Thursday, February 28, 2013

Australia Orders Another Two Dozen F-18 Super Hornets

Another apparent setback for the F-35 light attack bomber.   The Pentagon has informed Congress of plans to sell twelve more F-18 E/F Super Hornets plus a dozen electronic warfare F-18 Growlers to Australia.   The two dozen jets, including the electronically sophisticated Growlers, will come in at around $3.6 billion including parts, training and logistical support.

In 2007, concerned about delays and cost overruns in the F-35 programme and faced with the need to retire aging F-111s, Australia opted to buy an initial batch of 24 Super Hornets.

Ugly Problems Loom for F-35 Light Bomber

Australia is becoming nervous about the planned purchase of 100 Lockheed F-35 light strike bombers.

The fighter's soaring costs have produced rising consternation in Australia, with a number of politicians questioning whether the air force can afford to purchase the 100 fifth-generation stealth aircraft it initially intended to buy.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, principal executive of the Pentagon's JSF Program Office, candidly addressed the issue of F-35 cost overruns recently met with Australian defense officials at the Avalon air show in Melbourne, Victoria.
Bogdan said that his survey of the JSF program had uncovered "ugly" problems with the program but that his office had sought to have the F-35 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, to share the costs of fixing faults and covering delays, The Australian reported Thursday.
"You hear Lockheed Martin keep talking about $65 million, $67 million. Well, guess what? That's the cost back in 2004 or 2003. Who cares about that? I want to know what it costs the day I buy it," Bogdan said.

...former Australian Labor Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon criticized Australian air force commanders for their "obsession" with the F-35, saying: "I think there is an almost obsession with the JSF within the uniformed ranks. This is their brand new toy."
CBC is reporting that Lockheed's stumbles have led Boeing to push hard for Canada to choose the F-18 E/F Super Hornet instead.   Not only is Boeing able to offer the Super Hornet at half the price of the F-35 but they're able to show that per hour operating costs also come in at half that of the F-35.   Factor in other Hornet advantages - twin engine reliability and survivability, a higher sortie generation rate, an ability to perform a wider range of missions, and the Canadian Forces' familiarity with the basic airframe and systems and the F-35 begins to make very little sense at all.

As it stands, the official estimate for a fleet of 65 F-35s is that they will cost $9 billion to buy and almost $37 billion to operate over the next 42 years. So, a total of just under $46 billion. If Boeing's figures hold up, the Super Hornets would cost about half that.
The math is easy, but the result is eye-popping nonetheless. It's a saving of up to $23 billion.

This Is Truly Mind Bending

Researchers have found that it's possible to electronically link the brains of two lab rats even across vast distances.

Scientists have wired the brains of two rats together and shown that signals from one rat’s brain can help the second rat solve a problem it would otherwise have no clue how to solve.

The rats were in different cages with no way to communicate other than through the electrodes implanted in their brains. The transfer of information from brain to brain even worked with two rats separated by thousands of kilometers, one in a lab in North Carolina and another in a lab in Brazil.

“We basically created a computational unit out of two brains,” says neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, who led the study.

The brain-to-brain communication link enables the rats to collaborate in a novel way, he says. ”The animals compute by mutual experience,” he said. ”It’s a computer that evolves, that’s not set by instructions or an algorithm.”

Wait until the military applications of brain to brain communications emerge.   Imagine a platoon of soldiers, their brains electronically linked to their sergeant's.   Or imagine yourself being linked to some intellectual genius, a "master brain."  Thought Control anyone?

Brave New World indeed.

Mama, Print Me Up a Gun

The incredible, printed assault rifle.  It's not just good for six rounds any more.

Now the whole gun isn't made through 3D printing.   The barrel, for example, is a true, metal component.   That doesn't matter.   Barrels are just a machined, metal tube.   What is important is the "receiver" or the "action."   They're the moving parts that load bullets into the barrel, fire them and eject spent casings before reloading.   That's the guts of a modern instrument of mass mayhem and that's what you can produce with 3D printing.

The first attempt lasted just 6-rounds.  The new and improved model in this video fired 600-rounds.  Christ on a crutch!

Rob Ford is At It Again?

I'm a long way from Toronto, a good long way, and people like mayor Rob Ford make me kind of grateful for that.   Distance also let me avoid taking part in any of the commentary on Ford's recent legal troubles.   Besides he emerged out of it seemingly contrite and said he'd learned his lesson.

Then it emerges he's back at it again, sending hand-signed letters to lobbyists soliciting funding for his football foundation.

Andy Manahan, executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, said he received a letter on Jan. 28 — only three days after Ford won his appeal in the conflict of interest saga that began with his decision to solicit donations from lobbyists in 2009.

Manahan first registered as a lobbyist in 2008. He said he is currently lobbying on an entirely uncontroversial issue, improving the procurement process, and that he finds this Ford “indiscretion” less serious than others he believes Ford has committed.

But he added: “You never know what a mayor’s office could do to put a monkey wrench into your dealings with the city.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to take those sort of lists and send out letters to people who have dealings with the city,” Manahan said. “Again, there could be repercussions. There’s potential.”

We really have to stop treating these types as decent members of society.   They're vermin, scum, cockroaches.

Sea Shepherd Piratical? Hardly.

Japanese whale "researchers" have persuaded a U.S. judge to declare the Sea Shepherd organization piratical.

 The ruling was issued on Wednesday by chief judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th US circuit court of appeals.

In his 18-page opinion, he wrote: "You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be." 

Had this ruling come from a country whose justice system had a shred of integrity this ruling would be more worrisome but, it didn't, it was an American court.

Piracy, really?   What is piracy on the high seas after all but unsanctioned privateering?   That's certainly what was on everyone's mind when it was outlawed by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.  It's commerce raiding, pillaging.   There's no element of that whatsoever in the Sea Shepherd campaign against Japanese south ocean whaling masquerading as scientific research.

If anyone is doing any pillaging, it's the Japanese.   They're privateers operating under the sanction of their government that hasn't read the memo that privateering itself has been outlawed since 1856 under the Declaration of Paris.

And the Japanese aren't alone.  Other nations, including Norway, also support whaling.   Many other countries simply turn a blind eye as their commercial fleets destroy one fishery and then move on to the next.

Why did the American court get involved in this?   Because it now provides a vehicle to hunt down the Sea Shepherd ships and leave Japanese whalers to their bloody business, unwatched, unchallenged and unmolested.

Call It What You Like - Homeland, Vaterland, Rodina - It's All the Same

On the 10th anniversary of the creation of America's Department of Homeland Security some are deeply worried about the connotation of the word "homeland" itself in the evolution of today's American security state.   Could it echo the dark days of Germany's Vaterland or Stalin's Rodina?

Once upon a time, “homeland” was a word of little significance in the American context.  What American before 9/11 would have called the United States his or her “homeland” rather than “country”?  Who sang “My homeland, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty”?  Between my birth in 1944, as World War II was drawing to a close, and September 11, 2001, I doubt I ever heard the word in reference to the U.S.

There was a reason: “homeland” had a certain ring to it and anyone would have known at once just what that ring, that resonance, was.  Not to put too fine a point on it, we’re talking about the ring of evil.  It sounded like the sort of word the Nazis or maybe Stalin would have used as the terrible totalitarians of the previous century mobilized their people for horrific wars and heinous crimes.

It’s true that, in the run-up to September 11th, somewhere in the corridors of Washington, there were right-wingers already pushing to homeland-ize this country.  The word, along with the idea of creating a future Office of Homeland Security, was then gestating like the monster baby in the movie Alien, awaiting its moment to burst forth.

Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do.  Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit.

Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic, and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm.

For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T.  Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which celebrates its 10th birthday this March, has grown into a miniature Pentagon. It’s supposed to be the actual “defense” department -- since the Pentagon is essentially a Department of Offense -- and it’s rife with all the same issues and defects that critics of the military-industrial complex have decried for decades.  In other words, “homeland security” has become another obese boondoggle.

Perhaps the strangest part of homeland security operations may be this: there is no agreed-upon definition for just what homeland security is. The funds Washington has poured into the concept will soon enough approach a trillion dollars and yet it’s a concept with no clear boundaries that no one can agree on.  Worse yet, few are asking the hard questions about what security we actually need or how best to achieve it.  Instead, Washington has built a sprawling bureaucracy riddled with problems and set it on autopilot.


It's Called "Green Fatigue" And There's a Good Chance You've Got It

A survey of   22,812 respondents in 22 countries has found that only 49% consider climate change a very serious issue.   Public concerns about environmental issues has slumped to a 20-year low.

Worries about climate change first dropped in industrialised nations but they have now also fallen in developing economies including Brazil and China, according to the survey by GlobeScan Radar.

The declining interest in climate change comes amid a backlash against costly green energy investments in an age of austerity.

The "carbon bombs" have been primed, the fuzes lit.   Voter indifference is all that's needed for the fossil fuelers to forge ahead and so they will.

Attention is turning to Australia where a Liberal-in-name-only conservative party, headed by a climate change denialist, is poised to take over in elections in September.

In Australia, decades of hard-fought conservation gains are at risk of being wiped out after 14 September. That's when the incumbent Labor government faces oblivion at the federal election, at the hands of the conservative Liberal Party.

For environment groups and climate campaigners, things have never looked bleaker.

This is despite the introduction of a carbon price, billions of dollars for clean energy projects, a landmark extension of marine national parks, and recent news that carbon emissions from the world's largest per- capita emitter have actually reduced.

Since then, the conservative opposition, led by climate change denying Tony Abbott and supported by extreme elements in the Murdoch-owned press, has waged a relentless campaign against the carbon price.The fear is that Abbott's climate denialism, coupled with a desire to get even with groups who opposed him, will see environment groups targeted.

Even though it was supported by high-profile Australian celebrities, with Cate Blanchett and Michael Caton appearing in ads, and public rallies in major cities, community support for the carbon price actually fell, declining from 46% support to 37%. Opposition to the carbon price also rose from 44% to 56%.

Given the dramatic arrival of  what are merely "early onset" climate change impacts such as the drought of 2012, Britain's massive flooding, Hurricane Sandy and the inundation of New York City and devastation of the Jersey shore and the even worse conditions in Africa, the Middle East, south and east Asia, the global collapse of public concern over climate change is a triumph of Herculean proportions for the powerful denialism industry.

The denialists won't win but winning has never been integral to their strategy.   They simply want to extend a very corporatist status quo for as long as conceivably possible which is, essentially, until nature finally intervenes to stop them.   Unfortunately that's the point at which it also intervenes to stop us.

Ban Hunter-Killer Robots Now

We're on the threshold of a tipping point in combat weaponry - the deployment of autonomous attack robots.  That's right, think Terminator.  You're not far off the mark.

Robot warfare and autonomous weapons, the next step from unmanned drones, are already being worked on by scientists and will be available within the decade, said Dr Noel Sharkey, a leading robotics and artificial intelligence expert and professor at Sheffield University. He believes that development of the weapons is taking place in an effectively unregulated environment, with little attention being paid to moral implications and international law.

The Stop the Killer Robots campaign will be launched in April at the House of Commons and includes many of the groups that successfully campaigned to have international action taken against cluster bombs and landmines. They hope to get a similar global treaty against autonomous weapons.

 "These things are not science fiction; they are well into development," said Sharkey. "The research wing of the Pentagon in the US is working on the X47B [unmanned plane] which has supersonic twists and turns with a G-force that no human being could manage, a craft which would take autonomous armed combat anywhere in the planet.


"There are a lot of people very excited about this technology, in the US, at BAE Systems, in China, Israel and Russia, very excited at what is set to become a multibillion-dollar industry. This is going to be big, big money. But actually there is no transparency, no legal process. The laws of war allow for rights of surrender, for prisoner of war rights, for a human face to take judgments on collateral damage. Humans are thinking, sentient beings. If a robot goes wrong, who is accountable? Certainly not the robot."

Last November the international campaign group Human Rights Watch produced a 50-page report, Losing Humanity: the Case Against Killer Robots, outlining concerns about fully autonomous weapons.

"Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far," said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. "Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimising civilian deaths and injuries."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

To Be Innocent on Death Row in Texas

It's pretty hard to be a condemned inmate in Texas when all you've got is science on your side.

Larry Swearingen is sitting on Death Row for a 1998 murder that pathologists say he couldn't possibly have committed.   The victim, a 19-year old college student, went missing on December 8.   Her body was found three weeks later on January 2.   She had been strangled.

Police fingered Swearingen for the crime shortly after the girl disappeared.   That translated into charges of kidnapping, rape and murder after the body was found.

The problem with Swearingen's conviction is that several Texas pathologists, including the one who did the autopsy, contend the victim hadn't been dead very long by the time her body was discovered.   She had to have been murdered while Swearingen was already in police custody.

But Swearingen is in Texas and the governor is Rick Perry who now holds the record for signing death warrants and seems to have never found a warrant he didn't like.
The central question— low long Trotter had been dead—hinges on histology samples collected during her autopsy and saved in a paraffin block. Veteran pathologists who have reviewed the evidence agree that the samples of Trotter’s lung, heart and vascular tissues reveal intact structures that would have broken down  had her body really been left in the forest for nearly a month. - See more at:

The central question— low long Trotter had been dead—hinges on histology samples collected during her autopsy and saved in a paraffin block. Veteran pathologists who have reviewed the evidence agree that the samples of Trotter’s lung, heart and vascular tissues reveal intact structures that would have broken down  had her body really been left in the forest for nearly a month.
Even the Houston medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Joye Carter, has recanted her trial testimony, admitting in 2007 that the ease with which she was able to weigh and dissect Trotter’s organs made the state’s timeline impossible.
Swearingen has faced the death chamber four times. In 2011, the CCA stayed his third execution date, sending the case back to Montgomery County for a hearing on the science determining when Trotter had died. The hearing lasted nine days, ending in March 2012, and featured experts who testified about the methods of determining a person’s time of death, and explained why well-preserved forensic samples taken from Trotter’s autopsy could only mean she was killed not long before January 2. The final transcripts had not yet been filed—nor had a mandatory hearing been held to determine the admissibility of such expert testimony—when Judge Fred Edwards, who had presided over the original trial, declared the science presented by the defense “junk.” Edwards sent the case back to the CCA, denying Swearingen relief. Last December 12, the CCA allowed Edwards to set another execution date, which he did the following day.
- See more at:
The central question— low long Trotter had been dead—hinges on histology samples collected during her autopsy and saved in a paraffin block. Veteran pathologists who have reviewed the evidence agree that the samples of Trotter’s lung, heart and vascular tissues reveal intact structures that would have broken down  had her body really been left in the forest for nearly a month.
Even the Houston medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Joye Carter, has recanted her trial testimony, admitting in 2007 that the ease with which she was able to weigh and dissect Trotter’s organs made the state’s timeline impossible.
Swearingen has faced the death chamber four times. In 2011, the CCA stayed his third execution date, sending the case back to Montgomery County for a hearing on the science determining when Trotter had died. The hearing lasted nine days, ending in March 2012, and featured experts who testified about the methods of determining a person’s time of death, and explained why well-preserved forensic samples taken from Trotter’s autopsy could only mean she was killed not long before January 2. The final transcripts had not yet been filed—nor had a mandatory hearing been held to determine the admissibility of such expert testimony—when Judge Fred Edwards, who had presided over the original trial, declared the science presented by the defense “junk.” Edwards sent the case back to the CCA, denying Swearingen relief. Last December 12, the CCA allowed Edwards to set another execution date, which he did the following day.
- See more at:

The central question— low long Trotter had been dead—hinges on histology samples collected during her autopsy and saved in a paraffin block. Veteran pathologists who have reviewed the evidence agree that the samples of Trotter’s lung, heart and vascular tissues reveal intact structures that would have broken down  had her body really been left in the forest for nearly a month.
Even the Houston medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Joye Carter, has recanted her trial testimony, admitting in 2007 that the ease with which she was able to weigh and dissect Trotter’s organs made the state’s timeline impossible.
Swearingen has faced the death chamber four times. In 2011, the CCA stayed his third execution date, sending the case back to Montgomery County for a hearing on the science determining when Trotter had died. The hearing lasted nine days, ending in March 2012, and featured experts who testified about the methods of determining a person’s time of death, and explained why well-preserved forensic samples taken from Trotter’s autopsy could only mean she was killed not long before January 2. The final transcripts had not yet been filed—nor had a mandatory hearing been held to determine the admissibility of such expert testimony—when Judge Fred Edwards, who had presided over the original trial, declared the science presented by the defense “junk.” Edwards sent the case back to the CCA, denying Swearingen relief. Last December 12, the CCA allowed Edwards to set another execution date, which he did the following day.
- See more at:

InterContinental Drug Cartel Warfare?

Africa's drug cartels are no longer content to simply be mules for moving Latin America's drug cartels' product into Europe.   Now they're even moving into the Latin American gangs' home turf.

"...the West African traffickers have grown up, in a way, instead of working as couriers underneath the Latin American cartels. The West African cartels are now shipping cocaine by sea, a safer alternative for traffickers than high-risk smuggling on commercial planes, which can more easily be interdicted by police. Nigerian criminal groups have also moved to take control of cocaine exports in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, where most of the Africa-bound coke leaves the continent. Latin American gangs are left to sell coke to the locals.

"'In the end, the gross volume of drugs transiting the region is less relevant than the way West Africa interacts with it,' according to the report. 'It appears a growing share is not merely the property of Latin Americans making use of West African logistic services, but that West Africans are playing an increasingly independent role in bringing the drugs into their region.' The report also notes: 'Over time, Latin American involvement in the region appears to have declined, and so has the average seizure size.'"

The African cartels are also cooking meth. According to the report, there’s now evidence of large-scale methamphetamine production in Nigeria, along with trafficking in the region growing rapidly since 2009. Ephedrine, an organic compound used in decongestants and a commonly-used precursor for meth, is loosely regulated in West Africa and hard to track.

Yeah, Sure, the Jim Crow South is No More

Any court that can pretend corporations are people has demonstrated a talent for overcoming reality.   That pretty much describes today's United States Supreme Court or at least the hard-right conservative majority that calls the shots.   Those five cloaked hooligans are now fixing to pretend that minority voting rights in the Slave States are no longer in need of a federal watchdog.   One of them, Scalia, even refers to safeguarding minority votes as "racial entitlement".   The only thing he left out was the "N" word.

In the last American federal elections there were ample displays of suppression of minority voting rights.   Here's one from The New Republic.

"...back in 2007 [Dr. Brenda Wilson and her husband of South Carolina] decided to   help townspeople register to vote. Brenda went to housing projects, the jail, anywhere she was likely to find disenfranchised people. She redoubled her efforts in the spring of 2011, when Governor Nikki Haley signed legislation requiring government-issued photo identification at the polls. Williams began to help people secure photo IDs, and when she realized how arduous and costly that was for many residents—especially those who lacked birth certificates, or had their names misspelled on them—she shared her observations in multiple letters to Attorney General Eric Holder. Her efforts were vindicated two days before Christmas, when the Department of Justice denied preclearance of the law, sending the matter to the federal courts.

South Carolina eventually agreed to soften its requirements, but that happened only because the U.S. government was able to challenge the law in the first place. And throughout her crusade, Williams saw plenty of signs that things have not changed as much in the Deep South as many—including Chief Justice John Roberts, who has sent signals suggesting he wants to do away with Section 5—would like you to believe.

 Take, for instance, the e-mail Williams received April 19, 2011, from Phillip Lowe, a Republican state representative whom she had contacted about funding for her efforts to get IDs for resident—efforts that, she says, cost her and her husband "thousands." 

Lowe e-mailed right back: "I have a way of funding your operation and solving all the name change problems. Ask all the people needing to change their name to come to a free legal seminar. Have [the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] run a free background check. If any turn up in the most wanted list, you will get the reward. :)"

They're called the Slave States for a good reason.   Many of us only just discovered that de facto slavery remained alive and well in those states right up until WWII.   All it took was suitably corrupt legislatures, courts and police in service to suitably corrupt societies.

Racism is staging a pretty strong recovery in parts of the United States today, principally in Red State America.   Neo-racists don't need the help of the U.S. Supreme Court but it looks like they're going to get it.

"A Perpetuation of Racial Entitlement"

It's not hard to figure out where U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia stands on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.   When he labeled a provision that requires the Slave States to get federal approval before changing voting procedures a "perpetuation of racial entitlement" he didn't leave much doubt on how America's non-white population can expect to fare at the polls, especially in the American south.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked a skeptical question about whether people in the South are more racist than those in the North. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked how much longer Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.”

The court’s more liberal members, citing data and history, said Congress remained entitled to make the judgment that the provision was still needed in the covered jurisdictions.

It’s an old disease,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said of efforts to thwart minority voting. “It’s gotten a lot better. A lot better. But it’s still there.”

Four of the nine-member court’s five more conservative members asked largely skeptical questions about the law. The fifth, Justice Clarence Thomas, did not ask a question, as is typical. 

Jim Crow will ride again.   Just as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court saddles his horse.

It's More Than a Little Missing Ice

Killer heat waves, droughts and floods whipsawing the planet are the result of the warming Arctic region.  It's pretty simple - lose the ice, lose the planet.

Hey, how about a blast from the past?   Remember when, way back in 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that “in some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century?   Oh weren't those the good old days.

Those whacky alarmists.   Why they were out by, oh, most of a century.  We now know that Arctic late-summer sea ice will be disappearing entirely within another four or five years.

Ice, schmice, who cares?  It's not like you're planning to go snowmobiling up there are you?   Well, you see, here's the thing.  Nature has this amazing ability to reach out and touch someone - you.  

If memory serves, it was Britain's Hadley Meteorological Centre that announced a couple of years back that Rossby Waves were the culprit behind much of the extreme weather or "global weirding" that was suddenly besetting our planet.   Now Germany's Potstdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has released a paper corroborating the theory.

"The study of meandering air systems that encircle the planet adds to understanding of extremes that have killed thousands of people and driven up food prices in the past decade.

Such planetary air flows, which suck warm air from the tropics when they swing north and draw cold air from the Arctic when they swing south, seem to be have slowed more often in recent summers and left some regions sweltering, they said.

"During several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks," wrote Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study...

'So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays,' he said in a statement of the findings in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A difference in temperatures between the Arctic and areas to the south is usually the main driver of the wave flows, which typically stretch 2,500 and 4,000 km (1,550-2,500 miles) from crest to crest.

But a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, blamed on human activities led by use of fossil fuels, is heating the Arctic faster than other regions and slowing the mechanism that drives the waves, the study suggested."

So what does all this mean to you?   Quite a bit, actually.   Back when we had the "end of the century" estimate it was quite reasonable to believe we in the temperate zone would be the "last and least" impacted by global warming.  That was an immediate problem for those little people away down in the tropics.  We, by contrast, had plenty of time to sort this out.   Last August, Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, said that myth was shattered.

The melting disperses another belief: that the temperate parts of the world – where most of the rich nations are located – will be hit last and least, while the poorer nations will be hit first and worst. New knowledge of the way in which the destruction of the Arctic sea ice affects northern Europe and North America suggests that this is no longer true. A paper published earlier this year in Geophysical Research Letters shows that Arctic warming is likely to be responsible for the extremes now hammering the once-temperate nations.

The north polar jet stream is an air current several hundred kilometres wide, travelling eastwards around the hemisphere. It functions as a barrier, separating the cold, wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Many of the variations in our weather are caused by great travelling meanders – or Rossby waves – in the jet stream.

Arctic heating, the paper shows, both slows the Rossby waves and makes them steeper and wider. Instead of moving on rapidly, the weather gets stuck. Regions to the south of the stalled meander wait for weeks or months for rain; regions to the north (or underneath it) wait for weeks or months for a break from the rain. Instead of a benign succession of sunshine and showers, we get droughts or floods. During the winter a slow, steep meander can connect us directly to the polar weather, dragging severe ice and snow far to the south of its usual range. This mechanism goes a long way towards explaining the shift to sustained – and therefore extreme – weather patterns around the northern hemisphere. 

And, if you like pictures, here's Ottawa U. prof Paul Beckwith:

So now we've got these giant atmospheric waves whipsawing the northern hemisphere, ushering in our new climate for generations to come.   Remember the severe drought that hit the United States and even southern Canada last summer?   MSN Money reports 2013 could be a repeat of last year.

It's hard to imagine, considering the recent winter storms that have caused floods, blizzards and other havoc across large parts of the Lower 48, that much of the country is still in the throes of an historic drought.

But a glance at the U.S. Drought Monitor reveals much of the nation's agricultural spine, from the Dakotas all the way down to south Texas, remains caught in the grip of what the Monitor classifies as severe, extreme or even exceptional drought conditions.

 Consumers across the country, even in areas blessed with good precipitation and ample water supply, will likely find their grocery bills further affected as the drought grinds on. That's especially true when it comes to beef and other meat prices. Sparse rains have dried up grazing and hay production across wide swaths of the country, causing cattle ranchers in particular to venture far and wide for available forage and supplemental feed, which in turn affects their bottom line.

"I mean, ranchers in the core of the drought have had to look all the way to the Carolinas or to northern Montana and North Dakota to bring in feed, and for a long period of time," says Nolan Doesken, the Colorado State Climatologist who is based at Colorado State University.

Along with livestock, many major crops -- including corn, wheat and soy beans -- have also been hit hard. Corn prices soared to record highs last summer, as the drought damaged crops and rising demand from both livestock and ethanol producers couldn't be met.

U.S. officials are genuinely praying for spring rains, plenty of them.  It's beginning to appear that will be decided by someone named Rossby.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Cautionary Tale - The Right to Die

Here's something to think about.

A few days ago I experienced, first-hand, the death of a dear friend.  He had been in decline for several months.   This necessitated a few stays in hospital.

While in hospital my friend had signed a "DNR" or Do Not Resuscitate authorization.  It was his wish that, should he succumb, he not be brought back to life.   The hospital duly kept his directive in his file.

What my friend did not foresee, what no one else foresaw, was what would happen if he succumbed anywhere other than in that particular hospital.

His wife knew of his wishes.  I was fully aware of his wishes.  Yet when the ambulance crews arrived at his home they demanded to see the authorization and, in it's absence, they proceeded to put my (by then safely departed) friend's body through the regime of CPR, defibrilation and, finally, adrenalin injection.

In my friend's case it really didn't much matter.   They were merely working out on a corpse.  But, since then, I've thought of what it might have meant had circumstances been different and had they managed to bring him back.

They would have restored him to a state of abject misery, probably worse than he had endured previously.   For the want of a paper - right here, right now - his fate would have been sealed, his humane choice denied.

How many of us are in this same precarious state?  I know I am.  Yes I have executed my own living will and DNR authorization but how would I ever get that into the hands of the paramedics?

This is not an abstraction to me.  I have already checked out once, possibly twice, only to wake up a day or two later in hospital, my body wracked with terrible pain.   Here's a hint.  If you die in the process of a seizure your body beats the shit out of itself.  You wake up feeling as though you've been in a gang fight you cannot recall.

I was furious the last time it happened, the time I know for certain I was snatched back from the dead.   For I realized that I had crossed the finish line only to have been disqualified by medical intervention.   How does the state have the right to deny anyone a natural death?

The doctors confirmed I was gone.   No pulse, no respiration, my body finally at rest.  I was crossing the Styx.

Now I must die again.   Given the odds, it will be a more protracted ordeal next time.  There will likely be little dignity to it either.

So what is the answer?  I believe I have one.  I believe every province should be required to maintain a DNR, Do Not Resuscitate registry.   You make your choice, your file your authorization.   Register it by your Social Insurance number.  Cross-reference it to your Driver's Licence number and your street address and any other suitable means of verification.

Require the paramedics to verify your identity.  Usually the wallet is on site.  Have then log on to an internet directory and, from that, ascertain whether any DNR authorization exists.

We demean ourselves and our humanity when we dismiss our right to die as subordinate to the interests of the state.  We deserve better than the treatment that is left to us at the very time we are most powerless to fight back.  It is time we had the right to die on our own terms, not the state's.

Just Shut Up and Do As You're Told

If you have any illusions you're not living in a corporatist state, any doubt, watch this film, "Obey."   Then think about how you're going to be living in ten years from now, twenty.

Jimmy Carter Gives Canada Its Due

The film Argo might have won the Oscar but Jimmy Carter thinks the real prize goes to Canada, not the C.I.A.

Carter described Ben Affleck's picture as a "great drama". But the former president also said that "90 percent of the contribution to the ideas and consummation of the plan was Canadian".

Carter noted that the "main hero" was Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, but the film gave full credit to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

"The Canadian government would not legally permit six false passports to be issued," Carter revealed. "So the Canadian Parliament had to go into secret session for the first time in history and they voted to let us use six Canadian passports that were false."

Andrew's Letter to Wolfie on the 10th Anniversary of the Conquest of Iraq

Career U.S. Army commander turned academic, Andrew J. Bacevich, has ties to Iraq.   He commanded an American unit in Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait on the orders of George H.W. Bush.   Years later his son, a U.S. Army lieutenant, would die in Iraq in a war ordered by George w. Bush.

In the years between his Iraq war and his son's, Bacevich had retired from the U.S. Army and had gone from an unquestioning belief in his country and its military to become a fierce critic of what he came to see as a deeply flawed government and its military philosophy and institutions.   Bacevich tried to reason with his son, to talk him out of going to Iraq but, orders are orders, his son went and died there.

In his post-military, academic career, Andrew Bacevich worked for Paul Wolfowitz, the then dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.   On the 10th anniversary of America's conquest of Iraq, Bacevich wrote an open letter to Wolfie that was published in Harper's magazine.

Bacevich writes that Wolfowitz was never part of the neo-con rabble like Kristol or Cheney but rather an apostle of their guru, Albert Wholstetter.

"...I’ve come to appreciate the extent to which your thinking mirrors that of the nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Your friend Richard Perle put the matter succinctly: “Paul thinks the way Albert thinks.” Wohlstetter, the quintessential “defense intellectual,” had been your graduate-school mentor. You became, in effect, his agent, devoted to converting his principles into actual policy. This, in a sense, was your life’s work.

[Wohlstetter] was the smartest guy in the room before anyone had coined the phrase. Therein lay his appeal. To be admitted to discipleship was to become one of the elect.

Wohlstetter’s perspective (which became yours) emphasized five distinct propositions. Call them the Wohlstetter Precepts.

First, liberal internationalism, with its optimistic expectation that the world will embrace a set of common norms to achieve peace, is an illusion...

Second, the system that replaces liberal internationalism must address the ever-present (and growing) danger posed by catastrophic surprise...

Third, the key to averting or at least minimizing surprise is to act preventively. If shrewdly conceived and skillfully executed, action holds some possibility of safety, whereas inaction reduces that possibility to near zero. Eliminate the threat before it materializes. In statecraft, that defines the standard of excellence.

Fourth, the ultimate in preventive action is dominion. The best insurance against unpleasant surprises is to achieve unquestioned supremacy.

Lastly, by transforming the very nature of war, information technology — an arena in which the United States has historically enjoyed a clear edge — brings outright supremacy within reach. Of all the products of Albert Wohlstetter’s fertile brain, this one impressed you most. The potential implications were dazzling. According to Mao, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Wohlstetter went further. Given the right sort of gun — preferably one that fires very fast and very accurately — so, too, does world order.

...your first effort to codify supremacy and preventive action as a basis for strategy had ended in embarrassing failure. I refer here to the famous (or infamous) Defense Planning Guidance of 1992, drafted in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm by the Pentagon policy shop you then directed. Before this classified document was fully vetted by the White House, it was leaked to the New York Times, which made it front-page news. The draft DPG announced that it had become the “first objective” of U.S. policy “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival.” With an eye toward “deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role,” the United States would maintain unquestioned military superiority and, if necessary, employ force unilaterally. As window dressing, allies might be nice, but the United States no longer considered them necessary.

In the ensuing hue and cry, President George H. W. Bush disavowed the document. Your reputation took a hit. But you were undeterred.

The election of George W. Bush as president permitted you to escape from academe. You’d done yeoman work tutoring candidate Bush in how the world works, and he repaid the debt by appointing you to serve as Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy atop the Pentagon hierarchy...

 You immediately saw the events of 9/11 as a second and more promising opening to assert U.S. supremacy. When riding high a decade earlier, many Americans had thought it either unseemly or unnecessary to lord it over others. Now, with the populace angry and frightened, the idea was likely to prove an easier sell. Although none of the hijackers were Iraqi, within days of 9/11 you were promoting military action against Iraq. Critics have chalked this up to your supposed obsession with Saddam. The criticism is misplaced. The scale of your ambitions was vastly greater.

In an instant, you grasped that the attacks provided a fresh opportunity to implement Wohlstetter’s Precepts, and Iraq offered a made-to-order venue. “We cannot wait to act until the threat is imminent,” you said in 2002. Toppling Saddam Hussein would validate the alternative to waiting. In Iraq the United States would demonstrate the efficacy of preventive war.

So even conceding a hat tip to Albert Wohlstetter, the Bush Doctrine was largely your handiwork. The urgency of invading Iraq stemmed from the need to validate that doctrine before the window of opportunity closed. What made it necessary to act immediately was not Saddam’s purported WMD program. It was not his nearly nonexistent links to Al Qaeda. It was certainly not the way he abused his own people. No, what drove events was the imperative of claiming for the United States prerogatives allowed no other nation.

...the proximate aim was to unshackle American power. Saddam Hussein’s demise would serve as an object lesson for all: Here’s what we can do. Here’s what we will do.

...To Wohlstetter’s five precepts you had added a silent codicil. According to the unwritten sixth precept, Israeli interests and U.S. interests must align. You understood that making Israelis feel safer makes Israel less obstreperous, and that removing the sources of Israeli insecurity makes the harmonizing of U.S. and Israeli policies easier. Israel’s most effective friends are those who work quietly to keep the divergent tendencies in U.S.-Israeli relations from getting out of hand. You have always been such a friend. Preventive war to overthrow an evil dictator was going to elevate the United States to the status of Big Kahuna while also making Israelis feel just a little bit safer.

Imagine — you must have done so many times — if that notorious mission accomplished banner had accurately portrayed the situation on the ground in Iraq in May 2003. Imagine if U.S. forces had achieved a clean, decisive victory. Imagine that the famous (if staged) photo of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad’s Al Firdos Square being pulled down had actually presaged a rapid transition to a pro-American liberal democracy, just as your friend Ahmed Chalabi had promised. Imagine if none of the ensuing horrors and disappointments had occurred: the insurgency; Fallujah and Abu Ghraib; thousands of American lives lost and damaged; at least 125,000 Iraqis killed, and some 3 million others exiled or displaced; more than a trillion dollars squandered.


You expected something different, of course. Shortly before the war, you told Congress:
'It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.'
Your imagination led you to foresee a brief conflict, with Iraqis rather than U.S. taxpayers footing the bill for any mess left behind.

After all, preventive war was supposed to solve problems. 
Eliminating threats before they could materialize was going to enhance our standing, positioning us to call the shots. Instead, the result was a train wreck of epic proportions. Granted, as you yourself have said, “the world is better off” with Saddam Hussein having met his maker. But taken as a whole, the cost-benefit ratio is cause for weeping. As for global hegemony, we can kiss it goodbye.

One of the questions emerging from the Iraq debacle must be this one: Why did liberation at gunpoint yield results that differed so radically from what the war’s advocates had expected? Or, to sharpen the point, How did preventive war undertaken by ostensibly the strongest military in history produce a cataclysm?

Not one of your colleagues from the Bush Administration possesses the necessary combination of honesty, courage, and wit to answer these questions. If you don’t believe me, please sample the tediously self-exculpatory memoirs penned by (or on behalf of) Bush himself, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Bremer, Feith, and a small squad of eminently forgettable generals.

What would Albert Wohlstetter have done? After Iraq, would he have been keen to give the Bush Doctrine another go, perhaps in Iran? Or would he have concluded that preventive war is both reckless and inherently immoral? That, of course, had been the traditional American view prior to 9/11.

Would Albert endorse Barack Obama’s variant of preventive war, the employing of unmanned aircraft as instruments of targeted assassination? Sending a Hellfire missile through some unsuspecting jihadist’s windshield certainly fits the definition of being proactive, but where does it lead? As a numbers guy, Albert might wonder how many “terrorists” we’re going to have to kill before the mission accomplished banner gets resurrected.

Given the state of things and our own standing ten years after the start of the Iraq war, what would Albert do? I never met the man (he died in 1997), but my guess is that he wouldn’t flinch from taking on these questions, even if the answers threatened to contradict his own long-held beliefs. Neither should you, Paul. To be sure, whatever you might choose to say, you’ll be vilified, as Robert McNamara was vilified when he broke his long silence and admitted that he’d been “wrong, terribly wrong” about Vietnam. But help us learn the lessons of Iraq so that we might extract from it something of value in return for all the sacrifices made there. Forgive me for saying so, but you owe it to your country.

Give it a shot.


I Lost a Buddy Last Night

Neighbours.   His wife called close to 10.   He didn't have the strength to get himself off the toilet and she didn't have the strength to get him up either.  I said I'd be right over.

I went in my old Harley tee-shirt and sweat pants, a real "come as you are" party, figuring I'd have my pal safely into bed and be home in no time.

I hesitated as I neared their bathroom to make some sort of smart-ass remark to let my buddy know I was there and was coming in to help him.   No guy, even if he is 78, wants to deal with that.  He quipped something I vaguely remember as suitably sarcastic right back but damned if I can recall what I said or his retort.  All I know is that was the last thing ever said to him and the last thing he ever said either.

He looked up, plainly distressed, and reached out one arm.  I grabbed his hand and forearm and tried to lift him up but the more I pulled the more he sagged.   Finally I reached forward, put my arms beneath his, and lifted.

His devoted wife of 57-years worked out how to get his walker between us.   He grabbed the handholds and we moved toward the bed less than ten feet distant.

One step and I could tell he was distressed.  He'd taken a sleeping pill about a half hour earlier and we figured he was just passing out. 

I got behind and put my arms beneath his hoping that I could carry most of his weight so that he could get himself to his bed.  He died in my arms.   His head fell, he lost his grip on the walker, and he gently fell to his knees.  I lowered him onto the carpeted floor.

We thought, at first, that he'd passed out from the sleeping pill and his chronic fatigue.   He just went down way too gently for death.  Yet death it was, gentle or no.

By today's standards he was lucky.   He died in his own home, his wife of 57-years and a good buddy at his side.  And he went down easy, real easy, and I laid him down to rest.

He was one of the good guys.  Big, robust and, in his younger years, utterly rowdy but with a heart of 24-carat gold.   Much like my own father.   They were both top-tier lacrosse players and never shied away much from a scrap either.

After he passed his love of life had to deal with paramedics, advanced paramedics, the fire department guys., the RCMP, the coroner and the funerary attendants.  I think she got 2-hours rest last night.  I bagged 3.

I'm sick and tired of truly good people dying around me.  Too many, too fast.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Hard Truth About Unconventional Fossil Fuel

When it comes to unconventional fossil fuels, the majority of Canadian politicians, federal and provincial, fall into two categories - idiots or featherbedders.

The Tyee has this eye-opener from geologist David Hughes, a gas and oil specialist for Natural Resources Canada for 32-years.

Unconventional fossil fuels all share a host of cruel and limiting traits says Hughes. They offer dramatically fewer energy returns; they consume extreme and endless flows of capital; they provide difficult or volatile rates of supply overtime and have "large environmental impacts in their extraction."

Most important, bitumen, shale oil and shale gas, by definition, are much lower quality hydrocarbons and therefore can't fund business as usual. They simply do not provide the same energy returns or the same amount of work as conventional hydrocarbons due to the energy needed to extract or upgrade them, says Hughes.

At the turn of the century it took just one barrel of oil to find and produce 100 more. Now the returns are down to 20. The mining portion of the tar sands offers returns of five to one while the steam plant operations barely manage returns of three to one, says Hughes. "And that's an extremely conservative estimate."

"Moving to progressively lower quality energy resources diverts more and more resources to the act of acquisition as opposed to doing useful work."

A society that progressively spends more and more capital on acquiring energy that does less and less work will either exhaust the global economy or cannibalize national ones as consumers redirect larger portions of their household budgets to energy costs, says Hughes.

Read the article and then ask yourself what team your party and your MP are playing for - The Idiots or their cross-town rivals, The Featherbedders?  It's bound to be one or the other.

Nobody is Safe Anymore. No One, Nowhere.

It's the latest, greatest thing in the Pentagon's toybox - MAVs.  Micro Air Vehicles like those shown in the following video already exist and they could take your last shreds of privacy.  They could even take your life.

And here's the civilian version of the Dragonfly MAV developed for the U.S. Air Force.   You can buy your own, limited performance, civilian version starting at a hundred bucks.  The Dragonfly makers will even sell you your own "swarm."

What the military is doing is to develop better power, communications and control systems for their MAVs.   The civilian stuff relies on batteries that last just several minutes.   The military technology can operate for several days.

A Warming World Equals Work Loss

Most of us realize that it's a lot harder to work on those really hot, humid days.   Climate change is bringing us more hot, humid days and there are more to come in the future.   Ergo, we're facing a drop in labour capacity.

Hot and humid has worsened over the past six decades to inflict a 10% drop in labour capacity on those scorcher days.   That's expected to double by 2050.

To figure out the stress of working in hotter, wetter conditions, experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at military and industrial guidelines already in place for heat stress, and set those guidelines against climate projections for how hot and humid it's likely to get over the next century.

Their findings were stark: "We project that heat stress-related labor capacity losses will double globally by 2050 with a warming climate," said lead author John Dunne of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton.

Work capability is already down to 90 per cent during the most hot and humid periods, Dunne and his co-authors wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change. Using a middle-of-the-road projection of future temperature and humidity, they estimate that could drop to 80 per cent by 2050.

A more extreme scenario of future global warming, which estimated a temperature rise of 10.8 degrees F (6 degrees C), would make it difficult to work in the hottest months in many parts of the world, Dunne said at a telephone briefing.

Labor capacity would be all but eliminated in the lower Mississippi Valley and most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains would be exposed to heat stress "beyond anything experienced in the world today," he said.

Chris Hadfield - Rockstar

The Guardian is singing the praises of Canadian fighter jock, test pilot and astronaut, the soon-to-be ISS commander, Chris Hadfield.  This line says it all:

"...he is on the way to becoming a breakthrough star in his own right, the first internationally recognisable astronaut since the grainy black and white television images made Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the original Apollo astronauts into superstars."

It's a good read.   Check it out.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Unqualified

Angry old man, Grampa John McCain is at it again.   The guy who nearly made Sarah Palin his wing-gal in the executive branch had the gall to label Chuck Hagel "unqualified" to be Obama's defense secretary.

To prove Hagel not up to the job, McCain pointed to Obama's failure to disclose just what he was doing the night of the raid on America's embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Time to Say "None of the Above"

I wouldn't ride in a car with a driver who was too stupid to know when to use the brakes.  Would you?   Yet that's a pretty fair metaphor for the people who are leading our federal parties today.

One of the things we expect our political leaders to do is to steer us away from trouble.   They can't keep us safe, not always, but they've got to try.   The fact is, they don't always try and usually when they're not trying it's because they're putting their personal interests and aspirations ahead of their obligations to us.   When that happens, democracy is dealt a pretty heavy blow.  When it happens often enough, democracy is out for the count.   And there's another fair metaphor for the state of Canada's federal politics in 2013.

Sideshow Steve Harper and his Liberal alter-ego, Martha Hall-Findlay, along with the self-gelded Tommy-boy Mulcair and Justin Trudeau - they're all avowed supporters of our petro-economy.   I expect they've read about the Carbon Bubble.   My guess is that they're aware of the "petroleum trap."   Some of them might even be just a little anxious about this emerging notion of "stranded assets."   But what are they doing about it?  Nothing.   They're pretending none of it exists.

They're not steering us and our economy away from trouble.  They're not trying to keep us safe.   And they're not acting because that doesn't suit their personal political aspirations.   They won't stand up for the country and for our people out of fear that might cost them their shot at power.  They've got nothing to offer you or your kids so why would you support any of them?

Riding the Petro-Tiger

I don't think even Sideshow Steve Harper believes the fable of Canada's energy superpowerdom any more.   My guess is that he knows full well that the federal government is riding a tiger and Steve doesn't want to be the prime minister who has to step off.   I suspect bitumen is a problem Steve would much rather kick down the road.

One thing that's finally sinking in is that bitumen, like other high-carbon fossil fuels, is living on borrowed time.   The business of business is making money and business is finally coming to realize there are a lot of "stranded assets" in the fossil fuel market, on the books of the major energy producers.

It comes down to one simple fact.   If we're not going to destroy our civilization there's a finite amount of CO2 that we can release into our atmosphere.   Either we find a way to scrub greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, and there's no sign of that, or we have to accept a cap on the amount of fossil fuels we can burn.   The problem is the major energy producers already have many times more fossil fuels on their books than we can possibly safely consume.   Most of what they already have booked as reserves will have to be left in the ground.

If you're in the situation where you're awash in a glut of anything you get picky.  You go for the good stuff and leave the garbage behind.   When you're having to pick among fossil fuels, you take the lowest-carbon fuels and leave the high-carbon garbage.   Low-carbon fuels simply give you more energy, more bang for your emissions buck.

Some high-carbon fuels, like coal, have great attraction because they're really cheap.   Some high-carbon fuels, like Athabasca bitumen, are quite expensive.   To get sandy tar and transform it into something you can run in your Ford entails extraction through mining or boiling, upgrading, the addition of dilutents, transportation via pipelines to distant refineries in Texas or even,via supertankers,  Asia, refining into some form of consumable petroleum that is then transported to market.   That's a lot of processing, transporting, refining and that means a lot of energy and enormous amounts of renewable resources.

Put bitumen head to head with conventional crude oil and there's no contest.   That's why bitumen is valuable only when world oil prices are very high.   When they're not, bitumen is a terrible bet.   And when markets come to realize we're in a Carbon Bubble and we have a glut of fossil fuels then the price is going to tumble, badly.   That's how high-carbon assets will become "stranded."

Professor Trevor Harrison, director of the Alberta thinktank, the Parkland Institute, explains that Ottawa has allowed the spread of Alberta's economic instability:

Historically, Alberta’s economy has been the most unstable in all of Canada, but the volatility was largely confined to its own borders. Today, aided and abetted by the federal government, Alberta has exported its instability to the rest of the country.

Those familiar with the tenets of staples theory will recognize the pattern.

Pioneered by Canadian economist Harold Innis, staples theory emphasized the dilemmas associated with single-resource production. When the world price of a commodity is high, the allure of riches can be so great that people throw all of their effort and money into riding the resource boom. But the price of staples is unstable, subject to, among other things, over-production, replacement technologies, the vagaries of climate, transportation glitches and even fashion.

Just as the price of a staple commodity can rise quickly, it can drop, bringing economic, social and political ruin. Canada’s landscape is dotted with this story, from towns (Uranium City) to regions and provinces (Newfoundland and cod). Sometimes, of course, the good times return, but often they don’t. In any case, the result is growing economic and political dependency, what Innis referred to as the “staples trap” – easy to get into, hard to get out of. That’s where Alberta and Canada find themselves now.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on record as declaring Canada an emerging energy superpower. The efforts his government has made to promote this vision – the passing of omnibus legislation to eliminate perceived roadblocks to oil development, the politically motivated attacks on individuals and organizations who oppose further petroleum expansion – have been unprecedented.

Far from being a superpower, however, Canada increasingly looks like a hundred-pound weakling, a single-resource producer, buffeted by pricing over which we have no control, technological innovations that portend a reduction in the value of oil and environmental issues that threaten all of us.

Like Montreal’s fur trade magnates 200 years ago, who suddenly found that the market for beaver pelts had disappeared, we find ourselves today sending emissaries here, there and everywhere, pleading, begging and cajoling others to save us from the fate unfolding before our eyes. But, as Shakespeare said, the fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves – and the governments we have elected, which too eagerly have opened the doors leading to the petroleum trap.

At some point we're going to have to act like grownups and accept we are on the back of a tiger.  We're either going to have to step off and deal with that on our own terms or we can wait until we fall off and have no control over how our fate unfolds.

This would be a perfect moment for the Opposition in Ottawa to show they're possibly fit to govern Canada by demonstrating clear-headed leadership on the petroleum trap that's about to snare our economy and take it down.   Don't hold your breath.

Those Damned Swedes and Their Affordable, High-Tech Airplanes

Sweden - less than 10-million people.    Canada - just over 35-million.   Sweden - GDP 538-billion.   Canada - GDP 1.74-trillion.

How is it that Sweden, with a population slightly smaller than Michigan's, can build its own fighter aircraft and the engines to power them?   And how do they do it under budget?

Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman finds it utterly perplexing.  He just can't understand how the Swedes have the nerve to build an airplane like the SAAB J39-Gripen.

The precursor to the J39-E, the Gripen Demo programme, has just been completed for 60% of its planned budget.   ...And if the J39-E program follows the established pattern, it will be executed under fixed-price contracts.

Clearly this must be stopped.  If this behavior was to become universal, it would result in soaring unemployment among executive vice-presidents.   Armageddocalypse.

Sadly the Swedes will fail to see reason since a nation with the population of Michigan can't produce a world-class fighter without cheating. 

The history of Swedish fighter development is rooted in Cold War half-truths.  Neutral on paper, Sweden understood very well where the threat was and armed itself to the teeth.  In the 1960's Sweden had the world's fourth largest fighter force.

Sweden was developing multi-national programs, teaming with the U.S. and Britain on engines and avionics, while rivals were busting their budgets in pursuit of autarky.   From swept wings to real supersonic speed, and automated interception to pulse-Doppler radar, Sweden took third place behind the superpowers and led the world in networked operations.

Sweetman credits Sweden's unrivaled success to the FMV, a civilian agency than then King Augustus Adolphus set up in the wake of the loss of the battleship Vasa that sank upon launching in 1628.   FMV is something like a civilian interface between the military and defence contractors.   The military orders through FMV but doesn't control it.   Defence contractors have to sell to the FMV.  It's their customer and FMV has a well-honed eye for value and performance.

When it came to the J-39 Gripen, FMV not only set up the deal but drove the under-budget production.   The agency also focused on low lifetime operating costs, something other western nations have largely ignored.

The Gripen is the anti-F-35.  It's not a stealth fighter but, unlike the F-35, it is a fighter.   And, besides, the stealth advantage is fading fast.

Unfortunately the Gripen is a "small country," single-engine fighter not particularly well suited to Canada's vast empty north.   Then again it is probably better than the F-35 at that job.  That said, it shows what the Swedes can do on a limited budget that the Big Boys can't do without emptying Fort Knox.

It also shows how a country so much smaller than Canada, in both population and GDP, can create advanced technology our country could only dream of and do it on a budget.  It kind of shows us up as slothful, profligate and backward.  We could have done everything Sweden has achieved.  We just stopped reaching and now seek our wealth in harvesting what we did not sow. Oh, I wonder if the Swedes want bitumen?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

China's "Cancer Villages"

Chinese officials are now admitting the existence of "cancer villages" in areas where pollution and environmental degradation have resulted in cancer rates far above normal.

According to Chinese business magazine Caijing, Chinese officials with the Ministry of Environment Protection confirmed the existence of cancer villages in a statement announcing plans to alleviate pollution and its harmful side effects.

“The toxic chemicals have caused many environmental emergencies linking to water and air pollutions,” the Ministry announced. “There are even some serious cases of health and social problems like the emergence of cancer villages in individual regions.”

Mainland China’s cancer rates have been surging since the 1990’s, becoming the nation’s biggest cause of death. In 2010, an investigative journalist and environmental activist, Deng Fei, posted a widely circulated map of China’s cancer villages. Deng Fei was able to map out over 100 cancer villages, covering 27 provinces. Research by other academics and news organizations suggests that a more realistic estimate would be upwards of 400.

Sequestration and the F-35. Kickin in China's Door.

Oh those Americans and their silly budget showdowns.   As some observers say, these confrontations have come to resemble kabuki theatre.

Sequestration is scheduled to take effect on March 1, a mere week away.   Budgets get cut about 10%.   The effects may not be terminal overall but some government projects could be hard hit.  The US Air Force is warning that means the F-35 programme might have to be restructured.

The entire Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme may have to be restructured if the Pentagon budget undergoes the full 10 year effects of sequestration.

Under the Congressional sequestration budgetary maneuver, the US Department of Defense's coffers would be automatically cut across the board by 10% every year for 10 years. That is on top of the $487 billion that has already been cut from the spending plan.

If the full sequestration were to take effect, "we're going to have to look completely at the [F-35] programme," US Air Force chief of staff Gen Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 12 February. "It's going to be impossible to modernize."

What this would mean for America and her allies is that apparently we wouldn't be able to operate quite so well in "contested airspace", which essentially means Chinese airspace.   This is how General Welsh puts it:

"Our kick in the door capability would be impacted."

Did you get that?   Our capability to kick in China's door would be impacted.   And that's a bad thing.  With China already re-arming furiously we wouldn't be able to make them quite as fearful that we might launch pre-emptive war on them.

That's what the F-35 is, it's a light attack bomber, it creates a "kick in the door capability."   Now does Canada really need a kick in the door capability?  Do we need to prepare and equip ourselves to kick in China's door?  Really?

Let's carry this scenario through a little bit.   If we kick in China's door, what do we have in mind just in case China decides to respond in kind?   Since we're only going to have light attack bombers, what are we going to do if China gets really mad and decides to kick in our door?   We don't have diddly squat to protect ourselves.   Maybe the Americans would protect us, maybe not.

Here's the deal.   Canada has enough to worry about just defending Canada.  Big country, small population, small military budget.  We don't need to focus on exhausting our military purse on "kick in the door" technology.   That's just plain stupid.  It might appeal, a lot, to Sideshow Steve and Airshow MacKay but they're boneheads, complete idiots when it comes to shooting up stuff.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

It's one thing to waste a decade playing whack-a-mole against a gaggle of illiterate farmers wielding Korean war-vintage assault rifles.   It's quite another to sucker punch someone really big and powerful who would probably do what people who are sucker punched do.