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Archive for Maio, 2012

HOW BAD IS IT?

By George Sciallaba

Daqui

Pretty bad. Here is a sample of factlets from surveys and studies conducted in the past twenty years. Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels. Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs; in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth. Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II. Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map. Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map. Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school. Only 6 percent now read even one book a year. According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television.

Among high-school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s, 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War. Sixty percent could not say how the United States came into existence. Fifty percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred. Sixty percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government. Sixty percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper.

Intellectual distinction isn’t everything, it’s true. But things are amiss in other areas as well: sociability and trust, for example. “During the last third of the twentieth century,” according to Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, “all forms of social capital fell off precipitously.” Tens of thousands of community groups – church social and charitable groups, union halls, civic clubs, bridge clubs, and yes, bowling leagues — disappeared; by Putnam’s estimate, one-third of our social infrastructure vanished in these years. Frequency of having friends to dinner dropped by 45 percent; card parties declined 50 percent; Americans’ declared readiness to make new friends declined by 30 percent. Belief that most other people could be trusted dropped from 77 percent to 37 percent. Over a five-year period in the 1990s, reported incidents of aggressive driving rose by 50 percent — admittedly an odd, but probably not an insignificant, indicator of declining social capital.

Still, even if American education is spotty and the social fabric is fraying, the fact that the U.S. is the world’s richest nation must surely make a great difference to our quality of life? Alas, no. As every literate person knows, economic inequality in the United States is off the charts – at third-world levels. The results were recently summarized by James Speth in Orion magazine. Of the 20 advanced democracies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. has the highest poverty rate, for both adults and children; the lowest rate of social mobility; the lowest score on UN indexes of child welfare and gender inequality; the highest ratio of health care expenditure to GDP, combined with the lowest life expectancy and the highest rates of infant mortality, mental illness, obesity, inability to afford health care, and personal bankruptcy resulting from medical expenses; the highest homicide rate; and the highest incarceration rate. Nor are the baneful effects of America’s social and economic order confined within our borders; among OECD nations the U.S. also has the highest carbon dioxide emissions, the highest per capita water consumption, the next-to-largest ecological footprint, the next-to-lowest score on the Yale Environmental Performance Index, the highest (by a colossal margin) per capita rate of military spending and arms sales, and the next-to-lowest rate of per capita spending on international development and humanitarian assistance.

Contemplating these dreary statistics, one might well conclude that the United States is — to a distressing extent — a nation of violent, intolerant, ignorant, superstitious, passive, shallow, boorish, selfish, unhealthy, unhappy people, addicted to flickering screens, incurious about other societies and cultures, unwilling or unable to assert or even comprehend their nominal political sovereignty. Or, more simply, that America is a failure.

That is indeed what Morris Berman concludes in his three-volume survey of America’s decline: The Twilight of American Culture (2000), Dark Ages America (2006), and Why America Failed (2011), from which much of the preceding information is taken. Berman is a cultural and intellectual historian, not a social scientist, so his portrait of American civilization, or barbarism, is anecdotal and atmospheric as well as statistical. He is eloquent about harder-to-quantify trends: the transformation of higher (even primary/secondary) education into marketing arenas for predatory corporations; the new form of educational merchandising known as “distance learning”; the colonization of civic and cultural spaces by corporate logos; the centrality of malls and shopping to our social life; the “systematic suppression of silence” and the fact that “there is barely an empty space in our culture not already carrying commercial messages.” Idiot deans, rancid rappers, endlessly chattering sports commentators, an avalanche of half-inch-deep self-help manuals; a plague of gadgets, a deluge of stimuli, an epidemic of rudeness, a desert of mutual indifference: the upshot is our daily immersion in a suffocating stream of kitsch, blather, stress, and sentimental banality. Berman colorfully and convincingly renders the relentless coarsening and dumbing down of everyday life in late (dare we hope?) American capitalism.

In Spenglerian fashion, Berman seeks the source of our civilization’s decline in its innermost principle, its animating Geist. What he finds at the bottom of our culture’s soul is … hustling; or, to use its respectable academic sobriquet, possessive individualism. Expansion, accumulation, economic growth: this is the ground bass of American history, like the hum of a dynamo in the basement beneath the polite twitterings on the upper stories about “liberty” and “a light unto the nations.” Berman scarcely mentions Marx or historical materialism; instead he offers a nonspecialist and accessible but deeply informed and amply documented review of American history, period by period, war by war, arguing persuasively that whatever the ideological superstructure, the driving energy behind policy and popular aspiration has been a ceaseless, soulless acquisitiveness.

(mais…)

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Michael Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, devotes much of his time these days to thinking about the intensifying competition for increasingly scarce natural resources. […] In an interview with Yale Environment 360 contributor Diane Toomey, Klare discussed China’s surging appetite for resources, the growing potential for political and military conflict as commodities become more scarce, and the disturbing trend of the planet’s agricultural land being bought by companies and governments seeking to ensure that their people will have enough food in the future. […]

Yale Environment 360: You make the point that when it comes to the age-old competition for raw materials, we’re in an unprecedented age. How so?

Michael Klare: I do believe that’s the case. Humans have been struggling to gain control of vital resources since the beginning of time, but I think we’re in a new era because we’re running out of places to go. Humans have constantly moved to new areas, to new continents, when they’ve run out of things in their home territory. But there aren’t any more new continents to go to. We’re going now to the last places left on earth that haven’t been exploited: the Arctic, the deep oceans, the inner jungles in Africa, Afghanistan. There are very few places left that haven’t been fully tapped, so this is humanity’s last chance to exploit the earth, and after this there’s nowhere else to go.

e360: Natural resource extraction has never been a pretty business when it comes to the environment, but you write that now that the era of easy oil, easy gas, easy minerals and other resources is basically over, and what’s left is in deep water, remote or inhospitable climates, or in geological formations that require extraordinary means to get at. So paint me a picture of what extracting these tough resources looks like.

Klare: We’re really going to be using very aggressive means of extraction, so the environmental consequences are going to be proportionally greater. For example, to get oil and natural gas out of shale rock, you can’t just drill and expect it to come out. It doesn’t work that way. You have to smash the rock, you have to produce fractures in the rock, and we use a very aggressive technology to do that — hydraulic fracturing — and the water is brought under tremendous pressure and it’s laced with toxic chemicals, and when the water is extracted from these wells it can’t be put back into the environment without risk of poisoning water supplies. So there’s a tremendous problem of storage, of toxic water supplies, and we really haven’t solved that problem.

And that’s just one example. Drilling in the Arctic presents a tremendous problem because the Arctic, by its very nature, is at the edge of survival and all the species there are living at the edge of survival, so any oil spill could push them over the edge into extinction. So [oil companies] must have on hand all kinds of extra capacity to deal with the possibility of spills, and that’s much more difficult to engineer than in the Gulf of Mexico, where there are tens of thousands of boats that you could hire on short notice to bring out skimmers and booms to contain a spill. There’s nothing like that in the Arctic. Moreover, if this were to happen in winter, there would be no way to move equipment up there to build a relief drill. Remember, it was a relief drill that closed the Deepwater Horizon spill, but you can’t do that in the middle of winter when the Arctic [Ocean] is covered with ice.

e360: Yet despite all that, there’s profits to be made.

Klare: There’s profits to be made, and this is particularly important to recognize — that this is attractive to the private international oil companies, like Shell, BP, and Exxon Mobil that are going into the Arctic, because they’ve been pushed out of the Middle East, Venezuela, and Russia by state-owned companies. So there are very few places where they can go and control the whole process of production, from beginning to end, and the Arctic is one of those few areas.

There’s more to it than just that. We’re really at a turning point and I think most people in this country and around the world understand that before too long we’re going to have to transition to other types of energy if we’re to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. But the big oil companies, they only know one business, which is producing oil and natural gas and selling it in their service stations. And so they’re determined to maintain their business model as long as possible and they’re resisting the transition to alternative fuels.

e360: North America has more than its share of so-called tough oil and gas. That includes the Alberta tar sands and the shale gas fields in the U.S. that are being fracked. As energy extraction heats up in North America, you’ve written that the U.S. is in danger of becoming “a third-world petro state.” What do you mean by that?

Klare: Consider what [happened] in the 1960s and 1970s when U.S. and European oil companies moved into countries like Nigeria and Angola. You had very low government oversight of oil company operations, little or no environmental protection, a lot of corruption, so it was easy to expatriate your profits. You didn’t have to worry about labor regulations or labor unions. But now those places in the so-called Third World are becoming much tougher. They’re either nationalizing their resources or enforcing their environmental regulations or labor laws. So it’s not as profitable as it once was.

Meanwhile, in the United States, there are these formations that were once inaccessible, shale rock in particular. But to gain access to these resources in the United States and Canada it will be necessary to roll back a lot of the environmental protections and the labor and tax laws that were imposed over the past 50 years. So the oil companies and the gas companies really want to turn this country back to what it was before environmentalism became an issue, and make it more like the way the Third World was in the 1950s and 60s, with very lax environmental oversight and labor concerns, so that they can use the very aggressive, environmentally hazardous techniques to extract oil and gas from these tough formations.

e360: What developments can you point to that indicate that the U.S. is on the road to this?

Klare: For example, when the Bush Administration was in office, and Congress was under control of Republicans, the 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted hydrofracking from the Clean Water Act so that oil and gas companies could use hydrofracking with toxic chemicals and were not covered by the protections that all other kinds of industrial activities in the United States are subject to.

e360: Talk about the China-African connection and how it fits into the race for what’s left.

Klare: China now is the fastest-growing world economy and it’s very manufacturing-oriented, and China is also building cities and infrastructure very rapidly. All of this is incredibly resource-intensive. They need everything: oil, natural gas, iron, copper, more exotic things for the electronics that they build, like chromium, lithium, and palladium. And eventually food, because they’re unable to produce all the food they need for their population. So one of the major tasks of the Chinese leadership is to scour the world for all the resources that they need to keep the Chinese economic machine growing, and this will only become a bigger problem the further you look into the future.

To give one example, until relatively recently, 1993, China was self-sufficient in oil production and was until very recently self-sufficient in coal. But now China has to import half of its petroleum and that will increase to three-quarters. It’s now importing coal. Now, Africa is one of those areas that the Chinese leadership sees as a prime source of raw materials, and they think they have an advantage there, because of the historic animosity of the former colonies towards the West. They come in and say, “We’re going to do things differently. We’re not going to plunder your resources the way the imperialists did. We’re going to do this in a more cooperative fashion, so turn to us, let us develop your resources, and we’ll help develop your country.” And they’re making a tremendous pitch to extract all of Africa’s resources.

(mais…)

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“Audry, the world is not gonna come to an end when there’s so many people making so much money.”  Hilariante.

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INAUGURADA CICLOVIA DA  A29

Foi ontem inaugurado na cidade Invicta o primeiro troço da futura Ciclovia do Litoral, que a partir de Janeiro do próximo ano unirá por duas rodas as duas principais cidades portuguesas, recuperando o traçado das antigas A29, A17 e A8. A cerimónia foi presidida pelo ministro da Energia e dos Transportes, Dr. Ling Chung, cujo discurso começou por enaltecer a “plêiade de estadistas visionários” que, antevendo a “presente crise energética”, tomaram a “feliz decisão estratégica de dotar atempadamente” o país com “as melhores estruturas cicloviárias da Europa”.

Ministro e comitiva à chegada ao Porto

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Manacá

 

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Mais aqui

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Hace veinte años que los Trenes de Alta Velocidad (TAV) comenzaron a extender su red de hierro sobre el territorio francés. En el coro de aprobación, organizada o espontánea se alzaron sin embargo las voces contrarias de pequeños grupos que expresaron sus reservas contra lo que ellos llamaban el “despotismo de la velocidad” (1).No formulaban objeciones de detalle, sino que atacaban con elocuencia a la sociedad que había producido la posibilidad, para ellos aberrante e inútil, de atravesar Francia entera en unas pocas horas. Evidentemente, para formular semejante juicio global, y globalmente negativo, sobre el modo de vida que ha hallado su expresión en el TAV, hace falta estar convencido de que es posible otro modo de vida muy distinto. A quien evoca tal posibilidad se le suele tildar de “utopista”, palabra que remite inmediatamente a los “socialistas utópicos”, el más célebre de los cuales sigue siendo Charles Fourier.
Este panfleto contra el TAV suscitó como réplica otro escrito, obra de un grupo de personas que también pretendían ser bastante críticas con la sociedad establecida en nombre de una concepción distinta de la vida en común. Y su concepción reivindicaba, esta vez abiertamente, la filiación utópica y la de Fourier en particular, saliendo en defensa del TAV, en el que veían cumplida una de las previsiones de Fourier sobre el glorioso futuro de una humanidad «armoniosa »: unos leones enormes y dóciles, los «anti-leones», según había anunciado Fourier, transportarían a los viajeros de una punta a la otra de Francia en apenas unas horas, e incluso de Montmartre a Esmirna en treinta y seis horas.
Estos utopistas contemporáneos no llegaron al extremo de recurrir al anti-león para justificar la manipulación genética o los cyborg, ni evocaron tampoco la transformación del mar en limonada, otra de las previsiones del utopista de Besançon. No obstante, esta polémica entre dos enfoques (que quizá no reconozcan la existencia de ningún terreno común) demuestra al menos que la «utopía» no siempre se encuentra de parte de la crítica del orden establecido, y que también puede servir para defenderlo.
La utopía suele evocar la idea de una sociedad radicalmente distinta a la actual, y por añadidura mucho mejor, lo que implica en sí mismo que la sociedad existente no es buena. Como es sabido, Marx y Engels pretendían haber superado el «utopismo», considerado como una etapa infantil del pensamiento socialista, y haberlo reemplazado por una concepción «científica». A lo largo de las últimas décadas y tras el naufragio del marxismo tradicional, en ocasiones hemos visto la reaparición de referencias positivas a la «utopía» por parte de la izquierda, como puede constatarse, por ejemplo, en el Dictionnaire de l’utopie publicado en el año 2002 (2). Sin embargo, lo más habitual es que la utopía tenga mala prensa, y tanto en el lenguaje cotidiano como en las discusiones públicas este término sirve ante todo para descalificar al adversario. En el mejor de los casos, se equipara a «soñar con cosas que quizás sean simpáticas pero que son imposibles», a «ser ingenuo, a carecer de sentido de la realidad». Con frecuencia se va más allá y se dice que el pensamiento utópico conduce directamente al terror. Se supone que a todo aquel que imagine una forma de existencia colectiva radicalmente distinta a la existente ha de tentarle acto seguido tratar de imponerla por la violencia incluso a quienes no la desean, y la resistencia que los hombres y la simple realidad oponen a aquellos que creen posible remodelarlos a corto plazo y de los pies a la cabeza provocaría una escalada del terror. Así pues, los crímenes estalinistas y maoístas se deberían esencialmente a la tentativa de hacer realidad unas utopías. Desde esta perspectiva, la «utopía» suele calificarse de «abstracta»: se trataría de construcciones puramente mentales, de filosofías concebidas en el vacío por gentes posiblemente dotadas de gran capacidad para la lógica pero con muy poca experiencia concreta de los hombres reales y del mundo tal cual es. La utopía se caracterizaría, pues, por no tener en cuenta la verdadera naturaleza del hombre y por la pretensión de mejorarlo a partir de una idea preconcebida de como debería ser. Así, el utopista creería saber mejor que los propios hombres lo que les conviene. Mientras sueñe despierto en su buhardilla (como Fourier) o en su prisión (como Campanella, el autor de La ciudad del Sol), el utopista todavía es inocente, pero cuando las circunstancias históricas le permiten intentar rehacer la realidad de acuerdo con sus ideas abstractas, la tragedia está garantizada. La violencia sería inmanente a la propia teoría utopista y a su desdén por los hombres reales y sus defectos; los esfuerzos sangrientos realizados para plasmar la teoría en la realidad no harían sino traducir en actos la violencia inherente a la perspectiva utópica. Este rechazo de la utopía presupone una antropología que se las da de desengañada, incluso de pesimista, pero a la vez de rigurosamente realista, y que se resume en la frase de Kant, «A partir de una madera tan retorcida como aquella de la que está hecho el hombre es dudoso que pueda tallarse nunca nada cabalmente recto», que el pensador liberal inglés Isaiah Berlin escogió como título para una de sus obras. Otros liberales, sobre todo ingleses, han situado el origen del totalitarismo utópico en Platón (Karl Popper) (3) o en los milenaristas medievales (Norman Cohn) (4).De eso se trata, claro: los principios mismos de la utopía serían totalitarios, y conducirían lógicamente a proclamaciones como la de los revolucionarios rusos («Obligaremos a los hombres a ser felices») y al intento de crear el «hombre nuevo», que produjeron una de las mayores catástrofes de la historia. Las vanguardias artísticas también participan de ese totalitarismo que se originó en la creencia de que había llegado la hora de rehacer el mundo, como afirman Jean Clair (5) y Boris Groys (6).Para este último, los vanguardistas rusos, lejos de ser víctimas de Stalin, fueron los precursores de la tendencia revolucionaria que considera el mundo como una arcilla moldeable, como una obra de arte completamente nueva concebida más allá de toda tradición, de todo sentido del límite y de todo sentido común.

Este pensamiento anti-utópico se erige en defensor de la  complejidad y de la ambigüedad constitutiva de la existencia humana frente a las abstracciones de la razón y los delirios de una imaginación calenturienta. Pretende proteger a la «naturaleza humana», inmutable o al menos refractaria a todo cambio rápido, de aquellos que se proponen reeducarla y corregirla.

(mais…)

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