.

“We can’t stop time,” Ms. Jastrzebiowska said. “But we can slow it down.”

Photo

Visitors to the site crossing the railway line by the ramp where those arriving at the camp disembarked. CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

Ms. Jastrzebiowska’s husband, Andrzej Jastrzebiowski, 38, is a metal conservator. He spent three months cleaning all the eyeglasses in a vitrine, preserving their distressed state but trying to prevent them from corroding further. “When I saw the eyeglasses in the exhibition, I saw it as one big pile,” he said. But in the lab, he began to examine them one by one. One had a screw replaced by a bent needle; another had a repaired temple. “And then this enormous mass of glasses started becoming people,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said. This “search for the individual,” he said, helps ensure that the work does not become too routine.

In 2009, the infamous metal sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work makes you free,” which hangs over the entrance gate, was stolen. It was found several days later elsewhere in Poland, cut into three parts. (A Swede with neo-Nazi ties and two Poles were later charged with the crime.) Mr. Jastrzebiowski helped weld the sign back into one piece. But the scars from the welding told the story of the sign’s theft more than of its long history, and so the museum decided it would be more authentic to replace the damaged sign with a substitute.

The conservators have an easy camaraderie, but sometimes their task can become too much to bear. “Working with shoes probably is one of the most difficult parts of working here,” Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said. Everyone here has emotional moments. For her, it was a day when she was cleaning a little girl’s wooden sandal. She could see the small footprint inside. “This is something hard to describe,” she said. From 1940 to 1945, between 150,000 and 200,000 children died here.

Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said her mother thought she was crazy to come work at Auschwitz. “There are moments when I think, What am I doing here?” she acknowledged. But then she thinks of the bigger picture. “Everyone who works here must feel this importance,” she said. “If we didn’t feel that, no force would make us stay here.”

Kamil Bedkowski, 33, worked as an art conservator in Britain for eight years, even restoring ceiling frescoes at Windsor Castle. Now he is on the team shoring up the crumbling brick barracks of Birkenau where thousands slept at a time, crammed into decaying three-level wooden bunks. “This is the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” he said.

Almost all the conservators here are Polish and studied conservation at Polish universities — this is, after all, a Polish state museum, which employs some 287 people, plus 264 guides who operate in some 18 languages.

Most conservators are under 40, young enough not to feel any sense of responsibility for the Second World War — “It’s not our fault that the camp was built here,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said — but old enough to have heard stories from their parents and grandparents. Few have any regular contact with Jews who aren’t survivors or visitors.

Despite the spirit of freezing the site in time, some exhibits have been redesigned in recent years — the Russian Federation’s tells the story of Russian political prisoners here; those of the Netherlands and France and Belgium talk about the fate of their Jews; the exhibit dedicated to the Sinti and Roma present the often-neglected story of those peoples murdered here. The Polish exhibit is colored by the country’s Communist past.

The new Jewish pavilion opened in 2013. It was designed by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It shows black-and-white films of Jewish life in Europe before the war, then of Hitler’s rallies. In one room, the Israeli artist Michal Rovner has copied children’s drawings from the camp onto the wall. In another, all the names of the six million Holocaust dead are printed on a long row of pages, their edges yellowing from human touch.

The permanent exhibitions here will be updated over the next decade to include more evidence focusing bearing on the perpetrators, not just their victims. In the collection’s storage is a box with neat rows of red-handled rubber SS stamps conserved in acid-free boxes. These will eventually go on view. This is part of the long-term plan by the museum, aided by the foundation, which has raised nearly 120 million euros, or about $130 million, about half of it donated by Germany, to ensure conservation in perpetuity.

The museum has decided not to conserve one thing: the mass of human hair that fills a vast vitrine. Over the years, the hair has lost its individual colors and has begun to gray. Out of respect for the dead, it cannot be photographed. Several years ago, the International Auschwitz Council of advisers had an agonizing debate about the hair. Some suggested burying it. Others wanted to conserve it. But one adviser raised a point: How can we know if its original owners are dead or alive? Who are we to determine its fate?

It was decided to let the hair decay, on its own, in the vitrine, until it turns to dust.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/16/arts/international/at-auschwitz-birkenau-preserving-a-site-and-a-ghastly-inventory.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0#