Friday, February 29, 2008

American Values #5: Prison Nation

It is not new, but nonetheless of interest, that the Empire has the largest prison population on the planet (#2 is China). The rate of incarceration is staggering (1 in 100 overall; 1 in 35 adult male Hispanics, 1 in 9 black males 20 to 35), especially when compared to other OECD nations (Germany: 1 in 100,000). Besides being big believers in the death penalty (an honor the nation shares with certain benighted Third World nations, and no others), American values apparently encompass imprisonment as the first resort in corrections. Needless to say, the cost of this ruinous policy is equally unsustainable, and so, some states are "discovering" that rehabilitation is preferable to expensive housing of prisoners. Alas, Chaos' experience in the state which has the largest prison population in the Empire leads to the conclusion that choosing rehab over incarceration to save expenses inevitably results in underfunded programs, or the costs simply transferred to oversight departments ("probation"). The current article is enlightening, although not particularly helpful (what % of people are imprisoned for the ridiculous "war on drugs?" doesn't say...).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The State of the Oceans: Bad, And Getting Worse

Thanks to humanity's ever-increasing heavy "footprint" on the planet, the state of the oceans has never been poorer. Having killed off most of the larger fish in the oceans (by overfishing), unsurprisingly researchers are discovering that these predators are responsible for the health of the coral reefs. Comes now a couple of articles (here, and here) confirming what Chaos has recently read in a book (specifically, The World Without Us, highly recommended), to the effect that most of the oceans have suffered greatly from the human population explosion. It requires very little prognostication skill to see that the planet in the future will be terribly degraded, and no, humanity will not "wake up just in time" to mitigate its tremendously negative impact. It's not news (at least here it's not) that humanity has overshot the carrying capacity of the planet, and not by just a little. Just a few thoughts on what actually matters, as opposed to the ridiculous gladiatorial contests sweeping the national and local news media.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why Global Climate Change Comes Quickly

This somewhat long and dense article is well worth the wading through, in order to have the bejesus scared out of one, once the realization sets in that the climate has, in the past, changed rather quicker than previously supposed. Also worth a mention are the potentially mischievous possibilities of releasing methane from melting permafrost, increasing the feeback effect dramatically (money quote: "Thresholds may produce unexpected system responses").

Olduvai Theory Update: Doomer Edition

Nothing beats reading a true doomer like Richard Duncan, author of the Olduvai Theory, i.e., that industrial, fossil-fuel-using civilization has a life expectancy of about a hundred years, and guess what? It started about 80 years ago. Ooops! Oddly enough, it's real hard to think of valid objections to this pernicious idea (at least, Chaos is not aware of any effective critique), and of course, this adds to the shivery fun one has in reading all about it, which Chaos is now going to encourage you to do (but you knew that, right?) This particular rendition is the 2007 update, (pdf file) so it's pretty, you know, current. Has some scary charts to go with it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More Vital Than Gasoline

The most very excellent and perceptive Tom Whipple of the Falls Church News-Press has a very nice roundup of the state of electricity around the world (or more properly, the lack of electricity). A preview of coming attractions, in Chaos' view, although it is pretty much widely acknowledged that the poorer nations and people of the planet will do the suffering first.

Health Care Update

A perennial favorite on this blog is the subject of healthcare in the Empire, both because of its potential to bring citizens to financial and physical ruin, as well as its symbolic meaning of the gradual decline of the Imperial US. To this end, the current picture is remarkably unpretty....doctors are now encouraged by insurance companies to report patients omissions, i.e., to spy and tattle on their own patients, the better to report increased quarterly profits by the corporation. To their credit, the doctors are resistant to this violation of doctor/patient privelege, but Chaos must ask, is there really any privacy left, after all? No insurance is obtainable without a complete disrobing and naked display of one's medical conditons, past and present.

On a more abstract note comes this piece on a seemingly simple remedy for many hospital errors, which in turn lead to more sickness and death. Are you ready? It's....a checklist! That's right; some ICU specialist figured out a few years ago that this actually does work. The interesting part comes at the end, when we find out that no, the US is quite resistant to changing this complex system simply because it works (and it flies in the face of the ego-centric doctors' sense of infallibility...) and that some other countries are implementing it with significant results. A lengthy article, but worth the read, for symbolic reasons as well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An Engaging Video: The Story of Stuff

Apropos of practically everything that is mentioned here at the Edge, is this quite entertaining video (for those not inclined to read) that summarizes a good deal of what's wrong with the endless, mindless consumerism which has replaced a lot of meaningful activity here in the Empire in recent years. Check out The Story of Stuff....

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Human Ecological "Footprint"

Here is a somewhat scholarly and technical article (pdf warning)on measuring the human ecological "footprint," a popular concept in environmental circles. Suffice to say, the factors of population and affluence are the prime indicators of the said footprint (and of course, the US has by far the largest one). Article includes a nice graph of current footprints among nations and projected increases out to 2015. Observe (with alarm) how much China's footprint is projected to increase, with India not far behind. The road to 2015 and beyond is projected (by Chaos) to be more than a little interesting...

Relocation: The Corruption Perceptions Index

For those whose thought processes have mirrored Chaos', here's an interesting dimension to consider when deciding on a location to settle in. The Index purports to measure perceptions of corruption by "business people and country analysts" and rank the world's countries according to a scale of corruption. Presumably, less corrupt countries are better places to alight. (Note, for example that New Zealand is #1, while the US is #20; would've thought?)

Oh, and for more comparison info, check out this Wikipedia ranking of economic inequality among nations.

Predatory Nation: Credit Card Issuers Face The Music

Chaos has previously referred to a favorite meme (ok, Chaos came up with this one) as Predatory Nation: to wit, that the large corporations and institutions in this nation have evolved into simply trying to take advantage of the unwary citizenry. Here's a fine example (actually, the credit card industry itself is a perfect example) by way of the nation's paper of record. Money quote:
"Ronald J. Mann, a law professor at Columbia University and a credit expert, describes credit industry practices as intended to enslave borrowers in a 'sweat box.'"
In an interesting twist, consumers who seek to settle their debts have been further preyed upon by unscrupulous "debt relief" services, who sometimes advise them to suspend payments to creditors and save the funds for future lump sum payments (the disastrousness of this course of action should be apparent to the financially literate...). So, in essence, we have predators springing up from predators.
Just a brief example, and of course Chaos will continue to point these out.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Role of Time

Chaos has observed that changing carbon-spewing lifestyles, by changing the corresponding vehicle fleet, public transportation system, energy sources, and the like, is not a "just in time" process. To the contrary, it seems to take many years (and lots of money) and determined effort. The difficulties mentioned in this article in the Times are illustrative of this principle. Communities around the nation (including Austin, Texas, for our regional readers), although willing to begin altering their vast energy consumption find it difficult, since the infrastructure built up over many years precludes easy conversion. For the counterexample, consider the fine system of public transportation now existing in the city of Portland, Oregon; said system was begun approximately thirty years ago. The people in this country, by and large, are now beginning to vaguely realize that they are going to reap what they've sown over the last thirty years. Changing the way people move around and the energy sources relied upon to power the complex society would be a vast, expensive, and long undertaking, even with a national consensus, which of course is lacking at the moment. Chaos expects gradual awareness to take hold, albeit much too late to do much.