The war on Syria

The Syrian conflict has created the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes.

I just watched the documentary Salam neighbor about Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Za’atari camp.  The documentary is part of a campaign,  SalamNeighbor.org, to help Syrian refugees. While the people making the documentary, Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, seem to be genuinely moved by a humanitarian interest in the refugees, the underlying premise, that out of thin air one day the Syrian Government decided to rain hell on their own people is unsettling. The war on Syria is neither madness of her own government, nor a natural disaster that cannot be stopped. It is manufactured mayhem explicitly engineered to destroy Syria.

I have been following the war on Syria since 2012. The experience has made me aware of how difficult it is to get unbiased information about World affairs. Despite uncontroversial and widely available evidence that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United States, Turkey, Israel are financing and logistically supporting the war against Syria, the crisis is portrayed in the Media as a civil war provoked and fueled by the Syrian government. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has reported that Israeli authorities have provided significant amounts of cash, food, fuel and medical supplies to Sunni rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s government.

In 2012, while the Media was reporting violent Syrian government repression of peaceful demonstrations, Syrians themselves were witnessing armed insurrection. One morning in August 2012, renowned Syrian photographer Issa Touma saw young men lugging sandbags into his street. It turned out to be the start of the Syrian uprising in the city of Aleppo. Touma grabbed his camera and spent nine days holed up in his apartment, recording what was happening outside.

A YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates in 2012, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – . The key finding was that, 55% of Syrians wanted Assad to stay.

Presidential elections were held in Syria on 3 June 2014. It was the first multi-candidate election in decades since the Ba’ath party came to power in a coup. In late April 2014, Bashar al-Assad announced he would run for a third term in Syria’s first multi-candidate direct presidential election.

As a result of the ongoing Syrian Civil War since March 2011, Syria has the largest refugee population in the world, and voting for refugees in certain foreign countries began at Syrian embassies several days before voting took place in Syria itself. Domestic and foreign-based Syrian opposition groups boycotted the election, and the vote did not take place in large parts of Syria under rebel control. The areas under Kurdish militia control also did not allow voting due to the refusal of the government to recognize their regional autonomy, though some people still traveled to the government–controlled areas to vote.

Some rebel groups vowed to disrupt the elections in any way possible, including bombing and shelling polling stations and government-controlled areas. Another statement, issued by the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union, the Sham Corps, the Army of Mujahedeen, and the Islamic Front, said they would not target voters but warned people to stay at home in case the Syrian government did”. There were 50 reported deaths from the shelling by the rebels.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected in a landslide. Syria’s parliament speaker, Jihad Lahan, announced the results, saying Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7%. Laham said Assad’s two challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3% and 3.2% respectively. The Syrian supreme constitutional court put turnout at 73.42%.

While the anti-Assad position of the Media is almost universal, there are a few dissenting voices. Canadian independent journalist Eva Bartlett became well recognized after a press conference at the United Nations during which she debunked the information provided by the major western media about the war in Syria and the sources on which they rely. Bartlett and the controversy about the White Helmets is an example of how difficult is to find unbiased information about the Syrian crisis. While there is ample support for the White Helmets, there is an Oscar-winning documentary about them, and any criticism is dismissed as propaganda, there is video footage that undermine those claims.

Among the reports I find most compelling, are those of the catholic church, in particular the testimony of  sister Maria Guadalupe Rodrigo. Sr. Guadalupe has been a missionary in the Middle East for nearly 20 years. During her time in the community of Aleppo, violent conflicts, which were especially anti-Christian, broke out in Syria. In an interview, she joyfully explains the change that the Christian community experienced due to this religious persecution; from more or less lukewarm Christians, they’ve awoken to the reality of their faith and the real possibility of martyrdom. Now, in the Western world, Sr. Guadalupe longs for the joy and passion for the Gospel, which is so alive in the persecuted Church.

While refugees must be protected and helped, it is better if there were no refugees in the first place. I live in a country with a corrupt ineffective government that once in a while commits atrocities, but under no circumstances I want foreign powers to come and destroy my country to liberate me. The billions spend in the destruction of Syria could be used to build a better world for everybody. Why not?

Advertisements
Posted in Security, zeitgeist | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A conversation about gun control

More firearms do not keep people safe, hard numbers show.

One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle which delivers a devastatingly lethal, high-velocity bullet to the victim.

Until 2008, no federal court had ever recognized an individual constitutional right to own a firearm. If anyone imagined that the Constitution protected a right to use violence to overthrow the government, that idea was put to rest in 1794, when George Washington marched an army across Pennsylvania to squash citizens’ “Second Amendment remedies.”

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants:

Thomas Jefferson.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

(Second Amendment to the Constitution.)

Continue reading

Posted in culture, Security, zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Climate change impacts in Mexico

Natural, economic, and social conditions make Mexico highly vulnerable to hurricanes.  Climate change will increase the intensity of droughts and hurricanes. Exacerbating inequities in employment, health, and access to food.

Climate models suggest that global warming could bring warmer, drier conditions to Mexico. Although precipitation increases are projected by some models, in most cases they do not compensate for increases in potential evaporation. Thus, soil moisture and water availability may decrease over much of Mexico with serious consequences for rainfed and irrigated agriculture, urban and industrial water supplies, hydropower and ecosystems.

The number of people moving from Mexico to the United States has dropped sharply over the past decade. But researchers say a new force could drive more people across the U.S.-Mexico border in the coming decades: climate change.

Several studies have singled out climate change as a potentially significant driver of future U.S.-Mexico migration.

It’s hard to say how many people could be pushed across the U.S.-Mexico border by climate change, in part because there’s been relatively little research on the subject so far.

A 2010 study co-authored by Oppenheimer found that up to 6.7 million people could come to the United States from Mexico because of global warming by 2080. A study last year from researchers at the University of California Davis projected just 41,000 additional immigrants over the next 50 years because of climate change.

One study predicts that 10 percent of Mexicans ages 15 to 65 could eventually try to emigrate north because of rising temperatures, drought and floods, potentially scattering millions of people and heightening already extreme political tensions over immigration.

Mexico has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 22% below baseline in 2030, equivalent to a 9% increase in emissions above 2010 levels.  Mexico will not meet either its 2020 or 2030 emissions targets, but there is at least a discourse of caring.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2017/12/28/how-climate-change-could-drive-immigration-united-states-mexico/948358001/

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/17/world/americas/mexico-city-sinking.html

http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/resources/res_pdfs/ga-64/cc-inputs/Mexico_CCIS.pdf

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/095937809190002B

http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/mexico.html

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-canada-and-mexico-create-new-climate-change-partnership/

Posted in Economy, History, Γαῖα, México, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sanitation courses in Coursera

The courses of the series “Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development” are :

Posted in Γαῖα, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

what to do?

I am a 60-years-old middle-class Mexican. My extended family has lived in northern Mexico and Texas for more than a century. I do not think that myself or my relatives, parents, uncles, aunts, etc, have specific awareness of climate change, in part because the weather here is erratic. There was a drought spell that lasted almost a decade (http://wp.iwaponline.com/content/ppiwawaterpol/18/S2/107.full.pdf ), and it didn’t rain once like in seven years. Now, the last few years, it has rained a lot, record breaking unprecedented rain (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/29/16221542/hurricane-harvey-rainfall-record-houston, http://abcnews.go.com/US/harvey-shatters-us-rainfall-record-tropical-system-national/story?id=49491827) The drought and excessive rain  just the extremes of an erratic weather pattern.

When I was a kid, concern for the environment, whales, and polar bears, was an issue for hippies and well-to-do idle socialites. I cannot recall a specific incident where I became aware of the severity and relevance of global resource depletion and anthropogenic climate forcing. I took a MOOC on the planetary boundaries framework of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html) that raised my awareness.  Around that time I also took a Coursera MOOC on sustainability (https://www.coursera.org/learn/sustainability) by Dr. Jonathan Tomkin, Associate Director of the School of Earth, Society and Environment. The course was very interesting, with lots of information. However, I was surprised that a large fraction of the participant were science deniers, and the instructor, despite the evidence presented by himself, was a believer in infinite growth based on the infinite capacity of technology to solve problems and of capitalism to efficiently drive markets. Concern for the environment was framed as “tragedy of the commons,” that can only be solved by private ownership of all available resources, including air and water.

So, I decided to try to participate into climate research because I considered it to be the most important issue of all human history. I applied to graduate schools and I was accepted in the department of Physics at Baylor. It was a shock for me to find out that people highly trained in science and technology were among the more reticent climate change deniers I have ever encountered. I realized that solving the problems of social and economic growth is not a technical issue but a social one.

I have found many talented and committed people doing their outmost  to help, or at least minimize the damage (https://silviadiblasio.ca/2013/12/20/climate-change-is-a-crime-the-art-of-fooling-ourselves/). Myself I have a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/paxterrarum/). However, to be honest I do not know what to do beyond the sensible moves of being energy efficient, eat as little meat as possible, and trim my waste. For example, my sister asked me what to do, I told her to eat less meat, and the same day she invited me to a barbecue, a typical social activity in our community. I talk with my brothers about trimming waste, but we use disposable plates when we have a family gathering because it is convenient, and everybody is busy. I rarely use the public transportation system because it is unsafe, inefficient, hard to access, and not appropriate to move my elderly mother.

The information provided by the #ClimateCourse (https://www.oncampus.de/course/weiterbildung/moocs/climate-change-risks-and-challenges ) is useful but still there is much to do in the practice of everyday living. It is not enough to know, we all need to walk the walk.

Monterrey México, where I live, is the hometown of the largest manufacturer of Portland cement, Cemex. Monterrey has paid the price of that honor with the lost of the commons of the air. Cement production generates NOx and SO2, two key pollutants emitted from cement plants, which have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze.  Mercury is also a problem. The pollutants are converted in the air into fine particles of particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and premature death.  Reducing these harmful air pollutants will benefit the communities located near the Cemex plants, in Monterrey, and worldwide.

Air pollution is a mayor public health issue. Air pollution in the metropolitan area of ​​Monterrey is costing the government and individuals between four and eight billion dollars a year, an amount that results from the sum of the costs of health care and low of productivity, mainly due to work absenteeism due to pollution.

Atmospheric pollutants come, from the industry, transportation, and natural sources, such as soil erosion, among others. Determining the relative contribution of the different sources in the emission of the different pollutants is difficult. Some pollutants are formed in the atmosphere by chemical reactions.  Among the most common air pollutants and their effects are: carbon monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), and nitrogen oxides (Nox).

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) aggravates pulmonary diseases and increases the susceptibility to respiratory infection. Another pollutant, sulfur dioxide (SO2) aggravates asthma and hinders breathing.  Air pollution is also constituted by acidification, which involves chemical reactions that involve air pollutants and create acid compounds that damage vegetation and buildings.

There are some regulations intended to control air contamination but the bigger problem with pollution control efforts lies with governmental institutions and how private interests can successfully subvert the intention of environmental rules. Outright corruption and the need to keep the economy going hinders the enforcement of clean air laws.

Mexican society is heavily stratified, and we lack solidarity and civic consciousness. Some of the people in my social circle do not acknowledge that there is a problem, and even claim that there is no pollution problem at all. On the other hand, there are isolated individuals and groups that try to promote regulations and self-control. People publish in their social networks images of the contaminated air of ​​Monterrey, and they are vaguely aware of the true main sources like industries, the vehicles, lack of green areas, unpaved roads. What we lack is a successful model of social intervention at the individual level.

https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Cement-and-oil-companies-to-fund-air-pollution-11437353.php

https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2008/mercury-pollution-from-cement-kilns-double-previous-estimates

http://www.nytimes.com/1983/09/14/us/cross-border-pollution-vexes-us-and-mexico.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.aaqr.org/files/article/1154/2_AAQR-11-07-OA-0090_802-810.pdf

http://cienciauanl.uanl.mx/?p=5391

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/cement-manufacturer-cemex-reduce-harmful-air-pollution-five-plants-under-settlement-epa-and

https://theconversation.com/how-corruption-is-hurting-mexico-citys-efforts-to-tackle-air-pollution-57517

https://altavz.com/2017/01/27/contaminacion-en-monterrey-del-activismo-de-twitter-a-la-accion/

 

 

 

Posted in culture, Economy, Γαῖα, México, zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook media managemet

Since November 2016, Facebook  started to reengineer the News Feed, demoting content from news outlets in favor of activity from friends. It’s also started polling users on which sources they trust.

https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/22/16918456/facebook-democracy-civil-society-fake-news-hard-questions

Posted in culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A letter from jail

My feets is tired, but my soul is rested
Mother Pollard

Mother Pollard was one of the participants in the 1955–1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King Jr. recounted that after several weeks of walking to her destinations rather than take the bus, Mother Pollard was asked if she was tired, to which she replied, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” She was 72 years old. This quote is significant to me because it is the opposite of conformity, where one is comfortable but the soul is restless.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written by Dr. King when he was 34 years old in 1963. He was imprisoned for coordinating marches and sit-ins in Birmingham, Alabama, a means of non-violent resistance as a call for civil rights.
While King sat in his jail cell an ally smuggled in a newspaper, which contained a public statement by eight white clergymen condemning Dr. King’s work and his activist fight against racism. Dr. King began his famous letter in the margins of the paper, with a borrowed pencil, and continued writing on other scraps of paper until he had completed the letter.
Although being black in the USA remains a risk factor in the twenty-first century, a black person has a significant probability of being shot in a routine traffic stop, the civil rights movement led by King was successful in abolishing blatant segregation and it is a good model of social activism.
There are many instances of injustice and social disfunction, like Palestine and environmental degradation, that can benefit from social activism a la King.
Social unrest is a ferocious monster that sometimes is unleashed by external forces for nefarious purposes, the case of Syria comes to mind. The Birmingham clerics that wrote the appeal to the black community of Birmingham to withdraw support from the civil rights movement are the bad guys in this picture. But it must be acknowledged that street disturbances are more acceptable in faraway places than in one’s own backyard. The main problem today is not overt racism and such, but the subtle disdain of those King calls “white moderates.”
King´s recommendation for nonviolent activism is his four steps:
1. Collection of the facts to determine whether injustice is alive
2. Negotiation
3. Self-purification
4. Direct action
In today’s world the first two steps are problematic, particularly in the USA, where liberals and conservatives are now so polarized and see the world differently. Republicans and Democrats in America are living in different information environments. 60 percent of Republicans name Fox News as a source they trust to be reliable. After that, numbers plummeted. CNN and local news were tied at 4 percent each, and all others at 3 percent or less, The New York Times got 0 percent.
Democrats, by contrast, were spread out over multiple different sources. CNN was most trusted, at 21 percent. NPR was next, with 15 percent. From there the numbers flattened out quickly, showing 3-7 percent for a range of others, including the BBC (5 percent), New York Times (5 percent) and PBS News (4 percent).
Also, because formally the USA is an integrated and egalitarian country, it is not clear what to negotiate, or with whom.
Self-purification and direct action remain relevant, although difficult to concretize, concepts. We must first conquer ourselves, overcome our biases and moral limitations, do no harm, help whenever we can. This must be taken like AA suggests, one day at a time. This does not mean that one must look at Reality as unconnected isolated events that must be handled as they arise. We must be proactive in looking for and addressing the root-causes, and at the same time, work every day in seeing clearly and acting right.

Posted in America, culture, History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Acumen

One of the most remarkable events in human history occurred on a quiet Saturday in August 2012.

No one celebrated.

No one served witness.

No one received credit.

It’s unlikely this milestone would have taken place—at least not in the beautiful way it did— if not for the audacity and disobedience of a few stubborn dreamers.

In 1961, a mathematician, Michael Minovitch, joined NASA as an intern. After begging his boss for extra planetary data and time on NASA’s supercomputer, Michael ran simulations of an algorithm he wrote in his spare time that successfully cracked a 300-year-old maths mystery called the ‘3 Bodies Problem’ — a problem Sir Isaac Newton had failed to solve.

No one seemed to notice what Michael had done.

Instead of a celebration, he lost his allotted time on the computer.

Michael’s response?

He drew hundreds of graphs by hand using his groundbreaking algorithm to plot out possible flight trajectories through our solar system.

Still, no one cared.

Three years later, Gary Flandro, another intern, who was looking through Michael’s graphs, spotted what everyone else had overlooked. In 12 years, the solar system was going to align in such a way that a trip across it would be realistic using the technology of the time. If the window was missed, humanity would wait another 175 years.

Fast forward a bit.

NASA finally realizes what Michael had done and, with slight allowances made for storytelling, two things happened:

  1. NASA excitedly rushed to plan a “Grand Tour” across the solar system
  2. US Congress immediately responded by canceling a large portion of NASA’s funding. NASA retained just enough to visit two planets over five years—Jupiter & Saturn. No more.

However, NASA’s engineers decided they were not going to settle for two measly planets or five short years. Quietly and without permission, they kept planning their Grand Tour.

To realize their dream while on a budget, the spacecrafts that would become Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were allotted the total computational power equivalent to a modern-day car’s key fob and much of their protection was constructed out of store-bought aluminium foil.

Fast forward again.

We flew by moons, Saturn’s rings, a massive frozen ocean and a hurricane so large that you could fit multiple Earths inside of it. We saw lightning strikes the size of continents, active volcanoes, geysers, and came so close to Neptune’s cloud tops that scientists feared we may lose the spacecraft in the atmosphere.

Then, on that uncelebrated day in August 2012, Voyager 1, nearly 30 years past its “expiration date”, wrapped in store-bought aluminum foil, and flying on a trajectory hand-drawn by an ignored intern became the first human-made object to burst out of the bounds of our solar system and into interstellar space.

It’s a beautiful and unequivocally human story.

Don’t discard your remarkable ideas just because they are hand-drawn.

Don’t wait for permission, a round of applause or credit. They’re unlikely to come.

Do, however, keep pushing. Who knows how long humanity will need wait for another opportunity if you don’t start or choose to give up.

We’ve 4 classes starting in January to help you on your Journey:

Joshua Maddox
+Acumen

Posted in culture, zeitgeist | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Tyranny-Liberty Cycle of Government

Source: The Tyranny-Liberty Cycle of Government

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

LETTER TO AMERICA BY JANE HIRSHFIELD

Spell To Be Said Against Hatred

Until each breath refuses “they,” “those,” “them.”
Until the Dramatis Personae of the book’s first page says “Each one is you.”
Until hope bows to its hopelessness only as one self bows to another.
Until cruelty bends to its work and sees suddenly “I.”
Until anger and insult know themselves burnable legs of a useless chair.
Until the unsurprised unbidden knees find themselves nonetheless bending.
Until fear bows to its object as a bird’s shadow bows to its bird.
Until the ache of the solitude inside the hands, the ribs, the ankles.
Until the sound the mouse makes inside the mouth of the cat.
Until the inaudible acids bathing the coral.
Until what feels no one’s weighing is no longer weightless.
Until what feels no one’s earning is no longer taken.
Until grief, pity, confusion, laughter, longing see themselves mirrors.
Until by “we” we mean I, them, you, the muskrat, the tiger, the hunger.
Until by “I” we mean as a dog barks, sounding and vanishing and sounding and
vanishing completely.
Until by “until” we mean I, we, you, them, the muskrat, the tiger, the hunger,
the lonely barking of the dog before it is answered.

Posted in culture | Tagged , | Leave a comment