The new Atlantis

Click to enlargeRe-locate Kivalina

Thirty Alaskan native villages on the coast are about to disappear into frigid waters; 12 are considering moving altogether. As sea ice melts earlier and forms later, more open water is left in the Chukchi and Bering Seas and the Arctic Ocean (which surround Alaska). Storms are larger and wreak more damage as a result (because ice protects the shoreline). And thawing permafrost, on which many villages are built, worsens matters by causing homes to sink towards calamity and releasing methane into the atmosphere. “Climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it,” Barack Obama said at a conference on climate change in the Arctic on August 31st. Lee Stephan, president of the Tribal Council of Eklutna, a native village, agreed: “If all the ice on Mother Earth melts we will all live in water,” he said.

Greenhouse gases bear the blame; America alone produces 15% of global carbon-dioxide emissions. Nevertheless, Alaska’s first residents profit from much of the oil and gas drilling in their state, as do others. The oil and gas industry provides a third of Alaskans with jobs and, through taxes, once covered 90% of state expenses. Plunging prices mean Alaska now faces a $3.5 billion deficit.

When America’s biggest oilfield was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the federal government had to settle land claims with native communities in order to pipe oil south. They received 44m acres of land, $1 billion and shares in 12 regional corporations and more than 200 village ones under a law signed in 1971. Thirteen regional corporations currently exist, tasked with turning a profit for their shareholders while also safeguarding native Alaskan societies and cultures…

The profits made by native corporations help pay for local health and social services. But corporations cannot afford to support communities affected by flooding, and cannot give their shareholders in places under threat handouts that they do not offer all others. “They aren’t charities,” explains Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives…

Relocation is expensive, and painful for people who depend on hunting reindeer and catching salmon to survive. As most of America’s largest state cannot be reached by road, getting materials to remote villages requires fine flying weather, too. Newtok’s 400-odd residents will cost about $380,000 each to move. Kivalina needs $123m to up sticks. It has been trying to do so since 1994—but no mechanism for deciding how and when a community should move exist…Where it should go is complicated, too…

When he visited Kotzebue on September 2nd, Mr Obama became the first sitting president to visit Alaska’s Arctic. His travels will encourage efforts to save threatened native villages. But money must be found for federal agencies in Alaska. The president’s budget for 2016 will not cover the re-siting of a single village threatened by storms and floods. As the state’s budget weakens, thanks to cheap oil, federal involvement will become increasingly vital. Offering federal land in trust to those determined to move could speed up the process.

There is no aid from politicians who think they can see Russia from their front porch in Wasilla. Neither will her peers in any organized faction of the Republican Party. Nor will Blue Dog Democrats beholden to fossil fuel profiteers.

The fight for a safe and healthy life for Americans should be the responsibility of all Americans. I think we all know how laughable that is. Between racism and ignorance, between obedience to 19th Century slogans and self-centric morality, we are not a nation given to collective political struggle in the decades since, say, the fight to end our nation’s war upon the people of VietNam.

Just as the dead-end choice of the draft and death on foreign soil forced a national response – the cataclysm of climate change will eventually force unity in struggle against the common enemy. That enemy is a class enemy, ruthless and powerful. They own our elected officials, appointed sheriffs in the broadest use of the word. But, that unity must come. The only question is will it be in time to save anyone in the broadest class of all.

Thanks, Ian Bremmer

What smells like Tuberculosis?

“Smell technology” might improve the diagnosis of pulmonary and extrapulmonary tuberculosis (TB) around the world…

A device that detects a pattern of chemicals in the breath was both sensitive and specific for TB in a small pilot study, according to Amandip Sahota, MD, of the University Hospitals of Leicester in England.

In the study, the device was able to detect both pulmonary and extrapulmonary forms of the disease, Sahota reported at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC).

The idea of using breath samples to detect disease is not new, Sahota noted, but his study employed a technology — Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS) — — that has the potential to be cheaper, faster, and more widely available than earlier methods…

In the U.S., TB incidence continues to fall…but worldwide, the disease still exacts a stunning toll — about 9 million new cases and 1.5 million deaths a year.

Despite the advent of new technologies, Sahota said, most TB diagnosis worldwide is still done using culture methods, which are time-consuming and require significant expertise. A simple rapid point-of-care test would speed treatment, he said…

Shruthi Ravimohan, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania commented…”The longer patients wait for their results…the more likely is it that they will be lost to follow-up or the test results will be lost in the meantime.”

As well, she noted, delayed treatment is likely to have other adverse consequences, including advancing illness…

…The sensitivity of the test was 93% and the specificity was 94%.

Importantly, Sahota said, the 25 patients had varying forms of TB, with only 11 having pulmonary disease. Also, six had lymph node disease, four had spinal involvement or psoas abscess, two had joint disease, and one patient each had testicular and skin TB.

The method “is not limited to the lung,” he said.

Every little step forward helps the health of the world. Battlefield expedients may result in more lives saved in the developing world. OK with me.

Exxon’s research confirmed fossil fuels’ role in global warming in 1977

At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.

It was July 1977 when Exxon’s leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.

A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon’s Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed,” Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk…

Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.

Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.

Read it and weep, folks. Not that anyone who’s wandered intentionally into these pages is surprised by disclosures like this. It doesn’t take the fear-softened intellect of conspiracy nuts to understand how cover-ups work in the bastion of 19th Century capitalist minds.

We witness the same process in the day-to-day machinations of creeps like the Koch Brothers. We get to hear the blather of bought-and-paid-for flunkies in both of the political parties we’re allowed whenever they open their mouths on the topic of climate change.

Science means nothing compared to short-term profits. The lives of innocents have never counted. Why would we expect them to start keeping track of climate death, now?

Just add yourself one more reason to throw your local bum out of office if he or she is butt-kissing some oil company, coal company, taking their catechism from ALEC and legislating on behalf of the thugs who foul the planet we all live on.

Photos stained with the same pollutants as the scenery

Barnegat Bay, NJ

Brandon Seidler…takes photos of historically contaminated sites, then bathes the film in the same chemicals that poisoned the land. Seidler finds it the perfect way to not just talk about pollution, but show it. “I want my work to make people think,” he says. “If this is the effect of these chemicals on a plastic piece of film, what is it doing to the environment we are polluting?”

Same as it ever was.

Chicago calls for stricter gun laws – again – after 14 people shot overnight

Click to enlargeArmando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

Fourteen people, including two young boys, were shot in Chicago over a 15-hour period from Monday night to Tuesday morning.

Six people were killed and at least eight were wounded, following two consecutive weekends when more than 50 people were shot in the city.

Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and police officials repeated their calls for stricter gun laws and a more robust criminal justice system.

“I’m angry about what happened here and I think I speak for everybody,” Emanuel said on Tuesday. “And I think I speak for everybody when I say enough is enough.”

RTFA here if you think you need more details of our gun plague.

The Tribune has been tracking gun violence in Chicago for four years and regularly reports record-breaking incidents of gun violence.

The shootings these past two weeks follow a four-week period in August, when more than 40 people were shot each weekend. At least 2,300 people have been shot in the city this year, which the Tribune said is 400 more than were shot in the same period last year.

The four other people shot from Monday night to Tuesday morning include a two-year-old boy, who was grazed by a bullet in an accidental shooting. Police said he was in good condition.

“Here we go again,” said Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy. “We’ve had the same conversation over and over. What do we have to do? We have to hold criminals responsible.”

The “criminals” include Congress. Cowards and copouts. The criminals include the NRA. The criminals include politicians up and down the line lacking courage enough to challenge the gun manufacturers lobby who sell fear as much as death.

Yes, the criminals include lawyers who found a profitable career on playing off mediocre legislation against chickenshit courts, bought-and-paid-for judges. That includes more than judges owned by political interests; but, those who cave in to foolish political trends which have nothing to do with reality.

I could roll on for pages on all the currents that bring us to this whirlpool of death. Yes, it includes the history of corrupt, racist police departments. Chicago being one of the worst. None of it takes away from the consummate cowardice and failure of Congressional political hacks. They couldn’t provide leadership to a hound dog looking for a meal in the city garbage dump.

Don’t worry about Styrofoam in landfills – just add mealworms


If you’ve ever kept mealworms as food for a pet reptile or frog, then you probably fed them fruits or vegetables. What you likely didn’t know, however, was that the insects can also survive quite nicely on a diet of Styrofoam. With that in mind, scientists at Stanford University have now determined that mealworms can break the difficult-to-recycle plastic foam down into a biodegradable waste product.

The Stanford team fed Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene to a colony of approximately 100 mealworms.

Within 24 hours, the worms consumed 34 to 39 milligrams of the plastic, converting about half of it to carbon dioxide – as they would with any other food source. Bacteria in the worms’ gut degraded the other half into tiny biodegradable droppings. The researchers believe that those droppings could safely be used as a crop fertilizer.

The mealworms themselves appeared to be just as healthy as worms that received a more traditional diet of vegetable matter.

Working with colleagues in China, the Stanford team members are now investigating whether mealworms or other insects could also be used to break down additional types of plastic, such as polypropylene. They also hope to find a marine equivalent to mealworms, that could consume the tons of plastic waste currently fouling the world’s oceans.

Phew! Now we can go back to comfy styrofoam cups of coffee at our favorite fast food joints.

New York mayor calls on pension funds to divest from coal

Koch Bros carbon wall of shame

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the city’s five pension funds…to end their investments in coal companies, demonstrating his commitment to taking on climate change.

The pension funds – whose assets total a collective $160bn – have $33m invested in coal, according to the mayor’s office.

“New York City is a global leader when it comes to taking on climate change and reducing our environmental footprint. It’s time that our investments catch up – and divestment from coal is where we must start,” De Blasio said…

This announcement follows a continued global movement to divest from coal. In June, Norway’s parliament endorsed the selling of coal investments from its $900bn sovereign wealth fund, and on 2 September, California lawmakers passed a bill requiring the state’s two largest pension plans to divest any holdings of thermal coal within 18 months…

The mayor also proposed that the pension funds establish long-term investment strategies for all fossil fuel investments “as New York City continues to move toward renewables and away from fossil fuels”.

Now, if we would only kick the foot-draggers [knuckle-draggers?] out of Congress we might see progressive movement in the whole United States on pollution and climate change.

2015 Ig-Nobel Prizewinners

Always worth checking out. My favorite, this year –

Is “Huh?” a Universal Word? Conversational Infrastructure and the Convergent Evolution of Linguistic Items — A study supported by European Research Council grants.

But, wait, there’s more. Many more. All worth a chortle.

A chemistry award for partially unboiling an egg; pretty much all mammals take the same time to pee; an economics award for offering cash to coppers who turn down bribes.

And on and on.

A horrifying death in an American jail

During his 17-day stay in jail, 32-year-old David Stojcevski lost 50 pounds, hallucinated, and experienced seizures and convulsions. It was all caught on a security camera that jailers were supposed to regularly watch. But no one helped — and Stojcevski died.

Now, the FBI is investigating the death, according to Detroit News.

The horrifying death of Stojcevski in the Macomb County, Michigan, jail — first reported by Local 4 — is drawing national attention as the latest example of horrific neglect and brutality by the criminal justice system. And unlike previous cases, it was all caught on video — making it easy to see exactly what went wrong.

But beyond the gruesome images and FBI investigation, Stojcevski’s death speaks to a much larger problem in the criminal justice system: In many cases, jails aren’t staffed, trained, or resourced to deal with cases like Stojcevski’s. But they continue locking up excessive numbers of people, even when it might not be necessary…

Macomb County sheriffs picked up Stojcevski in 2014 after he failed to pay a $772 traffic ticket for careless driving. Stojcevski was placed in a jail cell and later a mental health cell, even though a nurse who evaluated Stojcevski suggested putting him in a drug detox unit.

He was supposed to serve 30 days in jail for not paying the ticket. But he would be held there, naked (inmates don’t wear clothes in the mental health unit, apparently for their own protection), until his death, 17 days after he was locked up…

Over 17 days, Stojcevski displayed typical withdrawal symptoms. He didn’t eat, likely due to withdrawal-induced nausea. He shook and appeared to experience seizures. He seemed to hallucinate, reenacting a previous fight with an inmate. On his last two days, he laid on the floor, shaking and in clear distress.

During all this time, staffers rarely tended to Stojcevski’s needs, even though his cell was under surveillance 24 hours a day. As he lay on the floor shaking and not eating his food over 48 hours, no one showed up to help until the very end. But it was too late — he was pronounced dead at the hospital…

By definition, an overcrowded jail doesn’t have the staff to handle all the problems that arise in these facilities. In Stojcevski’s case, it’s possible that staffers didn’t respond to his clear medical crisis because no one was available, either to watch the 32-year-old or to care for him…

There are also signs that jail staff simply didn’t know how to treat an inmate with medical needs like Stojcevski. As two mental health experts told Local 4, Stojcevski was clearly suffering from a medical condition even as jailers did nothing to care for him.

Or – as so often is the case – jail staff, administrators, county officials and, ultimately, voters, just don’t care a rat’s ass about what happens to people in jail.

Apple products get more personal – and private – and piss off the NSA

Fire up the new Apple News service for the first time on your iPhone, and it’ll ask for your favorite topics and news outlets. Use it over time, and you’ll find that it is behaving like your personal news recommendation engine.

Read a lot about gardening, and you’ll see more stories about hardy perennials. Click on every story about the Red Sox? Get ready for more bullpen analysis. But eventually you may start to wonder — just how much does this app know about me?

You may think you know the answer, given that we live in a world where our every click and scroll is obsessively tracked by tech companies eager to sell us personalized ads. Apple, too, has been employing a small amount of targeted advertising since at least 2010.

But in a revamped privacy policy Web site, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post, Apple on Tuesday attempts to lay out how its philosophy on data collection distinguishes itself from its tech industry rivals.

In essence, the company is telling customers it is not interested in their personal data, even as it must use more of that data to deliver personalized products…

Apple News, which can deliver a stream of headlines right onto one of the home screens of the iPhone, launched this month into a crowded space. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have long been using algorithms to serve piping hot headlines from the Web to consumers while using their reading habits to enhance the vast trove of data the companies keep on every user.

Apple’s offering is different in that its stories are also curated by a small team of journalists. And the company clearly hopes a selling point will be its pledges on privacy protection.

“We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers,” chief executive Tim Cook wrote in a letter that introduced its privacy Web site last year. “We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud.”

Apple made substantial updates last fall to its privacy policies and the revamped Web site launching Tuesday offers new details and language on several topics. It is broken down into several sections — such as how it handles information requests from the authorities including the National Security Agency, instructions on how to secure devices from, say, third parties which may be interested in tracking behavior, and how some of Apple’s services work…

A new section on the Apple News app states that it collects data on what each user is reading so it can offer personalized headlines and ads. But the service does not tie reading habits to an Apple account and uses a unique identifier — which functions only within the News app — to send you targeted ads. Readers can also remove a record of their reading history from their device.

It works just like Apple Pay – which is why we love Apple Pay. No chance of anyone from a checkout clerk to the NSA accessing any personal info about the transaction.

In a separate section, the company laid out new language on encrpytion. Last year, Apple made it impossible for the company to turn over data from a customer’s iPhones or iPads — even when authorities have a search warrant — if users turn off automatic back-ups to the company’s servers. The policy has generated protests from police departments and Obama administration officials.

The new language doesn’t mention law enforcement, but the debate over Apple’s decision last fall motivated the company to spell out its thinking on encryption…“Encryption protects trillions of online transactions every day. Whether you’re shopping or paying a bill, you’re using encryption. It turns your data into indecipherable text that can only be read by the right key… And we can’t unlock your device for anyone because you hold the key — your unique password. We’re committed to using powerful encryption because you should know that the data on your device and the information you share with others is protected.”

There’s an interesting discussion at the end of this article about educated consumers coming down on the side of privacy. Hopefully, such questions will make a difference to voters, as well.