Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mexico Is the New Syria. Say What?



Chances are you've holidayed there. No, not Syria, Mexico. That Mexico, our NAFTA partner. Which makes it all the more troubling that Mexico is poised to overtake Syria as the most violent country on the planet.

In total, Mexico recorded 9,916 murders in the first five months of 2017, roughly a 30 percent increase over the same period last year. Reports say that in states like Guerrero, just south of Mexico City – where drug gangs fight for control of the heroin trade – morgues have been unable to handle the number of corpses.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a U.K.-based think tank, claimed in 2016 that Mexico had recorded more than 23,000 homicides, putting it just behind Syria in the list of the world’s most violent countries. The Mexican government questioned the decision to include Mexico in the Armed Conflict Survey, saying “the existence of criminal groups is not a sufficient criterion to speak of a non-international armed conflict.”

Despite this objection, the rate at which homicides are taking place has undoubtedly been increasing. In contrast, the death toll in Syria, which is still in the grip of a bloody civil war, has been on the decline. According to the latest figures from the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, fatalities as a result of the conflict fell from 1,171 in May 2016, to 665 in May 2017.

Mexico has been in the grip of a war on drugs since then-President Felipe Calderón came to power in December 2006, immediately deploying tens of thousands of troops onto the streets in an attempt to crack down on drug activity by the cartels. However, corruption within the security forces undermined the effort and led to more deaths — leading to public mistrust in the scheme. By the time Calderon left office six years later, his brutal war had seen the murder count soar to well over 20,000 per year.

I've wanted to do one more motorcycle journey to southern Mexico but that's simply not feasible any more.  Too bad. Just a few years ago it was a wonderful country to ride.



Is It Time to Topple the Neoliberal Order?



Has neoliberalism finally run its course? Are Western countries poised to move their political centre back to the progressive left? What we're seeing underway in Britain may point the way to the future.

Guardian columnist Owen Jones writes that the old Tory order is crumbling:

The political consensus established by Margaret Thatcher’s Tories – neoliberalism, for want of a more sexy word – is disintegrating. It is going the same way as the postwar social democratic consensus established by Clement Attlee, which fell apart in the late 1970s. That model – public ownership, high taxes on the rich, strong trade unions – delivered an unparalleled increase in living standards and economic growth. A surge in oil prices, and the collapse of the Bretton Woods international financial framework, helped bring that era to an end. The death of this political consensus was increasingly obvious at the time: its morbid symptoms were everywhere. Those who wanted to keep it together were powerless against the incoming tide of history. “There are times, perhaps once every 30 years, when there is a sea change in politics,” said Labour’s James Callaghan, days before he was ousted from No 10 by Thatcher. “It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.”
...

If any episode sums up the collapse of our own neoliberal era, it is surely Grenfell Tower. The right decry the “politicisation” of this human-made disaster, but to avoid talking about the politics of this calamity is like trying to understand rain without discussing weather, or illness without biology.

The Tories are desperately attempting to shore up a system that has engineered the longest squeeze in wages since the Napoleonic wars, with deteriorating public services, mediocre privatised utilities, a NHS plunged into “humanitarian crisis”, and exploding debt. It can’t even provide affordable, comfortable and safe housing for millions of its own citizens. It is incapable of meeting the needs and aspirations of the majority. The right, therefore, is left with a dilemma. It can either double down and make the ideological case for its failings and increasingly rejected system, or it can concede ground. That’s what Labour did 40 years ago. In 1977, Callaghan formally renounced Keynesianism, arguing that the option of “spending our way out of recession no longer existed”, and had only ever worked by “injecting bigger and bigger doses of inflation into the economy”. The Tories may well now try abandoning cuts in favour of investment; but surrendering ground to the enemy didn’t save Labour back then.
...

Nothing scares Britain’s vested interests more than a politicised, mobilised population. Our social order is tottering, but it can continue to disintegrate, with painful consequences, for a long time. A new society intolerant of injustice and inequality can be created. But only the biggest mass movement in Britain’s history can make it so.

But what of Canada where neoliberalism has become the political orthodoxy of all our mainstream parties, the NDP included? Trudeau had an opportunity to wean Canada off neoliberalism by reinstating progressive democracy but instead declared himself a confirmed globalist. Perhaps that explains why his government beat such a shameful retreat from its solemn promise of electoral reform.

For anyone who believes that neoliberalism/globalist free market fundamentalism is some divine wisdom carved in tablets of stone you would do well to read John Ralston Saul's discussion of economic models in his 2005 book, The Collapse of Globalism, demonstrates that the current political-economic order, like all the models before it, is rooted in ideology. Like a religion it is essentially faith based which accounts for neoliberalism's longevity beyond the point of its failure. Even the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have proclaimed it a failure. So too did its guru, Milton Friedman, prior to his death. Yet its disciples, its true believers, including our current and past prime ministers still cling tenaciously to it.

The Guardian scribe, Owen Jones, is correct. It's going to take a mass movement to topple the high priests of neoliberalism. That's as true for Canada as it is for Britain.







Move Over


It was sometime around mid-May that the world's population broke the 7.5 billion mark.

In the 12,000 year history of civilization, it took most of that time, almost all of it in fact, for humankind to reach one billion, sometime around 1814. When I was born that one billion had swelled to a record 2.5 billion. In one lifetime, my own, that record has been broken by a factor of three.

Now it's predicted we'll add another half billion by 2023, barely another 6 years. 8 billion by 2023. Can you see where this is going?

The world’s population will break through the 8 billion mark in 2023, there are more men than women, and next year the number of over 60s will top 1 billion for the first time, according to the latest findings and forecasts from the United Nations annual population survey.

More than half of the global population growth by 2050 will come from sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility rates will persist at levels far higher than in the rest of the world, the UN predictions released on Wednesday show.

But wait, there's more. There's always more. By 2050 the population is expected to be 9.8 billion. That would be net growth of over 7 billion in just one century.

Here's the thing. Even if you have a reasonable expectation of still being around in 2050, I don't think you'll see mankind's numbers anywhere near 10 billion. My guess is that we'll see a massive, global collapse long before then. 

We're already consuming Earth's resources at 1.7 times the planet's carrying capacity. We, you and me, mankind are absolutely dependent on our biosphere providing more than it produces, much more. Earth Overshoot Day this year will be another record, falling on August 2nd. We're exceeding our planet's resource capacity sooner every year and the planet is looking awfully worn out.

In case you're wondering what may be in store in the next decade or two, the people who calculate Overshoot Day each year worked out that mankind first exceeded our then still healthy Earth's resource carrying capacity in the early 70s when we passed the three billion mark. We've been degrading the hell out of the place ever since.  Assuming that Earth could again sustain a human population of three billion, how do we get from eight billion down to three in a decade, maybe a bit more?




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Worth a Look



Elon Musk has released his vision for colonizing Mars. I'm a skeptic but he does make some interesting points. Musk has plainly done a lot of homework. I, like most of us, have done virtually nil.

Musk wants to make humans a multi-planetary species. He admits it's a long shot with grave risks but argues that the alternative is eventual extinction of humanity on Earth. What do you think?

This Won't Set Well With the Donald




Who can forget the glory days when Donald Trump bragged about putting the kibosh on plans by Ford to build its Focus compact cars in Mexico? He sure straightened them out, didn't he - pilgrim?

The Ford Focus will not be built in Mexico. It will be built in China and those compact cars will then be sold in the United States of Murca.

Ford already makes some Focus cars in China, but starting in 2019, Ford Focus cars sold in North America will be made there, too. It will mark the first time the automaker will make cars in China and export them back to the United States.

After the switch is completed, China will produce most of the company's Focuses, with some coming from Europe as well.

The move will save the car company $1 billion US, including $500 million from cancelling a new plant in Mexico that was intended to build the Focus.

But who can forget this, Trump the Jyna-Slayer:

“I beat the people from China. I win against China. You can win against China if you’re smart. But our people don’t have a clue. We give state dinners to the heads of China. I said why are you doing state dinners for them? They’re ripping us left and right. Just take them to McDonald’s and go back to the negotiating table,” Trump said in July 2015.

Canada's Energy Policy - Flying At the Speed of Stall.



BC's Christy Clark had fantasies of massive tankers ferrying liquid natural gas to eager markets in Asia.  Every Alberta premier since Peter Lougheed and every recent Canadian prime minister has had similar wet dreams about vast wealth to be had for allowing foreigners to extract and export Athabasca bitumen. Surely China, wonderful China, was simply waiting to bury us in their mighty yuan.

Maybe not.

Reuters reports that China is experiencing petro-bloat.

Some of China's top oil refineries are having to take the highly unusual step of cutting operations during what is typically the peak demand summer season when hot weather drives up power usage and families take to the road during school holidays.

Almost 10 percent of China's refining capacity is set to be shut down during the third quarter, signaling that demand growth from the world's top crude importer is stuttering further.

West African and European suppliers are already feeling the chill from China's reduced demand, and a global glut has dragged spot prices for crude this week to their lowest since November, 2016.

Major Chinese oil refineries, including PetroChina's Jinzhou will set their run rates around 6,500 barrels per day (bpd) lower than the second quarter, sources at the affected refineries said.

Petrochina's Fushun refinery, with an annual capacity of 233,200 bpd, began a 45-day full shutdown at the start of June, the sources said on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to media.

Rival Sinopec is considering slashing as much as 230,000 bpd, equivalent to about 5 percent of its average daily production last year, in what would be only the second time in 16 years that the firm has cut runs.

Imagine Canada having to compete with China across the rest of Asia Pacific.

To whittle down the surplus weighing on the domestic market, analysts expect China to export refined product, putting more pressure on a well supplied global markets.

"China will have to export product... onto Asian markets, which given demand conditions regionally does not appear particularly constructive," said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity strategy at French bank BNP Paribas.





Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How Hot Is It?



Too damned hot for planes, that's how hot.

Officials at the Phoenix, Arizona airport say 40 flights have been cancelled because some airplanes aren't designed to fly when temperatures hit 49 degrees Celsius today. The superheated air is just too thin to generate enough lift for airliners such as Bombardier's CRJ class.

It's a well-known problem - a 2016 report from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) even warned that higher temperatures caused by climate change could "have severe consequences for aircraft take-off performance, where high altitudes or short runways limit the payload or even the fuel-carrying capacity".

Those problems are why many countries in the Middle East, and some high-altitude airports in South America, tend to schedule long flights for the evening or night, when it is cooler.


Today's cancellations at Phoenix airport come just a day after the publication of a new study from Dr. Mora at the University of Hawaii warning of a significant increase in heatwave intensity and frequency around the world. 

Because It's 2017


According to a national pollution inventory, large polluters discharge millions of kilograms of toxic substances into the Canadian environment annually, yet the Toronto Public Library collects more fines for overdue books each year than the federal government collected from polluters over the first 25 years that CEPA was in force.

I don't know about you but it doesn't sound to me like the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, CEPA, is working. Ask any Toronto librarian.

Three Canadian law profs are calling on the industry-friendly Trudeau government to implement proposed reforms to CEPA recommended by the Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

As law professors who have studied the regulation of toxic chemicals in Canada for many years, we urge Parliament to embrace these recommendations as a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Implementation would make the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) more effective in preventing pollution and protecting all Canadians from the risks posed by toxins in the environment. As it stands, air pollution kills 7,000 Canadians every year, but Canada is the only wealthy industrialized national that lacks enforceable national standards for air quality.

...

One such proposal is the creation of new enforcement tools and an increased budget to make sure that polluters pay, not the public.

Another critical proposal is the reversal of the burden of proof for substances of very high concern, such as carcinogens like asbestos and benzene, and chemicals that do not break down in the environment and build up in the food chain, like musk xylene.

Chemicals are not people: they shouldn't be presumed innocent.

Under existing law, those who want to restrict use of a chemical must prove harm to humans or the environment. This is fundamentally backwards. The burden of proof should fall on those who seek to profit from the manufacture or use of the chemical.

...

Canadians are increasingly exposed to toxics through air and water pollution, and in our everyday use of such consumer products as plastics, electronics, furniture that contains the chemical compound Bisphenol A, flame retardants, and other substances. As it stands, the law allows government to do nothing, even once it classifies a substance as "toxic."

This means that the most privileged of us can shop our way out of toxic exposure, by living in the best neighbourhoods and buying all the right things, but everyone else — especially those socially or economically marginalized communities — are left to bear the toxic burdens. It's a phenomenon known as "environmental racism" or "environmental injustice," and is well-documented both in academic and journalistic literature.

One in four low-income Canadians, for example, lives within one kilometre of a major source of industrial air pollution, resulting in higher rates of hospitalization for heart disease and respiratory illnesses. Only one in 14 wealthy urban Canadians lives within one kilometre of such a facility. Indigenous people across Canada often have much higher body burdens of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other toxic chemicals.

...

CEPA is outdated and ineffective compared to chemical regulation in other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, which has stringent regulation to protect people and the environment from chemical health risks, and imposes the burden of proof on companies. In order to protect what thousands of Canadians argue is a right to live in a healthy environment, the law needs amendment, as the committee recognizes.

Canada is among a minority of countries that up until now has refused to recognize that its citizens have the right to live in a healthy environment. For background, the right to a healthy environment enjoys constitutional protection in at least 110 countries, and is a legal right in a total of more than 150 countries. Incorporating this right into CEPA, as the Committee recommends, would be a major breakthrough for Canada.


Do it Justin. Do it "because it's 2017." 

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Memoriam - Britain Enters the Brexit Zone


Theresa May plotted to enter Brexit negotiations with the E.U. full of hellfire and fury. Then she buggered up an opportunistic general election, losing the Tories their majority. As if that wasn't bad enough, May bungled the Greenfall tower catastrophe at one point being put to rout by an angry crowd. The Gods, it appears, have it in for Theresa May, prime minister pro tem.

Disasters, some say, come in threes and, sure enough, today begins the Brexit talks to negotiate Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. Here's how The Guardian's Martin Rowson captures the moment:


According to Der Spiegel, the E.U. team has suddenly lost their fear of Britain's would-be Iron Lady II.  Some believe the Brexit baby may be stillborn.

"The country looks ridiculous," the Financial Times -- not exactly a leftist mouthpiece -- wrote recently. Indeed, the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher has turned into a gaggle of high rollers and unwitting clowns.

Great Britain may be an island, but economically it is the most interconnected country in Europe: The financial center in London, the country's carmakers, what's left of British industry and even the country's infrastructure. France delivers electricity, water sanitation facilities in southern England belong to Germans and large airports such as Heathrow are owned by Spaniards. One quarter of the doctors who keep afloat the NHS -- Britain's comparatively deficient health care system -- come from the Continent.

The promise of Brexit was steeped in ideology from the very beginning, a fairy tale based on dark chauvinism. The Spanish Armada, Napoleon, Hitler and now the Polish plumbers who allegedly push down wages -- when in reality they ensured that, after decades of lukewarmly dripping showers, the country's bathrooms gradually returned to functionality. Brexit was never a particularly good idea. Now, following the most recent election, Brexit is defunct. That, at least, is what a member of Theresa May's cabinet intimated last weekend. "In practical terms, Brexit is dead," an unnamed minister told the Financial Times.






Where Trump Goes Lawyer Shopping. Where Else? FOX News, That's Where.



The bizarre story of how Donald Trump found his personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow from Salon.com. 

Last week The Washington Post dropped one of the biggest bombshells of the Russia scandal to date when it published a story with five different sources saying that that special counsel Robert Mueller was looking into President Donald Trump’s actions related to the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. The sources were anonymous so the White House could have easily made no comment and let its outside surrogates construct some “alternative facts,” if only to buy some time.

Then the president, up in the middle of the night — probably obsessively watching “the shows” on his TiVo — took to Twitter to admit that he was under investigation and he seemed to blame it on the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. By confirming that he was under investigation, Trump moved the story along substantially for no good reason. But that’s him. He is congenitally unable to keep his cool.

It had been widely reported that Trump has been unable to hire any top law firms to represent him because they believe he is likely to shoot off his mouth against their advice. According to Yahoo News, one lawyer said the concerns were as follows: “The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen.” So after Comey’s last public testimony, Trump unleashed his longtime private lawyer Marc Kasowitz to rebut the charges and it wasn’t a smooth performance.

The president apparently decided he needed someone with a little bit more experience in Washington. Since all the A-list defense attorneys were “unavailable” to come to the president’s defense, he had to turn to the right-wing fever swamps and a man named Jay Sekulow, a familiar presence for viewers of Fox News.
...

Why would Donald Trump hire a right-wing First Amendment lawyer rather than a defense attorney? Well, it’s obviously because Sekulow is a “legal analyst” for Fox News, which Trump watches obsessively. He likely saw Sekulow “defend” him on TV one night and decided he’d be a good “defense” lawyer.





Maybe I'll Stick With Dreary and Cold


My daughter called me for Father's Day. Kind of a lousy day - grey, windy, damp, maybe 15 degrees Celsius. That was here on Vancouver Island, not in Dublin where she lives. In Dublin it was 29C and at nearly midnight to boot.

I was almost jealous of that lovely warmth. Almost. But I've come to realize that cool and damp is a pretty decent hand to be dealt these days. Lousy as it may seem it's better than most other places, including a 29C night in Dublin.

Now we're told to brace for a future of steadily worsening heatwaves around the world. Not uncomfortable heat. Deadly heat.

Nearly a third of the world’s population is now exposed to climatic conditions that produce deadly heatwaves, as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes it “almost inevitable” that vast areas of the planet will face rising fatalities from high temperatures, new research has found.

Climate change has escalated the heatwave risk across the globe, the study states, with nearly half of the world’s population set to suffer periods of deadly heat by the end of the century even if greenhouse gases are radically cut.

“For heatwaves, our options are now between bad or terrible,” said Camilo Mora, an academic at the University of Hawaii and lead author of the study.

Oh, our old friend, Dr. Mora, whose team of researchers introduced us to the daunting prospect of "climate departure" predicted to begin setting in within the next five or six years.

High temperatures are currently baking large swaths of the south-western US, with the National Weather Service (NWS) issuing an excessive heat warning for Phoenix, Arizona, which is set to reach 119F (48.3C) on Monday.

The heat warning extends across much of Arizona and up through the heart of California, with Palm Springs forecast a toasty 116F (46.6C) on Monday and Sacramento set to reach 107F (41.6C).

The NWS warned the abnormal warmth would “significantly increase the potential for heat-related illness” and advised residents to drink more water, seek shade and recognize the early symptoms of heat stroke, such as nausea and a racing pulse.

Mora’s research shows that the overall risk of heat-related illness or death has climbed steadily since 1980, with around 30% of the world’s population now living in climatic conditions that deliver deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year.

Heatwaves kill. Upwards of 70,000 Europeans are thought to have perished in the heatwave of 2003.

These heatwaves have introduced another weather phenomenon, "flash drought." This is the combination of intense heating triggering evapotranspiration coupled with minimal soil moisture. Crops wither and die in a matter of days.

The opposite of flash drought is "wet-bulb 35." Also known as the "human hothouse effect," this is where high heat and high humidity can combine to overwhelm and kill even young and fit people. The body loses its ability to cool itself through perspiration and then it's either find air conditioning or, well...









Bye, Bye, See Ya.



When is a daily newspaper not a daily? When it chooses to become something else, I suppose. Paul Godfrey's National Post is giving up on Mondays. There'll be no print edition on Monday - now and forever.

"The company says the decisions will put its National Post brands on a stronger financial footing." 

Sounds like a nice way of saying that NatPo is still bleeding out PostMedia revenues.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ask a Stupid Question, Get an Unwelcome Answer.



The Age of Trump has made some of us wonder if people are simply getting dumber. There's this inescapable, nagging feeling that people have become less intelligent. Sure, part of the answer has to be conditioning. More and more we're getting fed "dumbed-down" information from our electronic devices - televisions, tablets, cellphones and such. We get news on the fly often reduced to little more than a lead sentence or even just a headline. Maybe most of us think we're too busy to pursue events to any depth or to read several accounts of the same news item for perspective and accuracy.

I found myself asking the question again after delving into the plight of Tangier Island on Chesapeake Bay in the previous post.  What remains of the little island is being hammered by subsidence coupled with sea level rise and coastal erosion. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates the island could become uninhabitable within 20 to 25 years.

The Trump-loving people of Tangier Island are looking for help and none other than Donald Trump himself placed a call to the mayor, James "Ooker" Eskridge. Trump told Mayor "Ooker" not to worry about sea level rise. The island had been there for hundreds of years and Trump was sure it would be fine for hundreds of years to come.  That was good enough for the mayor who believes his island's problem isn't sea level rise. It's erosion. That sea level rise is causing the erosion problem is a reach too far for mayor Eskridge. I wondered just how dumb you have to be not to grasp that obvious connection. Tea Party dumb, I suppose.

So I Googled "is average intelligence in decline?"  The responses to that Google search were unanimous - yes, we're getting dumber by the decade.

Let's begin with Stanford geneticist, Dr.Gerald Crabtree.

According to his research, ...Dr. Crabtree thinks unavoidable changes in the genetic make-up coupled with modern technological advances has left humans, well, kind of stupid. He has recently published his follow-up analysis, and in it explains that of the roughly 5,000 genes he considered the basis for human intelligence, a number of mutations over the years has forced modern man to be only a portion as bright as his ancestors.

“New developments in genetics, anthropology and neurobiology predict that a very large number of genes underlie our intellectual and emotional abilities, making these abilities genetically surprisingly fragile,” he writes in part one of his research. “Analysis of human mutation rates and the number of genes required for human intellectual and emotional fitness indicates that we are almost certainly losing these abilities,” he adds in his latest report.

From there, the doctor goes on to explain that general mutations over the last few thousand years have left mankind increasingly unable to cope with certain situations that perhaps our ancestors would be more adapted to.

I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues. Furthermore, I would guess that he or she would be among the most emotionally stable of our friends and colleagues. I would also make this wager for the ancient inhabitants of Africa, Asia, India or the Americas, of perhaps 2000–6000 years ago. The basis for my wager comes from new developments in genetics, anthropology, and neurobiology that make a clear prediction that our intellectual and emotional abilities are genetically surprisingly fragile.”

Another study suggests we've taken quite a hit in I.Q. just since Victorian times.

...a provocative new study suggests human intelligence is on the decline. In fact, it indicates that Westerners have lost 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian Era.

What exactly explains this decline? Study co-author Dr. Jan te Nijenhuis, professor of work and organizational psychology at the University of Amsterdam, points to the fact that women of high intelligence tend to have fewer children than do women of lower intelligence. This negative association between I.Q. and fertility has been demonstrated time and again in research over the last century.

Meanwhile a study by the Brookings Institute and Tufts University tracked a sharp intellectual decline among U.S. Marine Corps officers since 1980.



In new research, Brookings’ Michael Klein and Tufts University’s Matthew Cancian—a former Marine officer who served in Afghanistan—take a closer look at this question and uncover a troubling pattern.

After analyzing test scores of 46,000 officers who took the Marine Corps’ required General Classification Test (GCT), Klein and Cancian find that the quality of officers in the Marines, as measured by those test scores, has steadily and significantly declined over the last 34 years.

Other key findings include:
Eighty-five percent of those taking the test in 1980 exceeded a score of 120, which was the cut-off score for officers in World War II. In 2014, only 59 percent exceeded that score.
At the upper end of the distribution, 4.9 percent of those taking the test scored above 150 in 1980 compared to 0.7 percent in 2014.
Over 34 years, the average score decreased by 6.6 percent, from 130.9 to 122.1.
Taken together, the 8.2-point drop in average score represents 80 percent of an entire standard deviation’s decline (from 10.5 in 1980 to 9.6 in 2014). In other words, today’s Marine officers scored nearly an entire standard deviation worse, on average, than their predecessors 34 years ago.

Semper Fi, guys.

At New Scientist the argument is made that, rather than worry about  idiocracy, the focus should be on restoring intellect by improving social conditions.

In some countries, the long rise in IQ scores has come to a halt, and there are even signs of a decline. The reason, according to a few researchers, is that improving social conditions have obscured an underlying decline in our genetic potential. Perhaps we are evolving to be stupid after all.

Many people will find that idea unpalatable. They can, for the moment, take solace in the knowledge that the evidence for such a genetic decline is as yet weak. The apparent reversal of the Flynn effect in a handful of countries could well be a blip rather than the start of a global trend (see “Brain drain: Are we evolving stupidity?“).

But we should keep an open mind. It could turn out that the decline is real but has nothing to do with genetic changes. It could be a warning sign that junk food is beginning to affect children’s development, or that educational reforms are having the wrong effects. So we should keep an eye on trends in intelligence. In fact, it would be stupid not to.

But there remains the question of what we are measuring. IQ is one measure of intelligence, but it is not the only one. And people with high IQ scores can still believe and do things that are irrational and illogical – in a word, stupid (New Scientist, 30 March 2013, page 30). Nor are people with high IQs necessarily the most successful or socially productive. Other qualities, including “grit”, self-control and mindset, are vital too (8 March 2014, page 30).

Given the grim precedents for judging people by poorly formed ideas about intelligence and heredity, we need to be sure about what’s going on before jumping to take action. What is clear already is that success in life is due as much to privilege as to intellect, despite what some rich people might prefer to believe. So for now, at least, we would do better to focus on helping poor people to overcome their disadvantages than to worry about the prospect of idiocracy.








The United States of Dumb and Dumber


It's hard to figure out who's dumber - the president of the United States or James "Ooker" Eskridge, the mayor of Tangier Island, Virginia in Chesapeake Bay.

The island boasts that its people voted 87% for Donald Trump last November. They're true believers or, as I tend to call them, Gullibillies.

Ooker went on CNN to plead with Donald Trump for help as his island, home to a minuscule population of 450, is hit by the triple whammy of subsidence, sea level rise and coastal erosion.

Mayor Eskridge was out on the water when he got word that his president wanted to have a word. When Eskridge got on the line, Trump's message was "don't worry, be happy."

"He[Trump] said not to worry about sea-level rise," Eskridge said. "He said, 'Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.'"


And that's good enough for Mayor Ooker Eskridge. Besides, his problem is erosion, not sea level rise. Apples and oranges, right?

"The sea level rise, I just don't see it," Eskridge said. "The reason we're focused on erosion is because we can see it. Erosion will take us away long before sea level rise will."
Still, he'd like the feds to pony up $30 million for a nice sea wall. That's thirty million of real free enterprise, capitalist money, not thirty million dollars of that socialism money.

Of course what Ooker doesn't get is that he's the poster boy for a bunch of communities up and down America's eastern seaboard where sea level rise is inflicting both inundation and erosion, just as it is on Tangier Island. And, if Congress gives Ooker $30-million it will have to cut cheques for a lot more for many other communities along the east coast.





Saturday, June 17, 2017

While America Takes Itself Down...


Has America taken a self-inflicted, mortal blow? Has it been brought down from within? Fareed Zakaria ponders the question that most Americans refuse to ask themselves.


Partisanship today is more about identity. Scholars Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have argued that, in the past few decades, people began to define themselves politically less by traditional economic issues than by identity — gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. I would add to this mix social class, something rarely spoken of in the United States but a powerful determinant of how we see ourselves. Last year’s election had a lot to do with social class, with non-college-educated rural voters reacting against a professional, urban elite.

The dangerous aspect of this new form of politics is that identity does not lend itself easily to compromise. When the core divide was economic, you could split the difference. If one side wanted to spend $100 billion and the other wanted to spend zero, there was a number in between. The same is true with tax cuts and welfare policy. But if the core issues are about identity, culture and religion (think of abortion, gay rights, Confederate monuments, immigration, official languages), then compromise seems immoral. American politics is becoming more like Middle Eastern politics, where there is no middle ground between being Sunni or Shiite.

I have seen this shift in the reactions to my own writing and my television show. When I started writing columns about two decades ago, the disagreements were often scathing but almost always about the substance of the issue. Increasingly there is little discussion about the substance, mostly ad hominem attacks, often involving my race, religion or ethnicity.

This may not be something that can be mended, healed or cured. With every American blunder and misstep, rivals are moving in to exploit the inevitable power vacuum.  When Trump axed the Trans Pacific Partnership, China was there to move in. Now Beijing's "Belt and Road" initiative is crossing South Asia and heading for the Middle East and on into Africa. Chinese banks are now the numbers one and two foreign lenders in Latin America. With Trump's snub of Cuba China is apparently expected to piggyback on any Russian move to re-establish its presence in Cuba.

These changes in geopolitical spheres of power are not easily undone. Perhaps not even another leader of the international stature of Barack Obama could patch the holes Trump has driven into America's bilges, especially not if the American people and their political caste remain so paralytically divided.






The Philosopher Prophet of the Anthropocene



An intriguing article in The Guardian about a young man, Timothy Morton, described as the first philosopher for our new geological epoch, the Anthropocene.


Part of what makes Morton popular are his attacks on settled ways of thinking. His most frequently cited book, Ecology Without Nature, says we need to scrap the whole concept of “nature”. He argues that a distinctive feature of our world is the presence of ginormous things he calls “hyperobjects” – such as global warming or the internet – that we tend to think of as abstract ideas because we can’t get our heads around them, but that are nevertheless as real as hammers. He believes all beings are interdependent, and speculates that everything in the universe has a kind of consciousness, from algae and boulders to knives and forks. He asserts that human beings are cyborgs of a kind, since we are made up of all sorts of non-human components; he likes to point out that the very stuff that supposedly makes us us – our DNA – contains a significant amount of genetic material from viruses. He says that we’re already ruled by a primitive artificial intelligence: industrial capitalism. At the same time, he believes that there are some “weird experiential chemicals” in consumerism that will help humanity prevent a full-blown ecological crisis.
...

The term Anthropocene, from the Ancient Greek word anthropos, meaning “human”, acknowledges that humans are the major cause of the earth’s current transformation. Extreme weather, submerged cities, acute resource shortages, vanished species, lakes turned to deserts, nuclear fallout: if there is still human life on earth tens of thousands of years from now, societies that we can’t imagine will have to grapple with the changes we are wreaking today. Morton has noted that 75% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at this very moment will still be there in half a millennium. That’s 15 generations away. It will take another 750 generations, or 25,000 years, for most of the those gases to be absorbed into the oceans.
...

The Anthropocene is not only a period of manmade disruption. It is also a moment of blinking self-awareness, in which the human species is becoming conscious of itself as a planetary force. We’re not only driving global warming and ecological destruction; we know that we are.

One of Morton’s most powerful insights is that we are condemned to live with this awareness at all times. It’s there not only when politicians gather to discuss international environmental agreements, but when we do something as mundane as chat about the weather, pick up a plastic bag at the supermarket or water the lawn. We live in a world with a moral calculus that didn’t exist before. Now, doing just about anything is an environmental question. That wasn’t true 60 years ago – or at least people weren’t aware that it was true. Tragically, it is only by despoiling the planet that we have realised just how much a part of it we are.
...

“There you are, turning the ignition of your car,” he writes. “And it creeps up on you.” Every time you fire up your engine you don’t mean to harm the Earth, “let alone cause the Sixth Mass Extinction Event in the four-and-a-half billion-year history of life on this planet”. But “harm to Earth is precisely what is happening”. Part of what’s so uncomfortable about this is that our individual acts may be statistically and morally insignificant, but when you multiply them millions and billions of times – as they are performed by an entire species – they are a collective act of ecological destruction. Coral bleaching isn’t just occurring over yonder, on the Great Barrier Reef; it’s happening wherever you switch on the air conditioning. In short, Morton says, “everything is interconnected”.














Terry May On the Run - To Where?


After her party's disastrous performance in an unnecessary election entirely of her own choosing, Brit prime minister, Theresa May has been on shaky ground as she struggled to cobble together some sort of coalition, no questions asked.

Then came the Grenfell fire in otherwise posh Kensington where a death trap 24-storey highrise went up in flames claiming, so far, 30 (now 58?) lives and climbing. May eventually tried to meet with protesters but was quickly forced to retreat:


Then the papers, like the locals, turned on their prime minister.







Well, the ancient Greeks warned that Hubris was usually followed by Nemesis.

Meanwhile, Der Spiegel reports that European leaders have suddenly lost their fear of Britain and its would-be "iron lady." 


Fear sounded like respect and influence -- and, more than anything, like good deals. But now, after two catastrophic elections in less than a year, that is over. Completely.

"The country looks ridiculous," the Financial Times -- not exactly a leftist mouthpiece -- wrote recently. Indeed, the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher has turned into a gaggle of high rollers and unwitting clowns.

First came Boris Johnson, who vociferously supported Brexit last year to show his boss, Prime Minister David Cameron, what an outstanding orator he was even though he, Johnson, didn't really want Brexit. They both went all in, and the country lost.





Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But, Really, Just Don't Ask.



Who is buying Trump property? Who knows? Not you and not me.   A USA Today investigation finds that something has changed since the inauguration with those who've been buying property from the Trump gang.


Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies’ real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.

USA TODAY journalists have spent six months cataloging every condo, penthouse or other property that Trump and his companies own – and tracking the buyers behind every transaction. The investigation found Trump’s companies owned more than 430 individual properties worth well over $250 million.

...

The increasing share of opaque buyers comes at a time when federal investigators, members of Congress and ethics watchdogs are asking questions about Trump's sales and customers in the U.S. and around the world. Some Congressional Democrats have been asking for more detail about buyers of Trump’s domestic real estate since USA TODAY’s initial report.

Their concern is that the secretive sales create an extraordinary and unprecedented potential for people, corporations or foreign interests to try to influence a President. Anyone who wanted to court favor with the President could snap up multiple properties or purposefully overpay, without revealing their identity publicly.

The real estate cache, which Trump has never fully revealed and is not required by law to disclose, offers unique opportunity for anyone to steer money to a sitting President. The increase in purchasers shielded by LLCs makes it far more difficult to track who is paying the President and his companies for properties ranging in price from $220,000 to $10 million – or more.

Friday, June 16, 2017

What, Engines Fail?



A brand, spanking new oil tanker has grounded in sand near Cornwall in the St. Lawrence. Fortunately the weather is clear and the waters of the St. Lawrence are placid where the tanker Damia Desgagnes now sits at anchor.

The tanker was travelling west from Montreal to the Lake Erie community of Nanticoke in Ontario when the engine failed, according to Serge Le Guellec, the president of Transport Desgagnés, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Groupe Desgagnés.

After the engine failed, the ship drifted and ended with its nose grounded on sand about three nautical miles east of Iroquois, Ont., Le Guellec said.

The tanker is less than a year old, and Le Guellec said it only recently launched from a European shipyard. It's not known what caused the engine failure.

The good news is that the Damia Desgagnes is a lake tanker, not an ocean going behemoth. It's resting safely on a sandy bottom and not imperilled by rocky coastlines and underwater projections of the sort that ripped the bottom out of the B.C. Ferry Queen of the North and sent her to the bottom 600 feet down.  And all the little tanker has to contend with is the steady current of the St. Lawrence, not by treacherous Pacific storms, tides and currents.

The lesson is whether it's the Damia Desgagnes or a supertanker heavily laden with dilbit as it navigates through treacherous waters, engines can fail, steering can fail, fires can occur along with many other hazards that can cause a ship to flounder.

And that's why we don't want an armada of hazmat supertankers laden with toxic bitumen plying the very difficult waters of the Pacific coast.