Arquivo mensal: janeiro 2013

New Research Shows Complexity of Global Warming (Science Daily)

Jan. 30, 2013 — Global warming from greenhouse gases affects rainfall patterns in the world differently than that from solar heating, according to a study by an international team of scientists in the January 31 issue of Nature. Using computer model simulations, the scientists, led by Jian Liu (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and Bin Wang (International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa), showed that global rainfall has increased less over the present-day warming period than during the Medieval Warm Period, even though temperatures are higher today than they were then.

Clouds over the Pacific Ocean. (Credit: Shang-Ping Xie)

The team examined global precipitation changes over the last millennium and future projection to the end of 21st century, comparing natural changes from solar heating and volcanism with changes from human-made greenhouse gas emissions. Using an atmosphere-ocean coupled climate model that simulates realistically both past and present-day climate conditions, the scientists found that for every degree rise in global temperature, the global rainfall rate since the Industrial Revolution has increased less by about 40% than during past warming phases of Earth.

Why does warming from solar heating and from greenhouse gases have such different effects on global precipitation?

“Our climate model simulations show that this difference results from different sea surface temperature patterns. When warming is due to increased greenhouse gases, the gradient of sea surface temperature (SST) across the tropical Pacific weakens, but when it is due to increased solar radiation, the gradient increases. For the same average global surface temperature increase, the weaker SST gradient produces less rainfall, especially over tropical land,” says co-author Bin Wang, professor of meteorology.

But why does warming from greenhouse gases and from solar heating affect the tropical Pacific SST gradient differently?

“Adding long-wave absorbers, that is heat-trapping greenhouse gases, to the atmosphere decreases the usual temperature difference between the surface and the top of the atmosphere, making the atmosphere more stable,” explains lead-author Jian Liu. “The increased atmospheric stability weakens the trade winds, resulting in stronger warming in the eastern than the western Pacific, thus reducing the usual SST gradient — a situation similar to El Niño.”

Solar radiation, on the other hand, heats Earth’s surface, increasing the usual temperature difference between the surface and the top of the atmosphere without weakening the trade winds. The result is that heating warms the western Pacific, while the eastern Pacific remains cool from the usual ocean upwelling.

“While during past global warming from solar heating the steeper tropical east-west SST pattern has won out, we suggest that with future warming from greenhouse gases, the weaker gradient and smaller increase in yearly rainfall rate will win out,” concludes Wang.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jian Liu, Bin Wang, Mark A. Cane, So-Young Yim, June-Yi Lee. Divergent global precipitation changes induced by natural versus anthropogenic forcingNature, 2013; 493 (7434): 656 DOI: 10.1038/nature11784

Understanding the Historical Probability of Drought (Science Daily)

Jan. 30, 2013 — Droughts can severely limit crop growth, causing yearly losses of around $8 billion in the United States. But it may be possible to minimize those losses if farmers can synchronize the growth of crops with periods of time when drought is less likely to occur. Researchers from Oklahoma State University are working to create a reliable “calendar” of seasonal drought patterns that could help farmers optimize crop production by avoiding days prone to drought.

Historical probabilities of drought, which can point to days on which crop water stress is likely, are often calculated using atmospheric data such as rainfall and temperatures. However, those measurements do not consider the soil properties of individual fields or sites.

“Atmospheric variables do not take into account soil moisture,” explains Tyson Ochsner, lead author of the study. “And soil moisture can provide an important buffer against short-term precipitation deficits.”

In an attempt to more accurately assess drought probabilities, Ochsner and co-authors, Guilherme Torres and Romulo Lollato, used 15 years of soil moisture measurements from eight locations across Oklahoma to calculate soil water deficits and determine the days on which dry conditions would be likely. Results of the study, which began as a student-led class research project, were published online Jan. 29 inAgronomy Journal. The researchers found that soil water deficits more successfully identified periods during which plants were likely to be water stressed than did traditional atmospheric measurements when used as proposed by previous research.

Soil water deficit is defined in the study as the difference between the capacity of the soil to hold water and the actual water content calculated from long-term soil moisture measurements. Researchers then compared that soil water deficit to a threshold at which plants would experience water stress and, therefore, drought conditions. The threshold was determined for each study site since available water, a factor used to calculate threshold, is affected by specific soil characteristics.

“The soil water contents differ across sites and depths depending on the sand, silt, and clay contents,” says Ochsner. “Readily available water is a site- and depth-specific parameter.”

Upon calculating soil water deficits and stress thresholds for the study sites, the research team compared their assessment of drought probability to assessments made using atmospheric data. They found that a previously developed method using atmospheric data often underestimated drought conditions, while soil water deficits measurements more accurately and consistently assessed drought probabilities. Therefore, the researchers suggest that soil water data be used whenever it is available to create a picture of the days on which drought conditions are likely.

If soil measurements are not available, however, the researchers recommend that the calculations used for atmospheric assessments be reconfigured to be more accurate. The authors made two such changes in their study. First, they decreased the threshold at which plants were deemed stressed, thus allowing a smaller deficit to be considered a drought condition. They also increased the number of days over which atmospheric deficits were summed. Those two changes provided estimates that better agreed with soil water deficit probabilities.

Further research is needed, says Ochsner, to optimize atmospheric calculations and provide accurate estimations for those without soil water data. “We are in a time of rapid increase in the availability of soil moisture data, but many users will still have to rely on the atmospheric water deficit method for locations where soil moisture data are insufficient.”

Regardless of the method used, Ochsner and his team hope that their research will help farmers better plan the cultivation of their crops and avoid costly losses to drought conditions.

Journal Reference:

  1. Guilherme M. Torres, Romulo P. Lollato, Tyson E. Ochsner.Comparison of Drought Probability Assessments Based on Atmospheric Water Deficit and Soil Water Deficit.Agronomy Journal, 2013; DOI: 10.2134/agronj2012.0295

U.S. Water Supply Not as Threatened as Believed, Study Finds (Science Daily)

Jan. 30, 2013 — Although reports of drought conditions, water wars and restrictions have often painted a bleak picture of the nation’s water availability, a new University of Florida survey finds that conditions aren’t quite so bad as believed.

Jim Jawitz, a UF soil and water science professor, and Julie Padowski, who earned her doctoral degree from UF and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, knew that previous assessments of urban water supplies typically used what is known as a “runoff-based approach,” which takes into account factors such as river flows and rainfall amounts.

Jawitz and Padowski knew that those assessments did not consider the infrastructure used to maintain urban water supplies, such as water stored in aquifers, lakes, reservoirs or water that’s pumped in to an area and stored. So for 225 U.S. metropolitan areas with populations of more than 100,000, that’s what they did, and their findings have been published online by the journal Water Resources Research.

When assessing cities using the runoff-based approach, the UF study found that 47 percent of the total U.S. population is vulnerable to water scarcity issues, however, when infrastructure was accounted for, the number dropped to just 17 percent of the population. Residents in the top 225 metropolitan areas make up the bulk of the U.S. population.

Jawitz, a faculty member with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said they expected to find fewer areas vulnerable to water shortages than past studies had because of the different methodology, but some of their findings surprised them.

“We have people who live in the desert and they have water and it’s because of their infrastructure. If you live in a city that has a large of reservoir of water stored and there’s a drought, it doesn’t have the same effect on you as if you live in a city where there’s a drought and you don’t have a large reservoir,” he said.

They didn’t expect Atlanta — where legal battles over water rights with neighboring states initially prompted the researchers to tackle the survey — to fall near the middle among the 225 cities they studied for water access and vulnerability.

Another unusual finding: Miami, with its lush, tropical landscape, landing in the top 10 most vulnerable cities. Jawitz, a South Florida native, said although the Miami area generally enjoys an abundance of rain, it’s not stored anywhere. That means during periods of drought, the area becomes vulnerable.

A website that ranks the 225 largest U.S. urban areas based on water availability and vulnerability can be found at The list is a combination of results of where each city falls on a 0-to-100 water-accessibility scale as well as a water-vulnerability rating of low, medium or high.

The researchers also had a modern twist to their study. Padowski created a media-text analysis to search online news archives for reports for each city, looking for stories about water restrictions or drought conditions.

They found that the media reports backed up their method of analysis but did not correlate significantly with estimates made using the runoff-based approach.

Padowski said despite the good news about water, she fully expects water conservation should and will be a front-and-center topic for many years to come.

“As population growth increases, we don’t have more resources to tap — we can’t just find another lake or another river to dam,” she said. “It’s going to come down to sharing, conservation and efficiency.”

Rob McDonald, senior scientist for sustainable land use with The Nature Conservancy, said the study adds to what scientists know about urban water use in the U.S. and raises intriguing questions about whether large cities’ infrastructure will be ready for conditions brought on by climate change.

“To me, it shows that infrastructure matters,” he said. “Do cities go out even further for water? If a city is dependent on snow melts from the mountains for its water, what happens if it gets warm enough that there isn’t a snowpack?”

The study was funded by the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station and the Adaptive Management of Water, Wetlands, and Watersheds IGERT program.

Revolução nas universidades (OESP)

JC e-mail 4656, de 30 de Janeiro de 2013.

Artigo de Thomas Friedman* no The New York Times, publicado no O Estado de São Paulo

Avanço do ensino superior online nas melhores escolas tornará o conceito de diploma algo arcaico; e isso é bom
Deus sabe que há muitas más notícias no mundo atual que nos derrubam, mas está ocorrendo alguma coisa formidável que me deixa esperançoso com relação ao futuro. Trata-se da revolução, incipiente, no ensino superior online.

Nada tem mais potencial para tirar as pessoas da pobreza – oferecendo a elas um ensino acessível que vai ajudá-las a conseguir trabalho ou ter melhores condições no seu emprego.
Nada tem mais potencial para libertar um bilhão de cérebros para solucionar os grandes problemas do mundo.

E nada tem mais potencial para recriar o ensino superior do que as MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), plataformas desenvolvidas por especialistas de Stanford, por colegas do MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) e por empresas como Goursera e Udacity.

Em maio, escrevi um artigo sobre a Goursera – fundada por dois cientistas da computação de Stanford, Daphne Koller e Andrew Ng. Há duas semanas, retornei a Paio Alto para saber do seu progresso. Quando visitei a Goursera, em 2012, cerca de 300 mil pessoas participavam de 38 cursos proferidos por professores de Stanford e de outras universidades de elite.

Hoje, são 2,4 milhões de alunos e 214 cursos de 33 universidades, incluindo 8 internacionais. AnantAgarwal, ex-diretor do laboratório de inteligência artificial do MIT, hoje é presidente da edX, uma plataforma sem fins lucrativos criada em conjunto pelo MIT e pela Univer-sidade Harvard. Anant disse que, desde maio, cerca de 155 mil alunos do mundo todo participam do primeiro curso da edX: um curso introdutório sobre circuitos do MIT.

“E um número superior ao total dos alunos do MIT em sua história de 150 anos”, afirmou.
Claro que somente uma pequena porcentagem desses alunos completa o curso, mas estou convencido de que, dentro de cinco anos, essas plataformas alcançarão um público mais amplo. Imagine como isso poderá mudar a ajuda externa dos EUA.

Gastando relativamente pouco, o país poderia arrendar um espaço num vilarejo egípcio, instalar duas dezenas de computadores e dispositivos de acesso à internet de alta velocidade via satélite, contratar um professor local como coordenador e convidar todos os egípcios que desejarem ter aulas online com os melhores professores do mundo e legendas em árabe.

É preciso ouvir as histórias narradas pelos pioneiros dessa iniciativa para compreender seu potencial revolucionário. Uma das favoritas de Daphne Koller é sobre Daniel, um jovem de 17 anos com autismo que se comunica por meio do computador. Ele fez um curso online de poesia moderna oferecido pela Universidade da Pensilvânia.

Segundo Daniel e seus pais, a combinação de um currículo acadêmico rigoroso, que exige que ele se concentre na sua tarefa, e do sistema de aprendizado online, que não força sua capacidade de se relacionar, permite que ele administre melhor o autismo.

Daphne mostrou uma carta de Daniel em que ele escreveu: “Por favor, relateà Goursera e à Universidade da Pensilvânia a minhahistória. Souumjovem saindo do autismo. Ainda não consigo sentar-me numa sala de aula, de modo que esse foi meu primeiro curso de verdade.

Agora, sei que posso me beneficiar de um trabalho que exige muito de mim e ter o prazer de me sintonizar com o mundo.” Um membro da equipe do Goursera, que fez um curso sobre sustentabilida-de, me disse que foi muito mais interessante do que um estudo similar que ele fez na faculdade. Do curso online participaram estudantes do mundo todo e, assim, “as discussões que surgiram foram muito mais valiosas e interessantes do que os debates com pessoas iguais de uma típica faculdade americana. Mitch Duneier, professor de sociologia de Princeton, escreveu um ensaio sobre sua experiência ao dar aula num curso da Coursera.

“Há alguns meses, quando o campus de Princeton ficou quase em silêncio depois das cerimônias de graduação, 40 mil estudantes de 113 países chegaram aqui via internet para um curso grátis de introdução à sociologia. Minha aula de abertura, sobre o clássico de C. Wright Mills, de 1959, The Sociological Imagination, foi concentrada na leitura minuciosa do texto de um capítulo-chave. Pedi aos alunos para seguirem a análise em suas cópias, como faço em sala de aula. Quando dou essa aula em Princeton, normalmente, são feitas algumas perguntas perspicazes. Nesse caso, algumas horas depois de postar a versão online, os fóruns pegaram fogo, com centenas de comentários e perguntas. Alguns dias depois, eram milhares. Num espaço de três semanas, recebi mais feed-back sobre minhas ideias 11a área de sociologia do que em toda a minha carreira de professor, o que influenciou consideravelmente cada uma das minhas aulas e seminários seguintes.”

Anant Agarwal, da edX, fala sobre um estudante no Cairo que teve dificuldades e postou uma mensagem dizendo que pretendia abandonar o curso online. Em resposta, outros alunos no Cairo, da mesma classe, o convidaram para um encontro numa casa de chá, onde se ofereceram para ajudá-lo. Um estudante da Mongólia, de 15 anos, que estava na mesma classe, participando de um curso semipre-sencial, hoje está se candidatando a uma vaga no MIT e na Universidade da Califórnia, em Berkeley.

À medida que pensamos no futuro do ensino superior, segundo o presidente do MIT, Rafael Reif, algo que hoje chamamos “diploma” será um conceito relacionado com “tijolos e argamassa” – e as tradicionais experiências 110 campus, que influenciarão cada vez mais a tecnologia e a internet para melhorar o trabalho em sala de aula e no laboratório.

Ao lado disso, contudo, muitas universidades oferecerão cursos online para estudantes de qualquer parte do mundo, em que eles conseguirão “credenciais” – ou seja, certificados atestando que realizaram o trabalho e passaram, em todos os exames.

O processo de criação de credenciais fidedignas certificando que o aluno domina adequadamente o assunto – e no qual um empregador pode confiar ainda está sendo aperfeiçoado por todos os MOOCs. No entanto, uma vez resolvida a questão, esse fenômeno realmente se propagará muito.

Posso ver o dia em que você criará o seu diploma universitário participando dos melhores cursos online com os mais capacitados professores do mundo todo – de computação de Stanford, de empreendedorismo da Wharton, de ética da Brandeis, de literatura da Universidade de Edimburgo – pagando apenas uma taxa pelo certificado de conclusão do curso. Isso mudará o ensino, o aprendizado e o caminho para o emprego.

“Um novo mundo está se revelando”, disse Reif. “E todos terão de se adaptar”.

* Thomas Friedman é colunista do The New York Times. (O texto foi traduzido por Terezinha Martinho do O Estado de São Paulo)

Digestão bloqueada, praga controlada (Revista Fapesp)

[Curioso que tanto receio exista com relação à geoengenharia, e tão pouco direcionado a esse tipo de zooengenharia.]
Pesquisa da função intestinal de insetos aumenta o conhecimento da fisiologia desses animais e pode ajudar a criar métodos inovadores de combater doenças e controlar pragas da lavoura (estrutura 3D da catepsina L2)


Por Fábio Reynol

Agência FAPESP – Diversas enfermidades humanas, como dengue, doença de chagas e leishmaniose, e pragas que destroem lavouras de algodão, cana-de-açúcar e bananeira são problemas que têm como ponto comum o fato de serem provocadas por insetos.

Uma extensa pesquisa feita no Instituto de Química (IQ) da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) ampliou o conhecimento sobre diferentes insetos por meio de uma abordagem peculiar: a investigação da função intestinal. Com isso, abriu espaço para métodos inovadores de controle.

O trabalho compôs o projeto “A digestão dos insetos: uma abordagem molecular, celular, fisiológica e evolutiva”, conduzido de 2008 a 2012 e apoiado pela FAPESP por meio da modalidade Auxílio à Pesquisa – Projeto Temático.

O projeto, coordenado por Walter Ribeiro Terra, professor titular do IQ-USP – com a professora Clelia Ferreira como investigadora principal e vice-coordenadora –, é uma continuação de Temáticos sobre o mesmo tema desenvolvidos desde 1991. O novo projeto teve início em 2012 com conclusão prevista para 2017.

Entre as principais descobertas do projeto concluído este ano foi a de que mosquitos hematófagos da ordem Díptera têm em comum tripsinas especiais, fundamentais para a digestão de proteínas. “Essa informação torna esse tipo de tripsina um possível alvo de controle para todos os mosquitos desse grupo”, disse Terra.

Trata-se de um alvo bastante relevante, uma vez que a ordem Díptera engloba os gênerosAnophelesAedes e Culex, os quais agrupam insetos vetores de importantes doenças como malária, febre amarela, dengue e filariose.

Segundo Terra, inibir a tripsina poderia ser um método eficaz de controle dessas doenças, uma vez que bloquearia o processo de digestão dos insetos. Para isso, o trabalho também envolveu a busca por inibidores químicos das enzimas encontradas.

O método utilizado foi o da modelagem computacional a partir de imagens tridimensionais dessas moléculas. Em um modelo digital em 3D da enzima a ser inibida são testadas virtualmente moléculas inibidoras que se encaixam no maior número possível de reentrâncias, ou sítios funcionais.

“Em quanto mais sítios funcionais o reagente atracar, mais forte será a ligação e mais eficiente será o inibidor”, disse Terra à Agência FAPESP, explicando que a modelagem molecular 3D é amplamente usada na indústria farmacêutica.

A enzima bloqueada não consegue se recombinar e cumprir sua função no processo de digestão, o de quebrar outras moléculas. Sem conseguir absorver os nutrientes de que precisam, os mosquitos morrem.

O estudo da fisiologia do barbeiro Rhodnius prolixus, vetor da doença de chagas, sempre foi difícil e a observação de sua função intestinal um obstáculo para os pesquisadores.

A equipe de Terra contornou o problema encontrando um inseto similar, o Dysdercus peruvianus, percevejo que ataca o algodão. Transcriptomas (partes do genoma que codificam proteínas) desse inseto mostraram detalhes que podem ser válidos também para o barbeiro, podendo gerar alvos de controle naquele inseto.

O agronegócio da cana-de-açúcar também poderá se beneficiar do estudo. A catepsina L, enzima digestiva típica de muitos besouros, foi isolada no Sphenophorus levis, besouro cuja fase larval ataca o sistema radicular da cana. Essa enzima foi clonada, expressa e caracterizada com substratos sintéticos e inibidores. A mesma enzima encontrada no Tenebrio molitor, besouro conhecido como bicho-da-farinha, teve sua estrutura tridimensional resolvida.

“O maior desafio em identificar a estrutura tridimensional é a cristalização da proteína, porque se ela não cristaliza não conseguimos obter o modelo”, disse Terra, esclarecendo que várias proteínas não conseguem formar cristais, inviabilizando a sua visualização tridimensional.

Estrutura do desenvolvimento

Uma estrutura particular do sistema intestinal dos insetos recebeu atenção especial no Projeto Temático conduzido no IQ-USP: a membrana peritrófica.

Em formato de um minúsculo tubo, sabe-se que seu papel está ligado à eficiência digestiva, porém suas funções ainda não são totalmente conhecidas pela ciência. Algumas dessas funções hipotéticas foram testadas em insetos modelos e descobriu-se que ela possui participação preponderante no desenvolvimento dos insetos.

Insetos cujas membranas peritróficas foram inibidas tiveram o seu desenvolvimento prejudicado. Ao mesmo tempo, algumas plantas possuem reagentes naturais que atacam essa membrana, o que as protege de serem devoradas por insetos. “Essas informações tornam essa estrutura um importante alvo para processos inovadores de controle”, observou Terra.

O Projeto Temático também promoveu avanços consideráveis no conhecimento da evolução das espécies. Além de possível alvo de controle das moscas domésticas, a enzima catepsina D também está presente em humanos e em outros animais que possuem sistemas digestivos muito ácidos voltados a processar alimentos ricos em bactérias.

“O interessante dessa descoberta foi constatar que a mesma adaptação evolutiva ocorreu duas vezes e de maneira independente na mosca e na espécie humana”, disse Terra.

Outro avanço importante foi sobre a morfofisiologia dos insetos. Um estudo com o percevejoPodisus nigrispinus, predador de outros insetos, mostrou que a então chamada digestão extraoral daquele inseto é uma dispersão dos tecidos da presa por ação de uma substância salivar. A digestão propriamente dita ocorre no interior do intestino do inseto.

A descoberta, publicada no Journal of Insect Physiology, provocou uma menção especial de um parecerista da revista. “Ele escreveu que a partir desse trabalho deve-se repensar os conceitos de digestão fora do corpo”, disse Terra, salientando que a equipe recebeu com muito orgulho esse reconhecimento.

O projeto ainda identificou a lisozima como uma enzima crítica na digestão de moscas que atacam frutas, a trealase é crucial para lagartas pragas de lavouras e as beta-glucanases, ausentes nos mamíferos, estão relacionadas à digestão e ao sistema imunológico de insetos. Todas elas são potenciais alvos de controle dos insetos envolvidos.

Mais de 1,3 mil citações

Os resultados dos quatro anos de estudos estão registrados em 20 publicações e quatro capítulos de livros e os trabalhos de laboratório do projeto foram citados 1.357 vezes na literatura científica mundial nesse período.

No âmbito do Projeto Temático foram desenvolvidas três dissertações de mestrado, seis teses de doutorado e duas de pós-doutorado. O projeto contou com cinco Bolsas FAPESP de Iniciação Científica, uma de Doutorado e as duas de Pós-Doutorado.

O Temático ainda promoveu trabalhos em parcerias com diversas instituições nacionais como a Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC), a Universidade Federal de Lavras (UFL), a Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar), o Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia (INCT) de Entomologia Molecular do qual o IQ-USP faz parte e a Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz (Esalq) também da USP.

O grupo ainda participa de um consórcio internacional para o sequenciamento do genoma do barbeiro Rhodnius prolixus cujos resultados ainda estão em análise e, de acordo com Terra, ainda devem gerar diversas aplicações práticas.

Cultural Evolution Changes Bird Song (Science Daily)

Jan. 29, 2013 — Thanks to cultural evolution, male Savannah sparrows are changing their tune, partly to attract “the ladies.”

Savannah sparrow. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Guelph)

According to a study of more than 30 years of Savannah sparrows recordings, the birds are singing distinctly different songs today than their ancestors did 30 years ago — changes passed along generation to generation, according to a new study by University of Guelph researchers.

Integrative biology professors Ryan Norris and Amy Newman, in collaboration with researchers at Bowdoin College and Williams College in the U.S., analyzed the songs of male Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichiensis) recorded over three decades, and found that the songs had changed distinctly from 1980 to 2011.

“The change is the result of cultural transmission of different song elements through many generations,” said Norris.

Norris added that the change in tune resembles changes in word choice and language among humans.

“If you listen to how people used to talk in the 1890s and how we talk today, you would notice major differences, and this is the result of shifts in culture or the popularity of certain forms,” he said. “The change in sparrow songs over time has occurred much the same way”

The sparrows, which live on Kent Island, N.B., in the Bay of Fundy, can generally sing only one song type that consists of several parts. Male sparrows learn that song early in their first year and continue to sing the same tune for the rest of their lives.

“Young male sparrows learn their songs from the birds around them,” said Norris. “It may be their fathers, or it could be other older male birds that live nearby.”

Each male sparrow has his own unique sound, added Newman.

“While the island’s sparrows all sing a characteristic ‘savannah sparrow song,’ with the same verses and sound similar, there are distinct differences between each bird,” she said. “Essentially, it is like karaoke versions of popular songs. It is the rise and fall in popular cover versions that has changed over time.”

The research team found that, in general, each song has three primary elements. The first identifies the bird as a Savannah sparrow, the second identifies which individual is singing, and the third component is used by females to assess males.

Using sonograms recorded from singing males each breeding season, the researchers determined that, while the introductory notes had stayed generally consistent for the last 30 years, the sparrows had added a series of clicks to the middle of their songs. The birds had also changed the ending trill: once long and high-frequency, it is now shorter and low-frequency.

“We found that the ending trill of the song has become shorter, likely because female sparrows preferred this, because males with shorter trills had higher reproductive success,” Norris said.

Kent Island has been home to the Bowdoin Scientific Station since it was donated by J. Sterling Rockefeller in 1932, and the birds have been recorded since the 1980s. Individual birds are also monitored throughout their lifetime.

“We know the identity and history of every single sparrow in the study population” said Norris, who has led the project with Newman since 2009. “To have 30 years of recordings is very rare, and it was definitely surprising to see such drastic changes.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Heather Williams, Iris I. Levin, D. Ryan Norris, Amy E.M. Newman, Nathaniel T. Wheelwright. Three decades of cultural evolution in Savannah sparrow songsAnimal Behaviour, 2013; 85 (1): 213 DOI:10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.10.028

Make climate change a priority (Washington Post)

Graphic: A new report prepared for the World Bank finds that the planet is on a path to warming 4 degrees by the end of the century, with devastating consequences. Click on the infographic to go to the World Bank for more information.

By Jim Yong Kim, Published: January 24

Jim Yong Kim is president of the World Bank.

The weather in Washington has been like a roller coaster this January. Yes, there has been a deep freeze this week, but it was the sudden warmth earlier in the month that was truly alarming. Flocks of birds — robins, wrens, cardinals and even blue jays – swarmed bushes with berries, eating as much as they could. Runners and bikers wore shorts and T-shirts. People worked in their gardens as if it were spring.

The signs of global warming are becoming more obvious and more frequent. A glut of extreme weather conditions is appearing globally. And the average temperature in the United States last year was the highest ever recorded.

As economic leaders gathered in Davos this week for the World Economic Forum, much of the conversation was about finances. But climate change should also be at the top of our agendas, because global warming imperils all of the development gains we have made.If there is no action soon, the future will become bleak. The World Bank Groupreleased a reportin November that concluded that the world could warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) by the end of this century if concerted action is not taken now.

A world that warm means seas would rise 1.5 to 3 feet, putting at risk hundreds of millions of city dwellers globally. It would mean that storms once dubbed “once in a century” would become common, perhaps occurring every year. And it would mean that much of the United States, from Los Angeles to Kansas to the nation’s capital, would feel like an unbearable oven in the summer.

My wife and I have two sons, ages 12 and 3. When they grow old, this could be the world they inherit. That thought alone makes me want to be part of a global movement that acts now.

Even as global climate negotiations continue, there is a need for urgent action outside the conventions. People everywhere must focus on where we will get the most impact to reduce emissions and build resilience in cities, communities and countries.

Strong leadership must come from the six big economies that account for two-thirds of the energy sector’s global carbon dioxide emissions. President Obama’s reference in his inaugural address this week to addressing climate and energy could help reignite this critical conversation domestically and abroad.

The world’s top priority must be to get finance flowing and get prices right on all aspects of energy costs to support low-carbon growth. Achieving a predictable price on carbon that accurately reflects real environmental costs is key to delivering emission reductions at scale. Correct energy pricing can also provide incentives for investments in energy efficiency and cleaner energy technologies.

A second immediate step is to end harmful fuel subsidies globally, which could lead to a 5 percent fall in emissions by 2020. Countries spend more than $500 billion annually in fossil-fuel subsidies and an additional $500 billion in other subsidies, often related to agriculture and water, that are, ultimately, environmentally harmful. That trillion dollars could be put to better use for the jobs of the future, social safety nets or vaccines.

A third focus is on cities. The largest 100 cities that contribute 67 percent of energy-related emissions are both the center of innovation for green growth and the most vulnerable to climate change. We have seen great leadership, for example, in New York and Rio de Janeiro on low-carbon growth and tackling practices that fuel climate change.

At the World Bank Group, through the $7 billion-plus Climate Investment Funds, we are managing forests, spreading solar energy and promoting green expansion for cities, all with a goal of stopping global warming. We also are in the midst of a major reexamination of our own practices and policies.

Just as the Bretton Woods institutions were created to prevent a third world war, the world needs a bold global approach to help avoid the climate catastrophe it faces today. The World Bank Group is ready to work with others to meet this challenge. With every investment we make and every action we take, we should have in mind the threat of an even warmer world and the opportunity of inclusive green growth.

After the hottest year on record in the United States, a year in which Hurricane Sandycaused billions of dollars in damagerecord droughts scorched farmland in the Midwest and our organization reported that the planet could become more than 7 degrees warmer, what are we waiting for? We need to get serious fast. The planet, our home, can’t wait.

Scientists discover how epigenetic information could be inherited (University of Cambridge)

Public release date: 24-Jan-2013
By Genevieve Maul

Research reveals the mechanism of epigenetic reprogramming

New research reveals a potential way for how parents’ experiences could be passed to their offspring’s genes. The research was published today, 25 January, in the journal Science.

Epigenetics is a system that turns our genes on and off. The process works by chemical tags, known as epigenetic marks, attaching to DNA and telling a cell to either use or ignore a particular gene.

The most common epigenetic mark is a methyl group. When these groups fasten to DNA through a process called methylation they block the attachment of proteins which normally turn the genes on. As a result, the gene is turned off.

Scientists have witnessed epigenetic inheritance, the observation that offspring may inherit altered traits due to their parents’ past experiences. For example, historical incidences of famine have resulted in health effects on the children and grandchildren of individuals who had restricted diets, possibly because of inheritance of altered epigenetic marks caused by a restricted diet.

However, it is thought that between each generation the epigenetic marks are erased in cells called primordial gene cells (PGC), the precursors to sperm and eggs. This ‘reprogramming’ allows all genes to be read afresh for each new person – leaving scientists to question how epigenetic inheritance could occur.

The new Cambridge study initially discovered how the DNA methylation marks are erased in PGCs, a question that has been under intense investigation over the past 10 years. The methylation marks are converted to hydroxymethylation which is then progressively diluted out as the cells divide. This process turns out to be remarkably efficient and seems to reset the genes for each new generation. Understanding the mechanism of epigenetic resetting could be exploited to deal with adult diseases linked with an accumulation of aberrant epigenetic marks, such as cancers, or in ‘rejuvenating’ aged cells.

However, the researchers, who were funded by the Wellcome Trust, also found that some rare methylation can ‘escape’ the reprogramming process and can thus be passed on to offspring – revealing how epigenetic inheritance could occur. This is important because aberrant methylation could accumulate at genes during a lifetime in response to environmental factors, such as chemical exposure or nutrition, and can cause abnormal use of genes, leading to disease. If these marks are then inherited by offspring, their genes could also be affected.

Dr Jamie Hackett from the University of Cambridge, who led the research, said: “Our research demonstrates how genes could retain some memory of their past experiences, revealing that one of the big barriers to the theory of epigenetic inheritance – that epigenetic information is erased between generations – should be reassessed.”

“It seems that while the precursors to sperm and eggs are very effective in erasing most methylation marks, they are fallible and at a low frequency may allow some epigenetic information to be transmitted to subsequent generations. The inheritance of differential epigenetic information could potentially contribute to altered traits or disease susceptibility in offspring and future descendants.”

“However, it is not yet clear what consequences, if any, epigenetic inheritance might have in humans. Further studies should give us a clearer understanding of the extent to which heritable traits can be derived from epigenetic inheritance, and not just from genes. That could have profound consequences for future generations.”

Professor Azim Surani from the University of Cambridge, principal investigator of the research, said: “The new study has the potential to be exploited in two distinct ways. First, the work could provide information on how to erase aberrant epigenetic marks that may underlie some diseases in adults. Second, the study provides opportunities to address whether germ cells can acquire new epigenetic marks through environmental or dietary influences on parents that may evade erasure and be transmitted to subsequent generations, with potentially undesirable consequences.”

Sociologists Find Similarities in Meanings Behind Protestant Work Ethic, Religious Tattoos (Science Daily)

Jan. 23, 2013 — When it comes to religious tattoos, two Texas Tech University sociologists say the reasoning and spirit behind them is strikingly similar to a 100-year-old theory about how the Protestant work ethic powered the Industrial Revolution.

Professors Jerry Koch and Alden Roberts recently published their findings in the peer-reviewed The Social Science Journal.

Both sociologists said the sentiment behind the tattoos is reminiscent of Max Weber’s famous 1905 sociological work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Koch and Roberts’ research is part of a larger study called Religion and Deviance at Four American Universities, which expands their research from the previous five years to give more national context.

“This particular article came out of some data we gathered and started as an afterthought to a pilot study,” Koch said. “At the end of the questionnaire, we appended an essay question and gave respondents a chance to tell us, if they had one, the story of their religious tattoo. As we started reading through the essays they wrote for us, we started to hear what we knew Max Weber would have appreciated. That, in a sense, these respondents were telling us ‘I want everyone to know that I believe I’m one of God’s people; and here is the evidence of that.'”

Go back nearly 100 years ago, and Weber described in this founding text of economic sociology how Calvinist views on their purpose on the planet helped to drive the Industrial Revolution, Koch said. A person’s profession, no matter how grand or lowly, was seen as an addition to the greater common good, and thereby blessed by God as a sacred calling. Work, for these Protestants, became a visible expression of their faith, and consequently helped to drive the machinery of the unplanned Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.

“Weber argued that the diligence and integrity that we often associate with Protestant work ethic was in one sense a way for individuals to demonstrate to themselves and others that they must be one of God’s elect, otherwise why would they be doing so well,” Koch said. “We are making the parallel saying that the rationale behind and the energy it takes to get a religious tattoo is perhaps to show the same thing.”

In Koch and Roberts’ study, the two gathered tattoo survey data from about 70 undergraduates at four American universities. Two were large, state-supported public institutions, and the other two were highly selective, private religious universities.

Koch and Roberts both noted this same Weberian spirit of public expression as respondents to their last-minute questions repeatedly indicated that their religious tattoos were, for them, evidence of the permanence of their faith, outward signs of religious commitment, or memorials to those they’ve loved and lost and presumably who they hoped went to heaven when they died.

About 65 percent of the respondents with religious tattoos came from secular state schools, the two found. However, 44 percent of the Southern Baptist students that reported having tattoos indicated that at least one was religious.

“The reasons for the religious tattoos were some people wanted a permanent reminder, or permanent advertisement to others,” Roberts said. “There were some that were troubled by the idea the body being a temple, others were not as troubled by that. Those who got religious tattoos were more likely to overtly express religiosity.”

The permanence of a tattoo drew many to get one as a permanent insignia of their faith. Several indicated they got it in memory of someone that they loved, Koch said, while others got it as a way of telling themselves and others that their life had changed.

“One respondent explicitly said ‘I got this tattoo after I lost my virginity as a recommitment to purity,'” Koch said. “It was surprising and a happy accident that the information mirrored where Weber was coming from. I hadn’t anticipated that at the end of the day we would have what I think is a useful teaching tool for showing students what Weber was about using this new imagery.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Jerome R. Koch, Alden E. Roberts. The protestant ethic and the religious tattooThe Social Science Journal, 2012; 49 (2): 210 DOI: 10.1016/j.soscij.2011.10.001

Scientists Underestimated Potential for Tohoku Earthquake: Now What? (Science Daily)

Jan. 23, 2013 — The massive Tohoku, Japan, earthquake in 2011 and Sumatra-Andaman superquake in 2004 stunned scientists because neither region was thought to be capable of producing a megathrust earthquake with a magnitude exceeding 8.4.

Seismograph. (Credit: © huebi71 / Fotolia)

Now earthquake scientists are going back to the proverbial drawing board and admitting that existing predictive models looking at maximum earthquake size are no longer valid.

In a new analysis published in the journal Seismological Research Letters, a team of scientists led by Oregon State University’s Chris Goldfinger describes how past global estimates of earthquake potential were constrained by short historical records and even shorter instrumental records. To gain a better appreciation for earthquake potential, he says, scientists need to investigate longer paleoseismic records.

“Once you start examining the paleoseismic and geodetic records, it becomes apparent that there had been the kind of long-term plate deformation required by a giant earthquake such as the one that struck Japan in 2011,” Goldfinger said. “Paleoseismic work has confirmed several likely predecessors to Tohoku, at about 1,000-year intervals.”

The researchers also identified long-term “supercycles” of energy within plate boundary faults, which appear to store this energy like a battery for many thousands of years before yielding a giant earthquake and releasing the pressure. At the same time, smaller earthquakes occur that do not to any great extent dissipate the energy stored within the plates.

The newly published analysis acknowledges that scientists historically may have underestimated the number of regions capable of producing major earthquakes on a scale of Tohoku.

“Since the 1970s, scientists have divided the world into plate boundaries that can generate 9.0 earthquakes versus those that cannot,” said Goldfinger, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Those models were already being called into question when Sumatra drove one stake through their heart, and Tohoku drove the second one.

“Now we have no models that work,” he added, “and we may not have for decades. We have to assume, however, that the potential for 9.0 subduction zone earthquakes is much more widespread than originally thought.”

Both Tohoku and Sumatra were written off in the textbooks as not having the potential for a major earthquake, Goldfinger pointed out.

“Their plate age was too old, and they didn’t have a really large earthquake in their recent history,” Goldfinger said. “In fact, if you look at a northern Japan seismic risk map from several years ago, it looks quite benign — but this was an artifact of recent statistics.”

Paleoseismic evidence of subduction zone earthquakes is not yet plentiful in most cases, so little is known about the long-term earthquake potential of most major faults. Scientists can determine whether a fault has ruptured in the past — when and to what extent — but they cannot easily estimate how big a specific earthquake might have been. Most, Goldfinger says, fall into ranges — say, 8.4 to 8.7.

Nevertheless, that type of evidence can be more telling than historical records because it may take many thousands of years to capture the full range of earthquake behavior.

In their analysis, the researchers point to several subduction zone areas that previously had been discounted as potential 9.0 earthquake producers — but may be due for reconsideration. These include central Chile, Peru, New Zealand, the Kuriles fault between Japan and Russia, the western Aleutian Islands, the Philippines, Java, the Antilles Islands and Makran, Pakistan/Iran.

Onshore faults such as the Himalayan Front may also be hiding outsized earthquakes, the researchers add. Their work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Goldfinger, who directs the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at Oregon State, is a leading expert on the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. His comparative studies have taken him to the Indian Ocean, Japan and Chile, and in 2007, he led the first American research ship into Sumatra waters in nearly 30 years to study similarities between the Indian Ocean subduction zone and Cascadia.

Paleoseismic evidence abounds in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, Goldfinger pointed out. When a major offshore earthquake occurs, the disturbance causes mud and sand to begin streaming down the continental margins and into the undersea canyons. Coarse sediments called turbidites run out onto the abyssal plain; these sediments stand out distinctly from the fine particulate matter that accumulates on a regular basis between major tectonic events.

By dating the fine particles through carbon-14 analysis and other methods, Goldfinger and colleagues can estimate with a great deal of accuracy when major earthquakes have occurred. Over the past 10,000 years, there have been 19 earthquakes that extended along most of the Cascadia Subduction Zone margin, stretching from southern Vancouver Island to the Oregon-California border.

“These would typically be of a magnitude from about 8.7 to 9.2 — really huge earthquakes,” Goldfinger said. “We’ve also determined that there have been 22 additional earthquakes that involved just the southern end of the fault. We are assuming that these are slightly smaller — more like 8.0 — but not necessarily. They were still very large earthquakes that if they happened today could have a devastating impact.”

Other researchers on the analysis include Yasutaka Ikeda of University of Tokyo, Robert S. Yeats of Oregon State University, and Junjie Ren, of the Chinese Seismological Bureau.

Journal Reference:

  1. C. Goldfinger, Y. Ikeda, R. S. Yeats, J. Ren. Superquakes and SupercyclesSeismological Research Letters, 2013; 84 (1): 24 DOI: 10.1785/0220110135

Climate Change Beliefs of Independent Voters Shift With the Weather (Science Daily)

Jan. 24, 2013 — There’s a well-known saying in New England that if you don’t like the weather here, wait a minute. When it comes to independent voters, those weather changes can just as quickly shift beliefs about climate change.

Predicted probability of “climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities” response as a function of temperature anomaly and political party. (Credit: Lawrence Hamilton and Mary Stampone/UNH)

New research from the University of New Hampshire finds that the climate change beliefs of independent voters are dramatically swayed by short-term weather conditions. The research was conducted by Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology and senior fellow at the Carsey Institute, and Mary Stampone, assistant professor of geography and the New Hampshire state climatologist.

“We find that over 10 surveys, Republicans and Democrats remain far apart and firm in their beliefs about climate change. Independents fall in between these extremes, but their beliefs appear weakly held — literally blowing in the wind. Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to,” Hamilton and Stampone say.

Hamilton and Stampone used statewide data from about 5,000 random-sample telephone interviews conducted on 99 days over two and a half years (2010 to 2012) by the Granite State Poll. They combined the survey data with temperature and precipitation indicators derived from New Hampshire’s U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) station records. Survey respondents were asked whether they thought climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. Alternatively, respondents could state that climate change is not happening, or that it is happening but mainly for natural reasons.

Unseasonably warm or cool temperatures on the interview day and previous day seemed to shift the odds of respondents believing that humans are changing the climate. However, when researchers broke these responses down by political affiliation (Democrat, Republican or independent), they found that temperature had a substantial effect on climate change views mainly among independent voters.

“Independent voters were less likely to believe that climate change was caused by humans on unseasonably cool days and more likely to believe that climate change was caused by humans on unseasonably warm days. The shift was dramatic. On the coolest days, belief in human-caused climate change dropped below 40 percent among independents. On the hottest days, it increased above 70 percent,” Hamilton says.

New Hampshire’s self-identified independents generally resemble their counterparts on a nationwide survey that asked the same questions, according to the researchers. Independents comprise 18 percent of the New Hampshire estimation sample, compared with 17 percent nationally. They are similar with respect to education, but slightly older, and more balanced with respect to gender.

In conducting their analysis, the researchers took into account other factors such as education, age, and sex. They also made adjustments for the seasons, and for random variation between surveys that might be caused by nontemperature events.

Journal Reference:

  1. Lawrence C. Hamilton, Mary D. Stampone. Blowin’ in the wind: Short-term weather and belief in anthropogenic climate changeWeather, Climate, and Society, 2013; : 130123150419007 DOI: 10.1175/WCAS-D-12-00048.1

The Storm That Never Was: Why Meteorologists Are Often Wrong (Science Daily)

Jan. 24, 2013 — Have you ever woken up to a sunny forecast only to get soaked on your way to the office? On days like that it’s easy to blame the weatherman.

BYU engineering professor Julie Crockett studies waves in the ocean and the atmosphere. (Credit: Image courtesy of Brigham Young University)

But BYU mechanical engineering professor Julie Crockett doesn’t get mad at meteorologists. She understands something that very few people know: it’s not the weatherman’s fault he’s wrong so often.

According to Crockett, forecasters make mistakes because the models they use for predicting weather can’t accurately track highly influential elements called internal waves.

Atmospheric internal waves are waves that propagate between layers of low-density and high-density air. Although hard to describe, almost everyone has seen or felt these waves. Cloud patterns made up of repeating lines are the result of internal waves, and airplane turbulence happens when internal waves run into each other and break.

“Internal waves are difficult to capture and quantify as they propagate, deposit energy and move energy around,” Crockett said. “When forecasters don’t account for them on a small scale, then the large scale picture becomes a little bit off, and sometimes being just a bit off is enough to be completely wrong about the weather.”

One such example may have happened in 2011, when Utah meteorologists predicted an enormous winter storm prior to Thanksgiving. Schools across the state cancelled classes and sent people home early to avoid the storm. Though it’s impossible to say for sure, internal waves may have been driving stronger circulations, breaking up the storm and causing it to never materialize.

“When internal waves deposit their energy it can force the wind faster or slow the wind down such that it can enhance large scale weather patterns or extreme kinds of events,” Crockett said. “We are trying to get a better feel for where that wave energy is going.”

Internal waves also exist in oceans between layers of low-density and high-density water. These waves, often visible from space, affect the general circulation of the ocean and phenomena like the Gulf Stream and Jet Stream.

Both oceanic and atmospheric internal waves carry a significant amount of energy that can alter climates.

Crockett’s latest wave research, which appears in a recent issue of the International Journal of Geophysics, details how the relationship between large-scale and small-scale internal waves influences the altitude where wave energy is ultimately deposited.

To track wave energy, Crockett and her students generate waves in a tank in her lab and study every aspect of their behavior. She and her colleagues are trying to pinpoint exactly how climate changes affect waves and how those waves then affect weather.

Based on this, Crockett can then develop a better linear wave model with both 3D and 2D modeling that will allow forecasters to improve their weather forecasting.

“Understanding how waves move energy around is very important to large scale climate events,” Crockett said. “Our research is very important to this problem, but it hasn’t solved it completely.”

Journal Reference:

  1. B. Casaday, J. Crockett. Investigation of High-Frequency Internal Wave Interactions with an Enveloped Inertia WaveInternational Journal of Geophysics, 2012; 2012: 1 DOI: 10.1155/2012/863792

PM dá ordem para abordar ‘negros e pardos’ (Diário de São Paulo)

23/01/2013 14:00

Instrução de comandante de batalhão se baseou na descrição de vítima de assalto em bairro luxuoso


Desde o dia 21 de dezembro do ano passado, policiais militares do bairro Taquaral, um dos mais nobres de Campinas, cumprem a ordem de abordar “indivíduos em atitude suspeita, em especial os de cor parda e negra”. A orientação foi dada pelo oficial que chefia a companhia responsável pela região, mas o Comando da PM nega teor racista na determinação.

O documento assinado pelo capitão Ubiratan de Carvalho Góes Beneducci orienta a tropa a agir com rigor, caso se depare com jovens de 18 a 25 anos, que estejam em grupos de três a cinco pessoas e tenham a pele escura. Essas seriam as características de um suposto grupo que comete assaltos a residências no bairro.

A ordem do oficial foi motivada por uma carta de dois moradores. Um deles foi vítima de um roubo e descreveu os criminosos dessa maneira. Nenhum deles, entretanto, foi identificado pela Polícia Militar para que as abordagens fossem direcionadas nesse sentido.

Para o frei Galvão, da Educafro, a ordem de serviço dá a entender que, caso os policiais cruzem com um grupo de brancos, não há perigo. Na manhã de hoje, ele pretende enviar um pedido de explicações ao governador Geraldo Alckmin e ao secretário da Segurança Pública, Fernando Grella.

O DIÁRIO solicitou entrevista com o capitão Beneducci, sem sucesso. A reportagem também  pediu outro ofício semelhante, em que o alvo das abordagens fosse um grupo de jovens brancos, mas não obteve resposta até o fim desta edição.

Confira a íntegra da nota de esclarecimento enviada pelo Comando da Polícia Militar:

A Polícia Militar lamenta que um grupo historicamente discriminado pela sociedade, que são os negros, seja usado para fazer sensacionalismo.

O caso concreto trata de ordem escrita de uma autoridade policial militar, atendendo aos pedidos da comunidade local, no sentido de reforçar o policiamento com vistas a um grupo de criminosos, com características específicas, que por acaso era formado por negros e pardos. A ordem é clara quanto à referência a esse grupo: “focando abordagens a transeuntes e em veículos em atitude suspeita, especialmente indivíduos de cor parda e negra com idade aparentemente de 18 a 25 anos, os quais sempre estão em grupo de 3 a 5 indivíduos na prática de roubo a residência naquela localidade”.

A ordem descreve ainda os locais (quatro ruas) e horário em que os crimes ocorrem. Logo, não há o que se falar em discriminação ou em atitude racista, tendo o capitão responsável emitido a ordem com base em indicadores concretos e reais. Discriminação e racismo é o fato de explorar essa situação de maneira irresponsável e fora de contextualização.

Veja a Ordem:

Belo Monte é um absurdo e termelétricas são desnecessárias [((o))eco]

Daniele Bragança

22 de Janeiro de 2013

Para Célio Bermann, eletricidade produzida com excedente de bagaço de cana equivaleria a duas Belo Montes.

O setor de energia ganhou as primeiras páginas dos jornais no início de 2013 com o baixo nível dos reservatórios e a possibilidade de manter as termelétricas ligadas ao longo de todo o ano para compensar a falta de chuvas. Célio Bermann, professor do Instituto de Eletrotécnica e Energia da USP, é um crítico severo dessa solução. Um dos mais respeitados especialistas na área energética do país, trabalhou como assessor da então Ministra Dilma Rousseff no Ministério de Minas e Energia, entre 2003 e 2004. “Saí quando verifiquei que o Ministério de Minas e Energia estava fazendo o contrário do que eu pensava que seria possível”, diz ele. Severo crítico da hidrelétrica de Belo Monte, fez parte do painel de especialistasque concluíram que o projeto da usina não deveria ter seguimento.

Bermann conversou com ((o))eco sobre os caminhos do setor energético e possíveis soluções para evitar o uso intensivo das termoelétricas como complementação das hidrelétricas.

((o))eco: O Ministério de Minas e Energia estuda usar as termelétricas de forma permanente, para poupar os reservatórios. O que o senhor acha disso?
Utilizar termelétricas para complementar o sistema hidrelétrico é uma solução equivocada. Em primeiro lugar, estamos falando de um sistema elétrico que prioriza a geração de energia a partir da água, o que o torna dependente do regime hidrológico. É preciso com urgência diversificar a matriz de eletricidade do Brasil, utilizando fontes que, ao mesmo tempo, possam complementar o regime da falta de água e que sejam viáveis do ponto de vista econômico e ambiental.

((o))eco: Por quê?
Primeiro, porque a termoeletricidade pode custar 4 vezes mais do que a hidroeletricidade. Além disso, utiliza três fontes fósseis derivados de petróleo: óleo combustível, carvão mineral e gás natural. O principal problema na utilização das fontes fósseis, ao meu entender, não são as emissões de gases de efeito estufa. No caso brasileiro, o problema maior das termoelétricas é serem emissoras de hidrocarbonetos, de dióxido de nitrogênio, de dióxido de enxofre, de material particulado e de fumaça.

((o))eco: Quais são as consequências?
O impacto ambiental dessas fontes é sobre a saúde pública. A vizinhança dessas usinas fica suscetível a doenças crônicas causadas por esse coquetel de poluição.

((o))eco: Há termelétricas que utilizam água na sua refrigeração. Isso causa impactos negativos?
Em geral, essas usinas utilizam água dos rios próximos. Existem regiões no Brasil em que o comprometimento hídrico impede a construção de termelétricas. No estado de São Paulo, no rio Piracicaba, por exemplo, não foi possível construir usinas a gás natural porque elas demandavam um volume de água além das possibilidades da bacia deste rio.

((o)) eco: Qual é o custo das termelétricas?

A partir do bagaço da cana de açúcar, resíduo da produção sucroalcooleira, pode-se produzir 10 mil megawatts excedentes, o que equivale a mais de 2 vezes a energia média produzida por Belo Monte.

A energia das termelétricas pode custar até 4 vezes mais do que a hidroeletricidade. Ao mesmo tempo, com a Medida Provisória 579, o governo quer reduzir a tarifa de energia usando recursos do Tesouro Nacional. É um absurdo, pois esta medida afeta indiretamente o bolso dos consumidores. Somos nós que vamos pagar por essa redução da tarifa. É uma forma fictícia de fazer algo desejável: reduzir a tarifa. Temos uma das tarifas de energia elétrica mais cara do mundo, algo absurdo porque nossa matriz com ênfase em hidrelétricas produz energia que deveria ser barata.

((o))eco: E quais seriam essas alternativas?
São três: a conservação da energia, o uso da biomassa e da energia eólica. A primeira alternativa é pensar na conservação e no uso eficiente da energia. É preciso uma ampla campanha nas mídias para ensinar à população a reduzir o desperdício. O governo está fazendo o contrário, quando diz que não há risco de racionamento.

Quando o governo prefere a termoeletricidade como base, está dizendo: vamos usar a termoeletricidade de forma que não se tenha riscos durante o período em que a hidrologia é desfavorável, que é o período entre junho e outubro. Essa solução, como já pontuei antes, é completamente inadequada.

A campanha por redução do consumo de energia deve abranger também grandes consumidores industriais. Estou falando de 6 setores: cimento, siderurgia, alumínio, química, ferro-liga e papel/celulose. Em conjunto, eles respondem pelo consumo de 30% da energia no Brasil. Não estou falando em fechar essas fábricas, mas que um esforço desses setores na redução da sua escala de produção aumentaria a disponibilidade de energia para a economia e para a população. É uma questão de interesse público.

((o))eco: E a segunda alternativa?

No mês de outubro, por causa do regime hidrológico, a capacidade de geração ficará reduzida a 1mil megawatts, ou seja, 10 % da capacidade instalada.

A segunda alternativa é a utilização do potencial do setor sucroalcooleiro como fonte de complementação de energia. O Instituto de Eletrotécnica e Energia da USP recentemente constatou que, a partir do bagaço da cana de açúcar, resíduo da produção sucroalcooleira, pode-se produzir 10 mil megawatts excedentes, o que equivale a mais de 2 vezes a energia média produzida por Belo Monte. Essa energia pode chegar ao sistema elétrico em 3 ou 4 meses e a custo baixo.

Hoje, o bagaço é utilizado para complementar a própria necessidade de eletricidade das usinas. Mas elas também poderiam comercializar o excedente que é dessa ordem que eu falei, de 10 mil megawatts. Elas já comercializam 1.230 megawatts de energia elétrica excedente.

((o))eco: Por que essa energia não está disponível?
Uma resolução da Aneel (Agência Nacional de Energia Elétrica) determina que cabe à usina o investimento para construir as linhas de transmissão de energia que levem esse excedente da usina até uma subestação ou uma rede de distribuição de energia elétrica. Nosso levantamento, feito para algumas regiões, mostra que a distância entre as usinas e a rede varia de 10 a 30 km, percurso relativamente curto.

((o)) eco: E o que poderia ser feito para viabilizar estas pequenas linhas?
O BNDES (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento) poderia financiar a construção dessas linhas. Com crédito, esse excedente poderia estar disponível já na próxima safra, em abril de 2013. Com investimento na troca de equipamentos de cogeração ─ caldeiras de maior pressão ─ esses 10 mil megawatts potenciais da biomassa podem dobrar para 20 mil megawatts. De novo, em nome do interesse público, o BNDES poderia ser o financiador.

Infelizmente, o BNDES está usando 22,5 bilhões de reais para financiar a construção da usina hidrelétrica de Belo Monte. Quando ficar pronta, em 2019, ela acrescentará apenas 4.400 megawatts médios ao sistema elétrico. Veja o absurdo, a política do governo prioriza megaobras de hidrelétricas, quando existem soluções de energia complementar às hidros, que funcionam justamente na época das secas. A safra da cana de açúcar ocorre no período de menos chuvas, que vai de maio até novembro.

((o))eco: Belo Monte deveria ser descartado, então?

Conforme dados oficiais, o sistema de transmissão e distribuição nacional tem uma perda técnica (excluindo os gatos) da ordem de 15,4%.

Belo Monte deveria ser descartada. O custo é enorme: 30 bilhões de reais para uma capacidade instalada de 11.233 megawatts. Essa capacidade estará disponível durante 3 ou 4 meses por ano, no período das chuvas. No mês de outubro, por causa do regime hidrológico, a capacidade de geração ficará reduzida a 1mil megawatts, ou seja, 10 % da capacidade instalada. A média ao longo do ano é de 4400 megawatts. A contribuição do rio Xingu e da Usina de Belo Monte é uma fração do que está sendo alegado para justificar a construção da usina. Eu afirmo, Belo Monte atende ao interesse das empreiteiras e empresas ligadas à sua construção, e não à população e a economia brasileira.

((o))eco: E a terceira alternativa?
A terceira alternativa é a energia eólica. No nordeste, o regime de ventos é maior justamente na época da estiagem. Os reservatórios do rio São Francisco podem acumular água durante o período mais crítico, enquanto a energia eólica abasteceria a região nordeste. Ouve-se a alegação de que a biomassa, a eólica, são fontes intermitentes. Ora, a hidroeletricidade também é intermitente, pois depende do regime hidrológico.

((o))eco: E quanto a eficiência, qual é o percentual de perda nas linhas de transmissão?
Conforme dados oficiais, o sistema de transmissão e distribuição nacional tem uma perda técnica (excluindo os gatos) da ordem de 15,4%. É impossível eliminar todas as perdas, mas cortar 5 pontos percentuais é tecnologicamente viável e traz grandes benefícios econômicos. Basta investir na manutenção do sistema: isolar melhor os fios de transmissão e trocar transformadores que já esgotaram sua vida útil. O número crescente de apagões é uma evidência de má manutenção. Por exemplo, parafusos velhos levam à queda de torres de transmissão.

Dessa forma, a perda poderia ser reduzida para cerca de 10% e acrescentariam ao sistema elétrico o equivalente a uma usina hidrelétrica de 6.100 megawatts ─ 150% mais da média de Belo Monte ─ de acordo com cálculo recente que fiz com estudantes da Pós-Graduação em Energia do IEE. Isso poderia ser alcançado a um terço do custo de produzir um novo megawatt.

A Aneel é leniente em relação às perdas. É fundamental que ela defina, em nome do interesse público, metas de redução de perdas técnicas nas empresas de distribuição e concessionárias de distribuição de energia. O alcance dessas metas deveria ser associado à redução tarifária.

((o))eco: É caro construir novas linhas de transmissão?
Sim, principalmente para levar energia distante dos centros de consumo, como é o caso dos projetos de hidrelétricas que estão sendo construídas na Amazônia.

((o))eco: E a energia nuclear? O Brasil deve pensar em investir nesta alternativa de energia?
A energia nuclear é uma fonte cara, desnecessária e com um risco de ocorrência de acidentes severos. Além das usinas de Angra 1 e 2, estamos construindo Angra 3. Todas elas numa região que é imprópria para a implantação de usinas nucleares. Angra dos Reis é uma região suscetível a grandes chuvas no verão. Não é impensável a possibilidade que uma chuva mais severa derrube as linhas que transmitem energia elétrica do sistema até as usinas.

O resultado da interrupção de fornecimento de energia elétrica pode fazer as bombas de refrigeração de água dos reatores pararem, provocando o superaquecimento e a explosão do reator, que foi o que aconteceu, em fevereiro de 2011, nos 4 reatores de Fukushima, no Japão. Com um agravante: a única via de escoamento da população é a Rio-Santos, absolutamente incapaz de evacuar toda a população local. A empresa Eletronuclear considera, hoje, uma população da ordem de 200 mil habitantes. Essa população dobra na época das férias, que coincide com a época das chuvas.

Chimpanzees Successfully Play the Ultimatum Game: Apes’ Sense of Fairness Confirmed (Science Daily)

Jan. 14, 2013 — Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, are the first to show chimpanzees possess a sense of fairness that has previously been attributed as uniquely human. Working with colleagues from Georgia State University, the researchers played the Ultimatum Game with the chimpanzees to determine how sensitive the animals are to the reward distribution between two individuals if both need to agree on the outcome.

Researchers have shown that chimpanzees possess a sense of fairness that has previously been attributed as uniquely human. (Credit: © Sunshine Pics / Fotolia)

The researchers say the findings, available in an early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) available this week, suggest a long evolutionary history of the human aversion to inequity as well as a shared preference for fair outcomes by the common ancestor of humans and apes.

According to first author Darby Proctor, PhD, “We used the Ultimatum Game because it is the gold standard to determine the human sense of fairness. In the game, one individual needs to propose a reward division to another individual and then have that individual accept the proposition before both can obtain the rewards. Humans typically offer generous portions, such as 50 percent of the reward, to their partners, and that’s exactly what we recorded in our study with chimpanzees.”

Co-author Frans de Waal, PhD, adds, “Until our study, the behavioral economics community assumed the Ultimatum Game could not be played with animals or that animals would choose only the most selfish option while playing. We’ve concluded that chimpanzees not only get very close to the human sense of fairness, but the animals may actually have exactly the same preferences as our own species.” For purposes of direct comparison, the study was also conducted separately with human children.

In the study, researchers tested six adult chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and 20 human children (ages 2 — 7 years) on a modified Ultimatum Game. One individual chose between two differently colored tokens that, with his or her partner’s cooperation, could be exchanged for rewards (small food rewards for chimpanzees and stickers for children). One token offered equal rewards to both players, whereas the other token favored the individual making the choice at the expense of his or her partner. The chooser then needed to hand the token to the partner, who needed to exchange it with the experimenter for food. This way, both individuals needed to be in agreement.

Both the chimpanzees and the children responded like adult humans typically do. If the partner’s cooperation was required, the chimpanzees and children split the rewards equally. However, with a passive partner, who had no chance to reject the offer, chimpanzees and children chose the selfish option.

Chimpanzees, who are highly cooperative in the wild, likely need to be sensitive to reward distributions in order to reap the benefits of cooperation. Thus, this study opens the door for further explorations into the mechanisms behind this human-like behavior.

For eight decades, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, has been dedicated to conducting essential basic science and translational research to advance scientific understanding and to improve the health and well-being of humans and nonhuman primates. Today, the center, as one of only eight National Institutes of Health-funded national primate research centers, provides leadership, training and resources to foster scientific creativity, collaboration and discoveries. Yerkes-based research is grounded in scientific integrity, expert knowledge, respect for colleagues, an open exchange of ideas and compassionate quality animal care.

Within the fields of microbiology and immunology, neurologic diseases, neuropharmacology, behavioral, cognitive and developmental neuroscience, and psychiatric disorders, the center’s research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases; treat drug addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; unlock the secrets of memory; determine how the interaction between genetics and society shape who we are; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.

Journal Reference:

  1. Darby Proctor, Rebecca A. Williamson, Frans B. M. de Waal, and Sarah F. Brosnan. Chimpanzees play the ultimatum gamePNAS, January 14, 2013 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1220806110

Global Warming Has Increased Monthly Heat Records Worldwide by a Factor of Five, Study Finds (Science Daily)

Jan. 14, 2013 — Monthly temperature extremes have become much more frequent, as measurements from around the world indicate. On average, there are now five times as many record-breaking hot months worldwide than could be expected without long-term global warming, shows a study now published in Climatic Change. In parts of Europe, Africa and southern Asia the number of monthly records has increased even by a factor of ten. 80 percent of observed monthly records would not have occurred without human influence on climate, concludes the authors-team of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Complutense University of Madrid.

Record-breaking hot months have become much more frequent. (Credit: PIK)

“The last decade brought unprecedented heat waves; for instance in the US in 2012, in Russia in 2010, in Australia in 2009, and in Europe in 2003,” lead-author Dim Coumou says. “Heat extremes are causing many deaths, major forest fires, and harvest losses — societies and ecosystems are not adapted to ever new record-breaking temperatures.” The new study relies on 131 years of monthly temperature data for more than 12,000 grid points around the world, provided by NASA. Comprehensive analysis reveals the increase in records.

The researchers developed a robust statistical model that explains the surge in the number of records to be a consequence of the long-term global warming trend. That surge has been particularly steep over the last 40 years, due to a steep global-warming trend over this period. Superimposed on this long-term rise, the data show the effect of natural variability, with especially high numbers of heat records during years with El Niño events. This natural variability, however, does not explain the overall development of record events, found the researchers.

Natural variability does not explain the overall development of record events

If global warming continues, the study projects that the number of new monthly records will be 12 times as high in 30 years as it would be without climate change. “Now this doesn’t mean there will be 12 times more hot summers in Europe than today — it actually is worse,” Coumou points out. For the new records set in the 2040s will not just be hot by today’s standards. “To count as new records, they actually have to beat heat records set in the 2020s and 2030s, which will already be hotter than anything we have experienced to date,” explains Coumou. “And this is just the global average — in some continental regions, the increase in new records will be even greater.”

“Statistics alone cannot tell us what the cause of any single heat wave is, but they show a large and systematic increase in the number of heat records due to global warming,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, a co-author of the study and co-chair of PIK’s research domain Earth System Analysis. “Today, this increase is already so large that by far most monthly heat records are due to climate change. The science is clear that only a small fraction would have occurred naturally.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Dim Coumou, Alexander Robinson, Stefan Rahmstorf.Global increase in record-breaking monthly-mean temperaturesClimatic Change, 2013; DOI:10.1007/s10584-012-0668-1

Os dois lados da exclusão (Revista Fórum)

11/01/2013 1:40 pm

O encontro entre um líder do MST e um grupo de presidiários põe em contato realidades que ambos conhecem, como enfrentamentos com a polícia e ameaças de morte por defesa dos próprios direitos

Por Júlio Delmanto

Em frente ao campinho de terra, a pequena capela estava lotada. Sentados em bancos de igreja ou em pé, cerca de 40 jovens de pele escura, cabelos curtos e braços cruzados, muitos com camisas de futebol e tatuagens nos braços, ouviam atentamente João Pedro Stedile falar sobre a história do MST e da luta pela terra no Brasil. Poderia ser só mais uma atividade para o principal líder dos sem-terra, se não fosse pelo lugar nada usual: um presídio.

A convite do projeto “Como vai seu mundo?”, impulsionado pelo rapper e ex-detento Dexter e pelo juiz Jaime dos Santos Jr., garantido atualmente pelo Coletivo Peso, movimento social surgido no bairro paulistano do Jardim Pantanal, Stedile visitou em 25 de setembro o presídio José Parada Neto, em Guarulhos, para conversar com “reeducandos” do regime semiaberto sobre a trajetória do movimento e a importância da luta política para a transformação das injustiças.

Vestindo calça jeans surrada e camisa polo azul clara, Stedile iniciou sua exposição lembrando as origens da desigualdade no Brasil, apontando que, desde 1500, o país “foi se organizando numa sociedade baseada no capitalismo, ou seja, baseada no lucro. E o lucro, o que é? Alguém só consegue ficar rico se pega o trabalho de alguém”. Consolida-se assim, a seu ver, um contexto social marcado pela separação entre os pobres e os que vivem do trabalho dos pobres. “Cada vez que você vir um rico por aí, pode contar quantos dias de trabalho ele pegou de alguém, porque sozinho ninguém fica rico. Então, o capitalismo gera uma sociedade muito desigual, com os pobres cada vez mais longe dos ricos. Com o passar do tempo, o Brasil se tornou a sociedade mais desigual do mundo”, resumiu.

Stedile prosseguiu, rememorando o início do MST. “Logo depois do fim da ditadura, quando perdemos o medo dos milicos e da polícia, nós começamos a nos organizar, lá no interior”, relatou, para uma audiência em absoluto silêncio e interessada. “Muita gente entre o povo quer trabalhar na agricultura e quer viver daquilo, mas não tem terra, porque ela está concentrada. É muita terra no Brasil e pouco dono, a maior parte delas não é ocupada, o cara deixa lá só pra especulação. Tem fazendeiro que depois deixa a terra pro santo no testamento, achando que vai escapar do inferno”, brincou.

“Nós começamos, então, a ajudar a organizar os pobres, fazíamos as reuniões no interior, debaixo do pé de manga, e a primeira pergunta básica era: Quem de vocês quer terra? E por que vocês não têm terra? Porque não tem dinheiro. Aí a gente mostrava a lei: ‘Vocês sabem desta lei de reforma agrária?’. Não sabiam. ‘Então a lei tá do nosso lado?’. Nesse caso, sim. Aí aparecia sempre um crente: ‘Mas a lei de Deus é maior que a dos homens’. Porém, nós descobrimos que lá na Bíblia diz: e Deus fez a terra, e depois que estava pronta disse ‘a terra é de todos’. Não diz na Bíblia que a terra é do fazendeiro Albuquerque da Silva, se você é filho de Deus, você tem direito, pega a Bíblia e vai brigar.”

“Já pensou em desistir quando viu que o bagulho ia ficar louco?”

Conforme Stedile, a primeira iniciativa do Movimento foi no sentido da conscientização. “O pobre tem de ter conhecimento de seus direitos, senão qualquer policial chega lá, o cara não sabe e fala: ‘Sim, senhor’. Se ele tem conhecimento dos seus direitos, ele caminha com a cabeça erguida”. A partir disso, o segundo passo seria “saber o caminho para chegar aos direitos. Então nós começamos a organizar esses pobres pra botar o direito na prática.”

Os participantes da conversa aparentavam já conhecer algo do MST, mas tinham diversas dúvidas, que eram expressadas informalmente, interrompendo a exposição do gaúcho que até na certidão de nascimento tem a cor do movimento, já que nasceu em Lagoa Vermelha. Perguntavam sobre realidades que conhecem de perto, como enfrentamentos com a polícia e ameaças de morte por defesa de direitos, e também sobre o que buscavam conhecer, como os métodos para garantir uma boa ocupação e formas de se comunicar com uma sociedade vista como preconceituosa e intolerante.

“Em algum momento já pensou em parar, desistir, quando viu que o bagulho ia ficar louco mesmo?”, perguntou um rapaz de cavanhaque que não se identificou. “Quando a pessoa adquire consciência, tem conhecimento de que a sociedade é assim, aí de que adianta parar? Não tem saída”, afirmou Stedile, ressaltando, no entanto, que “tem de ter essa clareza, nós já tivemos muitos companheiros que conquistam a terra e aí falam: ‘Vou cuidar da minha vida’. Aí vira pequeno riquinho na cabeça”. Em relação a problemas de violência legal e extralegal, lembrou que, desde 1984, “foram assassinados mais de 1,5 mil companheiros, tanto pela polícia quanto pelos jagunços, tivemos muita gente assassinada”.

Para lidar com o risco, o gaúcho deu sua receita: estar bem organizado. “Isso é uma coisa que aprendemos com o tempo, e esperamos que vocês aprendam também, porque esse é o segredo dos pobres, da classe trabalhadora: a nossa força tá no número. Não tá só na justiça do teu direito, tá no número, e isso nós aprendemos de tanto apanhar”, apontou. “Se você entra com cem pessoas e chega a polícia com cem soldados, você não guenta uma meia horinha. Agora, se chegarem os cem policiais e eles encontrarem mil pessoas, aí já vão dizer: ‘Pois é, vou ter que consultar o comandante’. O que faz com que ele mude a opinião não é a lei nem a terra, que são as mesmas, mas o número de pessoas envolvidas.”

Houve perguntas também sobre a relação com a mídia, apontada como detentora de uma visão parcial e estigmatizadora dos pobres, ponderações sobre as dificuldades enfrentadas no cárcere e até o questionamento sobre a necessidade de integração entre a luta indígena pela retomada de suas terras e a luta em prol da reforma agrária. João Pedro Stedile parece ter se animado com essa primeira abertura de portas, e colocou o Movimento à disposição para ajudar em outras iniciativas de fortalecimento da cidadania da população aprisionada naquela unidade, como, por exemplo, na divulgação de textos em órgãos do MST e ajuda para alfabetização ou aulas de inglês.

Ao final da conversa, Hugo Leonardo Ferraz, de 26 anos, que trabalha na cozinha do presídio e participa do Projeto “Como vai seu mundo?” desde que chegou ao Parada Neto há nove meses, comentava que a atividade foi produtiva. “O pessoal gostou porque entendeu que estava diante de uma pessoa humilde, trabalhadora, guerreira, de um líder de verdade. Teve muita pergunta, diálogo bastante aberto, esclareceram suas dúvidas e curiosidades, pudemos guardar lições de vida”, afirmou.

Superlotação é a norma

Segundo números do Departamento Penitenciário Nacional (Depen), o Brasil terminou 2011 com 514.582 pessoas encarceradas, sendo que cerca de 190 mil delas estão presas em São Paulo. De acordo com dados fornecidos à Folha de São Paulo pelo Conselho Nacional de Justiça (CNJ), esses detentos estão acomodados num espaço de apenas 105 mil vagas. No presídio José Parada Neto, a situação não é diferente: a capacidade da unidade é de 216 vagas, mas estão detidas ali entre 640 e 650 pessoas, o que corresponde ao triplo do que o local comporta.

Para João Paulo Burquim, que tem 37 anos e é conhecido como “Professor” por dar aulas a seus companheiros de cárcere, a superlotação é o principal dos problemas da unidade. A falta de camas é comum e muitas vezes, nem sequer colchões são fornecidos aos “reeducandos”, que têm de dormir no chão – “é uma situação constrangedora”, resume Burquim. Há também falta de extintores em caso de incêndio, torneiras, chuveiros e material para higiene pessoal, mesmo que a Cartilha da Pessoa Presa, elaborada pelo CNJ, estabeleça a distribuição do “kit higiene” como direito.

“Dá pra engrossar essa lista de precariedades”, comenta Hugo Ferraz. Ele lembra da inexistência de políticas de esporte e cultura, do desleixo com que é tratada a pequena biblioteca da unidade e aponta a falta de documentos como um entrave importante para a tão proclamada “ressocialização” dos presos. Muitos dos detidos na unidade não conseguem acessar as benesses do regime semiaberto, como poder trabalhar fora ou fazer cursos, por não terem documentos, e a reivindicação da visita de uma unidade móvel do Poupatempo jamais foi atendida: eles não podem sair por não terem documentos, e não têm documentos porque não podem sair.

Além disso, não há nenhum médico para atender os internos; ocasionalmente, um enfermeiro vai ao local. Como também há poucos remédios, os detentos relatam que o medicamento Dipirona sódica, que possui efeito analgésico e antitérmico, é receitado para praticamente qualquer tipo de problema. Somente em casos muito graves a pessoa é levada a um hospital. Devido a essas dificuldades, os presos têm se reunido semanalmente para conversar e buscar formas de reivindicar seus direitos, dos quais aparentam ter grande conhecimento.

Dos quase 520 mil presos no Brasil, estima-se que 40% sequer foram julgados, estão em detenção provisória. De acordo com o CNJ, somente em São Paulo 26 mil processos envolvendo presos estão parados, o que corresponde a 14% do total dos detentos do estado.

Reeducação sem informação 

O acesso à informação também é bastante difícil. Mesmo não havendo nenhuma lei versando sobre o assunto, as prisões do estado de São Paulo não permitem a entrada de livros e jornais em seu interior. Hugo afirma que, quando questionados, os funcionários não dão argumentos que justifiquem esse procedimento. “Não entra, não é permitido pela unidade, é norma da Secretaria, é ordem da Coordenadoria, as justificativas são repetitivas. Geralmente a informação é algo que não pode, que não deve, que de forma alguma deve fazer parte do dia a dia do reeducando”, critica.

Também por esse motivo, iniciativas como o projeto que levou Stedile ao Parada Neto são valorizadas pelos presos. Conforme o professor Burquim, as informações mais importantes acabam chegando principalmente por meio do “boca a boca”, e a presença de pessoas de fora do cotidiano da prisão é muito bem-vista. “Eu fiquei um ano e meio fechado em outro CDP [Centro de Detenção Provisória] da região, e a gente não tinha acesso nenhum, tudo que nos enviavam passava por um departamento de censura. Toda informação para quem tem interesse de melhora vem de encontros com outras pessoas, e isso é impactante.”

No entanto, por causa de algum critério kafkiano, ver televisão não é proibido, e é essa a única mídia que conecta os presos ao mundo exterior. Mesmo com o direito ao voto sendo vetado a pessoas condenadas pela Justiça, as eleições são um exemplo de como a TV é usada, já que os detentos do Parada Neto demonstraram conhecimento em relação ao pleito municipal que aconteceria em 7 de outubro.

Dizem não defender nenhum candidato, mas sabem em quem não votar, e inclusive recomendam a familiares que não esqueçam dos responsáveis pelo elevado índice de encarceramento no estado e no País. Burquim relata que “às vezes, a família que tá lá fora não tem o conhecimento que a gente adquiriu através dos debates aqui dentro, então procuramos orientar. Aí a pessoa fala: ‘Poxa, eu não sabia, não acredito’”.

A questão eleitoral também foi trazida à tona durante a conversa com João Pedro Stedile, que foi questionado a respeito da posição do MST sobre o pleito deste ano. Segundo ele, no plano local as decisões são tomadas nos assentamentos, “o pessoal faz assembleia e identifica os candidatos que são mais a nosso favor, quem é a favor da reforma agrária”. Ele avalia que “de uns dez anos pra cá, por incrível que pareça, a questão partidária não pesa tanto, os partidos ficaram tudo meio igual. Há uns dez anos, a maioria nossa era do PT, e os fazendeiros eram tudo dos outros partidos. Agora misturou tudo, tem fazendeiro do PT, do PCdoB, as siglas já misturaram tudo, infelizmente”.  Ressalta, no entanto, que “em nível federal, é outra coisa, a disputa fica mais clara: nós sempre votamos contra o Alckmin, o Serra, eles são representantes dos ricos. Quando tinha o Lula, ele era mais identificado com a gente, apesar de ter uns ‘primos ricos’. A Dilma, também, é melhor que o Serra, mas tem uns ‘primos ricos’ de quem nós não gostamos”.

Como vai seu mundo?

“Grades de ferro, chão de concreto/ Na prisão tudo é quadrado do piso até o teto/É desanimante, é feio, é triste/ Rouba a sua brisa, só quem é resiste/ E não desiste, persiste, enfrenta a batalha/ Violenta é a vida no fio da navalha”: esses são alguns dos versos de Como vai seu mundo?, rap de Dexter escolhido para nomear o projeto realizado no presídio de Guarulhos.

Hoje com 39 anos, Marcos Omena, que adotou o apelido de Dexter como nome artístico, por ser este também o nome de um dos filhos de Martin Luther King, passou 13 anos atrás das grades, alguns deles no Carandiru, onde fundou o grupo 509-E em conjunto com Afro-X, atualmente também em carreira-solo. Dexter esteve detido por um período no José Parada Neto e, junto com o juiz Jaime dos Santos Jr., começou a gestar o projeto que ganhou corpo com a participação do Coletivo Peso, principal executor e garantidor da linha política da iniciativa.

Além das conversas com diferentes convidados, o projeto, que é apoiado pela ONG Instituto Crescer, realiza oficinas de música, fotografia e comunicação, exibições de filmes e até saraus – a cada três participações, um dia de pena é subtraído. Alguns dos “reeducandos” conseguiram autorização para visitar semanalmente a sede do Instituto Crescer, onde recebem formação em informática e cidadania com Eduardo Bustamente, um dos coordenadores do projeto, e dessas atividades surgiu um blogue chamado Diário da Colônia. Os presos também já fizeram um jornal de quatro páginas intitulado Nós por nós, que em sua primeira edição traz poesias e textos dos internos, além de uma reportagem criticando a proibição da entrada de cigarros falsificados, ou “paraguaios”’, no interior dos presídios de São Paulo. “Covardia é o manto dos fracos, coragem é a coroa dos fortes” e “Nosso problema não é resolvido pela sua matemática”, são algumas das frases contidas na publicação.

Bolsa Família and the Feminist Revolution in the Sertão (

By Mariana Sanches – January 14, 2013

Over the past five years anthropologist Walquiria Domingues Leão Rêgo has witnessed a change in behavior in the poorest, and probably most sexist, areas of Brazil. The money provided by the federal income subsidy program Bolsa Família has brought the power of choice to women. They now decide everything from the grocery list to whether to file for divorce.

Money from “Bolsa-Família” brought the power of choice to the women of the Sertão, Brazil’s hinterland (Photo from: Editora Globo)

A revolution is underway. Silent and slow—52 years after the creation of the birth control pill—feminism begins to take shape in the poorest, and possibly most chauvinistic, corners of Brazil. The interior of Piauí, the coast of Alagoas, the Jequitinhonha Valley in Minas Gerais, the interior of Maranhão and the outskirts of São Luís are this movement’s setting, described by anthropologist Walquiria Domingues Leão Rêgo, of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). Over the past five years, Walquiria followed the annual changes in the lives of over a hundred women, all beneficiaries of Bolsa Família. She visited the most isolated areas, relying on her own resources, for an unusual exercise: to hear from these women how their lives had (or had not) changed after the creation of the program. Walquiria’s research will be published in a book, to be released later this year, but we will advance some of her conclusions.


The areas Walquiria visited are those where families at times cannot get any income over a whole month. Ultimately, they live off a barter system. With a labor market too small for men, there rests no hope of employment opportunity for women. There is poor access to education and health. Families tend to have many children. The social structure is patriarchal and religious. The woman is always under the yoke of her father, her husband or her pastor. “Many of these women went through the humiliating experience of being literally forced to ‘hunt for food,’” says Walquiria. “It’s people who live without the right to have rights.” Walquiria wanted to know if Bolsa Família had either become a welfare crutch or rescued some sense of citizenship for these people.


“There is more freedom in money,” says Edineide, one of Walquiria’s interviewees and a resident of Pasmadinho in Jequitinhonha Valley. Women make up more than 90% of the titleholders of Bolsa Família; they are the ones who withdraw the money from the cash machine on a monthly basis. Edineide translates the meaning of this government decision of giving the benefit card to the woman: “When the husband goes shopping, he buys what he wants. And if I go, I buy what I want.” They started buying yogurt for children and to entitle themselves to vanity. Walquiria witnessed women buying lipstick for themselves for the first time in their lives. Finally, they had the power of choice. And that changes many things.


“A lot of these women have a fixed income for the first time, and many now have more than their husbands,”says Walquiria. More than simply choosing between buying noodles or rice, Bolsa Família also allowed them to decide whether or not to continue their marriages. It is still rare for a woman to initiate a separation in these regions. Yet this is precisely what is beginning to happen, as Walquiria reports: “In the first interview in April 2006 with Quitéria Ferreira da Silva, 34, a married mother of three in Inhapi, I asked her about the issue of abuse. She cried and told me she did not want to talk about it. The following year, when I returned, I found her separated from her husband, boasting a much more relaxed appearance.”

Despite husbands’ harassments, none of the women interviewed by Walquiria admitted to yielding to their appeals and handing over the Bolsa Família money. “This is my money, President Lula gave it to me to take care of my children and grandchildren. Why am I going to give it to my husband now? I won’t!” said Maria das Mercês Pinheiro Dias, 60, mother of six, a resident of São Luís, in an interview in 2009.

Walquiria also reports that the number of women who seek contraception has increased. They began to feel more comfortable making decisions about their bodies and their lives. It is clear that changes are still subtle. No one visiting these areas will find women burning bras and quoting Betty Friedan. But they are beginning to break with a perverse dynamic, first described in 1911 by English philosopher John Stuart Mill. According to Mill, women are trained since childhood not only to serve men, husbands and fathers, but to want to serve them. It seems that the poorest women of Brazil are finding they can want more than just that.

A Aldeia Maracanã é dos índios, diz antropólogo (Revista Fórum)

18/01/2013 12:47 pm

A ocupação do ex-museu do índio dá visibilidade à luta por políticas públicas indígenas em áreas urbanas e permite a governo do Rio dialogar, afirma Marcos Albuquerque, da UERJ

Por Jessica Mota

Marcos Albuquerque: Cerca de 40% da população indígena original hoje está dispersa nos grandes centros urbanos do país (Foto: André Mantelli)

“Quanto à origem deste prédio, há poucas informações disponíveis e muitas delas se contradizem”, diz o relatório feito em 1997 pelo Instituto Estadual do Patrimônio Cultural, o INEPAC, órgão vinculado à Secretaria de Cultura do estado do Rio de Janeiro, sobre o prédio conhecido como “antigo Museu do Índio”, que o governo do Rio quer demolir para facilitar o trânsito no entorno do estádio Maracanã, em reforma para a Copa 2014.

O que se sabe é que, no início do século XIX, a região era de engenhos de açúcar e, provavelmente, ainda repleta de aves chamadas maracanãs. Em 1889, com a chegada da República, aquelas terras adquiridas pelo Duque de Saxe, genro de D. Pedro II, deixariam de pertencer ao Império do Brasil e passariam a ser propriedade do Ministério da Agricultura, Indústria e Comércio.

O casarão imperial se tornaria conhecido a partir de 1953, como sede do Museu do Índio, chefiado por Darcy Ribeiro. O museu se tornaria referência internacional, servindo de “modelo a diversas instituições, orientando-a quanto à catalogação e classificação de material etnográfico e quanto aos melhores métodos de exposição museográficas”, como aponta o relatório do INEPAC.

Em 1978, o Museu do Índio mudou de endereço e o prédio caiu no abandono. Deteriorado, acabou não merecendo tombamento do Iphan, que o avaliou como de baixa relevância nacional do ponto de vista histórico e arquitetônico.

Para o antropólogo Marcos Albuquerque, professor adjunto da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) e pesquisador da presença da população indígena nas grandes cidades, não há dúvida que o prédio tem valor histórico pelo que representa para o indigenismo nacional e sua ocupação legitima a construção de “referenciais” indígenas na cidade do Rio de Janeiro, onde a luta por políticas públicas tem maior visibilidade.

Leia a entrevista.


O governador Sérgio Cabral, em uma fala veiculada na televisão, deu a entender que a Aldeia Maracanã não teria legitimidade por não estar ali desde o descobrimento, nem no período colonial. Qual a sua visão sobre isso?

O que o governador falou é algo que vai contra preceitos constitucionais e regras jurídicas que determinam o tipo de atenção ao caso. A ocupação dos indígenas naquele espaço é legítima independentemente do ano em que foi feita. Do ponto de vista da política indigenista, o que está em jogo ali é o fato de ser uma comunidade indígena reivindicando um direito constitucional. No mínimo, os indígenas teriam o direito de usucapião, que é um direito coletivo. Além disso, é um espaço que tem valor histórico e que deve ser mantido. A intercessão entre esse valor histórico e a presença da população indígena ali, em um espaço da memória do movimento indigenista, já daria toda a legitimidade ao que eles estão reivindicando, que não é de direito individual. É uma reivindicação de um direito coletivo, claramente legítima do ponto de vista de preceitos constitucionais. Esse tipo de fala que o governador ou o prefeito tem feito às pressas não tem nenhum valor oficial e o que o governo do estado irá fazer com relação a essa questão não pode estar baseado em uma afirmação como essa, feita às pressas.

O tombamento do prédio do antigo Museu do Índio foi recusado na avaliação do Iphan. Mas a questão se resume ao caráter histórico do lugar ou vai além disso?

Pelo que a gente está acompanhando da mobilização em torno do antigo museu por conta da ocupação indígena, a questão é mais complexa, envolve a presença de uma população indígena que já está há pelo menos seis anos ali. É um tipo de ocupação que não está apenas pela preservação da memória do imóvel, que tem a ver com a história do indigenismo nacional, mas também com o projeto de construção de referenciais na cidade do Rio de Janeiro para a cultura indígena e – por que não? – de projetos de implementação de políticas públicas a partir desse epicentro.

Quem são os índios que estão ali, de onde vêm, o que fazem?

A ocupação do local foi uma forma de – na medida do possível, sem recursos – implementar uma política cultural que funcionasse como pólo de visibilidade da questão indígena local e nacional, até porque existem indígenas do país todo lá. O núcleo principal era formado por cerca de seis indígenas, principalmente homens adultos e solteiros, mas há alguns deles que estão há mais de 20 anos morando aqui no Rio de Janeiro. A maior parte vem do norte do país, principalmente do estado do Amazonas, e alguns já tinham uma trajetória de mobilização política pró-indígena em Brasília e em outras capitais. Outros, como os Guajajara, vieram ao Rio de Janeiro com família, estavam morando em residências sem condições de saúde e segurança, mesmo que tivessem formação acadêmica, como é o caso do Arão [da Providência], que é advogado e atua junto à OAB e ao Ministério Público, e o irmão dele, o Zé, que é doutorando em linguística no Museu Nacional, mais as famílias, todas em situação econômica bastante precária. São situações bastante diversas.

Qual é a situação hoje dos índios que vivem em cidades, como o Rio de Janeiro?

Cerca de 40% da população indígena original hoje está dispersa nos grandes centros urbanos do país: Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Brasília, Salvador e Manaus, principalmente. E todas as grandes cidades têm políticas de atenção à população indígena, mas que são muito diferentes porque não há uma regulamentação federal de como deve ser feito o atendimento a essa população. E a implementação dessas políticas públicas, em quase 100% dos casos, vêm por conta da mobilização dos próprios indígenas. Principalmente com relação ao atendimento à saúde, educação e moradia. São Paulo e Manaus são centros de referência para esse tipo de política pública.

Por que a população indígena migra para as cidades?

Essa migração tem mais de 50 anos, no mínimo. Os indígenas migram, principalmente os do nordeste brasileiro e, mais recentemente, da região norte, por conta de conflitos fundiários, por conta de violência pela posse da terra, por conta de muitas populações indígenas, principalmente do nordeste, estarem hoje ocupando territórios que não tem viabilidade econômica. Então os migrantes indígenas são migrantes tal como os migrantes do nordeste brasileiro. Mas a Constituição de 1988 regulamenta uma certa autonomia de representação dos povos indígenas através de suas associações, que passam a não depender apenas da Funai e do Ministério Público e aí começam a ter visibilidade. E eles também migram em busca de melhoria na educação, formação na educação básica e universitária e, em menor parte, em busca de atendimento à saúde. O Estado brasileiro tem o papel constitucional de criar políticas públicas para amenizar o impacto da violência imposta aos indígenas durante a construção do país. É uma espécie de compensação histórica feita aos povos indígenas. Mas o que o Estado vem fazendo ao longo do tempo é um tipo de atendimento, feito pela Funai, dentro das aldeias, e não nas cidades. Embora a redação do texto constitucional não faça distinção entre comunidades em aldeias ou centros urbanos. É por conta disso que os povos indígenas estão exigindo que os órgãos públicos implementem, ou regulamentem, o preceito constitucional. Essa é a luta deles.

Como o governo do Rio tem tratado a questão indígena?

Pelo que consegui sondar até o momento, e pelo que informam os próprios indígenas, o estado do Rio de Janeiro não tem nenhuma política pública para os povos indígenas, o que é um fosso bastante significativo no cenário nacional. Até porque a cidade do Rio de Janeiro, oficialmente, pelo Censo, tem mais de 6 mil indígenas. Mas pelas contas dos próprios indígenas e de pessoas envolvidas, esse número é, no mínimo, três vezes maior. Em São Paulo, os indígenas, ao constituírem associações, passaram a ter uma melhor organização e conseguiram montar autonomamente o seu próprio censo. Mas no Rio de Janeiro não tem nenhuma associação institucionalizada ou indígena que já tenha condições de fazer esse tipo de mapeamento. O governo do estado do Rio e a prefeitura do Rio não cedem nenhum funcionário ou espaço institucional para o fortalecimento das associações indígenas. Não promovem nenhum tipo de atendimento diferenciado na saúde ou na educação, nenhum tipo de política pública para os povos indígenas, e não há nem um conselho estadual de povos indígenas, como ocorre em outros estados.

O que significaria, então, o reconhecimento de que é legítima a reivindicação dos índios a um espaço, um centro cultural, que preserve a memória e a história deles, no Rio de Janeiro?

A Aldeia, tal como ela existe, já se configura como espaço de pressão para que o governo do Rio de Janeiro implemente políticas públicas para essa população. Minimamente já se consegue promover algo muito importante que é um impacto de articulação, de encontro – festivo, mas também político. E ao se tornarem visíveis, como é o caso da Aldeia Maracanã, o governo passa a chamá-los para dialogar. E é possível que esse diálogo, nascido da Aldeia Maracanã, possa se desdobrar efetivamente na construção de políticas públicas. E não só para esses que estão na Aldeia, mas para todos que estão no estado do Rio de Janeiro, que são muitos mais. Esse movimento é muito maior do que o número específico de índios que estão na Aldeia.

Como você acha que um evento como a Copa pode definir essa representação que os índios estão tentando conseguir frente ao governo?

A Copa levou a uma grande visibilidade internacional principalmente nesse último ano, em 2012 e agora no começo de 2013, por conta do incremento das reformas no Maracanã e do impacto sobre a Aldeia Maracanã. Isso vem levando os indígenas a ter uma visibilidade internacional muito grande. É evidente o desnível entre o interesse da mídia internacional e o da mídia nacional, que passou a olhar para essa questão muito recentemente e com muito mais reticências do que a mídia internacional. É um pouco ilógica a política do governo do estado de não tornar a ocupação dos índios algo positivo. É um paradoxo no que se refere a um elemento de grande significação internacional, que é a manutenção, o registro, a atualização de um patrimônio em pleno coração da cidade para onde os olhos do mundo estarão voltados.

A foto desta matéria foi gentilmente cedida por André Mantelli.

Severe Climate Jeopardizing Amazon Forest, Study Finds (Science Daily)

Jan. 18, 2013 — An area of the Amazon rainforest twice the size of California continues to suffer from the effects of a megadrought that began in 2005, finds a new NASA-led study. These results, together with observed recurrences of droughts every few years and associated damage to the forests in southern and western Amazonia in the past decade, suggest these rainforests may be showing the first signs of potential large-scale degradation due to climate change.

At left, the extent of the 2005 megadrought in the western Amazon rainforests during the summer months of June, July and August as measured by NASA satellites. The most impacted areas are shown in shades of red and yellow. The circled area in the right panel shows the extent of the forests that experienced slow recovery from the 2005 drought, with areas in red and yellow shades experiencing the slowest recovery. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC)

An international research team led by Sassan Saatchi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., analyzed more than a decade of satellite microwave radar data collected between 2000 and 2009 over Amazonia. The observations included measurements of rainfall from NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and measurements of the moisture content and structure of the forest canopy (top layer) from the Seawinds scatterometer on NASA’s QuikScat spacecraft.

The scientists found that during the summer of 2005, more than 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers, or 70 million hectares) of pristine, old-growth forest in southwestern Amazonia experienced an extensive, severe drought. This megadrought caused widespread changes to the forest canopy that were detectable by satellite. The changes suggest dieback of branches and tree falls, especially among the older, larger, more vulnerable canopy trees that blanket the forest.

While rainfall levels gradually recovered in subsequent years, the damage to the forest canopy persisted all the way to the next major drought, which began in 2010. About half the forest affected by the 2005 drought — an area the size of California — did not recover by the time QuikScat stopped gathering global data in November 2009 and before the start of a more extensive drought in 2010.

“The biggest surprise for us was that the effects appeared to persist for years after the 2005 drought,” said study co-author Yadvinder Malhi of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. “We had expected the forest canopy to bounce back after a year with a new flush of leaf growth, but the damage appeared to persist right up to the subsequent drought in 2010.”

Recent Amazonian droughts have drawn attention to the vulnerability of tropical forests to climate change. Satellite and ground data have shown an increase in wildfires during drought years and tree die-offs following severe droughts. Until now, there had been no satellite-based assessment of the multi-year impacts of these droughts across all of Amazonia. Large-scale droughts can lead to sustained releases of carbon dioxide from decaying wood, affecting ecosystems and Earth’s carbon cycle.

The researchers attribute the 2005 Amazonian drought to the long-term warming of tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures. “In effect, the same climate phenomenon that helped form hurricanes Katrina and Rita along U.S. southern coasts in 2005 also likely caused the severe drought in southwest Amazonia,” Saatchi said. “An extreme climate event caused the drought, which subsequently damaged the Amazonian trees.”

Saatchi said such megadroughts can have long-lasting effects on rainforest ecosystems. “Our results suggest that if droughts continue at five- to 10-year intervals or increase in frequency due to climate change, large areas of the Amazon forest are likely to be exposed to persistent effects of droughts and corresponding slow forest recovery,” he said. “This may alter the structure and function of Amazonian rainforest ecosystems.”

The team found that the area affected by the 2005 drought was much larger than scientists had previously predicted. About 30 percent (656,370 square miles, or 1.7 million square kilometers) of the Amazon basin’s total current forest area was affected, with more than five percent of the forest experiencing severe drought conditions. The 2010 drought affected nearly half of the entire Amazon forest, with nearly a fifth of it experiencing severe drought. More than 231,660 square miles (600,000 square kilometers) of the area affected by the 2005 drought were also affected by the 2010 drought. This “double whammy” by successive droughts suggests a potentially long-lasting and widespread effect on forests in southern and western Amazonia.

The drought rate in Amazonia during the past decade is unprecedented over the past century. In addition to the two major droughts in 2005 and 2010, the area has experienced several localized mini-droughts in recent years. Observations from ground stations show that rainfall over the southern Amazon rainforest declined by almost 3.2 percent per year in the period from 1970 to 1998. Climate analyses for the period from 1995 to 2005 show a steady decline in water availability for plants in the region. Together, these data suggest a decade of moderate water stress led up to the 2005 drought, helping trigger the large-scale forest damage seen following the 2005 drought.

Saatchi said the new study sheds new light on a major controversy that existed about how the Amazon forest responded following the 2005 megadrought. Previous studies using conventional optical satellite data produced contradictory results, likely due to the difficulty of correcting the optical data for interference by clouds and other atmospheric conditions.

In contrast, QuikScat’s scatterometer radar was able to see through the clouds and penetrate into the top few meters of vegetation, providing daily measurements of the forest canopy structure and estimates of how much water the forest contains. Areas of drought-damaged forest produced a lower radar signal than the signals collected over healthy forest areas, indicating either that the forest canopy is drier or it is less “rough” due to damage to or the death of canopy trees.

Results of the study were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Other participating institutions included UCLA; University of Oxford, United Kingdom; University of Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom; National Institute for Space Research, Sao Jose dos Campos, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Boston University, Mass.; and NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

For more on NASA’s scatterometry missions, visit: . You can follow JPL News on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: . The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

New Insights On Drought Predictions in East Africa (Science Daily)

Jan. 18, 2013 — With more than 40 million people living under exceptional drought conditions in East Africa, the ability to make accurate predictions of drought has never been more important. In the aftermath of widespread famine and a humanitarian crisis caused by the 2010-2011 drought in the Horn of Africa — possibly the worst drought in 60 years — researchers are striving to determine whether drying trends will continue.

Climate model simulations analyzed as part of the study revealed that the relationship between sea surface temperatures and atmospheric convection in the Indian Ocean changes rainfall in East Africa. Specifically, wet conditions in coastal East Africa are associated with cool sea surface temperatures in the eastern Indian Ocean and warm sea surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean, which cause ascending atmospheric circulation over East Africa and enhanced rainfall. The opposite situation—cold sea surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean and warmer in the East—causes drought. Such variations in sea-surface temperatures likely caused the historical fluctuations in rainfall seen in the paleorecord. (Credit: Courtesy Jessica Tierney, et al, 2013)

While it is clear that El Niño can affect precipitation in this region of East Africa, very little is known about the drivers of long-term shifts in rainfall. However, new research described in the journal Nature helps explain the mechanisms at work behind historical patterns of aridity in Eastern Africa over many decades, and the findings may help improve future predictions of drought and food security in the region.

“The problem is, instrumental records of temperature and rainfall, especially in East Africa, don’t go far enough in time to study climate variability over decades or more, since they are generally limited to the 20th century,” explains first author Jessica Tierney, a geologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Tierney and her colleagues at WHOI and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University used what is known as the paleoclimate record, which provides information on climate in the geologic past, to study East African climate change over a span of 700 years.

The paleoclimate record in East Africa consists of indicators of moisture balance — including pollen, water isotopes, charcoal, and evidence for run-off events — measured in lake sediment cores. Tierney and her colleagues synthesized these data, revealing a clear pattern wherein the easternmost sector of East Africa was relatively dry in medieval times (from 1300 to 1400 a.d.), wet during the “Little Ice Age” from approximately 1600 to 1800 a.d., and then drier again toward the present time.

Climate model simulations analyzed as part of the study revealed that the relationship between sea surface temperatures and atmospheric convection in the Indian Ocean changes rainfall in East Africa. Specifically, wet conditions in coastal East Africa are associated with cool sea surface temperatures in the eastern Indian Ocean and warm sea surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean, which cause ascending atmospheric circulation over East Africa and enhanced rainfall. The opposite situation — cold sea surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean and warmer in the East — causes drought. Such variations in sea-surface temperatures likely caused the historical fluctuations in rainfall seen in the paleorecord.

The central role of the Indian Ocean in long-term climate change in the region was a surprise. “While the Indian Ocean has long been thought of as a ‘little brother’ to the Pacific, it is clear that it is in charge when it comes to these decades-long changes in precipitation in East Africa,” says Tierney.

Many questions remain, though. “We still don’t understand exactly what causes the changes in sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean and the relationship between those changes and global changes in climate, like the cooling that occurred during the Little Ice Age or the global warming that is occurring now,” says Tierney. “We’ll need to do some more experiments with climate models to understand that better.”

In the past decade, the easternmost region of Africa has gotten drier, yet general circulation climate models predict that the region will become wetter in response to global warming. “Given the geopolitical significance of the region, it is very important to understand whether drying trends will continue, in which case the models will need to be revised, or if the models will eventually prove correct in their projections of increased precipitation in East Africa,” says co-author Jason Smerdon, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

While it’s currently unclear which theory is correct, the discovery of the importance of the Indian Ocean may help solve the mystery. “In terms of forecasting long-term patterns in drought and food security, we would recommend that researchers make use of patterns of sea surface temperature changes in the Indian Ocean rather than just looking at the shorter term El Niño events or the Pacific Ocean,” says Tierney.

In addition, Tierney and her colleagues lack paleoclimate data from the region that is most directly affected by the Indian Ocean — the Horn of Africa. The paleoclimate data featured in this study are limited to more equatorial and interior regions of East Africa. With support from National Science Foundation, Tierney and her colleagues are now developing a new record of both aridity and sea surface temperatures from the Gulf of Aden, at a site close to the Horn.

“This will give us the best picture of what’s happened to climate in the Horn, and in fact, it will be the first record of paleoclimate in the Horn that covers the last few millennia in detail. We’re working on those analyses now and should have results in the next year or so,” says Tierney.

This research was based on work supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Journal Reference:

  1. Jessica E. Tierney, Jason E. Smerdon, Kevin J. Anchukaitis, Richard Seager. Multidecadal variability in East African hydroclimate controlled by the Indian OceanNature, 2013; 493 (7432): 389 DOI:10.1038/nature11785

Which Way Did the Taliban Go? (New York Times)

Joël van Houdt for The New York Times. Colonel Daowood, left, considered his next move on the Chak Valley road.


Published: January 17, 2013 96 Comments

The village was abandoned. Streets deserted. Houses empty. Behind the central mosque rose a steep escarpment. Behind the escarpment mountains upon mountains. Up there — above the timberline, among the peaks — a white Taliban flag whipped in the wind. Several Afghan soldiers were admiring it when a stunted and contorted person emerged from an alley. Dressed in rags, he waved a hennaed fist at them and wailed. Tears streamed down his face. Most of the soldiers ignored him. Some laughed uncomfortably. A few jabbed their rifles at his chest and simulated shooting. The man carried on undeterred — reproaching them in strange tongues.

A truck pulled up, and Lt. Col. Mohammad Daowood, the battalion commander, stepped out. Everyone waited to see what he would do. Daowood is a man alive to his environment and adept at adjusting his behavior by severe or subtle degrees. He can transform, instantaneously, from empathetic ally to vicious disciplinarian. To be with him is to be in constant suspense over the direction of his mood. At the same time, there is a calculation to his temper. You feel it is always deliberately, never capriciously, employed. This only adds to his authority and makes it impossible to imagine him in a situation of which he is not the master. A flicker of recognition in the deranged man’s eyes suggested that he intuited this. He approached Daowood almost bashfully; only as he closed within striking range did he seem to regain his lunatic energy, emitting a low, threatening moan. We waited for Daowood to hit him. Instead, Daowood began to clap and sing. Instantly, the man’s face reorganized itself. Tearful indignation became pure, childish joy. He started to dance.

This continued for a surprisingly long time. The commander clapping and singing. The deranged man lost in a kind of ecstatic, whirling performance, waving his prayer cap in the air, stamping his feet. When at last Daowood stopped, the man was his. He stood there — breathless and obsequious — waiting for what came next. Daowood mimed the motion of wrapping a turban on his head. Where are the Taliban? Eager to please, the man beamed and pointed across the valley.

Several hours later, as I shared the bed of a pickup truck with an Afghan soldier who manned a machine gun mounted on the roof of the cab, it became evident that we were lost. The rest of the company was nowhere to be seen, though we could hear them, not far off, exchanging rocket and automatic-weapons fire with insurgents who had fled into the mountains and were hiding behind protective crags, shooting down. The driver sped up one narrow rutted path after another. The paths were hemmed in by rock walls — a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs — and the driver grew more panicked and reckless with each dead end. Aside from the occasional night raid, no Afghan or American forces had been to this place in more than a decade. Men stood on top of the walls, watching.

“Where are we going?” I asked the machine-gunner.

He offered the words I had heard time and again — so often, and so predictably, they could be the battalion motto. The words were invoked in response to such questions as: What is the plan? Who is shooting? Where will we sleep tonight? How many dead?

The words are “Mulam nes” — “It isn’t clear.”

Finally the driver stopped and asked a bearded man in a black turban for directions. The man — a Talib? — kindly pointed the way.

Soon we arrived on a bare ridge and found Colonel Daowood almost alone. Two young soldiers stood nearby with rifles. Daowood sat on a rock. A teenage boy knelt before him, kowtowing, wrists cuffed behind his back. Daowood was doing something to his head. As we got closer, we saw that he held scissors and was roughly shearing the boy’s hair. A neat pile of long black locks lay on the ground between Daowood’s feet.

When Daowood noticed us, he smiled and winked. Then he went back to work, screaming in the boy’s ear, “Now do you like being a Talib?”

“No,” the boy whimpered.


“No, no, no.”

Daowood lifted him to his feet and examined with satisfaction the ugly patchwork of uneven tufts and bald scalp. He removed the boy’s handcuffs and said, “Go.”

The boy ran away, forgetting his shoes.

While Daowood was giving the haircut, our driver, who it turned out was a company commander, yelled at a pair of intrepid young soldiers who had taken it upon themselves to scale the mountain and capture the Taliban’s flag. We were leaving soon, and the commander wanted them to come back down. The young soldiers, however, were too high. They couldn’t hear him. The commander yelled and yelled. If only they had radios. If only he had a radio. In lieu of one, the commander drew his sidearm, aimed in the general vicinity of the soldiers, then shot two bullets.

The soldiers ducked, peered down. The commander waved.

It was the third day of a four-day operation being conducted by the Afghan National Army (A.N.A.) in Chak District, Wardak Province. There were no U.S. forces in sight. Every so often, a pair of American attack helicopters circled overhead; otherwise, the Afghans — roughly 400 of them — were on their own. For the A.N.A. — which every day assumes a greater share of responsibility for the security of Afghanistan — the operation was an ambitious undertaking and a test of its ability to function independently. For years now, the U.S. military’s priority in Afghanistan has been shifting from effectively prosecuting the present war to preparing Afghans for a future one in which our role is minimal. But even as American troops return home and American bases across the country close, such a future continues to feel difficult to envision. How will the A.N.A. fare when it is truly on its own? Predictions vary, tending toward the pessimistic. To the extent that assessments of the competency and preparedness of the A.N.A. take into consideration on-the-ground observations, however, they are usually limited to the perspective of American forces working in concert with Afghan units.

After a week with Daowood’s battalion, what I found is that the A.N.A. looks very different when there are no Americans around.

So does the war.

The operation to Chak District was nearly over before it began. Just hours before departure, during a briefing at Combat Outpost Dash-e Towp, the battalion headquarters, Daowood told his subordinate officers: “The only thing we’re waiting on is the fuel. If we don’t receive the fuel, we will not be able to do the operation.” A cohort of American advisers stood in the back of the room, silently listening. In the past, they probably would have offered to provide the fuel themselves. But that paradigm has changed. Increasingly, A.N.A. units must rely on their own supply lines, however inefficient they may be. Nevertheless, as the officers rose from their chairs, an Afghan captain pulled aside one of the advisers and told him the battalion lacked batteries for the metal detectors used to find improvised explosive devices. The adviser sighed. “Come over to our side,” he said, “and we’ll see what we can do.”

The American side of Dash-e Towp is separated from the Afghan side by a tall wall and a door that can be opened only with a code to which the Afghans do not have access. Whereas a close partnership between coalition and Afghan forces was for years considered a cornerstone of the overall military strategy (shohna ba shohna — shoulder to shoulder — went the ubiquitous NATO slogan), recently the Americans have distanced and even sequestered themselves from their erstwhile comrades. The about-face is a response to a rash of insider or “green on blue” attacks that killed more than 60 foreign troops in 2012 (and wounded 94), accounting for 22 percent of all coalition combat deaths. The Americans claim that many of the killings result from cultural differences; the Taliban claim to have infiltrated the security forces; the Afghan government claims “foreign spy agencies” are to blame. Whatever their provenance, the attacks have eroded trust to such a degree that NATO has begun designating some personnel as “guardian angels.” It is the guardian angel’s job to protect the NATO soldier from the Afghan soldier whom it is the NATO soldier’s job to train.

Other concerns abound. When the time comes, for instance, will Afghanistan’s army be able to maintain its own equipment and facilities? Evacuate and treat its own casualties? Overcome ethnic divisions within its ranks? Furnish its units with essential rations like food and fuel? Retain sufficient numbers despite alarmingly high attrition rates? Implement a uniform training doctrine despite alarmingly low literacy rates? Today, according to the Pentagon, exactly one Afghan brigade is capable of operating without any help from the coalition. For better or worse, come Dec. 31, 2014, the other 22 will likely have to do the same.

In anticipation of this reality, the A.N.A. has begun a countrywide realignment of troops that is transforming the battlefield. “Look at the situation,” Gen. Sher Mohamad Karimi, the chief of army staff, told me recently in Kabul. “One hundred and forty thousand international troops, with all the power that they have — the aircraft, the artillery, the tanks, the support — all of that now is going. You cannot expect the Afghan Army to do exactly what the international troops were doing.” As coalition forces diminish, that is, the A.N.A. must decide not only how to fill the gaps but also which gaps to forgo filling. For years, to secure roads and rural areas, Afghan soldiers have manned hundreds of check posts throughout the provinces. Now the A.N.A. plans to relinquish almost all of these in favor of consolidating its forces in significantly fewer locations. General Karimi claims there are two reasons for doing this. First: the Afghans simply lack the wherewithal to keep the more remote posts adequately provisioned. Second: the A.N.A. must move away from defending static positions, toward executing offensive operations. Theoretically, the police will take over check posts as the army quits them. But this will not always be the case; it may seldom be the case. And when vacated posts are not assumed by the police — as has happened in Wardak — it will be hard not to see the ongoing “realignment of troops” as anything other than an old-fashioned retreat.

Chak was one of the first districts in Afghanistan to undergo this change. When Daowood’s battalion woke around 3 a.m. and headed out from Dash-e Towp, the convoy included several large flatbed trailers hauling backhoes and bulldozers that would be used to destroy five of the six A.N.A. check posts in the area. (The last time abandoned posts were left standing in Wardak Province, the Taliban moved into them.) The sun was just starting to rise when the battalion arrived at the first one: a compact fortress of gravel-filled Hesco barriers perched on a squat hill that overlooked the entrance to the district. It was easy to see, from here, why the Taliban liked Chak. Parallel ranges form a wide valley with a river snaking down its middle. Apple orchards and trees with white trunks and bright yellow leaves crowd the basin. Dark canyons branch into the mountains. A single road follows the river deeper into the valley, connecting the lawless foothills of the Hindu Kush to Highway 1, a critical transit route that bridges Kabul and Kandahar, northern and southern Afghanistan.

After being reconstructed by an American firm at an estimated cost of $300 million, Highway 1 was extolled by the U.S. ambassador, in 2005, as “a symbol of Afghan renewal and progress.” Since then it has become one of the most dangerous roads on earth, scarred by bomb blasts, the site of frequent ambushes and executions by insurgent marauders, strewed with the charred carcasses of fuel tankers set alight on their way to NATO bases. As Daowood looked out from the top of the hill, he explained that Chak was an ideal staging ground for attacks on the highway and that the check posts were the only way to protect it. “When we had these check posts, there was good security,” Daowood said. “The people were happy. Of course, when we leave them, the Taliban will come back. As soon as we’re gone, they will own this whole area.”

Already, Daowood said, the road following the river was known to accommodate large quantities of remotely detonated bombs. As the colonel ordered the convoy to start forward, I watched two minesweepers testing out their metal detectors. The devices looked antique: Vietnam-era green with thick black wires connected to bulky plastic headphones. It was the sort of technology that made you remember ham radios, and I confess I was skeptical of their ability to clear the way. But after only a half-mile or so, one of the minesweepers stopped. A skinny, bearded soldier jumped out of a Humvee wielding a pickax. The minesweeper pointed at a spot. The soldier with the pickax attacked it. Soon he called to Daowood: “Found it!”

When C-4 explosive was packed around the bomb and exploded from what was deemed a safe remove, the blast proved much larger than anyone expected. Dirt rained down on those of us who were crouched behind a tree 100 meters away. The crater rendered the road impassable, obliging the Afghans to spend the next half-hour filling it with stones. By the time we started moving again, the minesweepers had begun working on another bomb just around the bend. I found the skinny, bearded soldier standing to the side with his pickax lightly balanced on his shoulder, smoking an immense joint.

His name was Shafiullah. He wore a pair of blue latex medical gloves and a metal helmet several sizes too big that sat low and loose over wide, wild eyes: preternaturally alert eyes bugging from their sockets as if to get a little closer to whatever they were looking at. “Did you see that last one?” Shafiullah wanted to know.

“It was big.”

He nodded rapidly, the helmet bucking forward and backward on his head, now threatening to fly off, now jerked into place by its leather chinstrap.

“Very big! Very nice!” He took another toke, held the doobie upright and became suddenly, deeply engrossed in its glowing tip.

“What are the gloves for?” I asked.

“The human body carries an electrical charge. When you work on the bombs, if you’re not careful, you can ignite them with the electricity in your fingers.”

“Do you always smoke hash before you work on the bombs?”

More vigorous nodding. “It takes away the fear.”

Shafiullah told me he joined the army about five years ago, when he turned 18. He served for three years as a regular infantry soldier in the violent Pakistani border regions before volunteering to become an explosive-ordnance-disposal technician. “I always wanted to be one,” he said. “I love when someone calls me an engineer.” About a year ago, after graduating from a six-month training program taught by French and American soldiers, Shafiullah was deployed to Wardak. Since then, he estimated, he had disposed of roughly 50 bombs. “Thanks to God I’ve never been hurt,” he said.

I asked if any of the other engineers were less fortunate. Shafiullah said that he belonged to a team of 20 technicians and that during the past three months two were killed and eight badly injured. He also said that nine of his friends from the training course were now dead or maimed. Back on the road, one of the minesweepers called for the pickax. Shafiullah took a last drag before joining them. A few minutes later, the valley echoed with a tremendous boom.

The shooting started soon after: rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades. It was too far ahead to see exactly what was happening. Later I learned that a group of insurgents ambushed the lead element in the convoy, strafing a narrow stretch in the road from within a dense stand of trees. The soldiers responded forcefully — with more and bigger weapons — killing six people in the village where the attack originated. A little while later, not far from the first shootout, there was another. This time an Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a group of gunmen, killing seven. According to the soldiers, all the dead were Taliban.

By the time I reached the site with Colonel Daowood, the convoy had already moved on, resuming its lurching penetration of the valley. Perhaps not coincidentally, the ambushes occurred near a small gas station that was the target of an American airstrike the night before. The owner of the gas station — a Taliban leader named Gulam Ali, who Daowood said commanded several hundred insurgents in Chak — was killed by a missile. Two old fuel pumps still stood out front, but the row of shops behind them was ruined: windows shattered, charred metal bars curled back like the melted tines of a plastic fork. Each shop offered its own little diorama of destruction. Hundreds of pill bottles scattered on a pharmacy floor; emptied shelves hanging vertically in a general store; an iron and a sewing machine standing improbably upright on a tailor’s wooden table, among burned and tattered rolls of cloth.

Next to the gas station was Gulam Ali’s home and headquarters: an immaculate compound centered on a courtyard with rosebushes and a deep freshwater well. An exterior staircase ascended to the bedroom. Inside I was surprised to find the walls pasted with posters illustrating idyllic scenes from some future civilization, in which sleek modern buildings were harmoniously incorporated into rugged natural landscapes. Or maybe it was Switzerland — hard to say. Either way, it was odd to imagine Gulam Ali privately meditating on them. Nor did the inspirational quotes at the top of each poster lessen the oddness. “We love life,” one italicized blurb instructed, “not because we are used to living, but because we are used to loving.” And, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

When I returned to the courtyard, Daowood announced that he was going to the village where the 13 insurgents had just been killed. “It’s Gulam Ali’s village,” he explained. “I want to pay my respects.” He headed into the trees with no protection other than the two teenage bodyguards who accompanied him everywhere. He wore no helmet or body armor (“I don’t like them; they give me a headache”), and he carried no weapon. Instead he walked with his hands clasped behind his back, casually flipping a string of turquoise prayer beads. When we reached the compound that belonged to Gulam Ali’s parents, where his relatives had gathered to mourn, Daowood told me to wait outside — the presence of a foreigner would offend the family. When he emerged several minutes later, I was happy to be leaving the place. But as we made our way back to the main road, we encountered dozens of men congregated on a low knoll among the plain stone markers and colored flags of the village graveyard. It was a funeral for the Taliban, and the men regarded us with something less than brotherly affection. Daowood said, “Keep walking.” Then he addressed the funeral. “The aircraft are coming back tonight!” he shouted. “The American Special Forces are coming! Leave this area! Don’t stay here! If you stay, you might get killed!”

Immediately, the ceremony began to scatter, the men fleeing down the slope as swiftly as they could without betraying panic. “The helicopters are coming!” Daowood went on. “The Special Forces will be here soon!”

At the time, the colonel’s prompt dissolution of what appeared to be a potentially dangerous situation seemed to me as deft and inspired as his handling of the deranged man would a couple of days later. But something else was going on as well. Expressing his condolences to Gulam Ali’s family, warning the people about a possible airstrike and night raid — it was all part of Daowood’s game. The more time I spent with him, the clearer it became that Daowood was practicing his own version of counterinsurgency, one that involved endearing himself to locals by characterizing as common enemies not only the Taliban but also the Americans and the Afghan government. In almost every village we visited, I watched Daowood rail against Kabul’s political elite to rapt audiences of disgruntled farmers. Once, in a place known to abet insurgents, the colonel told a crowd: “All the high-ranking officials in the government are thieves. They don’t care about the country, the people. They take money from the foreigners and put it in their pockets. They make themselves fat. They go abroad, sleep in big houses, buy expensive cars and never think about the people. They have done nothing for this country.”

As with Daowood’s occasional flights of rage, it was tough to tell just how much of this was theater and how much true belief. My sense was that Daowood was genuinely conflicted: a committed soldier who spent 10 years of his life in the service of a government he was profoundly disenchanted with. And he wasn’t alone. Most soldiers I spoke to conspicuously avoided expressing any fondness for — much less allegiance to — their government. Of course, this is the same with other soldiers in other armies (imagine a U.S. Marine explaining his compulsion to enlist by citing a feeling of fidelity to the Bush or Obama administrations), but the nascency of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan makes its political leadership and national character uniquely synonymous. Put another way, in a government that has had only one president, you can’t distinguish between corrupt individuals and a broken system. All of which raises the question: In such a country, how can you be both a detractor and a patriot, as Daowood and some of his men seemed clearly to be? The Marine ostensibly fights on behalf of American principles and institutions that transcend elected officials; on behalf of what did the colonel and these soldiers fight? Most of them, when I asked, answered with the word “watan,” or “homeland.” But what does the notion of a homeland mean for someone who has seen his ruled by monarchists, dictators, communists, mujahedeen, Islamic fundamentalists and Karzai?

When it grew dark, we occupied a half-built mud house on the outskirts of a small mountain village, and Colonel Daowood told us his story. The owner of the property had killed a chicken and prepared for us a large pot of soup. Daowood and his entourage huddled around the iridescent mantles of a kerosene lamp, passing the ladle around, hugging their wool field blankets against a near-freezing night.

Daowood’s military career began three decades ago, when he fought the Russians in the tall mountains and narrow valleys of his native Paghman District. After the Soviet-backed government collapsed in 1992, rival mujahedeen groups turned viciously upon one another. While Kabul became the epicenter of a ferocious civil war, Paghman, just 20 minutes west of the city, remained relatively peaceful. Daowood stayed home, preferring not to enter a fray that was decimating the capital and its residents, with no end in sight. But in 1996, when the Taliban entered Kabul and ejected with unexpected ease each of its warring factions, Daowood took his wife and children to Panjshir Valley, an anti-Taliban stronghold where the warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud had retreated in preparation for a longer, harder fight. Although Massoud and his men were Tajiks and Daowood was a Pashtun (the ethnicity of the Taliban) — and although the recent civil war inflamed ethnic animosities — Daowood was received with open arms. Massoud gave his family a house and put Daowood in charge of 100 men.

More war followed for Daowood. Years of land mines and rockets, ambushes and close calls. Years of night operations in the orchards of the vast Shomali Plain — a verdant land between Panjshir and Kabul. Years, finally, of much spilled blood but little ground lost or gained. And then came the year everything changed. When Daowood talks about that time — after he and his comrades routed the Taliban with the help of American air power and special operators — he grins the way you might at a memory of your naïver self. It’s the optimism of those days that both embarrasses and saddens him, the feeling that Afghanistan had been born anew.

Daowood was among the tens of thousands of fighters in the so-called Northern Alliance — a loose confederation of anti-Taliban militias loyal to Massoud and other commanders. Although Massoud himself was assassinated two days before 9/11, his successor, Mohammed Qasim Fahim, supposedly a drug trafficker, was installed as the defense minister for Hamid Karzai’s interim government. Under Fahim, a majority of the Northern Alliance, including Daowood and his 100 men, became the first incarnation of the new Afghan military. While the United States remained committed to the “light footprint” approach championed by Bush and Rumsfeld — eschewing any commitment of resources that might be construed as “nation-building” — Fahim presided over the creation of a force that soon came to resemble the factionalism of the past far more than the nationalism of a future so eagerly anticipated by people like Daowood. As the International Crisis Group put it: “Units became organs of patronage, rewarding allies and supporters with officer commissions. The result was a weak chain of command over a mix of militias plagued by high desertion rates and low operational capacity.”

Whatever power-jockeying and cronyism afflicted the fledgling military, the civilian government under President Karzai was looking even worse. After two years, weary and bitter, Daowood resigned. “It was the corruption,” he explained. “It ruined everything. Everything was destroyed.” While Daowood embraced a new life back in Paghman — managing his family’s land and enjoying the company of his wife and sons — a resurgent Taliban began to exploit a growing disillusionment with the government and a meager deployment of security forces outside the capital. By 2006, there was no denying it: The insurgency had evolved from a lingering nuisance to a legitimate threat.

One day, an old friend from Panjshir, who was serving as a corps commander in the A.N.A., visited Daowood at his farm in Paghman. “We argued a lot,” Daowood recalled. “I didn’t want to be in the army anymore. I didn’t want to fight for this government. When I explained this to him, my friend told me: ‘If good men don’t participate, the criminals will take over. We have to reclaim this country from them.’ ” In the end, Daowood was convinced. Once more he left Paghman. Once more he took up arms.

When Daowood finished his story, I asked whether he really believed that the system was reformable. He thought for a while. Finally, he offered another reason for fighting — one that rang somewhat truer. “The government only steals money,” he told me. “At least they aren’t against education or women or human rights or rule of law.”

The next morning, some soldiers found a Taliban flag and brought it to Daowood. It wasn’t much: Arabic script scrawled in blue ballpoint pen on a square of white bedsheet tied with twine to a stick. Daowood slashed it with his knife and tried setting it on fire. The cloth was slow to catch. While the soldiers fussed with cardboard and kindling, Daowood received a call from the American advisers at Dash-e Towp. They wanted to remind him to begin tearing down the check posts. Daowood was incredulous; he still couldn’t believe it. “What nonsense is this?” he said when he hung up. “Do they want to hand Afghanistan to the Taliban?” The other soldiers looked just as galled. They sullenly watched the flag absorb a green lick of flame, shrivel and burn. “After these check posts are destroyed, we won’t be able to enter this valley,” Daowood said.

All the Afghans in Wardak, it seemed, shared Daowood’s contempt for the decision to close the check posts. When I met with Wardak’s provincial governor, Abdul Majid Khogyani, in Kabul, he told me: “I was a strong opponent of this idea. The police commander of Wardak and the National Directorate of Security chief were also against it. We know this will not work. The result of this strategy is that the Taliban have become stronger. Without the check posts, the Taliban will easily penetrate these areas. And once that happens, it is very difficult to clear them out again.” Majid was convinced that the realignment of troops had been forced on the A.N.A. command by NATO — a suspicion held by many Afghan officers I spoke to. “The local population are asking why NATO would deliberately provide the Taliban with such an opportunity,” the governor said. NATO has declined to comment on its involvement.

In Chak Valley, only one A.N.A. position would remain — the most distant outpost from the highway, manned by a contingent of roughly 100. That afternoon, when the convoy reached this last outpost, a fresh company relieved the bedraggled-looking men who had been stationed there for the past 12 months, collaborating with a U.S. Special Forces team, struggling to gain a foothold. Every one of them painted a similarly bleak picture of near-daily fighting against a more numerous guerrilla army. Mile after mile of mountains and forest was owned wholly by the insurgents. Out in that big wilderness, there was even a Taliban weapons bazaar, where insurgent fighters bought and sold Kalashnikovs and rockets and machine guns and grenades.

The question hovered like a bad smell: How would the Afghan soldiers who remained deep in Chak survive (or perhaps more accurately: What would they be able to accomplish beyond merely surviving?) once every check post between them and Highway 1 was razed? Severing entirely their already embattled position from the foot of the valley would be simple enough. After all, there was only one way in and out. As if to highlight this uncomfortable fact, a local informant called Daowood as soon as the convoy started to make its way back in the direction from which it had come. A number of bombs, the informant warned, were buried somewhere up ahead.

Shafiullah and his team headed to the front, and the procession of Humvees and trucks slowed to a crawl. Right away, the engineers found a copper wire attached to a massive I.E.D. buried two feet underground. A few minutes later, they found another. And then another. As soon as Shafiullah blew up the third bomb, Colonel Daowood’s informant called back to say that there were probably “many more,” though he was uncertain where. By now it was dark, and we still had miles to travel before reaching the relative security of an open area nearer the highway, where the battalion was supposed to bed down. Fifty feet or so ahead of the lead vehicle Shafiullah knelt in the dim beams of the headlights scratching at the dirt with his pickax. After a while there was some hollering and a disorderly hustle toward the rear. The explosion that followed was so powerful that bits of earth lashed our backs in a warm wave.

No one was hurt, and the convoy started forward again. Then it stopped again. While Shafiullah went back to work, I joined a group of soldiers sitting on the remains of an old Soviet tank. Someone produced a joint. The mood was jolly. It turned out the soldiers belonged to the company stationed since last winter at the remotest outpost in Chak. They were glad to be rotating out — even if it meant swapping one deadly place for another. Most of them were Pashtuns from eastern Afghanistan who served for many years and had wives and children to whom they sent their salaries and saw once every several months. The soldiers hoped to get some leave when they returned to Dash-e Towp — but visiting home, they said, was a mission in itself. Stretches of the highway between Dash-e Towp and Kabul were treacherous; many soldiers had been abducted and murdered by insurgents on their way to see their families. In the past you could dress in the traditionalshalwar kameez, hire a taxi and pose as a civilian. But now the Taliban had spies who alerted them when soldiers headed out. The only option was to catch a ride on a convoy, and those could be rare. Recently, the soldiers said, one of their lieutenants lost his infant son to an illness: though he was from Kapisa Province — a short drive north by car — it took him 20 days to get back.

Eventually Shafiullah found and detonated the fourth bomb, and the soldiers on the tank — high as kites by then — returned to the road and continued on. It was 1 in the morning by the time they reached their destination. On the way, they had to stop again and again for Shafiullah’s team to excavate and blow up I.E.D.’s — 11 in total. At some point after midnight the engineers got sloppy, igniting the C-4 on one bomb before Shafiullah could escape the blast radius. The pressure wave collapsed a mud-brick wall he was walking by, crushing his ankle. When I saw Shafiullah the next morning, his pant leg was in tatters and he was limping. His leg looked badly swollen. He hadn’t seen a medic yet and didn’t plan to.

The ground froze solid during the night and Shafiullah — who like most of the men in the battalion was never issued a sleeping bag — got no more than a cold hour’s rest. Nevertheless, while he waited in line to collect his breakfast (a plastic bag containing a hard piece of bread and a boiled egg and a mini-carton of coffee creamer), he seemed in high spirits. “I told you I’d never been hurt before, and now I’m hurt,” Shafiullah said with a laugh. “I was close! But God saved me.”

This was the day that Daowood brought his men up the mountain to a village called Ali Shah and found it deserted except for the deranged man who danced for him. Among the Afghan soldiers, Ali Shah was infamous — an insurgent sanctuary where no government forces had dared to venture in more than a decade. (“Even the women are Taliban!” one sergeant told me.) Daowood had received intelligence that there would be a wedding in the village that day with several insurgent commanders in attendance. He said he wanted to pace the operation to crash the wedding in time for lunch.

When Daowood asked where the Taliban went, the deranged man pointed to a distant hillside where a large group of villagers had gathered outside a mosque. Daowood and his men jumped in their trucks and headed that way. I rode in the back of a Toyota pickup with a middle-aged machine-gunner named Fazil. It turned out that Fazil was the lieutenant the soldiers on the tank had mentioned the night before — the one who had been unable to get home in time for his son’s burial. As we talked, there was something deeply familiar about the way Fazil described his village in Kapisa Province. He might have been a U.S. Marine reminiscing about the family ranch in Texas. The river was wide and clear, bountiful with fish. The people were kind; the air was fresh; the fruit was sweet.

Fazil’s education in the peculiarities of war began when he was 12, during the jihad. One day, while he was with his father and uncle at the local bazaar, a foot patrol of Russian commandos — or Russian soldiers who Fazil assumed were commandos because of the ski masks they were wearing — opened fire on the villagers. Fazil’s uncle bled out and died on the ground in front of him; Fazil’s father also took a bullet but survived. Several years later, a jet from the Soviet-backed government launched a missile at Fazil’s home that killed both of his parents; shortly thereafter, Fazil joined the mujahedeen in Panjshir led by Massoud. During a battle with Soviet fighters, Fazil was shot in the leg and had to be taken to a hospital in Kabul. There the government asked him to switch sides. Fazil agreed and for a year fought for the national army against his former comrades. When I asked how he could volunteer for the same force that killed his parents, Fazil said: “The mujahedeen knew I was with the government the whole time. I was giving them information.” After the government collapsed, Fazil went back to Panjshir and rejoined with Massoud.

This capacity for switching sides, betraying sides, playing sides, often simultaneously, always baffled the foreign forces in Afghanistan. The complex logic of Afghanistan’s ever-shifting allegiances is simply inscrutable to most outsiders; we have never really understood whom we’re fighting or why they’re fighting us. I once went on a mission in a volatile eastern province with a platoon of American soldiers and a member of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System — a historian with a doctorate and an assault rifle whose job it was to map which anti-Soviet mujahedeen groups the elders in the area identified with. Some Afghan troops were there as well, and I remember the mystified looks on their faces as this soldier-professor grilled (through an interpreter) one graybeard after another about the commanders they fought under 20 years ago.

Daowood’s method was different. When a fighting-age male struck him as suspicious, the colonel would use his thumbs and index fingers to pull open both of the man’s eyelids. Then he would lean close and stare searchingly. Usually, after several seconds, as though he had suddenly found precisely what he was looking for, Daowood would declare, in mock surprise, “He’s Taliban!”

It was a joke, of course — one that mostly made fun of the Americans. A few years ago, the coalition embarked on an ambitious enterprise to record in an electronic database the biometric information of hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens, and a hallmark of American patrols has subsequently been the lining up of villagers to digitally register their eyes and fingerprints. Daowood’s faux iris scan was in part an acknowledgment of the A.N.A.’s inferior technology. But it was also a dig at the coalition’s somewhat desperate reliance on technology. Where Daowood’s interactions with villagers were always intimate, it is hard to imagine a more clinical and alienating dynamic between two people than that of the NATO service member aiming his Hand-held Interagency Identity Detection Equipment at the face of a rural Afghan farmer. In such moments, the difference in the field between the U.S. and Afghan soldier is far starker than that of the foreigner and the native. It is more akin to the difference in the ocean between a scuba diver and a fish.

For example: it never occurred to me that Daowood was being entirely serious when he said he wanted to arrive at the wedding in time for lunch. But as soon as we reached the gathering on the hillside in Ali Shah, we were invited into a house and served generous plates of stewed lamb and rice. Daowood dutifully commenced his anti-establishment diatribe, telling me, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear: “These are good people, all of them. If the government worked for them, if the government helped them, they wouldn’t fight us. The government officials should come to places like this. They know nothing of the people’s lives outside of Kabul.” When one villager added that “the ministers put all the money in their own accounts, they build themselves nice houses and buy nice cars,” Daowood nodded in sympathetic agreement.

Just outside, meanwhile, some soldiers standing guard discovered a canvas sack full of rocket-propelled grenades stashed behind a boulder. A group of men were spotted fleeing into the mountains, and the day’s fighting began.

Late that night, after the rest of the battalion went to sleep, Daowood set off into a Taliban-controlled village on foot, accompanied by four guards. He wanted to meet with a local Talib, who was also a paid informant. He never said so explicitly — “he’s an old friend” and “he gives me information” was all he allowed — but I had the sense this was the man who warned Daowood about the bombs in the road. There was not much of a moon and just enough starlight to see the ground beneath our feet. As we made our way over a steep hill, along a creek, through a field and into winding streets, a chorus of dogs began to howl, and the four soldiers Daowood dragged along grew nervous. “Don’t worry,” Daowood kept telling them. “We’re close.”

When we reached the Talib’s house, a young boy ushered us into a long narrow room dimly lighted by a gas lantern. Pink lace curtains hung over the windows; plush cushions lined the walls; gaudily decorative carpets covered the floor. The informant was a middle-aged man affecting the usual beard and turban. He embraced Daowood and gestured for us to sit. The boy brought tea and then platters of rice and meat and bread. After a while, Daowood said: “We’re closing the check posts tomorrow. We’re pulling out of here.”

“That will be fine,” the man said. “The aircraft were searching here last night.”

“Just stay inside,” Daowood told him.

His phone rang. When he hung up, Daowood announced, “There’s going to be an ambush tomorrow.” And to the informant: “Tomorrow we’re going to search this area.”

The informant nodded. “There won’t be any problem.”

The next day, there was in fact an ambush — even while the bulldozers and backhoes were leveling the check posts. We were heading up a tight canyon, along the banks of a shallow stream, when rockets and machine guns echoed up ahead. By now, most of the soldiers were ragged with fatigue. Over the past four days, they had walked some 30 miles, stayed up shivering through frigid nights, eaten little more than bread and rice. And they had fought and killed people, too. As Daowood rushed ahead at a brisk pace toward the gunfire, we passed one soldier after another sitting on the side of the trail, leaning against a rock, flushed and spent. “Don’t stop!” Daowood urged them. “You’re in the enemy’s country now! Move like a lion!”

And for the most part — even if not exactly lionlike — the soldiers got up and pushed on.

It’s too early to tell what the Afghan National Army will look like on Dec. 31, 2014. No doubt its level of readiness for the uncertain future will vary hugely from region to region, unit to unit. But it is a mistake to dismiss or disparage the Afghan soldier, as is often done by foreigners in Afghanistan. After the ambush (three insurgents were injured; no soldiers), I walked toward the highway, which we could see through the bare trees at the foot of the valley, alongside a young medic from Daykundi Province named Abdul Karim. Like most of the people from Daykundi, Karim was Hazara, one of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities. Because they follow the Shia branch of Islam, and because their distinct facial features make them easily recognizable, Hazaras are uniquely vulnerable to militant Sunni fundamentalists. In Afghanistan, this has certainly been true with the Taliban, who, during their rise to power, massacred Hazaras by the thousands. “For my people,” Karim told me, “it is important to serve in this army.” Almost all of the men in his family, he said, enlisted as soon as they were old enough. Twenty-eight of Karim’s brothers and cousins wore the uniform.

There might have been a time early in the war when most American soldiers and Marines genuinely believed that they were fighting to protect their homeland, their watan. But those days are over now; they have been for a while. You can feel it just as surely as you can feel that for soldiers like Karim they will never end.

Almost as soon as we got back to Dash-e Towp, I overheard some U.S. officers loudly complaining about the inability of Afghan soldiers to make appointments on time. Afghan soldiers do have difficulty making appointments on time, it’s true. They also don’t like to stand in straight lines or dress according to regulation or march in step or do so many of the things intrinsic to a Western notion of professional soldiering. When a lieutenant calls a formation of Afghan privates to attention, they will inevitably resemble, as my drill sergeant used to say, “a soup sandwich.” But they will also accept a much higher level of risk than any coalition force ever has. Their ranks are filled with tough and brave men who run toward the fight without body armor or helmets or armored vehicles and sleep on the frozen ground without sleeping bags and dig up I.E.D.’s with a pickax and often go hungry and seldom complain.

It was dark by the time Daowood returned to the base; he wanted to be the last man in. When I visited him in his room, he was sitting on the floor, drinking tea. A small TV played quietly in the corner, and as we talked I heard a broadcaster mention the news: yesterday, Barack Obama was re-elected president. I pointed this out to Daowood, who wasn’t much interested. “They’re all the same to us,” he said. Then, seeing I was taking notes, he added, “We just want someone who will help Afghanistan.” But the colonel seemed to know that in the end that job would be his.

Luke Mogelson is a contributing writer for the magazine and a co-editor of He last wrote about a lawless Afghanistan border town.

Editor: Joel Lovell

A version of this article appeared in print on January 20, 2013, on page MM28 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Which Way Did the Taliban Go?.

Beyond Capitalism: Alternative and Non-Capitalist Political Ecologies (Living Anthropologically)

March 31, 2012 · In Human Economy – By Jason Antrosio

Update January 2013: Boone Shear and Brian Burke publish Beyond Capitalism: Beyond Critique in Anthropology News. Thanks for a very nice reference to Living Anthropologically! Be sure to check out the other pieces in Anthropology News: Beyond Capitalism issue. I’ve made updates in brackets below and see Anthropology Beyond Capitalism at Anthropology Report for a round-up.

At the Society for Applied Anthropology 2012 meetings in Baltimore, anthropologists Boone Shear and Brian Burke organized a special track of events on alternative political ecologies, grouping together a plenary session, panels, papers, and related events. This post focuses on the opening plenary, featuring talks from Stephen Healy, James Igoe, Kevin St. Martin, and Paige West.

Boone had contacted me about possibly participating in the track after I wrote Anthropology, Moral Optimism, and Capitalism: A Four-Field Manifesto. While this piece was far and away my most viewed blog-post of 2011, almost no one liked my list of ten things that “anthropology urges.” Some people felt it was fine for anthropology to critique but not propose. Others said it would kill capitalism. But Boone said there was nothing non-capitalist about the proposals–that they were proposals to modify or reform, but not to go beyond capitalism, which is what this special track proposes.

At the time I was certainly drawing on critiques of capitalism which stressed a need to move beyond criticisms reproducing notions of capitalist invincibility. My main sources for this re-thinking have been Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Both these books speak of capitalism’s destructive record–but they also speak of new imaginations and desires, of potential and possibility within and alongside capitalism. [Sadly, Trouillot passed away July 2012. See In Memoriam, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949-2012]

I was less familiar with what the alternative political ecologies framework has been drawing upon, the work of J.K. Gibson-Graham The End Of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy and the follow-up A Postcapitalist Politics. From their website Community Economies, J.K Gibson-Graham is the pen-name of Katherine Gibson and the late Julie Graham, feminist political economists and economic geographers based at the University of Western Sydney, Australia and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. [See My Trouble with the Anti-Essentialist Struggle by Elizabeth L. Krause for some similar reflections on juxtaposing a political economy in the tradition of Eric Wolf with that of Gibson-Graham.]

First up at the plenary was Stephen Healy. Healy’s co-authored book, Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities (available May 2013) aims to provide concrete metrics of the community economy. The idea is to “desire and enact post-capitalism in the present moment” and he stressed the use of mapping and linking technologies for self-consciously alternative economies. The book aims to make this re-evaluation of economic life into a habit, providing ethical questions toward the goal of “negotiated interdependence.”

Next was Kevin St. Martin. St. Martin brought in the idea of the commons, but again linked these ideas to the role of mapping and data collection. He initially set up an opposition between Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP)–that on their face, the CSF is an effort to establish community and a commons-like fishery, whereas MSP looks like a typical neoliberal project to enclose and privatize marine resouces. However, his own research has mapped a community using GIS technologies, so that in some ways MSP data is actually foundational to the CSF, that by making a map the people were able to “perform the commons.” This is therefore an effort to go “beyond alternative binaries” of markets as automatically opposed to commons. These kinds of ideas have been very important to my own collaborative work with Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, pushing toward ideas of how marketplaces and economic activity can be reconceputalized in the framework of a commons. [See Who’s on the Map? by Janelle Cornwell.]

Paige West followed, speaking about her work on the themes of how new worlds can emerge. However, she then shifted more toward talking about new worlds in the context of social reproduction and academic reproduction. West seemed perhaps to be something of an outlier here–in a later paper titled “Moving Beyond Reform,”Vincent Lyon-Callo would say that assigning West’s book made the students even feel bad about fair trade–and West’s main point seemed to be talking about making our scholarship and theory more accessible. [See Lyon-Callo’s Teaching for Hope?in the Anthropology News: Beyond Capitalism issue.]

In a memorable final quote, West said that “to build new worlds, we have to understand the one we’re in” and she criticized excessive theorizations based solely on inaccessible Western traditions. This point blended quite nicely with a point Daniel Lende would make at 8am the next morning: that we need not just open access to our publications, but open access to our theory (Lende’s comments reminded me of my guest post for Savage MindsThe Bongobongo and Open Access).

The final plenary speaker was James Igoe, who wove together anthropology with his work on anarchist collectives in Detroit. Igoe talked of how anarchism and anthropology go well together: both are concerned with diversity, with challenging authority, and naturalness, with alternative forms of organizing. Igoe also discussed the influence of a “feminist uptake of the Boasian tradition,” an alternative and salutary influence Boas might not have predicted. [See Paige West and James J. Igoe, Imagining and Actualizing an Anthropology of Non-Capitalist Possibilities, which also locates this activity in a Boasian tradition.]

I here hope to have conveyed a selection of ideas and influences from the opening plenary. My follow-up post, Development, Reform, Revolution–and the Bridge, talks about the special track in relation to other panels and papers at the Society for Applied Anthropology 2012 meetings. For published reflections, see the Anthropology News: Beyond Capitalism issue.

Cacique Cobra Coral rompe parceria com a prefeitura (O Globo)

Governo teria deixado de entregar, nos prazos previstos, relatórios com um balanço dos investimentos em prevenção realizados ano passado na cidade


Publicado:14/01/13 – 0h08

RIO — Em pleno verão carioca, o sistema de alerta e prevenção a enchentes do Rio perdeu um colaborador incomum. O porta-voz da Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral, Osmar Santos, anunciou no domingo que rompeu o convênio técnico-científico que mantinha com a prefeitura do Rio. O motivo é que a prefeitura deixou de entregar, nos prazos previstos, relatórios com um balanço dos investimentos em prevenção realizados ano passado na cidade. A ONG é comandada pela médium Adelaide Scritori, que afirma ter o poder de controlar o tempo. Desde a administração do ex-prefeito Cesar Maia, Adelaide esteve à disposição para prestar assistência espiritual a fim de tentar reduzir os estragos causados por temporais. Em janeiro de 2009, a prefeitura chegou a anunciar o fim da parceria, mas voltou atrás após uma forte chuva.

— Alguém da burocracia muito atarefado esqueceu da gente. Mas, caso a prefeitura queira continuar a receber nossa consultoria, que é gratuita, estamos à disposição — disse Osmar Santos.

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