Saturday, May 22, 2004

Fact is stranger than fiction... 

OK, this one has so many plot twists, even Dickens wouldn't touch it...

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, a member of the Florida National Guard, was sentenced by an eight-member military panel to the maximum penalty of one year in prison and a bad conduct discharge. His pay was reduced by two-thirds to $795 a month.

(Wow, they're paying soldiers only $2385 a month? I hope the benefits are good...)

His father is a popular singer in Central America. Camilo himself is dual-Nicaraguan and Costa Rican. In other words, he's an immigrant fighting for America, who deserts the U.S. military after seeing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and now he's convicted of desertion.

If he were any other immigrant from Central America, wouldn't they just deport him? How dare he notice the abuse, the homicides and the loss of any pretense of moral high ground!

It's over folks. "W" has created his own undoing. In being unable to find WMDs, he changed his story to the moral high ground of removing a nasty dictator, Saddam. In failing to ensure moral high ground among his soldiers, he has lost every premise for the Iraq invasion.

Americans look foolish and hoodwinked at this point. A vote for "W" in 2004 is like signing your name on the "I verify I'm an idiot" line...and if he wins, we all deserve what's coming.

Get the LIARS out. End the national embarrassment.


Friday, May 21, 2004

There certainly are WMDs... 

You have to give "W" and the White Whale credit--there are indeed Weapons of Mass Destruction in the desert. The problem is, the desert is in the Western Hemisphere!

Of the 220 persons who worked on The Conqueror on location in Utah in 1955, 91 had contracted cancer as of the early 1980s and 46 died of it, including stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead and director Dick Powell. Experts say under ordinary circumstances only 30 people out of a group of that size should have gotten cancer. The cause? No one can say for sure, but many attribute the cancers to radioactive fallout from U.S. atom bomb tests in nearby Nevada

Indeed, the shooting of this stunningly bad--even for a John Wayne--movie sounds a bit like the events in Iraq presently:

The actors suffered in 120 degree heat, a black panther attempted to take a bite out of Susan Hayward, and a flash flood at one point just missed wiping out everybody. But the worst didn't become apparent until long afterward. In 1953, the military had tested 11 atomic bombs at Yucca Flats, Nevada, which resulted in immense clouds of fallout floating downwind. Much of the deadly dust funneled into Snow Canyon, Utah, where a lot of The Conqueror was shot. The actors and crew were exposed to the stuff for 13 weeks, no doubt inhaling a fair amount of it in the process, and Hughes later shipped 60 tons of hot dirt back to Hollywood to use on a set for retakes, thus making things even worse.

It's all fun and games until you glow in the dark...

Many people involved in the production knew about the radiation (there's a picture of Wayne himself operating a Geiger counter during the filming), but no one took the threat seriously at the time. Thirty years later, however, half the residents of St. George had contracted cancer, and veterans of the production began to realize they were in trouble. Actor Pedro Armendariz developed cancer of the kidney only four years after the movie was completed, and later shot himself when he learned his condition was terminal.

Here's a puzzling one. Howard kept the Conquerer, with some of John Wayne's worst acting--a mind-boggling thought--off the shelves:

Howard Hughes was said to have felt "guilty as hell" about the whole affair, although as far as I can tell it never occurred to anyone to sue him. For various reasons he withdrew The Conqueror from circulation, and for years thereafter the only person who saw it was Hughes himself, who screened it night after night during his paranoid last years.

Well, suing Howard Hughes for the nuclear testing seems a bit far-fetched, but the U.S. government apologized to the citizens of Utah for the lives lost in the name of national security . . . 40 years after the fact and didn't even get sued. In fact, the whole state of Utah has suffered from WMDs unleashed by the US government:

The late Irma Thomas once documented 49 cases of cancer in her St. George neighborhood, and now her daughter, Michelle, is stricken with a host of ills. Former state lawmaker Bev White points to 14 cases of multiple sclerosis within a two-block area of the Tooele home where she has lived the past 50 years.

The U.S. government, as you see, is the main user of WMDs. And, with apologies to the many victims in 1945 Japan, the U.S. citizens have borne the brunt of the U.S Government's obsession with WMDs:

Civilians unfortunate enough to live downwind from the tests, in towns like St. George, Utah, and Fredonia, Arizona, have also suffered disease and death. They were assured by the Atomic Energy Commission that the radiation would not harm them. But in ensuing years they have been afflicted with an outbreak of cancers and leukemia that could only have come from the test fallout. Yet, like the veterans, they have met a stone wall of governmental denial.

Frightening stories are also coming to light among people and animals living near nuclear weapons facilities, mining and waste storage sites, uranium processing plants, and nuclear power reactors. Farmers in central Pennsylvania, for example, began to observe abnormalities in their animals when Three Mile Island Unit One opened in 1974. They reported much worse problems in the wake of the accident at Unit Two in 1979. Many animals became infertile. Others developed bizarre behavior. Young were born with marked deformities. These farmers had seen such abnormalities only rarely in the past. Now they were occurring repeatedly and on many farms. But government investigators turned in reports that baldly denied a majority of the abnormalities, which had already been witnessed by neutral observers. In fact, the investigators never even visited some of the farms they reported on. They blamed what few disturbances they admitted to finding on mismanagement and ignorance on the part of the farmers.

Farmers living near the Rocky Flats plutonium factory in Colorado, near the West Valley atomic fuel reprocessing center in upstate New York, near a uranium mining waste pile in Colorado, and near four separate reactor sites--including Three Mile Island--have complained of similar defects and illnesses among their animals. They have documented the same kind of problems that first appeared back in the 1950s in sheep caught downwind from nuclear test blasts.

And now, in 2004, many of those who have contracted cancer from the US government's obsession with WMDs are long gone. But, as former President Clinton might say, we still feel their pain. Because their obsession with WMDs and deserts continues. And the resulting cancer will be world instability for decades. Like cancer, looming over our heads for years.

WMDs. W's Moronic Decisions. Enjoy the fallout.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Marsh Mellow 

Now here's a timely idea:

May is American wetlands month...swamps, marshes, bogs, and other oft-unappreciated plots of soggy land not only provide refuge to fish, beavers, and waterfowl, but they also help remove pollutants from both water and air. Last month, on Earth Day, President Bush announced a new wetlands initiative. Promising to do more than stem the loss of these environmentally valuable environments, the President pledged that over the next 5 years, the United States "will expand the wetlands of America." A large part of the effort will be directed at farms, he said.

Does this mean farmers will be punished? Quite the contrary...

For most of the past century, U.S. farmers drained such plots to increase their arable acreage or improve tillable but overly damp fields. However, a move is now afoot to get farmers to embrace wetlands as part of their business. The idea is that wetlands offer an all-natural and potentially low-cost way to clean up farm wastes. But that's not all. Some environmental groups are considering support of a whole new class of farming that is essentially wetlands management. These facilities would harness Mother Nature to remove plant nutrients produced by other potential water polluters: upstream farms, municipalities, and industries that produce nitrogen. The novel farms' operational costs, which could prove substantial, would be paid for by upstream polluters.

This is a good idea. Wetlands provide a tremendous "reserve" of species for biodiversity, a buffer for pollution, and in general a richer world.

Too swampy? Too many West Nile infested, AIDS-tainted, terrorist mosquitoes, you say?

Although wetland farms may immediately summon images of a humid, decaying, disease-festering environment, there's no reason they need pose a scenic or health risk to farmers or their neighbors, contends Donald L. Hey, senior vice president of the Chicago-based Wetlands Initiative, a public-interest research group. For instance, he notes, "I've never been around a designed open wetland, as opposed to a forested one, where mosquitoes were an issue." Indeed, marshes are generally treeless with plenty of birds and minnows that feed on mosquito larvae, he observes.

But this is America. You have to consider the bottom line! They do, in fact...

Most compelling, Hey argues, are the potential economics of these enterprises. Their profits could far surpass those of traditional farms, he maintains. Today, he says, midwestern farmers may hope to clear $10 to $15 in profit per acre of tilled land. His group's analysis projects profits for nutrient farms, as these wetland operations might be termed, at up to $700 per acre. Make no mistake, Hey says, wetland farming isn't the creation of a swamp that operators would then ignore the rest of the year. These nutrient-cycling facilities would require plenty of engineering, monitoring, and management. Running most of them, he emphasizes, "would be a full-time job."

An example are the cranberry bogs of Northern Wisconsin. Drive through there in summer, it's one area in which you can get a respite from the hawk-sized mosquitoes of the Wisconsin forests.

Let's look closely at the benefits for pollution clean up..."eutrophication", perhaps not coincidentally, rhymes with putrification!

One of the major families of chemicals polluting waters throughout the United States is nitrates. All living things need nitrogen to grow, so in small quantities, these compounds are beneficial. Indeed, they are the foundation of most farm fertilizers. The problem is that nitrates now taint the nation's waters in excessive amounts. Not only are elevated concentrations toxic to wildlife and even to people, but also even moderate concentrations can, if allowed to persist, fuel the explosive growth of algae. When those algae die, their decomposition leads to an equally explosive growth of bacteria, which suck the oxygen out of water. This process of rampant algae growth leading to oxygen-starved waters is known as eutrophication. Eutrophication can occur long distances from the source of the nitrogen wastes that cause it. For instance, cities and farms throughout the upper Midwest provide a large share of the nitrate pollution responsible for the annual creation of a huge zone of oxygen-starved water--the so-called Gulf dead zone--1,000 miles downstream in the Gulf of Mexico. However, Hey points out, bacteria in the sediment of wetlands can strip nitrogen from waterborne nitrates in a process called denitrification. Like little chemical reactors, the bacteria release the element as a gas into the atmosphere, leaving nothing nutritious to plants behind. Marsh grasses and other plants also absorb some of the nitrates as they grow. However, this nitrogen isn't permanently removed from the ecosystem and can be re-released into the water when plants die months or years later. Scientists, therefore, look for strategies that favor denitrification over nitrogen removal by plant growth. The nation's many natural wetlands used to remove much of the nitrate pollution produced by cities and farms. At one time, some 220 million acres of wetlands, an area about twice the size of California, existed in the lower 48 states. But as those wetlands have come under the plow or bulldozer, the environment's nitrates-buffering capacity has diminished—even as the quantity of nitrate pollution has been growing. By 1997, just 105.5 million acres of wetlands remained, and the total was falling by another 60,000 acres or so each year.

This is a serious argument for marsh farming, as the article continues...

Hey's group has been a leading proponent of building new wetlands or restoring old ones to tackle the problem. And to prove it, the Wetlands Initiative has put its money into the idea. In 2001, the group bought 2,600 acres of former corn and soybean farmland on the Illinois River in north-central Illinois. This was bottomland that had been pumped 6 hours a day, 365 days a year since the 1920s to be dry enough for tilling.

Did it work...indeed it did:

Hey's group turned off the pumps and let the land flood. Today, 1,200 acres have developed into a marsh, and the rest have evolved into mostly wet prairie and a few into forest. The scientists killed carp that had colonized old drainage ditches and restocked the expanded body of water with fish native to the area. Within 6 months, managers of the site counted up to 20,000 waterfowl congregating there. Four or five colonies of beavers continue to reconfigure the habitat. Nesting eagles patrol the air. River otters, a locally threatened species, have moved in, as has a threatened species of birds known as grebes. "This past migration season," Hey recalls, "we had 60,000 waterfowl [present] on just 1 day, sitting on those marshes we had created." Among birds winging their way through the site were 4,000 canvasback ducks, which haven't been seen along this part of the Illinois River for decades. As exciting as these wildlife changes have been, Hey notes that potentially more important is a change in the environment's chemistry, a change that has turned the wetland from a net emitter of nitrates to an eliminator of these pollutants. A site across the river from the wetlands experiment is being readied for similar study. And, together with several midwestern universities, Hey and his group are ready to launch additional projects at up to a dozen other sites. "With the right financial base, we could have the research necessary to verify, confirm, or deny the efficacy of nutrient farming within 5 years," he told Science News Online. "We don't even need to buy the land" for those studies, he says. "In many cases we could just lease it for 5 years." However, Hey says he's confident that wetlands can be farmed to successfully clean up polluted water. The trick will be grading the land to ensure that incoming water spends the right amount of time with the nitrate-destroying bacteria. Most sites will need pumps to control that flow and keep water in the marsh at an optimal level. The goal is to keep the water no more than about 2 feet deep, Hey says, for maximum exposure to the bacterial treatment.

The economics of it won't be easy, however, as upfront wetlands provide a larger challenge than traditional farming. One economic model that should be considered is providing each farmer with a certain amount of wetlands access to remove nitrates they introduce into the environment. Another might be to genetically-modify traditional crops to grow in wetlands--rice might be a good starting point. Whatever the approach, as with energy, this is a challenge that requires broad thinking. Ideas welcome.


Sunday, May 16, 2004

777, high above the ground 

I wish it were a Boeing 777 flying so high, but it is instead the number of US troops killed since the Iraq action began last year.

The situation is deteriorating fast. Now Spanish, Honduran and Guatemalan troops are withdrawing, Dutch and Japanese peacekeepers are nearly or completely confined to their bases, and the U.S. is trying to shift some of the 37,000 troops they have in South Korea to Iraq. I can't find specific numbers on recruitment, but I suspect people are not signing up in droves for the Armed Forces right now.

In today's "always on" world, things go full cycle much more rapidly than the past. We may see the equivalent of the Vietnam War played out over 2-3 years, instead of 10-15. Is the mistreatment of the Iraqi prisoners this War's My-Lai? It's nowhere near the same in scale of brutality or sheer tragedy, but that's my point--all events are magnified in today's always on world. If the Balkan wars of the late '90's were the first "Internet War", just as Vietnam may have been the first "TV War", then perhaps the Iraq War is the first "Always On War", where text messaging, Internet, TV and all the other media converge to make every action more visible.

All of which means, if you want to carry out these types of actions, times have changed. Unilateralism no longer makes sense, simply because you will have too many other parties scrutinizing your actions under a microscope. This is a good thing, because information dispersal can potential curb atrocity. Time for "W" and his cronies to get the message--we have become the world's most hated nation. Everyone else knows a lot more about us than we think.


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