Current events, trends, travel, politics, eco and tech topics.
ASHCROFT VS. GREENPEACE
SPARE THE AIR
DISNEY SELF-DESTRUCT DVD
CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY LAW
DOW JONES SUSTAINABILITY INDEXES
CLICK FOR A CAUSE
OZONE HOLE UPDATE?
TWO YEARS OF WAR
WAR ON WEED
ANCIENT ANATOMY 101
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE #1
ASHCROFT VS. GREENPEACE
In a move unprecedented in U.S. history, John Ashcroft's Justice Department has indicted an entire organization - Greenpeace! -- for the peaceful protest activities of its members.
For years, Greenpeace has worked to halt environmental destruction and human rights abuses by criminal enterprises in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. In 2002, miles off the coast of Florida, two Greenpeace activists boarded a ship that was carrying wood illegally exported from the Brazilian Amazon. Their goal was to hang a banner that said "President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging."
But instead of intercepting the contraband and prosecuting the smugglers, the federal government has charged Greenpeace with crimes for boarding the ship. This case poses a serious threat to citizens' right to free speech and to engage in peaceful dissent.
A trial is currently scheduled for December 2003. The original indictment included the claim that Greenpeace was wrong about the presence of contraband mahogany on the ship that was boarded. In a revealing move, the Justice Department revised its indictment of Greenpeace, deleting the claim that Greenpeace was wrong about the illegal cargo.
SPARE THE AIR
"Spare the Air Days" are common in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are declared by the Bay Area Quality Management District to indicate that unhealthy air is building up in our neck of the woods. The densest urban areas experience unhealthy air, the kind that is bad for sensitive folks, kids, and seniors.
Tips To Spare The Air:
* Leave your car at home.
* Postpone painting jobs for a non-Spare the Air day.
* Don't use gasoline-powered garden and utility equipment.
* Barbecuing is a good idea on a hot summer day, as long as you don't start the coals with lighter fluid; use a chimney starter instead.
* Refuel vehicles after sundown. Despite filling station vapor recovery there is always some evaporation of volatile organics.
* Allow yourself a bad hair day -- don't touch the hairspray.
* Avoid using consumer products that come in aerosol spray cans.
SPARE THE AIR website:
DISNEY SELF-DESTRUCT DVD
Walt Disney Company's home video unit Buena Vista Home Entertainment is testing DVDs which allow as much viewing as desired as long as it is done within 48 hours of opening the package.
The disposable DVDs, seen as an alternative to renting, will be sold at grocery, convenience and other chain stores. The price will be competitive with a rental. The DVDs are made unreadable on exposure to oxygen over time.
The DVDs are intended to attract those desiring convenience and put off by return trips and late fees at movie rental stores. The technology is intended to stop illegal copying, increase the number of movies purchased and free Disney from Blockbuster-type movie rentals stores.
Rental videos are better because they are reused many times. Working Assets is initiating an email campaign, "Tell Disney to send their disposable DVD plan to the dump!"
Working Assets: Disney, Send Disposable DVD Idea to the Dump.
THE GOOD NEWS
CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY LAW
Before the Governator terminated his term, outgoing California Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation to crack down on corporate fraud and establish a whistle-blower hot line.
The trio of bills are a major step in increasing corporate accountability in California and rebuilding public trust in the nation's financial markets, which have been rattled in recent years by a wave of corporate scandals.
Consumer advocates hailed the new laws. "This is the answer to the best line of defense to the next Enron and other state scandals," said Jamie Court, executive director of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, sponsor of two of the bills carried by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier.
The 3 bills signed by Davis are:
1) SB 777 protects workers who alert authorities about illegal practices from employer retaliation. The measure also creates a whistle-blower hot line operated by the attorney general's office. Employers must post the hot line number and employees' rights under the whistle-blower laws.
2) SB 523 requires major corporations and publicly traded companies to quickly report to shareholders and authorities important false or misleading statements made by corporate officers. Companies could be fined up to $1 million for withholding the information.
3) AB 1031 give the state more enforcement tools: it (a) increases criminal penalties for securities fraud to $25 million, (b) makes it illegal to destroy documents during a securities fraud investigation, and (c) strengthens the state Department of Corporations' authority over stockbrokers and dealers and investment advisers.
Source: The Sacramento Bee, Sept. 23, 2003, Gilbert Chan
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DOW JONES SUSTAINABILITY INDEXES
The Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, a series of stock market indexes for companies which have adopted Sustainable Development (SD) strategies, provides some useful guidance on what it means for a large company to implement SD. Companies are evaluated for the indexes on three dimensions:
- Economic such as codes of conduct, corporate governance, financial robustness, and integration of sustainability in investor relations;
- Environmental such as environmental policy/management, eco-efficiency, and carbon intensity of product portfolio;
- Social such as human capital development, stakeholder engagement, labor practice indicators, and emerging markets/global sourcing.
One third of the points on which a company is assessed are given for each of these three dimensions, but sector specific criteria within the dimensions account for about 40% while 60% are general criteria that apply to all industries.
They are popular amongst people in the financial services sector who have an interest in Sustainable Development. But they are based to a significant extent on company self-reporting rather than on independent review of SD performance.
They include the large corporations whose SD practices are already well known to most SD experts, but do little to encourage companies that are not yet practicing SD to adopt SD practices. They do establish a practical SD benchmark that is useful in demonstrating the application of SD tools.
CLICK FOR A CAUSE
There are now five related sites that let you do some real good with a simple click.
Their method is simple yet effective - sponsors of the site pay per hit.
All you do is go to the site (URL below) and click on the square in
the middle. It costs nothing and the site is safe and protected.
Unlike many other useless sites these really are worthwhile! Visit one and from there you can visit all the others.
1) The Breast Cancer Site provides free mammograms to underprivileged woman.
2) The Hunger Site provides free food for hungry people worldwide
3) The Child Health Site helps prevent life-threatening diseases, restores vision to blind children, and enables child amputees to walk.
4) The Rainforest Site preserves endangered rainforest areas
5) The Animal Rescue Site feeds and cares for rescued animals in animal shelters or sanctuaries
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OZONE HOLE UPDATE?
Folks, it seems we were a bit premature when we reported that the ozone hole could be stabilizing.
Satellite readings and ground observations show for the first time that the dangerous rate of ozone loss is finally slowing.
CFCs last from 45 to 100 years in the atmosphere. So even if the rate of growth in the ozone holes continues slowing, it will take at least 40 or 50 years before all the ozone depletion stops and recovery begins.
Ozone hole 'could be stabilising'
Ozone hole 'set to shrink'
Hints of ozone recovery spotted
TWO YEARS OF WAR
By Dr. George Friedman, THE STRATFOR WEEKLY
Two years into the war that began on Sept. 11, 2001, the primary pressure is on al Qaeda to demonstrate its ability to achieve its goals. The events of Sept. 11 were primarily intended to change the internal dynamics of the Islamic world, but not a single regime fell as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.
However, the United States -- unable to decline action -- has taken a huge risk in its response. The outcome of the battle is now in doubt: Washington still holds the resources card and can militarily outman al Qaeda, but the militant network's ability to pull off massive and unpleasant surprises should not be dismissed.
Old military communiques used to read, "The battle has been joined but the outcome is in doubt." From Stratfor's viewpoint, that seems to be the best way to sum up the status of the war that began on Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda operatives attacked U.S. political, military and economic targets.
Though the militants were devastatingly successful in destroying the World Trade Center and shutting down U.S. financial markets, al Qaeda did not achieve its primary goal: a massive uprising in the Islamic world. Its attack was a means toward an end and not an end in itself. Al Qaeda's primary goal was the radical transformation of the Islamic world as a preface for re-establishing the Caliphate -- a multinational Islamic empire that, at its height, stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
To achieve this end, al Qaeda knew that it had to first overthrow existing regimes in the Islamic world. These regimes were divided into two classes. One was made up of secular, socialist and military regimes, inspired by Gamel Abdul Nasser. This class included countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya. The second class comprised the formally Islamic states of the Arabian Peninsula, which Osama bin Laden referred to as "hypocrites" for policies that appeared Islamic but actually undermined the construction of the Caliphate. Finally, bin Laden had to deal with the problem of Shiite Iran, which had taken the lead in revolutionizing Islam but in which the Wahhabi and Sunni al Qaeda had little confidence.
Al Qaeda's political objective was to set into motion the process that would replace these governments with Islamist regimes. To achieve this, al Qaeda needed a popular uprising in at least some of these countries. But it reasoned that there could be no rising until the Islamic masses recognized that these governments were
simply collaborators and puppets of the Christians, Jews and Hindus. Even more important, al Qaeda had to demonstrate that the United States was both militarily impotent and an active enemy of the Islamic world. The attacks would serve to convince the masses that the United States could be defeated. An ongoing war between the United States and the Islamic world would serve to convince the masses that the United States had to be defeated.
Al Qaeda had to stage an operation that would achieve these ends:
1. It had to show that the United States was vulnerable.
2. Its action had to be sufficiently severe that the United States could not avoid a counterattack.
3. The counterattack had to be, in turn, countered by al Qaeda, reinforcing the perception of U.S. weakness.
The events of Sept. 11 were intended primarily to change the internal dynamics of the Islamic world. The attacks were designed so that their significance could not be minimized in the Islamic world or in the United States -- as had been the case with prior al Qaeda strikes against U.S. interests. Al Qaeda also had to strike symbols of American power -- symbols so obvious that their significance would be understandable to the simplest Muslim. Thus, operatives struck at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and -- in a failed attack -- Congress.
As expected, the attacks riveted global attention and forced the United States to strike back, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. The United States could not decline combat: If it did so, al Qaeda's representation of the United States as an essentially weak power would have been emphatically confirmed. That was not
an option. At the same time, optimal military targets were unavailable, so the United States was forced into suboptimal attacks.
The invasion of Afghanistan was the first of these. But the United States did not defeat the Taliban; Knowing it could not defeat U.S. troops in conventional combat -- the Taliban withdrew, dispersed and reorganized as a guerrilla force in the Afghan countryside. It is now carrying out counterattacks against entrenched U.S. and allied forces.
In Iraq, the Islamist forces appear to have followed a similar strategy within a much tighter time frame. Rather than continuing conventional resistance, the Iraqis essentially dispersed a small core of dedicated fighters -- joined by an international cadre of Islamists -- and transitioned into guerrilla warfare in a few short weeks after the cessation of major conventional combat operations.
However, al Qaeda did not achieve its primary mission -- Sept. 11 did not generate a mass uprising in the Islamic world. Not a single regime fell. To the contrary, the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan, and the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fell. Nevertheless, given its goals, al Qaeda was the net winner in this initial phase. First, the U.S. obsession about being attacked by al Qaeda constantly validated the militant network's power in the Islamic world and emphasized the vulnerability of the United States. Second, the United States threw itself into the Islamic world, adding credence to al Qaeda's claim that the country is the enemy of Islam. Finally, Washington drew a range of Islamic regimes into collaboration with its own war effort, demonstrating that these regimes -- from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan -- were in fact collaborating with the Christians rather than representing Islamic interests. Finally, by drawing the United States into the kind of war it is the least competent in waging --guerrilla war -- al Qaeda created the framework for a prolonged conflict that would work against the United States in the Islamic
world and at home.
Therefore, on first reading it would appear that the war has thus far gone pretty much as al Qaeda hoped it would. That is true, except for the fact that al Qaeda has not achieved the goal toward which all of this was directed. It achieved the things that it saw as the means toward the end, and yet the end is nowhere in sight.
This is the most important fact of the war. Al Qaeda wins if the Islamic world transforms itself at least in part by establishing Islamist regimes. That simply hasn't happened, and there is no sign of it happening. Thus far, at least, whatever the stresses might have been in the Islamic world, existing regimes working in concert with the United States have managed to contain the threat quite effectively.
This might be simply a matter of time. However, after two years, the suspicion has to be raised that al Qaeda calculated everything perfectly -- except for the response. Given what has been said about the Islamic world's anger at the United States and its contempt for the corruption of many governments, the failure of a revolutionary movement to take hold anywhere raises the question of whether al Qaeda's core analysis of the Islamic world had any truth, or whether other factors are at play.
Now turn the question to the United States for a moment. The United States clearly understood al Qaeda's strategy. The government understood that al Qaeda was hoping for a massive counterattack in multiple countries and deep intrusions into other countries. Washington understood that it was playing into al Qaeda's plans; it nevertheless did so.
The U.S. analysis paralleled al Qaeda's analysis. Washington agreed that the issue was the Islamic perception of U.S. weakness. It understood, as President George W. Bush said in his Sept. 7 speech, that Beirut and Somalia -- as well as other events -- had persuaded the Islamic world that the country was indeed weak. Therefore, U.S. officials concluded that inaction would simply reinforce this perception and would hasten the unraveling of the region. Therefore, they realized that even if it played directly into al Qaeda's plan, the United States could not refuse to act.
Taking action carried with it a huge risk -- that of playing out al Qaeda's scenario. However, U.S. leaders made another bet: If an attack on the Islamic world could force or entice regimes in the area to act against al Qaeda inside their borders, then the threat could be turned around. Instead of al Qaeda trapping the United States, the United States could trap al Qaeda. The central U.S. bet was that Washington could move the regimes in question in a suitable direction -- without their disintegration. If it succeeded, the tables could be turned.
The invasion of Iraq was intended to achieve this, and to a great extent it did. The Saudis moved against al Qaeda domestically. Syria changed its behavior. Most importantly, the Iranians shifted their view and actions. None of these regimes fell in the process. None of these actions were as thorough as the United States wanted, either -- and certainly none were definitive. Nevertheless, collaboration increased, and no regime fell.
But at this point, the battle is in doubt:
1. The United States must craft strategies for keeping both the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns at manageable levels. In particular, it must contain guerrilla activities at a level that will not be perceived by the Islamic world as a significant victory.
2. The United States must continue to force or induce nations to collaborate without bringing down any governments.
3. Al Qaeda must, at some point, bring down a government to maintain its own credibility. At this point, merely surviving is not enough.
Both sides now are caught in a battle. The United States holds the resource card: Despite insufficient planning for manpower requirements over the course of the war, the United States is still in a position to bring substantial power to bear in multiple theaters of operation. For al Qaeda, the card is another massive attack on the United States. In the short run, the network cannot do more than sustain the level of combat currently achieved. This level is insufficient to trigger the political events for which it hopes. Therefore, it has to up the ante.
The next months will give some indication of the direction the war is going. Logic tells us that the United States will contain the war in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan. Logic also tells us that al Qaeda will attempt another massive attack in the United States to try to break the logjam in the Islamic world. What al Qaeda needs is a series of uprisings from the Pacific to the Atlantic that would topple existing regimes. What the United States needs is to demonstrate that it has the will
and ability to contain the forces al Qaeda has unleashed.
At this moment, two years into the war, the primary pressure is on al Qaeda. It has not yet demonstrated its ability to achieve its goals; it has only achieved an ability to mobilize the means of doing so. That is not going to be enough. On the other hand, its ability to pull off massive and unpleasant surprises should not be underestimated.
WAR ON WEED
Marijuana Arrests For 2002 Near Record High Despite Feds' War On Terror
US Police arrested an estimated 697,082 persons for marijuana violations in 2002, according to the FBI annual Uniform Crime Report. The total is among the highest ever recorded and comprised nearly half of all drug arrests in the United States.
"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said Keith Stroup, Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 45 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that should be dedicated toward combating serious and violent crime."
88 % were charged with possession only. The remaining 12 % were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses - even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.
The total number of marijuana arrests far exceeded the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Since 1992, approximately six million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges. 90 percent of these total arrests were for simple possession, not cultivation or sale. During much of this period arrests for cocaine and heroin have declined sharply, indicating that increased enforcement of marijuana laws is being achieved at the expense of enforcing laws against the possession and trafficking of more dangerous drugs.
"Marijuana legalization would remove this behemoth financial burden from the criminal justice system, freeing up criminal justice resources to target other more serious crimes, and allowing law enforcement to focus on the highest echelons of hard-drug trafficking enterprises rather than on minor marijuana offenders who present no threat to public safety," Stroup said.
FUTURE IS NOW
By now everyone has either seen or heard about the scary futuristic vision of the MATRIX movies.As its name implies, the Meatrix spoofs the popular Matrix movies. It loads quickly and is quite creative and informative.
The humorous short film brings up an important issue: factory farming. Huge, industrial farms have all but wiped out the family farm in America. Along the way, they are damaging our health, our environment and our communities (not to mention the lives of billions of animals).
The Meatrix stars Leo, a young pig who lives on a pleasant family farm ... he thinks. Leo is approached by a wise and mysterious cow, Moopheus, who shows Leo the truth about modern farming -- the truth about the Meatrix!
The Meatrix ends with an upbeat, meaningful way to fight the factory farming crisis -- the "Eat Well Guide", an online healthy-living resource that allows you to enter your zip code and find nearby family farms that produce organic, safe produce and meat.
Supporting family farmers is an effective way for us all to protect the environment, our health and animal rights. Now, enjoy the show:
EAT WELL GUIDE
ANCIENT ANATOMY 101
Book One of "On the Fabric of the Human Body," a new annotated translation of Andreas Vesalius' classic anatomy work De Humani Corporis Fabrica, is online!
This most detailed and best illustrated atlas of the human body was produced by Andreas at the age of 28 way back in 1543. It quickly became what The Oxford Medical Companion calls "probably the most influential of all medical works."
This illustrated text on the human body is available in Flash and No-Flash versions at:
Thanks to all who wrote in! And to everyone else, speak up!
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THE PUNCH LINE
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE #1
Tim Radford from The Guardian selects his all-time favorite science scams. First in a series of revealed scams.
The Piltdown fraud - exposed as a hoax 50 years ago next week - was neither the wickedest scientific fraud ever carried out nor the silliest, but to this day remains the one that everybody has heard about.
Eoanthropus dawsoni, or Piltdown man, was found in a gravel pit at Piltdown in Sussex in 1912 by Charles Dawson, and for 40 years Piltdown man, with his huge, humanlike braincase and apelike jaw, remained on display in what is now the Natural History Museum in London as an example of the notorious "missing link" between humanity and its primate ancestors.
On November 21, 1953, however, scientists pronounced it a crude forgery, the marriage of a modern human skull and an orangutan's jaw, and decided that the entire package of fossil fragments at Piltdown - which included a ludicrous prehistoric cricket bat - had been planted by someone.
The world of palaeontology went pink, and the conspiracy theorists went ape. There was no shortage of potentially guilty men to name, and for the next five decades, they named them.
The cast of plausible potential pranksters in this anthropological whodunit includes enthusiastic amateurs, passionate professionals and disinterested jokers.
Theorists have even pointed the finger at a Jesuit priest - Pere Teilhard de Chardin, who posthumously became a New Age guru - and the begetter of Sherlock Holmes himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who in 1912 composed his own palaeontological thriller, The Lost World.
"Piltdown matters for a number of reasons," says Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum. "One is that it is still an unsolved mystery: we don't know for sure who did it, how they did it, why they did it. Those mysteries remain. I think we have gone a long way towards building up the true story, but we haven't got the whole story yet."
What is certain is that everything found in the gravel pit was fraudulently placed, and by an expert.
"When you do a dig anywhere, most of the stuff you find is little flakes of bones and you don't know what the hell it is and you can't identify it. In Piltdown, every single fossil was diagnostic of a species and they were all small, so they were all bits that would fit in someone's pocket, or trouser turnup or whatever. So someone had the knowledge to say: how much of a rhino tooth do I need to show it is a rhino?" says Stringer.
There have been several scandals involving planted evidence. Fossil fraud is a lucrative business.
"We get people coming into the museum with supposed Homo erectus skulls they have bought from a trader in Java. They are carved out of fossil elephant bones, and they are beautifully done. People carve them and sell them for $500 [£300], and we have to say: it is a fake, I am sorry."