Archive | January 2014

Even More Cyber Abuse of Women

Amanda Hess certainly struck a nerve. Following up her article, Why Women Are Not Welcome on the Internet, the Pacific Standard has added four sections of testimonials: This Is What the Harassment and Abuse of Women on the Internet Looks Like:

Two years ago I began posting a serialized novel to a fan fiction website. An individual somehow determined my userID and password, logged onto the site as me, and added a bogus chapter to my novel.

The bogus chapter was less than a page long. But is said something completely revolting. Supposedly, the female characters in my story found it sexually pleasing to have each others’ feces rubbed in their faces and over their tongues.

I deleted the objectionable material and complained about it to the webmaster. I changed my password. The objectionable writing was re-posted, with additions. The offender was communicating in his own name. And then again, in mine.

At the invitation of two users on a different fan fiction site, I moved my project over to it. A few days later, the objectionable posts re-appeared on the new site, embellished with more details about a giant orgy that takes place in a bomb shelter.

… and Amy Wallace has chimed in with, Life as a Female Journalist: Hot or Not?:

In online comments and over email, I was called a prostitute and the C-word. J. B. Handley, a critic of childhood vaccination and the founder of the autism group Generation Rescue, affiliated with the actress Jenny McCarthy, sent me an essay titled, “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.” In it, he implied that my subject had slipped me a date-rape drug. Later, an anti-vaccine website Photoshopped my head onto the body of a woman in a strapless dress who sat next to Dr. Offit at a festive dinner table. The main course? A human baby.

Wallace notes that while much of the problem is with anonymous trolls, a lot happens in plain sight, with no consequences.

Choose your ‘flation

In the US we ignore food and energy costs to pretend we have low inflation. European nations are concerned about deflation, but Russia, India, Turkey, Venezuela, and several Gulf Coast nations are facing stagflation.

Euro Zone Must Defeat Deflation Ogre

Europe’s low inflation rate has become the new focal point for those who believe the euro zone is doomed to disaster. Inflation in the zone fell to just 0.8% in December, well below the European Central Bank target of “close to but below 2%.” In Greece, inflation is already negative, while in Spain, Portugal and Ireland it ranges between 0.2% and 0.3%. That is fueling fears the currency area could tip into outright deflation, as Japan did in the 1990s when falling prices led to prolonged stagnation. Consumers held off purchases as they waited for goods to become cheaper, causing growth to stall and the debt burdens to rise.

The latest to lend its voice to the chorus of anxiety is the International Monetary Fund. Last week, IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned that deflation was a rising risk for the global economy, which could be disastrous for the recovery. “If inflation is the genie, then deflation is the ogre that must be fought decisively,” she said.

Russia Is Facing Stagflation, Central Banker Says

Russia’s economic growth has been slowing amid dwindling investment, hefty capital outflows, and weak demand and low prices for its commodities exports. Officials repeatedly downgraded forecasts for economic growth last year to 1.4%, a far cry from the average annual pace of about 7% during the early 2000s and well below the medium-term target of 5% set by President Vladimir Putin. Consumer prices grew 6.5% last year, above the 5%-to-6% range the central bank was targeting.

Economists consider stagflation particularly tough to battle because, unlike recessions or periods of slowing growth with typically low inflation, cutting interest rates risks causing prices to spiral.

In, India in stagflation, not crisis, after discussing India, the interviewer asked Harvard Economist Kenneth Rogoff about the world picture:

Would it be that when the next bubble bursts and the world realises that to have believed that ‘This Time Is Different’ is a folly again?
Rogoff: I don’t think that the United States is in for a lost decade like Japan. The United States has the shale gas proposition; the tax factor is strong. The US has done better than those who have experiences. They have regained their peak per capita GDP and it is growing. Eurozone certainly looks like going like Japan. They have not articulated the path to growth in Europe. They don’t seem to be prepared to write down debt of periphery countries. They seem to be limping from one quarter to the next. I don’t think the US is in that situation. I think they have near-zero interest rates because policy-makers are too rigid about 2% inflation in these extraordinary times. They are shy of telling their people that inflation is going to rise temporarily.

What about the Volcker rule which is said to be impacting the financial services industry?
Rogoff: I don’t think it is going to have such a big effect because what it is going to do is to lead to migration from the banking system to the shadow banking system which will not be regulated the same way. By the way, they know that. It will not have such a dramatic effect. It will figure in the compensation of some bankers and some people wish they were working in different firms. But, by and large, they have been doing everything possible to preserve the existing system because they were afraid what would happen if there is a big change. I think the US and the UK are deeply invested in preserving their financial sector.

One recurring concept is that deflation and stagflation in oil-producing countries will be driven by continuing unconventional oil production – shale gas, shale oil, tight oil, tar sands oil – in the US and Canada.

Coming ‘oil glut’ may push global economy into deflation

One piece of the jigsaw puzzle is missing to complete the deflation landscape across the West: a slide in oil prices. This is becoming more likely each month.

… markets face an “new oil supply glut” as three forces combine. US shale will add 1m barrels a day (b/d) to global supply for the third year running; Libya will crank up shipments after a near collapse in 2013; and Iran will come out of hibernation. “This will push OPEC spare capacity to levels last seen in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009,” he said.
America is on track to overtake Saudi Arabia as the top global producer of oil by 2016. It will account for more than half of non-OPEC world supply this year. The US Energy Department says US oil imports will drop to 5.5m b/d by next year, half the level a decade ago. This turns the world’s 89m b/d market upside-down.

What about oil depletion? How long can this North American oil rally last?

To avoid confusion, let me be clear that the dangers of dwindling oil supplies in the long-run have not gone away. Easy reserves of crude are being depleted. New fields are more costly. Peak oil may have the last laugh. Yet this should not be confused with the short-term risks of deflationary shock.

Architects Upset

From a lifetime of reading trade magazines, my memory is filled with plans and photos of many, many buildings and the names of a great many firms. I can connect the famous architects with their buildings, and the famous buildings with their architects, but I also recognize a lot of firm’s names even though I don’t remember exactly what they’ve built.

The names Billie Tsien and Tod Williams were immediately familiar to me, as were Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, from countless in-the-news and featured architect articles, but I couldn’t have named any of their projects from memory. So when I read Building Faces Wrecking Ball. So Does Couples’ Friendship. my reaction was, “Oh yeah, them.”:

Two celebrated architect couples, whose careers took off almost simultaneously in the hothouse of New York City design and who supported each other’s successes, are barely on speaking terms.

One pair, Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, designed the former home of the American Folk Art Museum on West 53rd Street; the other, Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, just recommended demolishing it as part of their plan to expand the Museum of Modern Art next door.

I had forgotten that Tsien and Williams figured at all in the PMA’s appropriation of the Barnes collection but while I had sympathy with opponents of that move, I thought this quote was a bit snippy:

“It’s delicious irony that the architects who needlessly pressed their personalities onto the ‘re-creation’ of the building to house the Barnes Foundation collection now protest the decision to demolish their museum,” said Jay Raymond, a former teacher at the Barnes and a litigant against the move.

My career hasn’t led to design ownership of many projects – I usually take someone else’s design and work out the kinks, making it code-compliant, energy efficient and buildable. But I have designed one or two houses that turned out well, and remember being offended to find one in the portfolio of some former coworkers without any credit to me. I suppose I’d be disappointed if one of my friends redesigned one of those houses. But I wouldn’t be devastated.

In my view any architect that is not inured to having their work reimagined or rejected or value-engineered must have been incredibly fortunate or entitled this far.

Yttrium, Medium-Rare

A few days ago, someone asked why I still buy paper books. Mostly cause I look at the screen too much as it is, but it also occurs to me that my books will be around if one day the power goes away, or if net neutrality disappears and all these devices aren’t worth using anymore.

Anyway, back in 2011, Michael Maeillo (dagblog’s wrasslin’ Destor) praised a Nick Kristof piece, We’re Rich in Nature:

Republicans have proposed opening more than 50 million acres of federal lands to logging, grazing and other uses. They argue that this would allow responsible “multiple use” of lands now locked up as wilderness. Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary under President Bill Clinton, has described the Republican bill as “the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws that has been proposed in my lifetime.” He said it would be “nothing more than a giveaway of our great outdoors.”

Back at dagblog, flowerchild commented:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011, Kennecott Mining is scheduled to blow a hole in the base of Eagle Rock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This hole will become the entrance to a sulfide mine that is expected to produce billions of dollars worth of nickel and rare earth minerals. This mine is expected to play out in five years or less. Then, Rio Tinto, the Chinese company with a horrendous human and environmental abuse reputation and who owns Kennecott ,will pull out, taking what few local jobs it provided (most of the high-paying mining jobs are filled by people already employed by Rio Tinto and relocated to the new mines) with them when they go.

A month later, in Your Prius’ Deepest, Darkest Secret for Mother Jones, Kiera Butler warned us about the nasty process of refining rare earths, and that due to export control by China, the US and other countries were starting mines, such as Molycorp’s Mountain Pass in California’s Mojave desert.

… Molycorp will also have to deal with a whole lot of waste. Rare earths occur naturally with the radioactive elements thorium and uranium, which, if not stored securely, can leach into groundwater or escape into the air as dust. The refining process requires huge amounts of harsh acids, which also have to be disposed of safely. Molycorp claims that its new operations are leak-proof, but the company’s ambitious plans have raised a few eyebrows among environmentalists, since the site has a history of spills.

Time passes ….

Less than two weeks ago, 2014, Jan 3rd, one Wall Street Journal writer, Chuin-Wei Yap, warned us about China again consolidating rare earths, then on Jan 8th, another writer, Joseph Sternberg, said it was all good. These are subscription pieces, but somehow I was able to read them:

China Moves to Tighten Rare-Earths Control, Pave Way for Consolidation

The consolidation reinforces signals that China is preparing to tighten global supply of the metals. In December, the Ministry of Commerce said it would trim the initial batch of its 2014 export quota for the first time in two years, though the final quota will be confirmed only in July.

[But] Rare-earths prices are still weak. … Twice in the past three years Baotou suspended rare-earths production, but prices kept sliding. Weaker global demand for rare earths, the development of new sources and greater efficiency in their use have contributed to a sharp price drop, following the even more dramatic price surge of three years ago.

How the Great Rare-Earth Metals Crisis Vanished

There was a time, not so long ago, when the world feared China was going to use its dominance of the global rare-earth-element industry to crush Western economies and militaries in a strategic vise. Those were the days. Recent developments highlight how wrong those alarmist predictions were. …

A Pentagon report leaked last month noted that reliance on Chinese rare-earth metals, while still high, is declining. New supplies for most rare-earths are coming online, as uncertainty over China’s reliability and a period of higher prices stimulated investment in new mining projects elsewhere. Greenland and Russia both have opened new tracts to rare-earths exploration in the past year. China’s share of global production now is down to as low as 80% from 95% in 2010.

By 2014, Jan 12th, in, America is Finally Waking Up to the Fact that China Controls Our Military’s Future, Matt DiLallo of Motley Fool countered that :

Unfortunately, there is still one rare earth to worry about. Production of yttrium isn’t expected to keep pace with U.S. military demand in the coming years, as it’s a particularly scarce element. The “heavy” element is used in precision lasers and rocket stabilizers. At the current rate, the U.S. won’t be able to meet its yttrium demand until about 2019. Overall, the good news in all of this is that America is waking up to the fact that we can’t rely on China to supply our nation with these important elements. We are taking steps forward to secure our supply. In doing so, we’ll ensure the security of our nation as well.

BTW, Talking Points Memo has a subscriber-only article, Inside The Messy Global Race for the Metals That Power Your iPhone.

If you’re a TPMPrime subscriber, [I’m not] don’t miss our latest Prime Longform on the global battle for ‘rare earths’, the critical metals that run your iPhone, your Android, your hybrid car and most things we associate with the high tech and post-fossil fuel world. They’re pricey, incredibly messy to get out of the ground, and almost all the global supply is mined in China. It’s a fascinating story that brings together tech, environmental threat and a new 21st ‘Great Game’ among the global powers to secure reliable supplies of the metals. It’s a great read. I hope you enjoy it.

Viadent, Sanguinaria and Bloodroot

I was browsing the other day and remembered Viadent toothpaste. I used it in the 1990s. My mouth always felt squeaky clean after brushing with Viadent, though it wasn’t abrasive at all, but not many stores carried it on their shelves. In 1985, the NY Times described Viadent as a potentially revolutionary product from a small company – a product that Colgate-Palmolive and Procter & Gamble couldn’t match:

Viadent, consisting of a toothpaste and a mouth wash, … produced by Vipont Laboratories, Fort Collins, Colo. Its active ingredient … is sanguinarine, an extract from the bloodroot plant that attacks and destroys bacteria in dark, wet places like the mouth, in which it allegedly destroys bacteria.

After moving to a new area I had given up looking for it, but I decided to see whether Amazon had it. They listed it as discontinued, and google revealed a number of disturbing posts about a key ingredient. An Ohio State paper claimed :

Sanguinarine, a natural anti-bacterial agent, was once a key ingredient in the Viadent line of toothpastes and mouth rinses. Researchers suspect that sanguinarine causes the formation of white lesions, called oral leukoplakia.

“Patients who had used Viadent products were 9.7 times more likely to have developed the white lesions.”

While leukoplakia often causes no symptoms and may disappear, it can also sometimes lead to oral cancer, said Carl Allen, a study co-author and a professor of oral pathology and dentistry at Ohio State University.

“We’re seeing patients who used the old formulation of Viadent develop lesions two, three, four, even five years after they stopped using the product,” he said.

Ok, I thought, I never had any symptoms, but I guess it’s a good thing I stopped using it. Then I found this 1999 NIH abstract, Viadent usage and oral leukoplakia: a spurious association, by Munro IC, Delzell ES, Nestmann ER, & Lynch BS:

… In 1990 and 1993, an Expert Panel reported on reviews of these data and concluded that Viadent products are safe for their intended use. Despite the large database of information to support the safety of Viadent products, Damm et al. (1999) recently raised the possibility that their usage may be causally associated with development of oral leukoplakia. However, a critique of this recent report shows that it does not fulfil criteria for establishing causation. In particular, the study does not show that exposure to Viadent preceded the onset of leukoplakia, it does not demonstrate dose-response or biological plausibility, and it suffers from selection and information bias and from potential confounding. Furthermore, upon critical evaluation, the Damm et al. (1999) report on a case-series is inconsistent with the weight of available clinical evidence showing that Sanguinaria extract-containing oral health care products cause no cytotoxic or significant irritant effects in the oral mucosa in human studies of up to 6 months duration. The animal data similarly do not support a causal association between Viadent usage and oral leukoplakia in humans. These data demonstrate that Sanguinaria extract and whole Viadent formulations are without significant irritation potential and have no effects on the oral mucosa, even in studies with life-long dietary exposure to Sanguinaria extract. The mutagenicity and genotoxicity data do not indicate that Sanguinaria extract or its components are genotoxic in vivo. The results of 2 GLP-compliant rat oncogenicity studies provide no evidence of any carcinogenic effect of Sanguinaria extract. In conclusion, the available clinical and animal data provide no support for and in fact argue strongly against the hypothesis that the use of Viadent toothpaste and/or oral rinse products may be causally associated with the development of leukoplakia in humans.

However by 2002, there were several more studies linking Viadent with leukoplakia, and it disappeared from the market. In 2012, Vlachojannis C, Magora F, Chrubasik S. published, Rise and fall of oral health products with Canadian bloodroot extract:

The rhizome of Sanguinaria canadensis (SC, bloodroot) contains an active principle with antimicrobial, antiinflammatory, antioxidative and immunomodulatory effects. For this reason SC extract has been added to toothpastes and mouthwashes in various concentrations. When tested separately, neither the toothpastes nor the mouthwashes with SC extract had any demonstrable clinical effectiveness against dental plaque and gingivitis. Although using them together twice a day seemed more effective than using placebo, more recent studies have shown conflicting results. Preclinical safety studies up to 2000, which did not include studies longer than 6 months, were thought not to indicate any appreciable potential for harm – to the oral mucosa in particular. In 2003, the FDA Subcommittee on Oral Health Care Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use concluded from a review that using SC-containing products is safe. However, for reasons unknown, the review failed to consider publications between 1999 and 2001 that suggested a possible link between the use of SC-containing products and the pre-neoplastic lesion, leukoplakia. As it happened, bloodroot had already been removed (in 2001) from the formula of one of the most widely used products in question and the brand has since then disappeared altogether from the worldwide market.

BTW, bloodroot, or bloodwort, is an old homeopathic remedy for a variety of respiratory and rheumatic ailments. So I wonder, why the dueling papers? Was Viadent indeed a dangerous product? Or was it torpedoed with studies funded by larger firms? And how would we ever know the truth?

A Bridge vs Troubled Water

For several days now, news analysis has been dominated by the mini-scandal of whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie actually ordered the closing of several lanes of the heavily-traveled George Washington Bridge to punish the Mayor of Fort Lee NJ, or whether his aides did it behind his back. That the lanes were arbitrarily closed and caused several days of traffic jams is beyond dispute. Today’s NY times summarizes:

… on Sept. 9, a police commander … led a crew that set up a long, curving line of traffic cones at Fort Lee’s southern approach to the upper level of the George Washington Bridge. The cones funneled drivers normally served by three tollbooths into just one. … Backups began, and soon much of Fort Lee’s three square miles became a montage of idling cars and collective exasperation.

Workers were hours late to their jobs. Emergency vehicles were slowed. And the police were baffled. So was Mr. Sokolich. Who ordered this? It was the first day of school, the anniversary of Sept. 11 was two days away and there was colossal gridlock outside the world’s busiest bridge.

So began four strange days in Fort Lee.

Why the bridge lanes were closed is up for debate. MSNBC’s arch Rachel Maddow conjectured that it stemmed from a dispute over state supreme court justices but now others at MSNBC & Josh Marshall at TPM wonder if it was linked to a billion dollar real estate development nearby. Maybe Christie was just channeling TV’s tough guy governor Peter Florrick (played by Chris Noth). The real story may never come out.

The bridge closure story certainly resonates with those of us who have ever been stuck in traffic, but so far the mainstream news has reported the barest of facts of a far more important story – that of the accidental poisoning of the water supply of some 300,000 West Virginians. One would think that being without potable water for days or weeks would resonate with the public at large, but while some stories of tragedy go predictably viral – for example, the white-woman-in-distress story – the public and the media seem perfectly able to compartmentalize and ignore the suffering of large groups of people if they consider them to be sufficiently unlike themselves.

West Virginians have long been the butt of jokes about inbreeding, backwardness and poverty. When I worked in PA, one joke making the rounds was, What do you call a pretty girl in WV?A visitor. I worked with an attractive and intelligent young woman from WV, and she had a picture on her desk of her several attractive sisters, so I knew that wasn’t true, but jokes don’t have to be true to keep going. Another joke claimed that a hurricane blew through WV and caused millions of dollars of improvements. So I’m not exactly surprised that the water issue hasn’t gotten top coverage.

January is often the time of year for predictions, and usually those predictions fall flat. But though we try to quickly forget victims of hurricanes, derechos, oil spills, school shootings, tsunamis, radioactive accidents and chemical explosions, it seems appropriate to observe that we are being offered fair warning about our future.

The Middle is a Tough Row to Hoe

We’ve recently seen some firearms pundits punished for trying to take a reasoned position between the two rigid extremes of the gun debate. In a similar vein, writing, What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters, Nathanael Johnson feels that discussion of GMOs is far less important than – but a proxy for – a debate about the industrial model of agriculture.

If the stakes are so low, why do people care so much? I think it has something to do with the role GMOs play in the stories we tell ourselves about agriculture in the modern world. When Dan Charles was researching his (terrific) book, Lords of the Harvest, he bumped up against some of the same quandaries I encountered, and concluded that the importance of these narratives was tantamount.

“The dispute over genetic engineering involves facts, to be sure,” he wrote. “But its parties disagree far more passionately over the story. They quarrel over the nature of the characters, the plot, and over the editing. They also feud over the unknowable: the ending.”

The debate isn’t about actual genetically modified organisms — if it was we’d be debating the individual plants, not GMOs as a whole — it’s about the stories we’ve attached to them. Both sides have agreed that this thing, this rhetorical construct we call GMOs, will be used to talk about something bigger. … people care about GMOs because they symbolize corporate control of the food system, or unsustainable agriculture, or the basic unhealthiness of our modern diet. On the other side, people care about GMOs because they symbolize the victory of human ingenuity over hunger and suffering, or the triumph of market forces, or the wonder of science. These larger stories are so compelling that they often obscure the ground truth.

Beneath all this is a fundamental disagreement about technology.