Discover the cosmos! Astronomy Picture of the Day
   
 

Milky way.

   
 
Environmental news & commentary ... Grismill.
   
 
Below: knowledge exchange ... blogs, articles & esssays ... thought provoking social & environmental reasoning. Including, sustainable development, for delivering a more environmentally stable, just and healthier world,
   

We're the first generations of Human-kind, able to surf & sift knowledge ... to an open mind!

tunnel

 

  2013. View blog/article ARCHIVES SUBMIT COMMENTS  
 

If a history of Humans were written with given proportionate space to each stage of our development, we would be nomadic hunter-gatherers for 200 pages; before one page of settled agrarian societies, then the modern world of less than the last two centuries, but, a mere final paragraph!

On the cosmic scale, we’re a global civilization still in our technological and religious adolescence, with primitive dogma and superstitions still too dominant in still too many societies. Cosmically advanced civilizations would have neutralized “blind-faith organized religions“ to proper accountability with-in (atleast) freely informed accountable rational secular democracies. The more secular and free societies are, the more informed, peaceful, healthy, happy and humane, we will globally become.

Secular rational and civilized.

Positive humanist values allied to rational secular societies, as more plausibly held in the World's maturer liberal Democracies, clearly seem a very realistic way for societies to function well within and globally, so becoming politically crucial too in Humanities abilities to credibly survive on through it's existing volatile technological adolescence well. Encouragingly such constructive values exist in reassuring degrees in near all the (over-all) human-right compling, best performing and desired top one-third plus of countries globally. Helping to bring out the finer qualities in people motivated towards entrepreneurial considerate environmentally sustainable fulfilling life-styles, emphasizing, freedom of information, sound reasoning, scientific inquiry and attainable justice, while naturally skeptical of out-dated supernaturalism, pseudoscience, superstition and repressive dogmatic and tyrannical regimes which impede a closer collective progression of Humanity. Rational secular societies emphasizing freedom and knowledge over fear, really can only petrify autocratic and dogmatic power manipulators and their cronies who must rely on the gun, the gullible and the ill-informed oppressed for their ill-gotten on-going self-indulgences and dictatorial controls "especially still" far too prevalent in the human-rights deficient quite over populated poorest one third plus of global countries where bully-boy might (not right) and censorship (including the Internet) is often rampantly used in last resorts by the seriously deluded political elite to retain their game. Logically thinking, what information should one really believe without first corroborating the real facts? Frankly none! As, in this increasingly cosmic enlightened information age we virtually have few excuses now left for a lack of basic awareness, unless repressively censored, or we've chosen to be so. Used wisely, the Internet alone is like having one of the best knowledgeable libraries in the World at hand. Yet, in this increasingly more aware age, too many still won't logically reason enough for themselves, largely stemming from generational blind-faith manipulated brainwashing as children, by over indoctrinated parents in cultures less aware and more religiously driven than today, where far better informed generations and open societies often still have a sizable section, too mind-lazy or over anxious of being after-all quite misguided, so complacently just keep perpetuating on misplaced beliefs and follies, dogmatically fantasizing their one life away. Fortunately, as global satellite TV, helped expose a badly flawed Communistic creed, now the Internet too is helping expose illogical autocratic despotism and archaic religious theocratic tyranny. Collectively more and more exposing these charades to all who want to think for them-selves and live a life aware enough for our times! And, in so doing understanding that, global warming, nuclear proliferation and over population, should become all Humanities priorities! As, Nature will seek harmony with or with-out Humanity. That's one-thing we all can scientifically believe in, no blind-faith needed at all. Moralities strength is derived from the common sense of Human-kind and the on-going needs of mutual existence. Do as you would be done by. No dogma, cults or fades necessary, just realistic awareness, love of self and others. And maybe, acknowledging the abundances we already have and collectively should cease to squander! Carl Sagan wrote: Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world really works. Seems to me and a rising percentage of Humanity, this may only come about positively, if we're basically, skeptical rational secular humanists! And in being so "21st century civilized".

Daniel

Current approaches to deal withclimate change are ineffectual, one of the world's top climate scientists Prof James Hansen head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said today in a personal 2009 new year appeal toBarack Obama Hansen and his wife Anniek, in a plea to the first couple, begin: We write to you as fellow parents concerned about the Earth that will be inherited by our children, grandchildren, and those yet to be born … urgency now dictates a personal appeal. Hansen lambasts the current international approach of setting targets to be met through "cap and trade" schemes as not up to the task. "This approach is ineffectual and not commensurate with the climate threat. It could waste another decade, locking in disastrous consequences for our planet and humanity, Hansen advocates a three-pronged attack on the climate problem – all measures he has promoted before. First, he wants a moratorium and phase-out of coal-fired power stations – which he calls "factories of death" – that do not incorporate carbon capture and storage. Coal is responsible for as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as the other fossil fuels combined, and its reserves make coal even more important for the long run," the Hansens wrote. Second, he proposes a "carbon tax and 100% dividend": a mechanism for putting a price on carbon without raising money for government coffers. The idea is to tax carbon at source, then redistribute the revenue equally among taxpayers, so high carbon users are penalised while low carbon users are rewarded. Finally, Hansen wants a renewed research effort into so-called fourth generation nuclear plants, which can use nuclear waste as fuel. "In our opinion [fourth generation nuclear power] deserves your strong support, because it has the potential to help solve past problems with nuclear power: nuclear waste, the need to mine for nuclear fuel, and release of radioactive material. Hansen argues that the current emphasis on reduction targets combined with carbon trading schemes make it too easy for countries to wriggle out of their commitments. He cites the example of Japan's increasing coal use – the dirtiest fuel in terms of carbon emissions To offset these increases in emissions Japan has bought credits from China through theclean development mechanism – an instrument set up by the Kyoto protocol – yet China's emissions have continued to increase rapidly. China has now overtaken the US as the biggest polluter in the world. "Nobody realistically expects that the large readily available pools of oil and gas will be left in the ground. Caps will not cause that to happen – caps only slow the rate at which the oil and gas are used. The only solution is to cut off the coal source," the Hansens wrote.

USA, President-Elect Barack Obama can get billions for new programs by cutting Cold War nuclear weapons. He can cut obsolete programs and transfer tens of billions of dollars per year to pressing conventional military and domestic programs. Safely reducing to 1,000 total weapons, as recommended by nuclear experts would save $21 billion a year without any sacrifice to US national security, particularly if the Russians did the same (as they indicated they'd be willing to do) either by a negotiated treaty or the kind of unilateral reductions. An arsenal of 1,000 warheads could be deployed on 10 safe and secure Trident submarines, each with enough weapons to devastate any nation. In total, the smaller, cheaper arsenal would still be sufficient to destroy the world several times over. Further savings can be found by stopping a planned expansion of nuclear weapons production facilities pushed by contractors and some government nuclear laboratories.

Thick brown clouds of soot, particles and chemicals stretching from the Persian Gulf to Asia threaten health and food supplies in the world, the U.N. reported Thursday, citing what it called the newest threat to the global environment.The regional haze, known as atmospheric brown clouds, contributes to glacial melting, reduces sunlight and helps create extreme weather conditions that impact agricultural production, according to the report commissioned by the U.N. Environment Program.The huge plumes have darkened 13 megacities in Asia — including Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Cairo, Mumbai and New Delhi — sharply "dimming" the amount of light by as much as 25 percent in some places.

The world is heading for an "ecological credit crunch" far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are over-using the natural resources of the planet, an international study warns today. The Living Planet report calculates that humans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. As a result, we are running up an ecological debt of $4tr (£2.5tr) to $4.5tr every year - double the estimated losses made by the world's financial institutions as a result of the credit crisis - say the report's authors, led by the conservation group WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund. The figure is based on a UN report which calculated the economic value of services provided by ecosystems destroyed annually, such as diminished rainfall for crops or reduced flood protection.

The problem is also getting worse as populations and consumption keep growing faster than technology finds new ways of expanding what can be produced from the natural world. This had led the report to predict that by 2030, if nothing changes, mankind would need two planets to sustain its lifestyle. "The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means," says James Leape, WWF International's director general. "But the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch."

===========================================================

Morality, is doing what's right, no matter what you are told. Religion, is doing what you are told, no matter what is right! ... (menken)

Psychotropic plants made Moses hear 'voices' at Mt Sinai, says Professor Shanon, of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said,
"His theory connects the beginning of religions with psychoactive materials,. He believes the Israelites used two plants in Sinai and the Negev: one of them is wild rue, a hallucinogen used by the Bedoin to this day. Time passes differently when under the influence of the plant, he notes (after trying it ) "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations." Shanon also sees signs of a hallucinogenic vision in the story of the burning bush etc.

The USA. National Academy of Science. the nation's most eminent scientific organization, speaking out on the evidence supporting the theory of evolution, reports that evidence for the theory of evolution is overwhelming and growing! It cites findings from DNA research, fossil discoveries and the observations scientists have made about emerging diseases, like SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. They also denounce any arguments for a form of creationism called intelligent design, calling them highly devoid of evidence, "disproven" or "simply false." Evolution is the study of life, religion is the study of dead men's words.

To date no viable method has been devised to capture this gas as it erupts from either end of the cow. Swedish company Svenska Biogas, however, are currently doing the next best thing: taking the bits of cows that would otherwise be discarded during the slaughter process -- stomach and intestines primarily, but also udders, blood and parts of the liver and kidneys -- and extracting the residual methane directly from them. "Depending on the cow's size, we can get 80-100 kilos of material from each animal," Carl Lilliehook, Managing Director of Svenska Biogas told CNN. "These are all the things that would otherwise be classified as food-process waste and either incinerated or disposed of in landfill sites. "This material is then heated at 70 degrees centigrade for one hour to boil off the impurities, and put in a digester for one month, where micro-organisms break it down, producing a mixture of methane and CO2 which is drawn out of the top of the digester." Having been "upgraded" -- filtered through water to remove as much of the CO2 as possible -- the resultant methane biogas is then used to fuel cars, taxis, rubbish trucks and the 70-strong bus-fleet in Linkoping, the town where Svenska Biogas is based. "We have been running this system for two years, and are now taking 54,000 tonnes of slaughterhouse waste each year," explains Lilliehook, "Mainly from cows, but also from pigs and chickens. "From this we are able to produce five million cubic meters of biogas. Linkoping's seventy buses use three million cubic meters annually, and the rest fuels other vehicles such as cars and dust carts." The boiled-gut biogas is even being used to power "Amanda," a train that runs the 116 kms between Linkoping and Vastervik and the world's first train to be powered solely by biogas (the entrails of one cow, it is estimated, are enough to fuel the train for four kilometers, making Linkoping-Vastervik a 29-cow one-way journey, or a 58-cow return). The decomposed stew of innards from which the gas has been extracted, meanwhile, is employed as bio-fertilizer by local farmers, ensuring that the whole process leaves no waste. As well as cow guts, Svenska Biogas is also producing biogas from sewage and organic plant matter, but it is their pioneering intestinal work that is attracting the most attention. Already two other companies in Sweden are doing the same thing, and there has been interest from countries around the world, including the UK, Ireland, South Korea, China, India and Argentina (the latter alone dumps the guts of 35 million slaughtered cows annually in landfill sites).

The ultimate enemy, of (blind faith) intolerant extremist religious thought
& actions, may now prove to be, the Internet, like Youtube etc. Just as the
open exchange of views and criticisms, by global satellite TV, helped cause
the demise of the free-will & cash starved, USSR.
Judgemental non-secular intolerant faiths must ultimately fade as their
extreme hypocrisy is comprehended & disseminated, while basic human freedom,
self-awareness & truth prevail.
Other-wise, combined crucially needed human responses to global warming
(nature's reaction to our actions) will be over-shadowed by fanatical terror
& their consequences, even from W.O.M.D on Humanity, in the name of some
extremists, illogical god. When Nature is warning us now, who's really in
charge!
........................................................................................................Daniel.

The 1st, 25 top peaceful countries (in the global peace index) are ...
1 Norway - 2 New Zealand (my country). - 3 Denmark - 4 Ireland
5 Japan - 6 Finland - 7 Sweden - 8 Canada - 9 Portugal
10 Austria - 11 Belgium - 12 Germany - 13 Czech Republic
14 Switzerland - 15 Slovenia - 16 Chile - 17 Slovakia
18 Hungary - 19 Bhutan - 20 Netherlands - 21 Spain
22 Oman - 23 Hong Kong - 24 Uruguay - 25 Australia.
Near all, secular & very democratic! Liberal Oman, the only Islamic one there!! Yes, Israel (understandably) like Lebanon is in the bottom lot! They had a war recently!! That is what put them there! (like USA over Iraq) Other-wise they, would have been much higher! The 1st (half) 60 countries are near all the most secular and liberal. The USA will change next year, through democracy! Bush's political rule is near over! Pity most of the others in the 2nd half of this llist, are not democratic enough yet & can't vote their rulers out!! Except for (less currupt) Oman, Qatar and Malaysia! Sadly, Islamic led societies were mostly in the worst peaceful of all countries! Peaceful counties are naturally more secular!!!

GOD AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

How, for a start, might the existence of God affect the meaningfulness of our lives here on earth? Religiously minded people are inclined to answer thus: If there is deity to whose existence we owe both our own existence and that of the physical universe, then surely we should live our lives in accordance with any purposes that deity might have for us;  it is therefore incumbent on us to find out what those purposes are; and  our lives will be most meaningful if we fulfill that deity's purposes.  The real meaning of life, on this view, is to be found in serving God, or at least in living according to his dictates. But which "God" are we talking about? And which of his or her commands are we to obey? Which God? First: Since different religions use the term "God" to refer to different deities, we need to ask which God any particular believer has in mind. Presumably not the Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli, who--only about 600 years ago--supposedly commanded the sacrifice of 50,000 youths and maidens in a single year. Nor his brother, Tezcatilpoca, who supposedly consumed 25,000 virgins annually. Nor, presumably, any of the other 189 gods whose "death" H. L. Mencken celebrated in his 1922 essay "Memorial Service."[1] There is no good evidence for their existence. And no enlightened person could countenance the idea that their commands were moral. These gods deserve the oblivion to which thinking men and women have consigned them.

So does the God of our much vaunted Judeo-Christian tradition. After all, this is the God who, according to the Old Testament, is said to have drowned every member of the human race, not just wicked men and women, but innocent children, suckling infants, and the unborn, with the sole exceptions of the drunkard, Noah, and his incestuous family.[2] This is the God who himself slaughters hundreds of thousands, if not millions, by means of his angels, serpents, hailstones, windstorm, earthquake, fire, and plague.[3] This is a God who: gives 32,000 Midianite virgins to the soldiers who had killed their families;[4] allows his hero, Jephthah, to demonstrate his devotion by sacrificing his daughter "as a burnt offering";[5] punishes the Babylonians by having "their little ones ... dashed to pieces before their eyes ... and their wives ravished";[6] declares "I will cause them [members of his own chosen people] to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat everyone the flesh of his friend";[7] and commands His chosen people to slay "both man and woman, infant and suckling" in thirty-one kingdoms while directing the Israelites in their policy of ethnic cleansing of the land that orthodox Jews now call Greater Israel.[8] And this is the very same God[9] who, in the New Testament, repeatedly promises eternal torment in the fires of Hell[10] for all those--the majority of the human race--who haven't believed in Jesus (an obscure figure whose dates of birth and death no one knows and whose historical status may fairly be likened to that of Hercules, Mithra, King Arthur or William Tell).[11]

The God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--as depicted in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran--is a supernatural being who commits, causes, commands, or condones violations of almost all the moral precepts that we hold dear.[12] He is a moral monster, infinitely more evil than the moral monsters of human history: the Ghenghis Khans, Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots from whom we shrink in horror. And the world he supposedly created for us to live in is one in which we are constantly being assailed by his chosen Weapons of Mass Destruction: natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes that kill hundreds of thousands; radiological bombardments from outer space; chemical and biological minefields that await our blundering missteps because he has not deigned to reveal them to us; and diseases such as cancer, filariasis, hookworm, malaria, and schistosoma that cripple or kill countless millions each year.[13] Compared to Him, the Aztec gods were paragons of virtue. So, too, is Satan--the mythical personification of evil--who is portrayed as guilty of nothing much worse than tempting Eve with a piece of fruit, giving Job (with God's permission) a bad case of boils, and tempting God himself (in the person of Jesus) with the offer of an earthly kingdom. Is this the God on whose behavior we ought to model our own in order to give a meaning to our lives? If so, we have a moral license for mayhem. Or are we to say that what is good enough for God is not good enough for us?  Which commands? Second: If it were the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God in obedience to whom we are to find life's meaning, which of his commands should we obey? All of them? Or just those that now satisfy our moral scruples? One problem is that this God prescribes the death penalty for over thirty offenses. These include: being a stubborn and rebellious son; cursing or hitting one's parents; owning an ox that happens to kill a man; blaspheming; committing adultery; committing homosexual acts; picking up sticks or working on the Sabbath; preaching other religions; and so on. If we were to obey this God's dictates, we would have a quick solution to the world's population problem. Are we really obliged to kill all who are guilty of these offenses? Or is it up to us to decide which of his laws to obey? Clearly, there are grave difficulties with the belief that the meaning of life is to be found in obedience to any revealed (theistic) god: the Yahweh of Judaism, the God of Christianity, or the Allah of Islam. Do any gods exist? There are grave difficulties, for that matter, in the supposition that any god at all exists. If a god exists who does not reveal himself in any way--the god of deists, for example--then we have no empirical evidence for the existence of that god. At best we can produce abstract philosophical arguments for the existence of some vaguely conceived higher intelligence, or supreme being. But such arguments--the arguments of so-called natural theology (as opposed to revealed theology)--are notoriously feeble.The ontological argument tries to define God into existence by a linguistic stratagem that would allow us equally to prove the existence of a perfect "soul-mate" for each and every one of us. Would that the world worked that way! But it doesn't.

The argument from design, when viewed in the light of the disasters and diseases in the universe such a deity supposedly designed, leads to the conclusion that the Great Watchmaker is either incompetent or malevolent. And it raises the further question, "Who designed God?"  Likewise, the cosmological argument from the alleged need for a cause of all that exists gets us nowhere. If we postulate an existing God as an answer to the question, "Why does anything at all exist?" we merely add to the list of existing entities. That only adds to the burden of explanation by raising the question "Who or what caused God?" We do better to avoid the impending regress by accepting the existence of the universe as a brute fact, leaving it to science rather than theology to provide a plausible, empirically testable, cosmology.

There are no sound reasons, I would argue, for believing that there are any gods at all, either revealed or hidden from view. A fortiori, there is no good reason for believing that we should order our lives to take account of their alleged existence and purposes for us.

Unveil those smiles!

From Darfur to Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon and Birmingham ... the burqa's being used by too many clans, to disguise what's natural, the face of woman. Why! Veil such smiles or hide that face ... veiled women of the human race? There's nothing written any any good book of man ... even the bible or qua ran! That woman must hide their smiles like sin! From all but a few ... Often chosen for them! Be proud and modest from head to toe, if that's your culture and happiness shows. But, why veil those smiles from all but a clan! When, smiles are natural in Nature's plan, reassuring fair-play to our fellow-man.

From Darfur to Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon and Birmingham. The burqu's being used by too many clans, to hide from societies ... often chosen by them! The telling faces of natural women. If, faces must hide to protect from shame! Or mutual smiles ... or, eyeing by men. Don't! Do it in some-one-else's name ... instead except what it really means ...blind faith and obedience to a mystic exclusive social scene. Show that smile ... if you can! It's an important part in Nature's plan, as smiles are crucial, to this Human race! They enhance communications ... face to face!

Daniel

Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the Mediterranean University in Marseilles, France, believes that 'the divide between rational scientific thinking and the rest of our culture is decreasing'. 'In the small world of the academia, the senseless divide between science and the humanities is slowly evaporating. Intellectuals on both sides realize that the complexity of contemporary knowledge cannot be seen unless we look at it all,' he writes.

According to Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager, Google Inc, 'Widely available, constantly renewing, high resolution images of the Earth will end conflict and ecological devastation as we know it.'

Ernst Pöppel, a neuroscientist at Munich University, is optimistic about fighting 'monocausalitis', the tendency to search for one single explanation for a phenomenon or event. 'Biological phenomena can better be understood, if multicausality is accepted as a guiding principle,' he writes.

An eagerly-awaited collider carries Maria Spiropulu's hopes for 2007. Dr Spiropulu is a physicist at CERN. 'Being built under the Jura on the border of Switzerland and France the Large Hadron Collider is a serious reason of optimism for experimental science. It is the first time that the human exploration and technology will offer reproducible 'hand-made' 14 TeV collisions of protons with protons. The physics of such interactions, the analysis of the data from the debris of these collisions [the highest energy such] are to be seen in the coming year,' she writes. ...

Stimulating thought from Richard Dawkins, Humanist and Author.
Click here to see a clip of this great moment!

A record 134 journalists were in jail on Dec. 1 -- an increase of nine from the 2005 tally -- in 24 countries with China, Cuba, Eritrea and Ethiopia the top four nations to imprison media. While print reporters, editors and photographers again made up the largest number of jailed journalists -- with 67 cases -- there were 49 imprisoned internet journalists, making them the second biggest category, the New York-based committee said. "We're at a crucial juncture in the fight for press freedom because authoritarian states have made the internet a major front in their effort to control information," Committee Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement. "China is challenging the notion that the internet is impossible to control or censor, and if it succeeds there will be far-ranging implications, not only for the medium but for press freedom all over the world." Among those jailed in China were Zheng Yichun, a Chinese freelance contributor to overseas online news sites who wrote a series of editorials criticizing the Communist Party. The census also found there were eight television journalists, eight radio reporters and two film/documentary makers in jail. Other countries where journalists were imprisoned were Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Iran, Maldives, Mexico, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, United States, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The Committee to Protect Journalists said 84 journalists were jailed for "anti-state" allegations like subversion and divulging state secrets, with many of those imprisoned in China, Cuba and Ethiopia.

NZ squeaky-clean
An international survey's rated New Zealand in the top three least-corrupt countries in the world. The inaugural Gallup Worldwide Corruption Index puts only Denmark and Finland ahead -- out of the 101 countries surveyed.
And the country's come in strides ahead of Australia, which is placed at number nine. At the other end of the scale, Lithuania was named the most corrupt ahead of Poland, Lebanon, Thailand and Russia.

(Reuters) -- Earthlike planets covered with deep oceans that could harbor life may be found in as many as a third of solar systems discovered outside of our own, U.S. researchers said on Thursday. These solar systems feature gas giants known as "Hot Jupiters," which orbit extremely close to their parent stars -- even closer than Mercury to our sun, University of Colorado researcher Sean Raymond said. The close-orbiting gassy planets may help encourage the formations of smaller, rocky, Earthlike planets, they reported in the journal Science. "We now think there is a new class of ocean-covered, and possibly habitable, planets in solar systems unlike our own," Raymond said in a statement. The team from Colorado, Penn State University and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Maryland ran computer simulations of various types of solar systems forming. The gas giants may help rocky planets form close to the suns, and may help pull in icy bodies that deliver water to the young planets, they found. "These gas giants cause quite a ruckus," Raymond said. Water is key to life as humans define it. "I think there are definitely habitable planets out there," Raymond said. "But any life on these planets could be very different from ours. There are a lot of evolutionary steps in between the formation of such planets in other systems and the presence of life forms looking back at us." As many as 40 percent of the 200 or so known planets around other stars are Hot Jupiters, the researchers said.

Greed will trigger 'ecosystem collapse'

A large-scale ecosystem collapse within 50 years is likely if current global consumption levels are not cut by half, an environmental group has warned. The WWF's Living Planet Report, published every other year, said the natural world was being degraded "at a rate unprecedented in human history". The report, released on Tuesday, showed relentless growth in demand on the earth's capacity to produce clean air, and to provide raw materials, food and energy.James Leape, WWF's director-general, said: "We are in serious ecological overshoot, consuming resources faster than the earth can replace them. The consequences of this are predictable and dire."The cities, power plants and homes we build today will either lock society into damaging over-consumption beyond our lifetimes, or begin to propel this and future generations towards sustainable living." Energy consumption Two years ago, the same report based on 2001 data said the world's population was already outstripping the earth's capacity to regenerate resources by just over 20 per cent. The 2006 edition of the WWF report said that figure had risen to 25 per cent in 2003. The WWF said carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption were the fastest growing component of the index in that period, increasing more than ninefold. A survey of animal life from 1970 to 2003 found that terrestrial species had declined by 31 per cent, freshwater species by 28 per cent and marine species by 27 per cent. The WWF estimated that even a rapid reversal in consumption habits now would only bring the world back to 1980s levels, when it was already over-consuming, by 2040. The United Arab Emirates (11.9 hectares per person) and the United States (9.6) again came at the top of the Living Planet's ranking of the environmental impact of countries, largely due to high energy consumption. Finland and Canada overtook oil-producing and consuming Kuwait to take third and fourth place in the table. Climate security threat Meanwhile, Margaret Beckett, the UK foreign secretary, will warn Europe on Tuesday to tackle climate change or risk terrorists seizing on famine, water shortages and failing energy infrastructure to threaten global security. In her first major foreign policy speech, to a group of experts

 

in Berlin, Beckett will call on the European Union to lead a global push towards new technologies and renewable energy, warning EU countries are already "dangerously behind the curve". Beckett is expected to cite reduced rainfall in the Middle East as a possible trigger for security problems. She will argue climate change, with drastically diminishing resources in some of the most volatile parts of the world, has the potential to create a "potentially catastrophic dynamic" in regions already at breaking point. Beckett, a former environment minister, will say the Middle East is a case in point as climate models suggest Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq will be among those countries to see the biggest rainfall reductions in the world. Egypt, a pivotal country for regional stability, will suffer a double blow, she will say, as loss of flow from the river Nile and rising sea-levels in the north are set to destroy the country's agricultural heartland.

A Sudanese newspaper editor who was kidnapped by armed men has been found beheaded.  Mohamed Taha was snatched from outside his home in the capital Khartoum on Tuesday. A photograph showed his body bound at the feet and hands with his severed head next to his body, a Reuters witness said on Wednesday. He was found on a dirt street in a middle-class residential district of southern Khartoum. Dozens of Sudanese journalists gathered at the Khartoum mortuary, guarded by heavily armed police. Aziza Abdel Rahman, a journalist working for the country's armed forces magazine, said: "The Sudanese press will not be intimidated. We will write our views even more. This will not stop us."  Arrested last year Taha was arrested last year and his al-Wifaq paper closed for three months after it published a series of articles questioning the roots of the Prophet Muhammad, which were condemned by Sudan's powerful Islamists.  One source in the Islamic community in Khartoum told Reuters that while Taha was in jail last year, he was protected by government soldiers who feared for his life.

One of America's top scientists has said that the world has already entered a state of dangerous climate change. In his first broadcast interview as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, John Holdren told the BBC that the climate was changing much faster than predicted. "We are not talking anymore about what climate models say might happen in the future."We are experiencing dangerous human disruption of the global climate and we're going to experience more," Professor Holdren said. He emphasised the seriousness of the melting Greenland ice cap, saying that without drastic action the world would experience more heatwaves, wild fires and floods. He added that if the current pace of change continued, a catastrophic sea level rise of 4m (13ft) this century was within the realm of possibility; much higher than previous forecasts. To put this in perspective, Professor Holdren pointed out that the melting of the Greenland ice cap, alone, could increase world-wide sea levels by 7m (23ft), swamping many cities. He blamed President Bush not only for refusing to cut emissions, but also for failing to live up to his rhetoric on harnessing technology to tackle climate change. "We are not starting to address climate change with the technology we have in hand, and we are not accelerating our investment in energy technology research and development," Professor Holdren observed. He said research undertaken by Harvard University revealed that US government spending on energy research had not increased since 2001. In order to make any progress, funding for climate technology needed to multiply by three or four times, Professor Holdren warned.

Is Islam only moderate and progressive when it adopts the ways of other cultures?

In this sense it is only moderated when it is corrupted by outside influences. The proof of this comes in two forms. In places that were the first to have islam and yet have remained isolated, we have pure islam that is backwards in the extreme. The other evidence is the backsliding into barbarity and backwardness that comes when muslims come to elminate large populations of other religions to the extent that their dominance is practically absolute. Take for instance the fabled Golden Age of islam when there were literally millions and millions of Christians, Jews, Hindus and Bhuddists living under muslim rule. But muslims held all the power and access to resources. Soon these other populations vanished for one reason or another and with these populations went all moderation, innovation and civilization and success. The rule is the more uncorrupted islam is the more backward it is.

Peggy ... Dallas, USA.

liberal reformation of Islam:
(1) empowerment of women in the Muslim world
(2) willingness of Muslims in West to exercise freedom of conscience."
While 1. has more practical impact, 2. is spiritually more important because its questioning finds new solutions for all problems, and its noncoercion ensures only desirable solutions are selected. (Bad solutions arent imposed. Even options that seem appealing at first but prove harmful will eventually be abandoned.) To enforcing freedom is to choose good and reject bad.
3. The biggest defect in Islam is its lack of love. Lack of God`s love for human life. It values `Muslim` life, but not human life of non-Muslims. Even then its fatalism hates Muslim life too.
If any ideology is believed more important than a human`s life, that ideology becomes demonic. It`s a form of idolatry. Each ideology is finite and limited, and to worship it is to not worship the infinite God.
Love, tolerance, freedom and life reveal God.

AV ...Miami.

Practical tide power 'in five years'
The promoters of an ambitious plan to build up to 7000 turbines under Cook Strait to harness tidal energy say the site could be producing commercial quantities of electricity in five years. Scientist David Beach and engineer Chris Bathurst want to put the turbines underwater to produce 7000 megawatts of electricity – equal to the country's current annual production from all sources.They were in Wellington this week to meet key players, including Electricity Commissioner Roy Hemmingway, Greater Wellington regional council and the fishing industry. Mr Beach said the turbines would float 40 metres below the surface in groups of 20 or 40. Each turbine would be held in place by an anchor plate bolted to the sea floor. Each group would be linked to a cable that would collect the energy and transport it to a store station. There it would be converted into electricity for transfer to the national grid. Mr Bathurst said each turbine would cost about $2 million. "That sounds a lot of money," said Mr Beach. "But new dams are expensive."
Undersea turbines required little in terms of infrastructure and maintenance, he said. They revolved at only 5rpm. "They can't go faster than the current. I think any self-respecting fish will be able to swim around them."Their proposed turbine is about to undergo sea tests near the Orkney Isles off the coast of Scotland. If those tests prove successful, Mr Bathurst and Mr Beach say they would like their first prototype in place by 2009.Dr Stevens said Cook and Foveaux straits were the only bodies of water near New Zealand large enough and with strong enough tidal currents to be suitable for tidal energy stations."The total resource is enormous. It's so large, it's pointless trying to spell it out."Unlike hydro, tides would continue to generate electricity regardless of weather. "Tides never stop," Mr Bathurst said. This predictability makes tidal energy an ideal complementary energy source for hydro power, Mr Bathurst and Mr Beach say.

Clinton says we must 'get off our butts' to stop warming

AUSTIN: Former United States President Bill Clinton said ... global warming is a greater threat to the future than terrorism and that the US and other countries must "get off our butts" and do something about it.
Clinton, speaking to the graduating class at University of Texas' Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, said the United States must pursue policies that make "more partners and fewer enemies" and use "institutionalised cooperation" before there is catastrophic damage from global warming."Climate change is more remote than terror but a more profound threat to the future of the children and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren I hope all of you have," Clinton said. "It's the only thing we face today that has the power to remove the preconditions of civilized society," he said. "I am not one of those who is pessimistic about the future of the world, assuming we get off our butts and do something about climate change in a timely fashion."

During Clinton's administration, the global Kyoto Protocol to curb the release of greenhouse gases was created but the Bush administration has rejected it on grounds it will hurt the US economy."I think we should be in the Kyoto climate change system," Clinton said. "We can't solve global warming or any other problem in the world you can mention that amounts to a hill of beans by ourselves."

The United States is considered the largest emitter of the "greenhouse gases" blamed for global warming. President George W Bush has said that global warming may be occurring but its cause is not clear. Generally, it is believed that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change.

 Someday the Sun Will Go Out and the World Will End (but Don't Tell Anyone)

When I raised my hand to speak at our weekly meetings here in the science department, my colleagues could be sure they would hear something weird about time travel or adventures in the fifth dimension. Something to take them far from the daily grind. Enough to taunt the mind, but not enough to attract the attention of bloggers, editors, politicians and others who keep track of important world affairs. So imagine my surprise to find the origin of the universe suddenly at the white hot center of national politics. Last week my colleague Andrew Revkin reported that a 24-year-old NASA political appointee with no scientific background, George C. Deutsch, had told a designer working on a NASA Web project that the Big Bang was "not proven fact; it is opinion," and thus the word "theory" should be used with every mention of Big Bang. It was not NASA's place, he said in an e-mail message, to make a declaration about the origin of the universe "that discounts intelligent design by a creator." In a different example of spinning science news last month, NASA headquarters removed a reference to the future death of the sun from a press release about the discovery of comet dust around a distant star known as a white dwarf. A white dwarf, a shrunken dense cinder about the size of earth, is how our own sun is fated to spend eternity, astronomers say, about five billion years from now, once it has burned its fuel. "We are seeing the ghost of a star that was once a lot like our sun," said Marc Kuchner of the Goddard Space Flight Center. In a statement that was edited out of the final news release he went on to say, "I cringed when I saw the data because it probably reflects the grim but very distant future of our own planets and solar system." An e-mail message from Erica Hupp at NASA headquarters to the authors of the original release at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said, "NASA is not in the habit of frightening the public with doom and gloom scenarios." Never mind that the death of the sun has been a staple of astronomy textbooks for 50 years. Dean Acosta, NASA's deputy assistant administrator for public affairs, said the editing of Dr. Kuchner's comments was part of the normal "give and take" involved in producing a press release. "There was not one political person involved at all," he said. Personally, I can't get enough of gloom- and-doom scenarios. I'm enchanted by the recent discovery, buttressed by observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, that an antigravitational force known as dark energy might suck all galaxies out of the observable universe in a few hundred billion years and even rip apart atoms and space. But I never dreamed that I might be frightening the adults. What's next? Will future presidential candidates debate the ontological status of Schrödinger's cat? That's the cat that, according to the uncertainty principle of quantum physics, is both alive and dead until we observe it. Apparently science does matter. Dreading the prospect that they too may be dragged into the culture wars, astronomers have watched from the sidelines in recent years as creationists in Kansas and Pennsylvania challenged the teaching of evolution in classrooms. Never mind that the Big Bang has been officially accepted by the Roman Catholic Church for half a century. The notion of a 14-billion-year-old cosmos doesn't fit if you believe the Bible says the world is 6,000 years old. And indeed there have been sporadic outbreaks, as evidenced by the bumper stickers and signs you see in some parts of the country: "Big Bang? You've got to be kidding — God." When the Kansas school board removed evolution from the science curriculum back in 1999, they also removed the Big Bang. In a way, the critics have a point. The Big Bang is indeed only a theory, albeit a theory that covers the history of creation as seamlessly as could be expected from the first fraction of a second of time until today. To call an idea "a theory" is to accord it high status in the world of science. To pass the bar, a theory must make testable predictions — that stars eventually blow out or that your computer will boot up. Sometimes those predictions can be, well, a little disconcerting. When you're talking about the birth or death of the universe, a little denial goes a long way. That science news is sometimes managed as carefully as political news may not come as a surprise to most adults. After all, the agencies that pay for most scientific research in this country have billion-dollar budgets that they have to justify to the White House and the Congress. It helps to have newspaper clippings attesting to your advancement of the president's vision. It's enough to make you feel sorry for NASA, whose very charter mandates high visibility for both its triumphs and its flops, but which has officers recently requiring headquarters approval before consenting to interviews with the likes of me. The recent peek behind the curtains of this bureaucracy has been both depressing and exciting. So they are paying attention after all. They should be paying attention, but I'm not looking forward to having to include more politicians and bureaucrats in my rounds of the ever-expanding, multi-dimensional universe (or universes). I'll do it, but, lacking the gene for street smarts, I fear being played like a two-bit banjo. I'm even happy to go star-gazing with Dick Cheney, if duty so calls, but only if he agrees to disarm and I can wear a helmet.

Writers slam Islamic 'totalitarianism' 2006,The recent violence surrounding the publication in the West of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed illustrate the danger of Islamic "totalitarianism," Salman Rushdie and a group of other writers have said in a statement. Rushdie, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen were among those putting their names to the statement, to be published on Wednesday in the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, one of several French newspapers which reprinted the controversial cartoons. "After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new global threat: Islamism," they wrote. "We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all." They added that the clashes over the caricatures "revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. The struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. "It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats." Cartoon riots The publication of the cartoons, first printed by the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September then reprinted by several European outlets, sparked violent, sometimes deadly, demonstrations in the Muslim world in February. Some Western governments, media and intellectuals said the reaction was a threat to their attachment to the freedom of expression. Muslim governments and media countered by saying it offended their religion, and some groups said it violated an Islamic custom banning images of God or Muhammed. India-born British writer Rushdie was in a better position than most to comment on the controversy, having been made the target for murder under an Iranian fatwa for his 1998 novel "The Satanic Verses", which gives an irreverent characterisation of Muhammed. The others who signed the statement were: Somali-born Dutch feminist, writer and filmmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Iranian writer Chahla Chafiq, who is exiled in France; French writer Caroline Fourest; Irshad Manji, a Ugandan refugee and writer living in Canada; Mehdi Mozaffari, an Iranian academic exiled in Denmark; Maryam Namazie, an Iranian writer living in Britain; Antoine Sfeir, director of a French review examining the Middle East; Charlie Hebdo, director Philippe Val; and Ibn Warraq, a US academic of Indian and Pakistani origin who wrote a book titled "Why I Am not a Muslim". The statement said that, "like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations", but added that nothing justifies the hatred it engenders. "Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present." They called for universal right to lift the oppressed and discriminated out of the "Islamists' domination" and said "we refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of 'Islamophobia'."

Muhammad is not the prophet of terrorists By Tashbih Sayyed

As a Muslim, I've followed with great agony and embarrassment the buildup of religious frenzy across the Muslim world in response to the cartoons published in a Danish newspaper. On the one side the show of force by Islamists underlined the extent to which Islam has been hijacked by radicals and on the other side it emphasized the vulnerability of open societies to the growing influence of militant Islam. The demonstration of violence by the Islamists forced the democratic societies to face up to the reality that Muslims without rejecting some of the basic precepts of political Islam can never integrate in a secular society. They will always remain a hurdle in the development of a pluralist setup and intellectual progress. The dance of insanity performed on the streets in the name of Prophet Muhammad's love and honor has also forced many Muslims to come out of their slumber and ponder as to why their faith and their prophet have suddenly become a subject of criticism and ridicule by non-Muslims? Is it really because the West has an anti-Islam agenda? Or is it because all of the terrorists are Muslims and all homicide bombers claim that their murderous acts are in-line with prophet's traditions? Questions are being asked as to why there has traditionally been no effort on the part of Muslims to confront religious absolutism? Many agree that the Muslim silence in the face of growing Islamist radicalism has contributed in creating the perception that Islam is an evil faith. After all a religion is nothing but a sum total of its adherent's social conduct. The fact that the Muslim societies, at least in the modern history, have always presented a picture of violence and conflict and since religion always seem to be playing a role in them has strengthened the notion that Islam encourages violence. It is very common in the Muslim societies to invoke the name of Islam and its prophet to win the support of the un-educated masses. Whether it is an honor killing or a gang rape ordered by a village committee of elders or an attack on a place of worship or a murder of an individual belonging to a minority sect, each and every atrocity is perpetuated in the name of religion. Now some people have begun to question the rationality of using religion or prophet's name to advance a political agenda or a selfish and violent cause. If Muslim scholars would have condemned the two homicide bombers who attacked the barracks of American and French peacekeepers in Beirut in 1983, homicide bombings would not have gained currency and nobody would have been identifying Islam with terrorism. But they remained silent as the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility and declared that it was an Islamic act. Their silence betrayed their complicity in the crime and today they have no right to complain as to why the non-Muslim world is presenting their faith in such unflattering colors. Wahhabis have been presenting Islam as a license to kill non-believers. And since no Muslim scholar has ever thought of challenging the murderous ideology, the homicide bombings have now become a routine in the Muslim life ? only this week, February 9th, 2006, a Wahhabi homicide bomber exploded himself in the middle of a Muslim religious procession in Hungo, Pakistan, killing dozens of faithful. Today in the Muslim world, homicide bombers are heroes and their mothers are compared with the holiest of women in the Muslim history. Islamic radicals have been using Quran and Prophet's life to justify their criminal acts with impunity. Wahhabi religious scholars have been describing homicide bombers in Palestinian Authority as Mujahideen (holy worriors) and the dead murderers as Shaheed (Martyers) and Muslims response has been a long and resounding silence. Consequently, the 19 terrorists who hijacked the planes in September 2001 are not considered terrorists but rather heroes by Islamic communities around the world. Every time the Wahhabi killers raise their swords to behead an innocent human being they shout Alla O Akbar (God is great). All the videos showing these beheadings display banners in the background that proclaims the love and devotion for prophet Muhammad. All the homicide bombers have head bands with Shahadah (There is no God but God and Muhammad is His prophet) inscribed on it. Arab homes and streets are all plastered with posters that lionize murderers as martyrs. The terrorists who parade on the Arab streets like heroes sincerely believe that they will go to heaven and will eventually be in the company of 72 virgins. They have said so on television. With this primitive sociology on display every day in the Muslim world, can anyone in his or her right mind blame the non-Muslims for blaming Islam? Muslims who are never tired of blaming non-Muslims for giving a bad name to their faith should, for their own sake, look at the images of their coreligionists holding swords over the heads of innocent foreigners in Iraq. Do they not look evil? I have always wondered if the Muslims realize the impact of statements written on banners behind Islamist head choppers. What kind of Allah and the prophet would bless the acts of barbarism? Those banners proclaim that the worst kind of barbarism is being carried out in line with Islamic teachings. Why shouldn't a non Muslim think that Islam is an evil faith when all of the fatawas (religious rulings) issued in Saudi Arabia and Egypt justify these killers and homicide bombers? Why has there been not a single fatwa that declares these barbarians infidel? I am a Muslim and a Sayyed. That means that I am a direct descendent of Prophet Muhammad. I know that a true follower of Prophet Muhammad cannot support, train, sponsor and direct homicide bombings. Those who honestly love Prophet of Islam cannot behead human beings. They cannot be homicide bombers and murderers. That's why I sincerely believe that Osama's, Zarqawi's. Zawahiri's and Wahhabism's prophet is not the same as mine. A prophet of peace cannot be a prophet of terrorists. A terrorist's prophet has got to be a terrorist.

Impure Islam By Irshad Manji At the World Economic Forum

I observed something revealing. In a session about the U.S. religious right, a cartoonist satirized one of America's most influential Christian ministers, Pat Robertson. In the audience, chuckling with the rest of us, was a prominent British Muslim. But his smile disappeared the moment we were shown a cartoon that made fun of Muslim clerics. Since then, a fierce fight has erupted between the European Union and the Muslim world over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Months ago, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons that showed Islam's messenger wearing, among other things, a turban-turned-time bomb. Although the paper has apologized, the controversy has metastasized: A Norwegian magazine and French paper recently re-printed the drawings, as have other broadcasters and publications while covering this story. In response, Muslim rioters torched Scandinavian missions in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. An Italian priest was murdered in Turkey. Bomb threats have hit the offices of more than one European newspaper. Various Arab countries have recalled their ambassadors from Copenhagen. Boycotts of Danish products are sweeping across supermarkets in the Arab world, and Muslims as far away as India and Indonesia are pouring into the streets to burn Danish flags - which feature the cross, among the holiest of Christian symbols. Last week, thousands of Palestinians shouted "Death to Denmark!" Copenhagen has evacuated Danish citizens from the Gaza Strip and has sternly warned nationals in the West Bank to get out as well. Muslims themselves are getting pummeled in the riots: four died in Afghanistan on Monday alone. Arab elites love such controversies, for they provide convenient opportunities to channel anger away from local injustices. No wonder President Lahoud of Lebanon insisted that his country "cannot accept any insult to any religion." That's rich. Since the late 1970s, the Lebanese government has licensed Hezbollah-run satellite television station al-Manar, among the most viciously anti-Semitic broadcasters on earth. Similarly, the Justice Minister of the United Arab Emirates has said that the Danish cartoons represent "cultural terrorism, not freedom of expression." This from a country that promotes its capital as the "Las Vegas of the Gulf," yet blocks my Web site - muslim-refusenik.com - for being "inconsistent with the moral values" of the UAE. Presumably, my site should be an online casino. Muslims have little integrity demanding respect for our faith if they don't show it for others. When have we demonstrated against Saudi Arabia's policy to prevent Christians and Jews from stepping on the soil of Mecca? They may come for rare business trips, but nothing more. As long as Rome welcomes non-Christians and Jerusalem embraces non-Jews, we Muslims have more to protest than cartoons. None of this is to dismiss the need to take my religion seriously. Hell, Muslims even take seriously the need to be serious: Islam has a teaching against "excessive laughter." I'm not joking. But does this mean that we should cry "blasphemy" over less-than-flattering depictions of the Prophet Muhammad? God no. For one thing, the Koran itself points out that there will always be non-believers, and that it's for Allah, not Muslims, to deal with them. More than that, the Koran says there is "no compulsion in religion." Which suggests that nobody should be forced to treat Islamic norms as sacred. Fine, many Muslims will retort, but we're talking about the Prophet Muhammad - Allah's final and therefore perfect messenger. However, Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet was a human being who made mistakes. It's precisely because he wasn't perfect that we know of the so-called Satanic Verses: a collection of passages that the Prophet reportedly included in the Koran. Only later did he realize that those verses glorified heathen idols rather than God. According to Islamic legend, he retracted the idolatrous passages, blaming them on a trick played by Satan. When Muslims put the Prophet on a pedestal, we're engaging in idolatry of our own. The point of monotheism is to worship one God, not one of God's emissaries. Which is why humility requires people of faith to mock themselves - and each other - every once in a while. Here's my attempt: A priest, a rabbi, and a mullah meet at a conference about religion, and afterward are sitting around discussing their different faiths. The conversation turns to the topic of taboos. The priest says to the rabbi and the mullah, "You guys can't tell me that you've never eaten pork." "Never!" intones the rabbi. "Absolutely not!" insists the mullah. But the priest is skeptical. "Come on, not even once? Maybe in a fit of rebellion when you were younger?" "Okay," confesses the rabbi. "When I was young, I once nibbled on bacon." "I admit it," the mullah laughs (not excessively). "In a fit of youthful arrogance, I sampled a pork chop." Then the conversation turns to the priest's religious observances. "You can't tell me you've never had sex," says the mullah. "Of course not!" the priest protests. "I took a vow of chastity." The mullah and the rabbi roll their eyes. "Maybe after a few drinks?" the rabbi teases. "Perhaps, in a moment of temptation, your faith waned?" the mullah wonders. "Okay," the priest confesses. "Once, when I was drunk in seminary school, I had sexual relations with a woman." "Beats pork, huh?" say the rabbi and the mullah. Clearly, I'm as impure a feminist as I am a Muslim. The difference is, offended feminists won't threaten to kill me. The same can't be said for many of my fellow Muslims. What part of "no compulsion" don't they understand?

The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Yale University and the author of The Trouble with Islam. Reprinted with permission of The Wall Street Journal.

I ran into this line by an Persian scientist and philosopher: Zakaria Ar-Razi (865-925 AD)

“The prophets—these billy goats with long beards, cannot claim any intellectual or spiritual superiority. These billy goats pretend to come with a message from God, all the while exhausting themselves in spouting their lies, and imposing on the masses blind obedience to the "words of the master." The miracles of the prophets are impostures, based on trickery, or the stories regarding them are lies. The falseness of what all the prophets say is evident in the fact that they contradict one another: one affirms what the other denies, and yet each claims to be the sole depository of the truth; thus the New Testament contradicts the Torah, the Koran the New Testament. As for the Koran, it is but an assorted mixture of "absurd and inconsistent fables," which has ridiculously been judged inimitable, when, in fact, its language, style, and its much vaunted "eloquence" are far from being faultless. Custom, tradition, and intellectual laziness lead men to follow their religious leaders blindly. Religions have been the sole cause of the bloody wars that have ravaged mankind. Religions have also been resolutely hostile to philosophical speculation and to scientific research. The so-called holy scriptures are worthless and have done more harm than good, whereas the "writings of the ancients like Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and Hippocrates have rendered much greater service to humanity

Bottled water taxing Earth It may reportedly lead to a healthier body and mind but our increasing fondness for drinking bottled water could be having an adverse effect on the planet. A new study published in the US says that bottled water consumption has more than doubled globally in the last six years and is heavily taxing the world's ecosystem. Emily Arnold, the author of the report published by the Washington-based environmental group the Earth Policy Institute, says bottled water can cost 10,000 times more than tap water despite often being no healthier.. "Making bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 US cars for a year," according to the study. "Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year." Waste worries. The plastic bottles pose a further environmental risk once the water has been drunk. The study, citing the Container Recycling Institute, said that 86% of plastic water bottles in the United States end up as rubbish and those buried can take up to 1000 years to biodegrade. In addition, some 40% of the PET bottles deposited for recycling in the US in 2004 ended up being shipped to China. The study said that the rapid growth in the industry has also led to water shortages in some areas. It said that while consumers tend to link bottled water with healthy living, tap water can be just as healthy and is subject to more stringent regulations than bottled water in many regions, including Europe and the United States. "In fact, roughly 40% of bottled water begins as tap water," the study says. "Often the only difference is added minerals that have no marked health benefits."

Sea energy to power Britain Waves and tides could generate 20 per cent of electricity and replace nuclear fuel, report says Surrounded by some of the world's roughest seas, Britain could generate a fifth of its electricity by harnessing the power of tides and waves. The potential of marine energy is revealed in a report by the government's energy advisers. Wave and tidal power could replace the electricity that is currently produced by UK nuclear power stations, they state, and could prevent the need for Britain to rely on increased Russian gas imports.

Juliette Jowit.

The State of Green Business: Good News and Bad ... Joel Makower

Herewith is a top-ten list of sorts: five reasons for optimism, and five reasons for concern, about the state of business and the environment.

Five Reasons for Optimism 1. The leading edge is moving. During the past two decades, the leading edge of green business activity has moved across three phases. Phase One might be referred to as the Eco-Hippocratic Oath: "First, Do No Harm." During the 1990s, Phase Two -- let's call it "Doing Well By Doing Good" -- kicked in, during which companies recognized they could reduce costs through pollution prevention, waste minimization, energy efficiency, and other means -- and in the process, they could garner public goodwill. More recently, the leading edge has shifted into Phase Three: "Creating Value." In this phase, sustainable business initiatives are being designed not just to save money, but to drive topline growth -- increased sales, customer retention, innovation, and the like. General Electric, Sun Microsystems, Toyota, Shaw Industries, and other companies are among those demonstrating the business opportunities to be found in offering products and services that help customers to reduce emissions, save money, lower risks, and enjoy other benefits. Environmental responsibility as a driver of topline growth: This is the point at which sustainability becomes, well, sustainable. 2. Environmental concerns are being widely addressed. Nearly every large company and institution has taken at least some steps to address their environmental impacts. The breadth of issues being addressed has grown, too. This is evident from, among other things, the steady stream of annual environmental (or sustainability or corporate social responsibility) reports being published. Early on, companies focused on toxic emissions or solid waste issues. As pollution prevention, recycling, and waste minimization initiatives took hold, companies began looking at other issues, especially those related to energy and climate, but also looking upstream to consider the impacts of suppliers and downstream to address the impacts of customers, including what happens to a company's products when they are no longer needed or of service to customers. All told, the foundation has been set for developing more comprehensive life-cycle solutions for tomorrow's products and services. 3. The bottom-line case is building. At first, there were the low-hanging fruit derived from reducing pollution and waste. A big company could redesign something as simple as a beer can (Anheuser-Busch) or a paper napkin (McDonald's) and save millions of pounds of natural resources -- and millions of dollars. Simple, sensible management practices in industrial processes could dramatically slash waste, along with the cost of its disposal. Today, the business case is more sophisticated and robust. Research is showing how investments in energy management, carbon mitigation, toxics reduction, and product end-of-life management can provide both tangible and intangible benefits of interest to financial analysts, institutional investors, and others. And there is evidence that environmentally minded activities can contribute to companies' ability to attract and retain employees. For companies seeking to justify, on bottom-line grounds, the value of sustainability, the arguments can be readily found. 4. Customers are driving change. In the early 1990s, regulators and activists were the principal drivers of most companies' sustainability agendas. But increasingly, the market is kicking in, with customer needs -- or demands -- shaping company environmental policies and practices. For example, in its 2005 Global Citizenship Report, HP says that in 2004 it received more than $6 billion in requests for quotations that required information on HP's commitment to social and environmental responsibility -- an increase of 95% compared to 2003 and 660% compared to 2002. Those requests came from Asia and Europe as well as North America. That's on the b-to-b side. On the consumer side, demand for greener products, services, and companies is less apparent, though there are encouraging signs, notably the marketplace success of hybrid vehicles and other energy-efficient products. They show that consumers are willing to embrace green technologies under certain circumstances -- a less-than-worldchanging development, to be sure, but progress nonetheless. It helps when energy markets -- gasoline, heating oil, natural gas, electricity -- reflect true market prices, not the heavily subsidized ones that have kept consumers from paying their full costs and making purchase decisions that reflect more accurate information. 5. Sustainability is spurring innovation. This is implicit in Reasons #1 and #4 above, but it bears repeating: Sustainability is spurring companies to innovate with new processes that enhance their bottom lines, such as closed-loop manufacturing processes, in which there is virtually no energy, water, or material waste. Products designed with fewer, simpler, less-toxic, and more recyclable ingredients enable everything from carpets to car parts to be fully recycled at the end of their useful lives -- not simply "downcycled" into commingled, less-valuable materials. Markets for biobased products -- polymers, building materials, textiles, and other goods made from plants or crops -- have been frustratingly slow to develop, but progress is being made to break through market barriers. And the green-building revolution has led to a wealth of innovative designs, systems, products, and materials intended to make tomorrow's structures simultaneously more livable, more beautiful, less expensive, and less destructive to the environment. There's more to celebrate, but it's time to look at the other side of the coin.

Five Reasons for Concern 1. The pace of change is slow. While it's easy to point to how far the leading edge has progressed, it's hardly the full story. Many companies still struggle to make even small, incremental improvements to their policies, processes, and products, and many of the innovations being seen inside companies are limited to a single facility, business unit, or product line. It's all progress, of course, but it's easy for cynics to make the case that such changes fall into the too-little-too-late category. To be fair, the frustratingly slow pace of change isn't always companies' fault -- or, at least, not entirely. Most industries represent a complex web of suppliers, customers, shareholders, activists, regulators, and others whose opinion or actions can thwart even the best-intended companies or most passionate CEOs. I've been sobered over the years by tales of large, multinational companies unable to get supply-chain buy-in to support their companies' laudable goals for reducing toxics, waste, or energy use. And I've heard countless tales of companies that have abandoned development or marketing of greener products and services for lack of customer support. Whether such underwhelming sales resulted from customer resistance or poorly designed or marketed goods is arguable. In most cases, there's plenty of blame to go around. And some barriers to change are internal -- the failure to gain the support of line employees and, perhaps more critically, that thick, impenetrable band of resistance known as "middle management." While "Get top-level buy-in" remains number one on the list of how-to tips for most company environmental efforts, even the greenest of executives can be thwarted by those down the line. As one CEO famously put it: "An organization's ability to resist and defeat a direct order to do something difficult is just about infinite." 2. "Good" is rarely good enough. When it comes to addressing society's environmental concerns, most companies find themselves aiming at a moving target. Yesterday's activist ideals are tomorrow's minimum requirements. The result is that some companies are never entirely sure how good is "good enough." Things are most challenging for consumer-facing brands, and especially for market leaders. They often are held to a standard far higher than their competitors -- a function of environmental groups' need to slay corporate dragons in order to rally the troops and justify their funding. One result is that many firms are afraid to promote, or even discuss, their environmental initiatives for fear that doing so will unwittingly illuminate their shortcomings. The unfortunate outcome is twofold: companies don't receive the credit they deserve in the eyes of customers and other interested parties; and the people inside companies who work, often struggle, to make these changes happen find it that much harder to get internal support for taking on the next, perhaps more substantive, set of company challenges. 3. EHS still doesn't get it. Environmental, health, and safety (EHS) departments inside companies remain a ghetto of regulatory compliance and engineering fixes -- perfectly fine functions, to be sure, but ones often seen as outside of core business strategy. As a result, many talented EHS professionals have found themselves on the street, having been handed their walking papers during the latest round of downsizing or re-engineering. Much of this is self-inflicted. Historically, EHS professionals haven't learned how to make environmental concerns a source of business value and not just a cost. Despite years of effort on the part of professional organizations, business schools, and others to imbue EHS folks with business skills, most remain far more at home talking geek-speak with the regulatory crowd than discussing with their higher-ups how to turn environmental initiatives into new sources of business value. That's a lost opportunity. EHS has a great deal to contribute. But the lack of EHS departments to think in these terms, let alone take action on them, will forever limit their effectiveness -- and, in many cases, lead to their demise. 4. Small business isn't engaged. The vast majority of efforts to improve companies' environmental performance -- whether taken by regulators, activists, the public, or companies themselves -- have focused on the largest companies. That makes sense: As an environmental Willie Sutton might have put it, that's where the pollution is. But not all. Roughly 98% of all U.S. companies have fewer than 100 employees. While many of these smaller firms provide services that have negligible environmental impacts, there are tens of thousands of dry cleaners, printers, bakers, metal finishers, furniture makers, automobile repair shops, and others among them with seemingly small but cumulatively significant emissions and waste. And these firms have largely been left out of the sustainability conversation. The failure to find effective means of bringing smaller firms into the environmental fold will continue to limit progress on many fronts and will become a growing problem as larger companies continue to improve their performance. 5. The public remains clueless. It's hard for companies to effect widespread culture change if the people who comprise its employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders don't understand the underlying issues. Despite more than a quarter-century of Earth Days, the rise of green activism, and the growth of environmental curricula in schools at all levels, the public remains woefully uninformed. Surveys show that most citizens' understanding of environmental issues remains depressingly low and that myths and misunderstandings persist. Companies often are their own worst enemies here. The tremendous communications clout many businesses, especially service-sector firms, possess could be harnessed to improve the public's eco-literacy and, in the process, help garner newfound appreciation and build markets for companies' environmental initiatives. But there's been little appetite on the part of companies to educate, and not just propagandize, the masses on these issues. As with the good news, there are more concerns, too, but I'll leave it at that. And despite the obstacles, I remain optimistic -- indeed, confident -- that the hard work of good people inside good companies will continue to raise the bar, the performance, and the appreciation of corporate environmental practices.

A Short History of Everything ... by Bill Bryson.

Unremitting scientific effort over the past 300 years has yielded an astonishing amount of information about the world we inhabit. By rights we ought to be very impressed and extremely interested. Unfortunately many of us simply aren't. Far from attracting the best candidates, science is proving a less and less popular subject in schools. And, with a few notable exceptions, popular books on scientific topics are a rare bird in the bestseller lists. Bill Bryson, the travel-writing phenomenon, thinks he knows what has gone wrong.

The anaemic, lifeless prose of standard science textbooks, he argues, smothers at birth our innate curiosity about the natural world. Reading them is a chore rather than a voyage of discovery. Even books written by leading scientists, he complains, are too often clogged up with impenetrable jargon. Just like the alchemists of old, scientists have a regrettable tendency to "vaile their secrets with mistie speech". Science, John Keats sulked, "will clip an Angel's wings, / Conquer all mysteries by rule and line." Bryson turns this on its head by blaming the messenger rather than the message. Robbing nature of its mystery is what he thinks most science books do best. But, unlike Keats, he doesn't believe that this is at all necessary. We may be living in societies less ready to believe in magic, miracles or afterlives, but the sublime remains. Rather as Richard Dawkins has argued, Bryson insists that the results of scientific study can be wondrous and very often are so. The trick is to write about them in a way that makes them comprehensible without crushing nature's mystique. Bryson provides a lesson in how it should be done. The prose is just as one would expect - energetic, quirky, familiar and humorous. Bryson's great skill is that of lightly holding the reader's hand throughout; building up such trust that topics as recondite as atomic weights, relativity and particle physics are shorn of their terrors. The amount of ground covered is truly impressive. From the furthest reaches of cosmology, we range through time and space until we are looking at the smallest particles. We explore our own planet and get to grips with the ideas, first of Newton and then of Einstein, that allow us to understand the laws that govern it. Then biology holds centre-stage, heralding the emergence of big-brained bipeds and Charles Darwin's singular notion as to how it all came about. Crucially, this hugely varied terrain is not presented as a series of discrete packages. Bryson made his name writing travelogues and that is what this is. A single, coherent journey, woven together by a master craftsman. The book's underlying strength lies in the fact that Bryson knows what it's like to find science dull or inscrutable. Unlike scientists who turn their hand to popular writing, he can claim to have spent the vast majority of his life to date knowing very little about how the universe works. Tutored by many of the leading scientists in each of the dozens of fields he covers, he has brought to the book some of the latest insights together with an amusingly gossipy tone. His technique was to keep going back to the experts until each in turn was happy, in effect, to sign off the account of their work he had put together. In short, he's done the hard work for us. Bryson enlivens his accounts of difficult concepts with entertaining historical vignettes. We learn, for example, of the Victorian naturalist whose scientific endeavours included serving up mole and spider to his guests; and of the Norwegian palaeontologist who miscounted the number of fingers and toes on one of the most important fossil finds of recent history and wouldn't let anyone else have a look at it for more than 48 years. Bryson has called his book a history, and he has the modern historian's taste for telling it how it was. Scientists, like all tribes, have a predilection for foundation myths. But Bryson isn't afraid to let the cat out of the bag. The nonsense of Darwin's supposed "Eureka!" moment in the Galapagos, when he spotted variations in the size of finch beaks on different islands, is swiftly dealt with. As is the fanciful notion of palaeontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott chancing on the fossil-rich Burgess Shales after his horse slipped on a wet track. So much for clarity and local colour. What about romance? For Bryson this clearly lies in nature's infinitudes. The sheer improbability of life, the incomprehensible vastness of the cosmos, the ineffable smallness of elementary particles, and the imponderable counter-intuitiveness of quantum mechanics. He tells us, for example, that every living cell contains as many working parts as a Boeing 777, and that prehistoric dragonflies, as big as ravens, flew among giant trees whose roots and trunks were covered with mosses 40 metres in height. It sounds very impressive. Not all readers will consider it sublime, but it's hard to imagine a better rough guide to science. ·

John Waller is research fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine and author of Fabulous Science: Fact and Fiction in the History of Scientific Discovery.

Scientists Say Slower Atlantic Currents Could Mean a Colder Europe

Some climate experts have said the potential cooling of Europe was paradoxically consistent with global warming caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping "greenhouse" emissions. But several experts said it was premature to conclude that the new measurements, to be described today in the journal Nature, meant that such a change was already under way. The currents, branching off from the Gulf Stream, are part of an oceanic system that disperses tropical heat toward the poles and makes Northern Europe far warmer than its latitude would suggest. Warming, in theory, could stall the salty, sun-heated, north-flowing currents by causing fresh water to build up in high-latitude seas as ice melts and more precipitation falls. The scientists, from the National Oceanography Center in Britain, measured sea temperature, currents and other conditions across the Atlantic from the Bahamas to Africa last year and found a 30 percent drop in the flow of warming waters since a similar set of measurements were taken in 1957. The team, led by Harry L. Bryden, wrote that even though they had measurements from only 5 years out of the past 50, the pattern of change seen at various depths supported the idea that the shift was a significant trend and not random variability. They also cited independent measurements of a long-term decline in the flow of water between some Arctic seas and the North Atlantic as evidence that a slowing of the overall Atlantic circulation was under way. In an accompanying commentary in Nature, Detlef Quadfasel of the University of Hamburg, who was not involved with the British study, said it provided "worrying support for computer models that predict just such an effect in a world made warmer by greenhouse-gas emissions." Other scientists were more cautious. Gavin A. Schmidt, a climate modeler at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that the estimated decline in ocean circulation should have produced a perceptible decline in surface temperatures, but that no such dip had yet been measured. Robert Dickson, of the British Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, said that given the complexity and variability of the seas, much more data was needed to determine whether a slowdown was under way. "However much statistical rigor is brought to bear, five transocean sections is still a small number on which to depend," he said.

DivineDestruction: Dominion Theology and American Environmental Policy by Stephenie Hendricks ISBN: 0976658348 (More details...) Available at: Quimby Warehouse Synopses & Reviews Publisher Comments:

It began as a simple investigation into environmental policy in the Sierra Nevadas. But what journalist Stephenie Hendricks uncovered turned out to be a far bigger story, the ramifications of which affect the entire globe. Hendricks discovered that the development of American environmental policy in the Bush administration is being driven by Dominion Theologists-far-right Christian ideologues who believe that by exhausting our natural resources they will hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Known in policy circles as the wise-use doctrine, the theory is startling enough in implication, but even more chilling in practice-some officials say the Bush administration did not sign the Kyoto Accord on fighting global warming because it was against God's prophecies. And as Hendricks investigates the Dominion Theologists' power within the government and profiles some of its leading proponents, she reveals where their funding comes from and charts their regular intersection with the mining and logging industries, real estate developers, off-road vehicle manufacturers, and even The Walt Disney Company. She also tells the often frightening story of those people who dare to resist their policies-for example, the retiree who challenged the destruction of a national forest near her home only to have her life threatened. Divine Destruction is, in short, an in-depth look at the radical remaking of American environmental policy already underway-in terrifying secret. Stephenie Hendricks is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist with a 35-year career working for mainstream and progressive media. She has worked for ABC Radio, CBS TV San Francisco, and is currently a PacificaRadio producer.

Synopsis: A simple investigation into environmental policy in the Sierra Nevadas turned out to be a far bigger story: Bush's environmental policy is being driven by biblical fundamentalists who believe exhausting natural resources will hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

NZ's squeaky clean image confirmed

New Zealand's squeaky clean image has been confirmed in an international corruption survey. New Zealand is tied for second place with Finland in Transparency International's (TI) 2005 corruption index. On a perceptions scale of zero to 10 -- with zero indicating the most corrupt and 10 indicating the most honest -- New Zealand's score is 9.6. Iceland led the index with a score of 9.7. TI is a Berlin-based non-governmental organisation devoted to combating corruption. As a rule, corruption and poverty went hand in hand. "Corruption is a major cause of poverty as well as a barrier to overcoming it," TI chairman Peter Eigen said. "When countries improve governance and reduce corruption, they reap a 'development dividend' that can include reduction in child mortality rates and increase in per capita income and literacy rates." Countries with the lowest levels of corruption: 1 Iceland 9.7 2 Finland 9.6 2 NEW ZEALAND 9.6 4 Denmark 9.5 5 Singapore 9.4 6 Sweden 9.2 7 Switzerland 9.1 8 Norway 8.9 9 Australia 8.8 10 Austria 8.7

Countries with the highest levels of corruption: 158 Chad 1.7 158 Bangladesh 1.7 155 Turkmenistan 1.8 155 Myanmar 1.8 155 Haiti 1.8 152 Nigeria 1.9 152 Equatorial Guinea 1.9 152 Cote d'Ivoire 1.9 151 Angola 2.0

Polluters will have to answer to God, not just government, according to Richard Cizik. Vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, Cizik is a pro-Bush Bible-brandishing reverend zealously opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and embryonic stem-cell research. He is also on a mission to convert tens of millions of Americans to the cause of conservation, using a right-to-life framework. Cizik has been crisscrossing the U.S. in recent months, spreading the doctrine of "creation care" to evangelical Christians. Thanks to his leadership, NAE, one of the most politically powerful religious advocacy groups in America, released a manifesto last year urging its members to adopt eco-friendly living habits and exhorting the government to lighten America's environmental footprint. Next month, the organization will begin circulating a charter calling on its member network and top-level Beltway allies to fight global warming. Cizik spoke to Grist recently from his hotel in New York City, where he was preparing to appear at a religious rally and wax evangelical on climate change -- a crisis, he says, of "biblical proportions."

The lesson from Easter Island

By Robin McKie

I have been a slow convert to the cause of climate alarm. Although this may not seem obvious from the pages of our climate change supplement this week.My reluctance had nothing to do with scientific arguments about the effects of carbon dioxide. It is hard to avoid signs that the stuff is now warming our planet to a dangerous level, after all.

No, my initial failure to embrace the cause was more to do with my refusal to accept the guilt that I now realise my generation must face up to. We are inflicting a terrible, uncertain future on our children and, in turn, their children.

Of course a few years ago, it was still possible to hide behind arguments that natural variations in climate could explain the changes we are seeing - warmer and warmer summers, earlier and earlier springs, rising sea levels, and melting ice caps.

But as I have toured the universities and research centres of Britain gathering stories for the Observer over the past two or three years, I have found myself hearing only one refrain from the nation’s chemists, physicists, biologists and meteorologists: we are heating our planet to a dangerous level.

The final straw was provided by Prof Alan Thorpe, a Reading University climatologist, now chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council. He explained, elegantly and succinctly, how very different are the changes we are beginning to see from previous variations in our climate. At the same time that carbon dioxide has risen to unprecedent levels in the atmosphere so have global temperatures. And the met men say there is lot more to come.

The doom merchants - including latter-day converts like myself - may still be proved wrong, of course, but given the calamity that will ensue if we are right, and the world does nothing to control its industrial emissions, it would seem prudent we take some avoiding action, just to be sure. And the sooner the better.

And even if we do act, it is still likely to be a fine-run thing for our planet, as is made clear in Jared Diamond’s chillingly brilliant book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. He provides a long list of societies that have wrecked their ecologies and perished: this includes the Vikings in Greenland, the Mayans and, most spectacular of all, the people of Easter Island. They cut down every tree on their once lush homeland in a competition to build more and more statues to their Gods, turning a Pacific paradise into a denuded lump of rock. Cannabilism and mayhem ensued.

What sticks in my mind is the thought of the person who chopped down the last tree. What did he feel? Did he have an inkling of the damage - both biological and symbolic - he had inflicted on his homeland and his children? The mentality seems incomprehensible given its impact on his society and family.

The Easter Islanders were isolated in the Pacific with no hope of help - just as our global society is now isolated in space with no one to turn to. It will interesting to see if we have learned any lessons.


By Ellen Ruppel Shell

Until now, Mother Nature, even at her angriest, has not managed to dislodge our abiding belief that technology will protect us from our clumsiest acts of hubris. But Katrina made it impossible to ignore the power of prevention, to ignore the facts that our often ham-fisted efforts to keep New Orleans dry have led to the erosion of the region's natural defenses. Indeed, Katrina has sent us a sweeping message about learning to live with, instead of combating, nature: We might work harder to reduce our emission of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and dramatic weather events -- like hurricanes -- rather than investing so much of our effort in finding ways to protect ourselves from ever more powerful storms. We might decrease our use of the fossil fuels that create those gases by driving more efficient cars and developing alternatives, rather than attempting to draw still more oil and natural gas from the reluctant earth. And, in the same spirit, we might spend more precious health care dollars on prevention -- health education, nutrition and other public health measures -- rather than squandering so many of them on high-tech medical wizardry that too often creates a host of new problems.

None of this, of course, is easy. Part of our national optimism stems from the fantasy that brute technological force can triumph over almost anything -- from deadly microbes to earthquakes that reach up the Richter scale. This explains why so many expensive homes come to be built on fault lines or in fire-prone forests. The belief that we have the power to control nature at her fiercest has deluded us into thinking we can win the fights we deliberately pick with her.

In the case of flooding, we almost learned to stop picking those fights. The Midwestern flood of 1993 broke flow records along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, causing an estimated $12 billion to $16 billion in damages. The havoc wrought by this disaster sparked a new emphasis on flood-damage prevention, including widely publicized government buyouts of flood plain properties. But these buyouts were soon eclipsed by new construction on flood plains, many of them centered in the St. Louis metropolitan region, with an estimated $2.2 billion spent on new development on the very land that had sunk below the waterline in 1993.

A study done at the University of Colorado at Boulder a few years ago found that in a presidential election year, there are twice as many federally declared disasters than in other years. Americans love heroes, and there is nothing more appealing to politicians, including presidents, than comforting victims of national disasters with promises of resources and money. But these dollars are rarely earmarked for mitigation measures, such as bolstering coastal flood plains and wetlands around New Orleans to provide some degree of natural defense. Nor do these efforts often lead to a spurt of regulations to help prevent the damage from occurring again. This is not due to a lack of understanding -- government officials know full well that humans were not meant to build on flood plains. They also know that overdevelopment creates huge swaths of impermeable surfaces like roads and parking lots, giving water no place to go, and making even moderate flooding more dangerous. But when faced with a developer who might contribute to the community's tax base, these same officials rarely have the strength to insist on sensible measures. Like Gun, they cling to the dangerous canard that nature can be tamed.

There is a more reasonable path. The Dutch, after a long, romantic history of battling back the sea, have in the past few years come to a sort of truce with a force they now acknowledge they cannot control. This is not to suggest that the Dutch are suddenly yanking their fingers out of the nation's massive dike system, but they are, as they put it, "making room for water," banning new building on flood plains and preserving essential wetlands. The British, too, are adopting this holistic approach, replacing expensive and unsustainable "high walls" engineered to keep everything dry, with green space placed between houses and the river, and tiered flood defense systems that encourage the water to rise predictably, in steps. The goal is not to keep every drop of water behind a barrier, but to work with the flow, softening it from a seething torrent to manageable rivulets.

Katrina will not be the last hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast, and it probably won't be the most powerful one. But by the time the next storm crashes down the delta, let's hope we will have learned to take Yu's approach and play by nature's rules.

Author's e-mail : eshell@bu.edu

Debunking the Drug War
Abusively Using drugs is wrong not simply because drugs create medical problems; it is wrong because drugs destroy one's moral sense. People addicted to drugs neglect their duties."
This problem afflicts a small minority of the people who have tried methamphetamines, but most of the law-enforcement officials and politicians who lead the war against drugs. They're so consumed with drugs that they've lost sight of their duties.
Like addicts desperate for a high, they've declared meth the new crack, which was once called the new heroin (that title now belongs to OxyContin). With the help of the press, they're once again frightening the public with tales of a drug so seductive it instantly turns masses of upstanding citizens into addicts who ruin their health, their lives and their families.
Amphetamine pills were easily available, sold over the counter until the 1950's, then routinely prescribed by doctors to patients who wanted to lose weight or stay awake. It was only after the authorities cracked down in the 1970's that many people turned to home labs, criminal gangs and more dangerous ways of ingesting the drug.
It's the same pattern observed during Prohibition, when illicit stills would blow up, and there was a rise in deaths from alcohol poisoning. Far from instilling virtue in Americans, Prohibition caused them to switch from beer and wine to hard liquor. Overall consumption of alcohol might even have increased.
Today we tolerate alcohol, even though it causes far more harm than illegal drugs, because we realize a ban would be futile, create more problems than it cured and deprive too many people of something they value.
Amphetamines have benefits, too, which is why Air Force pilots are given them. "Most people took amphetamines responsibly when they were freely available," said Jacob Sullum, the author of "Saying Yes," a book debunking drug scares. "Like most drugs, their benefits outweigh the costs for most people. I'd rather be driving next to a truck driver on speed than a truck driver who's falling sleep."
Shutting down every meth lab wouldn't eliminate meth because most of it is imported, but the police and prosecutors have escalated their efforts anyway and inflicted more collateral damage.
The prosecutors seem afflicted by the confused moral thinking that Mr. Bennett blames on narcotics. "Drugs," he wrote, "undermine the necessary virtues of a free society - autonomy, self-reliance and individual responsibility."
If you value individual responsibility, why spend three decades repeating the errors of Prohibition for drugs that were never as dangerous as alcohol in the first place?
Excerpt JOHN TIERNEY
August 10th, 2005 NY/Times.

Al-Qaida: The wrong answers
By Soumayya Ghannoushi August, 2nd. 2005,

Once again I watched the nauseous devastation and massacre, this time in the heart of my city, near the universities and libraries, where I have spent much of my adult life.

Madrid and Bali, Casablanca and Riyadh, I have come to predict al-Qaida's responsibility for a given criminal act through the following test. If I find myself at a loss for an answer to the questions: "Why the innocent?" and "For what purpose?", then, in all likelihood, the crime is of al-Qaida's doing.

The absurd, random mass carnage of young and old, male and female is its trademark. Residential buildings, tourist resorts, rush hour trains and crowded buses turn into grand spectacles of mass murder where no heed is paid to the victim's identity and the extent of his/her responsibility for the policies of a country defined as the enemy. The boundaries between the world of politics and that of organised crime are blurred, as political demands get wedded to criminal methods.

Al-Qaida, it must be said, is no pioneer in this field. For although it founds its ideology on religious references and speaks a language overwhelmed by religious symbols, al-Qaida falls largely within the modern tradition of revolutionary anarchists - from the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks down to latter-day Marxist guerrillas like the Baadr-Meinhoff Gang.
Destruction as a passion

Like these modern revolutionary nihilists, al-Qaida warriors subscribe to an instrumentalist logic that recognises no distinction between the legitimate and illegitimate, thereby sanctioning acts of terror for the attainment of their ends. Like them, they are more interested in the act of destruction than its effects. As the father of Russian anarchism Mikhail Bakunin put it, 'the passion for destruction is also a creative passion'.

"No one here is shocked, or crying for any one. People here are just sick and tired of being inadvertently blamed for what someone else is doing to someone else, somewhere else."

Shahid Syed, US

More comments...
Al-Qaida is also a revival of the radical currents that surfaced in Islamic history from time to time only to be defeated by moderate mainstream Islam led by the Ulama (scholars). In particular, they appear to be a continuation of Kharijite thought with its dualistic puritanical conception of the world and the community of Muslims and of Gnostic underground organisations like the Assassins and Qaramita, who sought to disrupt the stability of Muslim societies through acts of terrorism.

Al-Qaida would be best seen as a mixture of these political and ideological strands. Apart from the ideological justifications it takes recourse to, one would, indeed, be hard put to find much that distinguishes it from Latin American anarchist groups. Their acts share the same destructive ferocity, the same absurdity. The difference is that where one finds its ideological legitimacy in Marxism, the other seeks it in the Islamic religion.

Islam misinterpreted

How can the murder of the innocent be perpetuated in the name of a religion that likens the loss of one human life to the loss of humanity at large? How can Islam be said to sanction such acts of aggression when it openly forbids revenge and declares in no less than five Quranic chapters that: "No bearer of a burden bears the burden of another"?

How can the killing of ordinary men and women going about their business be permissible when even the battlefield has been regulated by the strictest moral code: "Destroy not fruit trees, nor fertile land in your paths. Be just, and spare the feelings of the vanquished. Respect all religious persons who live in hermitages or convents and spare their edifices"?

Perhaps the one thing al-Qaida militants have proven good at, apart from the shedding of innocent blood, is fanning the flames of hostility to Islam and Muslims. From the darkness of their caves and hiding places, these self-appointed spokesmen for about one and a half billion Muslims worldwide have excelled in stirring latent negative images of Islam within the Western psyche. Through their senseless crimes, Islam, in the minds of most, has become a euphemism for mass slaughter and destruction. Thanks to them, racism, bigotry and Islamophobia could rear its ugly head unashamedly in broad day light.

The terrible irony is that Muslims currently find themselves helplessly trapped between two fundamentalisms, between Bush's hammer and Bin Laden's anvil, hostages to an extreme right wing American administration, aggressively seeking to impose its expansionist and hegemonic will over the region at gunpoint, and to a cluster of violent, wild fringe groups, lacking in political experience or sound religious understanding.


'Us' and 'them'

lthough the two claim to be combating each other, the reality is that they are working in unison, one providing the justifications the other desperately needs for its fanaticism, ferocity and savagery.

No wonder, it didn't take the neo-conservative world supremacists long to spot the immense opportunities 11 September handed them. Their puritanical missionary belief in being God's instruments on earth and grand imperial ambitions could now be realised through shameless emotional blackmail and bogus moral claims.

The two share a shallow, myopic, dualistic conception of the world populated by 'us' and 'them' in Bush's language, 'believers' and 'non-believers' in Bin Laden's. Al-Zarqawi and his fellows then brandish the sword of excommunication (takfir) against the Muslim body itself in an endless orgy of maiming and mutilation.

Some are to be expelled, because they are Shia, others because they are Sufis, or Mu'tazilites (rationalists) and so on in a perpetual elimination process that spares no one but a handful of puritan elects from its deadly reach.

The vast stock of common denominators is ignored, that which tears and divides is sought. These would rather see the world turn into an ever- raging battlefield, Muslim societies into blazing scenes of sectarian schism and civil war in a region rich in ethnic, religious, sectarian and linguistic diversity.

I daily use London's trains and buses and could have been one of Thursday bombings' victims. I hardly think that killing or maiming me would have aided the causes the bombers claim to defend. The truth is that these narrow-minded fanatics are a scourge to the causes they purport to champion.

Ask any Iraqi or Palestinian if the bombing of the innocent in Bali, Casablanca, or London has helped alleviate their suffering. If anything, they have handed their oppressors with an open permit to butcher and destroy, safe in the knowledge that blame has been shifted from them to their victims.

Just causes, unjust means

So, Sharon demolishes the homes of Palestinians, expropriates their lands and sends his helicopters to massacre them in their hundreds in the name of combating terrorism. Arab regimes stifle dissenting voices, imprison and assassinate in the name of resisting terrorism. American tanks and gunships invade, occupy, kill and rampage, all in the name of terrorism.

Al-Qaida's mindless acts have turned the aggressor, who colonises, massacres and pillages, into a victim. For all their material vulnerability, victims have a very powerful asset: their moral case as innocent victims. Perhaps, this is the cruellest dimension to these senseless crimes: That the powerless has been stripped even of his victimhood. Even this has been appropriated by the powerful.

The causes al-Qaida extremists speak for are certainly just causes. The sanctioning of genocide and occupation in Palestine, slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Iraq through exposure to depleted Uranium and years of barbaric sanctions first, then through bombing and shelling without bothering to count the dead, brutal invasion of the country, destruction of its infrastructure and humiliation of its people undoubtedly rank among modern history’s bloodiest crimes and darkest tragedies.

But the mindless killing of the innocent in Madrid, or New York is the wrong answer to these real grievances. These are illegitimate responses to legitimate causes. Just as occupation is morally and politically deplorable, so, too, is this blind aggression masquerading as Jihad.

Soumayya Ghannoushi is a researcher in the history of ideas at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London.

The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.

Aljazeera

If it's a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution

Every Muslim living in a Western society suddenly becomes a suspect, becomes a potential walking bomb. And when that happens, it means Western countries are going to be tempted to crack down even harder on their own Muslim populations.

That, too, is deeply troubling. The more Western societies - particularly the big European societies, which have much larger Muslim populations than America - look on their own Muslims with suspicion, the more internal tensions this creates, and the more alienated their already alienated Muslim youth become. This is exactly what Osama bin Laden dreamed of with 9/11: to create a great gulf between the Muslim world and the globalizing West.

So this is a critical moment. We must do all we can to limit the civilizational fallout from this bombing. But this is not going to be easy. Why? Because unlike after 9/11, there is no obvious, easy target to retaliate against for bombings like those in London. There are no obvious terrorist headquarters and training camps in Afghanistan that we can hit with cruise missiles. The Al Qaeda threat has metastasized and become franchised. It is no longer vertical, something that we can punch in the face. It is now horizontal, flat and widely distributed, operating through the Internet and tiny cells.

Because there is no obvious target to retaliate against, and because there are not enough police to police every opening in an open society, either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists - if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings - or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way - by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent.

And because I think that would be a disaster, it is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst. If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere. Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village.

What do I mean? I mean that the greatest restraint on human behavior is never a policeman or a border guard. The greatest restraint on human behavior is what a culture and a religion deem shameful. It is what the village and its religious and political elders say is wrong or not allowed. Many people said Palestinian suicide bombing was the spontaneous reaction of frustrated Palestinian youth. But when Palestinians decided that it was in their interest to have a cease-fire with Israel, those bombings stopped cold. The village said enough was enough.

The Muslim village has been derelict in condemning the madness of jihadist attacks. When Salman Rushdie wrote a controversial novel involving the prophet Muhammad, he was sentenced to death by the leader of Iran. To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.

Some Muslim leaders have taken up this challenge. This past week in Jordan, King Abdullah II hosted an impressive conference in Amman for moderate Muslim thinkers and clerics who want to take back their faith from those who have tried to hijack it. But this has to go further and wider.

The double-decker buses of London and the subways of Paris, as well as the covered markets of Riyadh, Bali and Cairo, will never be secure as long as the Muslim village and elders do not take on, delegitimize, condemn and isolate the extremists in their midst.

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
+

ONCE in an era a single invention changes the course of civilisation -- the wheel, the compass, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, the electric light bulb, the electric motor -- but few have wrought such rapid and encompassing change upon the world as the microchip.

Yet Jack Kilby, the Texas Instruments engineer who invented the integrated circuit in 1958, worked alone, on a holiday, in a deserted
laboratory with a soldering iron, a notebook, some wires and pieces of germanium. He died of cancer this week, aged 81.
His invention, and later refinements of it, founded industries worth trillions of dollars a year, yet Kilby did not become a millionaire. He instead spent his working life at Texas Instruments, retiring as vice-chairman in 1998, having sought neither fame nor fortune.
He won a Nobel Prize in 2000 and received many awards for his work, but he remained a humble man. When asked what he did after learning of his Nobel win, Kilby said: "I made some coffee".
Later, in talking with author T.R. Reid, who wrote a book about the
invention, Kilby mused: "I never imagined how much human ingenuity
could do to turn that one idea into useful applications."
Tom Engibous, chairman of Texas Instruments, said: "In my opinion, there is only a handful of people whose works have truly transformed the world and the way we live in it -- Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and Jack Kilby. If there was ever a seminal invention that transformed not only our industry but our world, it was Jack's invention of the first integrated circuit."
Kilby's genius was in solving a problem that had frustrated electronics engineers since the invention of the transistor in 1947. Early transistors were strung together with soldered wires in
circuits that often failed because of bad connections. Kilby worked out how to put everything -- resistors, capacitors and transistors -- on a single slice of germanium.
That paved the way for today's microprocessors, with their millions of transistors capable of performing trillions of calculations in
seconds -- from supercomputers to the mass-produced devices we now take for granted.
Billions of chips descended from Kilby's invention are now embedded in devices that are part of everyday life.
Kilby was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1924. During World War
II the US Army sent him to India, where he repaired radios, a task
made difficult by a lack of parts, which Kilby overcame with the inventiveness he displayed throughout his life.
After the war he applied to enter the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, missed a place by three points on his exam result, and
attended the University of Illinois, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. He worked for Globe Union, an electronics firm in Milwaukee, for 10 years before taking a job at Texas Instruments in Dallas.
His Nobel Prize was controversial. Some felt his discovery was for
applied science rather than fundamental, but the awards committee
decided in his favour. He shared the prize with Zhores Alferov and
Herbert Kroemer, who used laser beams in practical devices, such as
bar-code scanners.
Kilby called himself an engineer rather than a scientist. Scientists had ideas, he would say. Engineers made them work.
At Kilby's Nobel acceptance speech he recounted a story told by
another Nobel recipient, Charles Townes, an American physicist.
Townes described a beaver gnawing on a branch just below the
Hoover Dam. A man came along and, looking up at the great dam,
asked the beaver: "Did you build that thing?"
The beaver answered: "Well, it's kind of based on an idea of mine."

* Posted by Garry Barker July 2005

 

home