Supreme Court Invalidates Democracy

Pledge allegiance to the corporations of the United States of America, and to the republic which they now own. One nation, indifferent to its citizens, with liberty and justice for the rich.

Anyone who still hoped, against all the evidence, that the American democracy could be saved from strangulation by the pervasive and increasing death-grip of big money, has just been served with a do-not-resuscitate order by the Supreme Court of the United States. No greater perversion of the principles of our Constitution, and of the language we use to talk about it, can be imagined. Continue reading

Oil: Looking a Little Peaked

When our car’s odometer shows us two or three zeros in a row, we tend for a short time to think about its welfare over the long term, not just how much gas is left in the tank. How well have we been maintaining it, what is its life expectancy now, what are the probabilities of major problems? Then, usually, we go back to sticking the key in the ignition and filling the tank.

When changing the calendar shows us a zero in the year’s designation, something similar happens, or should. We tend to review, briefly, the longer-term trends in the country, in our health, in our prospects. Such a review in 2010 brings us face to face with the imminence of a catastrophic global event: peak oil. Continue reading

You Want Fries With That? Ammonia? Bacteria?

Two little-noticed stories during the year-end holiday period demonstrated the ominous, increasing stresses on our industrial food-supply system, and the absence of any rational, let alone effective, measures to safeguard it.

First, a 16-state outbreak of E. Coli contamination in meat, sickened more than 20 people in the Midwest and required the recall of a quarter-million pounds of beef. Continue reading

A Frack Job for Marcellus

It’s not quite the infinite-energy-from-tap-water-via-cold-fusion miracle that industrialists have been assuring us is just around the corner — the sudden scientific panacea that would painlessly and profitably avert our rush toward energy catastrophe. But hydraulic fracturing, invented by Halliburton and beloved of Exxon, is close. Continue reading

Drill, Baby, WAIT!

The company calls itself AltaRock, which translates roughly from the Nordish as “getting high on rocks.” With a $6 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department and $30 million in venture capital (translation: “lottery ticket”), the firm set out to show the world how to turn true geothermal energy — that is, the heat in deep rock — into a major source of alternative, renewable energy. On Friday, it showed the world how to abandon a project and make itself virtually invisible. Continue reading

Dumb and Dumber

If you’ve ever heard a public-address system screech, you’ve heard a feedback loop in action. The microphone picks up a little noise, the amplifier makes it louder, sends it out through the speaker, whereupon it is picked up by the mike and amplified again until it turns into a primal scream.

Feedback loops are accelerating the impacts of the greenhouse effect on global climate. Increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, acting like the glass in a greenhouse, trap solar radiation near the earth’s surface, raising the temperature. As it gets warmer in the northern reaches where the tundra and taiga are permanently frozen, they start to thaw in summer. When they thaw they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, which increase the greenhouse effect. Feedback loop.

Feedback loops, most of them unforeseen, have accelerated the effects of global warming well beyond the worst-case scenarios of just a few years ago. The Paul Revere of global climate change, James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute, describes in the current edition of Newsweek how badly those scenarios — many of which he wrote himself — have been trampled.

Well, stupidity has feedback loops as well. Continue reading

Here We Go Again

Another American president is trying to find a middle ground between the rock of the right-wing hawks and the hard place of the left-wing pacifists. Another American president is trying to be a little bit at war by dribbling troops into a far place, using borrowed money, to fight and die for no clear purpose. Another American president is trying to stake out high moral ground with both feet sunk deep in the sewer of a partnership with a corrupt government. Welcome to Afghanistan. Continue reading

Learn Your History. Rinse. Repeat.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana

The foreigners came from the sea, amazing us with their guns and ships and numbers. They only wanted one thing, a thing we did not value, and when we asked them why they wanted it, they said it made them rich, and if we helped them find it they would make us rich, too, but if we interfered with them they would kill us. So some of us died, and some of us got rich, with things we had never needed before, things that made life easier, but not much better. And then we ran out of the thing the foreigners wanted, and they went away, and then we could not spend their money that had made us rich, and we could not replace the things that had made life easy, and we could not remember how we had lived before, when we had been happy but not rich. And so more of us died, and the rest of us became beggars and drunks.

The speaker is imaginary, but his description of events is true. Continue reading

Scientists Find Murder Gene

Scientists at the Universal Genome Center, in Burbank, California, say they have identified the human gene that causes people to commit murder.

The discovery capped a three-year, $30-million-dollar research project involving as many as three people poring over the 20,000 genes catalogued in the Human Genome Project (most of them labelled as, and I’m using the technical term of art here, “junk” genes). “Oddly enough,” said Dr. Oscar Able, co-director of the study, “We found it in the Ms.”

As might have been expected, the gene was in the Y chromosome associated with male characteristics. Another oddity, according to Dr. Able, was that the gene was closely associated with another that causes men to name their sons after John Wayne.

The discovery could lead to a cure for murder, according to Dr. Calvin Cain, co-director, who spoke at a separate news conference because he doesn’t get along with his colleague. “We are seeking fundng now,” said Dr. Cain, for a mammoth research project to develop a murder vaccine. “We think we already have a genetic treatment for murder, but it can only be applied after the fact. We think it is effective, but it has some unfortunate side effects.”

When pressed for details about the side effects, Dr. Cain demurred on the grounds that the subjects given the medicine had all died too fast for doctors to determine what was killing them. As a result of these complications, future testing will be limited to people who are within seven days of their execution date, with all appeals denied. “If you are in that group,” said Dr. Cain, “call your doctor and ask if this trial is right for you.”

Dr. Cain said he expected to bring to market a perfected medicine and a preventive vaccine, “within this eon.”

The announcement drew immediate reaction from NORMAL-C, the National Organization for the Restoration of the Murder Lifestyle Choice. “It’s what we been saying all along,” said president John Wayne Johnson from his death-row cell in Texas, “Murder ain’t a choice. Nobody in his right mind would choose to be a murderer. You’re born a murderer. People don’t kill people, genes kill people.”

Later, NORMAL-C issued a news release demanding, on the basis of the new research, that all murder convictions be overturned and the voting rights of convicted murderers be restored, pending the inevitable appeals. “Hey,” said John W. Johnson, “you people elected Bush, twice. How much worse could it get?”