Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

I used to be part of the anti-GMO thing until it was pointed out how without GMO foods we would lose a billion or two people to starvation.  As of today we have 7.363 billion people on this planet and are headed towards a massive population crash like a runaway train.

Loss of several billion people to starvation is inevitable unless we stop the population bomb now with one child only policies.

From Scientific American:  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-oppose-gmos-even-though-science-says-they-are-safe/

Intuition can encourage opinions that are contrary to the facts

By Stefaan Blancke August 18, 2015

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have met with enormous public opposition over the past two decades. Many people believe that GMOs are bad for their health – even poisonous – and that they damage the environment. This is in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that proves that GMOs are safe to eat, and that they bring environmental benefits by making agriculture more sustainable. Why is there such a discrepancy between what the science tells us about GMOs, and what people think? To be sure, some concerns, such as herbicide resistance in weeds and the involvement of multinationals, are not without basis, but they are not specific to GMOs. Hence, another question we need to answer is why these arguments become more salient in the context of GMOs.

I recently published a paper, with a group of Belgian biotechnologists and philosophers from Ghent University, arguing that negative representations of GMOs are widespread and compelling because they are intuitively appealing. By tapping into intuitions and emotions that mostly work under the radar of conscious awareness, but are constituent of any normally functioning human mind, such representations become easy to think. They capture our attention, they are easily processed and remembered and thus stand a greater chance of being transmitted and becoming popular, even if they are untrue. Thus, many people oppose GMOs, in part, because it just makes sense that they would pose a threat.

In the paper, we identify several intuitions that may affect people’s perception of GMOs. Psychological essentialism, for instance, makes us think of DNA as an organism’s “essence” - an unobservable and immutable core that causes the organism’s behaviour and development and determines its identity. As such, when a gene is transferred between two distantly related species, people are likely to believe that this process will cause characteristics typical of the source organism to emerge in the recipient. For example, in an opinion survey in the United States, more than half of respondents said that a tomato modified with fish DNA would taste like fish (of course, it would not).
Essentialism clearly plays a role in public attitudes towards GMOs. People are typically more opposed to GM applications that involve the transfer of DNA between two different species (“transgenic”) than within the same species (“cisgenic”). Anti-GMO organizations, such as NGOs, exploit these intuitions by publishing images of tomatoes with fish tails or by telling the public that companies modify corn with scorpion DNA to make crispier cereals.    
  
Intuitions about purposes and intentions also have an impact on people’s thinking about GMOs. They render us vulnerable to the idea that purely natural phenomena exist or happen for a purpose that is intended by some agent. These assumptions are part and parcel of religious beliefs, but in secular environments they lead people to regard nature as a beneficial process or entity that secures our wellbeing and that humans shouldn’t meddle with. In the context of opposition to GMOs, genetic modification is deemed “unnatural” and biotechnologists are accused of “playing God”. The popular term “Frankenfood” captures what is at stake: by going against the will of nature in an act of hubris, we are bound to bring enormous disaster upon ourselves.

Continue reading at:  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-oppose-gmos-even-though-science-says-they-are-safe/

Navy SEALs set to open to women, top admiral says

From Navy Times:  http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2015/08/18/women-seals-greenert-losey-buds/31943243/
 
By David Larter and Meghann Myers, Staff writers August 19, 2015

he Navy is planning to open its elite SEAL teams to women who can pass the grueling training regimen, the service's top officer said Tuesday in an exclusive interview.

Adm. Jon Greenert said he and the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, believe that if women can pass the legendary six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, they should be allowed to serve.

"Why shouldn't anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason," Greenert said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Navy Times and its sister publication Defense News. "So we're on a track to say, 'Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.'"

Greenert's full interview is set to air Sunday morning on "Defense News with Vago Muradian."

The push to integrate the storied SEAL brotherhood is coming on the heels of a comprehensive review led by Losey, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, that recommended women be allowed under the same exacting standards required of male candidates. Final approval is still pending. The Army and Air Force are also moving to open all combat jobs to women, according to officials who spoke to the Associated Press. It's believed the Marine Corps may seek to keep its ground combat jobs, including the infantry, male-only.

Continue reading at:  http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2015/08/18/women-seals-greenert-losey-buds/31943243/

The Politics of Being a Woman in a "Christian Nation"

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gina-messinadysert/the-politics-of-being-a-w_b_7995976.html
 
08/17/2015

The far right is pitting God against women. Mike Huckabee's support for the decision to deny a 10-year-old rape victim an abortion is just another example in a long history that continues this election season.

At Fox News' Republican Presidential debate in Cleveland, Jeb Bush boasted that, informed by his faith, he "defunded planned parenthood and created a culture of life in my state." When Megyn Kelly asked Scott Walker if he would "really let a mother die rather than have an abortion," he refused to temper his position that there should be no exceptions to his "pro-life" position.

Ted Cruz professed "God speaks to me every day through the scriptures and this informs my position on religious liberty, life, and marriage." And Marco Rubio argued that even in the case of rape, women should not have the ability to make choices about their pregnancies. Sadly, such proclamations ignore individual rights, freedom of religion, and the fact that faith as a guiding principle can be dangerous when the foundational teachings of social justice are ignored.

In an effort to create a "moral" society, women's health and welfare are nothing more than political pawns for too many Republicans. The supposed secular nature of the nation aside, the parameters of the pro-life conversation are severely limited in scope. Claiming they are focused on protecting life in the name of God, such views ignore the interconnection between such legislation and poverty rates. Politicians who brag about defunding Planned Parenthood ignore that nearly all federal funding received by the organization goes to contraception and other essential health services. Under Jeb Bush's "culture of life," Florida became one of the worst states for women's health and wellbeing in the nation. Sr. Joan Chittister has explained these political notions are pro-birth; little attention is given to what becomes of children once they are born or to the women who have given birth.

Even Joe Biden, who acknowledged that his Catholic values - particularly in relation to reproductive health -- should not be forced upon other Americans, fails to recognize that Catholicism supports the wellbeing of women. Reproductive health is a social justice issue and refusal to grant access perpetuates the oppression of women.

Perhaps Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it best: "Reproductive freedom is in a sorry situation in the United States. Poor women don't have choice."

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gina-messinadysert/the-politics-of-being-a-w_b_7995976.html

I was a civil rights activist in the 1960s. But it’s hard for me to get behind Black Lives Matter.

From The Washington Post:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/24/i-was-a-civil-rights-activist-in-the-1960s-but-its-hard-for-me-to-get-behind-black-lives-matter/

I support BLM's cause, but not its approach.


August 24, 2015

 
As the rapper Tef Poe sharply pointed out at a St. Louis rally in October protesting the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.: “This ain’t your grandparents’ civil rights movement.”

He’s right. It looks, sounds and feels different. Black Lives Matter is a motley-looking group to this septuagenarian grandmother, an activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many in my crowd admire the cause and courage of these young activists but fundamentally disagree with their approach.  Trained in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., we were nonviolent activists who won hearts by conveying respectability and changed laws by delivering a message of love and unity. BLM seems intent on rejecting our proven methods. This movement is ignoring what our history has taught.

The baby boomers who drove the success of the civil rights movement want to get behind Black Lives Matter, but the group’s confrontational and divisive tactics make it difficult. In the 1960s, activists confronted white mobs and police with dignity and decorum, sometimes dressing in church clothes and kneeling in prayer during protests to make a clear distinction between who was evil and who was good.

But at protests today, it is difficult to distinguish legitimate activists from the mob actors who burn and loot. The demonstrations are peppered with hate speech, profanity, and guys with sagging pants that show their underwear. Even if the BLM activists aren’t the ones participating in the boorish language and dress, neither are they condemning it.

The 1960s movement also had an innate respectability because our leaders often were heads of the black church, as well. Unfortunately, church and spirituality are not high priorities for Black Lives Matter, and the ethics of love, forgiveness and reconciliation that empowered black leaders such as King and Nelson Mandela in their successful quests to win over their oppressors are missing from this movement. The power of the spiritual approach was evident recently in the way relatives of the nine victims in the Charleston church shooting responded at the bond hearing for Dylann Roof, the young white man who reportedly confessed to killing the church members “to start a race war.” One by one, the relatives stood in the courtroom, forgave the accused racist killer and prayed for mercy on his soul. As a result, in the wake of that horrific tragedy, not a single building was burned down. There was no riot or looting.

“Their response was solidly spiritual, one of forgiveness and mercy for the perpetrator,” the Rev. Andrew Young, a top King aide, told me in a recent telephone interview.

“White supremacy is a sickness,” said Young, who also has served as a U.S. congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta. “You don’t get angry with sick people; you work to heal the system. If you get angry, it is contagious, and you end up acting as bad as the perpetrators.”

Continue reading at:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/24/i-was-a-civil-rights-activist-in-the-1960s-but-its-hard-for-me-to-get-behind-black-lives-matter/

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan, and Robert Cray - Sweet Home Chicago 25 Years Ago Today

Stevie Ray Vauhan's Very last song Alpine Valley 8/26/1990





How ‘Rock Star’ Became a Business Buzzword

From New York Times Magazine:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/how-rock-star-became-a-business-buzzword.html?_r=2
 
By Carina Chocano Aug. 11, 2015

Once, a long time ago, a rock star was a free-spirited, convention-flouting artist/rebel/hero/Dionysian fertility god who fronted a world-famous band, sold millions of records and headlined stadium concerts where people were trampled in frenzies of cultlike fervor. Someone who smashed guitars, trashed hotel rooms, developed Byzantine drug problems and tried to mask evidence of his infidelity with the strategically applied scent of breakfast burritos. Despite what his ‘‘Behind the Music’’ episode would invariably reveal, a ‘‘rock star’’ — or the Platonic ideal of a rock star — was not just a powder keg of charisma and unresolved childhood issues, but a revolutionary driven by a need to assert the primacy of the self in an increasingly alienating commercial world.

Now, 60 years, give or take, since the phrase came into existence, ‘‘rock star’’ has made a complete about-face. In its new incarnation, it is more likely to refer to a programmer, salesperson, social-media strategist, business-to-business telemarketer, recruiter, management consultant or celebrity pastry chef than to a person in a band. The term has become shorthand for a virtuosity so exalted it borders on genius — only for some repetitive, detail-oriented task. It flatters the person being spoken about by shrouding him in mystique while also conferring a Svengali-like power on the person speaking. Posting a listing for a job for which only ‘‘rock stars’’ need apply casts an H.R. manager as a kind of corporate Malcolm McLaren; that nobody is looking for a front-end developer who is addicted to heroin or who bites the heads off doves in conference rooms goes without saying. Pretty much anyone can be a ‘‘rock star’’ these days — except actual rock stars, who are encouraged to think of themselves as brands.

This bizarre transposition goes back to the turn of the millennium, when the idea of a ‘‘creative class’’ was popularized in books like Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson’s ‘‘The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World’’ and Richard Florida’s ‘‘The Rise of the Creative Class,’’ which argued that innovation would drive growth in the 21st century. The creative class, according to these thinkers, valued the cool things in life. More than money and status, they cared about authenticity, activism, ecology and the interconnectedness of all things. They were more egalitarian, more into personal growth. Whereas the popular business literature of the 1980s urged managers to imagine themselves as fierce, merciless warriors (Sun Tzu’s ancient treatise ‘‘The Art of War’’ was required reading for many American executives and business students), by the end of the century, consultants at McKinsey had declared a ‘‘war for talent.’’ Business writers in the new millennium reconceptualized men in suits (or hoodies) as social revolutionaries.

According to a 2013 study in The Human Resource Management Review, ‘‘talent,’’ in its new usage, could refer to qualities, like natural ability and technical mastery, or it could refer to talented people, as in a subset of elite, superskilled workers, or it could mean all people, no matter how untalented. On the HBO show ‘‘Silicon Valley’’ (in which, in a recent episode, a pretty event manager introduced the benightedly dorky programmers Dinesh and Gilfoyle as ‘‘rock stars’’ to her sexy, unimpressed stunt man boyfriend), Nelson Bighetti, known as Big Head, is a prime example of this last category. Big Head is an inept app developer whose swift rise through the ranks of his company, Hooli, makes no sense to his colleagues — which of course it shouldn’t, because it’s all just part of a cynical legal strategy. But Hooli, a very loose spoof of Google, is a faith-driven ‘‘culture’’ led by a ‘‘visionary,’’ Gavin Belson. To doubt his talent for spotting ‘‘talent’’ would border on apostasy. Belson is a ‘‘rock star,’’ and Big Head becomes a rock star by association. ‘‘Silicon Valley’’ nails this particular lexical puffery: the way that language can create power in the most ridiculous, illogical ways. Rock star ad absurdum.

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/how-rock-star-became-a-business-buzzword.html?_r=2

Banned TED Talk: Nick Hanauer "Rich people don't create jobs"


Joseph Stiglitz: Historical amnesia threatens Europe’s ruination

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2015/08/25/joseph_stiglitz_historical_amnesia_threatens_europes_ruination_partner/

The famed economist examines Greece's debt crisis and the lessons of World War II Germany has resolutely ignored

Tuesday, Aug 25, 2015

On August 18, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz joined Harper’s Magazine deputy editor Christopher Beha at Book Culture in New York to discuss the Greek financial crisis. In Stiglitz’s view, the latest bailout not only ensures that the country’s depression will worsen, but undermines the entire European project. 

Bad economic ideas inflict untold human suffering. When they come cloaked in a fog of Orwellian obfuscation, their poison and effects can spread with little hindrance. The public is misled. Power plays are hidden from view.

In Greece, where suicide rates have risen sharply in the wake of austerity measures, people lose hope.
Joseph Stiglitz, who has been following the Greek crisis closely and is recently returned from Athens, sets himself to the task of cutting through the fog. His plain English and fearless use of moral language to expose the ugliness behind economic and political abstractions lend clarity to a situation that is not just bringing a nation to its knees, but threatening to destroy the European project and bring on a future of conflict and hardship.

In discussing Greece’s Third Memorandum of Understanding and its draconian terms, Stiglitz observes that the MoU is really a “surrender document” that eclipses the country’s economic sovereignty and ensures that Greece’s depression — already deeper than America’s Great Depression — will get worse. An economy that is seeing youth unemployment reaching up to 60 percent is likely to lose another 5 percent in GDP. That is over and beyond the 25 percent plunge in GDP the country has suffered since the imposition of austerity measures.

Socially conservative Germans, Stiglitz warns, are doubling down on the discredited notion that austerity policies help economies recover in times of crisis. In reality, the insistence on keeping wages down, stripping bargaining power from workers, forcing small business owners to pay taxes a year in advance, and cutting pensions will only hamper demand and lead to a deepening spiral of debt. (Stiglitz emphasizes that hardly any of the money loaned to Greece has actually gone to help the Greeks themselves, but rather private-sector creditors, namely German and French banks).

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2015/08/25/joseph_stiglitz_historical_amnesia_threatens_europes_ruination_partner/

Friday, August 21, 2015

I’m tired of being kind to creepy men in order to stay safe

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/20/sexual-harassment-women-curfew?CMP=fb_gu

To avoid sexual harassment I’ve imposed my own curfew, and try to be in bed by 11pm. I can’t believe women have to live like this in 2015

Thursday 20 August 2015

My Mum once told me her biggest regret was that she’d brought her daughters up to be so polite. It happened after one of my little sisters came home in tears. A “friendly” man at the train station had started making comments about her legs and asking if she had a boyfriend. “I really wanted to ignore him, but I didn’t want to be rude! I didn’t know what to do!” she wept. She was 14 at the time.

There’s obviously something about a quiet coach and a station buffet that encourages pervy passengers. British Transport Police have just announced that the number of sexual offences on trains and at stations has gone up by 25% in the past year, and is now at record levels. Any travelling woman who has ever sunk down in her seat and opened her book, only to be tapped on the shoulder and asked “What are you reading, then?” will be surprised that the numbers aren’t higher.

We’ve all been bothered by persistent guys who pester us relentlessly, believing themselves to be entitled to our company and more. We’re under pressure to be polite and manage their expectations. Ignored men are angry men, and it’s horrible to sit silently while a man shouts at a packed carriage: “She thinks she’s too good to talk to me!”

When it comes to responding to harassers, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – and sometimes it gets to the point when dealing with entitled idiots is so exhausting that you feel safer staying at home.

When I was a student, I lived on a safe, central road in York right between the city centre and the university campus. For a while I was happy to walk up and down the road on my own, earphones in, handbag stuffed full of unread translations of Beowulf. Then one day, in the early afternoon, a large man grabbed my elbow and removed an ear bud. “What’s your name?” he asked. I was so stunned that it took me a full five seconds to realise that his hand was down his trousers. I stammered and stuttered, and he repeated the question. The two men who worked in the greengrocer across the street were laughing. “Oh, don’t worry! It’s Bill! He doesn’t mean any harm,” chuckled one, as Bill released me and set off in search of fresh female elbows.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/20/sexual-harassment-women-curfew?CMP=fb_gu

I’m Too Old for This

From The new York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/fashion/im-too-old-for-this.html

There is a lot that is annoying, and even terrible, about aging. The creakiness of the body; the drifting of the memory; the reprising of personal history ad nauseam, with only yourself to listen.

But there is also something profoundly liberating about aging: an attitude, one that comes hard won. 

Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb: “I’m too old for this.”

This line is about to become my personal mantra. I have been rehearsing it vigorously, amazed at how amply I now shrug off annoyances that once would have knocked me off my perch.

A younger woman advised me that “old” may be the wrong word, that I should consider I’m too wise for this, or too smart. But old is the word I want. I’ve earned it.

And let’s just start with being an older woman, shall we? Let others feel bad about their chicken wings — and their bottoms, their necks and their multitude of creases and wrinkles. I’m too old for this. I spent years, starting before I was a teenager, feeling insecure about my looks.

No feature was spared. My hairline: Why did I have to have a widow’s peak, at 10? My toes: too short. My entire body: too fat, and once, even, in the depths of heartbreak, much too thin. Nothing felt right. Well, O.K., I appreciated my ankles. But that’s about it.

What torture we inflict upon ourselves. If we don’t whip ourselves into loathing, then mean girls, hidden like trolls under every one of life’s bridges, will do it for us.

Even the vogue for strange-looking models is little comfort; those women look perfectly, beautifully strange, in a way that no one else does. Otherwise we would all be modeling.

One day recently I emptied out an old trunk. It had been locked for years; I had lost the key and forgotten what was in there. But, curiosity getting the best of me on a rainy afternoon, I managed to pry it open with a screwdriver.

It was full of photographs. There I was, ages 4 to 40. And I saw for the first time that even when I was in the depths of despair about my looks, I had been beautiful.

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/fashion/im-too-old-for-this.html

Police Shootings Are About Class as Well as Race

Do you accept the Police version of the "Biker Gang War in Waco"?  What if I were to tell you there is evidence that most if not all of the killings were committed by Police armed with M4 assault weapons (the actual definition of assault weapon includes the ability to fire bursts or fully automatic.)

I know members of a couple of clubs involved who claim the police did all the shooting.

In the US we are trained from infancy to think of ourselves as a class free society.  In reality class oppression is every bit as real as racism.  Also our society is rigidly class segregated.

When was the last time you described someone as "white trash"?  Or "trailer park"?

Martin Luther King was murdered one year to the day after he started talking about class oppresion along side of racial oppression.


From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-jesse-jackson/police-shootings-are-about-class-as-well-as-race_b_7972218.html
 

08/11/2015  


After three days of peaceful demonstrations marking the one year anniversary of Michael Brown's fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo., yet another African-American man was shot by police there. While the facts are still unclear, the tragedy will surely add to the national protests challenging our racially biased structures of criminal injustice.

A week earlier, a young, unarmed man was shot to death by a police officer in Seneca, South Carolina. Only this young man was not black, but white.

According to CNN, Zachary Hammond was fatally shot while in a Hardee's parking lot. He was 19 years old and on a date. The police officer was conducting a drug investigation and claims that he shot Hammond in self-defense when the unarmed teenager drove his car at him.

A small amount of marijuana was found in the front passenger compartment. Police said the target of the investigation was not Hammond but his date. An independent autopsy showed, however, that Hammond was shot in the back, not the front, contradicting the official story.

"He was a 19-year-old, 121-pound kid killed basically for a joint," the family attorney Eric Bland said.

CNN reported that if this had been an African-American victim, it would have received national attention. That is true now, but only because an active movement of demonstrators have made it so. In fact, virtually the only protests to Hammond's death were issued by #BlackLivesMatter activists on social media.

One year after Michael Brown's fatal shooting in Ferguson, unarmed black men are still seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire, according to a new study by the Washington Post.
So far this year, the Post reports, 24 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police -- one every nine days. The Post reports that 585 people in total have been shot and killed by police through August 7. (The Guardian database reports that 700 have been killed by police.)

There is no question that African-American men are at greatest risk. After the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, national protests have forced reform of the police and of mass incarceration policies onto the national agenda. The names of those who died from police violence -- Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Samuel DuBose, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland and more -- are etched in public memory because demonstrators have demanded justice for them.

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-jesse-jackson/police-shootings-are-about-class-as-well-as-race_b_7972218.html

The New Climate "Normal": Abrupt Sea Level Rise and Predictions of Civilization Collapse

From Truth Out:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32131-the-new-climate-normal-abrupt-sea-level-rise-and-predictions-of-civilization-collapse
 
By Dahr Jamail Monday, 03 August 2015

We know things are a bit "off" when a rainforest is on fire.

Over 400 acres of the Queets Rainforest, located in Olympic National Park in Washington State, nearby where I live, have burned recently, and it is continuing to burn as I type this. Fires in these rainforests have historically been rare, as the area typically receives in excess of 200 inches of rain annually.

But this is all changing now.

The new normal is that there is no longer any "normal."

The new normal regarding climate disruption is that, for the planet, today is better than tomorrow.
Another perfect example of this is a crucial recent study led by James Hansen, the former director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The study, authored by Hansen and more than a dozen other scientists and published online, warns that even staying within the internationally agreed goal of keeping the planet within the 2-degree Celsius temperature warming limit has already caused unstoppable melting in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. The study shows that this will raise global sea levels by as much as 10 feet by the year 2050, inundating numerous major coastal cities with seawater.

As if that's not enough, Hansen's study comes on the heels of another study published in Science, which shows that global sea levels could rise by at least 20 feet, even if governments manage to keep global temperature increases to within the agreed upon "safe" limit of 2 degrees Celsius. The study warns that it is quite possible that 75 feet of sea level rise could well already be unstoppable given current carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and recent studies that show how rapidly Greenland and several Antarctic ice sheets are melting.

Disconcertingly, another new "normal" this month comes in the form of huge plumes of wildfire smoke over the Arctic. At the time of this writing, well over 12 million acres of forest and tundra in Canada and Alaska have burned in wildfires, and the smoke covering the Arctic sea ice is yet another anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) amplifying feedback loop that will accelerate melting there. The additional smoke further warms the atmosphere that quickens the melting of the Arctic ice pack.

Continue reading at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32131-the-new-climate-normal-abrupt-sea-level-rise-and-predictions-of-civilization-collapse

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Two women earn Ranger Tabs in a first for the Army

From The Army Timeshttp://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2015/08/17/two-women-earn-ranger-tabs-first-army/31889239/

By Michelle Tan, Staff writer
August 18, 2015

The Army on Monday announced two women and 94 men met the standards of the course's third and final phase, also known as the Swamp Phase.Two women will graduate from Ranger School on Friday, becoming the first women to earn the Ranger Tab.

Their graduation ceremony will take place on Victory Pond at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The women are part of the Army's gender-integrated assessment of the grueling two-month Ranger School.

The assessment has drawn a high level of scrutiny, with many questioning whether the Army is lowering its standards for the elite school — which until now was open only to men — while many others have cheered on the female students.

Army officials insisted the standards were not changed in any way.

"Congratulations to all of our new Rangers," Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement. "Each Ranger School graduate has shown the physical and mental toughness to successfully lead organizations at any level. This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential."

McHugh added: "We owe soldiers the opportunity to serve successfully in any position where they are qualified and capable, and we continue to look for ways to select, train, and retain the best soldiers to meet our nation's needs."

The women, both officers, started the Swamp Phase on Aug. 1 after three tries at the school's first phase, known as the Darby Phase, at Fort Benning, Georgia, and one try at the second phase, known as the Mountain Phase, in Dahlonega, Georgia.

Continue reading at:  http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2015/08/17/two-women-earn-ranger-tabs-first-army/31889239/

See Also: Washington Post: History made: Army Ranger School to graduate its first female students

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Republicans Against Retirement

From The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/opinion/republicans-against-retirement.html?_r=1
 
Paul Krugman
August 17, 2015

Something strange is happening in the Republican primary — something strange, that is, besides the Trump phenomenon. For some reason, just about all the leading candidates other than The Donald have taken a deeply unpopular position, a known political loser, on a major domestic policy issue. And it’s interesting to ask why.

The issue in question is the future of Social Security, which turned 80 last week. The retirement program is, of course, both extremely popular and a long-term target of conservatives, who want to kill it precisely because its popularity helps legitimize government action in general. As the right-wing activist Stephen Moore (now chief economist of the Heritage Foundation) once declared, Social Security is “the soft underbelly of the welfare state”; “jab your spear through that” and you can undermine the whole thing.

But that was a decade ago, during former President George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize the program — and what Mr. Bush learned was that the underbelly wasn’t that soft after all. Despite the political momentum coming from the G.O.P.’s victory in the 2004 election, despite support from much of the media establishment, the assault on Social Security quickly crashed and burned. Voters, it turns out, like Social Security as it is, and don’t want it cut.

It’s remarkable, then, that most of the Republicans who would be president seem to be lining up for another round of punishment. In particular, they’ve been declaring that the retirement age — which has already been pushed up from 65 to 66, and is scheduled to rise to 67 — should go up even further.
Thus, Jeb Bush says that the retirement age should be pushed back to “68 or 70”. Scott Walker has echoed that position. Marco Rubio wants both to raise the retirement age and to cut benefits for higher-income seniors. Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and means-test benefits. Ted Cruz wants to revive the Bush privatization plan.

For the record, these proposals would be really bad public policy — a harsh blow to Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution, who depend on Social Security, often have jobs that involve manual labor, and have not, in fact, seen a big rise in life expectancy. Meanwhile, the decline of private pensions has left working Americans more reliant on Social Security than ever.

And no, Social Security does not face a financial crisis; its long-term funding shortfall could easily be closed with modest increases in revenue.

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/opinion/republicans-against-retirement.html?_r=1

Robert Reich on why CA should close a dangerous corporate tax loophole


Atheism explodes in Saudi Arabia, despite state-enforced ban

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2014/06/12/atheism_explodes_in_saudi_arabia_where_just_talking_about_atheism_is_illegal_partner/

In the "cradle of Islam," a growing number of people are quietly declaring themselves nonbelievers

, GlobalPost Thursday, Jun 12, 2014

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — In this country known as the cradle of Islam, where religion gives legitimacy to the government and state-appointed clerics set rules for social behavior, a growing number of Saudis are privately declaring themselves atheists.

 The evidence is anecdotal, but persistent.
 
“I know at least six atheists who confirmed that to me,” said Fahad AlFahad, 31, a marketing consultant and human rights activist. “Six or seven years ago, I wouldn’t even have heard one person say that. Not even a best friend would confess that to me.”

A Saudi journalist in Riyadh has observed the same trend.

“The idea of being irreligious and even atheist is spreading because of the contradiction between what Islamists say and what they do,” he said.

The perception that atheism is no longer a taboo subject — at least two Gulf-produced television talk shows recently discussed it — may explain why the government has made talk of atheism a terrorist offense. The March 7 decree from the Ministry of Interior prohibited, among other things, “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

The number of people willing to admit to friends to being atheist or to declare themselves atheist online, usually under aliases, is certainly not big enough to be a movement or threaten the government. A 2012 poll by WIN-Gallup International of about 500 Saudis found that 5 percent described themselves as “convinced atheist.” This was well below the global average of 13 percent.

But the greater willingness to privately admit to being atheist reflects a general disillusionment with religion and what one Saudi called “a growing notion” that religion is being misused by authorities to control the population. This disillusionment is seen in a number of ways, ranging from ignoring clerical pronouncements to challenging and even mocking religious leaders on social media.
“Because people are becoming more disillusioned with the government, they started looking at the government and its support groups as being in bed together and conspiring together against the good of the people,” said Bassim Alim, a lawyer in Jeddah.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/06/12/atheism_explodes_in_saudi_arabia_where_just_talking_about_atheism_is_illegal_partner/

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Televangelists


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Feeding People on Our Stressed Planet Will Require a 'Revolution'

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/08/05/feeding-people-our-stressed-planet-will-require-revolution

Two renowned scientists—Stanford's Paul Ehrlich and UC-Berkeley's John Harte — argue that feeding the planet goes way beyond food. Revolutionary political, economic and social shifts are necessary to avoid unprecedented chaos.

by Brian Bienkowski Published on Wednesday, August 05, 20159
by Environmental Health News

 
How do you make sure billions of people around the world have access to food?

You start a revolution.

At least that’s what two leading U.S. scientists argue in a new report. Feeding people will require cleaner energy, smarter farming and women’s rights, but also a “fundamental cultural change,” according to Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, and University of California, Berkeley, professor and researcher John Harte.

“What is obvious to us is ... that if humanity is to avoid a calamitous loss of food security, a fast, society-pervading sea-change as dramatic as the first agricultural revolution will be required,” they wrote in their report published last week in the International Journal of Environmental Studies.
The amount of humans on Earth is growing—projections point to an extra 2.5 billion people by 2020. But tangled within the problem of more hungry mouths is environmental degradation, social injustice and humans pushing toward the very boundaries of the planet when it comes to resources such as food, water and energy, according to Ehrlich and Harte.

For many people across the world growing, buying or finding food is a daily struggle. More than 800 million people are estimated to be malnourished, according to the United Nations.

Billions don’t have stable, secure access to food.

“Some people say the whole problem is too many people and other people say it’s misdistribution of the crops we grow,” Ehrlich said in an interview. “They’re both right but this can’t be fixed by dealing with only one end of the problem.”

Scientists for too long have been looking at how to feed the world in “fragments,” Ehrlich said.
“Some look at solving food problems with crops grown in higher temperatures; some look at reducing waste,” he said. “It’s crystal clear that none of the things that need to be done are being done on a scale that would be helpful.”

It’s not just about pumping out more crops or reducing the amount of people. “Planning for a sustainable and effective food production system will surely require heeding constraints from nature,” Ehrlich and Harte wrote.

They argue that economic equality, population growth and environmental health are all linked. Governments must address the whole system to avoid future famine.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/08/05/feeding-people-our-stressed-planet-will-require-revolution

ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

From The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/world/middleeast/isis-enshrines-a-theology-of-rape.html?emc=edit_na_20150813&nlid=28707989&ref=headline&_r=0

Claiming the Quran’s support, the Islamic State codifies sex slavery inconquered regions of Iraq and Syria and uses the practice as a recruiting tool.

Written by Aug. 13, 2015

QADIYA, Iraq — In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.

He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.

When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.
“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.

The trade in Yazidi women and girls has created a persistent infrastructure, with a network of warehouses where the victims are held, viewing rooms where they are inspected and marketed, and a dedicated fleet of buses used to transport them.

A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.

A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/world/middleeast/isis-enshrines-a-theology-of-rape.html?emc=edit_na_20150813&nlid=28707989&ref=headline&_r=0

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Out of the Woods

From The New York Times Magazine:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/magazine/out-of-the-woods.html?action=click&contentCollection=magazine®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=4&pgtype=sectionfront

After decades of semi-secrecy, a commune for L.G.B.T.Q. nonconformists has slowly begun to join the mainstream.

By Alex Halberstadt Aug. 6, 2015

Several years ago, David Withers, a zoologist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, was digging for crayfish in some creek beds on the edge of DeKalb County, in an area that can plausibly be described as nowhere at all, when he spotted an unmarked road. He had never noticed it and decided to see where it led; after a short drive, he found himself amid a strange encampment. Withers stepped out of his truck and looked around. Cheerful, rickety houses sprouted from the ground like unclassified fungi, or something dreamed up by Lewis Carroll, but what appealed to him most was the barn; on the side, in large yellow letters, someone had written ‘‘Welcome Home.’’ Withers walked up to a shack that appeared to be inhabited and — overtaken by curiosity — he knocked. The woman who came out looked surprised. She told him that he was on a commune for gay, lesbian and transgender people and suggested politely that he leave. Later, Withers called his friend Neal Appelbaum, the openly gay director of the arts center in neighboring Cannon County, and told him about what he saw. Appelbaum explained that Withers had stumbled into Ida, a commune for queer vegetarians; the entire region was home to maybe a dozen rural planned communities for L.G.B.T.Q. people, a kind of sexually nonconforming Amish country. He also pointed out that the fading sign on the barn didn’t say ‘‘Welcome Home.’’ The last letter was not an ‘‘e’’ but an ‘‘o.’’

If you’re younger than, say, 35, chances are you don’t remember what it was like to be a gay man between the Stonewall riots and the second season of ‘‘Will & Grace.’’ You probably don’t remember bars with names like Traxx and Rawhide, their windows smoked to deflect the accidental glances of co-­workers, bars with ‘‘Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’’ playing on VHS, where everyone who came through the door was greeted with looks of longing and fear. You probably don’t remember the Herb Ritts poster of the Pennzoil-­smeared Adonis hefting semi tires, or the Mr. Fire Island Leather contest, or hearing the entire godawful Barbra Streisand Christmas album played over the P.A. while waiting for the bus outside the Castro Theater, or having to take that bus for a half-hour in the first place simply to buy lubricant, which was sold as illicitly as a bong. You’ve probably never heard an otherwise-­reasonable family internist wonder out loud whether your sore throat might be seroconversion illness or the tingling in your fingers a symptom of H.I.V. neuropathy. You’ve probably never had a prospective landlord explain, upon meeting you and your partner, that the vacant apartment in his building is not, as the listing said, ‘‘available immediately’’ but needs to be painted, and that the painting will take seven weeks. And if you don’t remember any of that, consider yourself fortunate.

In those days, the social lives of gay people transpired mostly in large coastal cities, primarily out of public view. The bars and restaurants, the beach resorts and borderland neighborhoods became sanctuaries where, through a tacit agreement with the surrounding world, you could socialize mostly free of scrutiny and overt discrimination. For the young men who settled in these neighborhoods, even that Streisand record functioned as a sanctuary of sorts, by providing a common cultural language with a larger community of gay men whom they were counting on to be their families, because in many cases their actual families no longer wanted to know them. But for some, this notion of sanctuary did not go far enough. For some, the modes of camouflage, code and passing were tantamount to an admission of leading a life defined and hemmed in by others. And so they began to leave the cities in search of a less compromised identity.

In 1979, a gay rights activist, communist and Angeleno named Harry Hay — a founder of a neo-­pagan countercultural movement called the Radical Faeries — urged gay men to ‘‘throw off the ugly green frog skin of hetero-­imitation.’’ Instead of fighting for the rights that straights had, like marriage and adoption, the faeries believed that to be gay was to possess a unique nature and a special destiny apart from straight people, and that this destiny would reach its full flowering in the wilds of rural America. So it was perhaps fitting that the faeries began to refer to their secluded outposts as sanctuaries. There are more than a dozen loosely affiliated sanctuaries across three continents today, but in the same year that Hay made his pronouncement, the mother ship of the faeries landed on Short Mountain, one of the tallest points in Middle Tennessee. It remains home to what is almost certainly the largest, oldest, best known and most visited planned community for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the country, a place that one local described to me as a veritable Gayberry, U.S.A.

With its outhouses, goats and vegetable gardens, it doesn’t appear far different from your textbook commune. Until, that is, you hear about a spot called Sex Change Ridge, a network of hiking trails called the Fruit Loop and a functionary called the Empress. Many residents are known by names of their own devising, like Jazz Hands, Fade-Dra Phey and Helvetica Demi-­Oblique. Twice a year, hundreds of visitors come to the mountain for weeklong gatherings that, sartorially speaking, make Burning Man look like the annual conference of the Modern Language Association. In the decades since its founding, dozens of people not personally cut out for communal living but nonetheless drawn by Short Mountain have settled in the area, most of them men, and they tend to refer to one another as the Family and to the area as the Neighborhood or the Gayborhood. Some inhabit one of the numerous satellite communities — places with names like Breathwood, Daffodil Meadow and Ida — and others treat the area as a part-time second home, coming here as much for the privacy as the fellowship. The name of the commune is no secret and can be found online with a few keystrokes. But as with Occupy Wall Street, its residents reach decisions by consensus, and because some harbor misgivings about being the subjects of stories and other forms of publicity, many spoke to me on the condition that I don’t reveal the name of their home in print. So forthwith I will call it the Commune.

Continue reading at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/magazine/out-of-the-woods.html?action=click&contentCollection=magazine®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=4&pgtype=sectionfront

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Disastrous Sea Level Rise Is an Issue for Today's Public -- Not Next Millennium's

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-james-hansen/multi-meter-sea-level-rise-is-an-issue-for-todays-public_b_7875828.html
 
07/27/2015

In 2005, I argued that ice sheets may be more vulnerable than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated, mainly because of effects of a warming ocean in speeding ice melt. In 2007, I wrote "Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise," describing and documenting a phenomenon that pressures scientists to minimize the danger of imminent sea level rise.

About then I became acquainted with remarkable studies of geologist Paul Hearty. Hearty found strong evidence for sea level rise late in the Eemian to +6-9 m (20-30 feet) relative to today. The Eemian is the prior interglacial period (~120,000 years ago), which was slightly warmer than the present interglacial period (the Holocene) in which civilization developed. Hearty also found evidence for powerful storms in the North Atlantic near the end of the Eemian period.

It seemed that an understanding of the late Eemian climate events might be helpful in assessing the climate effects of human-made global warming, as Earth is now approaching the warmth that existed then. Thus several colleagues and I initiated global climate simulations aimed at trying to understand what happened at the end of the Eemian and its relevance to climate change today.

More than eight years later, we are publishing a paper describing these studies. We are publishing the paper in an open-access "Discussion" journal, which allows the paper to become public while undergoing peer-review (a pdf of the paper with figures imbedded in the text for easier reading is available here). I will get to the reasons for that in a moment, but first let me mention some curious numerology to get you thinking about scientific reticence.

Did you read any of the recent papers that concluded ice sheets may be disintegrating and might cause large sea level rise in 200-900 years? The time needed for ice sheets to respond to climate change is uncertain, and there are proponents for time scales covering a huge range. However, 200-900 years should cause a scientist to scratch his head. If it is uncertain by an order of magnitude or more, why not 100-1000? Where does the 200-900 precision come from?

Why the peculiar 900 years instead of the logical 1000? Probably because nobody cares about matters 1000 years in the future (they may not care about 900, but 200-900 does not seem like infinity). A scientist knowing that sea level is a problem does not want the reader to dismiss it.

Why 200 years? For one thing, 100 years would require taking on the formidable IPCC, which estimates that even the huge climate forcing for a hypothetical 936 ppm CO2 in 2100 would yield less than one meter sea level rise. For another thing, incentives for scientists strongly favor conservative statements and militate against any "alarmist" conclusion; this is the "reticence" phenomenon that infects the sea level rise issue2. "Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise" will be the subject of a session at the American Geophysical Union meeting this year.

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-james-hansen/multi-meter-sea-level-rise-is-an-issue-for-todays-public_b_7875828.html

Bernie Sanders: The Vox conversation