Britain is being rebuilt in aid of corporate power | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian
They used to do it subtly; they don't bother any more. Last week a column in the Telegraph argued that businesses should get the vote. Though they pay tax, Damian Reece maintained, they have "no say in the running of local or national government". To remedy this cruel circumscription, he suggested that elections in the UK should follow the example set by the City of London Corporation. This is the nation's last rotten borough, in which ballots in 21 of its 25 wards are controlled by companies, whose bosses appoint the voters. I expect to see Mr Reece pursue this noble cause by throwing himself under the Queen's horse.
Contrast this call for an extension of the franchise with a piece in the same paper last year, advocating an income qualification for voters. Only those who pay at least £100 a year in income tax, argued Ian Cowie, another senior editor at the Telegraph, should be allowed to vote. Blaming the credit crisis on the unemployed (who, as we know, lie in bed all day devising credit default swaps and collateralised debt obligations), Cowie averred that "it's time to restore the link between paying something into society and voting on decisions about how it is run". This qualification, he was good enough to inform us, could exclude "the majority of voters in some metropolitan areas today". The proposal was repeated by Benedict Brogan, the Telegraph's deputy editor.No representation without taxation: wasn't that Alan B'stard's slogan in the satirical series The New Statesman? Votes for business, none for the poor: this would formalise the corporate assault on democracy that has been gathering pace for the past 30 years.
This column is a plea for distrust. Distrust is the resource on which democracy relies. Distrust inspires the scrutiny and accountability without which representation becomes a lie. Distrust is all that stands between us and bamboozlement by people who, like Reece, Cowie and Brogan, channel the instincts of the billionaire owners of newspapers and broadcasters.
Last week David Cameron argued that those who say business "isn't really to be trusted" do so as a result of "snobbery". Business, in fact, is "the most powerful force for social progress the world has ever known". Not democracy, education, science, justice or public health: business. You need only consider the exemplary social progress in Zaire under Mobutu, Chile under Pinochet, or the Philippines under Marcos – who opened their countries to the kind of corporate free-for-all that Cameron's backers dream of – to grasp the universal truth of this statement.
He gave some examples to support his contention that regulation can be replaced by trust. The public health responsibility deal, which transfers responsibility for reducing obesity and alcoholism to fast-food outlets, drinks firms and supermarkets, reaches, Cameron claimed, the parts "which the state just can't".
Under the deal, Subway and Costa are "putting calorie information up front when people are buying". The state couldn't possibly legislate for that, could it? Far better to leave it to the companies, who can decide for themselves whether they inform people that a larduccino coffee with suet sprinkles contains no more calories than the average Olympic sprinter burns in a month. He forgot to mention the much longer list of companies that have failed to display this information.
Another substitute for regulation, he suggested, is a programme called Every Business Commits. Through its website I found the government's list of "case studies of responsible business practice". Here I learned that British American Tobacco is promoting public health by educating and counselling its workers about HIV. The drinks giant Diageo is improving its waste water treatment process. Bombardier Aerospace is enhancing the environmental performance of its factories, in which it manufactures, er, private jets. RWE npower, which runs some of Britain's biggest coal and gas power stations, teaches children how to "to think about their responsibilities in reducing climate change"....
There were two scientific studies this week that set the ongoing Keystone pipeline battle in sharp relief.
One was a reminder of just how crucial this fight is. A secret report delivered to the Canadian government's chief bureaucrat showed that changes in tarsands mining methods, which the industry claimed reduced the amount of carbon emissions, were actually "three times as emissions intensive" and that damage to the environment would be both "significant" and "irreversible."
That's one reason the EU moved closer last week to preventing the import of tarsands oil to Europe, and it helps explain why the White House continued to stand strong against Congressional efforts to force a permit for Keystone -- as the president's press secretary pointed out (in a pointed tweet) the administration's new fuel efficiency standards for cars would save more oil than the pipeline could deliver in 45 years.
But the second study made clear to tarsands opponents -- if it hadn't been already -- that this was only one battle in a much larger fight. A new study from a pair of British Columbia scientists shows that there's a lot of carbon in the tarsands -- but a lot more yet in the planet's coal deposits.
If you burned all the tarsands we know about now, you'd raise the planet's temperature more than half a degree -- i.e., half again as much as the global warming we've already seen, which has been enough to make the seas 30% more acid and cut Arctic sea ice 40%. But if you burned all the coal we know about it, the temperature would go up 15 degrees.
At a certain point, I suppose, it doesn't matter -- most scientists think anything more than two degrees Celsius puts us into a zone of extreme danger, and we're already halfway there. Fifteen degrees would be just gilding the lily. Still, it makes it clear that even if, as NASA's James Hansen has said, burning the planet's unconventional fuels like tarsands would mean it was "game over the for the climate," stopping that burning won't be enough. We also have to address the most obvious, conventional forms of energy -- coal, especially. It was the first kind of fossil fuel we learned to burn, 300 years ago. And we've got to kick the habit.
Which is why, even as the political gamesmanship over the Keystone pipeline rages on (with the GOP at the moment making the absurd claim that this export pipeline will lower U.S. pump prices), we've got no choice but to take on other battles. 350.org has been embroiled these last weeks in the fight over a massive new coal plant in Kosovo; closer to home, plans were just announced for a truly massive new coal port in Washington State that would take eight mile-long coal trains a day from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming and ship them straight to China.
We've got to stop projects like this, just as we united to fight Keystone. In fact, we've got -- as soon as possible -- to stop fighting bad things one by one. We don't have enough fingers to plug every hole in the dike; we need to change the basic underlying economics, by charging the fossil fuel industry for the damage carbon does in the atmosphere instead of just letting them continue to use the atmosphere as an open sewer for free.
The fact that there's more coal than tarsands doesn't change the math of the Keystone debate. As the scientist who did the study pointed out, this is "not a get out of jail free card" to the tarsands industry, and added that he also opposed the proposed Gateway pipeline to Canada's Pacific coast.
But it is a powerful reminder that we don't get to rest in a fight that we're still losing, a fight that has many fronts but only one central tenet: the future of the earth depends on keeping carbon underground.
Psychologists at the University of California in Berkeley drew their unflattering conclusions after covertly observing people's behaviour in the open and in a series of follow-up studies in the laboratory.
Describing their work in the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, social psychologist Paul Piff and his colleagues at the Institute of Personality and Social Research claim that self-interest may be a "more fundamental motive among society's elite" that leads to more wrongdoing. They say selfishness may be "a shared cultural norm" The scientists also found a strong link between social status and greed, a connection they suspect might exacerbate the economic gulf between the rich and poor.
The work builds on previous research that suggests the upper classes are less cognizant of others, worse at reading other people's emotions and less altruistic than individuals in lower social classes.
An international team of researchers has concluded that most of the Neanderthals in Europe died off about 50,000 years ago — some 10,000 years before the arrival of modern humans.
It has generally been assumed that modern humans caused the demise of the Neanderthals, either by killing them directly or by simply out-competing them, claiming the best hunting territories, or surviving more effectively under Ice Age conditions. This new study suggests that none of those scenarios is correct.
The Swedish and Spanish scientists involved in the study, who were working on DNA from Neanderthal fossils found in Northern Spain, were surprised to discover that the genetic variation among European Neanderthals between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago was extremely limited.
“The amount of genetic variation in geologically older Neanderthals as well as in Asian Neanderthals was just as great as in modern humans as a species, whereas the variation among later European Neanderthals was not even as high as that of modern humans in Iceland”, one of the scientists explained.
ah - here we go -
"This is going to blow the foreign policy chattering class away. Wikileaks has obtained five million emails from StratFor, the influential intelligence consultancy based in Texas.
The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods, for example:
"[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control... This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase" – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.
The material contains privileged information about the US government’s attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor’s own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks. There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.
The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the "Yes Men", for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.
Stratfor has realised that its routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders is risky. In August 2011, Stratfor CEO George Friedman confidentially told his employees: "We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either."
Stratfor’s use of insiders for intelligence soon turned into a money-making scheme of questionable legality. The emails show that in 2009 then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman hatched an idea to "utilise the intelligence" it was pulling in from its insider network to start up a captive strategic investment fund. CEO George Friedman explained in a confidential August 2011 document, marked DO NOT SHARE OR DISCUSS: "What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like". The emails show that in 2011 Goldman Sach’s Morenz invested "substantially" more than $4million and joined Stratfor’s board of directors. Throughout 2011, a complex offshore share structure extending as far as South Africa was erected, designed to make StratCap appear to be legally independent. But, confidentially, Friedman told StratFor staff: "Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral... It will be useful to you if, for the sake of convenience, you think of it as another aspect of Stratfor and Shea as another executive in Stratfor... we are already working on mock portfolios and trades". StratCap is due to launch in 2012.
If you're tired of hearing about 'Intelligent design' creationists and the court wars against Darwin's theory in the U.S., you might be surprised to learn that another pillar of modern science, Einstein and his Theory of Relativity, is under attack.
A burgeoning underground of 'dissident' scientists and self-described experts publish their theories in newsletters and blogs on the Net, exchanging ideas in a great battle against 'the temple of relativity'. According to these critics, relativity is not only wrong, it's an affront to common sense, and its creator, Albert Einstein, was no less than a cheat.
A quick glance at anti-relativity proponents and their publications reveals a plethora of alternative theories about how the universe really works – very few of them in agreement with each other. But despite their many differences, common themes among these self-described iconoclasts do emerge: resentment of academic 'elites', suspicion of the entire peer-review process in mainstream scientific journals and a deep-seated paranoia about the extent of government involvement in scientific projects.
An aethro-kinematics website (www.aethro-kinematics.com) claims to refute relativity by resurrecting René Descartes' theory that the Earth and all the planets are carried around the Sun by an "Aether vortex". Another site points to the work of one Stefan Marinov, a self-described dissident, who apparently threatened to immolate himself in front of the British Embassy in Vienna, Austria, because he was so incensed by the refusal of the respected journal Nature to publish his 'proofs' against relativity.
A US story - draw your own conclusions up here in Robocall land...
The oil and gas industry has long tried to cast doubts about climate change, just as the tobacco industry tried for years to put cigarette smoking in a good light. The infamous Koch Industries is one example of an oil company that gives great sums of money to climate change opposition groups. Greenpeace discovered two years ago that Koch Industries donated almost $48 million to climate change opposition groups from 1997 to 2008.
Besides giving money, there are other ways that corporations try to cast doubt about climate change. A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) describes five basic methods corporations use to influence the science and policy making processes:
- Corrupting the science by suppressing research, intimidating scientists, manipulating study designs, ghostwriting scientific articles and selectively publishing results that suit their interests
- Shaping public perception by exaggerating uncertainty, vilifying scientists, hiding behind front groups and feeding the media slanted news stories
- Restricting agency effectiveness by attacking the science behind agency policy, hindering the regulatory process, holding corrupt advisory panels, exploiting the revolving door between corporate and government employment, censoring scientists and withholding information from the public
- Influencing Congress by spending billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions
- Exploiting judicial pathways by expanding their influence on the judicial system and then using the courts to undermine science
After working at the CERN research center near Geneva for a decade, where he was part of efforts to understand the origins of the universe, 49-year-old physicist Niels Kjaer returned home to his native Copenhagen. There were no newspaper job listings for people with Ph.D.s in particle physics, and he had no contacts at local universities. Since Kjaer has difficulty interacting with others, he decided to take a job driving a taxi in Copenhagen. "Okay, fine," he told himself, "I'll just work the night shift." Within six months, he was suffering from depression.
After Thorkil Sonne, the technical director of the Danish communications company TDC, had heard one too many times about how poorly his young son was fitting in at kindergarten, he and his wife went to a psychologist for advice. Instead of tips on how to raise their child, they received a diagnosis. Their son had Asperger's syndrome, the psychologist said, a form of autism. Sonne and his wife were told that people with Asperger's usually have no problems concentrating and had very good memories, but that they have trouble when it comes to matters of the heart, making it difficult for them to laugh at funny things or comfort those who are sad. This inability to relate to others, the psychologist said, makes children with Asperger's syndrome outsiders.
After hearing words like autism and outsider, the father was flabbergasted. There wasn't much that could be done, the psychologist said. Today, Niels Kjaer, the particle physicist, no longer drives a taxi. And that has something to do with the fact that Thorkil Sonne didn't take the psychologist's advice. Instead, he decided that something could be done for people with Asperger's, after all.
In 2004, Sonne established a company in Copenhagen called Specialisterne, or "the Specialists." The company hires autistic people like Kjaer and places them in projects, primarily with IT companies, where they analyze software, manage data and write programs.
Sonne says that he didn't start the company for charitable reasons. He wants the work performed by his employees to matter, and he wants their talents to be recognized -- talents that are hard to convey in formal job interviews.
Sonne ensures that his employees are paid standard industry wages. His long-term goal is to create a million jobs worldwide for people with Asperger's and similar autistic disorders. Specialisterne already has offices in Iceland, Scotland and Switzerland, and it plans to open an office in Germany this year.
Matthias Prössl walks into a café in Munich, having come straight from a job center, where an adviser explained to him how entrepreneurs can take advantage of government subsidies and grants. Prössl wants to bring Sonne's concept from Denmark to Germany. The 51-year-old once worked as an executive at IBM. His eldest son was diagnosed with Asperger's six years ago. Since then, Prössl's world has no longer revolved around his career.
An estimated one in 3,000 children has Asperger's syndrome, which affects more boys than girls. It is still unclear where the disorder comes from, although experts believe that it is caused by a combination of genetic factors, brain damage and biochemical changes. In contrast to other autistic individuals, intelligence and language ability develop normally in children with Asperger's. In fact, many start talking earlier than other children, sometimes even before they learn to walk. They quickly develop a favorite subject and sink into their own worlds, poring over maps, telephone books and train schedules. Later on, their interests turn to periodic tables, programming languages or, as in the case of Niels Kjaer, the formulas of high-energy physics.
Still, they have difficulty correctly interpreting social situations and are unable to properly assess the facial expressions, gestures and emotional states of other people. They often avoid direct eye contact. According to the textbook definition, they are characterized by a "lack of social and emotional reciprocity."
Asperger's cannot be cured, though treatment can help people with the condition to cope with the world somewhat more effectively. People with Asperger's or autism cannot empathize with the emotions of other people, but they can learn that a loud voice or a wrinkled brow signify anger and annoyance.Irony, puns and metaphors are usually lost on people with Asperger's syndrome because they interpret them literally. The sentence "my head is about to explode" can send them into a panic.
People who take everything literally have trouble lying, and most people with Asperger's are brutally honest. When asked in an interview "What are your weaknesses?" they tend to respond with complete honesty. Indeed, they lack the ability to portray themselves in an advantageous light. As a result, some manage to complete university degrees in difficult subjects, only to fail miserably once they hit the job market.
Prössl's son is now 15. Since he suffers from a milder form of Asperger's, he attends a normal secondary school. When he started attending his current school, the Prössls told a few teachers about his condition so as to avoid misunderstandings when it became clear that their son had trouble interacting with others.
Many people with Asperger's attend special schools. "It isn't because they can't keep up intellectually," says Friedrich Nolte of the German Autism Society, "but because the groups are smaller there." In normal schools, social pressures are often too much for children with Asperger's. They end up being teased and bullied, leading many to eventually become depressed. "I don't want my son to be sent to occupational therapy instead of learning what he can do and what he enjoys," Prössl says. But what's the best way to give these children a good education and help them embark on a career?
Specialisterne's main office is in an industrial zone west of Copenhagen. The walls and doors are decorated with film posters and humorous postcards. A Rubik's Cube solved by one of the employees sits on a desk.
After his son was diagnosed with Asperger's, Sonne says he became active in the Danish Autism Association, where he and his wife gradually got to know other children with the condition. He met adolescents who were clever and competent yet failing in school. "These are the boys who answer the teacher's questions instead of fooling around with the kids sitting next to them," Sonne says. "Now that shouldn't be a reason to have to attend a school for children with special needs, should it?"
Sonne knew from personal experience how difficult it can be to find employees who are detail-oriented, persistent and precise -- just the skills he was observing in young men with Asperger's. And yet not one of them was able to apply his talents. "I wanted to take advantage of the characteristics that autistic people have, not just for their sake, but also to benefit the economy," Sonne says. He founded the company in 2004 using money from a home equity loan. Specialisterne now has 33 employees.
Sonne has already won several international awards in recognition of his commitment. He receives inquiries from parents and people with Asperger's syndrome from around the world. All of this support has encouraged him to implement his concept in other countries.
When asked why an employer should hire an autistic person in the first place, Sonne says that their assets are obvious. "People with Asperger's can concentrate better. They are more precise," he says. These abilities, he adds, are an advantage in such fields as data control. "Other testers lose interest after the third attempt, and then errors start to creep in. My people are still wide awake after the 10th attempt."
They just need a little help with other things, he says. People with Asperger's have no sense of nuance, and yet they are often perfectionists. When they think something doesn't make sense, they usually criticize it directly. Since this approach can create friction in a working environment, Sonne's employees also receive training in office etiquette. They are taught skills such as how to exchange pleasantries with coworkers and how to phrase criticism diplomatically. With a little consideration, Sonne says, everyone gets along.
In Denmark, Specialisterne employees are now managing projects at Siemens, Nokia and TDC. When asked why so much involvement with computers and what makes people with autism so passionate about data and order, Sonne says: "They like to adhere to fixed rules and routines (and) computers are very reliable counterparts." What's more, computer language is logically structured and, in most cases, computers remain the same way they were when they were used last.
Besides, Sonne says, the people one encounters on the Internet are more predictable than people in real life. On the Web, most people write what they mean using clear and unmistakable terms. Reading between the lines is rarely necessary, and most people identify irony with a smiley face.
Niels Kjaer is sitting in an office at Specialisterne, working on a computer program designed to help improve quality-control checks on chicken eggs. The goal is to detect cracks in eggs with a scanning camera. Kjaer shows images of eggs that are blotchy, dented or cracked. He looks for the imperfect ones, which he wants to help filter out. Kjaer has come a long way, from CERN to driving a taxi to finally programming. When asked if he is happy, Kjaer doesn't avert his gaze from the screen and answers that there is still a lot to be improved about the program. "Up here on the left," Kjaer says, pointing to an egg, "it should be possible to detect these hairline cracks soon." Of course, he didn't answer the question. But perhaps it's just that he understood it in a completely different way.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
The Maryland Senate voted 25-22 in favor of legislation legalizing same-sex marriage this evening, sending the bill to Gov. Martin O'Malley for his signature. The legislation narrowly passed the House last week, the very place it died during last year's legislative session.
As soon as the measure is signed, Maryland will become the eighth state to have legalized same-sex marriage; couples in the District have also enjoyed marriage equality since 2010. Still, if opponents can gather 56,000 signatures, they can force a referendum on the legislation in November.
“Bill Gates may be a smart guy in terms of computer programming, and an expert on how to become a billionaire, but he obviously knows nothing about agriculture other than what Monsanto and the biotech industry have told him. Eighteen years after the introduction of the first genetically engineered crops, there is no evidence, including data from the pro-biotech USDA, that these energy and chemical-intensive crops increase yield, improve nutrition, or provide greater yields under adverse weather conditions of drought or heavily rains. On the contrary hundreds of studies, including those by peer-reviewed scientists and the U.N.’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) indicate that organic crops provide significantly higher levels of vitamins, nutrients, and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants; that organic crops have significantly higher yields during periods of drought and torrential rain; and that agro-ecological or organic farms produce 2-10 times great yields than industrial-scale chemical and GMO farms. In others words, not only can organic farming and ranching feed the world, but in fact it is the only way that we will ever be able to feed the world.”
Now it’s a straight fight with the billionaires and corporations.
Shocking, fascinating, entirely unsurprising: the leaked documents, if authentic, confirm what we suspected but could not prove. The Heartland Institute, which has helped lead the war against climate science in the United States, is funded among others by tobacco firms, fossil fuel companies and one of the billionaire Koch brothers(1).
It appears to have followed the script written by a consultant to the Republican party, Frank Luntz, in 2002. “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”(2)
Luntz’s technique was pioneered by the tobacco companies and the creationists: teach the controversy. In other words, insist that the question of whether cigarettes cause lung cancer, natural selection drives evolution or burning fossil fuels causes climate change is still wide open, and that both sides of the “controversy” should be taught in schools and thrashed out in the media.
The leaked documents appear to show that, courtesy of its multi-millionaire donors, the institute has commissioned a global warming curriculum for schools, which teaches that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy” and “whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial.”(3).
It's true - Harper Signed the FIPA with China to allow THEM to sue if environmental standards are applied to Oil Sands.
The Canada-China FIPA will, in fact, provide yet another barrier to badly needed reforms in China.
The same deal will give Chinese investors in the Alberta tar sands the right to sue the Canadian government if any new standards are introduced to reduce the current level of environmental damage to water, air and local communities of that industry. It will also give Chinese investors the right to stake a claim to the water they use in these operations.
This investment deal threatens human rights and environmental stewardship in Canada and China and makes it clear that Mr. Harper will put both on the backburner in his role as chief salesman for big business.
A Palestinian Take on the Mideast Conflict: 'The Pursuit of a Two-State Solution Is a Fantasy' - SPIEGEL
Prominent Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh believes it is too late for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. In a SPIEGEL interview, he outlines his vision for an Israeli-Palestinian confederation and why he mistrusts the new moderate stance taken by the Islamic militant group Hamas...Nusseibeh: First of all, it took Israel a long time to accept that there is a Palestinian people. It took us, the Palestinians, a long time to accept that we should recognize Israel as a state. The problem is that history runs faster than ideas. By the time the world woke up to the fact that the two-state solution is the best solution, we had hundreds of thousands Israelis living beyond the Green Line (ed's note: the 1949 Armistice Line that forms the boundary between Israel and the West Bank). There is a growing fanaticism on both sides. Today, the pursuit of a two-state solution looks like the pursuit of something inside a fantasy bubble.
(no rest for the weary as the mills of ignorance grind on....)
A bill in Oklahoma that would, if enacted, encourage teachers to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of "controversial" topics such as "biological evolution" and "global warming" is back from the dead. Entitled the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act," House Bill 1551 was introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2011 by Sally Kern (R-District 84), a persistent sponsor of antievolution legislation in the Sooner State, and referred to the House Common Education Committee. It was rejected there on February 22, 2011, on a 7-9 vote. But, as The Oklahoman (February 23, 2011) reported, the vote was not final, since a sponsor "could ask the committee to bring it up again this session or next year." And indeed, on February 20, 2012, Gus Blackwell (R-District 61) resurrected the bill in the House Common Education Committee.
The only significant difference is that where the original version specified, "The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects," the new version specifies, "the Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."
On February 21, 2012, just a day after HB 1551 was resurrected, the House Common Education Committee voted 9-7 to accept it, hearing no testimony from the public.
With the world’s freshwater supplies under mounting pressure from pollution and galloping consumption, understanding the how, where and why of water use is more important than ever.
To that end, scientists from the University of Twente in the Netherlands have released a new study analyzing the quantity and distribution of global water use from 1996 to 2005.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, is the third major research effort to tackle the daunting question of global water consumption patterns, and it has improved on previous attempts by breaking down the different ways in which people use water. Those can broadly be thought of as the volume of rainwater consumed, the volume of ground and surface water depleted and the volume of water polluted.
Globally, agriculture accounts for 92 percent of all freshwater use, with the water-intensive production of cereal grains like wheat, rice and corn accounting for 27 percent of the world’s water footprint. Meat production is responsible for 22 percent and dairy for 7 percent, the study indicates.
It found that the United States, which has only 5 percent of the world’s population, is the third-largest consumer of freshwater, after the vastly more populated China and India. Per-capita water consumption in the United States was 2,842 cubic meters a year, or 100,364 cubic feet, in comparison with 1,089 cubic meters for China and 1,071 for India.
Yet it is here that biologists have discovered a fascinating new species: the tiny chameleon Brookesia micra. From tip to tail, the mini-lizards measure less than three centimetres (1.2 inches), making them some of the smallest reptiles on Earth.
Mostly brown with a touch of green, the coloring of the diminutive creatures is far from spectacular. And they are unable to change their appearance like their larger cousins. Nonetheless, researchers are fascinated. "It's not the kind of thing where you have to perform extensive genetic analysis to realize that this is something new," Miguel Vences, a biologist with the Technical University of Braunschweig and the co-author of an article on the new species in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Still, Vences and his colleagues, including Frank Glaw from the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology and Jörn Köhler of the Hesse State Museum in Darmstadt, have taken a closer look at the lizard's genetic makeup -- and that of other tiny chameleons they found in neighboring regions of Madagascar. In total, the researchers discovered four new species of miniature saurians.
They have also found "surprisingly large genetic discrepancies" between the quartet of new discoveries, despite the fact that they all look very much alike. Their evolutionary paths would seem to have diverged many millions of years ago.
Once at the vanguard of the protest movement, women have yet to gain any significant influence in the new Egypt, revealing the complexities of defining gender rights in a nation colored by Islam, inundated by Western media permissiveness and ruled by military men operating in a cloistered realm of gold stars and salutes.
The army council that replaced Mubarak's corrupt regime has been harsh, subjecting female dissidents to "virginity tests" to intimidate them, and in December beating and ripping the clothes off female demonstrators, including one stripped to her blue bra, an image that became an icon for an unfinished rebellion.
Political power has shifted to the hands of Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafis control more than 70% of the seats in the parliament, a prospect that worries women seeking equality on social matters such as education and divorce. Only five women have seats among the assembly's 508 elected and appointed members. In 2010, a year after Mubarak enacted a quota system to expand the female presence, 68 women won parliament seats.
The military later abolished the quota, another sign the feminist agenda was stalled against more powerful and patriarchal designs.
Nawal Saadawi, 80, silver hair in pigtails, has fought for women over a lifetime. One of Egypt's leading writers and its most eloquent feminist, she's been at her desk for years, immortalizing women in her dozens of books about fictitious women and women very real. Her titles can sting with indictment: "She Has No Place in Paradise." Women, she says, have been betrayed in today's Egypt of mullahs and generals.
"We don't hear the voice of women," she says. "We're not allowed to speak. I've written 47 books that paved the way for women, so why am I not allowed to speak?"
Here's a picture of the all-male first panel at the House Oversight Committee's hearing on administration's contraception rule. Democratic women on the committee have largely stayed out of the hearing room to protest the lack of women and countering points of view on the panel. (Can you say "3 bishops and a rabbi walk into a room....?")
Pelosi, whose constituency includes San Francisco, reportedly broke the news exclusively to Metro Weekly shortly after the group Freedom to Marry launched a campaign calling on Democrats to adopt marriage equality as one of their “official” issues.
The group has proposed a very specific statement to add to the DNC’s platform, which reads: “We support the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law, including the freedom to marry. Government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times. We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples.” Pelosi’s office reportedly told Metro Weekly that she “supports this language.”
“Freedom to Marry is proud to have Leader Pelosi joining our call to put the Democratic Party squarely on record in support of the freedom to marry as part of the national platform,” the group’s president, Evan Wolfson, told Metro Weekly. “A wide majority of Democrats and Independents support the freedom to marry, and standing up for all families is not just the right thing to do, it’s the right to do politically.”
It’s not clear whether the party will actually adopt marriage equality on its official platform, as President Barack Obama continues to say he is opposed to fully legalizing same sex marriage, but supports giving equal rights to gays and lesbian couples. However, Obama also picked Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) to lead the DNC in 2011, and she’s a strong proponent of marriage equality.
GREAT article. Both articles. Read them. Pass them on. Yeay for George - again and again.
Is environmentalism compatible with social justice? By George Monbiot. Published on the Guardian’s website, 13th February 2012
....delivering social justice and protecting the environment are not only compatible: they are each indispensable to the other. Only through social justice, which must include the redistribution of the world’s ridiculously concentrated wealth, can the environment and the lives of the world’s poorest be defended.
It is the stick with which the greens are beaten daily: if we spend money on protecting the environment, the poor will starve, or freeze to death, or will go without shoes and education. Most of those making this argument do so disingenuously: they support the conservative or libertarian politics that keep the poor in their place and ensure that the 1% harvest the lion’s share of the world’s resources.
Journalists writing for the corporate press, with views somewhere to the right of Vlad the Impaler and no prior record of concern for the poor, suddenly become their doughty champions when the interests of the proprietorial class are threatened. If tar sands cannot be extracted in Canada, they maintain, subsistence farmers in Africa will starve. If Tesco’s profits are threatened, children will die of malaria. When it is done cleverly, promoting the interests of corporations and the ultra-rich under the guise of concern for the poor is an effective public relations strategy.
Even so, it is true that there is sometimes a clash between environmental policies and social justice, especially when the policies have been poorly designed, as I argued on this blog last month But while individual policies can be bad for the poor, is the protection of the environment inherently incompatible with social justice? This is the question addressed in the discussion paper published by Oxfam this morning.
Oxfam, remember, exists to defend the world’s poorest people and help them to escape from poverty. Unlike the rightwing bloggers, it is motivated by genuine concern for social justice. So when it investigates the question of whether concern for the environment conflicts with development, we should take notice. Kate Raworth, who wrote the report, has created an essential template for deciding whether economic activity will help or harm humanity and the biosphere. She points out that in rough terms we already know how to identify the social justice line below which no one should fall, and the destruction line above which human impacts should not rise.
The social justice line is set by the eleven priorities listed by the governments preparing for this year’s Rio summit. These are:
- food security
- adequate income
- clean water and good sanitation
- effective healthcare
- access to education
- decent work
- modern energy services
- resilience to shocks
- gender equality
- social equity
- a voice in democratic politics.
The destruction line is set by the nine planetary boundaries identified in Stockholm in 2009 by a group of earth system scientists. They identified the levels beyond which we endanger the earth’s living systems of:
- climate change
- biodiversity loss
- nitrogen and phosphate use
- ozone depletion
- ocean acidification
- freshwater use
- changes in land use
- particles in the atmosphere
- chemical pollution.
We are already living above the line on the first three indicators, and close to it on several others.
The space between these two lines is the “safe and just space for humanity to thrive in”. So what happens if everyone below the social justice line rises above it? Does that push us irrevocably over the destruction line? The answer, she shows, is no.
For example, providing enough food for the 13% of the world’s people who suffer from hunger means raising world supplies by just 1%. Providing electricity to the 19% of people who currently have none would raise global carbon emissions by just 1%. Bringing everyone above the global absolute poverty line ($1.25 a day) would need just 0.2% of global income.
In other words, it is not the needs of the poor that threaten the biosphere, but the demands of the rich. Raworth points out that half the world’s carbon emissions are produced by just 11% of its people, while, with grim symmetry, 50% of the world’s people produce just 11% of its emissions. Animal feed used in the EU alone, which accounts for just 7% of the world’s people, uses up 33% of the planet’s sustainable nitrogen budget. “Excessive resource use by the world’s richest 10 per cent of consumers,” she notes, “crowds out much-needed resource use by billions of other people.”
The politically easy way to tackle poverty is to try to raise the living standards of the poor while doing nothing to curb the consumption of the rich. This is the strategy almost all governments follow. It is a formula for environmental disaster, which, in turn, spreads poverty and deprivation. As Oxfam’s paper says, social justice is impossible without “far greater global equity in the use of natural resources, with the
greatest reductions coming from the world’s richest consumers.”
This is not to suggest that all measures intended to protect the environment are socially just. Raworth identifies the evictions by biofuels companies and plantation firms harvesting carbon credits as examples of the pursuit of supposedly green policies which harm the poor. But before the sneering starts, remember that the fight against both these blights has been led by environmentalists, who recognised their destructive potential long before the libertarians now using them as evidence of the perfidy of the green movement.
But there are far more cases in which poverty has been exacerbated by the lack of environmental policies. The Oxfam paper points out that crossing any of the nine planetary boundaries can “severely undermine human development, first and foremost for women and men living in poverty.” Climate change, for example, is already hammering the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. You can see the consequences of crossing another planetary boundary in the report just published by the New Economics Foundation, which shows that overfishing has destroyed around 100,000 jobs.
Just as mistaken green policies can damage the poor, mistaken poverty relief policies can damage the environment. For example, where fertiliser subsidies encourage farmers to use more than they need, as they do in China, money supposed to relieve poverty serves only to pollute the water supply. Development which has no regard for whom or what it harms is not development. It is the opposite of progress, damaging the Earth’s capacity to support us and the rest of its living systems.
But extreme poverty, just like extreme wealth, can also damage the environment. People without access to clean energy sources, for example, are often forced to use wood for cooking. This shortens their lives as they inhale the smoke, destroys forests and exacerbates global warming by producing black carbon.
With a few exceptions, none of which should be hard to remedy, delivering social justice and protecting the environment are not only compatible: they are each indispensable to the other. Only through social justice, which must include the redistribution of the world’s ridiculously concentrated wealth, can the environment and the lives of the world’s poorest be defended.
Those who consume far more resources than they require destroy the life chances of those whose survival depends upon consuming more. As Gandhi said, the Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed.
Monsanto is getting a taste of its own medicine; the company is being taken to court.
In this corner, we have a corporate biotech giant with a tighter grasp on the agricultural Monopoly board than your over-enthusiastic little sister on game night. (Their patented genes are in more than 80 percent of the soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and canola seeds grown in the U.S.) And in this corner, 83 scrappy plaintiffs representing non-GMO seed producers, farmers, and agricultural organizations who say they want the biotech company to stop suing and threatening them. While most are organic, not all of them are.
The latter group — led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and referred to in the lawsuit as OSGATA et al. — has turned to a strategy Monsanto has been using for a while now: the courts. Although they certainly aren’t the first sustainability-minded folks to take their struggle to the courts, their suit, filed last March, has a sweet sense of irony.
As we reported last March, when the lawsuit was first announced, OSGATA et al. is fighting an old battle against Monsanto’s so-called “seed police” and their practice of suing farmers for patent infringement because pollen or seeds from a farm growing GMO plants nearby drifts onto their land.That’s right. It’s a lawsuit to prevent future lawsuits.
OSGATA and company finally got their day in court on Jan. 31. Approximately 200 farmers and supporters showed up in front of the Federal District Court in Manhattan for opening arguments. Occupy Wall Street’s food justice working group helped organize the rally, though they are not plaintiffs in the suit. “We’re part of OWS, which is all about corporate consolidation, and you can’t discuss that without addressing agriculture,” says Corbin Laedlein, a member of the working group.
(lots of oil money behind those climate-change-debunkers -)
The Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank funded by the Koch brothers, Microsoft, and other top corporations, is planning to develop a “global warming curriculum” for elementary schoolchildren that presents climate science as “a major scientific controversy,” according to a report by Think Progress.
The Heartland Institute's] effort, at a cost of $100,000 a year, will be developed by Dr. David E. Wojick, a coal-industry consultant.
“Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” Heartland’s confidential 2012 fundraising document bemoans. The group believes that Wojick’s project has “potential for great success,” because he has “contacts at virtually all the national organizations involved in producing, certifying, and promoting scientific curricula.” The document explains that Wojick will produce “modules” that promote the conspiratorial claim that climate change is “controversial” [...]
"A bill passed last month by the Indiana Senate that would have allowed schools to teach religious stories of creation along with the theory of evolution when discussing the origins of life in science class is dead," according to the Indianapolis Star's education blog (February 14, 2012). The bill in question is Senate Bill 89. As originally submitted, SB 89 provided, "The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation." On January 30, 2012, however, it was amended in the Senate to provide instead, "The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology."
The bill subsequently proceeded to the House of Representatives. But the Speaker of the House, Brian Bosma (R-District 88), was disinclined to let it continue further, as the Times of Munster (February 2, 2012) reported, as was the chair of the House Education Committee, Robert Behning (R-District 91), as the Associated Press (February 7, 2012) reported. Now, according to the Star's education blog, Bosma "moved the bill to the rules committee, a procedural step that all but assures it will not make it to a vote this year." The bill would have to be approved by its committee and by the full House by March 5, 2012, in order to be passed by the legislature. "I didn't disagree with the concept of the bill," Bosma said. "But I hesitate to micromanage local curricula. Secondarily, I didn't think it was prudent to buy a lawsuit the state could ill afford at this point."
....? Above all, they understand that China seeks predictable, permanent access to the commodities it needs, through decisive influence over the national economies that house those resources. And our security experts recognize that China deploys a creative mix of methods to achieve these objectives, including:
1) Espionage: Human spies who, among other things, use sex to motivate their sources, cyber spies that break into online systems to steal secrets, and front companies that are positioned in pivotal sectors like oil -- espionage is a favorite tool in the Chinese economic toolbox;
2) Equity Investment: Direct investment by state-controlled Chinese firms -- at first in small and unremarkable amounts, and, later, through large and influential (often with veto rights) equity stakes -- in foreign companies in the energy, mining, finance, and communications sectors;
3) Debt investment: China's offering of large lines of credit to local firms or governments, sometimes targeting specific sectors or projects, or else made generally available, is a method that is evident in poor and rich countries alike;
4) Use of Chinese labour: One technique here is to require that workers on, say, an Australian mining project speak Mandarin fluently, a measure that inevitably results in Chinese workers populating project enclaves while limiting local employment benefits;
5)Construction of government buildings: Chinese companies have built new headquarters for host -government ministries, including, alarmingly, those of the Defence ministries of some poor countries;
7)Waiting: More important, China is very good at waiting, over decades and even over generations, for the cumulative efforts of their methods to take full effect. Taiwan is the classic case here. However, the list of other countries where this waiting game is playing out is growing.One of these countries is Australia, which has been grappling with the effects of increased trade and investment with China. A recent business press headline encapsulated the grand bargain now under public debate: "The deal is simple. Australia gets money, and China gets Australia." With its small population and open, resource-rich economy, Australia has much in common with Canada.... (read more)
By Catherine Lagrange and Marion Douet
LYON/PARIS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - A French court on Monday declared U.S. biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.
In the first such case heard in court in France, grain grower Paul Francois, 47, says he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto's Lasso weedkiller in 2004. He blames the agri-business giant for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.
The ruling was given by a court in Lyon, southeast France, which ordered an expert opinion of Francois's losses to establish the amount of damages.
"It is a historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a (pesticide) maker is found guilty of such a poisoning," François Lafforgue, Francois's lawyer, told Reuters.
great essay by Noam Chomsky at 9:41am, February 14, 2012.
Back in May 2007, I stumbled across online sketches at the website of a Kansas architectural firm hired to build a monster U.S. embassy-cum-citadel-cum-Greater-Middle-Eastern command center on 104 acres in the middle of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. They offered an artist’s impressions of what the place would look like -- a giant self-sufficient compound both prosaic (think malls or housing projects) and opulent (a giant pool, tennis courts, a recreation center).
Struck by the fact that the U.S. government was intent on building the largest embassy ever in the planet’s oil heartlands, I wrote a piece, “The Mother Ship Lands in Iraq” about those plans and offered a little tour of the project via those crude drawings. From TomDispatch, they then began to run around the Internet and soon a panicky State Department had declared a “security breach” and forced the firm to pull the sketches off its website.
Now, more than five years later, we have the first public photos of the embassy -- a pool, basketball court, tennis courts, and food court to die for -- just as the news has arrived that the vast boondoggle of a place, built for three-quarters of a billion of your tax dollars, with a $6 billion State Department budget this year and its own mercenary air force, is about to get its staff of 16,000 slashed. In a Washington Post piece on the subject, Senator Patrick Leahy is quoted as saying: “I’ve been in embassies all over the world, and you come to this place and you’re like: ‘Whoa. Wow.’ All of a sudden you’ve got something so completely out of scale to anything, you have to wonder, what were they thinking when they first built it?”
The answer is: in 2004, when planning for this white elephant of embassies first began, the Bush administration was still dreaming of a Washington-enforced Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East and saw it as its western command post. Now, of course, the vast American mega-bases in Iraq with their multiple bus routes, giant PXes, Pizza Huts, Cinnabons, and Burger Kings, where American troops were to be garrisoned on the “Korean model” for decades to come, are so many ghost towns, fading American ziggurats in Mesopotamia. ....
A Chinese court has sentenced a veteran dissident to seven years in jail, his son said. Zhu Yufu was jailed for "inciting subversion of state power" by a court in Hangzhou, eastern China, after a trial hearing on 31 January when prosecutors cited a poem and messages he had sent on the internet, his son Zhu Ang told Reuters.
The poem said: "It's time, Chinese people! It's time. The Square belongs to all." References to a "square" might evoke memories among many Chinese people of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, though the poem did not mention it or the 1989 pro-democracy protests. Prosecutors also cited text messages that he sent using Skype. There was no suggestion that the online chat service helped police to collect evidence.
"The court verdict said this was a serious crime that deserved stern punishment," said Zhu Ang, 31, who said he was allowed to attend the court hearing with his mother. "Now my mother is terribly upset, even if we saw this coming."
(meanwhile, Harper hugs a panda and sells tainted salmon and dreams of a pipeline to China...)
NEW DELHI, Feb 10 (TrustLaw) - Scores of South Asian charities struggling to curb high child-marriage rates are backing a global movement spearheaded by South African peace icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu to end the practice affecting millions of girls and women worldwide.
Representatives from charities in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka gathered in New Delhi last week at the regional launch of the "Girls Not Brides" alliance – created by Tutu, 80, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for speaking out against white minority rule in South Africa.
Now, as chairman of The Elders – a group of prominent people that include former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Irish President Mary Robinson and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter dedicated to addressing human rights – Tutu is trying to persuade governments and local communities to take child marriage more seriously.
"Women represent 50 percent of humanity and countries are holding themselves back in terms of their economic development by discriminating against girls and women," he told a press conference last week.
"We are saying 'imagine what would happen when women and girls are set free and can participate in decision-making.'" The Elders, which launched the "Girls Not Brides" movement in New York last year said 80 organisations were already part of the alliance, including 15 from India, to share knowledge and coordinate their activities.
On his four-day visit to India Tutu was accompanied by Robinson and two other Elders – former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and Ela Bhatt, an activist who founded India's largest female trade unions. The four Elders said they are using their collective global weight to build up an international alliance of charities dedicated to ending child marriage.
Last week, the Saudi writer and blogger Hamza Kashgari tweeted about Prophet Muhammad and his tweets caused an unanticipated fire-storm of outrage among many Saudis. They formed an "electronic lynch mob" and responded with hate-filled tweets, Face-book posts, comments, threats and YouTube videos, calling for the arrest and punishment of Kashgari.
A prominent Saudi cleric accused Kashgari of apostasy ("Ridda"), which could be punishable by death under Saudi law. Multiple sites reported that an arrest warrant was issued by the King of Saudi-Arabia, even though Kashgari deleted his tweets and apologized for them. Realizing that his life was in danger, Kashgari escaped from Saudi-Arabia. However, at the request of the Saudi authorities, Kashgari was detained mid-journey by the Malaysian police at the Kuala Lumpur airport, so that he was unable to reach his destination New Zealand, where he had intended to ask for political asylum.
The government of Malaysia is now in the process of deciding whether or not to extradite Kashgari back to Saudi-Arabia. It is appalling that Saudi clerics and the Saudi government would resort to such measures in response to a few tweets by a 23-year old writer, who was merely expressing his personal views on his faith and Prophet Muhammad. However, in light of the horrific human rights record of Saudi Arabia, these responses do not come as a surprise. What is even more shocking than the response of the Saudi officials is the fact that thousands of Saudi citizens as well as thousands Muslims in other countries are joining the chorus of hatred directed against Kashgari.
RENTON, N.J. — In a move that supporters called a civil rights milestone, New Jersey's state Senate on Monday passed a bill to recognize same-sex marriages, marking the first time state lawmakers officially endorsed the idea – despite the promise of a veto by Gov. Chris Christie.
Monday's vote was 24-16 in favor of the bill, a major swing from January 2010, when the Senate rejected it 20-14."It means the world isn't changing, it means the world has already changed," Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality said after the vote. "So wake up and smell the equality."
Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) a noted evolutionary biologist and historian of evolutionary biology has pointed out that 'Darwin's theory' is really five theories. In other words, the Origin has five major ideas. Let's explore them and see how they relate to ideas of the time and to current knowledge of evolution.
1. Evolution has happened. This is the most basic of the ideas. Life on earth is not the same as it was in the past and this has occurred through changes in species over time. Necessary for this to be true was the supporting idea that the earth was much older than had been thought based on religious beliefs. This was not an idea that was original to Darwin as we saw in the previous diary Today this would be described as the fact of evolution and the evidence for it is overwhelming.
2. All life on earth had a common ancestor. This was a revolutionary notion (although as noted last week Darwin's own grandfather had held a similar view) and probably one of the most important from a religious/social point of view. Of all Darwin's ideas this one had the least support at the time. There was little evidence uniting plants and animals - virtually nothing was known of biochemistry or cellular biology. Darwin apparently proposed this idea because he thought the origin of life to be so difficult that he couldn't imagine it happening more than once.
3. The diversity of life on earth has been generated through a pattern of change over time combined with splitting to produce a 'tree of life'. I think this is the most over-looked and original aspect of Darwin's thinking, despite the fact that he famously drew an evolutionary tree in his notes and wrote 'I think' beside it. A lot of misunderstandings of evolution are due to a failure to adopt 'tree-thinking' which we will discuss in more detail in a later diary. This idea of evolution as a combination of changes over time and splitting of lineages seems to be generally correct with a few major exceptions such as the evolution of mitochondria and chloroplasts. Darwin saw the connection between this idea and Linnean system of classification. pointing out that the classification is a summary of the tree of life.
4. Natural Selection is the primary mechanism driving evolutionary change. Wallace and Darwin came to this conclusion independently and, again, as we saw in the previous diary a number of other scholars had previously hit upon the same idea without really following through with it. What set Darwin apart was his ecological knowledge. Natural selection is as much an ecological idea as it is an evolutionary one. He could easily imagine how the 'struggle for existence' could be influenced by variation among individuals and how successful variants could pass those traits onto their offspring.
5. Evolutionary change happens gradually over time. Darwin viewed evolution as difficult and that vast periods of time would be necessary for slow, incremental changes to accumulate. This has been a topic of contention among evolutionary biologists repeatedly over the history of the discipline. It seems clear that evolution happens at different rates at different times and in some cases it can be quite ra
The Republican health care plan for America: “don’t get sick.” If you have insurance don’t get sick, if you don’t have insurance, don’t get sick; if you’re sick, don’t get sick. Just don’t get sick. … If you do get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: “die quickly.”He was attacked for his hyperbole, but even he couldn't have foreseen just how spot-on his description was. Enter Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and his new amendment to the Affordable Care Act which would allow any employer or insurance company to "exclude any health service, no matter how essential, from coverage if they morally object to it." Igor Volsky explains:Under the measure, an insurer or an employer would be able to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer.
Individuals can also opt out of any of that coverage they find morally objectionable. The National Women’s Law Center explains how dangerously limited this could be to everyone's health insurance: "Blunt’s language is vague enough that 'insurers may be able to sell plans that do not cover services required by the new health care law to an entire market because one individual objects, so all consumers in a market lose their right to coverage of the full range of critical health services.'”
Apparently Blunt figures he can't be called out for specifically for trying to limit women's health care options if he attacks everybody. So if you're one of those people who lost at genetic Russian Roulette and end up susceptible to Type 2 diabetes, or if you're on of the 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer victims who isn't a smoker, or are among the 50 percent of victims who is a former smoker, you're shit out of luck. Sexually active? You won't even be able to be screened for HIV/AIDS (really smart disease control, there).
Is this insane and extreme? Of course. Would it be a public health disaster? Absolutely. Do Republicans care? Absolutely not.
(Washington, DC – February 10, 2012) U S Representative Pete Stark (CA) and American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt have co-authored an article posted this week on The Huffington Post called Honoring Darwin Day, outlining reasons why the world should recognize Charles Darwin’s achievements on the anniversary of his birth, February 12. The article can be viewed here.
“There have been few moments in human history where our understanding of the world have increased so dramatically as when Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution,” said Roy Speckhardt, the executive director of the American Humanist Association. “I am proud to partner with Rep. Pete Stark, a member of Congress who understands the importance of Darwin and science education in our public schools.”
The International Darwin Day Foundation at www.darwinday.org is a project of the American Humanist Association and is the central organization promoting February 12 as Darwin Day by offering resources, an event calendar and social networking opportunities to local organizers. The International Darwin Day Foundation first began as the Darwin Day Celebration Program by Amanda Chesworth and Dr. Robert Stephens in 1993.
UN Panel on Global Sustainability Releases its Report
At the end of January, the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability released its final report (“Resilient People, Resilient Plant: a future worth choosing“). The panel, which was chaired by Tarja Halmen, president of Finland, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, acknowledged some progress with respect to the Millennium Development Goals, but warned that the world is on an unsustainable path: “The signposts are clear: We need to change dramatically, beginning with how we think about our relationship to each other, to future generations, and to the eco-systems that support us….Continuing on the same path will put people and our planet at greatly heightened risk.”
The report makes 56 specific recommendations, including support for expanding family planning and reproductive health options, incorporating sustainability considerations into national strategic planning, creation of a Sustainable Development Index, improvement in gender equity, and the development of a set of “sustainable development goals” similar to the MDGs.