Monday, 26 September 2011

Into the abyss? - from The Morning Star

From last weekend's Morning Star, a perceptive and timely article by Andrew Murray.
"Stare into the abyss, the philosopher Nietzsche advised, and the abyss stares into you.
Society has been staring into the abyss of capitalist crisis for three years now, and the view just gets more impenetrably gloomy.
And the abyss stares right back - what are you going to do about it? Do you have a plan or are you part of the void?
The time for accounting is impending.
By every measure the crisis is deepening and there is a sense that a really big wave is going to break sometime soon."
Link to the full article here:

Monday, 19 September 2011

Blowing Away Nuclear?

Has a major technological breakthrough in Japan created a new generation of wind turbines that finally destroy the claims by the nuclear lobby that renewables can't match their dangerous and dirty radioactive power? Martin O'Beirne of THE ECOSOCIALIST ponders on what it could mean...

The designers of this new wind turbine, based in Japan's Kyushu University claim output, the amount of electricity produced is up to 3 times greater than a conventional turbine. 

The first question is...What major design breakthrough could possibly be responsible? Some super light material allowing the turbine to spin faster? Some inexplicable method of increasing wind No that would be silly, why did you say it, but not far off, see the video.

They have had the amazing idea of ...Wait for it......Putting a ring around the outside...Oh....So we have to be a little guarded before we get too excited. If it was that easy, surely it would have been done before now, right? Let's wait for some independent research and so on, and I mean independent because the fossil fuel and nuclear industries will be falling over themselves to rubbish it. 

The other caveat (ironically) is that the anti-nuclear movement in the wake of Fukushima are making progress.  The energy agency plans to earmark up to 20 billion yen ($261 million) for offshore wind farms. This has displeased the local fisheries. At the end of this video the commentator suggests the wind farms could be used for fishing, which is a little hard to buy. But hey I don't want to play sceptic here! 

IF the designers are right, the implications are immense. If we were to be conservative and say that all it does is double the output this really could be the end of any of those arguments about the cost of nuclear actually being cheaper than renewables (Ask the workers and local people at Fukushima how they define cost) Wind generation would be closer to those claims we heard all those years ago about nuclear (that it would be too cheap to meter). In the video below a single offshore wind farm using the turbines would be equivalent to an entire nuclear plant. Think of the 8 new nuclear power plants planned for the UK replaced by 8 offshore windfarms with the benefit of no nuclear waste to bury or plants to decommission.
In addition there is no great paradigm shift involved if we were to propose that the very expensive tar sands extraction and fracking would not get a look in. Just a quiet woosh of spinning turbines. 

But the real deal is how the argument stands up for capitalism. This could be divisive, major fossil and nuclear companies with their dirty fingers in all the pies, could not compete with companies pushing the new wind farms, they would either have to embrace it themselves or suffer the consequences, but either way the Military-Industrial (Fossil Fuel, Nuclear, War) Complex (as David Schwartzman calls it) that sustains capitalism would wither. Perhaps an example of how the market  (for a change) could work in our favour. 

Wouldn't it be something if nature herself destroyed capitalism before it destroyed her. 

original article, plus video HERE

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Updates - Continuing Bad Weather

Over the last year, I've posted on a number of incidents and issues that in many instances continue to be in the news, but here is a short round up of some of the stories and issues that were either less prominent to begin with or which faded from news coverage (often in spite of their importance), and what has happened since the original post.

Good news on the story of Rania Abdechakour. Rania was the little 5 year old Algerian girl with cerebral palsy who had been living with her aunt and uncle in Lancashire for several years. Back in May, the British Government decided to expel her, in spite of the lack of medical facilities or a secure home for her back in Algeria. After a lot of hard work by her aunt and uncle and others, she was granted the right to remain in late August and they are now formally adopting her.

The "Ground Zero Mosque" - remember the fuss about something that was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero? For weeks the media was filled with protests and reams of commentary about how the proposed Muslim cultural centre in New York was an affront to the people who had died in the Twin Towers, dreadfully conflating all Muslims with the handful of men who led the attacks on 9/11. Since last year, the centre has progressed slowly in terms of development - planning obstacles have slowly been overcome and designs for the front of the building which incorporate the Jewish Star of David and the Christian Cross suggest that its intention remains what its sponsors have all along insisted - a centre for faith reconciliation, not some victory monument. Given that some 70 innocent Muslims died in the carnage of the Towers (and tens of thousands in the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan since), why in any case should there be no Islamic content to marking the losses of that day?

An ice free North Pole may now be barely 5 years away...
Not so good news on climate change....Britain had its most severe winter in decades last year amidst speculation that the warming "Atlantic conveyor", which brings the mild climate from the Mexican Gulf, had slowed down or even stopped. After millenia of Britain enjoying a much warmer climate than its latitude warrants, at least one expert in the field believed the Gulf Stream, as it is called, had turned off, at least temporarily. Without confirming anything, the Government did acknowledge that the weather was much worse than normal for the second year in a row and decided to ask the Chief Scientist if there had been a "step change" in our climate. He has yet to report, but Britain's summer has now been cooler than normal in spite of a continuing global rise in temperatures - and more and more extreme weather events around the planet as man-made carbon emissions continue to rise faster than ever. Climate change does not simply mean constantly warmer weather everywhere - although the longterm trend is upwards. The impact of global warming could mean cooler temperatures in Britain and western Europe for a time if polar ice melts and the cooler water from the Arctic melts into and diverts the flow of warmer water from the south-west. The latest prognosis from the Arctic is bad - summer ice melt has reached record levels this year and is proceeding at roughly double the anticipated rate, with an ice-free North Pole anticipated during the summer by sometime as early as 2016 rather than the 2030s as previously predicted.

Meanwhile, in the USA, climate activist Tim DeChristopher continues to languish in jail under a two year sentence of imprisonment for disrupting an auction of land to the oil and gas industry by falsely bidding. At his trial, he argued that he had been forced to choose the lesser of two evils - acquiesce to the land auction going ahead and the damage the resulting oil and gas exploration would cause; or commit a crime by bidding falsely in order the disrupt the land sale. He has lodged an appeal against his conviction, but for now remains in prison for a crime that harmed no one and no organisation - in fact, the auction itself turned out to be an invalid process because of procedural irregularities, so Tim has been imprisoned without technically committing any crime at all.

But better news for bees: in the UK at any rate, the general consensus seems to be that it has been a good year for our stripey pollinating friends. Colony Collapse Disorder has decreased and there is now some evidence to support a diagnosis that agrochemicals are responsible for their recent, often mysterious declines. Even the bad winter didn't deter them and there has been a bumper honey crop this year as a relatively mild spring let them get busy. However, with no consensus on how to tackle CCD and the chemical industry keeping a close involvement in the beekeeping world in defence of its own interests, bees are still in longterm decline - the number of UK bee species has fallen by 50% in the last sixty years; so our little friends are not out of the woods and into the flowery meadows yet.

In spite of all the violence of the Arab Spring and the apparent shaming of Britain and other western states over their longterm association with Arab dictators and kelptocrats, our Government's lust for profit from blood remains undiminished. UK Premier David Cameron behaved appallingly when he took a group of British arms merchants on a tour of Cairo's Tahrir Square where people had died protesting against a regime funded by America and supplied by the British arms industry. But just days later, we were at it again, with a big UK delegation out in the Gulf at the IDEX Arms Fayre in Abu Dhabi which took place hours after the Bahrain Government machine-gunned protestors on the streets of its capital. 

Cameron later welcomed the Crown Prince of Bahrain to Downing Street, while it was with clear reluctance that the British Royal Family cancelled the King of Bahrain's invite to the Royal Wedding at the end of April. In September, in spite of their mealy mouthed condemnation of dictatorships and the embarrassment caused when Libyan rebels found evidence that the Con Dem Government had been selling sniper rifles to the Gaddafi regime right up to the start of the civil war,  Ministers supported the huge Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition in London - where one company was exposed by Amnesty International to be selling illegal leg irons. Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, tabled an early day motion in the Commons condemning the exhibition and calling for an end to arms sales to regimes with poor human rights records.

And mention of the Royal Wedding brings back memories of perhaps the most confused newspaper page of the year, if not longer. Clinging on to the last of the big wedding story of the year but wanting to move onto the big breaking news story, the Daily Telegraph's international edition ended up with one of the most bizarrely tasteless front pages in newspaper history...

In June, Greenpeace used Star Wars as a theme to attack Volkswagen car company for its lobbying against reductions in carbon emissions in spite of its advertising promoting it as an allegedly environmentally aware company. Stung by being likened to Darth Vader's planet-destroying Death Star, VW  deployed its employees in a counter-demonstration when Greenpeace unfurled one of their signature banners at a car show: the result can be seen here, but you do have to look closely to see the staff holding up their blue placards.

And lastly, back in May, I blogged on how police had very brutally arrested and carted off a film maker and a handful of others who were silently dancing at the Jefferson Memorial. They were held under anti-terror laws, a ludicrous over-reaction by the authorities to a perfectly harmless activity - all of it filmed here.

The following week, in a challenge to authoritarianism's assault on peaceful activity, hundreds of people turned up to dance, though a little less silently...

The Fat Cat Who Won't Feed His Own...

Our political masters love to make out that they are just normal folk in special jobs. So, when they are not siring kids like the Blairs and Camerons have done while in Downing Street with great PR flourish, they go for the next best thing in terms of image - pets; especially rescue pets.

Long ago, then Vice-President Nixon had trouble over his puppy, allegedly a bribe, but deftly swiped the issue away by appearing on-screen with the mutt demonstrating its cloying affection for Tricky Dicky. Later, across the Atlantic, the urbane Harold Wilson had his Labrador Paddy. Thatcher made up for an absence of  animal pets by having her Cabinet, but subsequently John Major adopted a stray cat (which his successor Tony Blair was at one point forced to prove he hadn't killed), while in the White House Clinton had Socks the cat, even Butcher Bush kept dogs and Obama adopted a rescue dog for his kids.

Keeping up with tradition, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced on taking office that a rescue cat, Larry, would be coming to live in Downing Street. The poor animal duly arrived in a cat cage to be feted by the press (one of whom Larry animatedly scratched) and he was pictured on the Cabinet table with a Union Jack collar patriotically attached. Milking the idea of being a fun-loving guy, Cameron even had himself photographed with an assistant holding Larry out to a visiting President Obama.

The significance of the Obama photocall should not be underplayed - the US president, at his folksy best, is all smiles as he pats the cat, while the assistant looks genuinely pleased with the animal. Safely a few feet back, Cameron smiles but, with his hands firmly on his hips, he sort of gazes at the cat with a mild disdain. A bit like a Victorian father with his kids, he'll try to look interested if he has to, but for God's sake, don't ask him to actually touch the creature himself and no - do not, under any circumstances, expect him to hold it.

And now the truth is out. Fat Cat Cameron, multi-millionaire, happy to portray himself as an animal lover, does not even pay to feed the cat. His own cat. In spite of his cash, in spite of milking the publicity shots, he won't stump up for even a can of kat-o-meat or a box of biscuits. No, this rich man makes his staff pay for his cat. And now he has ostentatiously agreed that they can hold a quiz evening to raise money for poor Larry's upkeep. Dependent on the random vicissitudes of charity, poor Larry needs to remember the words of an old Labour leader, "That if the Tories win...I warn not fall sick..."  Who, after all, will meet the vet fees?

Quite unsurprisingly, just like his past wheeze of trying to be seen as a keen environmentalist by cycling to work while a large car drove behind him carrying his briefcase, Cameron's attempt to pose as a lover of fur (living and domesticated as opposed to the creatures he likes to hunt and shoot), now stands exposed as just another tawdry publicity stunt. As if we hadn't guessed...

So spare a thought for Larry as he contemplates an uncertain future. He was originally obtained to help catch rats that were to be found living in Downing Street. Clearly, his work is not yet done...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Last American

"Science fiction is when the improbable becomes probable..." 

This is the definition of the sci fi genre emblazoned in the entrance to an imaginative (free) exhibition currently on at the British Library in London, Out of this World. It sets out the history of the imagining of new or different worlds by authors from the earliest to the most current - I was delighted to discover that the first trip to outer space was described in The True History by the second century Greek-Syrian author Lucian, regarded as the father (or maybe great-great- grandfather many times removed) of this type of escapism.

Though escapism may be more than a slight misnomer - because while sci fi can provide entertaining stories, it has also long been a vital repository of comment on the societies and conditions observed and experienced by those who write it. Whilst pure yarns feature aplenty, credible science fiction requires some degree of possibility, however remote, to avoid slipping into pure fantasy (where, according the exhibition, the impossible becomes possible). Whether a reflection of contemporary progress - such as dreams of rocket flights to the Moon or Mars and speculation on what alien wonders might be found in stories such as HG Wells First Men on the Moon - or gloomier prognoses such as the post-apocalyptic On The Beach, which covered the nuclear threat of the Cold War era - science fiction should tell us something about ourselves as much as about the imagined alternate realities it postulates.

In some cases, this can be positive - Star Trek and Dr Who have long mixed teatime family entertainment with real physics, even if highly theoretical or somewhat warped (no pun intended). And of course, Dr McCoy's non-invasive hypodermic pressure syringe is now a medical fact. But in other cases, a more negative picture can be drawn, usually as a warning by the author of the possible consequences of some contemporary ill.

One such tale is a book among the exhibition called "The Last American" by John Ames Mitchell, published in 1889. This recounts the story of an expedition in the year 2951 by the Muslim Persian Admiral Khan-Li to rediscover the long lost land of Merikha, a thousand years after the contemporary world has been destroyed by runaway climate change.

Mitchell's novel is short - the original publication ran to less than 80 pages but with lots of very imaginative, colourful illustrations; it is available for free download (text only) from Project Guttenberg. And on reading it, there are a striking number of passages that cover the materialism and greed which Ames Mitchell saw as representing American society in his day, even although at that time it was an emergent power, its global reach still several decades in the future. These passages remain strikingly relevant today, not only to America but increasingly to our entire globalised world.

As the Persians of a millennium from now climb through the overgrown ruins of New York and Washington DC, postulating on the use of buildings and the purpose of ancient objects (a satirical view of the archaeology that was becoming so popular in spite of its wildly speculative methods at the time of the novel's writing), the expedition's historian is delighted to discover the ruins of what he considers to have been the cause of the Merikhans downfall:

He stopped speaking, his eyes fixed upon an inscription over a doorway, partly hidden by one of the branches of the oak.
Turning suddenly upon me with a look of triumph, he exclaimed:
"It is ours!"
"What is ours?" I asked.
"The knowledge we sought;" and he pointed to the inscription,
He was tremulous with joy. "Thou hast heard of Nhu-Yok, O my Prince?"
I answered that I had read of it at school.

He continues a little later with an explanation:

"They were great only in numbers and too weak to endure success. At the beginning of the twentieth century—as they counted time—huge fortunes were amassed in a day, and the Mehrikans became drunk with money."
Whereupon I exclaimed, "O Land of Delight! For much money is cheering."
But the old man shook his head. "Very true, O Prince; but the effect was woful. These vast fortunes soon dominated all things, even the seat of government and the courts of Justice. Tricks of finance brought fabulous gains. Young men became demoralized. For sober industry with its moderate profits was ridiculed."
"Verily, that would be natural!" I said. "But in a land where all were rich who was found to cook and scrub, to fetch and carry and to till the soil? For none will shovel earth when his pockets are stuffed with gold."
"All were not rich. And when the poor also became greedy they became hostile. Then began social upheavals with bloodshed and havoc."

Several other passages cover the materialism of the fallen society - shopping and bargain seeking were its people's highest objectives - and the expedition is at once astounded by the size of its originally powerful cities and by the totality of its collapse. The explorers are delighted when they find a well preserved Persian rug among the ruins, commenting that although the least decayed item they found, it is older than the degraded items surrounding it, such was their transient and disposable design. Without spoiling the conclusion, the denouement has reference to yet another contemporary ill Ames Mitchell saw in his pleasure-seeking contemporaries.

The tale is well written, the crumbling ruins and emptiness of the deserted citadels hauntingly conjured, and you can trace to here the origins of scenes and themes picked up, deliberately or not, by authors and screenplays in science fiction throughout the 20th century. But the most striking aspect is how prescient his observations were of the future of his own society at a time when it was still in transition from an essentially agricultural society to a fully industrialised, commercially obsessed one. 

Although New York and other large cities were well established and as terrifyingly cramped, dirty and crowded as any in the world, most Americans still lived in rural settings. Ames Mitchell's imaginative projection of the processes underway at his time is science fiction at its best - and arguably its most accurate: he was predicting man-made climate change nearly a century and a quarter ago.

Intentionally or otherwise, it is also ironic that he should have picked the country he did for the home of his intrepid explorers - in spite of their comic names (the ship's pilot is called Griptillah and the historian is Nhofhul), as they gather their artefacts for the Museum of Teheran, Islamic Iran has evidently survived the climate disaster and outlived doomed America by at least one thousand years.

Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou....

I am returning to blogging a little earlier than planned in part because since my last post at the end of August, the Total Politics magazine and website has announced its blog awards for 2011. These are voted for by its readers and set out in a wide range of different political categories.

After just one year of proper blogging, I am chuffed and more than a little surprised that Viridis Lumen has done really well:

 -  3rd Place in Top Green Blogs category
 - 15th Place in Top Green Bloggers category
                                                       - 33rd Place in Top Leftwing Blogs category
                                                       - 64th Place in Top Leftwing Bloggers category

So I wanted to give my very profuse thanks to any and all who voted in any or all categories.

It was also cheering to see other good leftwing Green blogs doing well:

Derek Wall's Another Green World came 2nd in the Green Blogs and also Green Bloggers, and 27th in Leftwing Blogs; while Martin O'Beirne's The Ecosocialist came 13th in the Green Blogs and Martin himself came 49th in the top Leftwing Bloggers. Other left Greens like Jane Wilkinson also did well, while Bright Green Scotland and its writers featured across several categories.

Geographically closer to home for me, Kirklees Green Council Group leader Cllr Andrew Cooper saw his Greening Kirklees jump up a good few places (symbolised in his blog by a certain brand of soft drink): Andrew is one of a growing but still relatively small band of Greens who have exercised executive power in local government, having been a successful Cabinet member for housing. His blog is well worth a look at for its posts about a range of topics but with a focus on his work on Kirklees Council - where his efforts have been instrumental in implementing a number of practical and effective green initiatives, copied and claimed by others near and far - imitation is indeed the best form of flattery.

So thanks again to anyone who has voted, and thanks for reading. If you've not visited some of the other blogs listed above or in the right side panel, please take a look when you've some time - they give a wide range of progressive and green perspectives on politics, the world and life in general.

As for me...onwards... :)