Wednesday, June 30, 2010

the social cost of carbon

Video - Carbon Credits Explained.

PostAutisticEconomicsReview | The social cost of carbon may be the most important number you’ve never heard of. U.S. climate legislation may or may not make it through Congress this year, but in the meantime, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead, authorized by the Supreme Court to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The Department of Energy is setting energy efficiency standards for residential appliances and commercial equipment, based in part on their contribution to climate change. Other agencies may address the same issues, when their regulations affect energy use and carbon emissions.

The social cost of carbon (SCC), defined as the estimated price of the damages caused by each additional ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere, is the volume dial on government regulations affecting greenhouse gases: The higher the SCC is set, the more stringent the regulatory standards. This white paper explains how economists estimate the social cost of carbon, why the Obama Administration’s current analyses are on a path to grossly underestimating it, and why relying on the SCC in the first place may be unproductive.

The EPA, DOE, and other agencies are deciding on values to assign to the SCC in the next few months as part of “rulemaking” processes that are couched in very technical terminology and largely invisible to the general public. In theory, it appears possible to derive the SCC from economic analysis, and the administration appears to have done so. In reality, it’s not so simple: Any estimate of the SCC rests on a number of value judgments and predictions about uncertain future events, and so far, the administration has made choices that lead to very low SCC values. In an interim and then a revised analysis, an interagency working group has presented multiple scenarios and possible values for the SCC; the interim analysis suggests, and the revised analysis explicitly endorses, a “central” estimate of $21 per ton of CO2 in 2010. This amounts to roughly 20 cents per gallon of gasoline, an extremely modest price incentive for carbon reduction. If adopted, this obscure number will have immense practical consequences: A low SCC could result in ineffectual regulations that lead to few if any reductions in U.S. emissions until Congress passes a climate bill.

Even greater harm could result if Congress interprets the $21 SCC as an endorsement of that level for a carbon tax or permit price. This could clash with the widely discussed, science-based goal of achieving an 80 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by 2050, an objective that will almost certainly require a much higher price on carbon. In the revised analysis, the central SCC estimate rises only to $45 per ton (in 2007 dollars) by 2050.2 If climate economics is (mistakenly, in our view) interpreted as supporting an SCC of only $21 today and $45 by mid-century, it could also be interpreted as advocating only the emission reductions that would result from those prices. That is, working backwards from the proposed SCC, one could infer that the appropriate cap on carbon emissions is much weaker than those found in recent legislative proposals. The resolution to this paradox is that, as we argue in this paper, the $21 SCC is based on flimsy analyses and multiple mistakes. Sound economic analysis would show that the SCC should be much higher, and thus could be consistent with the carbon prices required to achieve science-based targets for emission reduction.

Calculating the SCC is a new undertaking for the administration, and these initial estimates may represent work in progress rather than a final answer. In its first attempts, however, the administration’s interagency working group has left itself plenty of room for improvement.

fly the eco-friendly skies...,

MITNews | In what could set the stage for a fundamental shift in commercial aviation, an MIT-led team has designed a green airplane that is estimated to use 70 percent less fuel than current planes while also reducing noise and emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The design was one of two that the team, led by faculty from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, presented to NASA last month as part of a $2.1 million research contract to develop environmental and performance concepts that will help guide the agency’s aeronautics research over the next 25 years. Known as “N+3” to denote three generations beyond today’s commercial transport fleet, the research program is aimed at identifying key technologies, such as advanced airframe configurations and propulsion systems, that will enable greener airplanes to take flight around 2035.

MIT was the only university to lead one of the six U.S. teams that won contracts from NASA in October 2008. Four teams — led by MIT, Boeing, GE Aviation and Northrop Grumman, respectively — studied concepts for subsonic (slower than the speed of sound) commercial planes, while teams led by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin studied concepts for supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) commercial aircraft. Led by AeroAstro faculty and students, including principal investigator Ed Greitzer, the H. Nelson Slater Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the MIT team members include Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation and Pratt & Whitney.

Their objective was to develop concepts for, and evaluate the potential of, quieter subsonic commercial planes that would burn 70 percent less fuel and emit 75 percent less NOx than today’s commercial planes. NASA also wanted an aircraft that could take off from shorter runways. Designing an airplane that could meet NASA’s aggressive criteria while accounting for the changes in air travel in 2035 — when air traffic is expected to double — would require “a radical change,” according to Greitzer. Although automobiles have undergone extensive design changes over the last half-century, “aircraft silhouettes have basically remained the same over the past 50 years,” he said, describing the traditional, easily recognizable “tube-and-wing” structure of an aircraft’s wings and fuselage.

president obama cannot break energy stalemate

Video - Obama on Alternative Energy

Guardian | Barack Obama's hopes of leveraging public anger at the Gulf oil spill into political support for his clean energy agenda fell flat today after he failed to rally a group of Democratic and Republican senators around broad energy and climate change law.

The standoff suggests the Senate would formally give up on climate change law, and recast energy reform as a Gulf oil spill response, that would roll in far more limited proposals such as a green investment bank, or a measure to limit greenhouse gas emissions that would apply only to electricity companies.

Such a move would come as a personal rebuff to Obama who has put energy and climate change at the top of his agenda, and who called on the 23 senators at the White House meeting to establish a cap and trade system.

"The president was very clear about putting a price on carbon and limiting greenhouse gas emissions," John Kerry, the Democratic senator leading the push for climate change proposals in the Senate said after the meeting.

"He was very strong about the need to put a price on carbon and make polluters pay," said senator Joe Lieberman.

White House officials say the spill is a wake-up call for the urgency of breaking the US economy's dependence on fossil fuels, and had hoped to build momentum behind a cap-and-trade bill now before the Senate.

Supporters of action on climate change had been pressing Obama to make a strong push for legislation.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

bringing people together

Video - Second City Bringing People Together.

boycotted station owners want BP help...,

AP | Tension is mounting between BP and the neighborhood retailers that sell its gasoline. As more Americans shun BP gasoline as a form of protest over the Gulf oil spill, station owners are insisting BP do more to help them convince motorists that such boycotts mostly hurt independently owned businesses, not the British oil giant.

To win back customers, they'd like the company's help in reducing the price at the pump.

BP owns just a fraction of the more than 11,000 stations across the U.S. that sell its fuel under the BP, Amoco and ARCO banners. Most are owned by local businessmen whose primary connection to the oil company is the logo and a contract to buy gasoline.

In recent weeks, some station owners from Georgia to Illinois say sales have declined as much as 10 percent to 40 percent.

Station owners and BP gas distributors told BP officials last week they need a break on the cost of the gas they buy, and they want help paying for more advertising aimed at motorists, according to John Kleine, executive director of the independent BP Amoco Marketers Association. The station owners, who earn more from sales of soda and snacks than on gasoline, also want more frequent meetings with BP officials.

"They have got to be more competitive on their fuel costs to the retailers so we can be competitive on the street ... and bring back customers that we've lost," says Bob Juckniess, who has seen sales drop 20 percent at some of his 10 BP-branded stations in the Chicago area.

Owners and distributors put forth their demands at a meeting in Chicago with BP marketing officials. BP's reply could come as early as this week, says Kleine, whose group represents hundreds of distributors.

Station owners are locked into contracts that can last seven to 10 years in some cases. So, switching to a competing brand if BP refuses to help may not be an option.

BP spokesman Scott Dean declined to offer specifics about the discussions when contacted by The Associated Press.

beyond petroleum - the good times...,

Video - Beyond Petroleum - the good times back in the day...,

bp point - counterpoint

Video - Shepard Smith vs Andrew Napolitano discussing BP oil spill.

Monday, June 28, 2010

the anosognosic's dilemma

NYTimes | In one of his first e-mails, David Dunning wrote to me about the mediocre detective who is unaware of significant clues littered all around him. A thousand unnoticed purloined letters easily within reach. Cluelessness could be just another way of expressing our relationship to the unknown unknowns. We don’t know what questions to ask, let alone how to answer them. I sent an e-mail to Dunning: “If you were to make a Venn diagram of cluelessness, self-deception and denial, what would it look like?”

Shortly afterwards, Dunning responded.
I’ve attached a PDF with how I see it. Cluelessness is clearly the biggest circle, in that there is so much knowledge and expertise that lies outside everybody’s personal cognitive event horizon. People can be clueless in a million different ways, even though they are largely trying to get things right in an honest way. Deficits in knowledge, or in information the world is giving them, just leads people toward false beliefs and holes in their expertise.

That is not to dismiss or belittle self-deception. A caveat to begin: The traditional academic definition of “self-deception” is technical and a little stodgy. It requires that, to self-deceive, a person both know “X” and deceive himself or herself into believing “not-X.” But how can a person both believe and disbelieve “X” at the same time? This is for philosophers to argue about (and they have, for centuries) and for experimental nerds like me to try to figure out how to demonstrate decisively in the lab (so far, we haven’t).

But if we imbue self-deception with a looser definition, we have a lot to talk about. Psychologists over the past 50 years have demonstrated the sheer genius people have at convincing themselves of congenial conclusions while denying the truth of inconvenient ones. You can call it self-deception, but it also goes by the names rationalization, wishful thinking, defensive processing, self-delusion, and motivated reasoning. There is a robust catalogue of strategies people follow to believe what they want to, and we research psychologists are hardly done describing the shape or the size of that catalogue. All this rationalization can lead people toward false beliefs, or perhaps more commonly, to tenaciously hang on to false beliefs they should really reconsider.

Denial, to a psychologist, is a somewhat knuckle-headed technique in self-deception, and it is to merely deny the truth of something someone does not want to confront.
Clearly, Dunning believes that we are incarcerated in a prison of cluelessness. But is there any possibility of escape? I had some additional questions for Dunning, and so we arranged to speak again. Fist tap Dale.

the youth pill

The Scientist | No scientific advances inspire more media hype than ones in gerontology, the study of aging. Even the crustiest editors have been known to turn giddy when new Justify Fulllight is shed on the topic and take to blowing raspberries at the Reaper with headlines suggesting immortality elixirs are just around the corner.

Biologists aren't so easily wowed, though, and before the mid-1990s they generally saw gerontology as a dismal bog where once-promising peers sank out of sight, or worse, re-emerged clutching beakers of snake oil. Compelling logic underlay the dismissiveness: Natural selection has sculpted our genes to care about getting to the next generation, not about keeping our bodies youthful for a long time. Thus, soon after we reach reproductive age, our genes' preservative influence fades, and escalating random damage sets in. Studying the details of this inexorable, chaotic decay seemed a waste of time to most life scientists. And attempting to block or slow it seemed utterly quixotic. In 1957, evolutionary biologist George Williams encapsulated the conventional wisdom by equating the anti-aging quest to the hunt for perpetual motion.

Then in 1988 a miracle happened -- the University of Colorado's Thomas Johnson reported that a gene mutation in nematodes could more than double their life spans. Five years later, Cynthia Kenyon at the University of California, San Francisco, nailed a similar worm "gerontogene" dubbed daf-2. These flabbergasting discoveries revealed that not everything about aging is intractable chaos -- worms, at least, apparently possessed gene-encoded modules poised to oppose the ravages of advancing age when activated by a single mutation. Optimists soon speculated that similar modules exist in mammals.

But for several years after the discovery of worm gerontogenes, it wasn't at all clear that mammals possess such modules. After all, daf-2 and related genes were known to work by activating a semblance of the "dauer phase," a kind of suspended animation that enables nematode larvae to ride out food shortages, and there's a lack of evidence that we warm-blooded types similarly turn into living mummies when the larder is bare. But then two remarkably persistent scientists settled the burning issue -- and solved a murine murder mystery in the process.

lab-grown lungs

The Scientist | Two new lab-grown versions of lungs may one day serve as a way to sidestep both animal testing and organ transplantation.

One engineered rat lung, described in Science Express today (June 24), even successfully helped rats breathe for brief periods.

"This is the first ever published paper that really demonstrates that regenerative medicine can provide an alternative to clinical transplantation of the lungs," said translational medical researcher Paolo Macchiarini of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, who was not involved in the research.

Currently, the only treatment for the lung diseases that cause some 400,000 deaths each year is to transplant a new, healthy organ -- a procedure that is hampered by organ rejection complications and a severe shortage of donors. But now, bioengineer and vascular biologist Laura Niklason of Yale University and her colleagues may have developed a way to eventually address both of these issues.

Treating adult rat lungs with detergent solutions to remove their cellular components gave the researchers their starting point -- a lung skeleton, or the extracellular matrix that gives the lungs their structure. The team then repopulated the lungs with epithelial and endothelial cells from rat lungs, which grew over the scaffolds to create brand new lungs.

The researchers then implanted the new lungs into rats for up to two hours, during which time they found evidence that the engineered lungs were successfully participating in gas exchange. However, they also started to see some blood clots form in the vasculature of the lungs, as well as small amounts of leakage of blood into the airways, which most likely stemmed from an imperfect matrix and incomplete covering of new cells, Niklason said.

"Clearly we're close, but not all the way there yet," she said. "We really view this work as laying a scientific and technological basis for regenerating lungs in the long term."

plastic antibodies?

The Scientist | Antibodies are the main ingredient in a wide range of biopharmaceuticals, but making them is no picnic. Now, chemists have good evidence there may be an easier way: plastic.

Currently, in order to manufacture antibodies, mice (or other live animals) are injected with a foreign antigen over several weeks, stimulating B cells in the bloodstream to produce antibodies. Those B cells must then be harvested from the mouse's spleen and transferred to a bioreactor where they are often fused with another cell type, like immortal tumor cells, that allows them to replicate and survive outside the animal. The cultured cells then produce the antibody. If the antibody is for human use, at some point it must be humanized -- modified through recombinant DNA technology to resemble natural human antibodies. The process is long, difficult, and expensive.

But what if a substance introduced years ago as a cheap, durable replacement for natural materials could replace yet another one of nature's materials?

In a landmark paper published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, synthetic chemists at the University of California, Irvine, report the first successful use of a plastic antibody in vivo. The synthetic counterpart seems to work just like a natural antibody, binding and neutralizing a toxin in the bloodstream. Such molecules could someday make a splash in the clinic as well as in pharmaceutical and biotech companies for protein purification and diagnostic applications, scientists believe.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

the lonely robot

Video - Adam Curtis BBC Documentary The Trap - The Lonely Robot
This is another brilliant Adam Curtis documentary originally produced for the BBC. It talks about the modern political realities, where the policies came from and the massive failures of those ideals and how they have ended up exactly where they did not want to be. This episode focuses on the 1990's and how the politicians decided to apply the model of a free market economy to the rest of society and consequences of these actions being felt all over the world in western democracy's.

we will force you to be free

Video - Adam Curtis BBC Documentary The Trap - We Will Force You to be Free.
This is another brilliant Adam Curtis documentary originally produced for the BBC. It talks about the modern political realities, where the policies came from and the massive failures of those ideals and how they have ended up exactly where they did not want to be. In this episode we discuss the alternative idea to freedom that currently exists and traps the western societies in which we live.

the adjustment bureau

Video - The Adjustment Bureau Trailer

Saturday, June 26, 2010

steeped in misinformation, ignorance, and denial

Video - Rick Santelli's Tea Party rant.

Monbiot | The rightwing movements thrive on their contradictions, the leftwing movements drown in them. Tea Party members who proclaim their rugged individualism will follow a bucket on a broomstick if it has the right label, and engage in the herd behaviour they claim to deplore. The left, by contrast, talks of collective action but indulges instead in possessive individualism. Instead of coming together to fight common causes, leftwing meetings today consist of dozens of people promoting their own ideas, and proposing that everyone else should adopt them.

It would be wrong to characterise the Tea Party movement as being mostly working class. The polls suggest that its followers have an income and college education rate slightly above the national mean(1). But it is the only rising political movement in the US which enjoys major working class support. It voices the resentments of those who sense that they have been shut out of American life. Yet it campaigns for policies that threaten to exclude them further. The Contract from America for which Tea Party members voted demands that the US adopt a single-rate tax system, repeal Obama’s health care legislation and sustain George W Bush’s reductions in income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax(2). The beneficiaries of these policies are corporations and the ultra-wealthy. Those who will be hurt by them are angrily converging on state capitals to demand that they are implemented.

The Tea Party protests began after the business journalist Rick Santelli broadcast an attack from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on the government’s plan to help impoverished people whose mortgages had fallen into arrears(3). To cheers from the traders at the exchange, he proposed that they should hold a tea party to dump derivative securities in Lake Michigan in protest at Obama’s intention – in Santilli’s words - to “subsidise the losers”. (I urge you to watch the broadcast – it is the most alarming example of cheap demagoguery you are likely to have seen. It continues to be promoted by Santelli’s employer, CNBC(4)).

The protests which claim to defend the interests of the working class began, in other words, with a call for a bankers’ revolt against the undeserving poor. They have been promoted by Fox News, owned by that champion of the underdog Rupert Murdoch, and lavishly funded by other billionaires(5). Its corporate backers wrap themselves in the complaints of the downtrodden: they are 21st Century Marie-Antoinettes, who dress up as dairymaids and propose that the poor subsist on a diet of laissez-faire.

Before this movement had a name, its contradictions were explored in Thomas Frank’s seminal book What’s the Matter with Kansas?(6) The genius of the new conservatism, Frank argues, is its “systematic erasure of the economic”. It blames the troubles of the poor not on economic forces – corporate and class power, wage cuts, tax cuts, outsourcing – but on cultural forces. The backlashers could believe that George W Bush was a man of the people by ignoring his family’s wealth. They can believe that the media is a liberal conspiracy only by forgetting about the corporations (CNBC, Fox etc) and the conservative billionaires who run it. The movement depends on people never making the connection between, for example, “mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore” or “the small towns they profess to love and the market forces that are slowly grinding those small towns back into the red-state dust.”

The anger of the excluded is aimed instead at gay marriage, abortion, swearing on television and latte-drinking, French-speaking liberals. The working class American right votes for candidates who rail against cultural degradation, but what it gets when they take power is a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

conservative incomprehension of peak oil

Video - DNC ad on how republicans would govern.

FCNP | The Barton incident, however, is instructive for it raises questions about the role of government and the force of political ideology in what soon will be an era of oil depletion and increasing economic hardship. Unlike most of the world, America has had 150 years of good times. Since the end of the Civil War, or if you prefer the War Between the States, no armies have crashed through our cities and except for the 1930s, which are remembered by only a few senior citizens, there has been relatively steady economic growth.

As generations went by, the distinction between resources that were vital for our way of life that come from nature, such as the sun, rain, moderate temperatures and breathable air, and those that were provided by our social organization and technology, such as electricity, running water, sewers, grocery stores, and gasoline, became increasingly blurred. Thus, for most, the neighborhood gas station providing unlimited cheap gas would and should always be there just as the sun will rise every day.

The degree to which government enables and facilitates the services that are vital to civilization is lost to many who have come to believe governments only collect taxes and waste money on dubious social projects. In the last few years, Washington's efforts to deal with the credit crisis, housing crisis, and the bankruptcy of the automobile industry, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, has only served to sharpen the ideological differences.

Under the "no new taxes" banner, conservatives in recent years have been content to watch the rapid erosion of state and local government services as withering revenues and inability to print or borrow money has forced unprecedented cutbacks. The ideology behind all this is that the economic growth that has been with us as long as anybody can remember will return soon and all will be well. Missing from this scenario of course is that for the last 150 years economic growth and the consumption of increasing amounts of oil have been inextricably linked. Take away steadily increasing oil supplies and the bedrock of conservative economic theory becomes a fantasy.

So far the erosion of government spending has not had a significant impact on political ideology. The problem will come when gasoline becomes unaffordable at current rates of use and many or most are forced to cut back, doing severe damage to our motorized society. At first there will be strident calls to deregulate, forget the environment and produce as much oil as possible. It may take a few years before a critical mass come to the realization amidst a stagnating economy and burgeoning social problems that more drilling is not going to work. Then the real debate can begin on how to keep civilization functioning with decreasing supplies of fossil fuels.

serial apologies, no contrition...,

Video - Rahm Emmanuel - GOP governing philosophy holds BP as the aggrieved party.

NYTimes | House Republicans had their chance to do the right thing and remove Joe Barton as the ranking Republican on the energy committee. Instead, they applauded him. Mr. Barton, you will recall, apologized to BP — saying it was a victim of a “shakedown” — after President Obama pressed the company to ante up a $20 billion compensation fund for all the people who have lost their jobs and businesses because of the oil spill.

After Mr. Barton tried apologizing again before his party’s private caucus, John Boehner, the Republican leader, said “the issue is closed.” Mr. Boehner showed his clear loyalties — protecting party hacks and the oil industry — when he decided that Mr. Barton should keep his central role in the Republican Party’s energy policy.

Mr. Boehner cited Mr. Barton’s “poor choice of words,” as if it were an oratorical gaffe and not a glimpse at deeper outrage that government dared to call Big Oil to account. Mr. Barton of Texas spoke a day after the Republican Study Committee caucus of House conservatives denounced Mr. Obama for applying “Chicago-style shakedown politics” against poor, defenseless BP.

Representative Jo Bonner, a Republican of Alabama whose Gulf Coast constituents are incensed, said it best last week when he called for Mr. Barton to lose his ranking position on the energy panel: “I believe the damage of his comments are beyond repair.” After the party caucus ended with a forgiving round of applause, Mr. Barton’s Twitter feed proclaimed: “Joe Barton Was Right.” But wait, that message was soon deleted; it was a mistake, said the latest apology from Mr. Barton’s office.

Friday, June 25, 2010

the final words on military accountability..,

Video - Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Mike Mullen speak with reporters at the Pentagon.

gene + virus + injury = disease?

The Scientist | One of the most detailed studies to date of how the interaction between genes and environment results in disease has demonstrated that an inflammatory bowel disease resembling human Crohn's needs a specific mutation, virus, and injury to develop in mice.

"Environmental genomic issues are tough to crack," said John Mordes, professor of endocrinology at the University of Massachusetts, who has previously characterized a gene-virus interaction in type1 diabetes. "This is a significant contribution to the evolving understanding of how the environment interacts with genomic predisposition."

The team, led by immunologist Thaddeus Stappenbeck and virologist Herbert Virgin of Washington University School of Medicine, found that the diseased state was brought about by the complex interplay among a mutation in an autophagy-related gene called ATG16L1, a specific virus, a toxic substance, microbes in the rodent's gut, and the rodent's own immune response. The findings appear in a paper that will be published tomorrow in Cell.

"It's a well-documented scientific example of how very particular environmental events and genes interact to result in disease," said Richard Blumberg, chief of gastroenterology at Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study.

The researchers stumbled upon this discovery by accident. Two years ago, they had succeeded in describing how a mutation in mouse ATG16L1 wreaked havoc in a type of cell that inhabits the lining of the small intestine. These so-called Paneth cells are involved in mucosal immunity and secrete antimicrobial proteins. But in mice that carry the mutation, the cells grow abnormally and malfunction, similar to what's observed in human Crohn's patients with mutations in the same gene.

But then, in early 2009, the mutant mouse colonies with the abnormal Paneth cells were moved to a new super-sterile facility. To the researchers' surprise, the mutant mice that grew up in the new facility had normal-looking, healthy Paneth cells. It was as if the mice didn't carry the mutation at all. This led them to believe that something other than genetics was at play.

Enter the murine norovirus -- a family of small, RNA viruses discovered by Virgin in 2003. The viruses are practically found in almost all mouse facilities except the new one, which was designed expressly to keep them out.

Sure enough, when the researchers fed mutant mice different viral strains, they found that after exposure to one strain known as CR6, the Paneth cells transformed from healthy to abnormal.

This goes back to what doctors have observed for years. "It is not uncommon to find that inflammatory bowel disease follows some sort of gastric infection in a clinical setting," Stappenbeck explained. "So the connection between the disease and an infectious process has been around for a while."

"So really there were three environmental factors that were working together with the mutation: the viral infection, the composition of the microbiota (presumably induced by the viral infection), and a very specific inflammatory hit on the [intestinal lining]," Blumberg said.

old bonobos just nasty......,

Reuters | Disease risk higher for swingers than prostitutes. Scientists studying swingers -- straight couples who regularly swap sexual partners and indulge in group sex at organized meeting -- say they have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than prostitutes. Dutch researchers publishing their work in the British Medical Journal showed that older swingers -- those over the age of 45 -- are particularly vulnerable and yet are a group largely ignored by healthcare services.

With estimates that the swinger population could be many millions across the world, the scientists said there was a risk this untreated group could act as an STI "transmission bridge to the entire population."

"Although exact estimates are unavailable, the swingers' population is probably large," wrote Anne-Marie Niekamp, who worked on the study with colleagues from Maastricht University.

The Dutch study analyzed the numbers of patients seeking treatment in 2007 and 2008 at three sexual health clinics in South Limburg in the Netherlands.

The clinics have recorded whether a patient is a swinger since the start of 2007, in an attempt to track infection rates among this group.

During the study period, there were just under 9,000 consultations at the three clinics. One in nine of the patients was a swinger, with an average age of 43.

Overall, combined rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea were just over 10 percent among straight people, 14 percent among gay men, just under 5 percent in female prostitutes, and 10.4 percent among swingers, they found. And female swingers had higher infection rates than male swingers.

One in 10 older swingers had Chlamydia and around one in 20 had gonorrhea.

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease among women and in 70 percent of cases causes no symptoms. The bacterial infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Gonorrhea is another bacterial infection which can also lead to infertility if left untreated.

Niekamp said that while other high risk groups, such as young straight people, gay men and prostitutes, were relatively easy for healthcare service to identify and target for advice and help, swingers were generally a hidden community.

"That makes them very hard to reach," she said in a telephone interview. "Because they are so hidden and in some ways also stigmatized, it is hard for them to come forward for STI testing and treatment."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

the hunt for the god particle

Guardian | We have all heard of 'dark matter'. But what about dark galaxies, dark planets - even dark people? Particle physicists have a problem, he says. They are an anthropocentric bunch, too preoccupied with the particles and forces that impinge on humanity. They have spent so much time unravelling mysteries such as the structure of atoms and why the sun shines that they have neglected other avenues of inquiry. They need to broaden their horizons, Wells says. To think beyond the world we see and touch.

If that was the stick, next came the carrot. Our knowledge of the cosmos tells us that the stuff around us, from plants and people to stars and planets, is made from just a handful of elementary particles. On top of these, there is a small number of forces that make nature run smoothly, doing things like keeping planets in their orbits and ensuring everyday objects don't suddenly collapse into a pile of atoms. But how do we know, asks Wells, that there isn't much more going on than this? Our knowledge of nature and how it works is based on observations. What if we can't see everything? What might we be missing out on? There could be a "hidden world" out there, Wells says, where particles and forces are busily at work, all around us, but beyond the realm of our senses.

The phrase "hidden world" sounds like a science-fiction cliche, but it simply means that there may be more particles and forces at work in the world – and the cosmos at large – than those we see when we look around. They are so aloof, so hidden from our daily experience, that they go completely unnoticed.

"It would be strange if we were so special that we could feel and observe everything that is going on out there," says Wells, who is one of a growing number of physicists working on the hidden worlds idea. "We are lumps of clay swirling on a little blue marble in an overwhelming vastness of universe. We have to envision that there is more going on. There really should be additional particles and forces," he says.

the calm before?

WaPo | Sunspots come and go, but recently they have mostly gone. For centuries, astronomers have recorded when these dark blemishes on the solar surface emerge, only to fade away after a few days, weeks or months. Thanks to their efforts, we know that sunspot numbers ebb and flow in cycles lasting about 11 years.

But for the past two years, the sunspots have mostly been missing. Their absence, the most prolonged in nearly 100 years, has taken even seasoned sun watchers by surprise. "This is solar behavior we haven't seen in living memory," says David Hathaway, a physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The sun is under scrutiny as never before, thanks to an armada of space telescopes. The results they beam back are portraying our nearest star, and its influence on Earth, in a new light. Sunspots and other clues indicate that the sun's magnetic activity is diminishing and that the sun may even be shrinking. Together, the results hint that something profound is happening inside the sun. The big question is: What?

Groups of sunspots forewarn of gigantic solar storms that can unleash a billion times more energy than an atomic bomb. Fears that these giant eruptions could create havoc on Earth and disputes over the sun's role in climate change are adding urgency to these studies. When NASA and the European Space Agency launched the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory almost 15 years ago, "understanding the solar cycle was not one of its scientific objectives," says Bernhard Fleck, the mission's project scientist. "Now it is one of the key questions."

Sunspots are windows into the sun's magnetic soul. They form where giant loops of magnetism, generated deep inside the sun, well up and burst through the surface, leading to a localized drop in temperature that we see as a dark patch. Any changes in sunspot numbers reflect changes inside the sun. "During this transition, the sun is giving us a real glimpse into its interior," says Hathaway.

When sunspot numbers drop at the end of each 11-year cycle, solar storms die down and all becomes much calmer. This "solar minimum" doesn't last long. Within a year, the spots and storms begin to build toward a new crescendo, the next solar maximum.

What's special about this latest dip is that the sun is having trouble starting the next solar cycle. The sun began to calm down in late 2007, so no one expected many sunspots in 2008. But computer models predicted that when the spots did return, they would do so in force. Hathaway was reported as thinking the next solar cycle would be a doozy: more sunspots, more solar storms and more energy blasted into space. Others predicted that it would be the most active solar cycle on record.

The trouble was, no one told the sun.

immunology 2.0: brain, gut?

The Scientist | In order to progress, should the field of immunology look to other organ systems such as the brain and gut, or should it focus its efforts on all that remains unknown about the immune system itself?

"The major advancements in any field come when branches of science collide," said Kevin Tracey, an immunologist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, one of the researchers asked to write their opinion about the future of immunology for the tenth anniversary issue of Nature Immunology.

Tracey's interests lie in the intersection of neurophysiology and immunology, which took the spotlight after the discovery that action potentials of the vagus nerve regulate the release of cytokines from the spleen and other organs. "That's just the beginning. I think there is going to be a lot of nerves and a lot of circuits that control the immune system," Tracey told The Scientist. If so, future medical devices to control these circuits may act like immune-system pacemakers, Tracey predicted, and when implanted along nerves could treat inflammatory diseases including arthritis, colitis, diabetes, heart disease and arteriosclerosis.

B. Brett Finlay, in contrast, argues that the future of immunology lies in the gut. The mucosal lining of the intestines harbors special lymphoid tissues containing white blood cells, and Finlay, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said he believes a better understanding of the interactions between the immune system, the gut and other mucosal surfaces will push the field of immunology forward.

Knowing how the gut interacts with other mucosal membranes is important because an immune reaction in one of these areas can cause changes in others. "When you realize that [the mucosal surfaces] talk to each other, it has quite significant impacts on how we interpret their actions and reactions to infection," Finlay said.

Indeed, differences in intestinal microbes can have substantial effects on the immune system. Even which company a lab buys their mice from can influence the mice's gut microbiota, which in turn influences their immune system and immune response. "Knowing what we know now, it might explain why one lab finds one thing and another finds another," said Finlay.

the sound of the god particle

BBCNews | "When you are hearing what the sonifications do you really are hearing the data. It's true to the data, and it's telling you something about the data that you couldn't know in any other way," said Archer Endrich, a software engineer working on the project.

The aim is to give physicists at the LHC another way to analyse their data. The sonification team believes that ears are better suited than eyes to pick out the subtle changes that might indicate the detection of a new particle.

But Richard Dobson - a composer involved with the project - says he is struck at how musical the products of the collisions sound.

"We can hear clear structures in the sound, almost as if they had been composed. They seem to tell a little story all to themselves. They're so dynamic and shifting all the time, it does sound like a lot of the music that you hear in contemporary composition," he explained.

Although the project's aim is to provide particle physicists with a new analysis tool, Archer Endrich believes that it may also enable us to eavesdrop on the harmonious background sound of the Universe.

He said he hoped the particle collisions at Cern would "reveal something new and something important about the nature of the Universe".

And Mr Endrich says that those who have been involved in the project have felt something akin to a religious experience while listening to the sounds.

"You feel closer to the mystery of Nature which I think a lot of scientists do when they get deep into these matters," he said.

"Its so intriguing and there's so much mystery and so much to learn. The deeper you go, the more of a pattern you find and it's fascinating and it's uplifting." Fist tap Nana.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

sen. whitehouse explodes - america must never be on its knees!!!

DailyKos | Prepare to be floored by a speech against Corporate power for the ages.
(T)his American Government of ours should never be on its knees before corporate power, no matter how strong. It should never be in the thrall of corporate wealth, no matter how vast.

Speaking on the Senate Floor, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) gave the speech of a lifetime on Thursday. Ironically, this was just after Republican House Representative Joe Barton (BP-TX) virtually knelt down in order to kiss the ring of the Feudal Lord/CEO of BP, a multinational fiefdom of Big Oil.

obama vs. the corporations

NYTimes | Much reporting on opposition to the Obama administration portrays it as a sort of populist uprising. Yet the antics of the socialism-and-death-panels crowd are only part of the story of anti-Obamaism, and arguably the less important part. If you really want to know what’s going on, watch the corporations.

How can you do that? Follow the money — donations by corporate political action committees.

Look, for example, at the campaign contributions of commercial banks — traditionally Republican-leaning, but only mildly so. So far this year, according to The Washington Post, 63 percent of spending by banks’ corporate PACs has gone to Republicans, up from 53 percent last year. Securities and investment firms, traditionally Democratic-leaning, are now giving more money to Republicans. And oil and gas companies, always Republican-leaning, have gone all out, bestowing 76 percent of their largess on the G.O.P.

These are extraordinary numbers given the normal tendency of corporate money to flow to the party in power. Corporate America, however, really, truly hates the current administration. Wall Street, for example, is in “a state of bitter, seething, hysterical fury” toward the president, writes John Heilemann of New York magazine. What’s going on?

One answer is taxes — not so much on corporations themselves as on the people who run them. The Obama administration plans to raise tax rates on upper brackets back to Clinton-era levels. Furthermore, health reform will in part be paid for with surtaxes on high-income individuals. All this will amount to a significant financial hit to C.E.O.’s, investment bankers and other masters of the universe.

Now, don’t cry for these people: they’ll still be doing extremely well, and by and large they’ll be paying little more as a percentage of their income than they did in the 1990s. Yet the fact that the tax increases they’re facing are reasonable doesn’t stop them from being very, very angry.

Nor are taxes the whole story.

Many Obama supporters have been disappointed by what they see as the administration’s mildness on regulatory issues — its embrace of limited financial reform that doesn’t break up the biggest banks, its support for offshore drilling, and so on. Yet corporate interests are balking at even modest changes from the permissiveness of the Bush era.

From the outside, this rage against regulation seems bizarre. I mean, what did they expect? The financial industry, in particular, ran wild under deregulation, eventually bringing on a crisis that has left 15 million Americans unemployed, and required large-scale taxpayer-financed bailouts to avoid an even worse outcome. Did Wall Street expect to emerge from all that without facing some new restrictions? Apparently it did.

So what President Obama and his party now face isn’t just, or even mainly, an opposition grounded in right-wing populism. For grass-roots anger is being channeled and exploited by Justify Fullcorporate interests, which will be the big winners if the G.O.P. does well in November.

twenty two reasons american working people hate the state

Globalresearch | The state in its multiple activities, whether in law enforcement, military recruitment, tax and expenditure polices, environmental, pension and retirement legislation and administration, systematically favors the upper class and corporate elite against wage, salaried and small business people.

The state is permissive with the rich and repressive of the working and salaried employees, defending the privileges of the corporations and the impunity of the police state while infringing on the individual freedoms of the working people.

State policies increasingly extract more from the workers in terms of tax revenues and provide less in social payments, while lessening tax payments from Wall Street and inflating state transfers.

Popular perceptions of a hostile and exploitative state correspond to their everyday practical experiences; their anti-state behavior is selective and rational; most wage and salaried workers support social security and unemployment benefits and oppose higher taxes because they know or intuit that they are unfair.

Liberal academics and experts who claim workers are “irrational” are themselves practioners of highly selective criticisms – pointing to (shrinking) state social benefits while ignoring the unjust, inequitable tax system and the biased behavior of the judicial, law enforcement, legislative and regulatory system.

State personnel, policy makers and enforcement officials are attentive to and responsive and deferential to the rich and hostile and indifferent or arrogant toward workers.

In summary the real issue is not that people are anti-state, but that the state is anti the majority of the people. In the face of the economic crises and prolonged imperial wars, the state becomes more brazenly aggressive in slashing living standards in order to channel record levels of public funds toward Wall Street speculators and the military industrial complex.

While liberal-progressives’ remain embedded in ‘neo-keynsian’ statest ideology, outmoded in the face of a state thoroughly embedded in corporate networks, the New Right’s “anti-statest” rhetoric resonates with the feelings, experiences and reasoning of important sectors of wage and salaried workers and small businesspeople.

The attempt by liberals and progressives to discredit this popular revolt against the state, by pointing to the corporate financing and rightwing manipulation behind the anti-statist movement is doomed to failure, because it fails to deal with the profound injustices experienced by working people today in their daily dealings with a state, largely administered by liberal corporate-militarists. The absence of an anti-statist left has opened the door for the rise of a mass based ‘New Right’.

A ‘new left’will emerge from civil society when it recognizes the pernicious exploitative role of the state, and is capable of dealing with the powerful ties between liberalism-militarism-corporate “welfarism”. The revival and expansion of the debilitated public welfare programs for working people can only take place by dismantling the current state apparatus, and that depends on a complete break with both corporate parties and an agenda that ‘revolutionizes’ the way in which politics works in America.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

the western way of life threatens the western way of life

Video - Jean Tinguely's art spoofs industrialization.

Globalresearch | The Age of Enlightenment was born sometime around the beginning of the eighteenth century. A mere three-quarters of a century later, industrialization ushered in the Age of Endarkenment, and human life has grown more and more perilous ever since. The Golden Age of capitalism cannot be recreated merely by applying the right mixture of spending, subsidies, re-regulation, and international agreements. Because the economic advantages of industrialization rely on overproduction and profit, balanced trade is impossible if the advantage is to be preserved; it entails no economic profit. Industrialism is a Hegelian synthesis which embodies the forces for its own destruction. The greatest threat to the Western Way of Life is the Western Way of Life itself.

Time-tested and effective ways of analyzing problems have been known for centuries. Rene Descartes published his Rules for the Direction of the Mind around 1627 and the Discourse on Method in 1637. John Stuart Mill published his Methods in his System of Logic in 1843. The mathematical method known as reductio ad absurdum has been employed throughout the history of mathematics and philosophy from classical antiquity onwards, as has the method known as counterexample. And root cause analysis is a highly developed method often used in information science and other places. Oddly enough, however, even most well educated Americans seem to be unaware of any of these analytical techniques, and when attempts are made to analyze ideas, these attempts are rarely carried out logically or all the way to their ultimate ends. Americans rarely "follow the argument wherever it leads;" even those good at analysis often stop when they come across something that looks appealing.

John B. Judis recently published a piece in the New Republic in which he summarized some claims made by Robert Brenner, a UCLA economic historian. Judis writes:
"Brenner’s analysis of the current downturn can be boiled down to a fairly simple point: that the underlying cause of the current downturn lies in the “real” economy of private goods and service production rather than in the financial sector, and that the current remedies—from government spending and tax cuts to financial regulation—will not lead to the kind of robust growth and employment that the United States enjoyed after World War II and fleetingly in the late 1990s. These remedies won’t succeed because they won’t get at what has caused the slowdown in the real economy: global overcapacity in tradeable (sic) goods production. Global overcapacity means that the world’s industries are capable of producing far more steel, shoes, cell phones, computer chips, and automobiles (among other things) than the world’s consumers are able and willing to consume."
Why this is worth mentioning is difficult to fathom. Overproduction has always been associated with economic busts, and such busts have happened with such regularity that economists have even incorporated them into theory by euphemistically calling booms and busts the "business cycle." The question that must be asked is, "What causes overproduction?" And the answer is industrialization.

The Industrial Revolution began in England around 1780. It transformed England from a manual labour and draft-animal economy into a machine-based one. But this change in the primary mode of economic activity was not merely economic; it changed the entire culture, not clearly for the better. Almost every aspect of life was changed in some way.

blow up the well to save the gulf?

Video - Account of soviet era nuclear well capping.

NYTimes | TONY HAYWARD, the chief executive of BP, made an astounding admission before Congress last week: after nearly two months of failure, the company and the Coast Guard have no further plans to plug the Macondo oil well leaking into the Gulf. Instead, the goal is merely to contain the leak until a relief well comes online, a process that could take months.

With tens of thousands of barrels of oil leaking from the well each day, this absence of a backup plan highlights a lack of leadership, resources and expertise on the part of the Coast Guard, which from the beginning was compelled to give BP complete control over the leaking wellhead.

Instead, President Obama needs to create a new command structure that places responsibility for plugging the leak with the Navy, the only organization in the world that can muster the necessary team. Then the Navy needs to demolish the well.

The Coast Guard, of course, should continue to play a role. But it should focus on what it can do well, like containing the oil already in the Gulf and protecting the coast with oil booms and skimmers. It should also use this crisis to establish permanent collaborations with other maritime forces around the globe, particularly those that can get to a disaster area quickly.

But control of the well itself should fall to the Navy — it alone has the resources to stop the flow. For starters, the Office of Naval Research controls numerous vehicles like Alvin, the famed submersible used to locate the Titanic. Had such submersibles been deployed earlier, we could have gotten real-time information about the wellhead, instead of waiting for BP to release critical details.

The Navy also commands explosives experts who have vast knowledge of underwater demolitions. And it has some of the world’s finest underwater engineers at Naval Reactors, the secretive program that is responsible for designing nuclear reactors for nuclear submarines. With the help of scientists in our national weapons laboratories and experts from private companies, these engineers can be let loose on the well.

To allay any concerns over militarizing the crisis, the Navy and Coast Guard should be placed in a task-force structure alongside a corps of experts, including independent oil engineers, drilling experts with dedicated equipment, geologists, energy analysts and environmentalists, who could provide pragmatic options for emergency action.

With this new structure in place, the Navy could focus on stopping the leak with a conventional demolition. This means more than simply “blowing it up”: it means drilling a hole parallel to the leaking well and lowering charges to form an explosive column.

Upon detonating several tons of explosives, a pressure wave of hundreds of thousands of pounds per square inch would spread outward in the same way that light spreads from a tubular fluorescent bulb, evenly and far. Such a sidelong explosion would implode the oil well upstream of the leak by crushing it under a layer of impermeable rock, much as stepping on a garden hose stops the stream of water.

deepwater horizons plot thickens...,

Video - CNN interview preview with Tyrone Benton.

Monday, June 21, 2010

what ankara knows

Video - Gratuitous panorama of the Blue Mosque in Instanbul.

Counterpunch | Democracy in Turkey has never been as healthy and meaningful as it is today. Turkey has also eased its chase of the proverbial dangling carrot, of EU membership, especially considering the arrogant attitude of some EU members who perceive Turkey as too large and too Muslim to be trusted. Turkey needed new platforms, new options and a more diverse strategy.

But that is where many analysts went wrong. Turkey’s popular government has not entered the Middle Eastern political foray to pick fights. On the contrary, the Turkish government has for years been trying to get involved as a peacemaker, a mediator between various parties. So, yes, Turkey’s political shift was largely strategic, but it was not ill-intentioned.

The uninvited Turkish involvement, however, is highly irritating to Israel. Turkey’s approach to its new role grew agitating to Israel when the role wasn’t confined to being that of the host — in indirect talks between Syria and Israel, for example. Instead, Turkey began to take increasingly solid and determined political stances. Thus the Davos episode.

By participating at such a high capacity in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, with firm intentions of breaking the siege, Turkey was escalating its involvement well beyond Israel’s comfort zone. Therefore, Israel needed a decisive response that would send a message to Turkey — and any daring other — about crossing the line of what is and is not acceptable. It’s ironic how the neoconservatives’ “A Clean Break” envisaged an Israeli violation of the political and geographic boundaries of its neighbors, with the help of Turkey. Yet, 14 years later, it was Turkey, with representatives from 32 other countries, which came with a peaceful armada to breach what Israel perceived as its own political domain.

The Israeli response, as bloody as it was, can only be understood within this larger context. Erdogan’s statements and the popular support his government enjoys show that Turkey has decided to take on the Israeli challenge. The US government was exposed as ineffectual and hostage to the failing Israeli agenda in the region, thanks to the lobby. Ironically it is now the neoconservatives who are leading the charge against Turkey, the very country they had hoped would become Israel’s willing ally in its apocalyptic vision.

lying language of power..,

Independent | Here's another piece of media cowardice that makes my 63-year-old teeth grind together after 34 years of eating humus and tahina in the Middle East. We are told, in many analysis features, that what we have to deal with in the Middle East are "competing narratives". How very cosy. There's no justice, no injustice, just a couple of people who tell different history stories. "Competing narratives" now regularly pop up in the British press.

The phrase, from the false language of anthropology, deletes the possibility that one group of people – in the Middle East, for example – is occupied, while another is doing the occupying. Again, no justice, no injustice, no oppression or oppressing, just some friendly "competing narratives", a football match, if you like, a level playing field because the two sides are – are they not? – "in competition". And two sides have to be given equal time in every story.

So an "occupation" becomes a "dispute". Thus a "wall" becomes a "fence" or "security barrier". Thus Israeli acts of colonisation of Arab land, contrary to all international law, become "settlements" or "outposts" or "Jewish neighbourhoods". It was Colin Powell, in his starring, powerless appearance as Secretary of State to George W Bush, who told US diplomats to refer to occupied Palestinian land as "disputed land" – and that was good enough for most of the US media. There are no "competing narratives", of course, between the US military and the Taliban. When there are, you'll know the West has lost.

But I'll give you an example of how "competing narratives" come undone. In April, I gave a lecture in Toronto to mark the 95th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the deliberate mass murder of 1.5 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Turkish army and militia. Before my talk, I was interviewed on Canadian Television, CTV, which also owns Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper. And from the start, I could see that the interviewer had a problem. Canada has a large Armenian community. But Toronto also has a large Turkish community. And the Turks, as the Globe and Mail always tell us, "hotly dispute" that this was a genocide.

So the interviewer called the genocide "deadly massacres". Of course, I spotted her specific problem straight away. She couldn't call the massacres a "genocide", because the Turkish community would be outraged. But she sensed that "massacres" on its own – especially with the gruesome studio background photographs of dead Armenians – was not quite up to defining a million and a half murdered human beings. Hence the "deadly massacres". How odd! If there are "deadly" massacres, are there some massacres which are not "deadly", from which the victims walk away alive? It was a ludicrous tautology.

Yet the use of the language of power – of its beacon words and its beacon phrases – goes on among us still. How many times have I heard Western reporters talking about "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan? They are referring, of course, to the various Arab groups supposedly helping the Taliban. We heard the same story from Iraq. Saudis, Jordanians, Palestinian, Chechen fighters, of course. The generals called them "foreign fighters". Immediately, we Western reporters did the same. Calling them "foreign fighters" meant they were an invading force. But not once – ever – have I heard a mainstream Western television station refer to the fact that there are at least 150,000 "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan, and that all of them happen to be wearing American, British and other NATO uniforms. It is "we" who are the real "foreign fighters".

Sunday, June 20, 2010

gulf oil spill a hole in the world

Video - Naomi Klein visits the gulf coast with the crew from Fault Lines.

Guardian | How long will it take for an ecosystem this ravaged to be "restored and made whole" as Obama's interior secretary has pledged to do? It's not at all clear that such a thing is remotely possible, at least not in a time frame we can easily wrap our heads around. The Alaskan fisheries have yet to fully recover from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and some species of fish never returned. Government scientists now estimate that as much as a Valdez-worth of oil may be entering the Gulf coastal waters every four days. An even worse prognosis emerges from the 1991 Gulf war spill, when an estimated 11m barrels of oil were dumped into the Persian Gulf – the largest spill ever. That oil entered the marshland and stayed there, burrowing deeper and deeper thanks to holes dug by crabs. It's not a perfect comparison, since so little clean-up was done, but according to a study conducted 12 years after the disaster, nearly 90% of the impacted muddy salt marshes and mangroves were still profoundly damaged.

We do know this. Far from being "made whole," the Gulf coast, more than likely, will be diminished. Its rich waters and crowded skies will be less alive than they are today. The physical space many communities occupy on the map will also shrink, thanks to erosion. And the coast's legendary culture will contract and wither. The fishing families up and down the coast do not just gather food, after all. They hold up an intricate network that includes family tradition, cuisine, music, art and endangered languages – much like the roots of grass holding up the land in the marsh. Without fishing, these unique cultures lose their root system, the very ground on which they stand. (BP, for its part, is well aware of the limits of recovery. The company's Gulf of Mexico regional oil spill response plan specifically instructs officials not to make "promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal". Which is no doubt why its officials consistently favour folksy terms like "make it right".)

If Katrina pulled back the curtain on the reality of racism in America, the BP disaster pulls back the curtain on something far more hidden: how little control even the most ingenious among us have over the awesome, intricately interconnected natural forces with which we so casually meddle. BP cannot plug the hole in the Earth that it made. Obama cannot order fish species to survive, or brown pelicans not to go extinct (no matter whose ass he kicks). No amount of money – not BP's recently pledged $20bn (£13.5bn), not $100bn – can replace a culture that has lost its roots. And while our politicians and corporate leaders have yet to come to terms with these humbling truths, the people whose air, water and livelihoods have been contaminated are losing their illusions fast.

"Everything is dying," a woman said as the town hall meeting was finally coming to a close. "How can you honestly tell us that our Gulf is resilient and will bounce back? Because not one of you up here has a hint as to what is going to happen to our Gulf. You sit up here with a straight face and act like you know when you don't know."

This Gulf coast crisis is about many things – corruption, deregulation, the addiction to fossil fuels. But underneath it all, it's about this: our culture's excruciatingly dangerous claim to have such complete understanding and command over nature that we can radically manipulate and re-engineer it with minimal risk to the natural systems that sustain us. But as the BP disaster has revealed, nature is always more unpredictable than the most sophisticated mathematical and geological models imagine. During Thursday's congressional testimony, Hayward said: "The best minds and the deepest expertise are being brought to bear" on the crisis, and that, "with the possible exception of the space programme in the 1960s, it is difficult to imagine the gathering of a larger, more technically proficient team in one place in peacetime." And yet, in the face of what the geologist Jill Schneiderman has described as "Pandora's well", they are like the men at the front of that gymnasium: they act like they know, but they don't know.