'Shrinking the Technosphere' review

SUBHEAD: Getting a grip on technologies that limit our autonomy, self-sufficiency and freedom.

By Frank Kaminski on 25 December 2017 for Mud City Press -

Image above: Detail of cover ogf "Shrinking the Technosphere" by Dmitry Orlov. From original article.

When the average person thinks about technology, the first thing that comes to mind isn't a family dog or cat. Nor would one likely consider a flock of chickens, a packet of seeds or a sack of potatoes to be examples of technology.

But technology thinker Dmitry Orlov, in his book Shrinking the Technosphere, argues that that's exactly what they are.

In the context of a rural homestead, a dog is a highly advanced home security system, cats and chickens are a pest control service (the former targeting rodents and the latter insects) and potatoes and seed packets play an indispensable role in meeting the dietary and medicinal needs for which city dwellers are dependent on factory farms and pharmaceutical plants.

These are all instances of "naturelike" technologies, or those that represent, in Orlov's words, "human adaptations of things nature has produced as evolved traits in other species."

Orlov's book advocates a shift toward these types of technologies and away from the destructive, doomed technologies that currently define our lives in the developed world.

Such a change is necessary because of the unsustainability of today's dominant technologies. The Earth's technosphere exists in a trap in which it must either grow or die, and to grow it needs ever-greater quantities of natural resources.

But we're now in an era in which many of these resources—from oil to minerals to the lithium needed to make computer and electric car batteries—are at, near or past their peak production rates. In addition to resources, the technosphere needs environmental sinks in which to dump its wastes, and these too are coming up short.

Consequently, concludes Orlov, the technosphere is destined to collapse, and our best course of action is to whittle it down to the point where its fall won't impact us more grievously than it has to.

Easily Orlov's most profound work yet, this book covers an astonishing amount of territory, and it does so with Orlov's usual winning combination of scholarly research, sly wit and practical, tested, real-world wisdom.

The present review endeavors to explore some of its key points; but rest assured that, as involved as my assessment might seem, it captures only broad strokes. For the full story, I strongly recommend that you buy the book.

Shrinking the Technosphere begins by contesting some deeply held, seldom-questioned beliefs about technology. It's commonly assumed that modern machines allow us to work more efficiently than in the past, that more of them is always better, that new innovations are invariably superior to what they replace and that technology in general holds the key to solving any problem we may face.

Yet, as Orlov shows, the evidence doesn't support these assertions. The supposed efficiencies and beneficence of today's advanced industrial technologies disappear when one takes negative externalities into account.

Orlov counters the claim that modern tools and methods are more efficient than manual labor by pointing out that the opposite appears to be true.

 Far from delivering us to some promised land of ultimate leisure and fulfillment, our gadgets have caused us to lead increasingly hectic lives, due to the need to earn more and more money to pay for them all.

What often turns out to be most efficient is doing without a supposedly time-saving device. As for the belief that more technology is always better, Orlov observes that Earth's oceans (to take one example out of many that he cites) would beg to differ.

Overfishing, pollution and absorption of excess CO2 that we're pumping into the atmosphere are driving the seas toward a primordial state hospitable only to microbes and jellyfish.

For the oceans, less of our technology would definitely be better. And the insistence that technology can solve any problem is contradicted by the many crises from which technology offers us no prospect of salvation, since it's technological development itself that's causing them.

In light of these points, the argument this book makes for bringing our technology choices back under control is as sensible as it is impassioned.

An engineer by training, Orlov proposes a systematic program for reducing our dependence on the technosphere one piece of technology at a time. His methodology includes a set of rather simple equations that readers can use in vetting all the technologies in their lives based on their relative ratios of harm to benefit.

A harm/benefit ratio is calculated using 32 criteria, which include things like whether a given technology is artificial vs. natural, industrial vs. artisanal, new vs. (re)used and proprietary vs. open-source. By way of illustration,

Orlov runs the calculations for some signature technologies of our time, including mobile computing, motor vehicles, life extension science, genetic engineering and nuclear power generation.

He also looks at a number of things that people don't generally think of as technology, such as organized religion, higher education, international loan sharking, the fossil fuel lobby, the legal system, the two-party political system and terrorism by proxy.

Central to his argument is the notion that the term technology is much broader than its popular usage would indicate. The type of technology we're most used to hearing about is that which applies hard scientific methods to industry- and engineering-related problems.

Yet Orlov posits that many of our technologies are social and political in nature. He describes the U.S. fossil fuel lobby, legal system, higher education system, two-party system and organized religion, to return to some examples listed earlier, as being among the more troubling "political technologies" now at work in America. (He also uses the phrase "political machines" to describe these, and his conception of both terms is similar to what's often meant by "racket.")

One of their chief functions is to instill false beliefs in people in order to control them and blind them to the risks of continuing down our present technological path. For instance, the fossil fuel industry has long sought to deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change, lest widespread awareness of this real threat dampen demand for its products.

The deleterious technologies touched on above are all part of Earth's technosphere, which can perhaps most succinctly be called the antithesis of the biosphere. Most definitions of the technosphere limit themselves to its physical properties as the sum of all human-built structures.

However, Orlov's take on it is far more penetrating. For him, it's "a single, unified, global, controlling, growing, destructive entity, existing beyond human reason or morality, which must be stopped no matter the cost."

The most insidious thing about it is the way it has made us subservient to its will, while tricking us into thinking that we're in charge. We allow dating site algorithms to breed us like livestock; we coach our children to please machines by scoring high on standardized tests; and we let ourselves be conditioned by mass media stimuli to pull voting-booth levers like so many lab animals.

Moreover, countless people depend on the technosphere for their continued survival: Without dialysis, insulin injections and pharmaceuticals, many people would die.

Orlov's answer to halting the technosphere starts with ruthlessly assessing each piece of technology in our lives via the 32 criteria touched on earlier. With this information, we can greatly reduce our use of highly harmful, unbeneficial technologies and maximize our use of those that are less harmful and more beneficial.

Orlov refers to this process as creating and enacting a technological harm/benefit hierarchy. This hierarchy ranks technologies in descending order according to their harm potential.

The ones at the top are those most in need of being curtailed or even abandoned. For Orlov, these include nuclear power technology, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and other things that he deems to have "unlimited harm potential." At the opposite extreme, the bottom of the list is occupied by zero-harm, naturelike technologies.

Because the latter cause no ecological harm, they are the things we should be gravitating toward the most.

It isn't necessary, in Orlov's view, for everyone to go completely naturelike in their choices.

For one thing, Orlov recognizes that many people would find it prohibitively impractical to do so; and for another, Orlov is a self-described technologist who sees value in much of today's dominant technology. (Again, his vision is of a shrunken technosphere, not one gone altogether.)

Thus, even though you may not be able to do without, say, an automobile or a laundry machine, you could well stand to greatly reduce your dependence on such things. Rather than owning your own car, you and the rest of your community could have a small fleet of shared high-occupancy vehicles.

And instead of every household in your neighborhood having its own clothes washer, there could be just a single community laundry.

When it comes to ratcheting down one's Internet usage, Orlov suggests people could compose emails and read downloaded documents offline, then get back online for perhaps an hour a day to send out all their electronic communications in one batch.

What do we do when faced with a technology whose harm potential is unknown? In such cases, Orlov advises using the precautionary principle, which states that we should forego the adoption of any technology whose harm potential is unknown or in dispute, in favor of one whose propensity for harm is known.

The author identifies an arsenal of tools that can be used to combat technologies with unlimited harm potential. Orlov terms these "anti-technologies" because they function to negate other technologies.

They include implements for defending against offensive weapons; methods of defying and defeating oppressive law enforcement tactics; and ways of rendering both living and nonliving things undetectable or unrecognizable, so as to make them immune from the technosphere's powers of classification and control. Some anti-technologies represent a huge cost advantage compared to the things against which they're employed.

For instance, a homemade spark gap generator can take down an entire radio communications system and a cheap infrared LED can be used to blind an expensive video surveillance setup.

Shrinking the Technosphere also examines alternative lifestyles that can help one live outside the control of the technosphere.

As a seasoned, avid sailor and an advocate of frugal living, Orlov is a big fan of two options in particular: liveaboard sailboats and tiny homes. He favors the former due to their advantage in terms of mobility, in the event that conditions at a particular site become untenable.

But for those who don't happen to live near water, he regards tiny homes as the next best thing. And he considers both to be invaluable "lifehacks" because of the extent to which they can aid people in meeting their own needs effectively and efficiently without the technosphere.

The most thought-provoking part of this book is its survey of the ways in which various thinkers have attempted to define the technosphere. This section begins with a probing analysis of The Technological Society by the late French thinker Jacques Ellul (Vintage/Alfred A. Knopf, 1964; trans. John Wilkinson).

Of all the people to have criticized technology thus far, Ellul is, in Orlov's opinion, the one who has come closest to apprehending the technosphere's true nature, and he did so more than six decades ago (the original French version of his book having been published in 1954).

Unfortunately, Ellul failed to come up with any answers to our predicament. Orlov next turns to Ted Kaczynski's infamous Unabomber Manifesto, which does offer a solution. While Orlov condemns the methods that Kaczynski used to spread his message, he finds much value in the Manifesto itself as a blueprint for the "revolution against the industrial system" that Kaczynski envisioned.

There's a point in Shrinking the Technosphere where Orlov, challenging our society's near-universal faith in progress, reasons that too much technological development, like too much of anything, can be a bad thing. "With any activity," he writes, "there is an optimum amount of it, and too much is just as bad as not enough."

Orlov is one of the best minds currently working on the problem of how best to manage the coming industrial collapse–and reading his work is so rewarding a pursuit that it's hard to imagine where its maximum level of optimality might be.


Post-Carbon Music

SUBHEAD: Perhaps the most important job of the artist, after all, is to remind us that we’re already in paradise.

By Richard Heinberg on 30 November 2017 in Post Carbon Institute

Image above: "The Peasant Dance" (1568), by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, oil on oak panel. From (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Peasant_Dance_-_WGA3499.jpg).

Over the next few minutes I hope to share with you a little of what I’ve learned about the likely trajectory of industrial society for the remainder of this century, and some speculations about the possible role of music and related arts within that trajectory.

Perhaps the best way to introduce the ideas and information I want to share is to tell you some of my personal story.

I grew up in the Midwestern states in the 1950s and ’60s, where my interests swung between the sciences (my father was an industrial chemist) and the arts: I loved drawing and painting, and at age 11 fell in love with classical music.

I demanded that my parents get me a violin, and fortunately when they did they also paid for lessons with the concertmaster of the local symphony—a gentleman named Louis Riemer, who had studied briefly with Leopold Auer at Juilliard.

Mr. Riemer gave me a good technical foundation on the instrument, for which I will always be grateful. But, just as I was graduating high school and heading for college, the Summer of Love and the Vietnam War overtook America. Suddenly playing Haydn quartets seemed less interesting.

At the University of Iowa I continued with music lessons and played in the orchestra, but spent increasing amounts of time attending protests, experimenting with psychedelic drugs, and listening to the Grateful Dead.

I taught myself to play the guitar and spent the next seven years professionally playing electric guitar and electric violin in rock bands. But something else happened right after college that would eventually send me down an entirely different path: I started reading environmental literature.

Probably the most influential book I came across at the time was The Limits to Growth.

A team of young experts in a new field called systems dynamics, working at MIT, had used a computer to model the likely interactions between Earth’s resources, human population, pollution levels, food production, and other basic factors of the economy.

They found that, in their models and simulations, global growth in population and industrial output could be maintained for only a few decades, no matter how they jiggered the software or the input data.

Doubling Earth’s resources would put off the inevitable peak and decline by only a few years. The only way to generate a scenario without a crash was to model policies to end population growth and dramatically cut the rates at which we’re consuming resources.

In other words, the only way to avoid the collapse of civilization was to voluntarily scale back just about everything we’re doing that entails interaction with the physical world around us.

At the time, the Limits to Growth authors were optimistic that, once policy makers understood the alternatives and the consequences, they would choose to restrict population and consumption.

However, the notion that economic growth might fairly soon crash against the planet’s limits proved extremely unwelcome to economists and politicians, who had come to count on the endless growth of the economy to provide jobs for workers, profits for investors, and increasing tax revenues for governments.

Articles appeared in New York Times, Newsweek, and other prominent publications pretending to debunk the idea of natural limits.

Ronald Reagan would soon insist that “There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder.” That’s an inspiring sentiment. But, of course, the MIT scientists hadn’t been modeling intelligence, imagination, or wonder.

They were looking at mineral resources, soil fertility, and the capacity of the atmosphere and oceans to absorb wastes and pollution.

Imagination and wonder are terrific, but by themselves they don’t increase the size of the world’s forest cover or the number of wild fish in the oceans. In reality, the pushback against the MIT study was all smoke and mirrors.

An abundance of subsequent research supported the Limits to Growth scenario studies. The computer software used in 1972 was primitive by current standards, but it has been upgraded regularly since then. The data have also evolved in the intervening decades.

Today you can supply upgraded software with the very latest figures on population, resources, food production, and industrial output, and climate change, and essentially the same scenarios will tumble onto your computer screen.

The “standard run” scenario, in which policy makers continue to seek as much growth as possible, always shows a peak and decline in world industrial output around the end of the first quarter of this century, followed by declining food production, then declining population.

And here we are, rapidly approaching the end of the first quarter of the century.

Five years after the publication of The Limits to Growth, I was experiencing my own limits—in terms of success in the commercial rock music scene. In retrospect, that was a very good thing.

Making music is often wonderful, but the music business often isn’t. With my interests straying toward other subjects, I started writing essays as a way of making sense of the world. My stuff started getting published, and soon I was making my living with words.

In effect, I was chronicling the early phase of society’s collision with natural limits as it was happening. Here’s the current scorecard: We’re now losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year due to industrial agriculture.

At the same time, we’re adding 80 million new humans each year on a net basis, with our population growing by about a billion every 12 years.

Meanwhile, the planet is reeling from human-forced global warming: glaciers and permafrost are melting, the seas are rising, and the pace is accelerating.

Global wildlife populations have declined nearly 60 percent since the 1970s, and species are going extinct at 1,000 times the normal background rate.

Healthy coral reefs could be completely gone by 2050, and by then oceans may be almost completely free of fish due to climate change, overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss.

Over the years, I have written several books about fossil fuel depletion, co-authored a lengthy report on the unsustainability of our current food system, and researched and discussed climate change and other pollution issues.

I even produced a book in 2011 titled The End of Growth, which explains in some detail how we are living out the “standard run” scenario from 1972.

Along the way, I’ve tried to satisfy my own curiosity with regard to the question, How and why have humans gotten themselves into this mess? Finding answers required that I delve into history and anthropology.

It turns out that, while we humans have been expanding our range and altering our environments for millennia, our efforts got turbocharged starting in the nineteenth century.

The main driver was cheap, concentrated sources of energy in the forms of coal, oil, and natural gas—fossil fuels. These were a one-time-only gift from nature, and they changed everything.

Energy is essential to everything we do, and with cheap, abundant, concentrated energy a lot became possible that was previously unimaginable.

We used newly invented technologies to channel this sudden abundance of energy toward projects that everyone agreed were beneficial—growing more food, extracting more raw materials, manufacturing more products, transporting ourselves and our goods faster and over further distances, defeating diseases with modern medicine, entertaining ourselves, and protecting ourselves with advanced weaponry.

We used some of our fossil fuels to make electricity, an extremely versatile energy carrier that, among many other things, enabled music to be amplified, recorded, and reproduced on an assortment of media. In short, fossil fuels increased our power over the world around us, and the power of some of us over others.

But our increasing reliance on fossil fuels was in two respects a bargain with the devil.

First, extracting, transporting, and burning these fuels polluted air and water, and caused a subtle but gradually accelerating change in the chemistry of the planetary atmosphere and the world’s oceans.

Second, fossil fuels are finite, nonrenewable, and depleting resources that we exploit using the low-hanging fruit principle.

That means that as we extract and burn them, each new increment entails higher monetary and energy costs, as well as greater environmental risk.

Basing our entire economy on the ever-increasing rate at which we burn a finite fuel supply is the very definition of stupid. And yet we do this with brilliant technical efficiency.

Fossil fuels made us a more successful species, able to increase our numbers and averaged per-capita consumption, and powerful enough to steal rapidly increasing amounts of ecological space away from other creatures.

This success has had serious side effects, including the fouling of air and water, the decline and extinction of a rapidly growing list of other creatures, and the increasing lethality of warfare.

Fossil fuels made rapid economic growth possible, yet the expansion of Earth’s carrying capacity for humans, based on fossil fuels, must inevitably prove to be as temporary as those fuels themselves.

Like rapidly proliferating bacteria in a Petrie dish, we are destined to consume our nutrients and face the consequences.

In 1997, I was invited to help design, and teach in, one of the first college programs on sustainability. Ten years later, I joined the environmental nonprofit think tank Post Carbon Institute as Senior Fellow, a position I am happy to fill currently.

Throughout all these years there was always music. I played wedding and orchestra gigs, and enjoyed concerts and reading sessions with string quartets and string trios, and duos with guitar or piano.

Today, I still spend two hours a day practicing—you know the drill: an hour of scales, arpeggios, and etudes, followed by an hour or so of repertoire—doing my best to hone my modest technique and learn new music. It’s nearly always the highlight of my day.

How do these two activities—writing about our environmental crisis and playing music—fit together?

And more deeply, what role might music and the arts generally play as part of our human response to climate change and ecological overshoot?

In the 1997 film “Titanic,” Wallace Hartley, the violinist and leader of the band on the ill-fated ship, turns to his band mates as the water rises around him and says: “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight.”

Is the only contribution we musicians can make at this moment in history to bravely go down with the ship, lifting the spirits of other passengers?

I think we can do quite a bit better. What I mean by that will take a while to unpack, and will require a little meander.

We might start by asking, What makes a culture worth sustaining?

One answer that comes to mind is, beauty—from the spare, honest beauty of a Zen temple or a shakuhachi flute, to the over-the-top ornate beauty of an Italian Renaissance cathedral or a Puccini opera. Aesthetics are a product of time and place.

But the human response to beauty, and the urge to create it, are instinctive and transcend humanity itself.

We know this because other animals are also obsessed with beauty. During the 1940s, English musicologist Len Howard devoted herself to studying the music of wild birds. According to Theodore Barber’s account of her work (in his marvelous book, The Human Nature of Birds),
She became personally acquainted with many and knew some for their entire lives. . . .  Her intimate study of bird songs led to . . . surprising conclusions:
  1. Birds, like humans, enjoy their songs. They take pleasure in singing, and they enjoy hearing even their territorial rivals sing.
  2. Birds not only convey messages and express feelings and emotions in their songs, but at times they sing simply because they are happy.
  3. [Birds of the same species] can be reliably identified by their unique variations of the species’ song. In fact, conspecific birds apparently differ in musical talent as much as humans. This unexpected variability is due to the individual bird’s interpretation of the theme, his technical ability in executing it, his “style” of delivery, and the quality or timbre of his voice. Some very poor singers are found in every songbird species. . . . There are also very superior musicians among songbirds. For instance, over a period of a few days, a talented blackbird creatively and spontaneously composed the opening phrase of the Rondo in Beethoven’s violin concerto. (He had not previously heard it.) During the remainder of the season he varied the interpretation of the phrase; “the pace was quickened toward the end . . . a rubato effect that added brilliance to the performance.”
Of course, it’s a long way from a bird’s song to a performance of Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony; the latter is a lot more complicated and expensive to produce, and requires a lot of cooperation.

Music and the other arts came to be developed to extremes of complexity largely as a result of the process of professionalization—which again can only be understood in terms of anthropology and history.

Hunter-gatherers had music, but it was relatively simple—as simple and beautiful in its way as a birdsong. With more intensive means of food production—farming—we were able to produce food surpluses that could be stored.

That enabled the construction of cities and full-time division of labor. Homo sapiens has been around for about 350,000 years, but farming is a comparatively recent development, starting only about 10,000 years ago. It was a fateful shift.

For the first time in the human story, we see writing, money, and far more sophisticated weapons and other tools. We also see full-time artists and musicians.

Each of these developments, and each of these technologies, changed us. For example, Marshall McLuhan and others have pointed out that the use of writing, and especially alphabetic writing, tended to nudge our thought processes in certain directions. As the classicist Eric Havelock once put it.

It is only as language is written down that it becomes possible to think about it. The acoustic medium, being incapable of visualization, did not achieve recognition as a phenomenon wholly separable from the person who used it.

But in the alphabetized document the medium became objectified. There it was, reproduced perfectly in the alphabet . . . no longer a function of “me” the speaker but a document with an independent existence.

The earliest important document in alphabetic script was the Bible—The Book. And to this day millions of people regard that document with awe as an almost animate source of absolute wisdom and authority.

Johann Sebastian Bach was himself devoted to the Good Book, and he lived not far from the birthplace of the printing press, an invention that further intensified the psychological impact of the written word by emphasizing (through its movable type) the interchangeability of alphabetic characters, and by enabling the majority of the population to own and read printed Bibles.

The printing press also set inventors to contemplating the usefulness of interchangeable parts, thus helping seed the industrial revolution.

If the writing of words made human thinking more rational and sequential, the writing of music had an analogous effect.

Rather than being memorized, tunes could be jotted down and read later, perhaps by someone else who had never heard the tune before. Tunes could become more complicated, yet still be “remembered” on paper. Tunes could take on an existence of their own; they could be bought and sold.

Every new technological advantage implies the potential loss of some former ability. Writing, as Plato noted, saps the memory. Similarly, reliance on musical notation does little to foster the ability to improvise.

Everyone who has spent much time around a professional orchestra knows that most classical string players are spectacular sight-readers but utterly inept improvisers (though that’s changing). How many times have I been requested to “Play us a tune,” only to hear myself reply ineptly, “But I don’t have any music with me.

And so progress is usually a tradeoff. And like biological evolution, it is only temporarily directional. Evolution doesn’t have a final goal in mind; it’s just an endless process of adaptation.

Often it leads to dead ends. All species eventually go extinct, and, sometimes, vast numbers of species go extinct all at once. Similarly, cultural evolution appears to proceed in cycles: over the past ten thousand years, roughly 24 civilizations have arisen, but they have all tended to go through a process of expansion and then collapse.

With our linguistic brains, we tend to assign cosmic meanings to these gains, and often-rapid losses, of complexity. But in the end, it’s not about smiling or angry gods; it’s not about human ingenuity or collective moral decay; it’s about environmental carrying capacity.

In his theory of culture, anthropologist Marvin Harris located the arts in what he called the superstructure of society, together with religions and ideologies. In Harris’s formulation, the superstructure and structure (politics, economic system) of society primarily tend to respond to changes in infrastructure, which is the interface between society and nature, the means of production and reproduction.

With one type of infrastructure (hunting and gathering), we get a consistent set of tools, religious practices, and ways of organizing society, across the globe.

With another type of infrastructure (early forms of agriculture) we see the rise of kingdoms, the appearance of sky-god religions, writing, and so on—whether in India, China, Central America, or Mesopotamia.

Harris’s view would have been that the industrial revolution and overwhelming societal changes that flowed from it—the growth of the middle class, credit, advertising, mass marketing, propaganda, mass political movements—didn’t happen primarily because of literary, musical, or artistic efforts; they occurred largely because we discovered rich new energy sources.

Abstract expressionism didn’t drive the social, cultural, and psychological changes of the twentieth century; rather, the art of Pollock, Kline, and de Kooning emerged in response to the development of photography and psychoanalysis, and to the social and personal alienation brought about by industrialism.

With color photographic reproductions everywhere cheaply available, representational art came to seem hokey and pointless. Instead of painting people and nature, the artist’s job was now to portray the interior of the psyche. Similarly, electronic music—including amplified rock music—followed upon the electrification of society, it didn’t inspire it.

Material conditions change; then consciousness changes; and new art forms follow to express changing consciousness. Sometimes the artist appears as a revolutionary or a social critic—think Woody Guthrie, Rage Against the Machine, or Geto Boyz. Other times, the artist is little more than a commercial or political tool.

In either case, the artist’s efforts help shape the terms by which society adapts consciousness to its infrastructural regime. The artist does modify culture, but cannot do so in a vacuum.

Where there are grounds for a revolutionary movement, the artist can help give it identity and cohesion.

On the other hand, employed by society’s elites, the artist can forge images that galvanize enthusiastic cooperation—whether in support of a political candidate, or in service to the projects of selling more breakfast cereal or waging a war.

The enormous complexity of modern industrial civilization theoretically offers a far wider scope for creativity than was the case in previous societies: every industrial artifact—from the paper clip to the computer mouse to the laser scanner in the grocery store to the handle on a refrigerator—has to be designed. We in the modern industrial world are thus surrounded by art to a degree unparalleled in any earlier society.

City dwellers must exert effort—sometimes, considerable effort—to see a surface not designed by another human, or to hear a sound not generated by humans or their machines, including music playback machines.

In addition, the population densities that are afforded by the modern city, and thus the opportunities for interaction among artists, permit an extraordinary level of development of technique. There are more piano virtuosi alive today, playing at a higher level of technical perfection, than at any other time in history.

The same with nearly every other medium: there are more highly skilled sculptors, painters, calligraphers, ballroom dancers, or whatever, than ever before.

But we pay a cumulative price for this artistic bonanza. By confining ourselves within a human-designed—and thus human-centered—universe, we cut ourselves off from the true source of art—which is nature.

Technical perfection and media sophistication cannot replace naturalness of gesture. We stumble from the movie theater, sated and numbed. We get into the car, cue up some music, and drive home.

We turn on the television and glance at it occasionally as we devour a logo-emblazoned deli sandwich from the refrigerator. The semblance of life grows ever more convincing as the reality of life disappears in a forest clear-cut somewhere beyond view from the highway.

However, as I tried to convey a few minutes ago, the current environment for the arts—urban industrial society—is basically unsustainable.

Which brings us to the subject of our future. Society a few decades from now will operate very differently from how it does now, or it won’t be operating at all. At the base of this shift will be our energy regime: society will have to move away from fossil fuels this century to avert catastrophic climate change. And if it doesn’t, fossil fuels will move away from us as a result of depletion.

One way or another, our societal infrastructure will shift. This will probably be as profound a historic rupture as the industrial revolution itself, maybe comparable to the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago.

It’s tempting to think that we can just unplug coal power plants, plug in solar panels, and continue living essentially the same as we do now. But this is wrong in two ways.

First, it’s important to understand the fundamental differences between intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and depleting but available-on-demand fossil fuels. I recently co-authored a study, with David Fridley of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, titled Our Renewable Future, in which we examined how energy usage will need to change to accommodate these new energy sources.

We concluded that energy usage in highly industrialized nations like the United States will have to decline significantly, and whole sectors—transportation, manufacturing, and agriculture—will need to be transformed to run on electricity rather than gaseous or liquid fuels.

Our existing systems were built to fit the strengths of our incumbent energy sources; nearly everything will require rethinking to take advantage of the inherent qualities of solar and wind power. It would make sense, for example, to decentralize systems, to make them more distributed and localized, and to use energy when it’s available, rather than expecting to use it 24/7.

But there’s another reason that it would be wrong to think we can keep living essentially as we do now as, and after, we make the energy transition: our ecological crisis is not all about climate change. If climate change were the sum total of our environmental challenge, then all we’d need to do is get rid of carbon emissions and we’d be good to go.

Don’t get me wrong: climate change is by far the worst pollution dilemma humans have ever faced, and if we don’t deal with it all of Earth’s creatures are in for one hell of a ride. Yet in addition to climate change we also face mass species extinctions due to habitat loss, along with the depletion of soil, water, and minerals.

Our population continues to grow even as habitat and resources disappear.

We need a more comprehensive way of framing the ecological crisis; I prefer to speak of overshoot, a term familiar to population ecologists.

Due to a temporary energy subsidy, we have grown our population and consumption beyond levels that can be sustained long-term, and we are eroding Earth’s capacity to support future generations. The only way to deal with overshoot is to dial back the whole human enterprise.

One way or another, whether as a result of adaptation or collapse, we can look forward to a future characterized by lower overall rates of consumption of energy and materials. That raises the question of equity. Will a few luxuriate in abundance while multitudes starve? That’s a recipe for revolutions, coups, and the rise of dictators.

Or will we learn to share both resources and scarcity while choosing to reduce our population to a sustainable size?

Our future will also hold less complexity. That’s because societal complexity requires energy. So if less energy is available, that will inevitably translate to less globalization and more localized, smaller-scale economies.

Our future will feature a less-stable climate. We will need more resilience—more adaptability, as well as redundancy in critical systems. We will need to learn how to fit into nature’s cycles rather than imagining that we can dominate our planet and move on to other planets once we’ve chewed our way through this one.

If, rather than simply collapsing, society adapts by becoming less centralized, more localized; if population and consumption (especially in wealthy countries) shrink rather than continually growing, then how will artists be affected by this extraordinary transformation?

How could they help lead it?

Perhaps the obvious answer is to produce sustainability-themed operas, motion pictures, concerti, country-and-western songs, string quartets, and computer game soundtracks. However, I think we could also be more—um, creative in our thinking.

First, I think we need to be honest with ourselves. The next years and decades will be filled with challenges of all kinds—foreseeable and unforeseeable. It will be a turbulent time and may not provide a stable platform for a tranquil, uninterrupted career in a symphony orchestra or even a touring rock band. It’s hard enough to be a successful musician in the world as it is, but someone’s about to move the goalposts, deflate the football, and rewrite the rules of the game.

That doesn’t mean that making music isn’t worth the effort. It just means it will be important to avoid tunnel vision, and to pay attention to what’s happening in society as a whole so as to be able to adapt quickly and be in position to take advantage of opportunities.

I’d like to suggest three broad projects for musicians and other artists for the remainder of this century:
  1. Preserve our culture’s greatest achievements. Musicians tend to assume that the works of Bach, Mozart, Ellington, and other great composers constitute a common heritage that will last for the ages. It’s sobering to reflect on how much was lost of ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman culture when those civilizations fell. Sheet music printed on acid-laced paper will disintegrate over time; so will magnetic tape, CDs, and computer hard drives. Music cannot survive if it isn’t continually refreshed in live performance. If we really love this music, it’s up to us to carry it forward—to play it and to teach the needed and satisfying skills of music performance to younger generations.
  2. Help society adapt. As societies change, it is up to artists to reflect people’s feelings and experiences back to them, transformed into art that’s inspiring and healing. Think of how Beethoven helped reflect the beginnings of modern democracy, the Romantic Movement in poetry and philosophy, and the nascent industrial revolution—in music that shattered the aristocratic formalism of previous generations. Or recall how Shostakovich translated the horrific and protracted siege of Stalingrad into his tragic yet also hopeful Eighth Symphony. Now think ahead. We have embarked on a century in which all the systems we have built since the start of the industrial revolution—our food system, our transport systems, our energy system, our buildings systems, our financial system, and possibly our political and governance systems as well—will prove unsustainable. At the same time, the natural world will be shifting around us in unprecedented ways. Everything will be up for change, redesign, and negotiation. This may turn out to be the great fulcrum of history. Artists will have the opportunity and duty to translate the resulting tumultuous human experience into words, images, and music that help people not just to mentally understand, but to viscerally come to grips with events. And society will need the service of artists as never before as we re-weave the fabric of local community.
  3. Do what artists always do, what even the birds do: celebrate life’s beauty. Our charge is to do this well, in fact better than ever. Life is precious, and our planet is precious. As Joni Mitchell put it,
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot
Perhaps the most important job of the artist, after all, is to remind us that we’re already in paradise.

No parking lot needed.

Image above: Performance and presentation by Richard Heinberg. From (https://youtu.be/m_kAumEqwmY).


Debt as a weapon on poor

SUBHEAD: Is Washington operating under a  monetary theory were debt does not matter to the rich?

By Kurt Cobb on 24 December 2017 for Resource Insights -

Image above: Photo of German paper money during uncontrolled economic inflation that lead to the ris Fascism and World War II. From (https://www.istockphoto.com/fi/photo/german-inflation-money-from-1920s-gm170927779-17410276).

In 2002 when soon-to-be-dismissed U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill warned then Vice President Dick Cheney that the Bush administration's tax cuts would drive up deficits and threaten the health of the economy, Cheney famously answered:
"You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don’t matter."
In the wake of the recently approved federal tax cut,voices concerned about the damage that deficits will do are rising again.

What's curious is that since Cheney's rebuke of O'Neill, growing federal government deficits seem not of have mattered. In fact, the largest deficits ever boosted the economy after the 2008-09 recession, exceeding $1 trillion annually for four years.

All of this suggests that the federal government has for a long time been operating under an unspoken monetary theory, namely, that government spending does not need to be backed by revenues and that the debt issued to fill the gap between spending and revenues will have little effect now or in the future.

But isn't there some level of federal debt which would cripple the federal government and the U.S. economy? A common metric for measuring this debt is the ratio of federal debt to annual gross domestic product (GDP).

When one looks at a graph of this, the growth in debt seems perilous, rising from a low of around 30% of GDP in the early 1980s to more than 100% of GDP today.

Seemingly more perilous is the rapid growth in Japanese government debt. That debt has soared from a low of around 40 percent of GDP in 1990 to almost 200 percent of GDP now. Yet, the oft-prophesied demise of Japanese government finance has not occurred.

What the United States and Japan share in this regard is that each issues its own sovereign currency. That means both could theoretically retire their entire government debt in one day by issuing sufficient currency to buy up all the outstanding bonds. A smarter way would be to do this very gradually without announcing it.

In the alternative, the legislature could pass a law requiring government bondholders to sell their bonds back to government at a pre-determined price—something bondholders would certainly dislike since the price is likely to favor the government.

What this tells us is that any government that issues its own currency will never run out of money to pay back bondholders.

That's, in part, why there is no panic among Japanese and American owners of government debt. What the above further tells us is a bit more shocking: Such governments don't even need to issue debt to finance their operations.

And, so long as a government doesn't issue more currency than the economy can produce goods and services for, it won't create price inflation (defined as too much money chasing too few goods).*

The only reason for governments which control their own currency to levy taxes then is to create demand for that currency. If someone has to pay taxes in the government-issued currency, he or she will want to receive at least some payment in that currency.

As it turns out, so will everyone else. As a result it becomes simply more convenient if everyone adopts the country's sovereign currency as their unit of account and medium of exchange.

All of what I've just described fits neatly into what is called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), the premises of which are so deceptively simple that it is hard for people to believe them.

But Japan and the United States seem already to be operating under that theory save for one act—the act of issuing copious amounts of government debt, something that is entirely unnecessary under MMT.

The idea that governments which issue their own sovereign currency must rely on private credit—mostly from wealthy citizens—to finance themselves is an illusion. But it's an illusion that the monied class hopes no one will see through.

For if the public does see through it, government debt—which is used like a weapon to promote cuts in social spending—would cease to frighten anyone (and may be gradually eliminated). That means spending policy would become much more flexible than previously imagined.

So, it turns out that Dick Cheney was right—but not for reasons which he and the new rentier class would ever be willing to admit, namely, that the government doesn't need loans from rich people or loans of any kind.

Bondholders therefore can't really hold the government hostage. Realizing this and acting on it would seriously diminish the influence of the rich in the halls of power and make a realignment of spending priorities possible.


Christmas Story

SUBHEAD: It’s a Wonderful Life presents an American scene poised to arc toward tragedy.

By James Kunstler on 25 December 2017 for Kunstler.com -

Image above: Colorized poster art for "It's a Wonderful Life" for digital download from Apple for $10.99. From (https://itunes.apple.com/nz/movie/its-a-wonderful-life/id297250466).

(IB Editor's note: "cis" is the Latin prefix for "same side of" versus the the prefix "trans" meaning the "other side of")

These are the long, dark hours when cis-hetero white patriarchs sit by the hearth chewing over their regrets for the fading year and expectations for the year waiting to be born.

I confess, I like Christmas a lot, Hebrew that I am, perhaps the musical and sensual trappings more than the virgin birth business.

Something in my mixed Teutonic blood stirs to the paganism of blazing Yule logs, fragrant fir trees, rousing carols, and snow on snow on snow.

I hope we can keep these hearty ceremonies… that they are not banished to the same puritanical limbo where the Prairie Home Companion archives were sent to rot.

One surviving old chestnut of the season is the 1946 movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, a movie so thick with gooey holiday sentiment, it’s like bathing in egg nog.

It’s larded with messages of good-will-to-all-mankind, of course, but some of the less obvious themes — almost certainly unintended — tell the more interesting story about where America has come from in recent history and where it went.

One thing for sure: every year that goes by, the America of It’s a Wonderful Life seems utterly unlike the sordid circus we live in now.

The movie takes place in a town, called Bedford Falls, like many in my corner of the country, upstate New York, or at least the way they used to be: alive, bustling with activity, with several layers of working, middle, and commercial classes employed at real productive work making things, and a thin candy shell of “the rich,” portrayed as unambiguously greedy and wicked — but overwhelmed in numbers by all the other good-hearted townspeople.

The movie depicts an American social structure that no longer exists. It’s both democratic and firmly hierarchical — owing probably to the lingering influence of army life in the recently concluded Second World War.

Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, the head of an old-style family-owned Savings and Loan bank, a very modest institution dedicate to lending money for new homes. His competitor in town is the wicked old rich banker Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a swindler and thief, who wants to put George out of business.

Bedford Falls is a man’s world. The women in the movie are portrayed as taking care of the “home front” and supporting the male “troops” in the toils of small town commerce — another social holdover from the war years. This depiction of life would surely give a case of the vapors to any post-structuralist college professors who dare to watch the movie.

Now here’s one catch in the story: the main business of George Bailey’s bank is lending money to build the first post-war suburban housing development outside of town, a project called Bailey Park.

One of the pivotal scenes concerns the Martini family, immigrants, moving into their new suburban home with great sentimental fanfare.

So, what we’re witnessing in that incident is the beginning of the destructive force that will soon blight small town life (and big city life, too) all over the country. Moviegoers in 1946 probably had little intuition of the consequences.

Another catch in the story involves the plot twist in which George Bailey misplaces a large sum of money ($8,000, actually purloined by the wicked villain, Mr. Potter).

With his bank facing ruin, George contemplates suicide. He’s saved by his guardian angel, who goes on to show George what Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born. It would be called Pottersville.

Its Main Street would be bustling with gin mills, the sidewalks full of suspiciously available young ladies, the whole scene a sordid nest of vice and wickedness.

The catch is that Pottersville would have been a much better outcome for American small towns like Bedford Falls than what actually happened.

Today, the lovely landscape of upstate New York today is dotted with small towns and even small cities that have absolutely nothing going on in them anymore, and stand in such awful desolation that you’d think a long war was fought here. Much of that is due to the activities of good-hearted suburban developers like George Bailey.

The Americans of 1946 must have had no idea where all this was headed, nor of the coming de-industrialization of the country that had won World War Two, or the massive social changes in the divisions of labor, or the annihilation of several layers of the working and middle classes, or the much greater wickedness of the generations of bankers who followed Henry Potter.

It’s a Wonderful Life presents an American scene poised to arc toward tragedy. It’s an excellent lesson in the ironies of history and especially the dangers of getting what you wished for.

Readers may agree: we’ve never seen our country in such a state of ugly division moral confusion, and intellectual disarray. A coherent consensus eludes us. Grievance, resentment, and bitterness boil and sputter everywhere.

My Christmas wish is that we might put behind us some of the more idiotic and pointless debates of the past year and get on with tasks that really matter… that will allow us to remain civilized through the hardships to come.

That’s how I roll this dark morning, here at the glowing hearth, while the Christmas day ahead, at least, offers some comforting stillness as the snow on snow on snow piles high. And so… to the presents waiting ominously under the twinkling tree.



SUBHEAD: Last year’s offspring forgotten with the new generation, fresh threads on life’s ancient tapestry.

By Brian Miller on 24 December 2017 for Winged Elm Farm -

Image above: Ewe with winter lambs in the snow. Photo by Matt Cardy. From (https://dq.yam.com/post.php?id=104).

In the darkness, a couple of hours before sunrise, the wind has come up. I dress quietly, find my way downstairs. After making coffee, I take a seat in the old Adirondack chair on the front porch. The warm blast in advance of the cold front, roaring in like heavy surf at night, rolls over the wooded ridge and across the valley in waves.

Becky, our aging stockdog, takes up point behind the chair, in easy reach of a comforting hand. Obstreperous bulls and boars are as nothing before her snarl, but a bit of rain, a rifle shot, or a clap of thunder sends her from the field in a cower.

Something has shaken loose out by the haybarn, prompting me to mutter a hope that it isn’t anything significant. As Christmas draws near, it is not visions of sugarplums, but rather vast sheets of plastic blowing off hoop-houses that dance in my head.

Meanwhile, the yearling lambs bleat in protest at being woken up. I should tell them that with a month left on this earth, they’d best be up and enjoying the early morning. The butcher waits for no one.

Perhaps the great thread-spinners prompted me to do the same this morning — one never knows when death will arrive. On the eve of the winter solstice this year, we hosted the daughter of a best friend from college.

Only 2 when her father unexpectedly passed away 22 years ago, she was now beginning a quest to visit his friends, to answer the unknowns of self and place.

It had been more than 33 years since I had shot pool and drunk Dixie beer in the Bayou with her father. I could hear him clearly in her voice and laugh, reminding me that we only think we are masters of our individual selves.

A step back reveals context, threads connecting us as part of a larger and lovelier tapestry. Like the wind hurtling over the ridge, which began over the flat prairie, which began over the cold oceans, we have origins within origins rolling back, back, to the beginning and the before.

On the morning of the solstice we put my friend’s daughter in her car. She headed south to a Louisiana home she had never visited, a motherland that had nurtured generations of her father’s family. We wished her well and waved goodbye.

And now, this early morning, my coffee finished, the storm moving closer, I stand up and bring Becky into the house. She heads directly to hide behind the venerable Morris chair — a relic of a wedding suite belonging to my great-grandparents, bought in Boston on their honeymoon, brought home to Crowley, Louisiana, before journeying north to Tennessee, a century later, to this farm of their great-grandson.

I return to the wind and begin my morning chores, my first stop making sure the hoop-house is indeed intact. The pregnant ewes in the main barn let me know with familiar bleats that they wish to be fed and turned out into the fields.

The ewes are only days from the start of lambing season, bellies hanging low, udders engorged, the struggles of birthing and raising last year’s offspring forgotten in this year’s discomfort of waiting for the new generation, fresh threads on life’s ancient tapestry.


CRISPR and Genedrive danger

SOURCE: Jerry DiPietro (ofstone@aol.com)
SUBHEAD: Letting genedrives loose outside labs is too risky, says scientist who promoted idea.

By Paul Koberstein on 22 Devember 2017 for Earth Island Journal -

Image above: Illusration of mosquito and genexrive. From (http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/editing_evolution/).

[IB Publisher's note: As more people are avoiding GMO produced food you can bet that "players" in the GMO/Pesticide development in Hawaii are salivating to get out of that business and into open field testing of gene drive technology. And if GMO companies' indifference to the health and welfare of the people living on these islands is an indicator we are all endangered. See accompanying article "Editing Evolution" by Paul Koberstein further explaining genedrive technology.]

A large cache of emails released this month show that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is stepping up its efforts to promote the deployment of a controversial new genetic engineering tool known as “gene drive” to help eradicate malaria in Africa.

Malaria killed an estimated 438,000 worldwide in 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. 

However, some of the scientists who had initially proposed using the technology for public health and conservation purposes are having serious second thoughts about deploying it outside of labs.

In a effort to combat the disease, researchers funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are planning a field trial of gene drive equipped Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes – the main malaria vector in Africa – in Burkina Faso.

Gene drives can help circumvent traditional rules of genetic inheritance and force a desired, specifically selected, genetic trait through a population.

Given the almost magical possibilities it offers to enhance beneficial traits or remove undesired characteristics in living things – think eradicating pests without using toxins, or saving an endangered species by making them immune to certain diseases – the technology has captured the imagination of many in the fields of conservation and public health.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which considers gene drives “necessary” to end malaria, has invested some $70 million on Target Malaria, a research organization based at Imperial College in London that is working on preventing deaths from malaria, which numbered 438,000 worldwide in 2015.

Target Malaria is planning to release genetically modified Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes – the main malaria vector in Africa – in Burkina Faso.

These modified mosquitoes would be equipped with gene drives that would disrupt the reproductive systems of successive generations and eventually cause them to go extinct. The project would be the first field trial of gene drive technology.

The release of 1,200 emails by the Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents (GBiRD) program at North Carolina State University, provide fresh insights into the work of groups like the Gates Foundation and GBiRD that are promoting the use of gene drive biotechnology.

(GBiRD is a partnership of seven university, government and non-government organizations advancing gene drive research.)

The emails – which were released in response to freedom of information requests submitted by Edward Hammond, a biosafety activist from Austin, Texas –also show that the environmental advocacy group Island Conservation is developing plans to use gene drives as a mechanism for exterminating invasive species on the islands of Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia.

Hammond made the emails public just two weeks after one of the key proponents of the gene drive technology, Kevin Esvelt, published a report saying the technology was too risky to be used in field trials to control invasive species.

Esvelt, a professor at MIT who first identified the potential for gene drives to alter wild populations of organisms in 2013, is now warning, once unleashed, gene drives will prove difficult if not impossible to control.

Esvelt said that projects that are planning to conduct gene drive experiments to control invasive species in the wild should first invent safer forms of the technology.

In theory, the release of these genetically altered mosquitoes or invasive pests like rats, would cause all the members of a targeted population of mosquitoes or rats to go sterile, eventually exterminating that and only that population.

But new research by Esvelt and his colleagues at MIT and Harvard University suggests that gene drive deployments are more than likely to go haywire, with potentially disastrous consequences for non-targeted animal populations and ecosystems. (*Check update/clarification on this below.)

In a paper published in the non-peer reviewed scientific journal BioRxiv, Esvelt and his colleagues wrote that, once unleashed, gene drives will prove difficult if not impossible to control.

The paper, “Current CRISPR gene drive systems are likely to be highly invasive in wild populations,” is currently in pre-publication review. CRISPR refers to Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, a new technology that allows scientists to alter genes by editing strands of DNA.

CRISPR’s invention in 2012 by scientists at the University of California-Berkeley and MIT led to the development of gene drives two years later in Esvelt’s research laboratory.

In the BioRxiv paper, the scientists said that mathematical models based on existing empirical data show that in their current form, gene drives cannot be deployed without harmful side effects. Their modeling showed that gene drives can be very aggressive and even a handful of gene drive modified organisms could carry the new gene, not only through much of the targeted population of a certain species, but also on to non-intended populations.

For example, under their models, a gene drive released in Hawai’i to kill a specific kind of mosquito on the island of Kauai would eventually start targeting a different kind of mosquito on the island.

“Releasing a small number of organisms often causes invasion of the local population, followed by invasion of additional populations connected by very low gene flow rates,” they wrote. “Highly effective drive systems are predicted to be even more invasive.”

On the same day his BioRxiv paper was released, Esvelt expressed regret for ever proposing gene drives be used in real word experiments.

In an interview with the New York Times, Esvelt called his championing the notion “an embarrassing mistake” given the predicted invasiveness of current CRISPER-based drive systems.

But he and his colleagues still thinks researchers should continue exploring ways in which gene drives could help save species that are in peril.

The new report confirms concerns that many within the scientific and environmental community have had about the unknown ecological and public health risks posed by a technology whose basic purpose is to spread genetic mutations.

Nevertheless, the GBiRD emails show that that the Gates Foundation is ploughing ahead with its research on gene drives as a mechanism for eradicating the mosquito that causes malaria (which, it should be noted again, is not an effort to control an invasive species, but rather an effort to eradicate a disease-carrying insect).

In 2016, it made a $1.6 million payment to Emerging Ag, a PR firm it retained for the purpose of influencing a United Nations expert group that has been addressing gene drive issues. The group, the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Synthetic Biology (AHTEG), was convened by the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity.

Hammond, who posted the emails to his website, is a former member of AHTEG.

In one of the emails, the Gates Foundation said it hired EmergingAg to “increase awareness, understanding, and acceptance of possible gene drive applications for public good purposes.”

One of EmergingAg’s initiatives has been to recruit scientists who will advocate for gene drives. For example, in an Aug. 1, 2017 email thread, Isabelle Coche, a vice president of EmergingAg, is trying to recruit Fred Gould, codirector of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State, for advocacy work.

The email asks Gould to "support advocacy and engagement activities on gene drive.” Gould, however, demurs, saying, “it would be problematic for me to be involved,” adding that such advocacy would “compromise” his role on a gene drive ethics committee.

Coche’s role at EmergingAg, according to another email, is “to fight back against gene drive moratorium proponents before the next CBD meeting in 2018.”

This was in reference to calls from several anti-gene drive groups for an international moratorium on gene drive research in petitions last year before the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD rejected those petitions, which are likely to be repeated at next year’s CBD meeting.

On its website, Emerging Ag calls itself “a boutique international consulting firm providing communications and public affairs services.”

Its president and founder is Robynne Anderson, a former international communications director of CropLife, the global lobby group for the biotechnology, seed, and pesticide industries based in Brussels, Belgium.

On her personal website, Anderson praises gene drives without actually mentioning the biotechnology by name.

“The Target Malaria team is researching approaches that can reduce the numbers of mosquitoes that spread malaria,” she writes. 
“By reducing the population of the malaria mosquito, (a very specific beast called Anopheles), they are able to combat transmission of the disease. Their strategy relies on reducing the number of female malaria mosquitoes.”
She said this approach “is expected to be complementary to other mosquito control methods, easy and inexpensive to implement, because the mosquitoes themselves do the work of stopping malaria. The control method would be a long-term, sustainable, and cost-effective solution to prevent malaria.”

Austin Burt, professor of evolutionary genetics at Imperial College London and principle investigator for the Target Malaria consortium, said in an email that “a blanket assertion that ‘gene drive field trials pose unacceptable risks for ecosystems’ is not consistent with how I understand [Esvelt’s] position – risks must always be assessed on a case-by-case basis, as they will depend on the exact features of the construct and the species / population into which it is to be released.

Rather, I believe he is calling for inclusive, informed discussion of the risks, which I certainly agree with.”

Burt said Esvelt’s paper “just shows that a particular type of gene drive construct may be expected to spread from one population to another when there is naturally-occurring gene flow, which indeed is correct.”

As for the Target Malaria initiative, he said that although “we are one of the leading groups working on developing this sort of technology, we are still many years (>5) from having something that we might propose to release in the field, and indeed we are still working on the path to get to that point.” Safety, he said, “is paramount, for humans and the environment.

Malaria imposes an appalling burden across too much of sub-Saharan Africa, and we want to be in a position to offer something that people and governments will want to use to help reduce this burden.”

He emphasized that when Target Malaria develops a gene drive it “will go through extensive safety testing before we would consider releases.”

Island Conservation, meanwhile, sees gene drives as a tool that can rid islands of invasive pests without the use of chemical pesticides.

The group says that 180,000 islands around the world are infested with alien rodents, but only 400 rodent eradication programs to date have been successful, and each relied on rodenticides to remove the non-native populations.

Heath Packard, a spokesman for the group, told Earth Island Journal that the group “is investigating the feasibility and suitability of a potential gene drive mouse construct that could safely and effectively remove invasive species from islands. The question is not only could we, but should we and under what conditions.

Local communities and their governments will need to decide on a case by case basis.”

But he said that Island Conservation “would never contemplate even asking a community to consider a highly-contained field trial unless work in the genetic laboratories demonstrated that the mouse construct could not, itself pose unmitigated harm to well-established parts of our ecosystem.”

“This work must be done, cautiously, thoroughly, and stepwise,” he said. “That’s exactly what our partnership is doing.”

*UPDATE, December 22: To be clear, this risk is not of gene drives spreading to other species. The risk is that they could spread to other populations, or rather, sub-species of the same species — for example to any of the other 205 mosquito species in the Anopheles subgenus — and as a result impact local ecosystems where they might serve key roles, such as, as a food source for other critters. This report isn't implying that gene drives can jump the species barrier spread to other species.


The Darkest Hours

SUBHEAD: But like all addicts, we have to hit bottom before anything like clarity returns to our daily doings.

By James Kunstler on 18 December 2017 for Kunstler.com -

Image above: The Republican senate leadership gloat after passing self-serving tax reductions for the wealthy. From (https://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21732096-todays-bill-does-not-much-resemble-1986-tax-overhaul-how-republican-tax-bill).

The Tax “Reform” bill working its way painfully out the digestive system of congress like a sigmoid fistula, ought be re-named the US Asset-stripping Assistance Act of 2017, because that’s what is about to splatter the faces of the waiting public, most of whom won’t have a personal lobbyist / tax lawyer by their sides holding a protective tarpulin during the climactic colonic burst of legislation.


The media has not grokked this, but the economy is actually collapsing, and the nova-like expansion of the stock markets is exactly the sort of action you might expect in a system getting ready to blow.

Meanwhile, the more visible rise of the laughable scam known as crypto-currency, is like the plume of smoke coming out of Vesuvius around 79 AD — an amusing curiosity to the citizens of Pompeii below, going about their normal activities, eating pizza, buying slaves, making love — before hellfire rained down on them.

Whatever the corporate tax rate might be, it won’t be enough to rescue the Ponzi scheme that governing has become, with its implacable costs of empire.

So the real aim here is to keep up appearances at all costs just a little while longer while the table scraps of a four-hundred-year-long New World banquet get tossed to the hogs of Wall Street and their accomplices. The catch is that even hogs busy fattening up don’t have a clue about their imminent slaughter.

The centerpiece of the swindle, as usual, is control fraud on the grand scale. Control fraud is the mis-use of authority in applying Three-Card-Monte principles to financial accounting practice, so that a credulous, trustful public will be too bamboozled to see the money drain from their bank accounts and the ground shift under their feet until the moment of freefall.

Control fraud is at work in the corporate C-suites, of course, because that is its natural habitat — remember that silver-haired CEO swine from Wells Fargo who got off scot-free with a life-time supply of acorns after scamming his account-holders — but their errand boys and girls in congress have been superbly groomed, pampered, fed, and trained to break trail and cover for them.

The country has gotten used to thinking that the game of pretend is exactly the same as what is actually going on in the world. The now-seminal phrase coined by Karl Rove, “we make our own reality,” is as comforting these days to Republicans from Idaho as it is to hairy, “intersectional” professors of post-structural gender studies in the bluest ivory towers of the Ivy League.

Nobody in this Republic really wants to get his-hers-zhe’s-they’s reality on.

Ah, but reality wants to do its thing regardless of our wishes, hopes, and pretenses, and you can kind of see how these moves taken in the dark waning hours of 2017 will play out in the quickening weeks of 2018. Long about March or April, something’s got to give.

Other players around the world are surely eager to assist shoving this mad bull of a polity towards the critical state it deserves to enter, though we are doing quite enough on our own to put ourselves at ground zero of financial and political implosion.

The addiction metaphor does apply to America. We are simply addicted to our own bullshit. But like all floundering addicts, we have to hit bottom before anything like clarity returns to our daily doings.

When that does happen, it will be as far from intoxicating as you can imagine. The smoldering wreckage of The World’s Highest Standing of Living will be visible in a 360-degree panorama. A lot of familiar faces will be among the suddenly missing. But we’re already prepped for this by the sexual purges of the season.

One day, the reassuring figure of ole Garrison Keillor is there to remind you of the exquisite taste of Midwestern sweet corn on an August night; and the next morning, you’re up to your eyeballs in the colonic explosion of unintended consequences engineered by the least reassuring cast of characters ever assembled under one capitol dome.


Brown woman divorces Democrats

SUBHEAD: I’m a brown woman who’s breaking up with the Democratic Party.

By Saira Rao on 16 December 2017 for Huffington Post -

Image above: What appears to be a selfie of Saira Rao during her college days with Hillary Clinton. From original article.

Dear Democratic Party:

You were the love of my life. I fell in love early and hard. I have been the kind of party loyalist ― the kind of sappy, soapbox-y, clich├ęd devotee ― that makes Fox News moonwalk with glee.

The first vote I ever cast, at 18, was for Bill Clinton. The last vote I cast was for his wife, Hillary. My adoration for Hillary bordered on mania.

In college, I named my ficus plant after her. Twenty years later, I canvassed, held fundraisers, dragged my 8-year-old daughter door to door, proudly wore HRC’s face on T-shirts and housed campaign volunteers in my home.

I loved you so much that I cried each time I voted. Thinking about the women who died fighting for my right to vote did it every time. I cried when I voted for Bill. For Barack Obama. I wept when I voted for Hillary. You’ve been that kind of mad love to me.

And now I want to break up.

I realize now that the love has been one-sided, unrequited. You’ve never recognized me, as a brown woman. You’ve taken my love, my money, my tokenism, with nary anything in return. You married the white woman and hooked up with me on the side.

Black Lives Matter is a second ― or third ― thought. Where is your outrage over the national epidemic of police brutality against black people?

You continue to call angry white men who commit mass murder “lone wolves.” But if someone who looks like me screams “Allah” and fires a gun, it’s “terrorism.” And you wonder why angry white men are gunning down innocent brown men at bars, in their yards, on the street.

For all your talk about Dreamers, there’s been little action. You don’t seem to give a crap about kids of color who will be kicked out of this country, the only country they know.

What if all those Dreamers were white? I suspect there’d be a very different outcome.

You spend a lot of time and energy wooing white voters, while giving short shrift to voters of colors and assuming we’ll always show up for you.

To be fair, there’s no reason for you to assume otherwise. We always show up for you. Take, for example, the special election in Alabama on Tuesday. Had black people not shown up, an accused child molester would be our newest senator.

What will Doug Jones do for the black folks who put him in the Senate? If history is any indication, very little.

This past year, I held and attended numerous fundraisers for your candidates. I donated money every time I was asked. I marched: for women, for children, for reproductive rights, for science. I traveled across the country for the March for Women in Washington, D.C.

It was there that I got the first hint that you weren’t that into me. The giveaway? The sea of white women in pink hats with brown and black women dotting the waves like debris. I let it slide but I kept my eyes and ears open.

My fellow brown and black sisters started to notice, too — and the chatter began, in whispered hushes at first, then loud and clear. You are a party of white feminists. Of white feminism, the kind of feminism that focuses on the struggles of white women.

It was the first time I’d heard the term, most likely because self-awareness is hard and I was a brown woman trapped in a white feminist’s world.

But then I woke up. I saw you with clear eyes for the first time.

For every Kamala Harris and Pramila Jayapal sticking their brown and black necks out for me, there are dozens of white female Democrats who want me to shut my trap.

Your advocacy for reproductive rights zeros in on wealthy white women. Women of color and other marginalized women get sidelined.

The gender pay gap is worse for black and Latina women than it is for white women. Women of color make up 64 percent of women in U.S. jails. Why isn’t the Democratic Party talking about this and trying to fix it?

My own “liberal” white congresswoman in Colorado has given me a hint as to why.

At the congresswoman’s town hall in February, Neeti Pawar, the brown female founder of the South Asian Bar Association of Colorado, was one of the only people of color in a room of nearly a thousand. She asked about immigration and DACA protections.

The congresswoman scoffed. When Pawar pressed on, she was told to remain silent or she’d be asked to leave. During a follow-up, staffers told Pawar that civil rights weren’t the representative’s “issue.” Brown and black people don’t have the luxury of sidelining civil rights. It’s life and death for us.

And it didn’t stop there.

I was organizing a fundraiser for a U.S. senator earlier this month, and had planned to use the opportunity to highlight women of color by having black women introduce him.

The congresswoman’s staff caught wind of the event and asked if she could introduce the senator. I explained my position but invited her to come as a guest. No response. When pressed on her stance on racial inclusion, her staff didn’t respond to me directly but tattled on me to the white women co-hosting the event.

I know there are some good ones among you. But for every Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters and Pramila Jayapal sticking their brown and black necks out for me, there are dozens of white female Democrats who want me to shut my trap, and say please and thank you. 
I should be grateful for scraps while white women enjoy a proper marriage with you.

I’m done with all that. And if you don’t want to lose more women like me, there are a few basic things you can do.

Pay attention to the reproductive health of women of color and other marginalized women. Do something, anything, to protect Dreamers. Or, if you’re really feeling bold, move forward on some form of reparations for black people.

Finally, mentor young people of color to run for office. Campaign for brown and black folks. Raise money for them. Show up for them. I’d come running back to you with open arms if you did even a few of these things.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the sidelines waiting, watching, hoping, praying. You broke my heart.


Daily Stormer style guide

SUBHEAD: Twelve most insane rules from the Daily Stormer,  the biggest Neo-Nazi website on the internet.

By Kali Holloway on 15 December 2017 for Alternet.org-

Image above: The group National Socialist Movement (NSM) is notable for its violent anti-Jewish rhetoric, its racist views and its policy allowing members of other racist groups to join NSM while remaining members of other groups. From (https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/national-socialist-movement).

[IB Publisher's note: As of today the site can be reached at (https://dailystormer.red/). Apparently Andrew Anglin's site has problems staying avaliable.]

The Daily Stormer is an online hub for racists, white nationalists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and other assorted angry white men. It’s run by Andrew Anglin, who’s been in hiding for months avoiding an SPLC lawsuit charging stochastic terrorism against a Jewish woman in Montana. (Even underground, Anglin has managed to pull in a healthy sum in donations from supporters.)

Among the confirmed readers of Anglin’s site are Dylann Roof, who in 2015 murdered nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church, and James Harris Jackson, who murdered a black man in New York City using a sword last March.

HuffPost writer Ashley Feinberg recently got a bit more insight behind the curtain of Anglin’s operation via the site’s 17-page style guide for contributing writers. The document lays out a few standard rules and protocols, from good HTML practices to proper grammar dictates, as well as a few rules that apply only to racist bloggers.

The guide is packed with writerly advice on how to promote Anglin’s goals, which begin with expanding readership and end with an all-out race war. The key, per Anglin, is to maintain the site’s veneer of “non-ironic Nazism masquerading as ironic Nazism.”

Here are 12 of the most insane pieces of advice from the biggest neo-Nazi website on the internet.

1. Always blame the Jews.
Anglin writes that the Daily Stormer is “designed to spread the message of nationalism and anti-Semitism to the masses.” To that end, he notes that authors’ “prime directive” is singular: “Always Blame the Jews for Everything.”
"As Hitler says, people will become confused and disheartened if they feel there are multiple enemies. As such, all enemies should be combined into one enemy, which is the Jews. This is pretty much objectively true anyway, but we want to leave out any and all nuance. So no blaming Enlightenment thought, pathological altruism, technology/urbanization, etc. just blame Jews for everything."
Anglin goes on to assert that Jews should be blamed “for the behavior of other nonwhites” as well as white women. “Women should be attacked, but there should always be mention that if it wasn't for the Jews, they would be acting normally.”

2. Go easy on the swear words, heavy on the racial slurs.
Contributors are discouraged from “an overuse of profanity” which “can come across as goofy.” But Anglin recommends liberal use of racial epithets, and even offers a helpful list of specific “allowed and advisable” slurs.
• Negro/Negroid
• Monkey
• Ape
• Spic
• Wetback
• Beanperson
• Kike
• Yid
• Sheeny
• Christ-killer
• Haji
• Sandperson
• Paki (can be used for non-Pakistani Moslems, especially Arabs, because that's funny)
• Muzzie
• Chink
• Gook
• Zipperhead etc.
Anglin adds that while the n-word is also cool, it shouldn’t be used constantly .
”Let spontaneity be your guide, he seems to suggest. Keep people guessing about what new and disgusting way you’ll express your racist self!"
3. Demean women, gays, black folks and, of course, the Jews every chance you get.
Anglin shares that “faggots can be called all the words for faggot,” though scatological references are frowned upon.

He gives a specific list of words recommended for describing women, and the word “woman” doesn’t appear on it once. Instead, it features “slut,” “whore,” “bitch,” “harlot,” “trollop,” “slag,” and “skag.”

This is yet another moment when Anglin slips in a reminder to writers to shoehorn in more anti-Semitism amidst the misogyny. Anglin requests,:
“Whenever writing about women, make sure to follow the prime directive and blame Jew feminism for their behavior.”
4. But also, be sure to keep things fun and funny so people want to join the...clan!
The most insidious aspect of Anglin’s style guide is its repeated insistence on a stealth recruitment strategy that relies on humor and lightheartedness to get young white readers excited about white nationalism.

He repeatedly admonishes writers to cool it with the super angry racist diatribes that might scare newbies off.

Instead, he suggests, authors should infuse their racism with lots of jokes, like the hipster racism of Vice circa 2003. (Ironically, in this same document, Anglin trashes Vice co-founder and hipster-racism aficionado Gavin McInnes as a “bottomless bucket of lulz.”)
“While racial slurs are allowed/recommended, not every reference to non-white should not be a slur and their use should be based on the tone of the article. Generally, when using racial slurs, it should come across as half-joking—like a racist joke that everyone laughs at because it's true. This follows the generally light tone of the site.”
Here’s the key, though:
“It should not come across as genuine raging vitriol. That is a turnoff to the overwhelming majority of people.”
Anglin reaffirms that the goal is to lure new readers, and potential new adherents to the alt-right’s racist agenda, above all. And the way to do that is by dressing the message up in internet memes and provocative jokes, and then to drive the (racist) point home over and over again.
“[T]hough we do mean to keep readers who are already in the know informed and entertained, it should always be considered that the target audience is people who are just becoming aware of this type of thinking.”
“The goal is to continually repeat the same points, over and over and over and over again. The reader is at first drawn in by curiosity or the naughty humor, and is slowly awakened to reality by repeatedly reading the same points.
You know how you can end up knowing the words to a song you hate if you hear it enough on the radio? Repetition works. And Anglin’s betting that his writers can beat the audience over the head with their message until it’s gotten inside their heads.

5. Again, avoid overt hatred, despite the fact that it’s precisely what you’re peddling.
Anglin restates in another section of the document:
“Most people are not comfortable with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging, non-ironic hatred,” 
The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not. There should also be a conscious awareness of mocking stereotypes of hateful racists. I usually think of this as self deprecating humor—I am a racist making fun of stereotype of racists, because I don't take myself super-seriously.”
He adds:
 “There should be a conscious agenda to dehumanize the enemy, to the point where people are ready to laugh at their deaths. So it isn't clear that we are doing this—as that would be a turnoff to most normal people—we rely on lulz.”
And puts a very fine, super ugly point on it:
This is obviously a ploy and I actually do want to gas kikes. But that's neither here nor there.”
6. Quote liberally from mainstream media sources to borrow their validity and authority.
Anglin urges writers to recycle “large parts” from articles in mainstream news outlets as a way to siphon legitimacy toward his own site. The idea is to do a good enough job of combining verifiable facts with nonsense racist propaganda that the two start to blend together.
“Being able to see the mainstream source quoted allows us to co-opt the perceived authority of the mainstream media,” Anglin writes, “and not look like one of those sites we are all probably familiar with where you are never certain if what they are saying has been confirmed.”
7. Note the media outlets covertly helping us do our dirty work.
While suggesting that writers find concise versions of real news stories to incorporate into their posts, Anglin notes that two news outlets seems to share a similar worldview. Anglin writes:
“RT and Breitbart have the benefit of being closer to our own spin on many issues, meaning….they are more likely to include points of interest.”
8. Take inspiration from—who else?—Adolf Hitler!
A quote from Anglin, without commentary:
“The basic propaganda doctrine of the site is based on Hitler's doctrine of war propaganda outlined in Mein Kampf, Volume I, Chapter VI. If you have not read this, please do so immediately.”
9. By all means, stir up the anger and rage of violent racist readers, but do it in a way that ensures we can feign innocence in court.
As he notes in a section titled “Violence,” Anglin is well aware that “It's illegal to promote violence on the internet.”

But as someone holding out hope that the U.S. will break out into a wide-scale race war, he’s dedicated to surreptitiously urging violent attacks by his racist followers en masse. Anglin advises writers for his site:
If you're writing about some enemy Jew/feminist/etc., link their social media accounts, Twitter especially. We've gotten press attention before when I didn't even call for someone to be trolled but just linked them and people went and did it.” 
He also suggests that “it's totally important to normalize the acceptance of violence as an eventuality/inevitability.” So murderous racists like Dylann Roof and Anders Breivik are hailed as heroes using language so over-the-top it borders on comical. Anglin cynically notes:
“This is great because people think you must be joking, but there is a part of their brain that doesn't think that…[E]ven when a person can say to themselves ‘this is ridiculous,’ they are still affected by it on an emotional level. Whether they like it or not.”
10. Use popular culture as a vehicle for the white nationalist message.
People like what they know, and so Anglin aims to replicate recognizable and widely known media to engage readers in a way they understand. Early on in the style guide,

 Anglin admits that the Daily Stormer “is in many ways modeled off of successful liberal blogs such as Gawker.” (Anglin has reportedly previously cited Vice and Infowars.) He recommends writers fill their posts with “pop culture gifs of the style that Buzzfeed uses.”

But beyond just mirroring cultural digital ephemera, Anglin suggests that writers subvert—or rather, “hijack”—popular memes to give them a racist twist.
“Cultural references and attachment of entertainment culture to Nazi concepts have the psychological purpose of removing it from the void of weirdness that it would naturally exist in, due to the way it has been dealt with by the culture thus far, and making it a part of the reader's world. Through this method we are also able to use the existing culture to transmit our own ideas and agenda.”
The site got lots of attention when it dubbed Taylor Swift an "Aryan Goddess" and suggested the singer is “a secret Nazi.” (For the record, Swift tried to sue a blogger who essentially demanded she disavow the alt-right, at least until the ACLU intervened on the blogger’s behalf. Conversely, Swift has never threatened to sue an actual white nationalist for claiming she supports their cause.)
Anglin also notes he turned 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” into an anti-immigrant song, because racists are lazy, garbage culture vultures who steal black people’s stuff while complaining about the browning of America.

11. There’s no such thing as bad press.
Remember how stoked the alt-right was when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave a speech about how awful they were? That’s because you can’t shame a movement bereft of morals and principles from jump. Also, because the alt-right’s unofficial motto is “there’s no such thing as bad press.”

“We should always be on the lookout for any opportunity to grab media attention,” Anglin affirms. “It's all good. No matter what.”

12. Even the payment system is a 'jokey' homage to Hitler.
Feinberg found that neo-Nazi hacker Andrew Auernheimer, who also serves as systems administrator for the Daily Stormer, recently shared this information with a group of prospective contributors:
"[O]kay basically, it works like this, you can write articles, if we dont like them you can put them on your own blog or whatever, if we accept them for publication we will pay you $14.88."
The numerals "1488" is a popular number among white supremacists and other garden-variety racists. Fourteen is a reference to the "14 words,” a racist slogan favored by white nationalists and the like
"We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
The two eights—the eighth letter of the alphabet—stands for HH, as in "Heil Hitler". (During the 2016 presidential election, a PBS docu-special happened to catch an enthusiastic Trump supporter’s gigantic “88” hand tattoo.)