My World of “Ought to Be”
by Timothy Wilken, MD

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Monday, September 30, 2002

Deja Vu: Humanity in Reverse

Reason Wilken writes: At some point in our lives, most of us have wished that we could do things again. If we could just go back to childhood for a ‘do-over’, what would we change? If given a second chance, we might have made different (and perhaps better) choices with regard to our lifestyles and goals. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and life would certainly have been easier if we could have known the consequences of our actions beforehand. Daniel Quinn’s latest novel “The Man Who Grew Young” indulges this fantasy. It is the story of a world that is getting younger (and surprisingly, wiser) with every passing day, and of the man that got to do it all again. The book is written in comic-book style, and reads more like a script than a novel. In fact, it is a script—if one were to make a movie about the evolution of humanity and than press the “rewind” button. Our protagonist is Adam Taylor, who has been selected (unbenounced to him) as “the one who sees with his own eyes the beginning and end of his own kind”. The story opens at the gravesite of Adam’s late wife Claire, but something odd is happening. Instead of lowering the casket into the grave, it is being raised up. This is not a funeral but a “wake”in the most literal sense. (09/30/02)


Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Michael N. Nagler writes: When Israeli tanks rolled into Ramallah during “Operation Defensive Shield” last April, they met with a surprise: international volunteers had somehow gotten into the city and walked blithely past them, ignoring threats backed by gunshots fired over their heads, to enter the building where besieged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was trapped, thus discouraging further military action against him. This was an unusual event in the history of modern warfare. The press noticed. For a while, “human shields” made daily headlines: “Both television and newspapers [gave] a heroine’s welcome to Sophia Deeg, a 50-year-old Munich teacher who acted as a human shield for Arafat at his Ramallah compound,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle on May 2. For a moment, the media gave a glimpse of a radical possibility: a different kind of force, a nonviolent army that could constitute an entirely new and creative response to conflict. Such a force is not a dream; an actual Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) is being born. Nonviolent intervention has been going on—without benefit of media coverage—for some time. This new organization is poised to take it to a new stage by creating a 2,000-member professional corps, along with 4,000 reservists, 5,000 volunteers, and a research division, ready to respond wherever there is conflict around the globe. NP’s mission is not merely to end violence after it has already begun, but to prevent or dampen outbreaks of violent conflict before they escalate. The Peaceforce would enter a conflict only after being invited, with the aim of creating the space for local groups to resolve their own disputes peacefully. NP would draw its membership from throughout the globe, so that it could circumvent political divisions and visa problems. Its 2,000 professional peacekeepers would be paid, trained, and signed on for two-year contracts. The Nonviolent Peaceforce began to take shape in 1999 when San Francisco-based civil rights and peace activist David Hartsough and veteran St. Paul community organizer Mel Duncan discovered each other at the Hague Peace Conference. (09/30/02)


IRAN Demands that the U.S. Give Up Its Nuclear Weapons!

Yahoo! News -- NEW YORK: Making the case for United Nations intervention against the United States, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told the organization yesterday that military action will be "unavoidable" unless the U.S. agrees to destroy its weapons of mass destruction. ... "Nearly two years ago, the civilized world watched as this evil and corrupt dictator subverted the world's oldest representative democracy in an illegal coup d'état," said Khatami. "Since then the Bush regime has continued America's systematic repression of ethnic and religious minorities and threatened international peace and security throughout the world. Thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Basic civil rights have been violated. This rogue state has flouted the international community on legal, economic and environmental issues. It has even ignored the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war by denying that its illegal invasion of Afghanistan --which has had a destabilizing influence throughout Central Asia--was a war at all." ... "Bush has invaded Afghanistan and is now threatening Iraq. We cannot stand by and do nothing while danger gathers. We can't for this tyrant to strike first. We have an obligation to act pre-emptively to protect the world from this evildoer," Khatami said. (09/30/02)


Artic Pollution Threatens Life

BBC Science -- Chemicals used to make household products fire-resistant are being discovered in several Arctic species. The chemicals, brominated flame retardants, appear to be concentrated in the Norwegian Arctic. ... They are being found in the region's polar bears, whose cubs have a lower survival rate than elsewhere. They are also turning up in seabirds' eggs, and local people are now being warned not to eat them. ... Levels of the brominated flame retardants (BFRs) were rising, in bears, seals, foxes and glaucous gulls. Geir Wing Gabrielsen has been carrying out research for 20 years in Svalbard, the archipelago half-way between Norway and the North Pole. He told the programme: "Levels of these brominated compounds are three times higher in Canadian seals than they were 10 years ago. ... "I think we should be incredibly careful about these chemicals. They may upset brain development in children." Dr Kit Kovacs of NPI is worried at what the BFRs may be doing already. She said: "For Arctic peoples that are eating marine mammals, it's a very serious concern. "The level of pollutants in mothers' milk in Greenland is a horrific concern there, and to the broader global community. They're ingesting highly polluted food, and producing highly polluted milk." (09/30/02)


Cutting Corners on Nuclear Safety, JAPAN ?

New York Times: Science -- TOKYO, Sept. 15 — The reports of safety lapses, fraudulent repairs and cover-ups at Japan's largest nuclear power company began with a trickle but have resounded into an industry nightmare. The details, filled in over the last two weeks by one alarming report after another, show a potentially catastrophic pattern of cost-cutting along with 16 years of cover-ups of serious flaws, apparently in an effort to preserve public trust. The pattern includes the systematic falsification of inspection and repair records at 13 reactors at the company, Tokyo Electric, the world's largest private electrical utility. Compounding the public relations disaster, a reactor that the company operates in Fukushima Prefecture, in northern Japan, was closed temporarily last week because a chimney was emitting more than 100 times the usual level of radiation. ... The biggest liabilities faced by Japan's huge nuclear power industry are not the technologies of the future, but an accident-plagued present in which embarrassing failures in aging reactors have become disturbingly commonplace. The most frightening revelation in the unfolding Tokyo Power scandal has been that falsified inspection records had papered over large cracks in the stainless steel shrouds that cover the core of nuclear plants, allowing the reactors to operate for years without costly repairs. For many, this recalled an explosion at a nuclear plant operated by the Nagoya-based Chubu Electric Power Company, at Hamaoka, last November. The investigation there revealed the radioactive leaks. The Hamaoka plant began operating in 1976, and antinuclear activists in Japan have seized upon incidents like the one last year as evidence that many of Japan's 53 nuclear reactors, operating well into their third decade, are aging and a safety risk. Aging has emerged as a major concern in the United States, too, particularly since the discovery in March of a hole in the top of the reactor vessel at the Davis-Besse reactor, near Toledo, Ohio. (09/30/02)


Hundreds of Thousands March in London Against Iraq War

Common Dreams -- The voice of middle-class England was how Debbie Mainwaring described herself yesterday as she stood amid the clamor of one of the biggest anti-war demonstrations ever, and it was clear that she was not alone. The sheer numbers who turned out to express vociferous opposition to military action in Iraq – between 150,000 and 350,000 on the central London march – meant there was no way they could be dismissed as "the usual suspects" of the hard left. It took something to prompt Mrs Mainwaring and her family, from Walthamstow in east London, to take to the streets. But as anxiety increases over the prospect of the US launching an attack, the message of the people was being driven home to President Bush and Tony Blair, a man widely characterized as his unquestioning accomplice: this war is wrong, and we won't stand for it. (09/30/02)


Thoughts on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Albert Schweitzer writes: More and more, not only in his country but throughout the world, he had become a chosen one among poets.  Why?  Because this great poet is at the same time a great master of the natural sciences, a great thinker, a great man.  This many-sidedness commands respect and strikes people as something quite special. ... How an individual by himself and through his own study can arrive at conviction capable of guiding him on the right road throughout his existence: that to Goethe is the question that matters.  He feels that he cannot reach these simple and sound convictions except by starting from reality, from the knowledge he gains by observing nature and by observing himself.  To be a realist in order to win through to true spirituality--this is Goethe's keynote. The fundamental idea which is of the utmost import is that in nature there is matter and spirit, the two together.  The spirit acts upon matter as an organizing and perfecting force.  It manifests itself in the evolution that is taking place and that we are able to document in nature.  (09/29/02)


How Land Ownership Hurts People

Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé write: Brazil had always held tremendous power for me as I (Frances) struggled to grasp why some eat and others do not. In the early 1970s, the experts were telling us that hunger—at home and abroad—was caused by food scarcity. And yet countries like Brazil, a leading agricultural exporter, had a GNP ranking in the world’s top ten, while tens of thousands of its citizens starved. If ever there was a place where hunger could not be blamed on scarcity, it was Brazil. Hunger in Brazil persists not because of a lack of food, but because of a lack of democracy. Inequality in Brazil is so extreme only Sierra Leone ranks worse. Today, one percent of Brazil’s landowners control almost half of the arable land—leaving thousands of acres idle—while millions of rural people have no land at all. ... Capitalism only cares about production; it doesn’t care about the individual.” At this, some Christians might cringe. In the US , opposing capitalism is tantamount to endorsing communism. But since arriving in Brazil, we’ve been hearing about the MST creating businesses to function within the market. It’s not the market itself that violates the brothers’ faith; it’s the elevation of the market above all other values, including dignity and health. (09/29/02)


Designing for the Future ?

New York Times: Magazine -- Last January, Larry Burns, General Motors' vice president for research and development and planning, unveiled the company's plans for the car of the future. It wasn't exactly a car but the underpinnings of one, sort of a 16-foot-long, two-dimensional wine carafe on wheels -- what Burns called the ''skateboard.'' The car would come in two parts, Burns explained. The car's power and control system would be encased in the skateboard, which could be kept for decades while customers shuffled car bodies as tastes changed. And the bodies, too, would be radically different from what we know, with the windshield extending all the way down to the floor because the car's essential systems are kept underfoot. The first working prototype, dubbed Hy-wire, made its debut at the Paris Motor Show last week. Hy-wire represents a merging of technologies: the hydrogen fuel cell, a power system that creates electrical current from chemical reactions and drive-by-wire, which replaces mechanical linkages between parts with electronic ones. Taken together, the technologies would move the automobile from the machine age to the digital age and result in a car that emits only water vapor. ... automakers have been focused on fuel cells for less than a decade, compared with a century of dead ends on batteries, and are quickly closing the gap. Storage capacity has expanded to allow nearly 200 miles of range, far more than a battery-electric. The fact that Hy-wire's pressurized hydrogen gas tanks lie below the driver and passengers is a safety concern, so engineers are working on a spongelike form of hydrogen storage. Costs have come down by a factor of 10 in a decade, but Burns concedes another factor of 10 remains. Still, he maintains that G.M. can produce tens of thousands by 2010 and phase in broad usage by 2020. ''This can be a better car all around,'' Burns says of the fuel cell. The right thing to do? Yes, he says, but it's more than that. ''At this point, it's a business issue. If we don't invent it, somebody else will.''  (09/29/02)


Stocks Down -- Week 5

CNN Money -- Dow, Nasdaq, S&P close lower for fifth week on Philip Morris warning, GE cuts, Iraq concerns. ... Next week brings economic reports on personal income and personal spending, national and regional manufacturing activity, activity in the services sector of the economy and, perhaps most significantly, the September report on unemployment. (09/29/02)


Should Blair Lead Middle East Peace Conference?

The London Guardian -- Jonathan Freedland writes: Unveiling his dossier of evidence against Saddam Hussein, the prime minister closed with a paragraph or two on the Middle East. He repeated the usual tropes - condemning the "savage" terror attacks on Israelis and the "appalling" suffering endured by the Palestinians - and then uttered a word that had lain unused for months. He called for "a new conference on the Middle East peace process". That's a great idea. An international conference is just what Israelis and Palestinians need to jump-start a process which stalled two years ago and which has been in high-speed reverse ever since. Peace advocates on both sides now recognise that they cannot get themselves out of this mess alone; they need the cover, and pressure, of the international community to push them toward compromise. Israel won't move without a firm prodding from the Americans and the Palestinians are more likely to make painful compromises - on, say, the return of refugees - with the Arab states standing at their side than they would on their own. ... If George Bush concludes that he needs a peace process, and that Israel will have to deal with Arafat if that's what it takes, there will be little Sharon can do about it. Rather than cross the Americans, he'll come to London. And Tony Blair can play his part in a negotiation he remains convinced both sides want - and that those close to him admit he is "itching" to help. (09/29/02)


Need Any Uranium?

CNN News -- Turkish officials said Saturday they have seized 34.6 pounds of uranium and arrested two Turkish men in Urfa, a town in southeastern Turkey. U.S. officials are in touch with authorities to get information about the seizure. The men were arrested carrying the material in a box as passengers in a taxi that was en route from Urfa to the nearby city of Gazi Antep, police said. They were identified as Salih Yasar and Mehmet Demir. The driver was interviewed and released. Authorities displayed the material, which they said was worth $5 million and originated in the former Soviet Union, to reporters in Urfa. It will be taken to Ankara for analysis, police said. (09/29/02)


6:18:07 AM    

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