Tag: World War II

Looking into self.

Rounding off the week.

Starting with Monday’s video of Carl Sagan reminding us all that Planet Earth is just a grain of sand in the vast cosmos right through to yesterday’s Dealing with madness post, much of the week has been reminding us all of one very fundamental truth.  No better expressed than in a comment from Patrice Ayme [my emphasis]:

… there is no healthy man without a healthy world.

Regulars will have noted the high levels of debate this week.  Thank you all for those comments.

I have also received a couple of emails with feedback and comments, sent to me on a personal basis.  One of those emails had such a powerful message that I begged for permission to publish it on Learning from Dogs.  I was asked to keep the author’s identity private but, trust me, it is from someone I know well who subscribes to ideas of integrity and honesty in spades.

The author also strongly recommended publishing in association with his personal essay an extract from Chris Hedges’ book “Death of the Liberal Class”.  That extract follows straight on from the essay.


Reflections from a Vietnam Combat Veteran

War is an unnatural dichotomy.  Both sides are morally and materially diminished.  A future World War would most probably finish us as the self-appointed predominant intelligent species on planet earth.  It seems worth noting that German industrialists coordinated fundamentalist propaganda to foster the bigotry, hatred and fear which fueled their profitable war engines prior to World War II.

United States commercial media today reflects a financially dominated military-industrial culture with liberty and justice for sale.  The results are divisive and lead to both a declared international war against nebulous assailants we have been taught to dislike and an internal political war that has polarized our once fair nation.

We’ve stopped investing in the future in response to radicals who want to destroy government, human rights and what remains of the earth’s surface resources.  There is an emerging police state mentality on display with a variety of candidates for local dictator.

It’s well past time for moderate republicans to ignore their uber-conservative brethren.  It’s well past time for moderate democrats to renounce their corporate ties.  This will only happen when our financial and political leaders awaken to the reality of what is in the best long-term interests for all life on this planet rather than our present unsustainable global economy.

To complicate the problem, our planet is under attack by a swarm of vociferous human locusts seeking profit without regard to the consequences.  Meanwhile, despite human denial, the universe continues to emerge.  Species which do not adapt to change do not survive.

It’s important to remember that we’re in the midst of a battle that’s as old as the conscious awareness of the human species.  We generally have very little idea of the inclusive nature of our being; let alone the nature of our collective being as a species. We have as yet to learn how to surrender to reality.  The battle is with our own species.

Committing collective suicide for quarterly profit is not a sane way of life.  What we’ve created is a neo-feudal global economy without any foundation that feeds on an empire of consumption.  When we combine a neo-feudal economy with neo-fascist politics we arrive at a moral and biological dead end.

The coup d’état of the current Corporate State is the Citizen’s United ruling that makes money a form of free speech.  Money has no DNA.  In case anyone missed how the “occupy” movement was crushed, there’s no question that we’re rapidly criminalizing all forms of dissent.  These actions are being taking under the 1917 Espionage Act and related state secrets acts.  No discernment of moral value is considered and no public hearings are conducted.  People who speak up are locked up.  We’ve become a fearful and secretive population.

Our self-appointed elite power structure is completely irrational in its belief that human reason is our ultimate power and money is its servant.  We are made of the stuff of the stars.  At best, we’re in our adolescence as a species.  We think we know the answers rather than admitting our ignorance.  What little we know is vastly less than what we have as yet to learn.  We are often unaware of being unaware.

The lives we presently lead can not be sustained in ways that we have become accustomed to; ways we take for granted.  What’s going to need to change?  The simple answer is everything.  Our species has systemically corrupted the small part of the cosmos which sustains our being.  Nature has no sense of humor, no patience for human squabbles and no financial interest.

Fortunately, we already know what we need to do to adapt.  We know how nature works through the wisdom of our earth sciences.  The answer is simple.  Love the earth.  Love life.  Share compassion.  Educate, naturally energize, and transform.  The resulting process of change will help re-establish a realistic world economic foundation.


‘Death of the Liberal Class’

By Chris Hedges

From the book “Death of the Liberal Class,” by Chris Hedges.  Excerpted by arrangement with Nation Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2010.

The following selection is taken from the first chapter of the book, published in October 201 by Nation Books.

In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component within the power elite.

But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence. The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.

The liberal class refuses to recognize the obvious because it does not want to lose its comfortable and often well-paid perch. Churches and universities—in elite schools such as Princeton, professors can earn $180,000 a year—enjoy tax-exempt status as long as they refrain from overt political critiques. Labor leaders make lavish salaries and are considered junior partners within corporate capitalism as long as they do not speak in the language of class struggle. Politicians, like generals, are loyal to the demands of the corporate state in power and retire to become millionaires as lobbyists or corporate managers. Artists who use their talents to foster the myths and illusions that bombard our society live comfortably in the Hollywood Hills.

The media, the church, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts, and labor unions—the pillars of the liberal class—have been bought off with corporate money and promises of scraps tossed to them by the narrow circles of power. Journalists, who prize access to the powerful more than they prize truth, report lies and propaganda to propel us into a war in Iraq. Many of these same journalists assured us it was prudent to entrust our life savings to a financial system run by speculators and thieves. Those life savings were gutted. The media, catering to corporate advertisers and sponsors, at the same time renders invisible whole sections of the population whose misery, poverty, and grievances should be the principal focus of journalism.

In the name of tolerance—a word the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., never used—the liberal church and the synagogue refuse to denounce Christian heretics who acculturate the Christian religion with the worst aspects of consumerism, nationalism, greed, imperial hubris, violence, and bigotry. These institutions accept globalization and unfettered capitalism as natural law. Liberal religious institutions, which should concern themselves with justice, embrace a cloying personal piety expressed in a how-is-it-with-me kind of spirituality and small, self-righteous acts of publicly conspicuous charity. Years spent in seminary or rabbinical schools, years devoted to the study of ethics, justice, and morality, prove useless when it comes time to stand up to corporate forces that usurp religious and moral language for financial and political gain.

Universities no longer train students to think critically, to examine and critique systems of power and cultural and political assumptions, to ask the broad questions of meaning and morality once sustained by the humanities. These institutions have transformed themselves into vocational schools. They have become breeding grounds for systems managers trained to serve the corporate state. In a Faustian bargain with corporate power, many of these universities have swelled their endowments and the budgets of many of their departments with billions in corporate and government dollars. College presidents, paid enormous salaries as if they were the heads of corporations, are judged almost solely on their ability to raise money. In return, these universities, like the media and religious institutions, not only remain silent about corporate power but also condemn as “political” all within their walls who question corporate malfeasance and the excesses of unfettered capitalism.

Unions, organizations formerly steeped in the doctrine of class struggle and filled with members who sought broad social and political rights for the working class, have been transformed into domesticated negotiators with the capitalist class. Cars rolling off the Ford plants in Michigan were said to be made by UAW Ford. But where unions still exist, they have been reduced to simple bartering tools, if that. The social demands of unions in the early twentieth century that gave the working class weekends off, the right to strike, the eight-hour workday, and Social Security, have been abandoned. Universities, especially in political science and economics departments, parrot the discredited ideology of unregulated capitalism and have no new ideas. The arts, just as hungry as the media or the academy for corporate money and sponsorship, refuse to address the social and economic disparities that create suffering for tens of millions of citizens. Commercial artists peddle the mythical narrative, one propagated by corporations, self-help gurus, Oprah and the Christian Right, that if we dig deep enough within ourselves, focus on happiness, find our inner strength, or believe in miracles, we can have everything we desire.

Such magical thinking, a staple of the entertainment industry, blinds citizens to corporate structures that have made it impossible for families to lift themselves out of poverty or live with dignity. But perhaps the worst offender within the liberal class is the Democratic Party.

The party consciously sold out the working class for corporate money. Bill Clinton, who argued that labor had nowhere else to go, in 1994 passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which betrayed the working class. He went on to destroy welfare and in 1999 ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks to turn the banking system over to speculators. Barack Obama, who raised more than $600 million to run for president, most of it from corporations, has served corporate interests as assiduously as his party. He has continued the looting of the U.S. Treasury by corporations, refused to help the millions of Americans who have lost their homes because of bank repossessions or foreclosures, and has failed to address the misery of our permanent class of unemployed.

Populations will endure the repression of tyrants, as long as these rulers continue to manage and wield power effectively. But human history has demonstrated that once those in positions of power become redundant and impotent, yet insist on retaining the trappings and privileges of power, their subject populations will brutally discard them. Such a fate awaits the liberal class, which insists on clinging to its positions of privilege while at the same time refusing to play its traditional role within the democratic state. The liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. And as corporate power pollutes and poisons the ecosystem and propels us into a world where there will be only masters and serfs, the liberal class, which serves no purpose in the new configuration, is being abandoned and discarded. The death of the liberal class means there is no check to a corporate apparatus designed to enrich a tiny elite and plunder the nation. An ineffectual liberal class means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal. It ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and middle classes will find expression outside the confines of democratic institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy.

Finding one’s true self.

A personal journey

In some ways, it is surprising that I haven’t written about my own counselling experiences before.  Perhaps it has never felt like the right moment.

But the guest post from Peter Bloch that I had the honour of publishing yesterday so strongly resonated with the ‘Fergus’ inside me that I was compelled to offer my own journey.  So if you are not into bouts of personal introspection, look away and come back tomorrow! 😉

The fickle finger of fate

I was born in Acton, North London, just 6 months before the end of World War II.  Nothing remarkable about that.  Just another one of the millions of soon-to-be post-war babies.  My father was an architect; my mother a teacher.  Indeed, at the age of 93 my mother is still teaching music!

In 1956 when my father was 55 years-old he developed lung cancer.  I and my sister were blissfully unaware of our father’s terminal condition until the evening of December 19th, 1956.  That evening Mum came into my bedroom and said that father was very ill and may not live for very much longer.  To be honest, it didn’t really register and off I went to sleep.  I was 12 and looking forward to Christmas in 5 days time.

My father died in the night hours of December 19th/20th.  I had slept through not even wakening when his body was removed from the house.  On the morning of the 20th he was just gone!

It was felt by the family doctor, who had been attending my father, that it would be too upsetting for me and my younger sister to attend the funeral.  That funeral was a cremation and therefore no grave.

The good and the not so good.

The only obvious effect of the trauma of my father’s death was that I bombed out at school.  I had passed my ’11+’ exams at my primary school and in September, 1956, become a pupil at Preston Manor County Grammar School near Preston Road, Wembley where we were living; Wembley Stadium could be seen from the back windows of the 2nd floor of our house.

I struggled with schooling, the victim of much bullying as I recall, sat 8 ‘O-level’ exams, passed 2, struggled to get another couple of ‘O-levels’ but it was clear that a University place was not going to be for me.

From then on, in stark contrast, I enjoyed a wonderfully varied life, working as a business salesman, freelance journalist and ending up starting my own company in Colchester in 1978 which became surprisingly successful.

But when it came to relationships, that wasn’t so successful.  If I tell you that Jeannie is my 4th wife, you will get the message!

A little more background.

When running my own business back in the 1980s I had a network of overseas distributors.  My US West Coast distributor was Cimarron, a company owned and run by Daniel Gomez out of Los Angeles.  Dan and I became good friends and still are some 35 years later.  I’ll come back to this highly relevant relationship with Dan.

I sold my business in 1986 and went overseas for 5 years, actually living on a boat based in Larnaca, Cyprus.  (The boat was a Tradewind 33 named ‘Songbird of Kent‘.)

In the early 1990s upon returning to England I chose to live in the South Hams area of South Devon, ending up in the small village of Harberton, pop. 300, near Totnes.  Once settled I took up business mentoring.  In previous years, I had gained Chartered Membership of the Institute of Marketing.  In addition, I became a youth mentor with the Prince’s Youth Business Trust, a really fabulous organisation that does so much good for young people.

One of my personal mentees was Jon Lavin, the founder of The People Workshop.  (Yes, and Jon is aware that his website is a tad out-of-date!)

Out of sight, but not out of mind.

In time I became married to wife number three.  Seemingly happy living in a tranquil part of rural Devon, keeping busy, not thinking too much about life.

Pharaoh became an important part of my life in 2003.  At the time, I had no idea how important!

Pharaoh, relaxing in a Devon garden.
Pharaoh, relaxing in a Devon garden.

On the evening of December 20th, 2006, 50 years to the day that my father died, my wife announced that she had met another man. The implications of this casually delivered bombshell were obvious and catastrophically painful.

I will spare you the details but, trust me, the next few weeks were tough!

High on my priorities were letting close friends know what was happening.  Dan, in characteristic Daniel fashion, said over the phone, “Hey, Handover, you get your arse over to Southern California pronto! Like now!”  I replied that it was much too difficult to do that now but maybe later on in 2007.

Realising that I might need some psychological support, I spoke with Jon Lavin.  However, Jon made it clear that as we already had a working relationship with me as his mentor, he couldn’t now, in turn, be my psychotherapist.  I pleaded with Jon.  He said he would only work with me on the strict understanding that he would terminate the counselling relationship if our past workings interfered.  Of course, I agreed. [See footnote.]

Finding one’s true self after 50 years!

Jon, quite naturally, started into understanding my past experiences. Right back to that fateful day in 1956 when my father died.  And, guess what!

Unbeknownst to me, the lack of time to adjust to my father’s cancer, his sudden death, being unable to ‘say goodbye‘; all had been emotionally interpreted as acute and profound emotional rejection.  Buried deep within me with both strong positive and negative emotional consequences.  Negatively, making me very vulnerable to emotional rejection; positively, causing me to strive for outward success in so many ways.  Those sessions with Jon brought it all to the surface bringing with it deep and peaceful calm.

Yet, the true implications of finding myself were still to come.

In the Summer of 2007, I took up Dan’s offer to ‘get my arse to Southern California!‘  I had a fabulous time with Dan and his dear wife, Cynthia.  It also included a visit to Dan’s sister, Suzann, and her husband, Don, in their home in Los Osos, California.  Su fussed over me restoring my sense of self-worth as Dan and Cynthia had been doing.

One morning over breakfast Suzann said, “Hey Paul, what are you doing for Christmas?

I replied, “Oh, give me a break, Suzann, it’s the middle of June.  Long time before I have to think about dealing with Christmas!

Su then made the offer that was to change my life irrevocably.  “Don and I have a house down in San Carlos, Mexico where we shall be at Christmas.  Why don’t you come and have Christmas with us in Mexico?

And I did.  And it was in San Carlos, Mexico that I met Jean.  Suzann and Jean were great buddies. Jean had been living there since she and her late husband, Ben, had moved there many years ago.  Ben, an American, and Jean had been married for 26 years with Ben, sadly, having died in 2005.

Jean and I spent hundreds of hours chatting and getting to know each other, including the fact that she and I had both been born Londoners within 23 miles of each other.  Jean had been rescuing Mexican feral dogs for years and there were 14 dogs in her house in San Carlos.  So many of those dogs loved me from the start.  It seemed like the most beautiful Christmas I could have wished for.  In such stark contrast to just a year ago.

Mexican sunset! San Carlos, 2nd January, 2008.
Mexican sunset! San Carlos, 2nd January, 2008.

In September, 2008 after selling the house in Devon, I moved out to San Carlos, Mexico.  Just me and Pharaoh who had been such a devoted friend, companion and confidant over the previous months.

In 2010, we moved to Payson in Arizona, some 80 miles NE of Phoenix. On November 20th, 2010 Jean and I were married.

The marriage of Jean and Paul wonderfully supported by Diane, maid of honour, and best man, Dan Gomez.
The marriage of Jean and Paul wonderfully supported by Diane, maid of honour, and best man, Dan Gomez.

Releasing the Fergus in me and all of us.

What Peter Bloch wrote yesterday was so true.  A dog can only be a happy, fulfilled dog, if allowed to be the true dog that is in him or her.  Despite the fact that humans are primates and dogs are canids like wolves, coyotes, and foxes, it still holds as true for us humans as it did for Fergus.

We can only be happy, to put it in the words of Fergus, “happy, energised, purposeful and fulfilled in every way.” if we are given the freedom to be our self.

So if you find that you, like Fergus, suffer from digestive problems, possibly have skin disorders and sometimes behave a little strangely take note – you need to find your healer!



Back in 2008 when Jon Lavin was working with me, I would take Pharaoh and he would lay on the floor behind my seat.  On one occasion Jon was talking about the findings of Dr. David Hawkins and his Scale of Consciousness; from falsehood to truthfulness. (See here and here for more details.)

Anyway that fateful day, Jon mentioned that Dr. Hawkins had measured dogs as being integrous animals.  That notion stayed with me and later I registered the domain name learningfromdogs (dot) com leading to – yes, you guessed it – this blog.  Funny old world.

Might just come down!

I do not believe that civilizations have to die because civilization is not an organism. It is a product of wills.  Arnold J Toynbee

Yesterday, I explored a number of ideas around the proposition that the USA is in decline.  The case is by no means clear but there does seem to be a preponderance of support for the notion that, as with all great empires, this could be an ‘end time’ for the USA.

One needs to go no further than A. J. Toynbee himself to reflect on that idea.  Who was Arnold J Toynbee?  Here’s his biography as presented on the Gifford Lectures website,  ( Note: A fabulous series of lectures available on YouTube!)

Arnold J Toynbee

The British historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee was born in London on 14 April 1889 and died on 22 October 1975 in York, North Yorkshire, England. He was educated at Winchester College and Balliol College, Oxford. He was the nephew of economic historian Arnold Toynbee, with whom he is sometimes confused. His first marriage to Rosalind Murray, with whom he had three sons, ended in divorce in 1946. Professor Toynbee then married Veronica M. Boulter, his research assistant.

From 1919 to 1924 Arnold J. Toynbee was professor of modern Greek and Byzantine history at King’s College, London. From 1925 until 1955 Professor Toynbee served as research professor and Director of Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. During both world wars he worked for the British Foreign Office. He was a delegate to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

While Professor Toynbee’s Gifford Lectures were published as An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956) he is best known for his 12-volume A Study of History (1934-1961). This massive work examined the growth, development and decay of civilizations. He presented history as the rise and fall of civilizations rather than nation-states or ethnic groups. According to his analysis of civilizations the well-being of a civilization depends on its ability to deal successfully with challenges.

Professor Toynbee oversaw the publication of The Survey of International Affairs published by Oxford University Press under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs from 1925 to 1977.

A Study of History is the longest book in the English language, described in Wikipedia as, “the 12-volume magnum opus of British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, finished in 1961, in which the author traces the development and decay of all of the major world civilizations in the historical record. Toynbee applies his model to each of these civilizations, detailing the stages through which they all pass: genesis, growth, time of troubles, universal state, and disintegration.

Back to the theme of the essay.  One might propose, therefore, that a decline in the USA could be the ‘leading edge’ of a decline not only of the empire of the USA but of the whole of our present civilisation; the ‘universal rhythm of rise, flowering and decline‘.

Back on the 3rd October, Simon Johnson, one half of the famous duo with James Kwak, over on Baseline Scenario published an essay under the title of Fiscal Confrontation And The Declining Influence Of The United States.  Let me dip into that.  Simon starts off by saying,

It is axiomatic among most of our Washington elite that the United States cannot lose its preeminent global role, at least not in the foreseeable future. This assumption is implicit in all our economic policy discussions, including how politicians on both sides regard the leading international role of the United States dollar. In this view, the United States is likely to remain the world’s financial safe haven for international investors, irrespective of what we say and do.

Expressing concerns about the trajectory of our federal government debt has of course become fashionable during this election cycle; this is a signature item for both the Tea Party movement in general and vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan in particular.

Then later, in a reference to my own British history, writes,

Threatening to shut down the government or refusing to budge on taxes is seen by many Republicans as a legitimate maneuver in their campaign to shrink the state, rather than as something that could undermine the United States’ economic recovery and destabilize the world. This approach is more than unfortunate, because the perception of our indefinite preeminence – irrespective of how we act – is completely at odds with the historical record. In his widely acclaimed book, “Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance,” Arvind Subramanian places the rise of the dollar in its historical context and documents how economic policy mistakes, World War II and the collapse of empire undermined the British pound and created space for the United States dollar to take over as the world’s leading currency.

Then Simon endorses the key point made by Arvind Subramanian, namely,

But Dr. Subramanian also asserts that two other factors were important: the sheer size of the American economy, which overtook Britain’s, probably at some point in the late 19th century, and the United States current account surplus. In particular, American exports were far larger than imports during World War I and by the end of World War II the United States had amassed almost half the gold in the world (gold at that time was used to settle payments between countries.)

In effect, the United States dollar pushed aside the British pound in part because the United States became the world’s largest creditor.

Simon’s essay closes thus, (and you do need to read the full essay, by the way, many important ideas are expressed)

The dollar became strong because American politicians were responsible, careful and willing to compromise. Fiscal extremism, confrontation and a refusal to consider tax increases over any time horizon will undermine the international role of the dollar, destabilize the world and make it much harder for all of us to achieve any kind of widely shared prosperity.

Finally, in a call with my son, Alex, just 30 minutes ago (I’m writing this on the morning of the 4th October), he mentioned an item he had read in today’s Guardian newspaper No recovery until 2018, IMF warns.

The International Monetary Fund’s chief economist has warned that the global economy will take a decade to recover from the financial crisis as the latest snapshot of the UK economy suggested that growth in the third quarter will be at best anaemic.

Olivier Blanchard said he feared the eurozone crisis, debt problems in Japan and the US, and a slowdown in China meant that the world economy would not be in good shape until at least 2018. “It’s not yet a lost decade,” he said. “But it will surely take at least a decade from the beginning of the crisis for the world economy to get back to decent shape.

2018!  That leaves plenty of time for any number of global ‘surprises’ geopolitical and environmental alike!  But my final message is one of caution.  I am as vulnerable as the next person in seeing ‘doom and gloom’ ahead.  However, drop in to Learning from Dogs next Tuesday and watch something that may surprise you.

So on that note, the closing quote is going be one that I have loved for a long time:

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. “ Niels Bohr

Slightly late on duty!

A stirring set of pictures from the Queen’s Jubilee

At the end of June, pilot friend Bob Derham sent me an email which contained all of what follows.  I ‘filed’ it away and then forgot I had received it!  My apologies.  But as Europe was the subject of yesterday’s post, then maybe this can be seen as remaining on theme.  Enjoy.


One last look back at those amazing Jubilee celebrations . . . as seen by the ‘Tail-end Charlie’ in Britain’s last airworthy Lancaster

Incredible footage has been released showing the bird’s eye view enjoyed by the crew aboard a Lancaster bomber flying over London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The aeroplane, which is part of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), flew in formation with aircraft including a Spitfire, Hurricane and Dakota transport aircraft down The Mall, followed by the Red Arrows aerobatic team – to the delight of crowds and the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace below.

As well as preserving a fleet of priceless aircraft and keeping them in tip-top flying condition, the BBMF reminds the nation of the sacrifices made during World War Two.

Spectacular: The tail gunner’s view from the Lancaster bomber, as it completed the Diamond Jubilee flypast. Buckingham Palace Gardens can be seen behind the tail of a Hurricane fighter, also of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which flew in formation with the Lancaster
Final approach: Having lined up on The Mall, the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster flies towards Buckingham Palace with St James’ Park on the left and Birdcage Walk beyond.
The nose of the Lancaster passes over the Memorial to Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace.

The BBMF is based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire with many of its personnel, including pilots, acting as volunteers; the flight costs about £3m a year to run.

Squadron Leader Ian Smith, who is in charge of the BBMF, is the only permanent member, with all of the remaining pilots, navigators, air engineers and other crew coming from different airbases and ordinarily flying several different types of aircraft; from Typhoon fighters to the huge Hercules transport plane.

Cramped: The footage shows just how tight a fit it can be aboard a vintage aircraft and what a tight squeeze it is for the crew aboard the Lancaster bomber.

The aircrew give up three out of every four weekends from May to the end of September in order to fly and display the historic aircraft.

The footage, released by the Ministry of Defence, shows just how tight a fit it can be aboard a vintage aircraft, with the crew – clearly eager to catch a glimpse of the Queen – taking up most of the available space.

The historic flight includes the Lancaster, which first saw service in 1942. The ‘Lanc’ was the most famous of the Second World War bombers and gained renown for its starring role in the momentous ‘Dambuster’ raid on Germany’s Ruhr Valley in 1943.

Carrying a payload of 22,000lb and with a 1,500-mile range, the RAF bomber wreaked havoc on Germany. Some 3,500 were lost in action during the war.

The view of Buckingham Palace and The Mall beyond from the Lancaster bomber.
In formation: Incredible footage has been released showing the view enjoyed by crew aboard a Lancaster bomber flying over London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Hurricane single-seater fighters played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain. Heavier and slower than the Spitfire, it was considered the RAF’s ‘workhorse’ against the Luftwaffe.

A remarkable total of 14,533 Hurricanes were built and served operationally on every day and in every theatre during the war. Only 12 are still airworthy worldwide.

The Spitfire is the iconic fighter that won legendary status against the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. It possessed a top speed of 378mph, an altitude of 35,000ft and armed with two 20mm cannons, four Browning machine guns and two 250lb bombs.

One of the four that flew yesterday was P7350 – the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world and the only one which actually fought in the Battle of Britain. It was shot up by a Messerschmitt 109 during combat in October 1940 but its wounded Polish pilot Ludwik Martel managed to crash-land it, wheels up, near Hastings.

The pride of Britain: The vintage planes – all powered by classic World War Two Merlin engines – roar across the London sky.
Flypast: The Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales, the Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry watch the aerial action.
Aerobatic aces: The Red Arrows display team fly in formation over Buckingham Palace.
Stirring image: The Lancaster, centre, was accompanied by two Spitfires on both flanks and tailed by a Hurricane.


A wonderful and incredibly nostalgic set of photographs.  Finally, let me close with a short piece of video of that Lancaster Bomber in flight.

Cutting CO2 emissions – who leads the world!

The U.S. leads the world in cutting CO2 emissions — so why aren’t we talking about it?

On the 31st July, I republished a TomGram from William deBuys that showed some pretty frightening aspects of climate change in the South-West USA.  Then there was the video on the 10th August, last Friday, that spelt out in very clear ways how the world is in a new, unfamiliar place.  It would be so easy to think it’s all going to hell in a handbasket.  So a change of tone.

There was an article on Grist by David Roberts about the US leading the world in cutting CO2 emissions.  David kindly gave me permission to republish it on Learning from Dogs.

U.S. leads the world in cutting CO2 emissions — so why aren’t we talking about it?

By David Roberts
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. is making progress on climate change.We have cut our carbon emissions more than any other country in the world in recent years — 7.7 percent since 2006. U.S. emissions fell 1.9 percent last year and are projected to fall 1.9 percent again this year, which will put us back at 1996 levels. It will not be easy to achieve the reductions Obama promised in Copenhagen — 17 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2020 — but that goal no longer looks out of reach, even in the absence of comprehensive legislation.

Why isn’t this extraordinary story a bigger deal in U.S. politics? You’d think Obama would be boasting about it! Turns out, though, it’s a little awkward for him, since several of the drivers responsible are things for which he can’t (or might not want to) take credit.

Awkward: that whole recession thing

First off there’s the Great Recession, which flattened electricity demand in 2008. It has never recovered — in fact, in part due to 2011′s mild winter, it has even declined slightly:

US electricity consumption, 2000-2011

Click to embiggen.

For obvious reasons, boasting about the environmental benefits of the recession is not something Obama’s eager to do.

Awkward: frack-o-mania

The second big driver is the glut of cheap natural gas, which is currently trading at the 10-year low of about $3 per million British thermal units. This is absolutely crushing coal, the biggest source of CO2 in the electric sector:

The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecast to fall below 40% for the year, its lowest level since World War II. Four years ago, it was 50%. By the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30%.

Here’s U.S. electricity generation from 2000-2012. Look how dramatic coal’s recent plunge is:

EIA: electricity generation by source, 2000-2012

Click to embiggen.

In April, coal and natural gas both contributed 32 percent to the U.S. electricity mix — equal for the first time since EIA started collecting data in the ’70s. This is, as Alexis Madrigal emphasizes, an extraordinary shift, unprecedented in the history of the U.S. electrical system.

It’s helpful to Obama to be able to point to cheap natural gas when people accuse his EPA of killing coal. And it’s helpful in his effort to claim “all of the above.” But fracking’s potential environmental and health impacts has quickly made it a flash point with his environmental base (and his Hollywood base), so it’s at the very least a fraught subject.

Awkward: Kenyan socialist EPA sharia tyranny

A less significant driver of the switch from coal to natural gas is the EPA’s long overdue rollout of new or tightened clean-air rules on mercurySO2 and NOx, and CO2. Those rules may do more work later on down the line when/if natural gas prices rise again, but for now the best analysis [PDF] shows that natural gas is doing most of the work killing coal. Nonetheless, EPA regs have proven a source of potent right-wing attacks on Obama and he’s probably not eager to call undue attention to them.

Thus: silence in the political world

So: given the fact that the decline in emissions is driven, at least in the conventional narrative, by an explosion in fossil fuel production, a recession, and a series of EPA regulations, it’s not hard to see why Obama isn’t eager to put it front and center. It’s got a little something for everyone to hate.

And of course the right isn’t eager to talk about it either, since conservative dogma tells us that there’s no way to grow the economy and shrink CO2 emissions at the same time … and yet, uh, that’s what’s happening. At the end of 2012, our economy will be much larger than it was in 1996, yet its carbon emissions will be the same. If conservatives acknowledge that it’s possible to loosen the link between climate pollution and economic growth, they’ll have to explain why we shouldn’t do a whole lot more of it.

Still, while the story has remained largely sub rosa in political media, there are several overlooked details that paint a happier picture than the conventional one above. There’s more to this story than natural gas and recession.

Happy: Coal’s getting its ass kicked by activists

First, it isn’t just natural gas and EPA taking coal out — it’s the kick-ass anti-coal movement! Fighting tooth-and-nail, plant-by-plant, it has blocked new construction and shut down over 100 existing plants.

Beyond Coal: 112 down

The campaign has been so disciplined and successful that it’s drawn the support of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who does not typically invest his own money in feel-good symbolism. He expects accountability and he’s getting it. Like the man said, “Ending coal power production is the right thing to do.”

Happy: Clean energy is happening

Renewable energy still represents a small portion of U.S. electricity generation, but that fact obscures its outsized impact. The U.S. doesn’t need to add a ton of renewables for things to start shaking loose.

Here’s growth over the last decade:

EIA: renewable energy share, 2001-2011

Click to embiggen.

One thing that jumps out is that renewables are growing much faster in some places than others. South Dakota now gets 22 percent of its electricity from wind, Iowa 19 percent. The top two states in total installed wind are Kansas and Texas. The top two for wind jobs are Iowa and Texas. That’s three red states and a deeply purple one — a wedge separating clean energy from the climate culture wars. That portends accelerating changes in the political economy.

Also driving changes in political economy: 29 states and D.C. now have mandatory renewable energy standards.

FERC: renewable energy standards, 2011

Click to embiggen.

Installed wind and solar have doubled in the U.S. since Obama took office. Costs for solar are plunging like crazy and onshore wind power may be competitive with fossil fuels without subsidies by 2016. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says the U.S. could get 80 percent of its power from renewables by 205o. Given that “official” projections of renewable energy growth have been consistently beneath the mark, it’s not unreasonable to think we may be underestimating future growth.

And renewables don’t have to get that big to start making waves. The sun shines most when the most electricity is being used — “peak demand” — so it serves to sharply reduce peak prices. Turns out that’s where utilities make a lot of their money. U.S. utilities are being forced to crank off coal plants when peak prices drop and then crank them back on afterwards.

It is no fun to turn coal plants on and off — it’s slow, laborious, and kills their economics. More and more, utility managers are turning toward upgraded, smarter grids and more flexible, responsive “mid-load” plants (i.e. natural gas). By hacking off peak prices, renewables will make the dynamics even worse for coal, well before they reach a large proportion of total electricity.

So renewables are a bigger part of this story than they appear, and getting bigger.

Happy: Demand is leveling off long-term

It’s not just the recession that’s bringing down U.S. energy demand — the leveling off of demand is a long-term trend. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects energy use will grow quite slowly through 2035:

EIA: energy demand to 2035

Click to embiggen.

And this is almost certainly conservative: EIA doesn’t model policy changes, underestimates the role of technology, ignores rising fossil fuel prices, and is incapable of predicting cultural shifts.

For instance, few projections anticipated the sharp decline in driving in the U.S., which has been driven (ahem) as much by cultural and demographic factors as by economics.

Or consider the dramatic progress in energy use in buildings, which was also not anticipated by EIA. From Architecture 2030 comes this graph, which compares the EIA Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) projections on U.S. building stock from 2005 with the ones from 2012:

EIA projections for building energy consumption, 2005 vs 2012

Click to embiggen.

The growth in U.S. building stock is slowing (in part — but only in part! — due to the recession), but growth in building energy consumption is dramatically slowing, thanks to advances in energy efficiency technology. EIA now expects CO2 emissions from the building sector to decline by 2035. That’s a pretty big change from going up by over 50 percent!

And that’s just with straight-line projections. If “best available demand technologies” are deployed, it looks like this:

EIA projections for building energy consumption, best available tech, 2005 vs 2012

Click to embiggen.

It’s within our reach to reduce the CO2 emissions of the building sector almost 22 percent! Given that building standards are one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement on energy these days, it’s not crazy to think that we’ll get closer to the latter projections than the former.

And the EIA projections for building energy consumption, Architecture 2030 notes, do not incorporate “sustainable planning applications or passive heating and cooling, natural ventilation, daylighting, or spatial configuration and site design strategies,” all of which are gaining in popularity and sophistication.

In short, there’s reason to think the demand-side story is similar to the supply-side story: official projections are dramatically underestimating potential.

Worry, but be happy

To sum up: yes, the explosive growth of natural gas and the Great Recession played a big part in U.S. climate emissions declining in recent years. And either of them could reverse in years to come. But they are not the whole story. There are real transitions underway — seedlings that can be watered and fertilized.

As Brad Plumer notes, America’s modest progress to date still leaves the world on a pathway to climate catastrophe. But it also shows that projections are not destiny. Things can change, and quickly.

Let me just pick out two sentences from near the end, “But they are not the whole story. There are real transitions underway — seedlings that can be watered and fertilized.”

It serves as a very good reminder that many people are voting with their feet, so to speak, and making a difference.

Not even sure what to call this Post?

A futile attempt to explore the concepts of truth, reason, craziness and … (I give up!)

Can’t make sense of this?

Yesterday, I republished an article that Pete Aleshire recently wrote in the Payson Roundup, our local newspaper, on thinking outside the box.  Pete entitled his essay, Strange theory reveals secrets of the universe, the logic of sycamore leaves and why even smart people struggle with new ideas.

And it was part of that title that resonated with a mind-bending (literally) essay that Patrice Ayme presented on his blog on the 27th July.  The part of the title that ‘clicked’ with me was “why even smart people struggle with new ideas.”

You see what Patrice wrote about on the 27th July was about the proposition “that superior intelligence in a species can only come from an ability to engineer (productive) craziness.”

As Patrice explained,

Two of the creators of modern mathematics and metamathematics, Georg Cantor and Kurt Godel, experienced some craziness. Nietzsche produced some of his best work before he went insane. Van Gogh experienced serious mental difficulties. Bolztman killed himself. All these cases were within a generation. Those may all be unrelated accidents, sure.

Immediately leading on to him writing,

 However I will show below that superior intelligence in a species can only come from an ability to engineer (productive) craziness. (Perhaps the reason why chimps and bears are so unpredictable: they are not just clever, but a bit crazy!)

Then after some very detailed reflections on man, Patrice wrote,

Hominids who practiced a bit of craziness were evolutionary advantaged, because they found more readily solutions to logical incompleteness at hand. Craziness allowed to find new, necessary axioms. Thus evolution learned to exploit logical incompleteness.

Typical of Patrice Ayme, the essay is not an easy read but it is brim full of fascinating ideas and well worth the effort.  Patrice concludes,

 If craziness is so useful to augment those mental powers we need so much to survive as a civilization, how do we survive it? Precisely by augmenting the truth. Thus only craziness compatible with the truth will be able to survive. That is why I have not hesitated to tell various truths about Obama (whom I have intensely supported in all sorts of ways), or Hollande, whom I approved of, until he started to say lies about World War Two (details soon to come).

Truth is my religion. A touch of craziness my sanity. (Latest demonstration: It’s not like I did not know of the danger in advance. I was slightly charged by a large bad mood moose with calf today on an Alaskan trail, where I was nonchalantly running with a bad ankle; after a high speed retreat, as a good predator, I circumvented the difficulty, and anxiety switched sides, the calf nearly spraining its own ankle in the process… . )

There is no truth but the full truth, and a touch of craziness is its prophet.

Now go back to Pete Aleshire and see the harmony between his beautiful prose and the fascinating ideas flowing from Patrice’s mind. This is how Pete concluded his essay,

So Drake [Larson] and I spent the day wandering along the banks of Fossil Creek as he kept trying to come up with metaphors so I could grasp math’s secret within the beauty of Fossil Creek’s sycamore leaves. The well-designed sycamore leaves adhere to the Fibonacci sequence, a mysterious progression of numbers that crops up throughout nature — from the spiral of a nautilus shell to the layout of the ruins of Chaco Canyon.

So I figured I’d just write this — and get earth’s 17 PSI cap for dark energy out there in the time/date/ stamped world.

Oh, yeah: And about Kenny Evans. [Mayor of Payson, AZ]

So that night, I took Drake to the Payson council meeting. Turns out, Drake’s family was growing grapes in the Coachella Valley at the same time Evans was farming 10,000 acres in Yuma. They both managed to survive that tempestuous time when the United Farm Workers union organized agriculture workers.

I introduced them and listened as they recalled events and figured out whom they knew in common.

It was then that I decided to blame Drake for my faith in Evans’ ridiculous conviction that a university will build a campus here in this itty bitty tourist town — complete with a research center and convention hotel. No sensible small-town mayor would risk public ridicule while spending thousands of hours on such an outside-the-box notion … unless he’d learned to gamble on dreams and hard work during all those years as a farmer.

Evans’ notion is almost as silly as a farmer who calculates the amount of dark energy emanating from earth, while credentialed experts scratch their collective heads.

Still, I’m thinking maybe I’ll get a nice suit jacket — something I can wear to both the university’s groundbreaking and the ceremonies in Oslo.

Hey, never hurts to be prepared.

So there, I feel much better now!  None the wiser, indeed even more confused, but just grateful there are some out there who have a go at trying to explain ….. whatever it is they are explaining!

The governance of Planet Earth

How fundamental reforms of environmental governance are urgently needed.

I must admit that as Post titles go, the one above is about as ‘weighty’ as it comes!  But then again, one might argue as Ronald Firbank, a British novelist, was reputedly to have quoted, “The world is so dreadfully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain!

One of the great assets of the part of the world where Jean and I live, namely Arizona, is the state university or to give it it’s proper title Arizona State University.  The university has an important School of Sustainability and I subscribe to their regular newsletter.  But it was Rob I. here in Payson who spotted a recent item and forwarded same to me.  Thank goodness because it covered something of supreme relevance to the future.

I’m taking the liberty of reproducing it in full, as follows;

Fundamental steps needed now in global redesign of Earth system governance

Leading experts from around the world, 4 from Pac-12 colleges, argue for immediate ambitious reforms

Some 32 social scientists and researchers from around the world, including Kenneth W. Abbott, a professor of international relations in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and a Senior Sustainability Scholar in the Global Institute of Sustainability a Senior, are calling for fundamental reforms of global environmental governance to avoid dangerous changes in the Earth system.

Some 32 social scientists and researchers from around the world, including a senior sustainability scholar at Arizona State University, have concluded that fundamental reforms of global environmental governance are needed to avoid dangerous changes in the Earth system. The scientists argued in the March 16 edition of the journal Science that the time is now for a “constitutional moment” in world politics.

Research now indicates that the world is nearing critical tipping points in the Earth system, including on climate and biodiversity, which if not addressed through a new framework of governance could lead to rapid and irreversible change.

“Science assessments indicate that human activities are moving several of Earth’s sub-systems outside the range of natural variability typical for the previous 500,000 years,” wrote the authors in the opening of “Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance.”

Reducing the risk of potential global environmental disaster requires the development of “a clear and ambitious roadmap for institutional change and effective sustainability governance within the next decade,” comparable in scale and importance to the reform of international governance that followed World War II, they wrote.

In particular, the group argued for the creation of a Sustainable Development Council that would better integrate sustainability concerns across the United Nations system. Giving a leading role to the 20 largest economies (G20) would help the council act effectively. The authors also suggested an upgrade of the UN Environment Program to a full-fledged international organization, a move that would give it greater authority and more secure funding

To keep these institutions accountable to the public, the scientists called for stronger consultative rights for representatives of civil society, including representatives from developing countries, NGOs, consumers and indigenous peoples.

“We should seek input from people closest to the ground, not just from the elites, not just at the 30,000-feet level,” noted Kenneth W. Abbott, a professor of international relations in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “Consultations should not take place only at the global scale, where the broadest policies are created, but also at local scales, smaller scales, all scales,” he said.

To improve the speed of decision-making in international negotiations, the authors called for stronger reliance on qualified majority voting. “There has to be a change in international negotiating procedures from the current situation, in which no action can be taken unless consensus is reached among all participating governments,” Abbott said.

The authors also called for governments “to close remaining regulatory gaps at the global level,” including the treatment of emerging technologies.

“A great deal of attention has been given to issues such as climate change, yet nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, which may bring significant benefits, also carry potential risks for sustainable development,” Abbott said.

Relying on research by Abbott and his colleagues at ASU’s College of Law, the authors wrote that emerging technologies “need an international institutional arrangement – such as one or several multilateral framework conventions” to support forecasting and transparency, and to ensure that environmental risks are taken into account.

“Working to make the world economy more green and to create an effective institutional framework for sustainable development will be the two main focal points at this summer’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro,” Abbott said. “This article was written to bring urgency to those discussions and to outline specific ‘building blocks’ for a more effective and sustainable Earth system governance system.”

The authors also argued for increased financial support for poorer nations. “More substantial financial resources could be made available through novel financial mechanisms, such as global emissions markets or air transportation levies for sustainability purposes,” they wrote.

Lead author Frank Biermann, of Free University Amsterdam and Lund University, Sweden, said, “Societies must change course to steer away from critical tipping points in the Earth system that could lead to rapid and irreversible change. Incremental change is no longer sufficient to bring about societal change at the level and with the speed needed to stop Earth system transformation.

“Structural change in global governance is needed, both inside and outside the UN system and involving both public and private actors,” said Biermann, who also is chair of the scientific steering committee of the Earth System Governance Project.

All 32 authors of the Science article are affiliated with the Earth System Governance Project, a global alliance of researchers and leading research institutions, specializing in the scientific study of international and national environmental governance. ASU’s Abbott is one of some 50 lead faculty of the Earth System Governance Project. Lead faculty are scientists of high international reputation who share responsibility for research on earth system governance. Additional information is at http://earthsystemgovernance.org.

Among the other authors of “Navigating the Anthropocene” are: S. Andresen, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway; K. Bäckstrand, Lund University, Sweden; S. Bernstein, University of Toronto, Canada; M. M. Betsill, Colorado State University; H. Bulkeley, Durham University, U.K.; B. Cashore, Yale University; J. Clapp, University of Waterloo, Canada; C. Folke, Stockholm Resilience Centre Stockholm University and Beijer Institute, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden; A. Gupta, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Netherlands; J. Gupta, Free University Amsterdam and UNESCO-International Institute for Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering Institute for Water Education, Netherlands; P. M. Haas, University of Massachusetts at Amherst; A. Jordan, Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, U.K.; N. Kanie, Tokyo Institute of Technology and United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies, Japan; T. Kluvánková-Oravská, CETIP, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia; L. Lebel, Chiang Mai University, Thailand;

And, D. Liverman, University of Arizona and Oxford University, U.K.; J. Meadowcroft, Carleton University, Canada; R. B. Mitchell, University of Oregon; P. Newell, University of Sussex, U.K.; S. Oberthür, Vrije University, Belgium; L. Olsson, Lund University, Sweden; P. Pattberg, Free University Amsterdam; R. Sánchez-Rodríguez, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Mexico, and University of California, Riverside; H. Schroeder, Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, U.K.; A. Underdal, University of Oslo, Norway; S. Camargo Vieira, Universidade de Itaúna, Brazil; C. Vogel, independent scholar, South Africa; O. R. Young, University of California, Santa Barbara; A. Brock, Free University Amsterdam; and R. Zondervan Lund University, Sweden.

Abbott is also a senior sustainability scholar in the Global Institute of Sustainability, a transdisciplinary unit in ASU’sOffice of Knowledge Enterprise Development that advances research, entrepreneurship, innovation and economic development, and a professor of global studies in the School of Politics and Global Studies at ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Carol Hughes, carol.hughes@asu.edu

In that first paragraph, it was reported that the March 16 edition of the journal Science carried the argument put forward by the scientists.  Here the link to that argument which also includes a link to the full text from which I quote the abstract,

Policy Forum

Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance

Science assessments indicate that human activities are moving several of Earth’s sub-systems outside the range of natural variability typical for the previous 500,000 years (12). Human societies must now change course and steer away from critical tipping points in the Earth system that might lead to rapid and irreversible change (3). This requires fundamental reorientation and restructuring of national and international institutions toward more effective Earth system governance and planetary stewardship.

The full list of references including the author’s email address can be seen here.

Transitions, pt Two

Reflections on these present times, concluding part.

I closed yesterday with, So maybe there’s a blindness with humans, and then set out the characteristics of that blindness.  One of those characteristics being,

Our obsession with how things are now prevents us from reflecting on those signs that indicate changes are under way, even when the likely conclusions are unmistakeable.  The ecological and climatic changes being the most obvious example of this strange blindness that mankind possesses.

Let’s move this on a little.  The arguments from a wide range of scientists are overwhelmingly in favour of the proposition that mankind is using vastly more resources from the planet than the planet can provide.  Take oil.  This graph show past and projected oil production for the whole Earth out to 2050, less than 40 years away.

Here’s an extract from that website which I encourage you to read in full,

The part before 2007 is historical fact. The part that comes afterward is an ASPO extrapolation.

This graph is worth careful attention as a lot of world history is written into it. Note the steep rise in oil production after World War II. Note that 1971 was the peak in oil production in the United States lower 48. There is a sliver of white labled Arctic oil. That is mostly Alaskan Prudhoe Bay oil, which peaked in 1990. Prudhoe Bay was almost big enough to counteract the lower 48 peak of 1971. The sliver is very narrow now. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 is very visible. The oil produced by non-OPEC countries stayed nearly constant while OPEC production nearly halved. The embargo caused the world economy to slow. But the high cost of energy spurred the development of energy efficient automobiles and refrigerators and a lot of other things. Note the effect of the collapse of the Russian economy in 1990 on Russian oil production. Note the rapid increase in oil production when the world economy boomed near the end of the twentieth century. Oil was $12 a barrel at that time. Note that European (North Sea) oil peaked in 2000. Note especially what would have happened if the 1973 embargo had not occurred. It is possible that the world would now be on the steep part of the right side of the Hubbert curve.

Take population growth. Here’s a graph that shows that going through seven billion, which is due shortly, is likely to be way short of the eventual peak.  Likely peak might be in the range of  eight to ten billion!  Just take a look at that graph,

Take global warming.  Here’s a graph from NASA, from which I quote,

The five warmest years since the late 1880s, according to NASA scientists, are in descending order 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2006. (reported in the year 2007!)

No apologies for bashing you around the head with these graphs and figures – most people have a good sense about these aspects of our life on this planet.  But, in a very real sense, that’s the point.

The point that despite powerful and obvious evidence, mankind has great difficulty accepting obvious trends and understanding that whatever ‘today’ feels like, ‘tomorrow’ is almost certainly not going to be more of the same.

At the risk of hammering this point to death, here are two pictures and some text to show how quickly ‘today’ changes and becomes ‘tomorrow’.

Scientist left speechless as vast glacier turns to water

by Helen Turner, Western Mail

THESE images show the astonishing rate of break-up of an enormous glacier in north Greenland – from ice to water in just two years.

The before and after photographs, which left a Welsh scientist who led the 24-month project “speechless”, reveal the worrying effects of climate change in an area previously thought too cold to be much affected.

The Petermann glacier pictured August, 5th, 2009
Petermann glacier, pictured from same position, July 24th, 2011

Dr Alun Hubbard, a reader at Aberystwyth University’s Centre for Glaciology, returned from the Petermann Glacier in north-west Greenland a month ago, but did not see the stark images documenting the changes until this week.

He said: “Although I knew what to expect in terms of ice loss from satellite imagery, I was still completely unprepared for the gob-smacking scale of the break-up, which rendered me speechless.  It was just incredible to see. This glacier is huge, 20km across, 1,000m high.”

“It’s like looking into the Grand Canyon full of ice and coming back two years later to find it’s full of water.”

“It’s quite hard to get your head around the scale of the change.  To be able to see that, everything changed in such a short period of time, I was speechless.”

Do read the full article on the Wales Online website here.

Stay with me a little longer, if you will.

Yves Smith in her wonderfully broad and addictive Blog, Naked Capitalism, had the first part of a powerful interview with Satyajit Das published on the 7th.  Here are a couple of extracts,

 It’s amazing how much money you can make just shuffling paper backwards and forwards. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece praising John Paulson who made a killing from the subprime disaster as an entrepreneur. But what did he make? What did he leave behind? Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, argued: “I wish someone would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth — one shred of evidence. US financial services increased its share of value added from 2% to 6.5% but is that a reflection of your financial innovation, or just a reflection of what you’re paid?”

Just let that quote from Paul Volcker stay with you for a while.  Satyajit goes on to say,

Management and directors of financial institutions cannot really understand what is going on – it’s simply not practical. They cannot be across all the products. For example, Robert Rubin, the former head of Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, encouraged increased risk taking at CitiGroup. He was guided by a consultant’s report and famously stated that risk was the only underpriced asset. He encouraged investment in AAA securities assuming that they were ‘money good’. He seemed not to be aware of the liquidity puts that Citi had written which meant that toxic off-balance sheet assets would come back to the mother ship in the case of a crisis. Now, if he didn’t understand, others would find it near impossible. And I’m talking about executive management.

Non executives are even further removed. Upon joining the Salomon Brothers Board, Henry Kaufman, the original Dr. Doom found that most non-executive directors had little experience or understanding of banking. They relied on board reports that were, “neither comprehensive … nor detailed enough … about the diversity and complexity of our operations.” Non-executive directors were reliant “on the veracity and competency of senior managers, who in turn … are beholden to the veracity of middle managers, who are themselves motivated to take risks through a variety of profit compensation formulas.”

Kaufman later joined the board of Lehman Brothers. Nine out of ten members of the Lehman board were retired, four were 75 years or more in age, only two had banking experience, but in a different era. The octogenarian Kaufman sat on the Lehman Risk Committee with a Broadway producer, a former Navy admiral, a former CEO of a Spanish-language TV station and the former chairman of IBM. The Committee only had two meetings in 2006 and 2007. AIG’s board included several heavyweight diplomats and admirals; even though Richard Breeden, former head of the SEC told a reporter, “AIG, as far as I know, didn’t own any aircraft carriers and didn’t have a seat in the United Nations.”

In other words, there is no shortage of information from all corners of the world to show, with very little doubt, that the last few decades have seen unprecedented mistakes by national governments, mistakes in corporate governance, a lack of understanding of economic fundamentals, poor financial and social management, and on and on and on.

But practically all of us, and I mean all of us, didn’t see it at the time, didn’t see where it was heading and only now, when it is full in our faces, do we get it and see it for what it has really been, a long period of over two decades where the ‘me‘ has been more important than the ‘us‘.

That me versus us even being promoted, if that’s the right word, by a British Prime Minister twenty-five years ago.  That quote from Margaret Thatcher back in 1987,  “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” (Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987)

Let me draw this all together, yesterday’s part and this concluding part.

There is significant evidence, real hard evidence, that the patterns of mankind’s behaviours of the last few decades cannot continue.  Simply because mankind will go over the edge of self-extinction.  Darwin’s evidence and all that!  We have to accept that humans will see the bleedin’ obvious before it is too late.  We have to keep the faith that our species homo sapiens is capable of huge and rapid change when that tipping point is reached, so eloquently written by Paul Gilding in his book, The Great Disruption, reviewed by me here.  We have to embrace the fact that just because the world and his wife appears to be living in total denial, the seedlings of change, powerful change, are already sprouting, everywhere, all over the world.

So let’s welcome those changes. Let’s nurture those seedlings, encourage them to grow and engulf our society with a new richness, a new fertile landscape.

Let’s embrace the power of now, the beauty of making today much better and letting go of tomorrow.

For today, I am in charge of my life,

Today, I choose my thoughts,

Today, I choose my attitudes,

Today, I choose my actions and behaviours.

With these, I create my life and my destiny.

It’s very difficult to make predictions, especially when they involve the future!

Mount Vesuvius

One thousand, nine hundred and thirty-two years ago, today, there was a loud bang in Italy!

On the 24th August, in the year 79 A.D. the residents of Pompeii would undoubtedly had very little time to ponder on the consequences of a volcanic eruption just five miles away.

Vesuvius as seen from Pompeii.

Indeed, as the website Classroom of the Future explains,

Try to imagine huge, billowing, gray-black clouds like those at Mount St. Helens rushing toward you at a hundred miles an hour. That is probably what the ancient Romans saw just before they were entombed by hot ash.

There is much material available for those that wish to read more about the devastating effects of that volcanic eruption, so superfluous to add much more here.  The Classroom of the Future link is as good a place to start as any.  What I would like to comment on is this – but first a picture,

Vesuvius and nearby cities

What is worth noting that in 2009 the CIA Factbook records that the population of Naples was 2,270,000 people.  Naples is very close to Vesuvius.  As WikiPedia puts it,

Mount Vesuvius (ItalianMonte VesuvioLatinMons Vesuvius) is a stratovolcano on the Bay of NaplesItaly, about 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) east ofNaples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting.

Here’s another reference,

There is a saying in Italy that goes ‘vedi Napoli e poi muori’. Translated, this means ‘see Naples and die’. The actual meaning of this refers to being overwhelmed by what a beautiful and an incredible city Naples is. (although some may argue that what it really means that Naples is such a dangerous and chaotic city that it will kill you!)

H’mmm. Get the timing wrong and that saying could have a literal meaning way beyond the ancient author’s intent!  I quote from the website Geology.com,

Starting in 1631, Vesuvius entered a period of steady volcanic activity, including lava flows and eruptions of ash and mud. Violent eruptions in the late 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s created more fissures, lava flows, and ash-and-gas explosions. These damaged or destroyed many towns around the volcano, and sometimes killed people; the eruption of 1906 had more than 100 casualties. The most recent eruption was in 1944 during World War II. It caused major problems for the newly-arrived Allied forces in Italy when ash and rocks from the eruption destroyed planes and forced evacuations at a nearby airbase.

But for all it’s power, the Vesuvius eruption of the 24th August, 79 was a squib compared to the Toba eruption some 73,000 years ago. More on that one in a few days perhaps.

Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan

A book review

While being born an Englishman in 1944 has me slightly ahead of the so-called Baby Boomer period, which in American terms, ergo the U.S. Census Bureau, is defined as those born between January 1st, 1946 and December 31st, 1964, American and British people born in those ‘boomer’ years after WWII share many attitudes.

However, there is one stark difference between the UK and the USA regarding that period; the Vietnam War.

U.S. military advisors arrived beginning in 1950 and that U.S. involvement escalated in the early 1960s, with U.S. troop levels tripling in 1961 and tripling again in 1962.

Many good young Americans paid the ultimate price for that involvement (58,220 U.S. service members died in the conflict).

Why do I mention this?  Because just as so many Americans have no idea of the scale of enemy bombing that England suffered during WWII, just as many Brits have no idea of the scale of the ‘draft’ (i.e. conscription) that was employed by the U.S. Government as the Vietnam involvement grew.

Now keep that in mind as a means of adding context to what follows.

Until Tuesday is a book of many extremes.  It is a powerful book, a disturbing book, and a book about the beauty, dignity and, sadly, the madness of man.

I have been talking to a good friend of my life-long Californian pal, Dan Gomez.  Let me just call him Tom.  Tom saw service in Vietnam.  This is how Tom describes his early experiences.

I was young and keen for some adventure.  I had watched many war movies so I knew exactly what war was all about.  So I enlisted as a soldier and was shipped out to Vietnam.  After 60 days, I had experienced sufficient to know that things were not as they were portrayed by the media and the reality of Vietnam was very different to those movies. I had seen enough and was ready to come home.

Except that it didn’t work that way. I was there for a full tour of duty.

It became increasingly apparent by our behavior that we were not there to liberate the masses. We were there because some politicians had a theory and because of it didn’t want the locals to have a democratic election.  So good people were put into harm’s way, died or were severely injured for no other reason than some politicians had a theory – that proved to be false in the end.

Through it all, the biggest pain that I suffered was to see my Government operating under false pretences, with no integrity and no dignity.   It left me with a deep anger and mistrust of government that is still deep inside me.

Tom’s very personal and intimate sharing of his experiences of Vietnam resonates powerfully with what Captain Montalvan experienced in Iraq.  Here’s an extract from the book,

I am an American soldier.  I am an expert and I am a professional.

But at the same time, I was coming unmoored, my mind dwelling on the hand-to-hand struggle for my life, the Syrian ambush, the sandstorms, the riots, and Ali, Emad and Maher, the men left behind.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

The wife of one of my best men from Al-Waleed had become pregnant during his midtour leave.  The foetus was fatally deformed, but Tricare, the army’s health service, doesn’t provide abortions under any circumstances, and she was forced to carry the child to term.  I will never accept defeat.  Little Layla was born without a nose and several internal organs.  Her parents had no financial resources on a soldier’s pay to provide her comfort.  I emailed everyone I knew for help – hundreds of dollars were sent to the sergeant and his family.  Nevertheless, it was heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, to hold Layla in my hands.  I will never quit.  She lived eight weeks, and the difficulty of her life, and the inhumanity of forcing that existence not only from her but her parents too – I will never leave a fallen comrade – fuelled my downwards drive.

I was angry with the army. Not on the surface, but underneath, in the depth of my mind.  Why did Layla and her parents have to endure that pain, especially after everything they had already endured?  Why were they forcing our regiment back to Iraq just ten months after our return?  Why weren’t they helping us cope with our pain?  We were badly banged up.  We were undermanned and underequipped.  The army didn’t care.  They were churning us through.  They cared more about getting us back to Iraq and making the numbers than they did about our health and survival.

It was the summer of 2004.  Victory was slipping away.  Everyone could see that, but the media kept pounding the message: ‘The generals say there are enough men.  The generals say there is enough equipment.  The generals say everything is going well.’  It was a lie. The soldiers on the line knew it because we were the ones suffering.  We were the ones who endured days of enemy mortar fire when we arrived in Iraq without weapons or ammunition, as my eighty troopers had in Balad in 2003; we were the ones going back in 2005 without adequate recovery time or armour for our Humvees.  And that is the ultimate betrayal: when the commanding officers care more about the media and the bosses than about their soldiers on the ground. [Chapter 5, An American Soldier, pps 88-89]

So the first thing that most definitely comes out of the pages of Until Tuesday is the depth of disconnect between Montalvan as an active soldier in the front line and his nation.  Just like Tom in Vietnam!

It’s not until Chapter 8, The Thought of Dogs, that the author moves on from his obsessiveness about his military experiences to his future world.  Please realise that when I use the word ‘obsessiveness’, in no way is it used as a derogatory term.  One of the symptoms of mental insecurity is the ease with which we can obsess on things in our lives.

Here’s how Chapter 8 starts,

I can’t tell you how much my life changed when I read the email on 1 July 2008. (A Tuesday, I just realised.  I’ll have to add that to my list of fake reasons for Tuesday’s name.)  The Wounded Warrior Project, the veteran service organisation I went with to the Bruce Springsteen concert, forwarded the message.  They forwarded messages every day, actually, but I usually didn’t read them.  This tagline intrigued me: ‘WWP and Puppies Behind Bars’.  Puppies behind bars?

The message was almost as simple: ‘Dear Warriors, please note below.  Puppies Behind Bars has 30 dogs a year to place, free of charge, with veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan who are suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries or physical injuries.  I’ve attached the Dog Tags brochure which explains the programme, as well as the Dog Tags application.’

As soon as I read the attached description, I knew the programme was for me.  I suffered from debilitating social anxiety, and the dogs were trained to understand and soothe emotional distress.  I suffered from vertigo and frequent falls, and a dog could keep me stable.  Because of my back I could barely tie my own shoes, and a dog could retrieve and pick things up for me.  I was the perfect candidate.  I was down, but I was working towards a future.  I was a leader, so I would never give up.  And I was lonely.  Terribly, terribly lonely.

From this point onwards the remaining 189 pages of Until Tuesday are about Luis Montalvan’s recovery built upon the foundation of his beautiful relationship with Tuesday, his service dog.

Of course there are ups and downs, as there are in all our lives, but the overall message is clear.  A dog loves a human in the most beautiful and purest fashion of all.  That unconditional, undemanding love for the humans in that dog’s life unlock even the most damaged souls.  Tuesday unlocked the private hell that Captain Montalvan endured for so long.

In the privacy of a deep hug of your dog lays release.  From that release comes peace, understanding and the desire to re-connect with the larger world.  There is no greater gift than that.

So standing back in terms of reviewing this book (I reviewed the UK edition) here are my thoughts.

  • It’s a deeply moving book which many, but especially dog owners, will be touched by.
  • It’s a book that offers real hope and inspiration, most certainly for those who are going through their own private hell.
  • It’s a very American book and, at times, when reading it I did wonder if some UK readers might find themselves culturally disconnected.
  • Overall, this is a book that needs to be read.

Perhaps I should close by saying this.  I didn’t have to pay for the book, it was sent to me on a complimentary basis once I had agreed to do the review.  In the UK Until Tuesday is published by Headline Publishing.  However, having read the book I realise that to have missed the opportunity of reading it would have left my life a little poorer.


A note for all those that have been good enough to read to the end!  This post published today is the 1,000th post since Learning from Dogs first saw the light of day on July 15th, 2009.  That it has reached this point is a direct result of the number of readers and the support that so many of you give to this rather crazy enterprise!  Thank you all!