Sunday, November 27, 2016

The methane monster has dragon's breath

Here's some sobering research on the topic of climate change.

Start with this Guardian article from Dec. 12, 2016 about spike in atmospheric methane and how it's so diffuse it is hard to track.

The scientists speculate that agriculture may be the main source of the additional methane that has been recorded. However, they cannot be sure of all the sources, owing to a lack of monitoring. ... For instance, the melting of the Arctic tundra releases methane as the vegetation underneath is gradually and sometimes suddenly exposed. This has been regarded by scientists as a potential “tipping point” whereby warming of the Arctic leads to greater releases of methane, therefore greater warming, in a runaway and uncontrollable cycle.
Blog post from Robert Scribbler (pseudonym),dated March 9, 2015. IMHO this is a calm overview of the issue and new research. The AIRS/AQUA satellite sensor images of the Arctic methane "overburden" are show stoppers. The methane is escaping quickly from the shallow Siberian sea.

This blog post from Jason Box, dated July 27, 2014. His "dragon's breath" charts show that the instruments agree with the satellite measurements of significant methane release.

There's also this 2013 video from Yale Climate Connections, about 6 minutes long.

This 2010 webpage from the National Science Foundation about methane escaping from the Siberian continental shelf shows this is a long term concern.

This Department of Energy summary confirms some of my worst fears...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Brexit and the Great Unwinding

The Guardian recently had an article which sought to explain "Why untangling UK industry from Europe may be 'impossible'".

 The article illustrates how cars "built in the UK" actually use materials and components sourced from all over Europe. Assembled in the UK might be a better description of how cars are built using supply chains that stretch across Europe.

The argument put forward by advocates of a hard Brexit, where Britain leaves the EU with a minimal or no trade deal, is that its trade deficit lends it some leverage in negotiations: if cars made by BMW or Volkswagen become too expensive, British customers could simply switch to Nissan or Toyota instead. 
The problem is that German car manufacturers no longer build all their cars in Germany, and even if they do, they do not necessarily build them with fully “German” parts. |Link|
This reminded me of an older article about the dangers of deep interconnections of the globalized economy, this 2012 economic evaluation looked at how the deep cross-connections make the entire system more vulnerable to shocks... especially unexpected and largely irrational shocks like the Brexit vote. Hooligan
Here is an excerpt.
This study considers the relationship between a global systemic banking, monetary and solvency crisis and its implications for the real-time flow of goods and services in the globalised economy. 
It outlines how contagion in the financial system could set off semi-autonomous contagion in supply-chains globally, even where buyers and sellers are linked by solvency, sound money and bank intermediation. 
The cross-contagion between the financial system and trade/production networks is mutually reinforcing
It is argued that in order to understand systemic risk in the globalised economy, account must be taken of how growing complexity (interconnectedness, interdependence and the speed of processes), the de-localisation of production and concentration within key pillars of the globalised economy have magnified global vulnerability and opened up the possibility of a rapid and large-scale collapse. 
‘Collapse’ in this sense means the irreversible loss of socio-economic complexity which fundamentally transforms the nature of the economy. These crucial issues have not been recognised by policy-makers nor are they reflected in economic thinking or modelling. 
As the globalised economy has become more complex and ever faster ... the ability of the real economy to pick up and globally transmit supply-chain failure, and then contagion, has become greater and potentially more devastating in its impacts. 
In a more complex and interdependent economy, fewer failures are required to transmit cascading failure through socio-economic systems. In addition, we have normalised massive increases in the complex conditionality that underpins modern societies and our welfare. Thus we have problems seeing, never mind planning for such eventualities, while the risk of them occurring has increased significantly. |Link: Trade Off: Financial system supply-chain cross contagion – a study in global systemic collapse, Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (emphasis added)|
We shall see whether Brexit merely ends up being a negotiating strategy allowing the UK to win more concessions from the EU or whether Brexit leads to an unwinding of British society resulting in a massive loss of industry and wealth.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Knots - For Fun as well as Search and Rescue

I really like this new website I discovered: Animated Knots by Grog. The step-by-step directions are easy to follow.

 Learning to tie a one-handed bowline knot could just safe your life someday if you ever need to be extracted from a cliff or crevasse and your other hand is injured.

OpsGear's Jager has a nice video on this topic as well.

The Alpine Butterfly loop is a knot that can be used to make a hand and/or foot loop in a rope for rescue.

Grog's method of tying the Alpine Butterfly Knot is easy to learn.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Safety Neal's Bread Pudding Recipe

My wife, Sarah, accuses me of becoming a foodie. That is definitely an exaggeration, but I have done more cooking in the last year than in the previous decade.

I've been experimenting with bread pudding and found it to be an easy and cheap dessert.

I start with a loaf of crusty French or Italian bread. I cut it into finger-thick slices and leave it out overnight to get hard.

Then in a bowl I mix: 2 eggs 2 cups of skim milk 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 tablespoon cinnamon 1 cup sugar Add the bread slices and coat thoroughly. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

 I pour it all into square cake pan and sprinkle with a cinnamon-sugar mix.

Bake it for 40 minutes at 350 degrees and you're ready for dessert.

 To make it really decadent, you can make a sauce to pour over the top. The base of the sauce I use is a stick of butter, a cup of whole milk, 1 cup of sugar. You can 1/3 cup of brandy or rum to the sauce as well.

  Bread Pudding Pie

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hello World!

I just connected the Fireside Chat to Google Plus. This blog isn't dead, but it is pretty dormant. But this is where I will park a long thought sometimes and then link to it from Facebook, Google Plus or LinkedIn.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some of my favorite tactical things

My name is Neal and I am a gear geek.

These are some of my favorite things. Tactical is a word with a variety of meanings. IMHO tactical gear is anything designed for getting shit done.

Cable Ties

My favorite piece of tactical gear is the humble cable tie, aka zip-tie. They are tough, light, small and cheap... the ideal tactical item!

 Working the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival has taught be the millions of uses of cable ties. Not only are they handy for building bike corrals and securing scaffolding, but you can use them as handcuffs or to tourniquet a traumatic amputation or as a field expedient ponytail holder.

EMT Shears

Zipties are easier and safer to cut with scissors or pliers than with a knife actually. Trauma scissors (or EMT shears) are fantastic. |Amazon|

 Like zip ties, they are tough, light, small and cheap. What's not to like?

They are also helpful for treating people with serious injuries. You'll want to remove some of their clothing to treat their obvious wounds and inspect them for other injuries.

Trauma scissors are part of my everyday carry (EDC). I usually have a pair in my "tactical bag", which is a 5.11 SERE uber-tactical man-purse.

First Aid Kit

Trauma scissors should also be part of your first aid kit (or kits)!

After 9/11, people reacted in different ways. I reacted by buying first aid kits and reading first aid manuals. 

For an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK), I currently run a Condor tactical EMT pouch. I've been running this minimalist version when I work the bike race. |LA Police Gear|

Some people denigrate Condor gear for being cheap... I've found it reasonably tough and I'm not going into battle, so it's good enough for me. There are lots of first aid kits on the market.

Some first aid kits are pre-filled while others are DIY... suit yourself and your budget... but I definitely recommend assembling a first aid kit!

I also recommend collecting first aid supplies for your home. There's no need to go crazy, but a well-stocked first aid kit never hurt anyone... unless they dropped it on their toes.

Pepper Spray

I almost always have pepper spray. I like Sabre pepper spray, especially in a small, hard case. |Amazon| It fits in my pocket well next to the cell phone.

The clip makes easy aiming and by indexing it in your hand.

Pepper spray is a less-than-lethal weapon, actually making it more likely that I would use it to defend myself in a self-defense scenario than a knife or a gun. Under American common law principles, you can only use lethal force when your life or safety are imperiled (i.e. a high risk of death, dismemberment or rape -- robbery is not enough).

But pepper spray is rarely, if ever, fatal, So I can use it much earlier in my threat assessment process! If someone starts acting belligerent or unstable around me, I get my pepper spray out of my pocket and hide it in my hand.

Smart Phone

Being able to call 911 is always handy. And I'm a cyborg... I prefer having a connection to the Internet whenever possible. I currently am running a Samsung Galaxy II. I like everything about it except the battery life. Enough said.

Tactical Pen

This year, I stopped carrying a pocket knife as part of my EDC and switched to a tactical pen. I love knives, but the pen is more practical for my urban lifestyle.

As a germaphobe, I like using my own pen instead of other people's nasty pens. The pen is also a less-than-lethal weapon, so again, I'm more likely to get it out and actually use it in a threatening situation than a knife. 

I'm also less likely to cut my own finger off with it. Using a folding pocket knife in a life-or-death struggle is going to subject the knife to significant strain and if it breaks, it's likely it will cut into you and your opponent.

Tactical Flashlight

Darkness makes it difficult or impossible to see. We are sight-oriented creatures, therefore light is helpful and makes you more proficient. Therefore, another part of my everyday carry is a tactical flashlight.

Unless I am in the shower or my pajamas, I generally have a Fenix flashlight tucked in my pocket or man-purse.

Mainly I carry a PD-31 |Amazon|YouTube Review of 4 Fenix flashlights|.

 Fenix has since come out with a PD32, which is what I would likely buy if I bought another one.

 There are lots of great tactical flashlights out there. I would suggest checking out the reviews at Candlepower forums.

 My backup lights tend to be Surefire G2's. I run big lithium batteries in them, but they are designed to run on two (2) CR123 batteries.

CR123s are advertised with a ten (10) year shelf life. I think they're likely superior in terms of shelf life to alkaline batteries but YMMV (your mileage my vary).

Update: Firestarters

A firestarter is not a bad idea. This suggestion comes to us from Cliff's son. Magnesium bars are definitely on the list. Light, small, relatively cheap and tough! I like Swedish fire steel as well, which comes with its own scraper. I am a bit concerned about cutting myself if trying to use a magnesium bar when my fingers are wet and cold, so a blunt scraper (like a screwdriver) would be handy as well.

To be candid, I am not an expert firestarter, so I like to include a simple bic lighter and some waterproof matches as well in my firestarting pouch of my bug-out bag.

Dryer lint makes great kindling for firestarting. Char cloth is ideal of course.

I like tea lights as minimalists candles.


So those are some of my favorite pieces of tactical gear. Feel free to share your thoughts of favorite pieces of tactical gear in the comments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Franconia II, originally uploaded by Anton Th. M..

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A modest proposal for improving our gun laws

First, I am a gun owner. I love my guns. I give them names like zombie killer and the holdout.

I don't have any children, which is good, because my home is littered with guns, swords, machetes, bayonets, hatchets, and batons.

I like to say that the mind is the weapon and everything else in the world is a tool. But a sword is a tool elegantly designed for the sole purposes of stabbing and chopping.

I now sell swords (steel, wood, and plastic ones) at costume conventions. And I have implemented a simple security procedure that would make Wayne LaPierre of the NRA or Justice Antonin Scalia apoplectic if applied to firearms.

If someone under the age of twenty-five (25) wants to buy one of my swords, they must talk to me for at least ten (10) minutes and persuade me that they are mature enough to buy a sword. Even if someone is over the age of twenty-five (25), if I think they are unstable in any way, I won't sell him or her a four foot piece of gleaming steel.

In a nutshell, I believe that the problem with our current gun laws is that there is absolutely no procedure to determine if someone is stark raving mad or if they can even feign sanity for a short period of time. 

Three recent examples of people with borderline personalities who were able to purchase and practice with weapons prior to going on a killing spreee come instantly to my mind: Jared Lee Loughner, Seung-Hui Cho, and James Holmes.

All three of these individuals were obviously disturbed in retrospect. I am willing to wager that a mere thirty (30) minutes spent speaking to someone with any psychiatric training would have raised some red flags.

I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota and the city requires that I obtain a special permit from the police department if I wish to buy a pistol or an assault weapon. I had to wait nearly an hour to obtain the permit. I wasn't pleased about it, but I did it because I wanted an assault weapon. :-)

Is it so much to ask that before a person purchases their first firearm, they have to talk to a psychiatrist or psychologist for thirty (30) minutes? 

Isn't it a reasonable public policy goal to ensure that disturbed people get as much help as society can reasonably afford to give them?

Seung-Hui Cho had a record of being admitted to a mental hospital, if the psychiatrist or psychologist knew about that, they might spend more time with him. They might even have denied him a firearm or requested he get some counseling before approving him for a firearm.

Mr. Loughner appears to have had some sort of break with reality before he attacked Gabbie Lee Giffords. If so, then he is exactly the type of person this cursory interaction with a psychologist is likely to stop from obtaining a firearm and committing mass murder.

Mr. Holmes is a more recent case and a more troubling case.

It is certainly possible that he could have charmed the psychologist and pretended to be totally stable for a mere thirty (30) minutes. He also moved beyond firearms and assembled Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

So admittedly, he likely could not be stopped from committing mass murder by any gun licensing scheme. Indeed, he could have committed mass murder with his IEDs even if every gun in America had been destroyed. But the test of adding a new component to the process of being licensed to purchase a gun does not have to be perfect. It just has to be better than what we are doing now.

The perfect should NOT be the enemy of the good. And asking a prospective new gun owner to spend thirty (30) minutes with a psychiatrist or psychologist seems a minimal burden on the Second Amendment to me. But I'm sure there are people out there who will claim this is an unconstitutional burden on the Second Amendment.

I'd be happy to discuss this matter with anyone who wants to have a respectful conversation about the matter. If you want to have a disrespectful conversation about the matter, we can discuss it at dawn. Be sure to bring a second. ;-)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Pandemic Simulation Video Game

The game Pandemic II challenges you to destroy the world. Are you up to the challenge or will you let a bunch of monkeys in lab coats defeat you?

Cross-Posted to theBellman and the Safety Neal's Zombie Defense Blog.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Safety Neal's New Health Care Directive

I just updated my health care directive. A copy is available on Google Docs and the original currently resides in the 3rd drawer of the filing cabinet of my office at William Mitchell.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Earth Gazing

Time lapse images of the Earth as seen from the International Space Station below.

This makes me wish we had a thriving low orbit manufacturing industry so I could escape the bonds of Earth...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Google Makes the World a Cyber Place

Google apparently is well en route to marketing augmented reality glasses.

[Google's augmented reality] glasses will have a low-resolution built-in camera that will be able to monitor the world in real time and overlay information about locations, surrounding buildings and friends who might be nearby, according to the Google employees. The glasses are not designed to be worn constantly — although Google expects some of the nerdiest users will wear them a lot — but will be more like smartphones, used when needed. Internally, the Google X team has been actively discussing the privacy implications of the glasses and the company wants to ensure that people know if they are being recorded by someone wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in camera. |Google to Sell Heads-Up Display Glasses by Year’s End - New York Times|
Fast Company suspects Google will eventually try to monetize this technology... but that strikes me as a small price to pay for Google making augmented reality a reality. Cross-posted at the Bellman.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Cyborg Neal Approaches

Scientific American has a short discussion of the potential of displaying information in a person's contacts or on eyeglasses.

The new system consists of advanced contact lenses working in conjunction with lightweight eyewear. Normally, the human eye is limited in its ability to focus on objects placed very near it.

The contact lenses contain optics that focus images displayed on the eyewear onto the light-sensing retina in the back of the eye, allowing the wearer to see them properly.

Conventional mobile device screens are often too small to read comfortably "and certainly too small to enjoy," Willey said.

In contrast, Innovega's contact lenses could effectively generate displays with a screen size "equivalent to a 240-inch television, viewed at a distance of 10 feet."

Moreover, by projecting slightly different pictures to each eye, the display can generate the illusion of 3D. "You get full 3D, full HD, fully panoramic images," Willey said. |SA|

Based on the article, I believe this technology is still vaporware, but the potential for displaying pixels wirelessly in contact lenses has been demonstrated sufficiently that DARPA is now playing a funding role in developing this technology.

This gives me goosebumps on my fleshy parts.

Cross-posted at the Bellman.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Transhumanism - Nano-Bio-Info-Congo Convergence

Humanity+ discusses the potential for human development based on emerging technologies of Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience. This is simplified to Nano-Bio-Info-Congo or NBIC.

NBIC will likely be used to enhance intelligence, mobility, cognitive qualities, vision and hearing. “I think we will stop short of eugenics but proceed to offer neurological and physical enhancements that improve the quality of life under the umbrella of medicine,” writes James Canton of the Institute for Global Futures. “Industry is watching this debate closely. Boomers are also watching this debate and will influence the outcome, based on their health economic investments.” Canton asks whether people in a free society have the right to enhance their memory, augment their intelligence, maximize their pleasure, and even change their physical forms on demand. He suggests that this will become a human rights issue in the 21st century. “Longevity medicine, life extension, and the augmentation of human performance will become features of our global culture in the near future,” he argues. | Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno: Paradigm for the Future, H+ online magazine |
The optimist in me thinks this sounds great. The pessimist in me sees a looming dystopia similar to that described in Bruce Sterling's book Holy Fire. |Amazon| Worlds Without End | Blog review at Health Data Management Review | This also reminds me of this recent Wired post about digital narcotics that can be tailored to your genetic make-up and electronically activated. I can only imagine what Aldous Huxley would make of it all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Law as Social Software

I recently read an op-ed by Douglas Rushkoff, Are Jobs Obsolete? . An interesting viewpoint... it strikes me as an clever new paradigm that has little to no chance of becoming widely held in the United States in the near future. (I contend because our electorate is not very clever, by and large.)

I was unfamiliar with Mr. Rushkoff, so I did some searching and discovered this short video of an address he gave at SXSW.

I thought his discussion of legacy software systems running our society was an excellent description of the law which is always lagging behind technological and social innovations (like sexting). In this video he lays out his view that by learning to be programmers people can learn to understand the limitations of the software medium and appreciate the biases of the people who create the software.

I like his suggestion of viewing the law as social software, but on that analogy, only Congress can change the program.

And unfortunately Congress is paralyzed by partisanship and rancor. As well as being asked to deal with complex problems for which there are no easy solutions and therefore no politically palatable solutions, leading to our current state of economic and political crisis, which is what led Mr. Rushkoff to ask if jobs are obsolete.

Friday, July 01, 2011


CONvergence is an interesting event. It's like a convention of conventions: steampunk, zombies, LARP, gaming, belly dancing...

Sunday, June 05, 2011

CDC Zombie Warning

Survival in the zombiepocalypse will require more than just luck. Of utmost importance is the survival mindset and a working knowledge of zombies.

But even the most determined individual will need some supplies. The Centers for Disease Control recently released suggested survival supplies and they are great, insofar as they go.

But they left out one important item: a machete.

Man chopping watermelon with a machete
Image courtesy of sgoralnick.

Luckily my friends and I have been prepping for this eventuality since before 2008.

The Zombie Research Society is another great resource for learning more about the coming undead pandemic.

This item was first posted at the Bellman.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Unintended Consequences of Abundant Energy

From the Archdruid Report:

[T]he average European uses around a third as much energy per capita as the average American, and has a better standard [of] living by most of the usual measures. Until recently... I’d assumed that this was simply a function of waste and mismanagement on our part, and a more efficient use of limited resources on theirs.

Still, I find myself wondering if there’s a direct connection between these two factors. Is it possible that Europeans have, by and large, a better standard of living because they use less energy, not in spite of that fact?

Ask the question and it’s not hard to find obvious examples. Consider the way that so many Americans buy gasoline-powered riding lawnmowers, and suffer the health impacts of a flaccid middle age – with attendant costs to the economic system – that could have been avoided by the moderate exercise gotten by using a push mower. Consider how much of the industrial world’s intractable unemployment has been driven by the replacement of skilled human labor with machines made possible by the availability of cheap abundant energy. For that matter, consider the way that the availability of energy correlates with the civilian death toll in wars. Before the age of fossil fuels, the annihilation of the entire population of a city happened relatively rarely, and took an extraordinary amount of hard labor on the part of the attackers. By the twentieth century it was relatively easy, and therefore routine.|Link| (emphasis added)

I find his analysis provocative. I suspect there's a happy medium to be found here.

As an American, I cannot dispute a link between material and energy abundance and its waste. But energy abundance has allowed humans freedom from agriculture which allows specialization of trades and the dynamism of cities in the long run.

Staying in shape is really important and the we've designed our societies to encourage sitting in chairs. We need to put walking and motion back into our lives.

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends putting computers on treadmills or stair climbers and having walking meetings, for instance.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Responding to Cascading Disasters

Cascading disasters occur when one disaster triggers another. Japan is poised on the brink of a series of cascading disasters in Fukushima prefecture.

Cascading disasters are especially challenging because they quickly reduce a country's capacity to respond. Infrastructure systems are necessarily interdependent. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed much of Japan's electrical and transportation infrastructure in the space of an hour. See Coordination in Rapidly Evolving Disaster Response Systems: the Role of Information (2004) by Louis K. Comfort et al. for more on the challenges of responding to cascading disasters.

The breadth of the destruction in Japan will necessarily lead to a series of public health emergencies. The immediate concerns are to take care of survivors and rescue those trapped in the rubble or stranded by flooding, but sanitation will be a significant challenge in the near future as well.

The Japanese have excellent emergency management professionals and I'm sure they are doing everything they can to prevent these emergencies from becoming full-fledged disasters.

Another example of a cascading disaster was Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane was a natural disaster which caused the levies around New Orleans to fail, that was a technological disaster.

Then the government response to Katrina was poorly handled at the local, state and federal levels (putting it as mildly as possible), which led to a breakdown in the provision of relief services as well as law and order at times. This is covered in some detail in Disaster Law and Policy (2009) |Amazon| which is the textbook I've been using in my Disaster Law class.

In the government's defense, everyone make mistakes. To err is human, especially under duress, and it doesn't get much worse than facing a series of cascading disasters. But we expect more from disaster response professionals and emergency managers. Congress passed a law after Katrina that (among other things) required the head of FEMA to be a professional experienced in disaster mitigation and response.

But everyone can play a role in preparing for a disaster. helps citizens prepare for local emergencies. A few simple steps can help you and your loved ones weather the storm.

FEMA offers free online classes in emergency management through FEMA's Independent Study Program as well as classroom training through the Emergency Management Institute if you'd like to learn more about disaster prevention, mitigation and response.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Threatcon 1: What disasters are most overhyped?

New America Foundation's Michael Lind has a provocative article on Foreign Policy's website discussing bullshit concerns that animate public policy discussions and lead to apocalypse fatigue.

I agree with Mr. Lind that the threat of nuclear terrorism is overblown (premise #1), that Europeans are not pacifists (#3), and that water-sharing is not a basis for the peace process (#8).

But I am strongly concerned about several things of which he is dismissive: pandemics (#5), environmental refugees (#7), post-peak oil price shocks (#2) and especially the shift in power away from nation-states to sub-state actors such as terrorists, corporations, and eccentric billionaires (#9).

Unfortunately I think these last four trends are as relentless as the zombiepocalypse.

Monday, December 06, 2010


hasta la victoria..., originally uploaded by confusoefelice.

The Revolution has been Postponed Indefinitely

John Michael Greer illustrates how political reform movements tend to be corralled in the US. While Greer's comments are in the context of the Peak Oil Movement going mainstream, I think his observation is more generally applicable.

The most common source of trouble when a social movement succeeds in entering the collective conversation of politics is the lack of any constructive plan... [upon gaining] access to the halls of power, [the movement] lowers its sights to target only that set of goals it can reach consensus on, and thinks it can get from whichever subset of the political class is currently in charge.

That’s a fatal mistake, in two mutually reinforcing ways. First, it allows the... political class that’s currently in charge to turn the movement into a wholly owned subsidiary, by giving just enough scraps to the movement to keep it hankering for more, while dangling the whole package just out of reach before the movement’s eager eyes.

That’s how the Democrats turned the environmental movement (among others) into one of their captive constituencies, for example, and it’s also how the Republicans turned gun owners (among others) into one of their captive constituencies – and you’ll notice that neither movement, nor any of the other movements thus co-opted, have ever managed to get more than a few token scraps of its shopping list out of the process.

The second difficulty is the natural result of the first. Once a movement is turned into a wholly owned subsidiary of one end of the political class, it can count on losing any chance of getting anything once the other end of the political class gets into power, as will inevitably happen.

The result is an elegant good cop-bad cop routine; each party can reliably panic its captive constituencies every four years by saying, in effect, “Well, granted, we haven’t done a thing for you in years, but think of how much worse it will be if those awful (fill in the blank)s get into power!”

Those who swallow this line can count on watching their movement sink into a kind of political zombiehood in which, whatever its official goals, the only real function remaining to it is to get out the vote for one or the other set of mutually interchangeable candidates come Election Day.

Combine these two difficulties and you get the graveyard that’s swallowed most movements for change in America in the last half century. |In the Wake of Victory - Archdruid Report| (emphasis added)

Another mechanism used to tame revolutionary movements is the tax code. Reformers set up 501(c)(3) organizations so donations are deductible and to get access to benefit plans (like medical, dental and retirement) and to obtain grants.

Oddly, the grants tend to dry up as the political winds shift and promising reform programs fold, sometimes the entire non-profit folds as well.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Stop the War On Drugs

The Guardian's recent article on the UK's drug policy starts with a nice bit of sarcasm:

If the purpose of drug policy is to make toxic substances available to anyone who wants them in a flourishing market economy controlled by murderous criminal gangs, the current arrangements are working well. |Guardian|

Sad but true. The law enforcement approach to the war on drugs has been an abject failure. The health care model might prove more useful.

As the article cited above concludes:

The Swiss policy of treating heroin addiction as a health issue rather than a moral or criminal one has been a resounding success with, among other indicators, a 60% reduction in criminal activity among participating addicts. When Portugal legalised the possession of all drugs, it experienced a decade of sharp declines in overall drug use, especially among the young. In Amsterdam, where over-the-counter marijuana sales have been tolerated for decades, rates of use among teenagers are much lower than they are in the US, where harsh penalties abound.

Latin America is advancing the debate, but even in the US there are efforts to undo the damage of prohibition, the most prominent being California's effort to legalise marijuana.

Hopefully, the thousands of Mexicans, Brazilians and people from other parts of the world who have been killed in the insane "war on drugs" will not have died in vain. Their deaths are already showing that it is time to put an end to all the pain and harms caused by drug prohibition; it is time to legalise and regulate the production, the supply and the consumption of all drugs. |Guardian|

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jerry Mander on Global Economics Destroying the World

Jerry Mander has an interesting name, but I think he's eloquently described how the United States and western economics destroyed resilient communities around the world in the name of progress, by which I mean corporate profiteering.

[A] basic part of the free trade ideology which is that all economies should shift from ... the import substitution model, that is to say the model where small countries decided they didn’t want any longer to be dependent upon large colonial powers, and they wanted to establish self-sufficiency in food and necessities, and not have to buy necessities on the open market, where everything, variable prices, and so on.

Some countries were doing very well by that but the World Bank came along, especially under the leadership of Robert McNamara, who did, by the way, more harm at the World Bank, I think, than he did in Vietnam, and said all countries have to shift to export production and we no longer can have the self-sufficient models. And that is simply because there’s profits, global corporate profits can only really be made [when] there’s no profit in self-sufficiency.

If people are producing food and eating it and sharing it with their communities there’s no opportunity for profit. So what they really wanted to do was open access to these big corporations to come in, create giant monocultures, drive people off their land who were self-sufficient farmers and other kinds of self-sufficient artisanal producers, turn everything into an export orientation – small industry plus agriculture – ship everything back and forth across the oceans and in that shipping was where there was the greatest opportunity for corporate profit.

Because of that, that’s brought on one of the greatest environmental crises. Just that shift has created an environmental crisis of staggering proportions because the increase in shipping since the shift to export oriented economics, since the Bretton Woods, since the mid 1900’s has brought with it tremendous – you can’t increase transport activity without also increasing infrastructure everywhere in the world enormously -new pipelines, new roads, new dams, new seaports, new airports.

All that list of things that I did at the beginning, half or 70% of those battles that are going on with native peoples are about transport infrastructure construction, causing tremendous environmental havoc, tremendous social havoc.
Aside from just the increase in fossil fuel, the increase in ocean and air pollution, the increase in bio-invasions which may be one of the great environmental catastrophes of our time. These bacteria and viruses and nematodes and bugs of all kinds, and animals are walking around on peoples’ shoes and in cargo ballast and shipping back and forth across the oceans are great threats to environmental stability in every country of the world. All of that is because of increased shipping.

So if you are going to have an export-oriented economy you are going to have these horrific environmental results. There’s no way around it. It goes hand-in-glove. But they need to have that because that’s where the profits are. There’s no profits in economic self-sufficiency for global corporations. So they have to destroy that – put everybody into shipping their stuff back and forth and make profits that way. And in agriculture, it’s particularly a problem, of course, because it drives people off their lands. People who used to grow food to eat are no longer on their lands; they’re in this mono-cultural agricultural production with these global agricultural corporations. There are very few jobs because they are all pesticide and machine intensive.

People have to leave their communities. They don’t get jobs; they are cashless; and hunger actually increases from that model. They claim that this is the way to solve hunger but we know that there is tremendous increase in hunger as the industrial, mono-cultural model increases for an export oriented production. |Lannan Foundation interview - emphasis added|

Friday, May 07, 2010

Why we need resilient communities

Alex Steffen's rant at WorldChanging points out just how desperate the future will probably be for our children and grandchildren.

[Environmentalists] have been warning for decades about the need to prevent catastrophe, coloring everything on the other side of catastrophe "unthinkable."

Welcome to unthinkable. It's now where we live. Climate catastrophe is now a given: it's only the degree and flavor of catastrophe that's still (hopefully) within our control. Our kids are going to spend their entire lives dealing with unfolding ecological crises. They're going to live their whole lives in a world without untouched nature, with a vast inheritance of trouble, surrounded by systems that are breaking one after another and demand large-scale aggressive interventions.

We've spent so much time working to prevent this future, that most of our established leader have spent almost no time thinking about how to live in it. Live in it we must, though: life goes on (assuming we can muster the small flicker of planetary responsibility demanded to not completely bleach the oceans or burn off the biosphere with runaway climate change; I feel confident we will, and if we don't, that's not so much an unthinkable future as a terminal one). We live in a world that's soon to have nine billion people, almost all of them urban or living close by cities, in societies that're significantly more stressed than they are now, pressing hard against planetary boundaries. |Wordlchanging|

Steffen suggests dense cities are key to decreasing humanity's footprint, which is true, although I hate (most) big cities myself.

I like the suggestions over at the Oil Drum's Campfire about Decentralization, Localization, and Scale-Free Self-Sufficiency as a way to build resilient communities.

I think networking together is our best hope for salvation in the face of the oncoming storm.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An End to Violence?

This semester I've been auditing a course in Public Health Law and it has caused me to research the differences between the law enforcement model for dealing with crime and violence with the model that health care professionals use.

A publication by the National Institute of Justice compared the two models and their approach to violence. The most clear striking difference is the law enforcement focus on punishing offenders and making victims serve as witnesses. Public health professionals see both offender and victim as in need of services, medical and psychological.

Clearly, the modern policing and public health responses to violence have much in common. They both emphasize preventing the occurrence of violence over responding after violence occurs. They emphasize community involvement in identifying violence problems, setting priorities among them, and devising solutions. Both approaches suggest the possibility that carving up the general violence problem into component parts may reveal solutions that would otherwise remain concealed; just as skin cancer and lung cancer call for different preventive strategies, so might drive-by shootings, convenience store robberies, and spouse assaults.

Both approaches recognize that violence or its consequences may be preventable not only by changing individuals' behavior but by changing their physical or social environments--for example, by isolating illegal firearms, alcohol, drug markets, or lone employees who handle cash from places where unemployed young men congregate. Finally, both approaches begin with the notion that a community's violence level may be reducible in either of two ways: through a relatively sweeping intervention, such as reducing media violence, or by accumulating small reductions in violence, each achieved by finding and solving some specific problem that underlies a cluster of violent events occurring at one location, involving one set of perpetrators and victims, or arising from one kind of situation. In short, both approaches seek significant reductions in overall violence by solving one underlying problem at a time.

Agreement on these shared principles by no means ensures that practitioners of public health and law enforcement will approach a concrete urban violence problem in the same way. Comparative analyses have suggested that some subtle differences in priorities may have important operational implications. For example, the criminal justice models, both traditional and new, retain a commitment to punishing perpetrators of violence -- as both a matter of justice and a means of demonstrating to children and youths that society condemns violence. In contrast, the writings of public health practitioners rarely discuss the moral implications of intentionally injuring another person. Public health practitioners tend to view victims of violence primarily as persons in potential need of psychological and other services, whereas law enforcement practitioners often think first of victims' roles as witnesses. Both approaches view communities as important players in violence prevention. However, community policing practitioners tend to view officers as problem solvers on behalf of a community, whereas public health professionals stress empowering communities to solve their own problems, with or without police help. |Reducing Violent Crimes and Intentional Injuries - NIJ Research in Action|(emphasis added, citations omitted)

These views are also reflected in the fact that public health relies on research a more scientific approach, while law enforcement uses a political and moral approach.

As I'm deeply mired in the legal and law enforcement view, I find the public health perspective interesting.

Update: One reader wrote in to suggest that there is a regrettable lack of understanding and trust between the health and law enforcement communities.

Perhaps that is why it can be so challenging to work on a multi-disciplinary team.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Skye Mountain Rescue team in action, originally uploaded by B℮n.

First Aid: Head to Toe Assessments

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)website has a new video up about checking a victim from head to toe for injury. Now, the check in this video would take place AFTER you've checked for breathing and a clear airway.

Here's the video link: CERT head to toe first aid assessment video.

Here's the video homepage generally.

This video was very helpful to me because checking the head and neck for injuries without aggravating any existing injuries is a concern of mine. I hope you found it helpful too.

For a first aid checklist, I use the following mnemonic.

ABCD: Airway - Breathing - Circulation - Damage

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Collateral Murder & the Tragedy of War

Wikileaks production at Collateral Murder of the massacre of a dozen civilians in Iraq is tragic.

Watching the footage, I can understand how the aircrew could think the camera was an RPG in the stress of the moment and their reaction was swift. Listening to the audio commentary of the gunner and pilot is chilling.

But the callousness of these actors as revealed on the audio track shouldn't distract us from the larger issues raised by this episode. James Fallows makes an excellent observation when he writes:

[A]s with Abu Ghraib, there will be a strong temptation just to blame (or exonerate) the lower-level people who pulled the triggers, but that deflects us from real questions of responsibility.

There will be lot of those "real questions" to consider, from rules of engagement to the apparent cover up of the footage. But the threshold point I meant to start with is this: The very high likelihood of such "tragedies" occurring is a very strong reason not to get into wars of this sort.

By "of this sort" I mean: twilight-zone urban warfare, not to mention "discretionary" or "preventive" wars, and situations in which a heavily armed-and-amored occupying force of foreigners tries uneasily to mix with a population overwhelmingly of a different race and religion and language. For their own survival, the occupiers need to be hyper-suspicious and ever alert -- even though today's prevalent Counter Insurgency doctrine ("COIN") warns of the self-defeating consequences of behaving this way. (Indeed, a mounting debate about the COIN approach in Afghanistan is whether the effort not to seem distant from the local population is exposing US soldiers to too much risk.) It is a situation with enormous potential for miscalculation, misunderstanding, and tragedy. And therefore one to avoid if you have any choice at all....

We could not know that [the episode depicted in the Wikileaks video] would occur. But we could be sure that something like it would. It's not even a matter of "To will the end is to will the means." Rather the point is: You enter these circumstances, sooner or later you get these results.

A failure of tragic imagination is what I most criticized in war supporters in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and it was much of the reason I opposed the war.

|Atlantic Online (emphasis in original)|

Mr. Fallows is far too diplomatic to say that George W. Bush and most of his ill-fated administration were warmongering fools, so please let me.

Wars are always tragic and often contain crimes against humanity such as systemic rape, genocide as well as chemical and biological warfare.

I'm not idealistic enough to think that we can easily abolish war... the end of war shall require significant human evolution. Not unimaginable, but not on the horizon either.

But this shouldn't cause us to sugarcoat the nature of war either. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman once wrote:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.... You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable...|Letter to the Mayor and Councilmen of Atlanta|

I recall marching in LA against the invasion of Iraq, part of the largest anti-war protests the world have ever seen. But the dye was cast, Bush sent in the Marines... and what happened on the Wikileaks video in July, 2007 is certainly the type of crimes that happen when the Marines (and the Army and the insurgents) come to town.

The fact that Wikileaks broke this video is news in itself. Phil Bronstein observes how the Internet makes all of part of the discussion of this video and participants in the outcome.

I've seen a fair number of people killed in countries at war, including combatants, journalists and civilians. Even at ground level, though, in the midst of bone and blood spray, sorting things out is near impossible.

I am sure of one thing: tragedy aside, this is all good for us in the bigger sense, starting with the video release. Transparency is the victor here. More information and even more yelling back and forth gives everyone more data and opportunity to make up their own minds. And it keeps life-and-death topics like war fully in the bull's-eye heat of aggressive social interaction.

That's what's really changed since my war correspondent days. No one today has to be a passive non-combatant in the important moments of our culture. |The Wikileaks Incident: How Social Media has Changed Warfare Coverage - SF Gate|

I hope Congress holds hearings on this matter and all of the civilians killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which some estimates believe could be as high as 100,000 souls.