Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"We can be the first major industrialised country that achieves the transition to renewable energy..."

It is a shame that Hermann Scheer is not alive to hear German Chancellor Markel decelare that Germany aims to lead the world in renewable energy development.

Hermann Scheer, Member of the German Parliament, President of the European Association for Renewable Energy EUROSOLAR, Chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy WCRE, honored with the Right Livelihood Award, died on 14 October 2010 at the age of 66 in Berlin. His book "Energy Autonomy: The Economic, Social and Technological Case for Renewable Energy" was an inspiration to many, including yours truly. (GW)

uclear phase-out can make Germany trailblazer - Merkel

BBC News
May 30, 2011

Germany has relied on nuclear power for almost a quarter of its energy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said a decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022 can make her country a trailblazer in renewable energy.

Ms Merkel said Germany would reap economic benefits from the move.

Germany is the biggest industrial power to renounce nuclear energy, in a policy reversal for the governing centre-right coalition.

Mrs Merkel set up a panel to review nuclear power following the crisis at Fukushima in Japan.

The crisis, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami in March, led to mass anti-nuclear protests across Germany.

The anti-nuclear drive boosted Germany's Green party, which took control of the Christian Democrat stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg, in late March.

Analysts say Mrs Merkel may be eyeing a future coalition with the Greens.


Mrs Merkel said that in its "fundamental" rethink of policy, Germany could set an example for other countries.

"We believe we as a country can be a trailblazer for a new age of renewable energy sources," the German chancellor was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

The official commission which has studied the issue reckons that electricity use can be cut by 10% in the next decade through more efficient machinery and buildings.

The intention is also to increase the share of wind energy. This, though, would mean re-jigging the electricity distribution system because much of the extra wind power would come from farms on the North Sea to replace atomic power stations in the south.

Protest groups are already vocal in the beautiful, forested centre of the country which, they fear, will become a north-south "energie autobahn" of pylons and high-voltage cables.

Some independent analysts believe that coal power will benefit if the wind plans don't deliver what is needed.

And on either side of Germany is France, with its big nuclear industry, and Poland, which has announced an intention to build two nuclear power stations.

"We can be the first major industrialised country that achieves the transition to renewable energy with all the opportunities - for exports, development, technology, jobs - it carries with it."

She also said that electricity in the future should be "safer and at the same time reliable and affordable", linking the decision to step back from nuclear power to the crisis in Japan.

"We learned from Fukushima that we have to deal differently with risks," she said.

Under the German plan the country's seven oldest reactors - which were taken offline for a safety review immediately after the Japanese crisis - would never be used again.

An eighth plant - the Kruemmel facility in northern Germany, which was already offline and has been plagued by technical problems - would also be shut down for good.

Six others would go offline by 2021 at the latest and the three newest by 2022.

The previous German government - a coalition of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens - decided to shut down Germany's nuclear power stations by 2021.

However, last September Ms Merkel's coalition scrapped those plans - announcing it would extend the life of the country's nuclear reactors by an average of 12 years.

The decision to extend was unpopular in Germany even before the radioactive leaks at the Fukushima plant.

Following Fukushima, Mrs Merkel promptly scrapped her extension plan, and announced a review.

Germany's nuclear industry has argued that an early shutdown would be hugely damaging to the country's industrial base.

Before March's moratorium on the older power plants, Germany relied on nuclear power for 23% of its energy.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Urban homesteading in Detroit

Can Detroit re-imagine and design itself as the future of America's former industrial cities? There are some encouraging -- even inspiring -- developments happening in the Motor City that suggest something like that just might be happening. It's a story that has heretofore gone pretty much unreported by our major media outlets.

So thanks to Tree Media for documenting Detroit's ambitious urban agriculture experiment. Check out their trailer for "Urban Roots".

By the way, Tree Media is an experiment in its own right - exploring the use of video to promote social change. Their mission:

Stories have the power to change the world: they shape our thinking, drive culture, and create our lives. Tree Media is a production company with a mission to use stories and media to help encourage an open society based on wisdom and informed, positive action.

Tree Media has been working for more than 14 years on projects that examine conscious-ness, global transformation, conflict resolution, care & sustainability, the environment, and human development.
Urban Roots

Tree Media

May 2011

As summer begins, Tree has completed our next feature-length documentary (after The 11th Hour) called Urban Roots, about the urban farming revolution in Detroit. While Urban Roots is a film about urban farming, it goes way beyond farming and Detroit to discuss the realities of post-industrial collapse, food deserts, food justice, and community rights. The film shows the shocking state of Detroit as a given and focuses on the farms and community that have risen up to meet the challenges that they face. The result is truly remarkable; the humanity, tremendously moving.

We support the movement to build a healthy, sustainable food system and so Tree is giving a portion of proceeds from this film to putting farms in schools. Join us, watch the film and help build a sustainable future. - Leila Conners & Mathew Schmid.

Exploiting children, bullying governments

Tobacco executives and their co-conspiring advertising executives and lawyers have no qualms about pushing the law to its limits in order to sell their death sticks to the most vulnerable members of our population -- all in the name of making that almighty buck. They are all unconscionable partners-in-crime rewarded by cowardly and morally bankrupt political and economic systems. (GW)

The unstoppable march of the tobacco giants

How the industry ruthlessly exploits the developing world - its young, poor and uneducated

By Emily Dugan
The Independent
May 29, 2011

More than half a century after scientists uncovered the link between smoking and cancer – triggering a war between health campaigners and the cigarette industry – big tobacco is thriving.

Despite the known catastrophic effects on health of smoking, profits from tobacco continue to soar and sales of cigarettes have increased: they have risen from 5,000 billion sticks a year in the 1990s to 5,900 billion a year in 2009. They now kill more people annually than alcohol, Aids, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

On Tuesday, people around the globe will mark World No Tobacco Day – a distant hope.

The West now consumes fewer and fewer of the world's cigarettes: richer countries have changed – from smoking 38 per cent of the world total in 1990, they cut down to 24 per cent in 2009. Meanwhile, the developing world's share in global cigarette sales has increased sharply, rising to 76 per cent in 2009.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday reveals that tobacco firms have taken advantage of lax marketing rules in developing countries by aggressively promoting cigarettes to new, young consumers, while using lawyers, lobby groups and carefully selected statistics to bully governments that attempt to quash the industry in the West.

In 2010, the big four tobacco companies – Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco – made more than £27bn profit, up from £26bn in 2009.

The price of their profits will be measured in human lives. In the 20th century, some 100 million people were killed by tobacco use. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill a billion people in the 21st century.

In striving for greater profits, the big tobacco firms have pushed the average price of cigarettes up in rich countries such as Britain – where 20 cigarettes now cost more than £6 a pack – while hammering down the price paid to tobacco growers in poorer countries such as India and Malawi. Although around 77 per cent of the price of a pack is tax, the amount charged by tobacco companies has also increased.

A major investigation by the Office of Fair Trading last year found that a dozen tobacco manufacturers and retailers in the UK had colluded in price fixing, ensuring that packs remained at higher prices to maximise profits. The largest fine was one of £115m for Imperial Tobacco, makers of Lambert & Butler and Golden Virginia. The fine made a minimal dent in its profits for 2010, which topped £4.39bn.

Meanwhile in Malawi, where tobacco farming is heavily relied upon for the economy, the country's anti-corruption bureau has accused tobacco companies of colluding to keep prices paid to farmers for the raw product low. Tobacco auction rooms have become a battleground between government and industry, as a kilo of leaves plummeted from an average of £1.06 per kg in April 2009 to 47p per kg this year. The knock-on effect of this on farms is near-slave wages for workers and a temptation to use cheap (or free) child labour.

Anna Gilmore, professor of public health at the University of Bath, said: "What most people don't realise is that, although sales are falling in the West, industry profits are increasing. These companies remain some of the most profitable in the world. This is thanks in part to their endless inventive ways of undermining and circumventing regulation. They're trying to reinvent their image to ingratiate themselves with governments, but behind the scenes it's business as usual."

This year's World No Tobacco Day is focusing on persuading more countries to sign a global treaty drawn up by the World Health Organization to ensure public health protection from smoking. Although 172 countries have signed up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control since it was produced six years ago, 20 per cent of them have still done nothing at all to implement its recommendations, and major countries, including the US and Indonesia, are still not even signatories.

In Indonesia alone there are 21 million child smokers. There is little to stop companies promoting cigarettes to young people. In countries such as Nigeria, Ukraine and Brazil, tobacco companies have sponsored club nights or parties aimed at attracting new young users. In Russia, attempts to entice women smokers have included packaging made to look like jewel-encrusted perfume bottles and even selling cigarettes branded by the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent.

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager for the WHO's tobacco free initiative, said: "We need to do more. We need to stop the tobacco industry promoting themselves as normal corporate citizens when they are killing people every day. We are lagging behind in establishing comprehensive bans on advertising, marketing, promotion and sponsorship."

When countries in these emerging markets try to clamp down on tobacco, the battle often ends up in the court room. In Uruguay, for example, the government had been leading the way under President Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas, a former oncologist. In 2006 it became the first in the region to ban smoking in public places and now it wants 80 per cent of every pack of cigarettes to be taken up with health warnings.

In response, Philip Morris has sued the government. It is thought that the company will demand at least $2bn in damages if Uruguay loses.

Courtroom bullying like this has a broader intimidatory effect on other governments in the region, which were already less inclined towards legislating further against smoking.

Laurent Huber, director of the Framework Convention Alliance on tobacco control, said: "In countries like Uruguay, the tobacco industry uses its vast wealth to tie up public health measures in court battles. Win or lose, this has a chilling effect on other governments."

These tricks are by no means confined to the less-regulated emerging countries. In Australia, which will become the first country to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes by law, the industry has been accused of scaremongering against the measures by threatening to flood the market with cheap fags.

In Britain, the industry is also prone to taking any measures necessary to keep regulation at bay. This autumn a group of tobacco companies is taking the Government to court over its proposals to ban cigarette displays in all shops.

More often in the UK, though, Big Tobacco's attempts to alter public opinion are more subtle. A study from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), out this week, scrutinises the credibility of economic arguments used by the industry to fight back against legislation. For example, when Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, said in 2010 that the smoking ban had severely threatened the pub and bingo industry because of lost jobs and livelihoods, the reality was a little different. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows a net increase in the number of people visiting pubs since the smoking ban. When England went smoke-free in 2007, the number of premises licensed for alcohol increased by 5 per cent, and it has continued to grow every year since.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: "In line with our international treaty obligations, the UK government has not only banned advertising and put health warnings on packs, but also committed to protect public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. To get round this, the industry uses front groups to covertly lobby politicians, arguing that smoke-free legislation has destroyed the pub trade, and that putting tobacco out of sight in shops will both be ineffective and put corner shops out of business.

"The next big battle is over putting cigarettes in plain packs. Already the same arguments are being used. The evidence is thin or non-existent, but no matter, the danger is that policy makers will be misled that where there's smoke, there's fire."

The winners...

Louis C Camilleri

CEO of Philip Morris

Made £12.4m last year. Recently told a nurse that cigarettes "weren't that hard to quit".

Nicandro Durante

CEO, British American Tobacco (BAT)

Paid £2.4m last year. Formerly led Souza Cruz SA, BAT's Brazilian unit, and also headed BAT's African and Middle Eastern businesses.

Alison Cooper

CEO, Imperial

Paid £1.9m last year. Former sales and marketing regional director for western Europe.

The losers...

Sean Nicholson, 43

From Jarrow, Tyne and Wear

"I started smoking when I was 11. I worked in the shipyards for 15 years and always smoked. I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at 34, and later on it turned out I had emphysema too. The specialists said I was the youngest case they had ever seen. Soon I couldn't breathe if I walked a few steps. The consultants said I had the lungs of a 90-year-old. Seven weeks ago I had a double lung transplant. Now I can breathe again and I can't stand the sight of people smoking. It took getting new lungs to realise how silly I'd been."

Ryan Gamble, 17

From Chester-le-Street, Durham

"I've smoked for about six years. I started because my friends were doing it and I just kept the habit going. I hated it at first, I choked. I smoke about 10 or 15 a day and it's hard to quit. I work in a chip shop and half of my wages go on that [smoking]. I wish I'd never started. You wake up coughing and you can't run anywhere."

Sharon Gould, 53, and her son Ben, 10

From Whetstone, Leicestershire

"I started smoking when I was 14. I quit when I was pregnant with Ben but then I started again. I used to smoke in the house when he was in another room, or smoke in the car with the window down. Ben was around two when we discovered he had asthma. I understand what I've done and I want to put it right. I gave up three years ago. It's too late for Ben, but I want to help other parents not make the same mistakes. It could be genetic, but statistics say that I am partly responsible for my son's asthma. It was Ben that made me stop. Ben didn't like smoking and I don't blame him. He used to say 'Please mummy, don't smoke, it's horrible.'"

José Carlos Carneiro, 64

From Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

"I began to smoke when I was 15 years old, influenced by tobacco advertising and wanting to make a good impression with girls who studied at my school. I had both my legs amputated in 1983 thanks to Buerger's disease [associated with smoking]. If I had not been a smoker I would have a fantastic life."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Japan is unlikely to build new nuclear reactors

It is unfortunate but sometimes it takes a catastrophe of unprecedented scale to force the necessary changes in thinking and action that could put society on a path to sustainability. Question is: is the U.S. willing to learn from the lessons of others? (GW)

Japan takes a shine to renewable energy

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post
May 27, 2011

TOKYO — In the now-abandoned town of Futuba, inside the 12-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a sign that arches over the entrance to a main street reads: “Nuclear power is the energy of a bright tomorrow.”

But today, as workers continue their struggle to contain radioactive leakage at the plant, resource-poor Japan has been forced to scale back that commitment to nuclear power and is scrambling to find alternatives. A new energy policy, which Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan began to outline this week, would emphasize solar and wind power and require pricey investment and yet-to-be-determined innovation.

In a speech this week, Kan mentioned several precise targets. By 2020, he said, solar power should cost one-third of what it does now. By 2030, it should be down to one-sixth. And in a decade or so, Japan should be receiving 20 percent of its total energy supply from renewable sources, more than doubling the current share. Kan also said that, by 2030, about 10 million buildings should have solar panels.

Kan is urging his country to use less energy. And he said he wants Japan’s nuclear program to be safer and smaller. All of these steps, he knows, will require drastic change. As he outlined the basics of Japan’s new energy policy, Kan used the word “challenge” seven times.

Before the Fukushima accident — the world’s most severe nuclear crisis in a quarter-century — Japan had spent decades cheerleading for atomic power. Nuclear plants provided 30 percent of the country’s energy, with plans for 50 percent reliance by 2030.

The Fukushima accident, triggered by Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has prompted large-scale anti-nuclear demonstrations and a nationwide debate about plant safety. But government officials insist that the country isn’t dropping nuclear power entirely, and there are plenty of reasons for that stance. Nuclear power reduces Japan’s fossil fuel imports. It emits no carbon dioxide. And it’s cheap.

But its place in Japan’s energy future has clearly shifted. Japan is unlikely to build new reactors, Kan said this week in an interview with the Financial Times, another unmistakable sign that the country has turned away from its pre-March 11 nuclear energy targets.

Only 17 of Japan’s 54 reactors are currently generating power, with 22 shut down for planned or unplanned inspections, according to the World Nuclear Association. In addition, two reactors at a quake-prone plant southwest of Tokyo were halted at the government’s request. Nine stopped automatically on the day of the earthquake, as designed, and have remained offline. And the four stricken reactors at Fukushima Daiichi will never again be used for power generation.

Because of the Fukushima crisis, Tokyo Electric Power Co. — which accounts for 27 percent of the nation’s power — has been left with major shortages. To reduce usage and avoid blackouts during the peak summer months, the government has called for a 15 percent cut in energy use beginning July 1. But already in Tokyo, escalators at subway stations don’t run. Department stores keep their lights dimmed. Businesses don’t run their air conditioners full-blast.

Kan wants some of these changes to be long-term, calling for “a new culture of energy consumption.”

Although the prime minister has set new energy targets, he has yet to give specifics of how those goals will be reached — particularly how Japan will drastically reduce the price of solar energy. According to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, solar power has a generation cost of 60 cents per kilowatt-hour, while nuclear power costs 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. If Japan is to reach its target price reduction, solar power by 2030 will cost roughly 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Proposed legislation would oblige utility companies to buy electricity from mega-solar projects. But Japan is also hoping that technology advances can reduce the cost. Within the government, concerns about renewable energy go beyond price: The economy ministry, in a 2010 report, mentioned that some renewable energy sources are “unstable, and facilities can be established only in a limited number of areas due to the required conditions of topography and so forth.”

“I think it’s good to set an ambitious renewable energy vision,” said Ken Koyama, director of the Tokyo-based Institute of Energy Economics. But counting on solar power without first figuring out how to lower the price “will be risky,” he said, and pulling it off will be difficult. If all of central Tokyo were blanketed with solar panels, it would supply as much energy as one nuclear reactor, Koyama said.

But with its supply of renewable energy as yet undeveloped, Japan is turning in the interim to fossil fuels. The Institute of Energy Economics estimates that Japan this year will need to import an extra 110,000 to 140,000 barrels of oil per day, an increase of 3 to 4 percent from the usual amount. A parallel increase of about 10 percent is forecast for imports of liquefied natural gas.

Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"It's not a low-carbon technology, but it could be part of a low-carbon system."

There are no technology solutions to the climate change problem. There are, however, systems solutions. (GW)

A Gas Power Plant to Make Renewables More Practical

GE says its new gas-plant design can address the sudden drops that occur with renewable forms of energy.

By Rob Edwards
Technology Review
May 27, 2011

General Electric announced on Thursday that it's designed a gas-fired combined-cycle power plant that can start up rapidly. The goal is to help electricity grids adapt to the variability of renewable energy.

With a small but growing proportion of electricity in Europe being supplied by wind and solar power, grid operators need new ways to deal with fluctuations in supply. The supply from solar drops dramatically at night, while wind installations only provide power when the wind is blowing. GE's new plant can ramp up electricity generation at a rate of more than 50 megawatts a minute—twice the rate of current industry benchmarks. The plant can start from scratch in less than 30 minutes.

GE is testing a pilot plant at its facility in Greenville, South Carolina, but the plant won't come into operation any earlier than 2015.

The plant will have a base load fuel efficiency of 61 percent, higher than other gas combined-cycle power plants. A base load power plant is one that's dedicated to providing a continuous supply of energy. Nuclear and coal plants commonly provide base load power. Such plants offer relatively cheap energy, but they can take hours or days to start up, which isn't fast enough to meet fluctuations in supply from renewables.

GE's 510-megawatt plant design is the result of a $500 million investment by the company. It features new, more efficient gas and steam turbines, as well as a new integrated electronic control system.

Paul Browning, vice president of GE Thermal Products, said at Thursday's announcement that the plant uses nickel-based super alloys, which are used in aircraft engines, because they can withstand the high temperatures inside the plant. The new turbines can ramp up quickly, much as a jet engine can ramp up quickly to provide thrust for takeoff.

GE estimates that the new technology could save some power utilities $2.6 million a year under typical operating conditions. The company also says the plants could cut annual carbon-dioxide emissions by more than 12,700 metric tons, with an annual fuel savings of 6.4 million cubic meters of natural gas.

The new plant has a power frequency of 50 hertz, meaning it can be built in Europe and many other parts of the world, but not in North America. GE says it will announce a 60 hertz version for the U.S. market at a later date.

Jim Watson, director of the energy group at Sussex University, says he's impressed by the enhanced flexibility of the plant. "This is just the kind of plant we need," he says. "It's not a low-carbon technology, but it could be part of a low-carbon system."

Copyright Technology Review 2011.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"It is time to catalyze and embed the green economy transition across the globe ..."

History will look back on these times (assuming there will be future historians) and scratch their heads at the notion that humanity had to be FORCED to adopt strategies that could save it from extinction. Ninety-nine percent of all the species that have ever lived on this planet no doubt would have welcomed th chance to exercise such an option(GW)

Africa: Climate Change Forces Move to Green Economies

By Neto Nengomasha
All Africa
24 May 2011

The adverse effects of climate change on environmental sustainability and human wellbeing is forcing most countries to move away from the "brown" or traditional economy to the "green" economy - a viable option for sustainable development.

The concept has been described by environmentalists as a powerful new paradigm in the 21st century offering creative solutions to multiple global challenges by linking people, the planet and prosperity.

Green economy is considered as one that results in "improved wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities."

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), green economy comes against the backdrop of serious crises in climate, biodiversity, food, fuel and water, and more recently, the financial crises which has all been characterized by gross misallocation of capital while being exacerbated by existing polices and market incentives.

A recent report by UNEP titled "Towards a Green Economy" states that sustainable development can only be achieved if there is an economic transformation that promotes resource and energy efficiency and reduces environmental degradation.

"It is time to catalyze and embed the green economy transition across the globe from the international level down to the local community.

The green economy can -- if brought into the cabinet rooms, boardrooms and town hall chambers - offer a viable alternative to the unsustainable status quo," Under- Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said.

The African Union has fully endorsed adoption of the green economy as a vehicle for sustainable development.

"It is not only relevant to more developed countries but also a catalyst for growth and poverty eradication in developing countries too," said Patrick Mwesigye, the Regional Industry Officer with the United Nation's Environment Programme (UNEP).

Speaking at the inaugural Green Economy Summit in Johannesburg in 2010, South African President Jacob Zuma said the green economy requires integrated strategies and plans that balance economic, environmental and social development objectives with carefully crafted policy and institutional frameworks to ensure sustainable development.

"Ecosystem failure will seriously compromise our ability to address our social and economic priorities. Natural resources are national economic assets, and our economy depends heavily on energy and mineral resources, biodiversity, agriculture, forestry, fishing and tourism," he said.

The green economy is in line with what was agreed at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) held last year in Cancun, Mexico.

Climate experts agreed to set up a Climate Green Fund intended to assist developing countries to adapt to the effects of climate change and adapt their economies and infrastructure to the changing climate.

The green economy will be one of two themes of the Rio+ 20 conference to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012, in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. This marks 20 years after the Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Geometry rules

Plato declared that "God forever geometrizes." Consequently geometry offers a window from which to view the Divine Wisdom of Universe. Bucky's system of systems, i.e. Synergetic Geometry, was on ongoing discovery of the eternal principles operating in Nature and Universe. He was convinced that these principles were accessible to all via our everyday experiences.

Bucky further believed that spherical geometry is intuitively much easier to learn than plane geometry and should be taught as a lead-in to plane geometry because it is based on experience of physical space and systems.

"We are all born geniuses," he reminded us. Some of us are just "de-genuised" faster than others by our formal compartmentalized educational systems.

Learning Geometry Without a Protractor

By Sindyan N. Bhandoo
New York Times
May 23, 2011

Although many school-going youth might disagree, a new study finds that geometry is an intuitive subject that is easy to grasp even in the absence of formal training.

Researchers posed questions in Euclidean planar geometry to adults and children from the Mundurucú community, an isolated indigenous group in the Amazon. Despite having no formal education, the Mundurucú were able to quickly grasp concepts in planar geometry relating to points, lines and triangles.

The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Mundurucú were able to correctly answer questions like, “Can a line be made to cross two other parallel-looking lines?” and “Can a line cross one of two parallel-looking lines but not the other?”

Their aptitude was in fact similar to that of American adults and French children who did have formal training in geometry, said Véronique Izard, a psychologist at the Descartes campus of the University of Paris and the study’s first author. The children were of the same age as the Mundurucú children — from 7 to 13.

“I would say that this means Euclidean geometry is probably universal to all human beings,” she said. “We find people grasping concepts of geometry that go beyond the perceivable.”

It remains to be understood why this is so, she said.

Curiously, when the same tests were performed on young American children, ages 5 and 6, they fared poorly.

This means that if the ability to understand planar geometry is innate, it is something that appears only after time.

“Perhaps it’s something that is learned from the environment, but in this case it must be something generic to all environments,” Dr. Izard said.

She and her colleagues are continuing to study the issue.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

But I was so much older then...

Forever young. Happy Birthday, Bob! (GW)

Bob Dylan turns 70: 'I'm younger than that now'

L.A. Times Music Blog
May 24, 2011

Somehow, a chorus of “Happy Birthday” just doesn’t cut it for Bob Dylan, the Poet Laureate of his generation, today as he hits the milestone of 70. First and foremost, Bob didn’t write it.

Not surprisingly, the momentous occasion is being observed in many quarters. Rolling Stone magazine has devoted the cover of its latest issue to him, for a story listing the 70 greatest Bob Dylan songs as selected.

Tonight at the Grammy Museum here in Los Angeles, author and historian Sean Wilentz (“Bob Dylan in America”) and journalist-author Mikal Gilmore will lead a musical and philosophical exploration of Dylan’s legacy following a screening of Murray Lerner’s documentary “The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965."

And—gulp!—AARP magazine, the publication of the American Assn. of Retired Persons, also has a Dylan cover piece in which the editors coaxed Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Judy Collins, Mavis Staples and Martin Scorsese into writing a few words in recognition of their peer/hero and/or friend.

Not to be outdone, Pop & Hiss views the occasion as a chance to offer up a salutary bonus episode of Dylan’s brilliant radio series, “Theme Time Radio Hour.” Number-conscious guy that he is, Dylan signed on with XM (now Sirius XM) satellite radio and delivered exactly 100 shows from 2006-2009, each devoted to a broad swath of songs reflecting a given theme, such as the Devil, Christmas, Cadillacs, Jail. Then it was time for he and those famous boot heels to be wanderin’. (TTRH had still been part of the Sirius XM lineup in reruns until, ironically, this month. It’s been taken off the air to make room for the Earle Bailey show.)

So with all humility, here’s a chronologically organized playlist of 70 minutes’ worth of Dylan songs spanning nearly 50 years, songs that reference various facets of age, a topic that’s surfaced repeatedly in his music over the decades: birth, death, youth, maturity, fate, heaven, hell, existentialism, spirituality, generational differences, paradise, past, present and future.

The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964, from the album "The Times They Are A-Changin’" ) (3:12)

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

My Back Pages (1964, "Another Side of Bob Dylan") (4:23)

Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (1965, Bringing It all Back Home) (7:29)
He not busy being born is busy dying

Absolutely Sweet Marie (1966, "Blonde on Blonde") (4:54)

Well, I don’t know how it happened
But the riverboat captain, he knows my fate
But ev’rybody else, even yourself
They’re just gonna have to wait

Forever Young (1974, "Planet Waves") (2:48)

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

Buckets of Rain (1976, "Blood On the Tracks") (3:23)

Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and ya do it well

Dark Eyes (1985, "Empire Burlesque") (5:06)

Time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes

Most of the Time (1989, "Oh Mercy") (5:04)

Most of the time
I’m halfway content
Most of the time
I know exactly where it went
I don’t cheat on myself, I don’t run and hide
Hide from the feelings that are buried inside
I don’t compromise and I don’t pretend
I don’t even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time

Tryin’ To Get to Heaven (1997, "Time Out of Mind") (5:20)

I’ve been walking that lonesome valley
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door

Not Dark Yet (1997, "Time Out of Mind") (6:27)

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still

Summer Days (2001, "Love and Theft") (4:52)

She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holding my hand
She says, “You can’t repeat the past.”
I say, “You can’t? What do you mean,
you can’t? Of course you can.”

Bye and Bye (2001, "Love and Theft") (3:16)

Well the future for me is already a thing of the past

Beyond the Horizon (2006, "Modern Times") (5:34)

Beyond the horizon, behind the sun
At the end of the rainbow life has only begun
In the long hours of twilight 'neath the stardust above
Beyond the horizon it is easy to love

It’s All Good (2009, "Together Through Life") (5:27)

Talk about me babe, if you must
Throw on the dirt, pile on the dust
I'd do the same thing if I could
You know what they say, they say it's all good

That's my show. Pop & Hiss readers are invited to offer up their own additions, substitutions or other recommendations from the deep recesses of the Dylan songbook in honor of the occasion.


Bob Dylan speaks out on 'so-called China controversy'

Live review: Bob Dylan at the Hollywood Palladium

Bob Dylan may have more books on the way

--Randy Lewis

Top left photo: Bob Dylan at the American Film Institute's tribute to Michael Douglas in Culver City in 2009. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images for AFI.

Top right photo: Bob Dylan playing bass during 1965 recording session. Credit: Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

Things have changed, but Dylan still vital at 70

Legendary rocker's adherence to traditional music has kept him timeless

By Tony Sciafani
May 23, 2011

Bob Dylan can agitate people — much like the way he used to when he was in his 20s and being branded as “Judas” for daring to play loud rock music to folk-loving audiences.

Back in April, the rock legend attracted the ire of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd after he performed in China and allegedly let the Chinese government “pre-approve” his set list. A day later, Sean Wilentz lit into Dowd in a blog on the New Yorker’s website, claiming Dylan’s music was “uncensorable” and that he actually pulled off a subversive act singing the songs he did perform, such as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.” (Dylan himself later denied censorship charges in a humorous, sarcastic post on his website.)

All of which brings up a larger point: As he turns 70 on May 24, why does Dylan still strike such an emotional chord in so many people? The answer, my friend, seems to be that of all the 1960s icons left standing, Dylan is the only who, it could be argued, is still a vital element of the current music scene, not a nostalgia act in one form or another.

That’s because during the 1960s, Dylan wasn’t seen only as a musician but “taken to be the evocation of political expression and political righteousness” said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University journalism and sociology professor who has written about Dylan’s impact in his book “The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage.”

Story: Dylan disputes reports he was censored by Chinese

“Dylan represents the possibility that our generation, in all of its informality and casualness, somehow was also capable of producing a voice that acquired some sort of transcendent power,” said Gitlin. “I don’t mean by that the doings of his vocal cords, but sort of an austere and earnest language that begins to approximate religious sentiment, religious expression.”

Yet Dylan’s effect on his audience went beyond what he sang and often encompassed the way he created a new kind of anti-pop star image — one that would presage the punk-rock movement. Dylan, after all, was an unlikely candidate for stardom. He wasn’t pretty in the pop star mold of the 1960s, the language that he used in his songs was unconventional and critics felt his voice was some kind of joke.

Yet instead of allowing himself to be groomed into some predetermined idea of what a pop star should be like, Dylan eschewed showbiz artifice and created an image uniquely his own. A large part of that image came through his music itself and in that way he brought a new intellectualism and emotional directness to popular music.

Story: Dylan admits heroin addiction in newly released interview

“I think what’s made Dylan powerful for a long time and made him in a way trans-generational is that he set out to use his music as a quest; as a set of probes into what it’s like to live a self-created life — what it means to be an author of yourself,” Gitlin said. “So he was true to that. When he was booed (for playing loud rock music at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965), it was by people who didn’t understand that that was his prime commitment — it wasn’t to folk music or to acoustic guitars.”

“There is a definite mystique about him from the early days and to the present,” said June Skinner Sawyers, whose new book, “Bob Dylan: New York,” revisits sites in the city from which he launched his career. “He’s an enigma. We know him, yet we really don’t know him. I think that’s where the true mystery and mystique of the Dylan aura comes into play.”

His back pages
Yet whatever image Dylan fashioned for himself wouldn’t have mattered much had his songs not set new standards for pop compositions. Dylan’s lyrics were more literate than anything that had come before, often containing catchphrases that became part of the lexicon. For example, a recent American Bar Association Journal article cited him as the most quoted recording artist in court opinions.

Few writers know of Dylan’s powerful way with words better than Clinton Heylin, the British scribe who has written five books about Dylan, two of which are in-depth looks at the songs themselves.

“His music communicates,” Heylin said. “There isn’t any great secret in that sense. The media latching onto him as signifying whatever they seek to peddle that particular day is not the same thing as why he continues to speak to millions of people around the world with his music. Those are two completely separate things.”

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Heylin said that considering the manner in which Dylan has woven traditional American music into his own songs, “it was inevitable he would become the grand old man of rock."

“In a sense, he’s not the beginning, he’s coming at the end of something,” Heylin said. “He himself has talked about coming at the end of tradition. There is definitely a sense that he’s tapping into something old and powerful in a way that today’s mass-media world can’t necessarily replicate.”

Columbia Records has also kept Dylan in the spotlight with its multidisc “Bootleg Series” releases, which feature older, unreleased live and studio recordings. The most recent edition, “The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964,” nearly made the Billboard top 10 — an impressive feat for music nearly half a century old that was never meant for public consumption.

On April 12, Columbia released a CD of a Dylan concert from 1963 at Brandeis University (which had previously been available as a limited edition bonus with the last bootleg series release). Last year, Columbia released a box set of mono mixes of the first eight Dylan albums — the type of specialty box-set release perhaps only he and the Beatles could pull off.

“Part of the process of putting out all this archival material is to remind ourselves of the great periods of Dylan’s career that were kind of overlooked at the time,” Heylin said. “For example, the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour (documented on volume five of the “Bootleg Series”) was one of the great tours of rock music, but I don’t think people really realized how great it was because there was no official document.”

How Dylan got his muse back
Dylan’s legend wasn’t always as assured as it seems now, and a lot of that had to do with the way he refused to follow a traditional career path. He started as a traditional folk singer, morphed into a protest singer, then decided to pen pop-oriented personal songs, and then made a dramatic shift to rock before going country and eventually using his music to preach about born-again Christianity.

Along the way, he alienated many a follower, but all told, the catalog he’s created is filled with enough classic songs and albums to more than justify his stylistic about-faces. Beyond classic tracks such as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Like a Rolling Stone” (which often tops “best single of all time” lists) Dylan has crafted nearly a dozen albums that are essential listening for any serious rock fan.

Sometime in the 1980s, Dylan's muse seemed to escape him, but by the mid-1990s, he turned to his original source of musical inspiration and began channeling traditional folk and blues sources into his music. He then surprised nearly everyone by making compelling (and big-selling) albums such as “Time Out of Mind” and “Modern Times.”

“When you get to 1997 you can see things changed,” said Greil Marcus, author of three Dylan tomes. “He had gone through a long period of making increasingly lifeless, pointless, contrived, phony-sounding albums. Clearly he came to a point in time where he said, ‘This is all bull----,’ and he must have said to himself, ‘I’m not writing songs that demand to be sung.’

“We’re all familiar with (F. Scott) Fitzgerald saying that there are no second acts in American lives and this clearly disproves that,” Marcus said.

As a performer, Dylan is unique because he doesn’t return to the pop scene every few years to unveil some high-wattage tour, but keeps plugging away on what’s become known as the “Never Ending Tour.” In that sense, he’s become like the old troubadours he admired.

“He’s kind of the last vestige of a way of writing about life and music that no longer exists in a sense,” Heylin said. “I think the last line of my essay in the biography ‘Behind the Shades’ is a quote where he says, ‘Nobody does it like I do and after I’m gone that will be that.’ ”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Art imitates agriculture

Farmer/poet Wendell Berry wrote "The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture" more than a quarter-century ago. In that book he eloquently made the (still-valid) argument that America's culture and agricultural traditions are intimately linked -- for better or worse. Farmers' markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with their emphasis on local food production are welcome responses to the dominance of agribusiness and its practices that exploit the environment and ignore community values. (GW)

Artist try farmers' tactic, selling community shares

By Laura Collins-Hughes
May 23, 2011

CAMBRIDGE — Andrew Galland is all in favor of buying locally. That’s one reason he purchased a share in a CSA: a community-supported agriculture program that, for a few hundred dollars, will deliver a box of fresh Massachusetts vegetables each week of the growing season to a drop-off near his house in Somerville.

The 34-year-old software designer just signed up for another kind of CSA, too, but this one won’t bring him arugula or eggplant. His $300 share in Community Supported Art will get him three monthly assortments of locally created artworks — nine pieces in all, his to keep.

CSArt, a new project of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, is modeled on a wildly popular Minnesota art CSA, which has inspired groups in Chicago and Frederick, Md., to create their versions. And some glassmakers in Burlington, Vt., independently adopted the CSA form last year.

The success of the Minnesota program is due in part to the fact that it’s based on something people understand, said Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts, one of the groups that developed it.

“We pretty much took that model wholesale from community-supported agriculture,’’ she said.

Springboard has found that just as shareholders in produce CSAs are curious about who grows their basil, art share buyers like to have contact with the artists whose work they are getting. They want to understand the process, too.

“It gives them a different appreciation for the end product,’’ Zabel said.

It also alleviates the intimidation that the art gallery scene creates for some people, she said. And if the interaction leads shareholders to commission pieces from artists they’ve come to know, then there’s a tangible impact as well.

As of yesterday, when the Cambridge center hosted an event billed as an IPO party for the 50 shares being offered, nine shares had been purchased.

The event was also a reception for the nine artists chosen to create the works, all from Cambridge or Somerville: Grace Durnford, Kate Martens, Judith Motzkin, Anne Peramaki, Christopher Poteet, Richard Sabin, Bryan Smith, Ed Tekeian, and James Zall. By the end of the three monthly deliveries, each artist will have sent one work to each shareholder.

CSArt aims to nurture artists as small business owners and to tap into the burgeoning enthusiasm for the local and the handmade.

“It’s in the zeitgeist,’’ said Susan Hartnett, the center’s executive director.

The contents of the monthly CSArt boxes will be entirely up to the artists who make the work, just as the harvest in a traditional CSA is up to the farmers and the weather. Unlike art collectors who buy work that suits their tastes, shareholders will have no say in what style or form of art they receive.

But according to Hartnett, CSArt’s target audience is not interested only in artistic style; rather, it is acting on other impulses, such as the desire to meet local artists and “to do a good thing’’ by supporting them.

For Galland and his wife, Gina, one reason for taking what he called the “fun risk’’ of buying a share is the hope of decorating their home with art at a relatively modest cost.

If they don’t like some of it, they can give it away, much like someone with 5 pounds of unwanted rutabagas from a farm CSA could do.

An exhibition of the nine artists’ work July 1 to Aug. 31 at the Cambridge center will give CSArt shareholders and — if the 50 shares have not sold out — potential shareholders an idea of the work they might be acquiring. Those who committed early, like Galland, did so without knowing who the artists were, let alone what they created.

Each of the artists, chosen from a pool of 65 applicants, will receive a $1,500 stipend in exchange for 50 works of art. Some may be limited-edition prints, such as the watercolor woodcuts Sabin plans to make, while others will be one of a kind, like Motzkin’s ceramic cairns, small sculptures that look like carefully stacked stones. All will be original pieces.

Sabin, a retired architect who prints his woodcuts from blocks he carves out of poplar or aspen, said it may take him 24 hours of work to get even 25 usable prints, though it could be longer, depending on the complexity of the image. He’s considering a Concord snow scene for this project.

Motzkin, an established artist who said she ships her ceramics all over the world, creates her cairns from recycled shards of broken pots, which she tumbles in sand and water until they’re as soft-edged as the beach pebbles they often resemble.

“The stipend is really not enough to pay for anything,’’ said Motzkin, who has made six of her CSArt pieces. “Really, the reason to do this is community.’’

Durnford, a mixed-media artist who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2005, primarily wants to get her work into the hands of 50 people who didn’t know it before.

“I produce the work that I produce because I’m compelled to do it, but also because it’s something I want to share,’’ said Durnford, who began making fine art when she returned from designing textiles at a mill in India and couldn’t find a comparable job in this country.

For farmers, a CSA can help pay the bills — it’s a means of getting money upfront for products. CSArt, which is funded by a $17,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Adams Arts Program, is more about long-term results. The stipend, Hartnett acknowledged, won’t make much of a monetary dent on its own.

“Think of it as seed capital,’’ she said.

Each of the artists will also get four hours of one-on-one time with a consultant in small business development and entrepreneurial skills, learning things like how to value and price their time.

It’s a service Durnford, a former Rhode Island School of Design textiles major, is eager to use. “The business side of art is just a whole . . .’’ She trailed off and sighed. “Making the things comes easy to me. Marketing them, not so much.’’

But Sabin, who works in a Huron Avenue studio filled with his watercolors and prints, sounded skeptical.

“I know I should have business plans and all those good things, and I should have a website and I should be on Facebook and this and that, and before you know it, there’s no time to paint,’’ he said.

If this year’s CSArt proves popular, the center could do it again, expanding into various art forms: video and new media, performance, material objects, a mix of all of the above, Hartnett said.

“There’s no doubt in our minds,’’ she said, “that if this thing is successful, there’s a lot of ways to run.’’

Laura Collins-Hughes can be reached at lcollins-hughes@globe.com.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Toy Story 2011

You wake up in a panic. It's 1 AM on Christmas Eve. You just remembered that you forgot to get your daughter that piggy bank "like the one you had when you were a kid".

No sweat (well, maybe a little). You run to your computer, load your 3D modeling application and whip up a piggy bank design. You push the "print" button and your 3D printer begins making your piggy bank. A few dabs of acrylic paint and -- voila!

Sound like science fiction? (GW)

Autodesk Releases Free App That Brings 3-D Printing To The Masses


May 20, 2011

The high-end software maker unveils a design application for the rest of us, complete with pushbutton 3-D printing services.

If you hear "maker culture" and instantly think of grease-stained weirdos who drone on about steampunk and "screws not glue"... well, you wouldn't be wrong. But when a giant software company like Autodesk throws its weight behind "makers," you know it's much more than a subculture. "There was this huge digital content generation that emerged, but now that 'Generation C' is turning into 'M,' the Make generation," Tatjana Dzambazova, Senior Product Manager at Autodesk, tells Co.Design. "They want to start physically fabricating the things that they create digitally." And now Autodesk is providing that power, in a free application called 123D that will let any maker, professional or amateur, design and 3D-print anything on demand from toys to turbines.

123D lets you easily fabricate objects, not just visualize them.

123D differs from other free 3-D modeling software like Google Sketchup in that it's designed to let you easily fabricate objects, not just visualize them. The software's "Make It" link will let you push your 3-D file to fabricating partners like 3-D Systems, Ponoko, and TechShop, or to your own MakerBot (if you have one).

Because 123D has physical output in mind, it includes ingenious features like a "shell" command that turns any solid digital model hollow, which makes it much faster and cheaper print. But high-end precision solid modeling is possible as well, thanks to the "perfect stereolithography files" that 123D creates. "Solid modeling means Autodesk 123D can create perfect watertight solids, with no gaps or other situations which causes 3-D printing to fail," Dzambazova explains.

But before you start to feel intimidated by all this power, rest assured that Autodesk intends 123D to be simple enough to play with like a toy at first. "We tried to keep the UI very clean, and eliminate any dialog boxes and command lines which are not obvious to an amateur," says Dzambazova. "It's all contextual: when I pick or select something, at the mouse I'll see all the things I can do with that selection. It doesn't display what you can't do." That encourages playful experimentation right out of the box, as a user pushes, pulls, cuts and stretches 3-D shapes using intuitive actions. You can also add exact parameters "in a little input field on the fly," Dzambazova adds, "but you can 'graduate' to that. It's like a video game: You don't get dropped into the expert level the first time you play."

Autodesk intends 123D to be simple enough to play with like a toy.

Part of creating that appealing first impression is a massive library of over 4,000 prefab components to play and build with: common shapes and objects, screws, bolts, pins, even entire rooms. And instead of displaying these components in abstract, Photoshop-like "layers" -- "that's a 2-D paradigm that doesn't make sense for physical objects," says Dzambazova -- 123D provides an intuitive "assembly map" that groups objects in terms of the pieces they're made of, just like in real life. (For example, a guitar would "contain" the body, strings, neck, and tuning screws.)

123D is a beta product only available for Windows at the moment, but Autodesk promises "a whole series of these introductory tools" to come, including Mac, mobile, and tablet-optimized versions. That's a big contribution to making "maker culture" become just... culture. "There's a blurring between pro and amateur: High-end software that was once used only for work is now used for fun, and applications that were fixed are now mobile," says Dzambazova. "This is a fundamental change in 'making stuff.' The whole point is that with tools like 123D, small players can play the big game." Some assembly required, of course.

[Download 123D for free here]