Monday, September 30, 2019

The Climate Paradigm and Individualized Technologies of the Self

Margaret Renkl's op-ed in the New York Times offers an excellent list of actions everyday citizens can take to promote diverse life in their immediate environments:
Renkl, Margaret (2019, September 30). Three Billion Canaries in the Coal Mine: What does it mean for us that birds are dying? And what can we do about it? The New York Times. Available 
A new study in the journal Science reports that nearly 3 billion North American birds have disappeared since 1970. That’s 29 percent of all birds on this continent.
Renkl's list of citizen actions includes pressure on legislators, rejecting pesticides, herbicides, and single-use plastics, among other helpful technologies of the self aimed at saving the eco-system upon which we all depend.

I believe these individualized solutions can help mitigate eco-collapse by providing refuges of last resort.

However, they are not in themselves enough to forestall collapse when there exist hazards whose risks are so catastrophic that they outweigh the sum total of effects from individualized technologies of the self.

The world's biggest polluters are increasingly being defined exclusively in terms of CO2. 

There is something very strange about that when you consider how many billions of tons of pesticide, herbicides, and other toxic chemicals that are released into the eco-system globally.

For example, a scientific article published in 2009 estimated annual pesticide use alone at that time to be over one billion pounds annually (link):
Alavanja M. C. (2009). Introduction: pesticides use and exposure extensive worldwide. Reviews on environmental health, 24(4), 303–309.
Chemical pollution is deliberate and it is toxic. Yet, it has disappeared from the search results of the world's biggest pollutors.

I'm not saying chemical pollution is a larger or more pressing problem than climate change. I'm saying that chemical pollution is a well-established hazard to biological life and it is no longer recognized as one of the world's biggest pollution problems according to search results using a Google search.

Some pollutants are more visible than others.

And some polluters are more visible than others.

In the past, governments were often cast as the biggest polluters because of their toxic radioactive and chemical wastes, followed by corporations.

In climate change, everyone seems equally complicit, although, in fact, we are not if we measure complicity in terms of actual CO2 emissions.

Despite the centralization of the levers of pollution, we rarely read at all about some of the most toxic pollutants, especially radionuclides, resulting from weapons, medical waste, nuclear power and processing of rare earths.

Why is it that CO2 has become the only pollutant that matters?

I am not saying CO2 doesn't matter. Our built infrastructures and emissions are empirically impacting in dangerous and unpredicatable ways the eco-systems upon which we depend.

I am getting at is that there are sets of relationships, such as climate change and eco-collapse, that are more visible in search results and political discourse and other sets of relationships that are, in comparison, relatively marginalized, such as the deliberate and incidental contamination of life with toxic chemicals, radionuclides, and electro-magnetic radiation.

This set of observations lends itself to further interrogations about how hazardous material phenomena are selectively perceived and represented in mass mediated, political and cultural representations, thereby shaping policy priorities and social preferences.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Why is the New York Times Invoking the Imperial Presidency?

The problem of the Imperial Presidency pre-dates our current administration.  Arthur M. Schlesinger's (2004) The Imperial Presidency charted the centralization of power in the executive branch generally, and presidency specifically, over the 20th century.

In yesterday's New York Times, John Woo, one of the legal authors of the "torture memos" defended the imperial presidency in the name of "national security" in an op-ed:
Yoo, John (2019, September 24). Beware of Impeaching Trump. It Could Hurt the Presidency. The New York Times,

We must avoid doing long-term harm to the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy and protect our nation.

But we should beware that rushing into an impeachment may do long-term harm to the presidency and our national security.

There may be legal arguments against impeachment procedures, but national security is not valid among them.

National security has become the ultimate pass for power, as illustrated in past US administrations' approach to a 1 percent doctrine that legitimized US military sovereignty across the globe.

In 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney promoted his “1% Doctrine,” which in the name of national security legitimized pre-emptive action against foreign nations or peoples if there were even a 1% chance terrorists could attain “weapons of mass destruction” (“America’s Longest,” 2006, p. 22).

Precautionary risk governance entails tendencies toward drastic prevention. Whole populations become suspect leading to limitless surveillance and consolidated power.

Framed in this fashion, Woo's appeal to national security is not simply valorization of the imperial presidency but also an imperial US.

US military imperialism has produced an empire of disorder, as described by Alain Joxe, with a president who represents what happens when the empire's effects are experienced domestically as disenfranchizement.

The US Presidency has become a sign of its own incongruity.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Japanese Academics Shun Military Research - Not So Much American Academics

The Asahi Shimbun reports that many Japanese universities have shunned military research:
EDITORIAL: Academics must play no part in helping to develop weapons. (2019, September 21). The Asahi Shimbun
Many universities have reiterated their goal of having nothing to do with military research. In fact, there have been cases of universities withdrawing their applications after they were approved for funding.

Unfortunately, I can assure you that few US universities have such concerns. In fact, getting a DARPA early scholars award is regarded a PRIZED achievement in many universities.

And its not just the technocratic scholars who aspire to defense spending:
Cohen, P. (2008, June 18). Pentagon to Consult Academics on Security. The New York Times,

Eager to embrace eggheads and ideas, the Pentagon has started an ambitious and unusual program to recruit social scientists and direct the nation’s brainpower to combating security threats like the Chinese military, Iraq, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has compared the initiative — named Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom (and warriors) — to the government’s effort to pump up its intellectual capital during the cold war after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957.

Although the Pentagon regularly finances science and engineering research, systematic support for the social sciences and humanities has been rare. Minerva is the first systematic effort in this area since the Vietnam War, said Thomas G. Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, whose office will be overseeing the project.  
And then there is the sordid history of the American Psychological Association's DIRECT involvement in torture in the Middle East.
Greg Miller, “Inquiry: Psychologists group colluded with Pentagon, CIA on interrogations,” The Washington Post (July 10, 2015),

Leaders of the American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with officials at the Pentagon and CIA to weaken the association’s ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to take part in coercive interrogation programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a report released Friday.

The report contains the findings of an investigation led by a former federal prosecutor and appears to represent the most detailed examination to date of the complicity of psychologists in interrogation programs that at times relied on torture.

The probe concluded that the association’s ethics director and others had “colluded with important [Department of Defense] officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain” the Pentagon in its interrogation of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The association’s “principal motive in doing so was to align APA and curry favor with DOD.”

The investigation also found that “current and former APA officials had very substantial interactions with the CIA in the 2001 to 2004 time period” when the agency was using waterboarding and other brutal measures to extract information from detainees.

Why should ethics and morality stand in the way of a big grant?

I must admit that the honest truth is that most American scholars I know are pacifists and believe in non-violent solutions to conflict but unfortunately these are the ones that are being villified in right wing attacks against "liberal" academics.

Friday, September 20, 2019

On “the Most Pleasant and Successful Anarchy”

Snowden, E. (2019, Sep 18). Exclusive: Edward Snowden’s First Adventures in Cyberspace. The Nation

Excerpted discussion by Snowden of the 1990s-era Internet: “Computer-science professors and systems engineers, moonlighting English majors and basement-dwelling armchair political economists were all only too happy to share their research and convictions—not for any financial reward, but merely to win converts to their cause. And whether that cause was PC or Mac, macrobiotic diets or the abolition of the death penalty, I was interested. I was interested because they were enthused.

As the millennium approached, the online world would become increasingly centralized and consolidated, with both governments and businesses accelerating their attempts to intervene in what had always been a fundamentally peer-to-peer relationship. But for one brief and beautiful stretch of time—a stretch that, fortunately for me, coincided almost exactly with my adolescence—the Internet was mostly made of, by, and for the people. Its purpose was to enlighten, not to monetize, and it was administered more by a provisional cluster of perpetually shifting collective norms than by exploitative, globally enforceable terms-of-service agreements. To this day, I consider the 1990s online to have been the most pleasant and successful anarchy I’ve ever experienced.”

I am reminded of the early days of Enenews. These days algorithmic censorship has shut down that anarchy, although the darkness simply retreats further into the dark web.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Executive Culpability and Lessons Learned

TEPCO officials are not being held culpable for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster:
Osumi, M. (2019, September 19). Former Tepco executives found not guilty of criminal negligence in Fukushima nuclear disaster. Japan Times,
I have documented through my research and advocacy that the Fukushima Daiichi was indeed human-engineered, echoing the conclusion of the independent Diet report on the causes of the disaster.

Still, I believe that "lessons learned" are more important in affecting change than "punishment." The problem is that there are no lessons learned for the nuclear industry globally and, especially, in the US.

For example, US nuclear power plants remain at risk from flooding

And the US nuclear industry is pushing for less regulation, as covered by Common Dreams and The Los Angeles Times

A US Fukushima is just a matter of time.

Meanwhile, TEPCO announces contaminated water stored at site will be dumped into ocean, despite remaining contaminated:
Yusuke Ogawa, Hiroshi Ishizuka, Noriyoshi Ohtsuki, and Chikako Kawahara (2018, September 29). Treated water at Fukushima plant far too unsafe to be dumped soon THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Some of the "processed" water showed concentrations of radioactive materials at more than about 20,000 times the standard used to determine if the water is safe enough to discharge into the ocean.

TEPCO has been treating the water with a device known as ALPS, or advanced liquid processing system. Water is accumulating at a rate of between 50,000 and 80,000 tons a year.  The latest study covered about 890,000 tons of the 940,000 tons of water that has gone through ALPS and is stored on-site.
Tests showed that strontium 90 was present in some tanks at levels of about 600,000 becquerels per liter of water, which is about 20,000 times the safety standard.