Arquivo mensal: março 2015

Alckmin descarta repor volume morto até abril (Estadão)

Fabio Leite e Lucas Sampaio – O Estado de S. Paulo

31 Março 2015 | 03h 00

Pela primeira vez, governo admite que chuvas não vão tirar o Sistema Cantareira da dependência da reserva profunda

SÃO PAULO – Mesmo com as chuvas acima da média em fevereiro e março, o Sistema Cantareira não vai conseguir recuperar totalmente o volume morto até o fim de abril, admitiu pela primeira vez o governo Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB). Projeção feita pelo Departamento de Águas e Energia Elétrica (DAEE) revela que o principal manancial paulista deve encerrar o próximo mês com nível 6% abaixo de zero, ou seja, ainda na reserva profunda.

“Poderemos atingir um total armazenado em torno de 420 bilhões de litros, ao fim de abril, 65 bilhões de litros abaixo do ‘zero’ do volume útil por gravidade”, afirmou o superintendente do DAEE, Ricardo Borsari, em ofício encaminhado ao presidente da Agência Nacional de Águas (ANA), Vicente Andreu, no dia 20 deste mês.

O volume de água é o mesmo registrado em 21 de agosto do ano passado. Os dois órgãos são responsáveis pela gestão conjunta do Sistema Cantareira.

Sistema Cantareira abastece 5,6 milhões 

Sistema Cantareira abastece 5,6 milhões

O manancial, formado por quatro represas, tem 1,47 trilhão de litros, dos quais 982 bilhões fazem parte do volume útil, porque ficam acima do nível dos túneis de captação e podem ser retirados por gravidade, e 485 bilhões, do volume morto, que só podem ser captados por bombas. Destes, 287,5 bilhões de litros foram liberados em duas cotas para a Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo (Sabesp) abastecer a região metropolitana, onde 5,6 milhões de pessoas ainda dependem da água do sistema.

Nesta segunda-feira, 30, o Cantareira operava com 18,9% da capacidade, segundo a Sabesp, que inclui as duas cotas do volume morto no cálculo. Na prática, contudo, o nível estava em -10,4%, se considerada a quantidade de água da reserva profunda usada como negativo, como quer o Ministério Público Estadual (MPE). No sábado, o Estado mostrou que o sistema tem atualmente 57% menos água do que há um ano, déficit de 243 bilhões de litros.

O documento faz parte das negociações entre a ANA, do governo Dilma Rousseff, e o DAEE, do governo Alckmin, para definir a retirada de água do Cantareira. Por causa das discordâncias entre os órgãos, desde 15 de março o manancial é operado pela Sabesp sem uma regra estabelecida.

O presidente da agência federal quer definir uma metodologia de operação e metas futuras de armazenamento até 30 de novembro.

No ofício, Borsari diz que a projeção considera a manutenção das atuais condições de entrada de água (60% das médias mensais históricas) e retirada (10 mil litros por segundo), como ocorre desde fevereiro. Neste cenário, o volume morto só será recuperado no dia 22 de julho, segundo o simulador lançado em janeiro pelo Estado.

Justiça. Em ação civil movida em 2014, o MPE pede que os gestores do Cantareira e da Sabesp operem o manancial para que ele chegue ao fim de abril com 10% positivos, mesmo índice registrado em 30 de abril do ano passado. O governo Alckmin afirma que essa meta é impossível de ser atingida.

Após duas liminares terem sido concedidas e depois derrubas pela Justiça, o juiz federal Wilson Zauhy Filho decidiu, na semana passada, suspender o processo até o dia 11 de maio, quando o DAEE se comprometeu a entregar, em juízo, os estudos da proposta que será feita pela Sabesp para a renovação da outorga do Sistema Cantareira e as respostas às propostas feitas pela ANA para a gestão do manancial durante a crise.

Fast Writing: Ethnography in the Digital Age (Savage Minds)

March 30, 2015 Carole McGranahan

[Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Yarimar Bonilla as part of our Writer’s Workshop SeriesYarimar is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming Fall 2015) and has written broadly about social movements, historical imaginaries, and questions of sovereignty in the Caribbean. She is currently a fellow in the History Design Studio at Harvard University where she is working on a digital project entitled “Visualizing Sovereignty.”]

In a recent contribution to this writers’ series, Michael Lambek offered some reflections on the virtues of “slow reading.” In an era of rapid-fire online communication, when images increasingly substitute for text, Lambek argues we would be well served to revel in the quiet interiority and reflective subjectivity made possible by long-form reading.

In this post I would like to think more carefully about this claim and to consider whether we might want to make a similar argument regarding the shifting pace of academic writing. If, as Lambek and others suggest, the temporality of reading has been altered by the digital age, can the same be said for research and writing? How have new digital tools, platforms, and shifts in technological access transformed the temporality of ethnographic writing, and is this something we necessarily wish to slow down?

I recently had occasion to experiment with sped-up academic pacing when offered the opportunity to contribute a piece to American Ethnologist about the protests surrounding the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In brainstorming our article, my co-author Jonathan Rosa and I asked ourselves hard questions about what we could contribute to the unfolding discussion about Ferguson. Both of us had produced academic “slow writing”— the product of years of careful research, analysis, drafting and editing. We had also engaged in some forms of “fast writing.” For example, I had published journalistic pieces on social movements in Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe. But these pieces focused on events not being covered in the mainstream media and for which informed journalism was necessary. The same could not be said of Ferguson. Despite an initial lag in journalistic coverage, by the time we were drafting our article, Ferguson had reached a point of media saturation, indeed it had become a challenge to keep apace with the numerous thought pieces and editorial columns emerging at a feverish pace during this time.

hands upImage from the Ferguson newsletter

In plotting our article we thus asked ourselves: how can we contribute to this fast moving conversation while still producing a piece that might hold up over time? That is, how could we produce something fast but not ephemeral?

The result was an exercise in mid-tempo research and writing. It was not the product of long-sustained fieldwork, and was very much written “in the heat of the moment,” but it nonetheless tried to anticipate how anthropologists might look back on Ferguson over time—how they might use this event to teach and write about broader issues of racialization, longer histories of race-based violence, the racial politics of social media, and the shifting terrain of contemporary activism.

This process forced us to think about the challenges of being not just fast writers but fastethnographers. How can we speak to fast moving stories while still retaining the contextualization, historical perspective, and attention to individual experiences characteristic of a fieldworker? Also, how can we engage with emerging digital platforms like Twitter with the comparative and ethnographic perspective characteristic of our discipline?

The latter requires us to take seriously the narrative genres and political possibilities afforded by new forms of digital communication without assuming that their speed robs them of their social complexity. For example, while some might see the prevalence of “memes” and the seeming dominance of image over text on the internet as an inherently negative development, as anthropologists we are well poised to recognize that shifts in communicative practices are neither inherently virtuous nor corrosive. Rather, they speak to, and are themselves generative of, a new set of social and political possibilities.

can't breathePhotograph from the Ferguson newsletter

In the case of Ferguson, the fast-moving pace and ease-of-access afforded by Twitter helped activists and supporters bring heightened awareness to what would have otherwise been an under-reported story. Moreover, it allowed many individual users for whom slow writing is not a possibility or a desired practice, to engage in forms of creative expression and reflective activity that could challenge, contest, and contextualize mainstream print narratives in which they rarely see themselves adequately represented. The tweets, images, memes, and hashtags that circulated during this time (and which continue to circulate) should thus not be seen as cheap and fast substitutes for artisanally crafted modes of personal reflection. Instead, they need to be understood as complex texts, worthy of the same kind of close-reading and critical analysis scholars usually devote to long-form prose.

Ethnography in the digital age requires us to avoid conflating the fast with the ephemeral or the vacuous. The aggregative and cumulative dimensions of social media, as well as their far-reaching scope, force us to re-think what constitutes an enduring or transformative social action. Moreover, attention to these practices also requires us to think more carefully about how we, as academic writers, can contribute to fast moving conversations without giving short shrift to the historical and analytical contextualization that is often absent in quick moving public debate. These challenges require us to move quickly when we feel something is worth attending to while still rallying in those quick moments the kind of critical perspectives that can only be honed slowly, accumulatively, over time.

Usina Nuclear de Angra 3 e a Operação Lava Jato (JC)

Para o físico Heitor Scalambrini Costa, denúncias de propinas na construção da usina e objeções técnicas quanto à obsolescência dos equipamentos tecnologicamente defasados, são fatos graves que devem ser apurados com urgência

Apesar de toda a movimentação no cenário internacional acerca dos problemas e riscos de instalações nucleares, que ficou exacerbada após o desastre de Fukushima (11/3/2011), surpreende a posição das autoridades do Ministério de Minas e Energia, dos “lobistas” da área nuclear,das empreiteiras e fornecedoras de equipamentos ― pois todos continuam insistindo na instalação de mais quatro usinas nucleares no país até 2030, sendo duas delas no Nordeste brasileiro. Além da construção de Angra 3 ― já aprovada.

No caso de Angra 3, a estimativa de custos da obra era de R$ 7,2 bilhões, em 2008; pulou para R$ 10,4 bilhões,no final de 2010;em julho de 2013, de acordo com a Eletronuclear, superava os R$ 13 bilhões; e, até 2018, ano de sua conclusão, devem alcançar R$ 14,9 bilhões. Obviamente a duplicação nos custos de construção desta usina nuclear impactam decisivamente o preço médio de venda de eletricidade no país.

A história da indústria nuclear no Brasil mostra que ela sempre foi ― e continua sendo ― uma indústria altamente dependente de subsídios públicos. Sem dúvida, são perversas as condições de financiamento de Angra 3, com subsídios governamentais ocultos, a serem posteriormente disfarçados nas contas de luz. E quem vai pagar essa conta seremos nós, os usuários, que já pagamos uma das mais altas tarifas de energia elétrica do mundo.

Com a Operação Lava Jato, deflagrada em março de 2014, para investigar um grande esquema de lavagem e desvio de dinheiro envolvendo a Petrobras, grandes empreiteiras do país e diversos políticos, começam a ter desnudados os reais interesses, nada republicanos, da decisão de construção das grandes obras energéticas, como a usina hidroelétrica de Belo Monte e a usina nuclear Angra 3.

Desde a decisão de construí-la no âmbito do conturbado acordo nuclear Brasil-Alemanha, a usina de Angra 3foi cercada de mistério, controvérsias, incertezas e falta de transparência, comuns no setor nuclear brasileiro.

As obras civis da usina foram licitadas à Construtora Andrade Gutierrez mediante contrato assinado em 16 de junho de 1983(governo Figueiredo, 1979-1985). Em abril de 1986, as obras foram paralisadas por falta de recursos, alto custo e dúvidas quanto à conveniência e riscos desta fonte de energia. Mesmo assim a construtora recebeu durante décadas um pagamento de aproximadamente US$ 20 milhões/ano.

Depois de 23 anos parada, as obras de Angra 3 foram retomadas em 2009 (governo Lula, 2003-2010). O governo Lula optou por não fazer licitações, e revalidou a concorrência ganha pela construtora Andrade Gutierrez, em 1983. Embora não tenha feito novas licitações, a Eletronuclear negociou atualizações de valores com todos os fornecedores e prestadores de serviços. A obra e seus equipamentos ficaram bem mais caros. Em dólares, seu valor pulou de US$ 1,8 bilhão para aproximadamente cerca de US$ 3,3 bilhões.

Diante da decisão de manter o contrato com a Andrade Gutierrez, construtoras concorrentes, especialmente a Camargo Corrêa, tentaram em vão convencer o governo a rever sua decisão, alegando que neste período houve uma revolução tecnológica que reduziu em até 40% o custo de obras civis de usinas nucleares. Também o plenário do Tribunal de Contas da União, em setembro de 2008, ao avaliar o assunto não impediu a revalidação dos contratos. Porém considerou que Angra 3 apresentava “indícios de irregularidade grave” sem recomendar, todavia, a paralisação do empreendimento.

O contrato das obras civis não foi o único a ser tirado do congelador pelo governo Lula. Para o fornecimento de bens e serviços importados foi definida a fabricante Areva, empresa resultante da fusão entre a alemã Siemens KWU e a francesa Framatome. A rigor, a Areva nem assinou o contrato. Ela foi escolhida porque herdou da KWU o acordo original.

Já os contratos da montagem foram assinados em 2 de setembro de 2014 com os seguintes consórcios: consórcio ANGRA 3, para a realização dos serviços de montagens eletromecânicas dos sistemas associados ao circuito primário da usina (sistemas associados ao circuito de geração de vapor por fonte nuclear),constituído pela empresas Construtora Queiroz Galvão S.A., EBE – Empresa Brasileira de Engenharia S.A. e Techint Engenharia S.A. E consórcio UNA 3, para a execução das montagens associadas aos sistemas convencionais da usina, constituído pelas empresas Construtora Andrade Gutierrez S.A., Construtora Norberto Odebrecht S.A., Construções e Comércio Camargo Corrêa S.A. e UTC Engenharia S.A.

O atual planejamento da Eletronuclear prevê a entrada em operação de Angra 3 em maio de 2018. Mas esta meta deverá ser revista depois de a obra ser praticamente paralisada no final de abril de 2014, devido à alegação de dívidas não pagas a empreiteira (governo Dilma, 2011-2014).

Depois de todos estes percalços, para uma obra tão polêmica, tomamos conhecimento das denúncias feitas por um dos executivos da empreiteira Camargo Correa, que passou a colaborar com as investigações da Operação Lava Jato e relatou aos procuradores, durante negociações para o acordo de delação premiada, uma suposta propina para o ex-ministro das Minas e Energia, Edson Lobão, na contratação da Camargo Correa para a execução de obras da usina de Angra 3.

Caso se confirmem tais acusações ficará claro para a sociedade brasileira que os reais interesses pela construção de Angra 3 e de mais 4 usinas nucleares tiveram como principal motivação as altas somas que autoridades públicas receberam como suborno. É bom lembrar que neste caso o ministro Lobão tinha poder de comando sobre a empresa pública responsável pela obra, a Eletronuclear ― subsidiária da Eletrobrás.

A partir deste episódio não podemos mais ignorar as objeções técnicas, como as denúncias com relação à obsolescência dos equipamentos tecnologicamente defasados (comprometendo o seu funcionamento e aumentando o risco de um desastre nuclear). Nem as denúncias de que o custo desta obra poderia encarecer durante a sua construção ― o que,de fato, já aconteceu.Tampouco o questionamento sobre o empréstimo realizado pela Caixa Econômica Federal, para a construção de Angra 3.

A expectativa é que todas as denúncias sejam investigadas e apuradas as responsabilidades. O fato em si é gravíssimo, e suficiente para a interrupção das atividades nucleares no país, em particular a construção de Angra 3, com o congelamento de novas instalações. Não se pode admitir que a decisão de construir centrais nucleares no país tenha sido feita em um mero balcão de negócios.

Heitor Scalambrini Costa é graduado em Física pela Universidade de Campinas/SP, mestrado em Ciências e Tecnologias Nucleares na Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, e doutorado em Energética – Université dAix-Marseille III (Droit, Econ. et Sciences (1992). Atualmente é professor associado da Universidade Federal de Pernambuco.

Michael Lewis: Our Appetite for Apocalypse (Radio Open Source)

AUDIO

m lewis redoMichael Lewis is the non-fiction novelist of our apocalyptic American mindset in 2010. The heroes of The Big Short, as he puts it in conversation “were betting on the end of the world… The only characters you can really trust are the people who are delivering a very, very dark message.”

Michael Lewis, remember, was never really a sportswriter, despite MoneyballCoach and The Blind Side. Nor was he ever a finance guy, despite the prescience of Liar’s Poker and his sure touch now with the Wall Street collapse of 2007-2008. Michael Lewis’s real business and his genius instinct is for resonant social fables that just happen to play out on ballfields and bond markets.

The Big Short is a high literary feat, complete with a real-life “unreliable narrator,” a particularly despised contrarian bond dealer, Greg Lippmann, who was betting brazenly against his own market. “The guy selling the best ideas is a completely untrustworthy character,” the author remarks. The true center of The Big Short is an atmosphere of anxiety that has developed a taste for the catastrophic. Lewis’s short-selling characters resonate because they’re acting out our common sense of “the probability of extreme change” in financial markets and in real life. It’s an anxiety that envelops Tea Baggers and Greenpeaceniks in the same cloud of anger.

ML: The broader thing about all these characters to me is that their attitudes, their approach to life, their ability to hear the data, was something that was marginalized in the system itself. They didn’t belong, none of them belonged, and they should have belonged. What is it about the system that doesn’t want them as a part of it? And it’s terrifying when all the people who were wrong are in charge, and all the people who are right are on the outside.

CL: It sure is. To me there’s a direct analogy to be drawn with the war in Iraq. The Congress signed off “oh well, he must know something.” Tony Blair embraced it. The media by and large encouraged it. A very, very few people said “are you kidding?” And yet the ones that warned against the war in Iraq got the same prize that your guys got for warning of the meltdown.

ML: Yes. Ostracism.

CL: Exactly, and they’re still ostracized.

ML: It’s funny. There is an analogy. And the analogy is there’s a kind of a blind faith in leadership that is the result in both cases of ordinary people feeling they can’t evaluate the situation because it’s too complicated. The financial system got so complicated, and the complexity became opacity. When Alan Greenspan stands up and says something, no one understands what he’s saying. But they think that’s a good thing, because it’s all so complicated they shouldn’t understand what he’s saying. And the fact is they should. The fact is, if things aren’t being explained in a way you and I can understand them, it should be a bad sign, not a good sign. But the complexity was turned on its head. It was used as a way to mask bad things that were happening.

There’s a joke in it all. The joke is that the financial system, and there are analogies to the political system, but the financial system wanted to do something it really shouldn’t do. It wanted to make lots of loans that it shouldn’t make. They created all this risk that was going to blow up the system. In order to do that they needed to disguise the risk. So to disguise the risk it used all this complexity, which served as a smokescreen. And the joke is that it ended up disguising the risk from itself. That the very people who created the smokescreen were engulfed in it, and they couldn’t parse the system they created.

Michael Lewis with Chris Lydon in Boston, April 7, 2010.

Sociology & Its Discontents (Synthetic Zero)

 

“Does the discipline of Sociology still have a role to play in the 21st century?To examine where we are at with Sociology in 2015, Philip Dodd is joined by three leading practitioners, the LSE’s Richard Sennett, Frank Furedi from the University of Kent, and Monika Krause at Goldsmiths, as well as the journalist and author, Peter Oborne”

AUDIO

I think we can safely leave sociology to the last century without any meaningful loss to our abilities to understand and reform as needed, anyone disagree?

synthetic zerø


“Does the discipline of Sociology still have a role to play in the 21st century?To examine where we are at with Sociology in 2015, Philip Dodd is joined by three leading practitioners, the LSE’s Richard Sennett, Frank Furedi from the University of Kent, and Monika Krause at Goldsmiths, as well as the journalist and author, Peter Oborne”

I think we can safely leave sociology to the last century without any meaningful loss to our abilities to understand and reform as needed, anyone disagree?

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Study underscores complexity of geopolitics in the age of the Aztec empire (North Carolina State Univ.)

25-MAR-2015

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IMAGE: HERE IS A VIEW TO THE WEST FROM THE HEIGHTS OF TLAXCALLAN. THE ACTIVE VOLCANO, POPOCATEPETL, IS VISIBLE IN THE BACKGROUND. CREDIT: LANE FARGHER

New findings from an international team of archaeological researchers highlight the complexity of geopolitics in Aztec era Mesoamerica and illustrate how the relationships among ancient states extended beyond warfare and diplomacy to issues concerning trade and the flow of goods.

The work was done by researchers from North Carolina State University, the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional-Unidad Mérida, El Colegio de Michoacán and Purdue University.

The researchers focused on an independent republic called Tlaxcallan in what is now central Mexico, about 75 miles east of modern Mexico City. Tlaxcallan was founded in the mid-13th century and, by 1500, was effectively surrounded by the Aztec Empire – but never lost its independence. In fact, Tlaxcallan supported Cortés and played a critical role in the Spanish Conquest of Mexico in the 16th century.

The new research focuses on where the people of Tlaxcallan obtained their obsidian in the century before the arrival of Cortés. Obsidian is a volcanic glass that was widely used in everything from household tools and weapons to jewelry and religious objects. But Tlaxcallan did not have a source of obsidian within its territory – so where did it come from?

“It turns out that Tlaxcallan relied on a source we hadn’t expected, called El Paredón,” says Dr. John Millhauser, an assistant professor of anthropology at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work. “Almost no one else was using El Paredón at the time, and it fell just outside the boundaries of the Aztec Empire. So, one question it raises is why the Aztecs – who were openly hostile to Tlaxcallan – didn’t intervene.”

One possible explanation is that the Aztecs didn’t intervene because it would have been too much effort. “Obsidian was widely available and was an everyday good. It probably wasn’t worth the time and expense to try to cut off Tlaxcallan’s supply of obsidian from El Paredón because other sources were available,” Millhauser says.

The finding drives home how complex international relations were during the Aztec Empire’s reign.

“The fact that they got so much obsidian so close to the Aztec Empire makes me question the scope of conflict at the time,” Millhauser says. “Tlaxcallan was able to access a source of household and military goods from a source that required it to go right up to the border of enemy territory.”

At the same time, the research makes clear that there was an economic rift between Tlaxcallan and the Aztecs. Previous research shows that more than 90 percent of Aztec obsidian came from a source called Pachuca, further to the north. But the new research finds that only 14 percent of the obsidian at Tlaxcallan was from Pachuca – most of the rest came from El Paredón.

For this study, the researchers systematically collected artifacts from the surfaces of stone-walled terraces at the site of the pre-Columbian city of Tlaxcallan. A representative number of the artifacts were then analyzed using x-ray fluorescence. This information was compared with samples from known sources of obsidian in the region to determine where the obsidian artifacts came from.

“All of this drives home the fact that geopolitics mattered for the economies of ancient states,” Millhauser says. “Political stances and political boundaries influenced everyday behavior, down to the flow of basic commodities like obsidian. The popular conception of the Aztec Empire as all powerful before the arrival of Cortés is exaggerated. The region was a politically and culturally complicated place.”

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The paper, “The Geopolitics of Obsidian Supply in Postclassic Tlaxcallan: A Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Study,” was published online March 25 in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The paper was co-authored by Dr. Lane Fargher of the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional-Unidad Mérida; Dr. Verenice Heredia Espinoza, of El Colegio de Michoacán; and Dr. Richard Blanton, of Purdue University.

The research was done with support from the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, the Elemental Analysis Facility of the Field Museum of Natural History, The Grainger Foundation, Purdue University, the Colegio de Michoacán, FAMSI, the National Geographical Society (under grant number 8008-06), and the National Science Foundation (under grant number BCS-0809643).

Time and Events (Knowledge Ecology)

March 24, 2015 / Adam Robbert

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[Image: Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji]

I just came across Massimo Pigliucci’s interesting review of Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin’s book The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. There are more than a few Whiteheadian themes explored throughout the review, including Unger and Smolin’s (U&S) view that time should be read as an abstraction from events and that the “laws” of the universe are better conceptualized as habits or contingent causal connections secured by the ongoingness of those events rather than as eternal, abstract formalisms. (This entangling of laws with phenomena, of events with time, is one of the ways we can think towards an ecological metaphysics.)

But what I am particularly interested in is the short discussion on Platonism and mathematical realism. I sometimes think of mathematical realism as the view that numbers, and thus the abstract formalisms they create, are real, mind-independent entities, and that, given this view, mathematical equations are discovered (i.e., they actually exist in the world) rather than created (i.e., humans made them up to fill this or that pragmatic need). The review makes it clear, though, that this definition doesn’t push things far enough for the mathematical realist. Instead, the mathematical realist argues for not just the mind-independent existence of numbers but also their nature-independence—math as independent not just of all knowers but of all natural phenomena, past, present, or future.

U&S present an alternative to mathematical realisms of this variety that I find compelling and more consistent with the view that laws are habits and that time is an abstraction from events. Here’s the reviewer’s take on U&S’s argument (the review starts with a quote from U&S and then unpacks it a bit):

“The third idea is the selective realism of mathematics. (We use realism here in the sense of relation to the one real natural world, in opposition to what is often described as mathematical Platonism: a belief in the real existence, apart from nature, of mathematical entities.) Now dominant conceptions of what the most basic natural science is and can become have been formed in the context of beliefs about mathematics and of its relation to both science and nature. The laws of nature, the discerning of which has been the supreme object of science, are supposed to be written in the language of mathematics.” (p. xii)

But they are not, because there are no “laws” and because mathematics is a human (very useful) invention, not a mysterious sixth sense capable of probing a deeper reality beyond the empirical. This needs some unpacking, of course. Let me start with mathematics, then move to the issue of natural laws.

I was myself, until recently, intrigued by mathematical Platonism [8]. It is a compelling idea, which makes sense of the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” as Eugene Wigner famously put it [9]. It is a position shared by a good number of mathematicians and philosophers of mathematics. It is based on the strong gut feeling that mathematicians have that they don’t invent mathematical formalisms, they “discover” them, in a way analogous to what empirical scientists do with features of the outside world. It is also supported by an argument analogous to the defense of realism about scientific theories and advanced by Hilary Putnam: it would be nothing short of miraculous, it is suggested, if mathematics were the arbitrary creation of the human mind, and yet time and again it turns out to be spectacularly helpful to scientists [10].

But there are, of course, equally (more?) powerful counterarguments, which are in part discussed by Unger in the first part of the book. To begin with, the whole thing smells a bit too uncomfortably of mysticism: where, exactly, is this realm of mathematical objects? What is its ontological status? Moreover, and relatedly, how is it that human beings have somehow developed the uncanny ability to access such realm? We know how we can access, however imperfectly and indirectly, the physical world: we evolved a battery of sensorial capabilities to navigate that world in order to survive and reproduce, and science has been a continuous quest for expanding the power of our senses by way of more and more sophisticated instrumentation, to gain access to more and more (and increasingly less relevant to our biological fitness!) aspects of the world.

Indeed, it is precisely this analogy with science that powerfully hints to an alternative, naturalistic interpretation of the (un)reasonable effectiveness of mathematics. Math too started out as a way to do useful things in the world, mostly to count (arithmetics) and to measure up the world and divide it into manageable chunks (geometry). Mathematicians then developed their own (conceptual, as opposed to empirical) tools to understand more and more sophisticated and less immediate aspects of the world, in the process eventually abstracting entirely from such a world in pursuit of internally generated questions (what we today call “pure” mathematics).

U&S do not by any means deny the power and effectiveness of mathematics. But they also remind us that precisely what makes it so useful and general — its abstraction from the particularities of the world, and specifically its inability to deal with temporal asymmetries (mathematical equations in fundamental physics are time-symmetric, and asymmetries have to be imported as externally imposed background conditions) — also makes it subordinate to empirical science when it comes to understanding the one real world.

This empiricist reading of mathematics offers a refreshing respite to the resurgence of a certain Idealism in some continental circles (perhaps most interestingly spearheaded by Quentin Meillassoux). I’ve heard mention a few times now that the various factions squaring off within continental philosophy’s avant garde can be roughly approximated as a renewed encounter between Kantian finitude and Hegelian absolutism. It’s probably a bit too stark of a binary, but there’s a sense in which the stakes of these arguments really do center on the ontological status of mathematics in the natural world. It’s not a direct focus of my own research interests, really, but it’s a fascinating set of questions nonetheless.

Conversation with Gabriella Coleman about her latest book “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous” (Fruzsina Eördögh)

 Author: 

shelfie hibbard for twitter

Here is the unedited 30 minute conversation/interview with Coleman, three times the length as the one published on CSM’s Passcode

FE: I finally finished your book last night…. at 3 in the morning….  it’s a pretty long book… while I was reading it, it hit me that this book is really about everything that has to do with the modern Internet, so in that way it makes sense why it is so long… you have to provide context for all these different and new concepts that no one has really written about.

GC: that’s something that’s been interesting to see the reviews, a lot of them have been repetitive. It is about Anonymous, but it is about so much more….

FE: Like modern activism…

GC: yeah, and what it means for hackers… they’ve really coalesced into a major political force just in the last five or six years.

FE: I’m glad you brought the political activism angle, do you think there will ever be an Anonymous political party?

GC: I don’t think so, they’re going to continue in their guerrilla war fashion, but we will see more hackers in government, for sure. Anonymous has to be independent… there’s no way that they can overtly work with government…

FE: So, onto prepared questions… what does the media still get wrong about Anonymous?

GC: I am currently writing this article for this anthropology book about relationships with journalists, and how I came to see journalism differently over time, just as the same way Anonymous is not unanimous, the same can be said for journalism. There are much more local journalists, and some are fucked up, there are structural constraints, and it is the same for Anonymous.

GC:  But basically, I do think a lot of journalists get it, and initially there was three things that were really difficult.

First, so many people just wanted to say that they were all hackers and I think over time a great majority realized that sure hacking is very important, but what makes Anonymous interesting is precisely the fact that general geeks can join.

GC:  The second has to do with the leader issue and for that first year [of research], in 2011, so many people, even journalists that I respect, were still wanting to boil down leadership to sabu or topiary. While it is absolutely the case that the hacker groups command more power, for example, topiary and sabu were two of those charismatic public figures so they became really important brokers between the world of Anonymous and the public, these are not leaders… the chat logs show how organic everything arises.

GC: And that’s really tough to understand [for outsiders], and still continues a little bit, except for those people who have actually bothered to find out about Anonymous. Here’s a great story: a senior investigative reporter producer for one of the top networks contacted me soon after operation ISIS started, and they were like, well, you know, “can you get us in touch with the Julian Assange type figure in Anonymous?”  and I was like “oh my god, did you just not read a single article? Because had you read a single article” the journalism has gotten so good, I think, that he wouldn’t have asked such a stupid question.

FE: it’s an easier narrative to sell, it’s easier to understand, for them to do their job.

GC: it is, for sure,

FE: but on the other hand that’s a bit of laziness, because the simplest explanation is not always the correct explanation

GC: that’s right, and everyone else has accommodated, including much of mainstream journalism…

And one final bit, while looking over my notes from the first year, there was a lot of characterization of Anonymous as vigilantes, I actually don’t think there was a lot of vigilante operations that year!  A lot of that came later…

FE: or a lot of that was the lower case anons, on 4chan, when they were like, “OMG people abusing cats,” or “my gf dumped me, let’s harass her on Facebook.”

GC: that’s exactly it. And a lot of people in the public and some journalists still think they’re primarily vigilantes, while it is — I don’t have a number but it is probably a quarter or less of their operations, are vigilante operations.

FE: Speaking of vigilantism, about the “white knight ops”… do you think they were the best way Anonymous could have chosen to endear themselves to the general public and to feminists?

GC: I generally agree, although it’s fascinating because Steubenville is what put them on the map in that “white knight oping” I think overall– and this is one of the most heavily qualified statements– they did a service but they did it poorly. I do think the two subsequent ones were executed with a lot more precision and nuance, thankfully.

But I wish that had been the case with Steubenville as well. We have to take seriously that collateral damage but I also think it’s something journalists also fall prey to as well, they make these big big mistakes when they take action and they should do everything possible to call out folks who do that, like that Rolling Stone piece, but I am not going to damn the entire bit of Anonymous for making those mistakes, for one person, unless they keep on doing it time after time but they didn’t.

FE: yeah that’s one of Anonymous’ strengths, that they adapt over time

GC: exactly, so you’ve really got to fully take that into account and the biggest mistake that came after Steubenville came over a year later, with Darren Wilson, rather, not correctly identifying Darren Wilson —

FE: oh but that The Anon Message account is just a whole other issue —

GC: exactly, crazy, he’s totally crazy, and you’re going to get that sometimes, you’re going to get the loose cannon and that is one of the weaknesses of Anonymous, that loose cannon person

FE: it’s weird though, that everyone in the community knows that TAM is a loose cannon, untrustworthy, but then media outlets still take what he says seriously

GC: yeah, and that’s maybe one of the weaknesses to raise, when you don’t have a spokesperson, to say “hey don’t listen to them” and I at one time took that role, and helped a lot of journalists, saying “he is credible, she is credible, he is not credible” but because I am not active any more I don’t play that role.

FE: it’s interesting that Anonymous hasn’t really decided to create like an IRC channel that is just for press,

GC: I would say in 2011, the AnonOps reporter channel was that way, but post when AnonOps was DDoSed, when Ryan Cleary dropped all the IP addresses, AnonOps became less of a central place…and that reporter channel couldn’t function in the way it once did. You’re right, there isn’t a single place you can go today for that type of verification…it’s much more fragmented today.

FE: Were you aware of the controversy around KYanonymous?

GC: he was one of the people I could have featured like I did with Barrett Brown, but I had less original material…

FE: KY is just so horribly hated, and I read a lot of posts and talked to a lot of people who are convinced everything they say about him online is true–

GC: yeah, it’s hard to dig in, because on the one hand the reality is he went on talk shows and he was pushing his rap music, but I think they demonized him a little bit too much, if that makes sense. Had he just been like, “yo, I’ve been arrested,” and he didn’t try to financially capitalize, I think [Anons] would have come and financially supported him. They ostracize those that try to convert their personal relationships inside Anonymous for personal gain, and they would have, I’M SURE, organized a financial campaign to help him… but it was too much, to sell his story to Rolling Stone, which got sold as movie rights, and the rap stuff, you know in some ways, [similar to] Barrett Brown

FE: What’s your take on the general Anon view of women? You mentioned it briefly in your book, when talking about AnonOps 2011

GC:  so the hackers are all male, and we could blame Anonymous for keeping them out, but they are not keeping black hat hackers out because they barely exist. Now that said, there is a culture where they embrace this very offensive language, including misogynistic language, and this is obviously going to be a barrier, not simply for women but certain quarters of the leftist community.

There are definitely women who participate, I put the number at about 25% so probably much higher than Open Source development and they play key roles with Twitter accounts, organizers, these sorts of things, but it is certainly the case that… my experience is that leftists tend to love Anonymous or hate Anonymous

GC: they love Anonymous because they’re bold, taking action, and some of whom are still uncomfortable with the language, like how Jeremy Hammond was, but still decided that it was worth it, others who kind of enjoy the transgressive language, and then among a kind of  a camp on the left, understandably, their language politics are too naive and they don’t buy into the importance of transgressing language and norms and that acts as a barrier for them. i won’t be able to solve this question right now I actually go back and forth myself on the language issue, and certainly, it can act as a barrier for women and some leftists in general. That is just a fact. whether or not you agree with the language politics, it can and will act as a barrier.

FE: I thought with the “white knight ops” that it would draw more women to Anonymous, but it didn’t really, probably because of the language and the culture.

GC: that’s right, feminists were very torn, some saw them as quite bold and I quoted someone in that position, I quoted another woman, Jackie, was the woman that could see the value, but there’s others who really are just like, “it’s incredibly regressive.”

FE: Did you find any challenges while researching and writing about Anonymous and their taboo relationship with “the online troll?”

GC: yeah, for sure, I mean, like, because of trolling or…?

FE: as in, do people take what you have to say less seriously because you are caught up in this trollish community, did you have to take extra time to prove your point because of the troll stigma…

GC:  I do not evny those folks who have to write purely on trolling, because you become polluted by the trolls. Many people can respect very much what you do but a lot of people, and I’ve seen this with some of my good friends that write about trolls, some people, you know they are not giving trolls a free pass whatsoever, they’re trying to go beyond, “it’s simply racism”… there’s other things going on, right. As a result, they become polluted by the trolls and certain academics are really critical of that type of scholarship. Which is very very problematic. I was certainly concerned because I addressed trolls to some degree but I was relieved that I didn’t address it deeply.

FE: it makes me think of Whitney Phillips’ book

GC: [00:20:15.00] OFF THE RECORD DISCUSSION [00:21:05.07]

You know one of the difficulties is weev, in a lot of ways, because, obviously I interacted with him a lot and I really did want to convey how frightening of a troll he was, but not necessarily, simply moralize it from the get-go but show the cultural logic. I think I succeeded. Some of his victims thanked me for not white-washing him. But also, I went beyond the kind of moral narrative of good and bad even though I think it was pretty clear.

GC: As I like to say [to] weev [who] likes to call himself puck, “no, you’re more like loki, because loki is really fucking frightening and is far more playful.”

FE: do you feel DDoS will ever be recognized as a form of protest?

GC: Yeah, it might, in certain places of the world, certainly not the United States.

FE: why not the United States?

GC:Because it falls under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, because the United States has zero tolerance for “computer crimes” right, it will put anything under, any attack under the CFAA and just the history has shown they are not going to budge on this. Granted, the paypal14 outcome was more favorable than I expected, and this goes to show [that if] there is a big movement behind a case [it] can make a difference. If people weren’t watching, if there wasn’t a Free Anonymous campaign, if they didn’t have great lawyers, it would be much worse.

FE: so in your book you wrote that Brazil, Italy and Hispanic-Mexican Anons were the largest contingent. Do you still think that is the case in 2015?

GC: yeah, Italy not so much because there have been a lot of arrests, but certainly lulzsec peru is still kicking strong, and even in September they had that famous hack against the Peruvian government, that linked to emails that exposed corruption.

I have to see about Asia, not too sure about today, but certainly for the Umbrella Revolution they were quite active with hacking but again, we’re not seeing that coverage, understandably, Anonymous is quite hard to study now because of the language barrier, but once you differentiate between no activity versus global off-shoring…

FE: A few people think German Anons have best hackers right now,

GC: What you can say is that they’ve gotten smarter, they’re being quieter, hiding their tracks, [CUT]

FE: there’s so many levels of irony, contradictions to various aspects of Anonymous, right, like how they forgo identity yet are incredibly publicity hungry, they are leaderless, but then they always have a handful of temporary leaders for short periods of time, they’re not anyone’s personal army and yet they are, for someone or for a cause…

GC: and in many of their operations people are like, “hey help us,” and sometimes they initiate it but others… like Ferguson comes to mind, where they said “hey, we need Anonymous”

FE: and Anonymous is like, “yeah, we’ll be your Batman!”

GC: exactly

FE: and the last one is how it is not entirely Anonymous, the collective has to be pseudo-anonymous to function, so… out of all these levels of contradictions, which one do you think is the hardest to explain, and get around?

GC: [CUT]

I think the hardest thing to convey is the changing structures of leadership, because people still are like, “but there must be leaders” when they say there is not a single spokesperson, and then I have to agree with them in that certain moments, certain teams or individuals are more important than others but, because of the fact that there are multiple ones, and it is highly dynamic and shifts, it means that it doesn’t resemble a certain organization where there really is a chosen spokesperson, or having an assigned roles, like with Red Hat Turkish group.

GC: I think some people have trouble understanding because they’ve never been on internet relay chat, and they don’t know what the exchange looks like, and that’s completely understandable that they can’t grasp the reality of those chats, and that was one of the reasons why I included so many chats in the book and why I also included the hackers working together and in a small team. And what’s interesting about Anonymous and this also goes back to the contradiction, it’s not simply that there is a shifting leadership, you have small teams that are very controlled at some level even if it is very much consensus-based and you have those big channels in the public that can determine what happens. This is why I included that example of the back channel DDoSing the Motion Picture Association of America and then when the group outed itself in the public channel and then the public channel engaged in mutiny,

FE: hanging out in IRC is quite a trip

BC: it really makes your ADHD worse…but that’s really hard because it is not simply the contradiction, if you have not experienced this interchanging spaces it is very understandably hard to wrap your head around it.

FE: I think that people are just confused that you can have leaders of a group of 10 people, and there will be 3 “leaders,” and they’ll only be “leaders” for a day or two, or a week,

GC: and some people like Commander X is really liked by some, and hated by some, so like the important movers and shakers he also gets a bad rap because he has talked to the media. But then he’s also put in a lot of work, and gets stuff done…

But you’re absolutely right, there’s a series of contradictions and that really defines who Anonymous is and it’s hard to convey some of them,

FE: it’s like in your book, when you mention you are breaking down the myth, but at the same time, that myth is what draws people to Anonymous so you also uphold it, it is a balancing act

GC: and that was like the central idea, I didn’t reveal it until the end, but yeah, my whole book is traveling this contradictory set of goals… there are too many misconceptions but I also wanted to make it exciting and enchanting and all sorts of things.

FE: so Barrett Brown, I know you said you didn’t want to talk about him, but…why do you think he was given more prison time?

GC: I think he was given… well, there are a couple things going on. Over the course of the history of transgressive hacking, or hacktivism, he’s not a hacker — so he took part in the hacktivism without the hacking — but whether it is Kevin Mitnick and the past, or now Barrett Brown, I think the state does want to create an example out of certain people, and he is the example of the non-hacker rabble-rouser who gets very close to the hackers,

FE: it’s very upsetting to me, because it’s like they are villianizing PR. PR is not a crime, and maybe that’s why he keeps denying he was a spokesperson… even if he wasn’t technically the official spokesperson, he still functioned like a PR rep,

GC: exactly, it’s true he was at times very close and involved in a lot of operations but you know, I was there for a lot of the Stratfor stuff, and Antisec was keeping him at bay. They didn’t even give him the emails! So it was really this unbelievable witch hunt against him, and it is true they capitalized off the fact that he was a central participant to kind of make their case, even though I think it was really ungrounded.

‘Escolha foi respeitar rito ambiental ou fornecer água’, diz secretário de SP (Folha de S.Paulo)

[Detalhe para o uso da palavra “rito”]

FABRÍCIO LOBEL
GUSTAVO URIBE
DE SÃO PAULO
EDUARDO SCOLESE
EDITOR DE “COTIDIANO”

30/03/2015  03h00

Em meio à pior crise de abastecimento enfrentada pela Grande SP, o secretário estadual Benedito Braga (Recursos Hídricos) diz que a gestão Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) teve de escolher: levar água para a população no período de seca ou respeitar o rito ambiental tradicional para dar andamento a obras emergenciais.

Foi escolhida a primeira opção, de acordo com ele.

“Se fossem respeitados os ritos, não teríamos condições de prover essa água à população em julho [de 2015]”, afirma o secretário, que diz que deverão ser usados “atalhos” para cumprir as exigências.

Em entrevista à Folha, o secretário, que assumiu a pasta em janeiro em meio à crise de abastecimento, avaliou como muito reduzidas as chances de um rodízio de água neste ano.

Para Braga, que é professor de engenharia hidráulica da USP e presidente do Conselho Mundial da Água, as pessoas que torcem pelo rodízio querem ver uma “situação realmente ruim” em SP.

Entre as principais obras emergenciais previstas para este ano está a ligação entre dois mananciais, o Rio Grande e o Alto Tietê. Outras deverão reverter rios da Serra do Mar, alguns em área de Mata Atlântica, para abastecer os reservatórios da Grande SP.

Karime Xavier/Folhapress
O secretário estadual Recursos Hídricos Benedito Braga (Recursos Hídricos)
O secretário estadual de Recursos Hídricos, Benedito Braga, durante entrevista à Folha

*

Folha – Um rodízio neste ano está completamente descartado em São Paulo?

Benedito Braga – Em função das condições que prevalecem nos nossos sistemas de armazenamento, as chances de termos um rodízio são bastante baixas –e nós estamos trabalhando da forma mais conservadora possível, não fazendo hipóteses de que vamos ter grandes chuvas daqui para frente.

É importante observar que, depois dessa crise, não temos uma condição de previsibilidade [de chuvas] muito boa, como tínhamos antes.

Então, não podemos garantir que não vamos ter rodízio. Temos tudo preparado para tomar as decisões dependendo da condição do clima que prevalecer neste ano. Tudo vai depender de como vem a estação seca [de abril a setembro].

Qual deve ser o custo da crise neste ano para a população?

O custo não será diferente do que está sendo agora. Durante este ano, nós teremos ainda que adotar medidas de redução de pressão que incomodam as pessoas, porque é uma situação fora do normal.

É muito importante termos em conta que a situação que vivemos é muito melhor do que uma situação de rodízio.

Haverá um custo muito menor do que aquele que teríamos se implantássemos o rodízio [interrupção completa do fornecimento de água].

O balanço financeiro da Sabesp relativo a 2014 mostrou que o lucro da empresa caiu pela metade. Essa queda será repassada ao consumidor?

O que houve foi uma queda no lucro [de R$ 1,9 bilhão para R$ 903 milhões]. A redução do lucro era esperada, em função da redução do consumo e da concessão de bônus.

Não tem como repassar para a população, isso é um resultado que tivemos em função da crise da água.

Mas essa queda poderá impactar as obras programadas para este ano?

Não. O custo dessas obras não é exagerado. Há previsão orçamentária e não há atraso nenhum nas obras sob o ponto de vista físico e financeiro.

Pela urgência das obras, a questão ambiental não está sendo atropelada?

Nós temos uma situação em que, se fossem seguidos os ritos tradicionais do setor ambiental, nós não teríamos condições de prover essa água à população em julho.

Então, a questão é uma escolha. O que vocês preferem: seguir o rito ambiental ou trazer água para a população?

O governo fez a escolha?

Fez a escolha de seguir o rito dentro da emergência. E, dentro da emergência, você tem atalhos para o setor ambiental. Tudo está sendo feito dentro da mais absoluta regra da lei e da ordem.

A única coisa é que isso teve que ser feito de uma forma mais rápida. E o rito, dentro dessa forma mais rápida, é diferente das obras tradicionais, em que você tem o relatório de impacto ambiental, audiência pública e assim por diante.

Mas a Cetesb faz todas as análises, (…) e o governo não está fazendo nada fora da lei.

Está sendo feita uma obra de emergência, mas dentro de todos os ritos da lei de licitações e da lei ambiental.

As chuvas recentes fizeram com que o governo estadual recuasse na transparência em relação à crise, como não informar o real risco de um rodízio? Não são os mesmos erros do ano passado?

Não, não há erros nem em 2014 nem em 2015 e não haverá erros em 2016. Trabalhamos com uma boa expectativa de passar este ano, mas nos preparando para o pior, que é um plano de contingência.

Estamos fazendo tudo dentro da mais absoluta técnica. Não existe falta de transparência, porque informamos diariamente a situação dos reservatórios da região metropolitana. Não há nenhuma falta de transparência.

Como o senhor classifica a atual situação?

Nós estamos caminhando para ocupar minimamente o volume morto, o que significa que ainda é uma situação muito difícil. Nós gostaríamos que o reservatório estivesse praticamente cheio.

Mas, com essa reserva que estamos acumulando e com as obras que estamos trazendo, temos a possibilidade de superar a crise, mas não é ainda uma situação confortável.

O sr. disse que não houve erros em 2014. Como eleitor, mesmo fora do cargo, o sr. se sentiu atendido pelas declarações do governo sobre a crise?

As decisões tomadas foram corretas. Em 2014, ainda havia o final do ano como uma época em que normalmente há as chuvas e os reservatórios enchem.

Então, tomar uma medida como o rodízio, como muita gente queria, eu sempre fui publicamente contra. Entraram com o incentivo econômico [bônus para quem economizar], depois com as válvulas redutoras de pressão. E foi tudo muito lógico.

Mas a sobretaxa veio só depois da eleição…

Não quero entrar nesse detalhe de sobretaxa [pagamento adicional para quem extrapolar o consumo médio]. O que estou dizendo é que o que foi feito em 2014 foi certo.

Esse negócio de dizer que o governo errou não está certo. Talvez, as pessoas que insistiram muito em rodízio queriam ver uma situação realmente ruim. Seria fácil fazer o rodízio, é só fechar a manivela. O duro é fazer o que a Sabesp fez: colocar válvulas e sofrer o impacto econômico de colocar o bônus.

Então o sr. acha que ter negado que haveria desabastecimento e que seriam usados os dois volumes mortos foram medidas acertadas?

O resultado foi muito bom. Não tivemos desabastecimento, tivemos 1% da população impactada com as medidas. Portanto não tenho crítica.

Mas há problemas de desabastecimento em alguns bairros na periferia de São Paulo…

Não se pode negar que haja uma crise hídrica. É como em uma guerra dizer: “Você vai me matar com uma uma [arma calibre] 45 ou com uma 22?”. É querer colocar regra em meio a uma situação muito complicada. É querer que todo mundo tenha água quando tivemos um ano de 2014 que teve 50% menos água que a mínima de 1953.

A tarifa hoje é muito barata?

São Paulo tem uma das menores tarifas do Brasil. Tem 21 Estados que praticam tarifas acima da tarifa da Sabesp.

Acho que o custo da água, em função da dificuldade de encontrar novos mananciais e dos custos operacionais… Acho que a tarifa hoje no Estado é aquém do necessário.

A crise traz algum benefício?

Acho que sim. O pessoal no Sudeste não sabia que tinha que fazer a barba abrindo e fechando a torneira. O nordestino já sabia disso há muito tempo. A crise trouxe essa consciência.

Galinhas enxergam as cores bem melhor do que os humanos (Folha de S.Paulo)

RICARDO MIOTO

EDITOR DE “CIÊNCIA” E “SAÚDE”

30/03/2015  02h00

Galinhas são animais de visão, diz a ciência. Perto delas, somos uns daltônicos.

Cientistas descobriram que suas retinas têm cinco cones sensíveis à cor. Humanos têm só três, que enxergam comprimentos de vermelho, azul e verde –o resto é mistura. Galinhas nos superam com um cone para violeta e alguns comprimentos ultravioleta e com um quinto receptor, ainda pouco compreendido.

Tatiane Rosa/Folhapress
Galinha da Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia da USP, no campus de Pirassununga
Galinha da Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia da USP, no campus de Pirassununga

Além disso, no ano passado cientistas de Princeton (EUA) mostraram que os átomos do olho da galinha se organizam num estado da matéria inédito na biologia, com propriedades tanto de cristal sólido quanto de líquido. Tal arranjo permite que cores sejam recebidas de forma muito nítida.

Foi assim que o olho da galinha foi parar na revista científica “Physical Review”, entre artigos sobre temas da física como dissipação de energia ou mecânica quântica.

Isso tudo faz com que seja difícil imaginarmos como uma galinha vê cores –só sabemos que é bem mais intenso e, digamos, psicodélico.

Por que a evolução deixou o olho da galinha assim? É uma boa pergunta. As respostas passam pela importância das cores para ela –pense, por exemplo, na plumagem colorida dos parceiros sexuais.

On Reverse Engineering (Anthropology and Algorithms)

Nick Seaver

Looking for the cultural work of engineers

The Atlantic welcomed 2014 with a major feature on web behemoth Netflix. If you didn’t know, Netflix has developed a system for tagging movies and for assembling those tags into phrases that look like hyper-specific genre names: Visually-striking Foreign Nostalgic Dramas, Critically-acclaimed Emotional Underdog Movies, Romantic Chinese Crime Movies, and so on. The sometimes absurd specificity of these names (or “altgenres,” as Netflix calls them) is one of the peculiar pleasures of the contemporary web, recalling the early days of website directories and Usenet newsgroups, when it seemed like the internet would be a grand hotel, providing a room for any conceivable niche.

Netflix’s weird genres piqued the interest of Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal, who set about scraping the whole list. Working from the US in late 2013, his scraper bot turned up a startling 76,897 genre names — clearly the emanations of some unseen algorithmic force. How were they produced? What was their generative logic? What made them so good—plausible, specific, with some inexpressible touch of the human? Pursuing these mysteries brought Madrigal to the world of corpus analysis software and eventually to Netflix’s Silicon Valley offices.

The resulting article is an exemplary piece of contemporary web journalism — a collaboratively produced, tech-savvy 5,000-word “long read” that is both an exposé of one of the largest internet companies (by volume) and a reflection on what it is like to be human with machines. It is supported by a very entertaining altgenre-generating widget, built by professor and software carpenter Ian Bogost and illustrated by Twitter mystery darth. Madrigal pieces the story together with his signature curiosity and enthusiasm, and the result feels so now that future corpus analysts will be able to use it as a model to identify texts written in the United States from 2013–14. You really should read it.

A Māori eel trap. The design and construction of traps (or filters) like this are classic topics of interest for anthropologists of technology. cc-by-sa-3.0

As a cultural anthropologist in the middle of a long-term research project on algorithmic filtering systems, I am very interested in how people think about companies like Netflix, which take engineering practices and apply them to cultural materials. In the popular imagination, these do not go well together: engineering is about universalizable things like effectiveness, rationality, and algorithms, while culture is about subjective and particular things, like taste, creativity, and artistic expression. Technology and culture, we suppose, make an uneasy mix. When Felix Salmon, in his response to Madrigal’s feature, complains about “the systematization of the ineffable,” he is drawing on this common sense: engineers who try to wrangle with culture inevitably botch it up.

Yet, in spite of their reputations, we always seem to find technology and culture intertwined. The culturally-oriented engineering of companies like Netflix is a quite explicit case, but there are many others. Movies, for example, are a cultural form dependent on a complicated system of technical devices — cameras, editing equipment, distribution systems, and so on. Technologies that seem strictly practical — like the Māori eel trap pictured above—are influenced by ideas about effectiveness, desired outcomes, and interpretations of the natural world, all of which vary cross-culturally. We may talk about technology and culture as though they were independent domains, but in practice, they never stay where they belong. Technology’s straightforwardness and culture’s contingency bleed into each other.

This can make it hard to talk about what happens when engineers take on cultural objects. We might suppose that it is a kind of invasion: The rationalizers and quantifiers are over the ridge! They’re coming for our sensitive expressions of the human condition! But if technology and culture are already mixed up with each other, then this doesn’t make much sense. Aren’t the rationalizers expressing their own cultural ideas? Aren’t our sensitive expressions dependent on our tools? In the present moment, as companies like Netflix proliferate, stories trying to make sense of the relationship between culture and technology also proliferate. In my own research, I examine these stories, as told by people from a variety of positions relative to the technology in question. There are many such stories, and they can have far-reaching consequences for how technical systems are designed, built, evaluated, and understood.


The story Madrigal tells in The Atlantic is framed in terms of “reverse engineering.” The engineers of Netflix have not invaded cultural turf — they’ve reverse engineered it and figured out how it works. To report on this reverse engineering, Madrigal has done some of his own, trying to figure out the organizing principles behind the altgenre system. So, we have two uses of reverse engineering here: first, it is a way to describe what engineers do to cultural stuff; second, it is a way to figure out what engineers do.

So what does “reverse engineering” mean? What kind of things can be reverse engineered? What assumptions does reverse engineering make about its objects? Like any frame, reverse engineering constrains as well as enables the presentation of certain stories. I want to suggest here that, while reverse engineering might be a useful strategy for figuring out how an existing technology works, it is less useful for telling us how it came to work that way. Because reverse engineering starts from a finished technical object, it misses the accidents that happened along the way — the abandoned paths, the unusual stories behind features that made it to release, moments of interpretation, arbitrary choice, and failure. Decisions that seemed rather uncertain and subjective as they were being made come to appear necessary in retrospect. Engineering looks a lot different in reverse.

This is especially evident in the case of explicitly cultural technologies. Where “technology” brings to mind optimization, functionality, and necessity, “culture” seems to represent the opposite: variety, interpretation, and arbitrariness. Because it works from a narrowly technical view of what engineering entails, reverse engineering has a hard time telling us about the cultural work of engineers. It is telling that the word “culture” never appears in this piece about the contemporary state of the culture industry.

Inspired by Madrigal’s article, here are some notes on the consequences of reverse engineering for how we think about the cultural lives of engineers. As culture and technology continue to escape their designated places and intertwine, we need ways to talk about them that don’t assume they can be cleanly separated.


Ben Affleck, fact extractor.

There is a terrible movie about reverse engineering, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. It is called Paycheck, stars Ben Affleck, and is not currently available for streaming on Netflix. In it, Affleck plays a professional reverse engineer (the “best in the business”), who is hired by companies to figure out the secrets of their competitors. After doing this, his memory of the experience is wiped and in return, he is compensated very well. Affleck is a sort of intellectual property conduit: he extracts secrets from devices, and having moved those secrets from one company to another, they are then extracted from him. As you might expect, things go wrong: Affleck wakes up one day to find that he has forfeited his payment in exchange for an envelope of apparently worthless trinkets and, even worse, his erstwhile employer now wants to kill him. The trinkets turn out to be important in unexpected ways as Affleck tries to recover the facts that have been stricken from his memory. The movie’s tagline is “Remember the Future”—you get the idea.

Paycheck illustrates a very popular way of thinking about engineering knowledge. To know about something is to know the facts about how it works. These facts are like physical objects — they can be hidden (inside of technologies, corporations, envelopes, or brains), and they can be retrieved and moved around. In this way of thinking about knowledge, facts that we don’t yet know are typically hidden on the other side of some barrier. To know through reverse engineering is to know by trying to pull those pre-existing facts out.

This is why reverse engineering is sometimes used as a metaphor in the sciences to talk about revealing the secrets of Nature. When biologists “reverse engineer” a cell, for example, they are trying to uncover its hidden functional principles. This kind of work is often described as “pulling back the curtain” on nature (or, in older times, as undressing a sexualized, female Nature — the kind of thing we in academia like to call “problematic”). Nature, if she were a person, holds the secrets her reverse engineers want.

In the more conventional sense of the term, reverse engineering is concerned with uncovering secrets held by engineers. Unlike its use in the natural sciences, here reverse engineering presupposes that someone already knows what we want to find out. Accessing this kind of information is often described as “pulling back the curtain” on a company. (This is likely the unfortunate naming logic behind Kimono, a new service for scraping websites and automatically generating APIs to access the scraped data.) Reverse engineering is not concerned with producing “new” knowledge, but with extracting facts from one place and relocating them to another.

Reverse engineering (and I guess this is obvious) is concerned with finished technologies, so it presumes that there is a straightforward fact of the matter to be worked out. Something happened to Ben Affleck before his memory was wiped, and eventually he will figure it out. This is not Rashomonwhich suggests there might be multiple interpretations of the same event (although that isn’t available for streaming either)The problem is that this narrow scope doesn’t capture everything we might care about: why this technology and not another one? If a technology is constantly changing, like the algorithms and data structures under the hood at Netflix, then why is it changing as it does? Reverse engineering, at best, can only tell you the what, not the why or the how. But it even has some trouble with the what.


“Fantastic powers at his command / And I’m sure that he will understand / He’s the Wiz and he lives in Oz”

Netflix, like most companies today, is surrounded by a curtain of non-disclosure agreements and intellectual property protections. This curtain animates Madrigal’s piece, hiding the secrets that his reverse engineering is aimed at. For people inside the curtain, nothing in his article is news. What is newsworthy, Madrigal writes, is that “no one outside the company has ever assembled this data before.” The existence of the curtain shapes what we imagine knowledge about Netflix to be: something possessed by people on the inside and lacked by people on the outside.

So, when Madrigal’s reverse engineering runs out of steam, the climax of the story comes and the curtain is pulled back to reveal the “Wizard of Oz, the man who made the machine”: Netflix’s VP of Product Innovation Todd Yellin. Here is the guy who holds the secrets behind the altgenres, the guy with the knowledge about how Netflix has tried to bridge the world of engineering and the world of cultural production. According to the logic of reverse engineering, Yellin should be able to tell us everything we want to know.

From Yellin, Madrigal learns about the extensiveness of the tagging that happens behind the curtain. He learns some things that he can’t share publicly, and he learns of the existence of even more secrets — the contents of the training manual which dictate how movies are to be entered into the system. But when it comes to how that massive data and intelligence infrastructure was put together, he learns this:

“It’s a real combination: machine-learned, algorithms, algorithmic syntax,” Yellin said, “and also a bunch of geeks who love this stuff going deep.”

This sentence says little more than “we did it with computers,” and it illustrates a problem for the reverse engineer: there is always another curtain to get behind. Scraping altgenres will only get you so far, and even when you get “behind the curtain,” companies like Netflix are only willing to sketch out their technical infrastructure in broad strokes. In more technically oriented venues or the academic research community, you may learn more, but you will never get all the way to the bottom of things. The Wizard of Oz always holds on to his best secrets.

But not everything we want to know is a trade secret. While reverse engineers may be frustrated by the first part of Yellin’s sentence — the vagueness of “algorithms, algorithmic syntax” — it’s the second part that hides the encounter between culture and technology: What does it look like when “geeks who love this stuff go deep”? How do the people who make the algorithms understand the “deepness” of cultural stuff? How do the loves of geeks inform the work of geeks? The answers to these questions are not hidden away as proprietary technical information; they’re often evident in the ways engineers talk about and work with their objects. But because reverse engineering focuses narrowly on revealing technical secrets, it fails to piece together how engineers imagine and engage with culture. For those of us interested in the cultural ramifications of algorithmic filtering, these imaginings and engagements—not usually secret, but often hard to access — are more consequential than the specifics of implementation, which are kept secret and frequently change.


“My first goal was: tear apart content!”


While Yellin may not have told us enough about the technical secrets of Netflix to create a competitor, he has given us some interesting insights into the way he thinks about movies and how to understand them. If you’re familiar with research on algorithmic recommenders, you’ll recognize the system he describes as an example of content-based recommendation. Where “classic” recommender systems rely on patterns in ratings data and have little need for other information, content-based systems try to understand the material they recommend, through various forms of human or algorithmic analysis. These analyses are a lot of work, but over the past decade, with the increasing availability of data and analytical tools, content-based recommendation has become more popular. Most big recommender systems today (including Netflix’s) are hybrids, drawing on both user ratings and data about the content of recommended items.

The “reverse engineering of Hollywood” is the content side of things: Netflix’s effort to parse movies into its database so that they can be recommended based on their content. By calling this parsing “reverse engineering,” Madrigal implies that there is a singular fact of the matter to be retrieved from these movies, and as a result, he focuses his description on Netflix’s thoroughness. What is tagged? “Everything. Everyone.” But the kind of parsing Yellin describes is not the only way to understand cultural objects; rather, it is a specific and recognizable mode of interpretation. It bears a strong resemblance to structuralism — a style of cultural analysis that had its heyday in the humanities and social sciences during the mid-20th century.


Structuralism, according to Roland Barthes, is a way of interpreting objects by decomposing them into parts and then recomposing those parts into new wholes. By breaking a text apart and putting it back together, the structuralist aims to understand its underlying structure: what order lurks under the surface of apparently idiosyncratic objects?

For example, the arch-structuralist anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss took such an approach in his study of myth. Take the Oedipus myth: there are many different ways to tell the same basic story, in which a baby is abandoned in the wilderness and then grows up to unknowingly kill his father, marry his mother, and blind himself when he finds out (among other things). But, across different tellings of the myth, there is a fairly persistent set of elements that make up the story. Lévi-Strauss called these elements “mythemes” (after linguistic “phonemes”). By breaking myths down into their constituent parts, you could see patterns that linked them together, not only across different tellings of the “same” myth, but even across apparently disparate myths from other cultures. Through decomposition and recomposition, structuralists sought what Barthes called the object’s “rules of functioning.” These rules, governing the combination of mythemes, were the object of Lévi-Strauss’s cultural analysis.

Todd Yellin is, by all appearances, a structuralist. He tells Madrigal that his goal was to “tear apart content” and create a “Netflix Quantum Theory,” under which movies could be broken down into their constituent parts — into “quanta” or the “little ‘packets of energy’ that compose each movie.” Those quanta eventually became “microtags,” which Madrigal tells us are used to describe everything in the movie. Large teams of human taggers are trained, using a 36-page secret manual, and they go to town, decomposing movies into microtags. Take those tags, recompose them, and you get the altgenres, a weird sort of structuralist production intended to help you find things in Netflix’s pool of movies. If Lévi-Strauss had lived to be 104 instead of just 100, he might have had some thoughts about this computerized structuralism: in his 1955 article on the structural study of myth, he suggested that further advances would require mathematicians and “I.B.M. equipment” to handle the complicated analysis. Structuralism and computers go way back.


Although structuralism sounds like a fairly technical way to analyze cultural material, it is not, strictly speaking, objective. When you break an object down into its parts and put it back together again, you have not simply copied it — you’ve made something new. A movie’s set of microtags, no matter how fine-grained, is not the same thing as the movie. It is, as Barthes writes, a “directed, interested simulacrum” of the movie, a re-creation made with particular goals in mind. If you had different goals — different ideas about what the significant parts of movies were, different imagined use-cases — you might decompose differently. There is more than one way to tear apart content.

This does not jive well with common sense ideas about what engineering is like. Instead of the cold, rational pursuit of optimal solutions, we have something a little more creative. We have options, a variety of choices which are all potentially valid, depending on a range of contextual factors not exhausted by obviously “technical” concerns. Barthes suggested that composing a structuralist analysis was like composing a poem, and engineering is likewise expressive. Netflix’s altgenres are in no way the final statement on the movies. They are, rather, one statement among many — a cultural production in their own right, influenced by local assumptions about meaning, relevance, and taste. “Reverse engineering” seems a poor name for this creative practice, because it implies a singular right answer — a fact of the matter that merely needs to be retrieved from the insides of the movies. We might instead, more accurately, call this work “interpretation.”


So, where does this leave us with reverse engineering? There are two questions at issue here:

  1. Does “reverse engineering” as a term adequately describe the work that engineers like those employed at Netflix do when they interact with cultural objects?
  2. Is reverse engineering a useful strategy for figuring out what engineers do?

The answer to both of these questions, I think, is a measured “no,” and for the same reason: reverse engineering, as both a descriptor and a research strategy, misses the things engineers do that do not fit into conventional ideas about engineering. In the ongoing mixture of culture and technology, reverse engineering sticks too closely to the idealized vision of technical work. Because it assumes engineers care strictly about functionality and efficiency, it is not very good at telling stories about accidents, interpretations, and arbitrary choices. It assumes that cultural objects or practices (like movies or engineering) can be reduced to singular, universally-intelligible logics. It takes corporate spokespeople at their word when they claim that there was a straight line from conception to execution.

As Nicholas Diakopoulos has written, reverse engineering can be a useful way to figure out what obscured technologies do, but it cannot get us answers to “the question of why.” As these obscured technologies — search engines, recommender systems, and other algorithmic filters — are constantly refined, we need better ways to talk about the whys and hows of engineering as a practice, not only the what of engineered objects that immediately change.

The risk of reverse engineering is that we come to imagine that the only things worth knowing about companies like Netflix are the technical details hidden behind the curtain. In my own research, I argue that the cultural lives and imaginations of the people behind the curtain are as important, if not more, for understanding how these systems come to exist and function as they do. Moreover, these details are not generally considered corporate secrets, so they are accessible if we look for them. Not everything worth knowing has been actively hidden, and transparency can conceal as much as it reveals.

All engineering mixes culture and technology. Even Madrigal’s “reverse engineering” does not stay put in technical bounds: he supplements the work of his bot by talking with people, drawing on their interpretations and offering his own, reading the altgenres, populated with serendipitous algorithmic accidents, as “a window unto the American soul.” Engineers, reverse and otherwise, have cultural lives, and these lives inform their technical work. To see these effects, we need to get beyond the idea that the technical and the cultural are necessarily distinct. But if we want to understand the work of companies like Netflix, it is not enough to simply conclude that culture and technology — humans and computers — are mixed. The question we need to answer is how.

Colombian tribe scores ‘historic’ victory versus Big Gas (The Guardian)

State company Ecopetrol pulls out of drilling site in territories belonging to the indigenous U’wa people

U'was in north-east Colombia protesting against operations by state oil and gas company Ecopetrol.

U’was in north-east Colombia protesting against operations by state oil and gas company Ecopetrol. Photograph: Asou’wa/Asou’wa

The indigenous U’wa people living in north-east Colombia have won what observers call an “historic” and “decisive” victory after state oil and gas company Ecopetrol dismantled a gas drilling site in their territories.

The U’wa Association of Traditional Authorities and Councils (Asou’wa) reported in February last year the arrival of an “avalanche of heavy machinery” and increasing numbers of soldiers at the site, called Magallanes, where Ecopetrol intended to drill three wells. After statements fiercely opposing operations and a series of meetings with government and company representatives, Ecopetrol agreed to suspend operations last May and announced a decision in July to withdraw equipment – but only finished doing so in January this year.

“It’s a triumph,” Asou’wa vice-president Heber Tegria Uncaria told the Guardian. “It’s one more battle we’ve won over the last 20 to 30 years, and it’s thanks to the U’wa people themselves, national and international support, and the role of the media in drawing people’s attention to what is happening.”

“We feel extremely happy about the Magallanes victory and it gives us strength to continue fighting for our lives, for our rights and for Mother Earth,” says U’wa lawyer Aura Tegria Cristancho. “Ecopetrol’s decision was a very intelligent one. It knows the U’was and knew we wouldn’t stop fighting.”

Asou’wa issued a statement calling Ecopetrol’s withdrawal an “act of respect” for U’wa rights and an “important achievement” in the defence of their territories, and acknowledging the importance of support from organisations and individuals working on human rights and environmental issues, particularly the US-based NGO Amazon Watch.

Andrew Miller, Amazon Watch’s advocacy director, describes Ecopetrol’s decision as a “decisive victory” and says it is “very significant” that “one of Latin America’s largest corporations” would dismantle a gas drilling site following pressure.

“I can’t say this is unprecedented, but we’ve never seen a similar circumstance in the last 20 years,” he says. “Once actual construction starts, it is extremely difficult to force corporations, especially one with the full backing of the state, to reverse course.”

Carlos Andres Baquero, a lawyer from Bogota-based Dejusticia, told the Guardian Ecopetrol’s decision was “historic.”

“It’s been several decades since the U’wa started their fight to protect their territory and although it has not been easy, the withdrawal from Magallanes is a testament to their strength and capacity to mobilise,” he says.

The United Nations’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, calls it an “important victory” for indigenous peoples in Colombia.

“Such victories are far too rare,” she told the Guardian. “Too often projects see indigenous peoples driven from their lands. I hope other corporations can draw lessons from these conflicts and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples before making use of their territories.”

Camila Mariño, a Colombian lawyer with Earthrights International, describes Ecopetrol’s decision as “in line” with the agreements made with the U’was last May, as well as recent commitments by the government – made during peace talks with Farc guerrillas in Cuba – to take human rights and indigenous communities fully into account.

Asked by the Guardian if it had pulled out of Magallanes because of U’wa opposition, Ecopetrol emailed a statement saying it had agreed to meet with them in June last year but they had failed to show up.

“Since this led to delays, Ecopetrol decided to remove the drilling equipment and facilities from the area, as has effectively happened,” the company states.

However, as Tegria Uncaria points out, Ecopetrol retains its environmental license to operate at Magallanes, and the company itself has called the suspension “temporary.” In correspondence last August Ecopetrol emphasised that suspension “didn’t imply a definite termination of the project”, and told the Guardian it “would like to continue exploring in the area, but respecting the U’wa nation and all the agreements made with them.”

The U’was have now taken legal action to have the environmental license annulled.

“We won the political battle, but the license remains in force,” says Tegria Uncaria.

The Magallanes site is roughly 270ms beyond the northern boundary of a 220,000 hectare reserve established for the U’was in 1999, but remains within their ancestral territories.

Asou’wa warns that, Magallanes aside, the U’was continue to face other serious threats. These include mining concessions in their reserve, the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline which has been attacked 100s of times, and armed conflict between guerrillas, paramilitaries and the Colombian army.

The pipeline, owned by Cenit, an Ecopetrol subsidiary, mainly transports oil from the Cano Limon oil fields in which, says Ecopetrol, it has a 55% stake and US oil firm Occidental has 45%. According to Adam Isacson, from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), some of the US’s multi-billion dollar “Plan Colombia” “aid” package – ostensibly about combating the drugs trade – has been spent on Colombian army brigades in this region in order to protect the pipeline, with the “bulk of it” going to “Black Hawk helicopters, pilot training, maintenance training, communications equipment and fuel sustenance.” According to a 2011 WOLA report co-authored by Isacson, “Plan Colombia” aid was delivered during a period of “severe human rights abuses” by security forces and paramilitary and army violence spiralling “tragically upwards”, while US officials, he says, “downplayed human rights groups’ constant warnings about military-paramilitary collaboration” and the “false positives” scandal in which Colombian soldiers dressed victims like guerrillas and claimed them killed during fighting.

“The military presence is far greater than it used to be, especially in that part of the pipeline [Arauca to Santander, through U’wa territories],” Isacson says. “Who really benefits? The oil companies getting free security would be the main ones, and all their investors. This is not designed to protect citizens.”

The U’was have repeatedly denounced the militarisation of their territories, and are now requesting that the pipeline is either buried or re-routed.

“Given the constant blowing-up of the pipeline and the environmental and human rights dangers this causes, we have requested that studies are done on the possibility of burying it underground between the points where it crosses our reserve, or finding another route outside the reserve,” says Tegria Uncaria. “To date, it hasn’t been buried, but according to Ecopetrol they’re doing technical studies.”

Ecopetrol told the Guardian that it was doing such studies and says “it is hoped they will be finished by the first half of 2015.”

In the 1990s the U’was issued a series of threats to commit mass suicide if operations went ahead at another drilling site in their territories, called Gibraltar, just to the east of Magallanes.

Climate denial is immoral, says head of US Episcopal church (The Guardian)

Climate change is a moral challenge threatening the rights of the world’s poorest people and those who deny it are not using God’s gift of knowledge, says presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Episcopal presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has called climate denial a ‘blind’ position. Photograph: Ed Ou/AP

The highest ranking woman in the Anglican communion has said climate denial is a “blind” and immoral position which rejects God’s gift of knowledge.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal church and one of the most powerful women in Christianity, said that climate change was a moral imperative akin to that of the civil rights movement. She said it was already a threat to the livelihoods and survival of people in the developing world.

“It is in that sense much like the civil rights movement in this country where we are attending to the rights of all people and the rights of the earth to continue to be a flourishing place,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said in an interview with the Guardian. “It is certainly a moral issue in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.”

In the same context, Jefferts Schori attached moral implications to climate denial, suggesting those who reject the underlying science of climate change were turning their backs on God’s gift of knowledge.

“Episcopalians understand the life of the mind is a gift of God and to deny the best of current knowledge is not using the gifts God has given you,” she said. “In that sense, yes, it could be understood as a moral issue.”

She went on: “I think it is a very blind position. I think it is a refusal to use the best of human knowledge, which is ultimately a gift of God.”

The sense of urgency around the issue has been deepened by Pope Francis forceful statements on global warming, which he is expected to amplify in a papal encyclical in June and during an address to the US Congress in September.

The Episcopalian church will host a webcast on 24 March to kick off a month-long action campaign designed to encourage church members to reduce their own carbon footprints and lobby government and international corporations to fight climate change.

An oceanographer before she was ordained at the age of 40, Bishop Jefferts Schori said she hoped to use her visibility as a church leader to help drive action on climate change.

As presiding bishop, she oversees 2.5m members of the Episcopal church in 17 countries, and is arguably one of the most prominent women in Christianity. The two largest denominations in the US, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, do not ordain women.

“I really hope to motivate average Episcopalians to see the severity of this issue, the morality of this issue,” she said. “Turning the ship in another direction requires the consolidated efforts of many people who are moving in the same direction.”

She acknowledged that the challenge was deepened by the strain of climate denial in American politics, and by continued resistance to science in American classrooms.

“It’s hard work when you have a climate denier who will not see the reality of scientific truth,” she said.

However, she, like a number of church leaders, said they had seen an uptick in climate activism in recent months, spurred by the pope’s comments last January, and the conjunction later this year of United Nations conferences on development and climate change.

Evangelical churches – once seen as a conservative force – were now taking up the climate cause, largely because of growing awareness of its threat to the poor.

“One of the significant changes in particular has been the growing awareness and activism among the evangelical community who at least somewhat in the more distant past refused to encounter this issue, refused to deal with it,” Jeffers Schori said. “The major evangelical groups in this country have been much more forward in addressing this issue because they understand that it impacts the poor.”

A number of denominations have also joined the growing fossil fuel divestment movement which is encouraging organisations to move their investments out of coal, oil and gas companies. The United Methodist church, the third largest denomination, dumped coal companies from its pension fund.

The Unitarian church and the United church of Christ have also voted to divest, according to Reverent Fletcher Harper of Green Faith. And the World Council of Churches has pledged not to invest in fossil fuels. A number of individual congregations have also divested from fossil fuels.

The Guardian launched a campaign on Monday to encourage the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels.

The Episcopal church has also come under pressure to withdraw its fossil fuel holdings. A number of diocese are pressing for divestment, and will bring the issue to a vote at the church’s annual convention this summer.

Jefferts Schori opposes fossil fuel divestment. “If you divest you lose any direct ability to influence the course of a corporation’s behavior,” she said. “I think most pragmatists realise that we can’t close the spigot on the oil wells and close the coal mines immediately without some other energy source to shift to.”

Climate change: at last a breakthrough to our catastrophic political impasse? (The Guardian)

Expecting the Paris talks to succeed is a pious hope: but the Oslo principles, launched today, argue that governments are already in flagrant breach of their legal obligations to the planet

climate change conference in peru 2014

‘The dismal pace of international negotiations is why the Guardian has thrown its weight behind a divestment campaign.’ The South Korea delegation are all smiles at the 2014 UN climate change conference in Peru, intended to produce a draft deal to be adopted in Paris in December. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Today a group of eminent jurists accuse governments and enterprises of being in clear and flagrant breach of their legal obligations on climate change – under human rights law, international law, environmental law, and tort law.

Human ravaging of our planet and climate through relentless fossil fuel extraction and greenhouse gas emissions is undoubtedly the defining existential challenge of our time. Our collective failure to commit to meaningful reductions in emissions is a political and moral travesty, with catastrophic implications, particularly for the poorest and most marginalised, domestically and globally.

The dismal pace of international negotiations – and the prospect of yet more disappointment at the UN Paris conference in December – is why the Guardian has thrown its weight behind a divestment campaign, pressurising moral investors to take a stand against those responsible for the greatest emissions. After all, two-thirds of all greenhouse emissions come from just 90 coal, oil and gas companies.

But in the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations – launching in London today – a working group of current and ex-judges, advocates and professors, drawn from each region of the world, argue that any new international agreement will just be a coda to obligations already present, pressing and unavoidable in existing law.

What the Oslo principles offer is a solution to our infuriating impasse in which governments – especially those from developed nations, responsible for 70% of the world’s emissions between 1890 and 2007 – are in effect saying: “We all agree that something needs to be done, but we cannot agree on who has to do what and how much. In the absence of any such agreement, we have no obligation to do anything.” The Oslo principles bring a battery of legal arguments to dispute and disarm that second claim. In essence, the working group asserts that governments are violating their legal duties if they each act in a way that, collectively, is known to lead to grave harms.

Governments will retort that they cannot know their obligations to reduce emissions in the absence of an international agreement. The working group’s response is that they can know this, already, and with sufficient precision.

There is a clear answer to the question of each country’s reasonable share, based on a permissible quantum of emissions per capita that never threatens the perilous 2C mean temperature increase that would profoundly and irreversibly affect all life on earth. This reasonable share is what nations owe on the basis of their common but differentiated responsibilities for contributing to climate change. The Oslo principles duly incorporate mechanisms to accommodate the differential impacts and demands on nations and enterprises, particularly in the least developed countries.

Backed by distinguished international lawyers, professors and judges, the principles are a template for courts, advocates and lawmakers to act swiftly, embodying the urgency, conviction and black-letter reasoning required if humanity is to turn the corner before it is too late.

The document is the product of an independent, rigorous, multi-year effort led by Yale University’s Professor Thomas Pogge, and Jaap Spier, the advocate-general of the Netherlands supreme court. It is championed by, among others, Antonio Benjamin, the Brazilian high court justice; Michael Kirby, a former Australian high court justice; Dinah Shelton, a former president of the inter-American commission on human rights; and Elisabeth Steiner, a judge at the European court of human rights.

These principles deserve detailed consideration by lawyers, scientists, advocates and – critically – the policymakers engaged in last-ditch negotiations in Paris in December to divert us from the path towards climate catastrophe. They provide some opinio juris that allows judges to prohibit conduct that, practised by many or all states, will cause enormous damage to people and the planet.

But the working group’s core message is that we simply cannot wait in the pious hope that short-term-minded governments and enterprises will save us; and that when we act it must be on the basis of equity and justice, according to law. Every year that we miss increases the challenge and risk. We’ve squandered decades already, and our window for action is closing. We must act now.

The Anthropocene Myth (Jacobin)

30.3.2015

Blaming all of humanity for climate change lets capitalism off the hook.

by Andreas Malm

A coal-cleaning plant near Pittsburgh. John Collier / Library of Congress

A coal-cleaning plant near Pittsburgh. John Collier / Library of Congress

Last year was the hottest year ever recorded. And yet, the latest figures show that in 2013 the source that provided the most new energy to the world economy wasn’t solar, wind power, or even natural gas or oil, but coal.

The growth in global emissions — from 1 percent a year in the 1990s to 3 percent so far this millennium — is striking. It’s an increase that’s paralleled our growing knowledge of the terrible consequences of fossil fuel usage.

Who’s driving us toward disaster? A radical answer would be the reliance of capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy. Some, however, would rather identify other culprits.

The earth has now, we are told, entered “the Anthropocene”: the epoch of humanity. Enormously popular — and accepted even by many Marxist scholars — the Anthropocene concept suggests that humankind is the new geological force transforming the planet beyond recognition, chiefly by burning prodigious amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas.

According to these scholars, such degradation is the result of humans acting out their innate predispositions, the inescapable fate for a planet subjected to humanity’s “business-as-usual.” Indeed, the proponents cannot argue otherwise, for if the dynamics were of a more contingent character, the narrative of an entire species ascending to biospheric supremacy would be difficult to defend.

Their story centers on a classic element: fire. The human species alone can manipulate fire, and therefore it is the one that destroys the climate; when our ancestors learned how to set things ablaze, they lit the fuse of business-as-usual. Here, write prominent climate scientists Michael Raupach and Josep Canadell, was “the essential evolutionary trigger for the Anthropocene,” taking humanity straight to “the discovery that energy could be derived not only from detrital biotic carbon but also from detrital fossil carbon, at first from coal.”

The “primary reason” for current combustion of fossil fuels is that “long before the industrial era, a particular primate species learned how to tap the energy reserves stored in detrital carbon.” My learning to walk at the age of one is the reason for me dancing salsa today; when humanity ignited its first dead tree, it could only lead, one million years later, to burning a barrel of oil.

Or, in the words of Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill: “The mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.” In this narrative, the fossil economy is the creation precisely of humankind, or “the fire-ape, Homo pyrophilus,” as in Mark Lynas’s popularization of Anthropocene thinking, aptly titled The God Species.

Now, the ability to manipulate fire was surely a necessary condition for the commencement of large-scale fossil fuel combustion in Britain in the early nineteenth century. Was it also the cause of it?

The important thing to note here is the logical structure of the Anthropocene narrative: some universal trait of the species must be driving the geological epoch that is its own, or else it would be a matter of some subset of the species. But the story of human nature can come in many forms, both in the Anthropocene genre and in other parts of climate change discourse.

In an essay in the anthology Engaging with Climate Change, psychoanalyst John Keene offers an original explanation for why humans pollute the planet and refuse to stop. In infancy, the human being discharges waste matter without limits and learns that the caring mother will take away the poo and the wee and clean up the crotch.

As a result, human beings are accustomed to the practice of spoiling their surroundings: “I believe that these repeated encounters contribute to the complementary belief that the planet is an unlimited ‘toilet-mother’, capable of absorbing our toxic products to infinity.”

But where is the evidence for any sort of causal connection between fossil fuel combustion and infant defecation? What about all those generations of people who, up to the nineteenth century, mastered both arts but never voided the carbon deposits of the earth and dumped them into the atmosphere: were they shitters and burners just waiting to realize their full potentials?

It’s easy to poke fun at certain forms of psychoanalysis, but attempts to attribute business-as-usual to the properties of the human species are doomed to vacuity. That which exists always and everywhere cannot explain why a society diverges from all others and develop something new – such as the fossil economy that only emerged some two centuries ago but now has become so entrenched that we recognize it as the only ways human can produce.

As it happens, however, mainstream climate discourse is positively drenched in references to humanity as such, human nature, the human enterprise, humankind as one big villain driving the train. In The God Species, we read: “God’s power is now increasingly being exercised by us. We are the creators of life, but we are also its destroyers.” This is one of the most common tropes in the discourse: we, all of us, you and I, have created this mess together and make it worse each day.

Enter Naomi Klein, who in This Changes Everything expertly lays bare the myriad ways in which capital accumulation, in general, and its neoliberal variant, in particular, pour fuel on the fire now consuming the earth system. Giving short shrift to all the talk of a universal human evildoer, she writes, “We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”

So how do the critics respond? “Klein describes the climate crisis as a confrontation between capitalism and the planet,” philosopher John Gray counters in the Guardian. “It would be be more accurate to describe the crisis as a clash between the expanding demands of humankind and a finite world.”

Gray isn’t alone. This schism is emerging as the great ideological divide in the climate debate, and proponents of the mainstream consensus are fighting back.

In the London Review of Books, Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who has long argued that the environmental movement should disband and accept total collapse as our destiny, retorts: “Climate change isn’t something that a small group of baddies has foisted on us”; “in the end, we are all implicated.” This, Kingsnorth argues, “is a less palatable message than one which sees a brutal 1 per cent screwing the planet and a noble 99 per cent opposing them, but it is closer to reality.”

Is it closer to reality? Six simple facts demonstrate the opposite.

First, the steam engine is widely, and correctly, seen as the original locomotive of business-as-usual, by which the combustion of coal was first linked to the ever-expanding spiral of capitalist commodity production.

While it is admittedly banal to point out, steam engines were not adopted by some natural-born deputies of the human species. The choice of a prime mover in commodity production could not possibly have been the prerogative of that species, since it presupposed, for a start, the institution of wage labor. It was the owners of the means of production who installed the novel prime mover. A tiny minority even in Britain — all-male, all-white — this class of people comprised an infinitesimal fraction of humanity in the early nineteenth century.

Second, when British imperialists penetrated into northern India around the same time, they stumbled on coal seams that were, to their great amazement, already known to the natives — indeed, the Indians had the basic knowledge of how to dig, burn, and generate heat from coal. And yet they cared nothing for the fuel.

The British, on the other hand, desperately wanted the coal out of the ground — to propel the steamboats by which they transported the treasure and raw materials extracted from the Indian peasants towards the metropolis, and their own surplus of cotton goods towards the inland markets. The problem was, no workers volunteered to step into the mines. Hence the British had to organize a system of indentured labor, forcing farmers into the pits so as to acquire the fuel for the exploitation of India.

Third, most of the twenty-first century emissions explosion originates from the People’s Republic of China. The driver of that explosion is apparent: it is not the growth of the Chinese population, nor its household consumption, nor its public expenditures, but the tremendous expansion of manufacturing industry, implanted in China by foreign capital to extract surplus value out of local labor, perceived around the turn of the millennium as extraordinarily cheap and disciplined.

That shift was part of a global assault on wages and working conditions — workers all over the world being weighed down by the threat of capital’s relocation to their Chinese substitutes, who could only be exploited by means of fossil energy as a necessary material substratum. The ensuing emissions explosion is the atmospheric legacy of class warfare.

Fourth, there is probably no other industry that encounters so much popular opposition wherever it wants to set up shop as the oil and gas industry. As Klein chronicles so well, local communities are in revolt against fracking and pipelines and exploration from Alaska to the Niger Delta, from Greece to Ecuador. But against them stands an interest recently expressed with exemplary clarity by Rex Tillerson, president and CEO of ExxonMobil: “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.” This is the spirit of fossil capital incarnate.

Fifth, advanced capitalist states continue relentlessly to enlarge and deepen their fossil infrastructures — building new highways, new airports, new coal-fired power-plants — always attuned to the interests of capital, hardly ever consulting their people on these matters. Only the truly blind intellectual, of the Paul Kingsnorth-type, can believe that “we are all implicated” in such policies.

How many Americans are involved in the decisions to give coal a larger share in the electric power sector, so that the carbon intensity of the US economy rose in 2013? How many Swedes should be blamed for the ramming through of a new highway around Stockholm — the greatest infrastructure project in modern Swedish history — or their government’s assistance to coal power plants in South Africa?

The most extreme illusions about the perfect democracy of the market are required to maintain the notion of “us all” driving the train.

Sixth, and perhaps most obvious: few resources are so unequally consumed as energy. The 19 million inhabitants of New York State alone consume more energy than the 900 million inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa. The difference in energy consumption between a subsistence pastoralist in the Sahel and an average Canadian may easily be larger than 1,000-fold — and that is an average Canadian, not the owner of five houses, three SUVs, and a private airplane.

A single average US citizen emits more than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi; how much an average US millionaire emits — and how much more than an average US or Cambodian worker — remains to be counted. But a person’s imprint on the atmosphere varies tremendously depending on where she is born. Humanity, as a result, is far too slender an abstraction to carry the burden of culpability.

Ours is the geological epoch not of humanity, but of capital. Of course, a fossil economy does not necessarily have to be capitalist: the Soviet Union and its satellite states had their own growth mechanisms connected to coal, oil, and gas. They were no less dirty, sooty, or emissions-intensive — perhaps rather more — than their Cold War adversaries. So why focus on capital? What reason is there to delve into the destructiveness of capital, when the Communist states performed at least as abysmally?

In medicine, a similar question would perhaps be, why concentrate research efforts on cancer rather than smallpox? Both can be fatal! But only one still exists. History has closed the parenthesis around the Soviet system, and so we are back at the beginning, where the fossil economy is coextensive with the capitalist mode of production — only now on a global scale.

The Stalinist version deserves its own investigations, and on its own terms (the mechanisms of growth being of their own kind). But we do not live in the Vorkuta coal-mining gulag of the 1930s. Our ecological reality, encompassing us all, is the world founded by steam-powered capital, and there are alternative courses that an environmentally responsible socialism could take. Hence capital, not humanity as such.

Naomi Klein’s success and recent street mobilizations notwithstanding, this remains a fringe view. Climate science, politics, and discourse are constantly couched in the Anthropocene narrative: species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation, appeal to the general population of consumers to mend their ways and other ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver.

To portray certain social relations as the natural properties of the species is nothing new. Dehistoricizing, universalizing, eternalizing, and naturalizing a mode of production specific to a certain time and place — these are the classic strategies of ideological legitimation.

They block off any prospect for change. If business-as-usual is the outcome of human nature, how can we even imagine something different? It is perfectly logical that advocates of the Anthropocene and associated ways of thinking either champion false solutions that steer clear of challenging fossil capital — such as geoengineering in the case of Mark Lynas and Paul Crutzen, the inventor of the Anthropocene concept — or preach defeat and despair, as in the case of Kingsnorth.

According to the latter, “it is now clear that stopping climate change is impossible” — and, by the way, building a wind farm is just as bad as opening another coal mine, for both desecrate the landscape.

Without antagonism, there can never be any change in human societies. Species-thinking on climate change only induces paralysis. If everyone is to blame, then no one is.

‘Technological Disobedience’: How Cubans Manipulate Everyday Technologies For Survival (WLRN)

12:05  PM

MON JULY 1, 2013

In Cuban Spanish, there is a word for overcoming great obstacles with minimal resources: resolver.

Literally, it means to resolve, but to many Cubans on the island and living in South Florida, resolviendo is an enlightened reality born of necessity.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba entered a “Special Period in Times of Peace”, which saw unprecedented shortages of every day items. Previously, the Soviets had been Cuba’s principal traders, sending goods for low prices and buying staple export commodities like sugar at above market prices.

Rationing goods was a normal part of life for a long time, but Cubans found themselves in dire straights without Soviet support. As the crisis got worse and worse over time, the more creative people would have to get.

Verde Olivo, the publishing house for the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, published a largely crowdsourced book shortly after the Special Period began. Titled Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos (With Our Own Efforts), the book detailed all the possible ways that household items could be manipulated and turned inside out in order to fulfill the needs of a starving population.

Included in the book is a famous recipe for turning grapefruit rind into makeshift beef steak (after heavy seasoning).

Cuban artist and designer Ernesto Oroza watched with amazement as uses sprang from everyday items, and he soon began collecting these items from this sad but ingeniously creative period of Cuban history.

A Cuban rikimbili-- the word for bicycles that have been converted into motorcycles. The engine of 100cc's or less typically is constructed out of motor-powered, misting backpacks or Russian tank AC generators.

A Cuban rikimbili– the word for bicycles that have been converted into motorcycles. The engine of 100cc’s or less typically is constructed out of motor-powered, misting backpacks or Russian tank AC generators. Credit rikimbili.com

“People think beyond the normal capacities of an object, and try to surpass the limitations that it imposes on itself”, Oraza explains in a recently published Motherboard documentary that originally aired in 2011.

Oraza coined the phrase “Technological Disobedience”, which he says summarizes how Cubans reacted to technology during this time.

After graduating from design school to an abysmal economy, Oraza and a friend began to travel the island and collect these unique items from every province.

These post-apocalyptic contraptions reflect a hunger for more, and a resilience to fatalism within the Cuban community.

“The same way a surgeon, after having opened so many bodies, becomes insensitive to blood, to the smell of blood and organs… It’s the same for a Cuban,” Oraza explains.

“Once he has opened a fan, he is used to seeing everything from the inside… All the symbols that unify an object, that make a unique entity– for a Cuban those don’t exist.”

A Brief History of the “Testocracy,” Standardized Testing and Test-Defying (Truthout)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015 00:00

By Jesse Hagopian, Haymarket Books | Book Excerpt 

CHICAGO- 24 April, 2013: Demonstrator holds sign at a rally against school closings and over testing. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Demonstrators rally against school closings and testing in Chicago, April 24, 2013. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

“We are experiencing the largest ongoing revolt against high-stakes standardized testing in US history,” according to Jesse Hagopian, high school history teacher, education writer and editor of More Than a Score. This remarkable book introduces the educators, students, parents and others who make up the resistance movement pushing back against the corporate “testocracy.” Click here to order More Than a Score today by making a donation to Truthout!

In this excerpt from More Than a Score, Jesse Hagopian explains who the “testocracy” are, what they want – for everybody else’s children and for their own – and why more people than ever before are resisting tests and working collectively to reclaim public education.

Who are these testocrats who would replace teaching with testing? The testocracy, in my view, does not only refer to the testing conglomerates—most notably the multibillion-dollar Pearson testing and textbook corporation—that directly profit from the sale of standardized exams. The testocracy is also the elite stratum of society that finances and promotes competition and privatization in public education rather than collaboration, critical thinking, and the public good. Not dissimilar to a theocracy, under our current testocracy, a deity—in this case the exalted norm-referenced bubble exam—is officially recognized as the civil ruler of education whose policy is governed by officials that regard test results as divine. The testocratic elite are committed to reducing the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single number—a score they subsequently use to sacrifice education on the altar devoted to high-stakes testing by denying students promotion or graduation, firing teachers, converting schools into privatized charters, or closing schools altogether. You’ve heard of this program; the testocracy refers to it as “education reform.”

Among the most prominent members of the testocracy are some of the wealthiest people the world has ever known.

Among the most prominent members of the testocracy are some of the wealthiest people the world has ever known. Its tsars include billionaires Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and members of the Walton family (the owners of Walmart), who have used their wealth to circumvent democratic processes and impose test-and-punish policies in public education. They fund a myriad of organizations—such as Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Teach for America, and Stand for Children—that serve as shock troops to enforce the implantation of high-stakes testing and corporate education reform in states and cities across the nation. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan serves to help coordinate and funnel government money to the various initiatives of the testocracy. The plan to profit from public schools was expressed by billionaire media executive Rupert Murdoch, when he said in a November 2010 press release: “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Testing companies got the memo and are working diligently to define great teaching as preparing students for norm-referenced exams—available to districts across the country if the price is right. The textbook and testing industry generates between $20 billion and $30 billion dollars per year. Pearson, a multi-national corporation based in Britain, brings in more than $9 billion annually, and is the world’s largest education company and book publisher. But it’s not the only big testing company poised to profit from the testocracy. Former president George W. Bush’s brother Neil and his parents founded a company called Ignite! Learning to sell test products after the passage of No Child Left Behind.

“An Invalid Measure”: The Fundamental Flaws of Standardized Testing

The swelling number of test-defiers is rooted in the increase of profoundly flawed standardized exams. Often, these tests don’t reflect the concepts emphasized in the students’ classes and, just as often, the results are not available until after the student has already left the teacher’s classroom, rendering the test score useless as a tool for informing instruction. Yet the problem of standardized bubble tests’ usefulness for educators extends well beyond the lag time (which can be addressed by computerized tests that immediately calculate results). A standardized bubble test does not help teachers understand how a student arrived at answer choice “C.” The student may have selected the right answer but not known why it was right, or conversely, may have chosen the wrong answer but had sophisticated reasoning that shows a deeper understanding of the concept than someone else who randomly guessed correctly. Beyond the lack of utility of standardized testing in facilitating learning there is a more fundamental flaw. A norm-referenced, standardized test compares each individual student to everyone else taking the test, and the score is then usually reported as a percentile. Alfie Kohn describes the inherent treachery of the norm-referenced test:

No matter how many students take an NRT [norm-referenced test], no matter how well or poorly they were taught, no matter how difficult the questions are, the pattern of results is guaranteed to be the same: Exactly 10 percent of those who take the test will score in the top 10 percent. And half will always fall below the median. That’s not because our schools are failing; that’s because of what the word median means.

And as professor of education Wayne Au explained in 2011, when he was handed a bullhorn at the Occupy Education protest outside the headquarters of Gates Foundation, “If all the students passed the test you advocate, that test would immediately be judged an invalid metric, and any measure of students which mandates the failure of students is an invalid measure.”

Researchers have long known that what standardized tests measure above all else is a student’s access to resources.

Unsurprisingly, the Gates Foundation was not swayed by the logic of Au’s argument. That is because standardized testing serves to reinforce the mythology of a meritocracy in which those on the top have achieved their position rightfully—because of their hard work, their dedication to hitting the books, and their superior intelligence as proven by their scores. But what researchers have long known is that what standardized tests measure above all else is a student’s access to resources. The most damning truth about standardized tests is that they are a better indicator of a student’s zip code than a student’s aptitude. Wealthier, and predominantly whiter, districts score better on tests. Their scores do not reflect the intelligence of wealthier, mostly white students when compared to those of lower-income students and students of color, but do reflect the advantages that wealthier children have—books in the home, parents with more time to read with them, private tutoring, access to test-prep agencies, high-quality health care, and access to good food, to name a few. This is why attaching high stakes to these exams only serves to exacerbate racial and class inequality. As Boston University economics professors Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” reveals, the increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams are linked to higher incarceration rates. Arne Duncan’s refusal to address the concerns raised by this study exposes the bankruptcy of testocratic policy.

Hypocrisy of the Testocracy

At first glance it would be easy to conclude that the testocracy’s strategy for public schools is the result of profound ignorance. After all, members of the testocracy have never smelled a free or reduced-price lunch yet throw a tantrum when public school advocates suggest poverty is a substantial factor in educational outcomes. The testocracy has never had to puzzle over the conundrum of having more students than available chairs in the classroom, yet they are the very same people who claim class size doesn’t matter in educational outcomes. The bubble of luxury surrounding the testocracy has convinced many that most testocrats are too far removed from the realities facing the majority of US residents to ever understand the damage caused by the high-stakes bubble tests they peddle. While it is true that the corporate reform moguls are completely out of touch with the vast majority of people, their strategy for remaking our schools on a business model is not the result of ignorance but of arrogance, not of misunderstanding but of the profit motive, not of silliness but rather of a desire for supremacy.

In fact, you could argue that the MAP test boycott did not actually begin at Garfield High School. A keen observer might recognize that the boycott of the MAP test—and so many other standardized tests—began in earnest at schools like Seattle’s elite private Lakeside High School, alma mater of Bill Gates, where he sends his children, because, of course, Lakeside, like one-percenter schools elsewhere, would never inundate its students with standardized tests. These academies, predominantly serving the children of the financially fortunate, shield students from standardized tests because they want their children to be allowed to think outside the bubble test, to develop critical thinking skills and prioritize time to explore art, music, drama, athletics, and debate. Gates values Lakeside because of its lovely campus, where the average class size is sixteen, the library contains some twenty thousand volumes, and the new sports facility offers cryotherapy and hydrotherapy spas. Moreover, while Gates, President Obama, and Secretary of Education Duncan are all parents of school-age children, none of those children attend schools that use the CCSS or take Common Core exams. As Dao X. Tran, then PTA co-chair at Castle Bridge Elementary School, put it (in chapter 20 of More Than a Score): “These officials don’t even send their children to public schools. They are failing our children, yet they push for our children’s teachers to be accountable based on children’s test data. All while they opt for their own children to go to schools that don’t take these tests, that have small class sizes and project-based, hands-on, arts-infused learning—that’s what we want for our children!” The superrich are not failing to understand the basics of how to provide a nurturing education for the whole child. The problem is that they believe this type of education should be reserved only for their own children.

A Brief History of Test-defying

The United States has a long history of using standardized testing for the purposes of ranking and sorting youth into different strata of society. In fact, standardized tests originally entered the public schools with the eugenics movement, a white-supremacist ideology cloaked in the shabby garments of fraudulent science that became fashionable in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Rethinking Schools editorialized,

The United States has a long history of using intelligence tests to support white supremacy and class stratification. Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.

When the first “common schools” began in the late 1800s, industrialists quickly recognized an opportunity to shape the schools in the image of their factories. These early “education reformers” recognized the value of using standardized tests—first developed in the form of IQ tests used to sort military recruits for World War I—to evaluate the efficiency of the teacher workforce in producing the “student-product.” Proud eugenicist and Princeton University professor Carl Brigham left his school during World War I to implement IQ testing as an army psychologist. Upon returning to Princeton, Brigham developed the SAT exam as the admissions gatekeeper to Princeton, and the test confirmed in his mind that whites born in the United States were the most intelligent of all peoples. As Alan Stoskopf wrote, “By the early 1920s, more than 2 million American school children were being tested primarily for academic tracking purposes. At least some of the decisions to allocate resources and select students for academic or vocational courses were influenced by eugenic notions of student worth.”

Some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing came from leading African American scholars.

Resistance to these exams surely began the first time a student bubbled in every “A” on the page in defiance of the entire testing process. Yet, beyond these individual forms of protest, an active minority of educators, journalists, labor groups, and parents resisted these early notions of using testing to rank intelligence. Some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing—especially in service of ranking the races—came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. Du Bois recalled in 1940, “It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [First] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.”

In a statement that is quite apparently lost on today’s testocracy, Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote:

But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry, “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper-class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.

This history of test-defiers was largely buried until the mass uprisings of the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s transformed public education. In the course of these broad mass movements, parents, students, teachers, and activists fought to integrate the schools, budget for equitable funding, institute ethnic studies programs, and even to redefine the purpose of school.

In the Jim Crow–segregated South, literacy was inherently political and employed as a barrier to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote. The great activist and educator Myles Horton was a founder of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee that would go on to help organize the Citizenship Schools of the mid-1950s and 1960s. The Citizenship Schools’ mission was to create literacy programs to help disenfranchised Southern blacks achieve access to the voting booth. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans attended the Citizenship Schools, which launched one of the most important educational programs of the civil rights movement, redefining the purpose of education and the assessment of educational outcomes. Horton described one of the Citizenship Schools he helped to organize, saying, “It was not a literacy class. It was a community organization. . . . They were talking about using their citizenship to do something, and they named it a Citizenship School, not a literacy school. That helped with the motivation.” By the end of the class more than 80 percent of those students passed the final examination, which was to go down to the courthouse and register to vote!

What the Testocracy Wants

The great civil rights movements of the past have reimagined education as a means to creating a more just society. The testocracy, too, has a vision for reimagining the education system and it is flat-out chilling. The testocracy is relentlessly working on new methods to reduce students to data points that can be used to rank, punish, and manipulate. Like something out of a dystopian sci-fi film, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent $1.4 million to develop bio-metric bracelets designed to send a small current across the skin to measure changes in electrical charges as the sympathetic nervous system responds to stimuli. These “Q Sensors” would then be used to monitor a student’s “excitement, stress, fear, engagement, boredom and relaxation through the skin.” Presumably, then, VAM assessments could be extended to evaluate teachers based on this biometric data. As Diane Ravitch explained to Reuters when the story broke in the spring of 2012, “They should devote more time to improving the substance of what is being taught . . . and give up all this measurement mania.”

But the testocracy remains relentless in its quest to give up on teaching and devote itself to data collection. In a 2011 TIME magazine feature on the future of education, readers are asked to “imagine walking into a classroom and seeing no one in the front of the classroom. Instead you’re led to a computer terminal at a desk and told this will be your teacher for the course. The only adults around are a facilitator to make sure that you stay on task and to fix any tech problems that may arise.” TIME goes on to point out, “For some Florida students, computer-led instruction is a reality. Within the Miami-Dade County Public School district alone, 7,000 students are receiving this form of education, including six middle and K–8 schools, according to the New York Times.” This approach to schooling is known as “e-learning labs,” and from the perspective of the testocracy, if education is about getting a high score, then one hardly needs nurturing, mentorship, or human contact to succeed. Computers can be used to add value—the value of rote memorization, discipline, and basic literacy skills—to otherwise relatively worthless students. Here, then, is a primary objective of an education system run by the testocracy: replace the compassionate hand of the educator with the cold, invisible, all-thumbs hand of the free market.

Nueva Chicago acusa al Ministerio de Seguridad por discriminación (Clarín)

Violencia en el fútbol

Los dirigentes no concurrirán a la cancha esta tarde, cuando el equipo de Mataderos se enfrente a Defensores de Villa Ramallo por la Copa Argentina.

La hinchada de Nueva Chicago no podrá estar el jueves en Parque de los Patricios. (Foto: archivo)

La hinchada de Nueva Chicago no podrá estar el jueves en Parque de los Patricios. (Foto: archivo)

La dirigencia de Nueva Chicago denunció al Ministerio de Seguridad por discriminación tras obligarlo a jugar sin motivos a puertas cerradas. Además, y en señal de protesta, los dirigentes y los periodistas partidarios del club de Mataderos no concurrirán esta tarde, a las 17, al duelo ante Defensores de Belgrano de Ramallo en cancha de Huracán por los 32avos de la Copa Argentina.

Ayer, el vicepresidente Daniel Ferreiro manifestó: “No sabemos por qué nuestro público no puede estar. Es simple: nos discriminan”, y en esa sintonía hubo acuerdo para no ir al estadio. “Vamos todos o ninguno”, fue el comunicado que enviaron los medios partidarios. “Los dirigentes nos solidarizamos con nuestra gente”, aseguró Ferreiro.

Por tal razón, el club emitió un comunicado en el que sostiene que “ser hincha de Nueva Chicago no es delito”. “Nuestra institución se ajusta a lo solicitado por cuanto organismo de seguridad nos pide, nunca nos tembló el pulso para firmar derechos de admisión a quienes tuvieran comportamientos violentos”, señala en parte el documento firmado por el presidente, Sergio Ramos, y Martin Lamarca, Secretario General del club.

“La Comisión Directiva de Nueva Chicago lamenta profundamente que se le niegue la posibilidad de asistir a nuestra gente al estadio. Consideramos injusta esta medida que nos enteramos por los medios de comunicación y por la empresa Ticketek, dado que nunca nos llegó la notificación oficial”, comienza el comunicado. “A partir de este momento o vamos todos o no va ninguno”, concluye.

*   *   *

25/03/2015 18:57

La violencia gana: seis partidos a puertas cerradas (Mundo D)

Habrá sanciones para varios clubes de Primera, y uno en la Copa Argentina, y por eso se disputarán sin hinchadas. Un repaso del sinsentido.

El Nuevo Gasómetro estará vacío para el partido ante Lanús.

El Nuevo Gasómetro estará vacío para el partido ante Lanús.

Por Mundo D

Cada vez es más complicado vivir el fútbol argentino en paz. La violencia está acorralando al espectáculo y ya no sirve siquiera jugar sólo con público local. En la próxima fecha, por diferentes razones, habrá cinco encuentros de la Primera División a puertas cerradas. Sí, sin nadie en las gradas. Y además, habrá uno de la Copa Argentina. Insólito.

¿Qué partidos serán?

  • San Lorenzo-Lanus
  • Godoy Cruz-Independiente
  • Tigre-Defensa y Justicia
  • Quilmes-Sarmiento
  • Gimnasia de La Plata-River
  • Chicago-Defensores de Villa Ramallo

En el caso de San Lorenzo ante Lanús, no habrá gente en las tribunas por la sanción que el Comité de Seguridad le aplicó al “Cuervo” por los incidentes contra el juez de línea Juan Pablo Belatti en la vuelta de la Recopa ante River.

Sí, San Lorenzo ya jugó ante Colón, San Martín de San Juan y Huracán con público. Recién ahora, llega la suspensión. Cosas de Argentina.

Por su parte, Godoy Cruz recibirá a Independiente a puertas cerradas por la agresión que sufrió el masajista de Lanús en la cuarta fecha, la última vez que “el Tomba” se presentó en el Malvinas Argentinas.

Tanto en Tigre como en Quilmes, habrá situaciones similares. Los dos estadios fueron suspendidos por los incidentes en sus propias tribunas, con distintas porciones de sus propias hinchadas.

La lista sigue con Nueva Chicago, que también pagará una sanción. En el caso del “Torito” no tendrá público en el choque del jueves por Copa Argentina (ante Defensores de Villa Ramallo). Este partido se disputará en la cancha de Huracán y la policía no prestará servicio para trasladar a los hinchas del “Torito”.

River, también
Por último, Gimnasia recibirá el próximo domingo a River en El Bosque pero a puertas cerradas. Es que la Justicia falló a favor de la Aprevide (Agencia de Prevención en el Deporte).

¿Qué había pasado? “El Lobo” había recibido la sanción de la Aprevide (por los incidentes que protagonizaron sus hinchas en el clásico platense) y debía jugar ante Nueva Chicago a puertas cerradas. Pero el club fue a la justicia, que le dio curso a un recurso de amparo y pudo recibir al “Torito” (por la quinta fecha) con hinchas.

Ahora, Aprevide apeló y la justicia le dio la razón.

Multi species Epistemes (Knowledge Ecology)

March 23, 2015

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The epistemic import of camouflage vis-a-vis notions of realism is an under researched area of inquiry.

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Camouflaged critters bring to mind not just the intersubjective character of perception but also its interspecies reality.

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Different organisms hide not just from us humans but also from a wide variety of other species, playing on appearances.

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This means that we humans encounter phenomena in terms of specific perceptual capacities, but not in a way entirely alien to other species.

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The point is not to efface differences across species but to explore multispecies entanglements in perception.

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Because the aesthetic play of appearances can be life or death in multispecies epistemes.

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Earth is halfway to being inhospitable to life, scientist says (RT)

Published time: March 20, 2015 04:02

Edited time: March 21, 2015 10:25 

Reuters / NASA

Reuters / NASA

A Swedish scientist claims in a new theory that humanity has exceeded four of the nine limits for keeping the planet hospitable to modern life, while another professor told RT Earth may be seeing an impending human-made extinction of various species.

Environmental science professor Johan Rockstrom, the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, argues that there are nine “planetary boundaries” in a new paper published in Science – and human beings have already crossed four of them.

Those nine include carbon dioxide concentrations, maintaining biodiversity at 90 percent, the use of nitrogen and phosphorous, maintaining 75 percent of original forests, aerosol emissions, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, fresh water use and the dumping of pollutants.

The planet has been our best friend by buffering our actions and showing its resilience,” said Rockstrom. “But for the first time ever, we might shift the planet from friend to foe.”

Image from ideas.ted.com

Image from ideas.ted.com

Rockstrom’s planetary boundary theory was first conceived in 2007. His new paper reveals that because of climate stability, which began when the Ice Age ended 11,000 years ago, a planetary calm helped our ancestors to cultivate wheat, domesticate animals, and launch industrial and communications revolutions. But those advances have strained the stability of the planet, and Rockstrom says we have broken four boundaries: too much nitrogen has been added to ecosystems, too many forests have been cut down, the climate is changing too quickly and species are going extinct at too great a rate.

Speaking to RT’s Ben Swann, Professor of Ethics Bron Taylor from the University of Florida said that we have accelerated the extinction crisis through deforestation and ocean acidification, a development which is driving species to extinction.

“[Human] beings have increased, even from 1925, from 2 billion – which is considered to be a sustainable population for human beings, according to northern European consumption standards – to 7.2 billion at this point,” he said.

What we have also done is increased the number of domestic animals, the ones we eat and the ones that are companion animals. We have 4.3 domestic animals one for every two human beings on the planet. Cultivating the land they need creates species extinction because where they are, other organism are not. Where we cut down forests for cattle, other species are not there.”

We are losing literally tens of thousands of endemic or native species to these trends.”

Professor Taylor told RT that scientists say we entering the Sixth extinction, but that this an anthropogenic extinction caused by human beings.

If you don’t have control over something, there is no moral obligation,” said Taylor. “In this case, we are doing it. So we have to ask the question: If we are doing something that is driving species off the planet, are we in some sense morally culpable?”

“What right do we have to drive [out] other species, who got here in precisely in the same way that we have, who have participated in the long struggle for existence just as we have?”

Meanwhile, Professor Rockstrom is using his planetary boundary theory not as a doomsday message but as analysis to keep the planet “safe” for humanity. He said nations can cut their carbon emissions to almost nothing and pull the Earth back across the climate boundary.

“For the first time,” he said, “we have a framework for growth, for eradicating poverty and hunger, and for improving health.”

Los rayos cósmicos confirman que se fundió el corazón de Fukushima (El País)

Un detector de muones muestra el interior de dos reactores accidentados en Japón

, 23 MAR 2015 – 17:04 CET

Imagen proporcionada por Tepco sobre estos trabajos de detección.

Mientras Chernóbil todavía lucha para cubrir los restos de la tragediacon un segundo sarcófago, en Fukushima aún dan los primeros pasos para controlar por completo y desmantelar los reactores accidentados en 2011, una tarea que durará unas cuatro décadas. Al margen de las interminables fugas de agua que traen de cabeza a los responsables de la central, el principal objetivo es determinar la situación exacta del combustible radiactivo que quedó fuera de control durante varios días, provocando la mayor catástrofe atómica en lustros. Ahora, gracias a los rayos cósmicos, tenemos la confirmación de que el núcleo del reactor 1 de Fukushima se fundió por completo y que también se derritió, parcialmente, el combustible del reactor 2.

Los trabajos de desmantelamiento de la central ya han costado 1.450 millones a Japón

Esas barras de uranio derretidas generan tanto peligro que no ha sido posible entrar hasta el corazón de los reactores accidentados para determinar exactamente su estado. Las mediciones indirectas indicaban que estábamos en un escenario de fusión de los núcleos pero una nueva técnica que se sirve de la física de partículas ha ayudado a radiografiar, por el momento, dos de los reactores accidentados. Se trata de un detector de muones, unas partículas elementales que surgen cuando penetran en la atmósfera los rayos cósmicos, y que llegan por miles hasta la superficie de la Tierra. Estas partículas que frenan al chocar con objetos muy densos, como el combustible nuclear, y se pueden detectar con una suerte de placas de radiografía colocadas a los lados del reactor.

Al atravesar todo el invento, los muones han mostrado que no queda nada de combustible en el corazón del reactor número 1. Es decir, mientras el núcleo estuvo sin refrigerar con agua durante el accidente, las barras de uranio se derritieron por completo, cayendo por el fondo de la vasija que las contenía. Por eso no salen en la fotografía que han conseguido los físicos de varias universidades japonesas, que han desarrollado esta técnica junto a científicos del Laboratorio de Los Álamos y la empresa Toshiba, responsable de los trabajos de desmantelamiento de Fukushima.

Como la plancha detectora de los muones se coloca a ras de suelo, la imagen que ha devuelto de este reactor solo permite saber que el combustible se fundió y ya no está en su sitio, pero no ayuda a saber cuál es su situación en el sótano del reactor o si ha comprometido por el suelo la robusta contención que separa el núcleo del exterior. Posteriormente, Tepco ha dado a conocer el resultado de este examen en el reactor 2, que ha mostrado una descomposición parcial del núcleo al comparar la imagen con la de un reactor en condiciones normales.

Los científicos no pueden saber hasta dónde ha caído el núcleo fundido del reactor

“Los resultados reafirman nuestra idea previa de que una cantidad considerable de combustible se había fundido en el interior”, explicó Hiroshi Miyano, uno de los científicos, a AFP.  “Pero no hay evidencia de que el combustible se haya derretido a través de los edificios de contención y alcanzado el exterior”. Para asegurarse, el siguiente paso será el uso de robots que se cuelen por todos los rincones de los edificios.

Hoy se ha conocido el gasto que ha supuesto hasta el momento el desmantelamiento de Fukushima para los japoneses: 1.450 millones de euros de las arcas públicas, según un informe gubernamental que recoge la agencia Kyodo. Poco más de un tercio de ese dinero se ha gastado en los esfuerzos por controlar las continuas filtraciones y fugas de agua que inundan todo el entorno de la central.

Coping with the anthropocene: How we became nature (Science Daily)

Date: March 17, 2015

Source: De Gruyter

Summary: Overpopulation, the greenhouse effect, warming temperatures and overall climate disruption are all well recognized as a major threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the Earth.  The issue of humankind’s negative impact on the environment, albeit hotly debated and continuously present in the public eye, still only leads to limited policy action.


Overpopulation, the greenhouse effect, warming temperatures and overall climate disruption are all well recognized as a major threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the Earth. The issue of mankind’s negative impact on the environment, albeit hotly debated and continuously present in the public eye, still only leads to limited policy action. Urgent action is required, insist Paul Cruzten and Stanislaw Waclawek, the authors of “Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate in the Anthropocene,” published in open access in the new Chemistry-Didactics-Ecology-Metrology.

In their sobering review, Crutzen, the 1995 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, and Waclawek, outline the development of a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene, where human actions become a global geophysical force, surpassing that of nature itself.

Anthropocene, which relates to the present geological epoch, in which human actions determine the behavior of the planet Earth to a greater degree than other natural processes. The term, coined by American ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and popularized by Crutzen, introduced the epoch succeeding the Holocene, which is the official term for the present epoch on Geological Time Scale, covering the last 11, 500 years.

Although Anthropocene is not a new concept, it is only now that the authors present stunning evidence in support of their claim. The article describes the negative impact of the human footprint, which ensues a gradual destruction of the Earth. Highlighting different data elements — it yields overwhelming evidence that “man, the eroder” now transforms the atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric, and other earth system processes.

The list is long and unforgiving:

· Excessively rapid climate change, so that ecosystems cannot adapt

· The Arctic ocean ice cover is thinner by approximately 40% compared to 20-40 years ago

· Ice loss and the growing sea levels

· Overpopulation (fourfold increase in the 20th century alone)

· Increasing demand for freshwater

· Releases of NO into the atmosphere, resulting in high surface ozone layers

· Loss of agricultural soil through erosion

· Loss of phosphorus. Dangerous depletion in agricultural regions

· Melting supplies of phosphate reserves (leading to serious reduction in crop yield)

Describing the negative impact of human activities on the environment, the authors identify planetary boundaries, as means to attaining global sustainability. It is “a well-documented summary of all humankind actions affecting the environment on all scales. According to Crutzen, we live in a new era, Anthropocene, and our survival fully depends on us. I strongly recommend this unusual publication in the form of highly informative compressed slides and graphs.” says Marina Frontasyeva from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia. Nature is us, and responding to the Anthropocene means building a culture that grows with the Earth’s biological wealth instead of depleting it.


Journal Reference:

  1. Paul J. Crutzen, Stanisław Wacławek. Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate in the AnthropoceneChemistry-Didactics-Ecology-Metrology, 2015 DOI: 10.1515/cdem-2014-0001

Geoengineering proposal may backfire: Ocean pipes ‘not cool,’ would end up warming climate (Science Daily)

Date: March 19, 2015

Source: Carnegie Institution

Summary: There are a variety of proposals that involve using vertical ocean pipes to move seawater to the surface from the depths in order to reap different potential climate benefits. One idea involves using ocean pipes to facilitate direct physical cooling of the surface ocean by replacing warm surface ocean waters with colder, deeper waters. New research shows that these pipes could actually increase global warming quite drastically.


To combat global climate change caused by greenhouse gases, alternative energy sources and other types of environmental recourse actions are needed. There are a variety of proposals that involve using vertical ocean pipes to move seawater to the surface from the depths in order to reap different potential climate benefits.A new study from a group of Carnegie scientists determines that these types of pipes could actually increase global warming quite drastically. It is published in Environmental Research Letters.

One proposed strategy–called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, or OTEC–involves using the temperature difference between deeper and shallower water to power a heat engine and produce clean electricity. A second proposal is to move carbon from the upper ocean down into the deep, where it wouldn’t interact with the atmosphere. Another idea, and the focus of this particular study, proposes that ocean pipes could facilitate direct physical cooling of the surface ocean by replacing warm surface ocean waters with colder, deeper waters.

“Our prediction going into the study was that vertical ocean pipes would effectively cool the Earth and remain effective for many centuries,” said Ken Caldeira, one of the three co-authors.

The team, which also included lead author Lester Kwiatkowski as well as Katharine Ricke, configured a model to test this idea and what they found surprised them. The model mimicked the ocean-water movement of ocean pipes if they were applied globally reaching to a depth of about a kilometer (just over half a mile). The model simulated the motion created by an idealized version of ocean pipes, not specific pipes. As such the model does not include real spacing of pipes, nor does it calculate how much energy they would require.

Their simulations showed that while global temperatures could be cooled by ocean pipe systems in the short term, warming would actually start to increase just 50 years after the pipes go into use. Their model showed that vertical movement of ocean water resulted in a decrease of clouds over the ocean and a loss of sea-ice.

Colder air is denser than warm air. Because of this, the air over the ocean surface that has been cooled by water from the depths has a higher atmospheric pressure than the air over land. The cool air over the ocean sinks downward reducing cloud formation over the ocean. Since more of the planet is covered with water than land, this would result in less cloud cover overall, which means that more of the Sun’s rays are absorbed by Earth, rather than being reflected back into space by clouds.

Water mixing caused by ocean pipes would also bring sea ice into contact with warmer waters, resulting in melting. What’s more, this would further decrease the reflection of the Sun’s radiation, which bounces off ice as well as clouds.

After 60 years, the pipes would cause an increase in global temperature of up to 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2degrees Fahrenheit). Over several centuries, the pipes put the Earth on a warming trend towards a temperature increase of 8.5 degrees Celsius (15.3 degrees Fahrenheit).

“I cannot envisage any scenario in which a large scale global implementation of ocean pipes would be advisable,” Kwiatkowski said. “In fact, our study shows it could exacerbate long-term warming and is therefore highly inadvisable at global scales.”

The authors do say, however, that ocean pipes might be useful on a small scale to help aerate ocean dead zones.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lester Kwiatkowski, Katharine L Ricke and Ken Caldeira. Atmospheric consequences of disruption of the ocean thermoclineEnvironmental Research Letters, 2015 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/3/034016