Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Is modern civilized living an unsustainable historical anomaly? "It won't be so bad, or will it?"

Can modern western civilization as we know it be sustained indefinitely?  When I watch a National Geographic “Doomsday Preppers” episode, I’m struck by the level of knowledge of potential threats these people do have.
I think that the biggest threats are probably natural.  The single biggest danger is probably a huge solar storm, with coronal mass ejections, which could take out the power grid in major sections of the world, more likely at latitudes closer to the poles.  Northern Europe and Russia may be at more risk than the United States.  It’s worthy of note that solar storms have nothing to do with global warming, so the right wing is “right” about that.  There may be a lot that the power industry, concerned about share prices, should do to reduce the threat;  European utilities may be ahead of us on this.
Other major risks could be really huge earthquakes, perhaps a supervolcano, or perhaps a mega-tsunami, which is possible in the Atlantic (maybe hitting parts of the US East Coast with a wall of water 300 feet high) because of instability in the Cumbre Vieja volcano off the African Coast, capable of creating huge underwater landslides.  The possibility of an asteroid or comet strike is significant, but there’s a lot that technology can do to ward off such threats.

Climate change provides threats that are much longer in time frame, which is why the present a different kind of moral problem.  People living today need to be concerned about generations that will follow them.  People in wealthier countries have fewer children.  You get where this can go.   In the nearer term, climate change may mean more extreme storms, especially in coastal areas, and more long tracking supersized tornados, possibly in areas not accustomed to them, as well as more derechos (which are more common in regions with wide differences between seasons). Areas not used to extreme thunderstorms and hurricanes, like northern Europe, may see more extreme cold core, Sandy-like “superstorms”, as went across England last week.

On top of this, there is, of course, the terror threat, which seems to be increasing overseas and seems to be largely low-tech and “personalized”.  Although public sensibilities (and my own) are grossly offended by targeting individuals in crowds (as in Boston, and then Kenya), the biggest economic risks would still come from true WMD’s, with the biggest single threat probably being radioactive dispersion.   It’s appropriate to keep nuclear weapons out of rogue states completely, as the possibility of a lob-strike from North Korea or Iran in the future cannot be completely foreclosed.  The right wing makes a lot of the idea of an EMP strike from a high altitude blast, but that would require a terrorist group to launch a missile with a nuclear warhead from offshore (like a commercial ship) and get past NORAD (as in the book “One Second After”).  The possibility that rogue groups could do considerable local damage with conventional flux weapons (which US and NATO militaries use in deployment) sounds more likely to me (it’s been mentioned in the Washington Times and is discussed in Michael Maloof’s book “A Nation Forsaken”).  The idea that a cyberattack could take down the entire power grid (as in the book “Gridlock” or the NatGeo film “American Blackout” or a similar show two years ago on CNN) sounds less likely and ought to be easily preventable with proper security.

Don't forget pandemics.  The biggest threats are probably natural.  Why aren't we more aggressive in making vaccines for avian influenza and SARS-like infections?

As for the NSA spying scandal, I see both sides.  The problem is, we can’t afford to miss one real threat.

The possibility of extreme disruption of my own life from an angry or indignant or burdened outside world has always been in my mind.  The need to be prepared for it has a big effect on our moral perspective about interpersonal and familial relations.  Should capacity to take in others (in a "radical hospitality" mode) be expected of everyone?
As for "The Purification": It won't be so bad -- or will it?   

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Piracy incident near Nigeria seems urgent; recall an earlier communication to me in 2008

Pirates have kidnapped the captain and chief engineer of an oil tanker off the Nigeria coast, after an attack, a bit in the manner of the film “Captain Phillips”, according to a Reuters story here
What is disturbing is that there seems to be no Naval warship in the region or any plans for a rescue.  That is what CNN reported, and from a national security view[point, that sounds outrageous. 
Later information suggests that the Americans were singled out and that they may have been taken onshore to a primitive compound run by the pirates.
I received a bizarre email about Nigerian oil security on Aug. 15, 2008 which I published here on that day.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Japan's low birth rate attracts attention about what makes people tick; ZPG is still active

Japan’s low birthrate is continuing to attract attention, and it seems to bore deep into levels of desire and personal motivation, according to a Guardian piece, by Abigail Haworth, “Why young people in Japan have stopped having sex”, link here.
The right wing will make this into the ultimate horror, that people have become so self-absorbed that the self-giving love of marriage and commitment no longer interests them.  There’s a lot in this article about what makes people tick when there are cycles of prosperity and hardship.
Yet, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, as tweeted by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, reports otherwise, here
Today, I received a mailer from ZPG, Zero Population Growth. In lower income parts of the world, population increases.
So governments in Europe notice that the native white population has fewer kids, resulting in depending on more immigrants, especially from Muslim countries, leading to eventual political instability.  Immigrants send money to family back home.  Russia takes it so far as to go after speech letting people know that homosexuality exists.
The right wing (proponents of the “natural family”) even makes these arguments for the US.
China finds its one-child policy is leading to unsocialized adults and an aging population.
In another recent story, Hardin, in northeast China, is reported to have the worst smog ever.  Hardin, a city I had never heard of, has a population almost that of NYC.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Journalist in Morocco arrested for "indirect" hyperlink (with degrees of separation) to supposed terror site

Electronic Frontier Foundation is reporting on the arrest  in Morocco of Ali Anouzla, editor of an Arabic online journal Lakome, for allowing a link to a news story that in turn linked to a YouTube video posted by a terrorist group.
It sounds incredible that someone could be arrested merely for a link, or even for a topological connection through links to an illegal site.  As EFF analyst Jillian York wrote, “a link is just a link, except when it isn’t”, in the article here. The article compares this to the Barrett Brown case in the United States, discussed on my main blog Sept. 9. 2013. 

The Lakome site, linked by EFF, does not make a lot of sense when translated into English by Google translate, at least to me. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

CNN airs new video of Kenya mall attack, talks to FBI consultant on how to behave if kidnapped

CNN has released new video of the recent terror attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.  The link, including about five minutes of video of the attackers’ behavior, is here

A hostage expert and former FBI agent spoke on CNN today, and advised a hostage to “treat your captors like royalty” and to let them know if you have a medical condition, because if you do, you’re not as “valuable”.  He also said, speak only when spoken to.”  It’s like the attitude of the Somali pirate in the film “Captain Phillips”, who says, “I am the captain now.”

Wikipedia attribution link for onlookers photo near mall.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Climate Departure": DC's flight leaves in 2047, for "Cloud Atlas"

After blogging so much about the debt ceiling and terrorism, I’ve let my beady eyes go off climate change. 
There is a concept called “climate departure” which is defined as the point where the average temperature of the coolest year is warmer than the warmest year average between 1960 and 2005. The Washington Post has a story here. Generally, climate change seems to raise temperatures in polar regions faster.  But climate departure seems to occur in lower latitudes first.  It would hit Washington DC in 2047, when I would be 104.

Could the mid Atlantics become like Florida some day?  Not clear.  But the heat waves will get longer and storms, while not necessarily more frequent, more intense.  2013 has been a light year for storms in the DC area.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Brtiain threatens major censorship of the press

Note well a piece by Suzanne Fields in the Washington Times Thursday Oct. 10, “Shackles for a feisty free press”, link here
Fields reports that Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the government will introduce new “press regulation”, for the first time in 300 years.  Fields points out that the UK does not have a First Amendment and has much stricter libel law than does the US.  

The article goes on to discuss a controversial essay in the Daily Mail about Labor Leader Ralph Miliband. by Ed Miliband, which seems to be intertwined with the censorship controversy, here

What about blogging in Britain now? 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Effectiveness of Al Shabab recruitment in Kenya raises western security concerns

The New York Times, in a story by Nicholas Kulish and Josh Kron, reports that, after Somalis, Kenya “sends” more angry young men to Al Shabab than any other country, and they often return back home, a radical jihadists, capable of organizing attacks against upper middle class soft targets. The story headline (on the front page) suggests a threat to threat to the West, and some young men have been recruited from Somali communities in the US.  But the article does not suggest that there is significant organization outside Africa.  The link is here. No question, the implications of the Kenya attack underscore the folly of Congress's partisan bickering and shutdown.  
The group uses “unsent” emails with shared passwords to avoid detection, which would normally be a risk of cell phone use.

I recall that the ABC series “Flash Forward” two years ago speculated about a secret particle physics facility in Somalia.  It seems oddly prescient, and it’s too bad the series didn’t continue.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Raids in Libya, Somalia underly the folly of the shutdowns

CNN has an interesting analysis of the two raids that occurred over the weekend, one in Libya and the other in Somalia, link here.  

The first raid, a snatch and grab of one of the most wanted, is said to have gotten a treasure trove of information, which might indeed call for “extreme rendition”.  It also gives an idea for what some CIA field work might be like .  It’s also noteworthy that so many suspected have been indicted in secret by grand juries while overseas.  Ordinary citizens can be called into jury duty to examine these cases. 
The story is also important in that it underlies the foolishness of the partisan shutdown It’s praiseworthy that Seals could accomplish these missions, but in the homeland, Congress is definitely stretching our personal luck. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Epidemic blindness in Ethiopia can be fixed by a cheap 10-minute surgery

ABC News has an a story about epidemic “cataract blindness” in Ethiopia, which is epidemic because of malnutrition and sun exposure, and which the story says can be remedied by surgery that costs $11 and takes about ten minutes.  The story by David Muir and others is here
There is a special campaign on the website, although many people (myself included) don’t like to respond to so many separate campaigns.

It’s not clear how an operation that would cost thousands in the US could cost so little, even in the developing world.  What does that say?