Sunday, July 20, 2008

Journalistic Tragedy Shakes Russia

The Russian government has shut down one of the most thought provoking, at least in my small mind, and unconventional sites on the web, The Exile. As reported in it's new form at The Exiled the whole shoddy affair is covered in detail from their new hideout in Panama:

"One month ago, our newspaper The eXile got stomped into extinction by some ham-fisted Russian government officials, who decided that since there’s a new president in the Kremlin who’s talking up some nonsense about a new “liberal era,” what better way to show your boss that you understand what he means by “liberal”—with a big wink-wink—than to shut down the only good thing that Russia ever had going for it.

On June 5, four officials from the Ministry to Defend Russian Culture—one of whom was an FSB lawyer seconded out to ministry—arrived at our radon-poisoned basement office in Chisty Prudy to carry out an “unplanned [ie: ordered] audit” of The eXile’s articles. As the head of the Glasnost Defense Fund NGO told us, we were the first and still only Moscow newspaper to ever be subjected to an “unplanned audit” of our editorial content. What a fucking honor it was.

They came exactly on time, 11am—just like Stalin’s proverbial trains. There they were, all fitted out in their crusty retro-Soviet outfits, subjecting us to a three-hour interrogation about Edward Limonov and the Recession Penis and why did we write the things we write and why do we mock and insult Russia’s great culture and great traditions… The officials were surprisingly polite and by-the-books during the audit, but that didn’t matter, because they still scared the shit out of anyone with an understanding of Russia’s past and present. The Ministry to Defend Russian Culture (since renamed the “Federal Agency for Media and Communications”) is merely the least scary ministry in the extremely-scary Russian state apparatus—so saying that the RosOkhranKultury wasn’t all that scary is like saying that the eyeball-like pits on the sides of a Flecker’s Box Jellyfish’s bell aren’t all that scary compared to its 60 deadly tentacles—which pack the most toxic venom in planet earth’s seas. The slightest contact with one of the box jellyfish’s 10-foot-long tentacles, and you’d wish that you could trade places with one of Mengele’s victims: the box jellyfish’s venom literally sizzles through your flesh like Alien blood, eating its way into your blood vessels, racing through your circulation system like a burning gunpowder fuse, until finally the venom reaches your vital organs and napalms the entire fucking thing like it’s a Vietnamese village, turning your organs into a pot of boiling jelly, and transforming you—brave, chin-up little you—into a screaming, gargling, blood-puking freak—a one-note freak, to be precise—that note being: “PLEASE SOMEONE FUCKING KILL ME NOW! AGGGHHHH!!!!”

So when the four Russian government officials finally left our offices, and we realized we weren’t dead or in jail, at first we were kinda relieved, like, “Hey, we bumped into a Flecker’s Box Jellyfish and all we touched were its slit-eyes, and you know, there’s more to that creature than venom and tentacles.” But then a few hours later we came to our senses and realized, “Um, wait a minute—as a matter of fact, there isn’t much more to that creature than venom and tentacles.” And speaking of venomous tentacles, a Duma deputy (and former Nashi spokesman) Robert Schlegel went on Govorit Moskva radio a few days after the audit and announced, “I don’t have to read The eXile to understand that it is guilty of extremism.”

It was time to get out of the venomous-vermin-infested waters. We’d been spotted by the jellyfish’s eye-like pits. The Flecker’s Box Jellyfish doesn’t have a brain, but it does have four “nerve-nets” connecting the eye-pits to the tentacles. Only a fool would stick around to see how the Flecker’s Box Jellyfish, or its human variant “the Russian government,” will react after it takes a stack of eXile articles for “analysis,” articles which contain lines like “Russian Government is bloody beast eating human flesh” and we “fart in Russia’s face” and “urinate into the president’s mouth.” How does a jellyfish’s nerve-net read lines like that? Does it get angry and want to thrash its venomous tentacles around? Since we don’t want to be the subject of some future Werner Herzog documentary called “Flecker’s Box Jellyfish Man,” we decided to respect Mother Nature and leave the venomous jellyfish to their brainless floating-death world, while we’ll go back to ours. Flee: it’s what our investors did when they pulled a David Copperfield disappearing act on us a week before the auditors rolled into our office…and that’s what we did after the Russian government’s highly-unusual audit of our paper.

And that’s how The eXile died: just as it was born: in sin and in epic glory. We were never like the others: the fake-alternative, fake-angry papers. That’s why our spectacular death has pissed off so many people who never had the nerve to go where we went, and who always wanted to see us snuffed out—quietly, without a fuss. We lived out our name as we lived out everything else. We’re now in true eXile, just as we’d announced from the beginning 11 years ago—and that is why we’ve named the new online webzine that we’re launching today “The eXiled.” It’s now an accomplished fact."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reality's Rude Intrusion

Matthew Simmons wrote one of the most influential books of recent times in"Twilight the Desert" which explains the phenomena of peak oil in terms of Saudi and Gulf oil supplies and why we should all be very worried. The above video gives additional insight as to why things are worse than they seem.The apparently dumb struck expressions of the other panelists is, as they say, priceless.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Road to Ruin and Irrelevancy

After spending 536 billion dollars and loosing over 4,100 service members it appears that the writing is on the wall for the exit of American forces in Iraq. Reports now suggest the U.S. is considering accelerated withdrawal ostensibly for increased deployment in Afghanistan where the war also is not going well.

In Iraq the Shia supported government of Al-Maliki has made known its objections to the Bush administration's plans for long-term deployment and accompanying bases.The only people who seem not to recognize the implications of this nascent nationalism in what had previously been a relatively compliant Iraqi state are U.S. politicians and the ever-malinformed American public. While the Bush administration attempts to down play the differences the strain is quite obvious. This was vividly displayed during an interview on Aljazeera, with ambassador Ryan Crocker.

The interview is also significant for the intense scrutiny the has been absent in the U.S. press as well as from the supine Democratic opposition. Truth be told, it probably makes no difference what anyone in the U.S., including the marginalized anti-war movement, the presidential candidates of either party, or the present administration, thinks about the Iraq situation. The U.S. has succeeded in becoming irrelevant in it's own war.

Iraq symbolizes not only the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of George Bush but the literal financial bankruptcy of the country itself. Iraq has accelerated a process of slow-motion collapse of the financial and energy infra-structure that has been developing over the last 30 years or more. Massoud Hedeshi sums it up quite clearly and illustrates what most of the world already knows except the American public:

"The US economic power horse is running out of ideas and cash as it jostles with a massive national debt, housing and financial crises, rising inflation, and a depreciating currency.

This has all contributed to a growing tendency to live off credit amassed through petrodollars and foreign loans, leaving repayment for future generations.

Today, in much of America, communities and suburbs are dealing with a drastic increase in foreclosures and short sales. This has not been helped by the fact that gas is selling at over $1 a litre ($4 a gallon).

Standard monetary tools such as lowering or increasing interest rates can no longer provide quick fixes to the situation for both economic and political reasons.

Raising interest rates would compound the mortgage crisis while lowering it would drive the value of the US dollar abroad even lower.

But exercising control over the money supply could also damage the US economy: increasing the supply would lower the dollar's value even more, while decreasing supply would exacerbate the loans crisis.

In any case, control over the money supply would be anathema to US economic policy given the country's 'addiction' to deficit financing and run-away consumerism in recent decades.

So the US Federal Reserve is left virtually helpless........."

And so further devaluation of the dollar and American influence appears unavoidable as developing countries look for stability elsewhere.

"As America struggles to avoid recession, the world economic order appears to be heading for a drastic overhaul.

Despite a trend by some economists and politicians to blame the current food and energy commodity price hikes on Opec or overpopulation, there is a clear picture emerging of deep structural problems in the world economy.

In particular, the main currency used for global trade in commodities, the US dollar, has been in steady decline not just against the Euro, but also against most other convertible currencies.

According to the US Federal Reserve, the dollar has dropped by around 65 per cent against the Euro, 31 per cent against the British Sterling, 45 per cent against the Canadian Dollar, and by 59 per cent against the Australian Dollar over the eight-year period since June 2000.

While the causes for this slide are debatable (and largely attributed to poor fundamentals in the US economy), the global impact of such a major drop in the value of the dollar is undeniable for two important reasons.

First, most global commodities traders utilise - and favour - the greenback over other currencies, despite a severe decline in its purchasing power.

Secondly, most countries - mainly in east Asia and among the major oil and gas exporters of the Arab Middle East - use the dollar as their reserve currency.

But they are paying the price. Despite their booming economies and elevated public spending, they are experiencing depreciating terms of trade and rising inflation.

More importantly, they have seen the value of their strategic currency reserves drop with the dollar's waning global strength."

Meanwhile the U.S. and it's allies shift their efforts for a "last stand " of sorts in the wilds of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Canada Reconsiders American War Resisters

A Canadian appeal court will re-examine the case of American war resisters in a set back to the Bush administration and the Steven Harper neo-conservative regieme in Ottawa. As per the BBC:

"A Canadian court has ordered the country's refugee board to re-examine an American deserter's rejected attempt for asylum in Canada.

The court ruled that the board made mistakes when it turned down Joshua Key's claim for asylum.

Mr Key served in Iraq in 2003 before deserting to Canada with his family while on leave in the US.

The ruling could affect scores of other US soldiers sheltering in Canada who have refused to fight in Iraq.

Possible deportations

Joshua Key served in Iraq as a US combat engineer in Iraq in 2003.

He claims that he witnessed several cases of abusive acts against civilians and the killing of innocent people.

While on leave at home in Oklahoma, he decided that he would not return to duty and took his family to Canada where he applied for asylum.

Although the Canadian refugee board found Mr Key credible, it rejected his application, saying that unless his claims of abuse constituted a war crime, they did not justify his desertion from the US army.

In its ruling, the federal court has disagreed with that analysis, saying that being forced to participate in military misconduct, even if it stops short of a war crime, may support a claim to protection in Canada.

There are at least 200 American war deserters in Canada and many face deportation after their asylum cases were also rejected.

Joshua Key's lawyer said that the ruling may help their cases.

The Canadian government is reviewing the court's decision and has not said whether it will appeal."

Monday, July 07, 2008

Big Melt 2008

The National Ice and Snow Data Center gives the most recent view of Arctic Sea Ice melting suggesting this year will be worse than last year's record setting fiasco. Many interesting graphs, satellite photos, and other data.

Art and the Enema

Sometimes one needs a break from the plummeting dollar, sky rocketing oil prices, potential and real food shortages, as well as haywire weather and do as the good citizens of Zheleznovodsk have done and celebrate in statuary the....enema, as reported in Russia Today:

"While enemas undoubtedly have a place in medical practice, their role in art is open to debate. But that hasn’t stopped a health spa in the resort of Zheleznovodsk in Russia's Stavropol region from erecting a giant monument to enemas.

The 350-kilo bronze monument features three baby angels holding up a pear-shaped enema bulb and nozzle.

The idea for the sculpture belongs to spa director Aleksandr Kharchenko, who says that a monument to the enema should have been set up a long time ago.

“Someone has to know about it! We have the most enemas in the world done here!” he said."

Probably the largest and perhaps only commeration of this subject no doubt.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Permafrost Not So Permanent

While we are waiting to see the extent of this years Arctic Ocean ice melt the the National Snow and Ice Data Center has disturbing news regarding the so-called permafrost of the Arctic: it's melting also:

"The rate of climate warming over northern Alaska, Canada, and Russia could more than triple during extended episodes of rapid sea ice loss, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The findings raise concerns about the thawing of permafrost, or permanently frozen soil, and the potential consequences for sensitive ecosystems, human infrastructure, and the release of additional greenhouse gases.

“The rapid loss of sea ice can trigger widespread changes that would be felt across the region,” said Andrew Slater, NSIDC research scientist and a co-author on the study, which was led by David Lawrence of NCAR. The findings will be published Friday in Geophysical Research Letters.

Last summer, Arctic sea ice extent shrank to a record low. From August to October last year, air temperatures over land in the western Arctic were also unusually warm, reaching more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the 1978-2006 average. This led the researchers to question whether the unusually low sea ice extent and warm land temperatures were related.

Lawrence, Slater, and colleagues used a climate model to explore the relationship between low sea ice extent, increased air temperatures, and permafrost thawing. Previous climate change simulations identified periods of rapid sea ice loss that last 5 to 10 years. The new study shows that during such episodes, Arctic land would warm 3.5 times faster than average rates of warming predicted by global climate models for the 21st century.

The findings point to a link between rapid sea ice loss and enhanced rate of climate warming, which could penetrate as far as 900 miles inland. In areas where permafrost is already at risk, such as central Alaska, the study suggests that periods of abrupt sea ice loss can lead to rapid soil thaw.

Thawing permafrost may have a range of impacts, including buckled highways and destabilized houses, as well as changes to the delicate balance of life in the Arctic. In addition, scientists estimate that Arctic soils hold at least 30 percent of all the carbon stored in soils worldwide. While scientists are uncertain what will happen if this permafrost thaws, it has the potential to contribute substantial amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Funding for the research came from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

To read the full NCAR press release, visit the NCAR News Center at"

In addition to the obvious other implications of permafrost melt include accelerated release of greenhouse gases especially methane which is far more potent than CO2. As per Kuuvik River:

"The trends for methane emissions from “not-so-perma” permafrost terrain in the Northern Hemisphere are ominous. In Siberia, a region with colossal stores of partially decomposed organic matter sealed below frozen substrate, methane flux to the atmosphere was recently documented to be occurring five times faster than estimated before. Accordingly, Russian and American scientists have calculated that methane emissions for the region have increased at least 58% since 1974. Moreover, radiocarbon dating of methane emitted from the Siberian research sites indicates that at least 40% of the methane emitted at those locations is from vegetatation that lived and froze 35,260–42,900 years ago; thus vegetation frozen since the Pleistocene epoch is now decomposing and emitting methane.

During the Pleistocene epoch most of the northern Siberian plains were unglaciated and accumulated vast volumes of organic carbon in sediments. Hence in just one part of Siberia, for instance, an area known as the Yedoma Ice Complex, the Siberian landscape is currently storing about 500Gt of near-surface carbon. This high-latitude carbon sink is vulnerable and could greatly intensify global warming via greenhouse gas emissions if northeast Siberia continues to warm in the future, as computer climate models suggest it will. Not counting future greenhouse gas emissions from everywhere else in the world, the Yedoma Ice Complex alone has the potential to release an amount of methane that is about ten times the amount now in Earth’s atmosphere. According to the Earth System scientists who have verified the accelerating Siberian emissions “the large pool of still-frozen Pleistocene-age C in Siberia is a methane time bomb” -- a time bomb ticking to emit about 100 times the amount of carbon that humans currently pollute each year via burning fossil fuels.

Permafrost is a temperature sensitive indicator of millennial climatic variability -- that fact is increasingly obvious to more and more people. With Arctic temperatures now warming and snow and ice decreasing, permafrost is melting. Which raises the logical question: how much permafrost will melt worldwide, and how soon will it happen? An American climate model run answered this question in 2005, and calculated that up to 90% of all Northern Hemisphere permafrost will melt before the year 2100. The very serious implications of this model result, incidentally, would only be further accentuated if such a climate model were to factor-in the since discovered accelerating methane flux emanating from the Yedoma Ice Complex. Simple lesson then -- we humans, via our naive meddling with the chemistry of the atmosphere that keeps us alive, have sparked unusual biogeochemical fluxes in our Earth System that are serious and seemingly irreversible."