American Elephants

A Newly Discovered Species of Monkey by The Elephant's Child

These are two young lesula (cercopithecus lomaniensis) a previously undiscovered species of monkey from the central Democratic Republic of Congo in one of the country’s last unexplored forest areas. The 6,500 square mile area where the shy lesula is found is remote and sparsely populated. The adult male has a unique and highly identifiable blue rear end.  They say it is a new species, but of course it is only new to us.

Researchers say that the species is vulnerable as a result of hunting for bush meat. They  called for controls on hunting and the creation of a protected area to conserve the lesula. Bush meat or wild game is dangerous in Africa as it may transmit Ebola or HIV to humans.

Species with small ranges like the lesula can move from vulnerable to seriously endangered in just a few years. The challenge for conservation is to intervene before losses become definitive. It’s complicated when the need for meat protein is high.

(photos by John Hart)

Genetically Engineered Suspicion and Paranoia in California. by The Elephant's Child

“A fight over genetically engineered foods has been
heating up in the nation’s grocery aisles.
Now it’s headed for the ballot box”

Unbelievable. Every time you think that California has finally dropped off  the West Coast and drifted away into Never-Never land, they pop back up with some other weirdness in the news.  Banning ‘Happy Meals” and pet goldfish is not enough, now voters will decide whether to make California the first state in the country to require labels on products such as sweet corn whose genes have been altered to make them resistant to pests.

Proposition 37 will be a big-money battle pitting natural food businesses and activists against multinational companies such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Kellogg.  Backers and opponents have already raised nearly $4 million to sway the minds of the state’s voters, and it will expand into tens of millions as the November election approaches.

There is no health magic contained in “organic” food. The magic occurs in the idea that using manure is more “natural” than fertilizing with nitrogen derived from carbon-based fossil fuels. The only qualifications for food to be “organic” is in the process of growing only with “natural” fertilizer, and “natural” pesticide — usually derived from pyrethiums, an extraordinarily poisonous substance. Activists have a semi-religious belief that anything derived from petroleum must be evil. Organic food is not better for you, not healthier, not fresher, and about 30% more expensive.

Genetic engineering has been peacefully going on for centuries, but when accomplished by scientists instead of by the wind and happenstance it supposedly somehow becomes threatening. Visitors to Mesa Verde, and to the museum there, may have seen corn cobs that were the genetic predecessors of today’s tasty ears. Tiny, only 3″ to 4″ long.

Genetic engineering has created “golden rice” by adding  beta carotene to rice for areas of the world with great Vitamin A deficiency. A lack of Vitamin A means millions of deaths and thousands of cases of blindness, with the worst effects on  children and pregnant women. The original strain has been improved and studies show that it performs as hoped. Crop yields are also higher . It is hoped that it will clear the final regulatory hurdles and reach the market in 2013. The Gates Foundation and Helen Keller International have been supporting development efforts.

Anti-GMO activists like Greenpeace have the usual conspiracy theories, and quasi-religious objections to any genetic engineering. Their noise has been sufficient to scare the gullible, hence the presence of Proposition 37 on the California ballot. GMO foods have been declared completely safe by U.S. regulators, but it’s easy to scare people with hints of “the unknown.” People have been scared by the term “genetically engineered,” and the people who sell products containing GMO foods are worried about losing sales.
70% to 80% of all processed foods sold in supermarkets could be affected as well as a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

We are so blessed in the great variety of foods available to us today. Relax and enjoy.

Wow! I Didn’t Know Africa Was So Big! by The Elephant's Child

(Click to enlarge, you have to see this big)

This handsome graphic representation of the continent of Africa gives us a whole new understanding of the size and potential of the continent in a way that verbal descriptions cannot. Many kinds of graphic representations become easier on the computer and more shareable. The right combinations of visual and text can add to learning in new ways that we don’t understand well yet.

For example, there is a YouTube video that is a representation of wars throughout history and the change that the wars bring about, that really impressed me. It is much too brief, and too fast in the speed-up of centuries, to be very useful; but there is a tantalizing glimpse of the potential for a new and better understanding of history in seeing visually the sweep of armies and population shifts. Bill Gates is involved with something like this, but the little I have seen is different but interesting.

When my youngest was in high school world history, the teacher called everything to a halt and inserted a class in geography. He found his class was clueless about basic geography which made any attempt to explain history meaningless.

We were being transferred frequently, and my oldest missed telling time completely.  He left his old school just before they reached that section, and the new school had already completed it. Took ages for us to discover that he had no idea how to tell time.

In any given group, we do not know what knowledge is missing unless some accident exposes the missing information. If we know a thing, we assume that those around us do as well, and it is not always apparent that they do not. Kids especially have lots of missing knowledge, but as they are unaware of it, cannot tell anyone that they don’t know.  And we don’t think to ask.

If you have school age kids, have you read their books to see what they are learning and what is missing?

100 Pictures Taken From Airplane Windows —Beautiful! by The Elephant's Child
December 9, 2011, 7:14 am
Filed under: Africa, Australia, China, Developing Nations, Europe, Middle East, United Kingdom

 11. New York, New York

Here is a collection of pictures taken out of airline windows. Sounds like looking at a bunch of clouds, but they are quite amazing, as  you tour the world.  Enjoy.

The U.N. Wants Us to “Go Green”—It Will Only Cost $76 Trillion! by The Elephant's Child

The United Nations has issued a new 251 page report with the benign sounding name of the “World Economic and Social Survey 2011” and it is filled with interesting phrases like “a radically new economic strategy” and “global governance.”  Add in “national energy use caps” and a massive redistribution of wealth and the survey is trying to remake the entire globe.

The report is an official United Nations document and the preface is signed by U.N, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon — all part of the “goal of full decarbonization of the global energy system by 2050.” But it seems that it is not just about climate.

The U.N. has been a remarkably ineffective and corrupt organization, but people assume that its role as a meeting place where all nations can be heard is somehow useful. Ineffectiveness aside, the U.N. has always been notable for its ambitions to be in charge of the government of the world. It has been their hope to accomplish this takeover by way of the climate debate — “going green.” Unfortunately U.N. funds have a way of ending up in the Swiss bank accounts of corrupt 3rd world dictators.  And Maurice Strong, who founded the IPCC, is now living in China supposedly with the benefit of his proceeds from “Oil for Food.”

The climate debate has expanded to eradicating hunger and overcoming poverty. The report says that the need is to “achieve a decent living standard for people in developing countries, especially the 1.4 billion still in extreme poverty, and the additional 2 billion people expected worldwide by 2050.

Just two years ago, U.N. researchers were claiming that it would cost “as much as $600 billion a year over the next decade to “go green.” The new report has more than tripled that number to $1.9 trillion per year for 40 years, or more than five times the entire Gross Domestic Product of the United States. This is a “technological overhaul” “on the scale of the first industrial revolution.”  Except in this case the U.N. will control this next industrial revolution.  Ambitious!  The U.N. calls for a push toward the “green economy” even though it freely admits “there is no unique definition of the green economy.”

The survey’s introduction rationalizes the massive cost by explaining “the green economy concept is based on the conviction that the benefits of investing in environmental sustainability outweigh the cost of not doing so.” So, by that rationale, any cost is sustainable.

And, as in all things from the U.N., government is the solution: “Governments will have to assume a much more central role” in making the change to a green economy. Where there’s government, there must be control and “active industrial and educational policies aimed at inducing the necessary changes in infrastructure and production processes.”

Well, “going green.”  The Kyoto Protocol, the only binding international agreement signed since the global warming scare began, expires after 2012.  Canada, Russia and Japan have declared that they will not renew. China and the United States have never signed it, and  are not about to. Poor countries are losing their enthusiasm as they realize that hard economic times mean less restitution money coming their way.

The EU’s commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent invites corruption, and German investigators found that 850 million euros disappeared into criminal enterprises taking advantage of  the opportunity. Italians found wind farm developers were billing the country but never producing electricity. The potential for fraud is widespread, and even Obama administration warmists are beginning to notice. At least the U.S. insisted  that countries subject their emission claims to verification.
The Left’s big idea is that prosperous countries owe the world restitution for the sin of engaging in the Industrial Revolution and becoming prosperous. The Global Warming Policy Foundation notes that:

While it is encouraging that the global warming camp no longer has things entirely its own way, celebration would be premature. For all the gnashing of teeth and complaining about corporate influence we hear from global warming bureaucrats and campaigners, the truth is that, today, the warmists are the establishment.

Billions are being redistributed to researchers, developing nations, carbon speculators, alternative energy investors and other carbon profiteers – who would like to turn billions into trillions. Pity the poor carbon traders whose markets expire with Kyoto. Not all have their villa in the sun yet.

But rest assured, they will do whatever is necessary to get theirs. Big Warming will not surrender its hold on Western taxpayers without a fight.

Fifty Million People Disappear! Embarrassment Ensues. by The Elephant's Child

Back in 2005, The United Nations Environment Programme predicted that climate change would create 50 million climate refugees by 2010. These people would be forced to flee a range of disasters including sea level rise, increases in the numbers and severity of hurricanes, and disruption to the production of food.

The United Nations Environment Programme even provided a handy map. The map shows us the places most at risk included the very sensitive low-lying islands of the Pacific and the Caribbean.

Back on April 11th, Gavin Atkins of the Asian Correspondent asked a simple question:

“What happened to the climate refugees?

Anthony Watts explains the whole embarrassing story.  The UN somehow made the handy map vanish, just like the 50 million refugees simply vanished. Then they moved the goalposts. There’s even a dandy picture of people at the beach waiting for the rising of the tides. But scroll down, the refugee map is recaptured, and all is exposed. If you are unfamiliar with Watts Up With That, Anthony’s splendid and popular website, be sure to bookmark it.

Food Prices Up, Gas Prices Up, Confidence Down. by The Elephant's Child

Wholesale prices rose 1.6 percent due to the biggest jump in food costs in more than 36 years, and higher energy costs. Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November of 1974.

Those who shop for groceries are already well aware of the rise.  Some producers are keeping the price steady or less, but the packages are smaller. I have, for as long as I can remember, purchased granulated sugar in 5 lb. packages, now they are 4 lb.  In many cases, boxes are the same height and width,  just thinner.  Producers hope to create the illusion that you are getting the same amount for your money.

A business column in the Wall Street Journal from February 25, said that food prices will jump between 3% and 4% this year according to Agriculture Dept. forecasts.  The cost of processing food is soaring partly because foreign demand for U.S. agricultural commodities is surging at the same time that the rising price of gasoline is encouraging the biofuel industry’s appetite for corn to make ethanol. Prices of corn (up 88%), wheat (up 76%), and soybeans (up 37%) have surged from just 12 months ago.  These basic commodities are in most processed food. Transportation costs are obviously up, as you can see at the pump.

Food companies want to raise prices and supermarkets don’t.  The article says “The stubbornly high unemployment rate is still casting a shadow over many consumers, who are pinching pennies despite the recession’s end.

In another article from the same source, New York Fed President William Dudley tried to explain the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy.  The Fed doesn’t thing food and gas prices matter to its policy calculations because they aren’t part of “core” inflation.  Mr. Dudley tried to explain that other prices are falling. “Today you can buy an iPad 2 that costs the same as an iPad1 that is twice as powerful,” he said. “You have to look at the prices of all things. Someone in his audience said “I can’t eat an iPad.” Another asked “When was the last time, sir, that you went grocery shopping?”

In the Middle East, women in Tunisia and Egypt in TV interviews screamed about the cost of food.  Food price inflation was a factor, but no one knows how much.  Egypt imports more than 50% of its wheat.  Several countries went on a grain buying spree to avoid fears of famine among their people.

Global food production may have to double by 2050, say some agricultural economists.  Since 1900, corn yields have quintupled and wheat yields quadrupled because of improved seeds, more fertilizer, irrigation and better farming practices. Today biotechnology can make crops more resistant to weeds, bugs and drought.  Sub-Saharan African agriculture lags so far behind state-of-the-art farming practice that there are immense opportunities for catching up.

Confidence? Just 22% say that the U.S. is headed in the right direction.

What Does America Stand For In the Middle East? by The Elephant's Child

“Arab nations lag behind rest of world economically, despite oil and natural gas,” read the headline in The Washington Post.

“The nations of the Arab Middle East sit atop perhaps half of the planet’s oil and a third of its natural gas reserves, yet the economies of the region are among the most stagnant.” Growth per-capita ranks behind Asia, Latin America and even the rest of Africa.” Unemployment, particularly among young people, remains high, and the size of government remains high. IMF officials estimate that Egyptian government agencies or state-run enterprises account for upward of 77 percent of the non-agricultural employment in Egypt.

Public-sector wages are kept artificially high, and encourage workers to seek public sector jobs.  As a result, growth rates don’t keep pace with the population.  The UN’s 2009 Arab Human Development Report found that Arab states as a whole were less industrialized than they were in 1970.  Governments used revenue from oil and gas, and in the case of Egypt tourism and the Suez Canal,  to maintain a  large public workforce and cheap goods.

David Warren takes us back to 1952 in Egypt, in a short column, and reviews a bit of Egyptian history, with the overthrow of various kings and potentates, and resulting disorder.  Is the overthrow of Mubarak just another in a long list of failed leaders?

Americans are apt to sympathize with the downtrodden, and with popular revolts, remembering our own colonial rebellion.  But few countries have had our fortuitous path to democracy.

At the eve of the Revolution our population was around 4 million, widely scattered. We had enjoyed 156 years of relative freedom and little government, with plenty of opportunity for free land and freedom to do business. The people who came to settle in America were perhaps genetically selected (if that is possible) for courage, spirit and self-reliance.  And many came to get away from some kind of government regulation or oppression.  Philadelphia was our largest city, and the population in 1776 is estimated as somewhere in the vicinity of 35,000 to 40,000.  Though there were English governors, the British government was across the Atlantic. And perhaps, above all, we were fortunate in our first President, who resisted all pressure to become a King, a president for life, or anything but a citizen temporarily elevated to office, and when he completed his term, he went along home.

Contrast that with the situation of Egypt now.  Egypt is the 15th most populous country — at 82,079,636 according to 2011 estimates.  Cairo has a population  of an estimated 10.902 million, and the median age in Egypt is only 24.  Around half the population lives on less than $2 a day, and a spike in food prices leads to trouble.  Egypt is the world’s largest grain importer in most years — or to rephrase that, they can’t feed their own population.  In 2009, Egyptian imports were $55 billion against $29 billion of exports.  Subtract billions of tourism, and current news probably doesn’t have a lot of people going to see the pyramids, and they are in real trouble.

The general conversation suggests that it’s either democracy or the Muslim Brotherhood, so everyone is enthusiastic about Arab democracy.  But democracy is more than just elections.  It requires the freedom to organize, the gradual development of political parties, and the peaceful transfer of power.  It requires the rule of law, but our notions of the rule of law include things like property rights, the ability to start a business, to borrow and lend, a free market.  It requires a free press, or at least the free exchange of ideas. Perhaps in today’s world Twitter and Facebook must be a sort of substitute.

The U.S must support a freedom agenda. Our only agenda should be to help protect new nations against totalitarian  parties. We can offer guiding principles. That’s what Americans do. We can be a firm voice standing for freedom and democracy.  We should be clear-eyed about what we stand for.

The real terror that is eating away at the Arab world is socio-economic marginalization.  A report by Hernando De Soto, the Peruvian economist, noted that 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title.  The largest employer in Egypt is the extralegal sector.They do not have access to ordinary business organizational forms that would allow them to grow in the way that legal enterprises do. To open a small bakery in Egypt, they found would take more than 500 days.  Legal institutions fail the majority of people.  To get title to a vacant piece of land would take more than 10 years of dealing with red tape.

To empower the people, and allow economic growth from the bottom up for an aspiring people requires reform of existing legal institutions.  A freedom agenda is not supported by dithering and uncertainty.  It requires a firm voice standing up for American Principle.  That really isn’t so hard, it just means knowing what American principles are.

The Story Behind Your Flowers by The Elephant's Child

March comes in, they say, like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Could be.  Today started off with sunshine, and has devolved into brief cloudbursts, short windstorm–the kind that would shut down the turbines— another cloudburst and more sunshine.  It’s 45° and I can still see a patch of blue sky out the window, but clouds dominate.  Fortunately, the grocery stores are full of blooms to assuage the gloom.

There are various bursts — Valentine’s Day flowers were a reminder to every man who entered the store that he’d better not forget to take some home.  We’ll have some green-dyed carnations for St. Patrick’s Day, and then explosions of flowers for Easter and Mother’s Day.  But where do they all come from when the weather is so miserable here?

This fascinating article from the Smithsonian tells the story about how Col0mbia became our major supplier of flowers.  It is a remarkable story of   specialization and innovation.

Japan Dumps Kyoto Protocol. by The Elephant's Child

At the Cancún climate change summit: Japan has refused to extend the Kyoto protocol.  The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Japan in 1997 as a binding international treaty that requires most of the world’s riches countries to make binding cuts.

Jun Arima, an official in the government’s economics trade and industry department,  made a brief and strong statement.  He said “Japan will not inscribe its target under the Kyoto protocol on any conditions or under any circumstances.”

The U.S. Congress has refused to ratify it and remains outside the protocol.  The G77 countries, the group of developing nations who view the Kyoto protocol as a way to restrain the richer countries expressed dismay.

Diplomats were urgently trying to clarify the position, which seemed pretty clear.  They were hoping it was only a negotiating tactic,  which seems unlikely.

Las Bolas de Fuego — loosely translated — Great Balls of Fire! by The Elephant's Child

I don’t know about your town, but in mine, fireworks are banned.  No more fireworks stands, no more roman candles, whistling petes or anything else interesting.  That isn’t to say that there are not explosions everywhere on the Fourth of July, but they are illegal explosions.   There are formal fireworks displays.  Anyone that misses the excitement should take off for Nejapa, San Salvador on the 31st of August.

There is a festival in Nejapa, called Las Bolas de Fuego.  There are two stories about the festival.  The historical story is about a local volcano called El Playon which errupted in November of 1658, which found the people in the old village and forced them to flee in terror to what is now the location of Nejapa.

Then there is the religious version, where you have San Jeronimo who was fighting the Devil with great balls of fire.  I know, it looks like a riot, but look carefully— they’re all wearing protective gloves and having a wonderful time!

Another Speech to the Same Old UN. by The Elephant's Child

President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly this morning, nearly two years, he reminded them, after his election as President of the United States.

Nine years ago the destruction of the World Trade Center signaled a threat to the world, and “two years ago a financial crisis on Wall Street devastated American families  on Main Street.”

The global economy suffered an enormous blow during the financial crisis, crippling markets and deferring the dreams of millions on every continent.  Underneath these challenges to our security and prosperity lie deeper fears; that ancient hatreds and religious divides are once again ascendant, that a world which has grown more interconnected has somehow slipped beyond our control.

It’s a really, really,  big challenge that he has faced, and here is what he has done.  He has rescued our economy from potential catastrophe, and joined with other nations to spur growth and restart job creation. He has reformed Wall Street and the system of global finance so this can never happen again.  The global economy has been pulled back from the brink of disaster. We have resisted protectionism and are exploring ways to expand trade and commerce.  Modestly, he has saved the world.

This is pleasant hooey. The financial crisis was not caused by Wall Street, it was caused by the U.S. government.  He has not rescued the economy, and whether the reform of Wall Street accomplishes anything remains to be seen.

The causes of the financial crisis have not been addressed, and the Government Sponsored Enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have not been reformed and are free to do it all again.  Congress has dreamed up a protectionist bill to punish the Chinese that is a very bad idea, and free trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea are still sitting in the President’s inbox.

That’s what goes on at the United Nations. Heads of State come to address the General Assembly, and each tells the assembled Ambassadors  how much he is doing for world prosperity, human rights, ending war, encouraging tolerance, ending nuclear proliferation, feeding the hungry and so on and so on.  And each nation continues to address their own self interest, and nothing changes.

The President’s agenda has not changed in the slightest in response to changes in the world; he’s still talking about talks with Iran, Peace between Israel and Palestine, and democracy in the world not because the United States dictates it, but because people demand a say in how they are governed.  He apparently has no recognition that his actions often belie his pleasant assertions, nor that the real world is going in a different direction.

Everybody seems to recognize that the UN needs to be reformed, but there is no drive to reform anything, and everyone tells the members how really swell they are and how noble the intent of the United Nations.  And they promise to come back next year for more of the same.


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