Friday, November 30

Fisher House, helping families stay strong

American Service Members Wounded in Action in Three Wars
 20,320 - Afghan War (up to 2017)
 31,952 - Iraq War (up to 2016)
304,000 - Vietnam War

WMAL radio, which serves the Greater Washington, DC area, is holding its annual fundraiser for Fisher House all day today and until 7 PM on Saturday:
WMAL listeners have generously contributed millions of dollars to the Fisher House Foundation to help build houses for the families of our injured veterans as they return home for treatment. Group homes at Bethesda, Walter Reed, the VA, Dover AFB, and more than 50 locations across the country provide a comfortable place for loved ones to live while remaining close to their injured family member.
You can listen online to the WMAL radiothon here.

Fisher House is a very worthy charity that didn't exist during the Vietnam War -- or during the two-month Cambodia ground combat operation ordered by Nixon (354 American troops killed, 1,689 wounded). Out of a list of 82 top-rated charities that serve military members, veterans and their families, Fisher House is tied for first place with Aspen Challenge in terms of financial score, transparency, and accountability.     

Since its inception in 1990 Fisher House has served 335,00 families and saved those families an estimated total of $407 million in out-of-pocket expenses, which otherwise they would've spent on travel and lodging to stay near a wounded military family member hospitalized in the USA or another country. In all, Fisher House has provided 8 million days of lodging at no cost to families of the wounded.

As to how many lives Fisher House has saved, the organization provides no statistic for that. But of course having loving family members close by during the early days of hospitalization can mean the difference between life and death for many of the worst wounded. And the presence of family is the best defense against despair when severely wounded soldiers realize that no amount of surgeries and hi-tech prosthetics will ever make them whole again.

So while much of the WMAL fundraiser is taken up with relatives of wounded soldiers explaining how Fisher House helped them, it can be very hard to listen to their accounts. What makes it bearable, what makes it transcend issues of war, is that these family members are strong people. Maybe they didn't start out strong, maybe they never saw themselves as strong, but it's either collapse into a heap of sorrow or dig deep and find strength. The relatives of wounded warriors who talk to the WMAL audience about getting through their experiences are worth listening to for that reason alone. 



I have not forgotten 26/11

I have not forgotten Syria, either. I forget nothing. All right Pundita that's enough. 

Now where were we? Drag friction. Forests. Winds. Trees. Wildfires.

If you're lost, I did warn that I am covering a lot of ground very fast. Toward the end of December I hope to do a summary of my posts since late October, but for now keep up or fall behind. 

And note that while I'm focusing on California's forests and wildfires, the observations I'm making and reports I'm posting on the topics apply to many other regions of the world; Greece, as one example.    

Now. Any chance the winds coming off the Great Basin Desert have been getting stronger? If so, that might translate to routinely higher winds for California, if as I've argued, massive deforestation significantly decreased drag friction provided by forest. Has there been a study done on whether the GBD winds in California have picked up in recent decades?  

All I see in news reports/public discussion is circular reasoning: yes winds are strong in California and this is due to global warming due to trapped greenhouse gases. 

If you'd ask them what trapped greenhouse gases have to do with higher winds the answer would be: climate change. 

They're going round in circles.

Of course getting at least a ballpark answer wouldn't require a fancy research project. Just ring up people who've lived on the GBD for a generation and ask, 'Have you noticed whether the winds have gotten stronger in your neighborhood during the past decade?' 

But there must be some kind of study that's already been done. 

I will return tonight. 


Wednesday, November 28

An ill wind and a mass murder UPDATED 12:50 AM ET 11/29

After a dive into 'layperson-friendly' articles on the science of ions, which I didn't think to make until after I published this post, I am cautious about accepting Joan Didion's claim, "... what an excess of positive ions does, in the simplest terms, is make people unhappy" -- a claim made by many others as well. But as a professor of chemistry quoted by a 2004 news report, Here's a shocker: Most ion claims don't pass muster observed:
... every time you create one type of ion, you create another type of ion. If you do something to create negative ions, at some location pretty close by, you're going to create an equal number of positive ions. Any light that produces negative ions has to produce the same number of positive ions.
I have no idea whether this means the Israeli physicist that Didion referenced was wrong (see her essay after my introduction, below). But the chemistry professor's observation causes me to question whether a preponderance of positive ions, if indeed present during and several hours prior to Santa Ana winds, can make people unhappy or drive them crazy, if they're always being bombarded with both positive and negative ions anyhow. 

Yet something about Santa Ana winds, which are foehn winds, upsets a great many people exposed to them and enough to drive many to distraction. The jury is still out on what it is, and of course it could be a combination of factors. From Wikipedia's article on the foehn wind:
Anecdotally, residents in areas of frequent foehn winds report a variety of illnesses ranging from migraines to psychosis. The first clinical review of these effects was published by the Austrian physician Anton Czermak in the 19th century. ... A study by the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München found that suicide and accidents increased by 10 percent during foehn winds in Central Europe. ... The cause of Föhnkrankheit (English: Foehn-sickness) is yet unproven.
The observations in the above-mentioned study comport with Didion's account of the Santa Ana effect. But I do have one other quibble: I question Didion's assertion that Israel's hamsin winds are foehn winds. I will leave it there as the question doesn't impinge on her account, which I find valuable even after all these years. 

"The winds show us how close to the edge we are."
-- Joan Didion, The Santa Ana, 1965

A chill went up my spine as I mentally registered the date. November 7? The shooting had been on November 7? The massive wildfires that had broken out on November 8 in California had dominated news from the state for weeks. By last night, when a news report mentioned that police still had no idea why Ian David Long had killed people in a bar in Thousand Oaks on November 7, I hadn't remembered the date of the massacre, only that it was not long before the wildfire outbreaks.

I knew from other reports that the Santa Ana wind had fueled the November 8 wildfire in Greater Los Angeles, where Thousand Oaks is located. But when exactly had the wind started up around that time? An internet search immediately produced an Accuweather report, Santa Ana wind event in the works across Southern California. The report was dated November 6. So the wind had been blowing on November 7.

I went back to Joan Didion's essay, The Santa Ana, which I'd first read a few days earlier while looking for connections between high-wind events, deforestation, and large wildfires in California. Before the November 8 wildfires I'd known nothing about winds and never been interested in the topic. I'd never had any interest in Joan Didion's writings, either, but a link to The Santa Ana in a report about California's high-wind/wildfire events sent me to her essay.

After a second reading, it sank in that I'd been so focused on velocities I'd overlooked that the Santa Ana is not just a high wind  -- a fact I think also overlooked in 2015 by a reviewer who decried lurid fiction accounts of the Santa Ana. It's a special kind of high wind, known as foehn, and its impact on the human body and psyche has long been known, and was respected before. Before when? 

Before the pace of society demanded that people live by schedules that don't allow for compromising with the rest of the natural world's schedules.

We might not ever know what caused a man who'd served very honorably in the U.S. Marines to shoot unarmed strangers then take his own life. A family shouting incident in April, which brought police to his house, suggested to a mental health expert who interviewed him at that time that he was troubled. But there's not enough information about Ian David Long's life since he left the Marines to know whether he was suffering from PTSD. Even so, if every military veteran with PTSD was driven by the affliction to carry out a shooting rampage, there would be a great many mass shootings. 

A worsening mental disorder of some kind may have brought Long to a point where he turned his talents as a Marine gunner against innocent civilians. Could it have been the Santa Ana blowing on November 7 that finally pushed him over the edge? I doubt the psychiatric profession would want to speculate on the question.

But after my second read of Joan Didion's illuminating essay, I found myself pondering her observation that Santa Ana effects on people show that human behavior is profoundly mechanistic. Is it? Or is it that we insist on acting like machines to keep our places in society, even when an ill wind blows?
The Santa Ana
By Joan Didion
The Saturday Evening Post
(courtesy Bobby Hundreds at Tumblr)

There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sand storms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to flash point. For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night. I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air. To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.

I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf. The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called “earthquake weather.” My only neighbor would not come out of her house for days, and there were no lights at night, and her husband roamed the place with a machete. One day he would tell me that he had heard a trespasser, the next a rattlesnake.

“On nights like that,” Raymond Chandler once wrote about the Santa Ana, “every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.” 

That was the kind of wind it was. I did not know then that there was any basis for the effect it had on all of us, but it turns out to be another of those cases in which science bears out folk wisdom. The Santa Ana, which is named for one of the canyons it rushers through, is foehn wind, like the foehn of Austria and Switzerland and the hamsin of Israel. 

There are a number of persistent malevolent winds, perhaps the best known of which are the mistral of France and the Mediterranean sirocco, but a foehn wind has distinct characteristics: it occurs on the leeward slope of a mountain range and, although the air begins as a cold mass, it is warmed as it comes down the mountain and appears finally as a hot dry wind. 

Whenever and wherever foehn blows, doctors hear about headaches and nausea and allergies, about “nervousness,” about “depression.”

In Los Angeles some teachers do not attempt to conduct formal classes during a Santa Ana, because the children become unmanageable. In Switzerland the suicide rate goes up during the foehn, and in the courts of some Swiss cantons the wind is considered a mitigating circumstance for crime. Surgeons are said to watch the wind, because blood does not clot normally during a foehn. 

A few years ago an Israeli physicist discovered that not only during such winds, but for the ten or twelve hours which precede them, the air carries an unusually high ratio of positive to negative ions. No one seems to know exactly why that should be; some talk about friction and others suggest solar disturbances. In any case the positive ions are there, and what an excess of positive ions does, in the simplest terms, is make people unhappy. One cannot get much more mechanistic than that.

Easterners commonly complain that there is no “weather” at all in Southern California, that the days and the seasons slip by relentlessly, numbingly bland. That is quite misleading. In fact the climate is characterized by infrequent but violent extremes: two periods of torrential subtropical rains which continue for weeks and wash out the hills and send subdivisions sliding toward the sea; about twenty scattered days a year of the Santa Ana, which, with its incendiary dryness, invariably means fire. 

At the first prediction of a Santa Ana, the Forest Service flies men and equipment from northern California into the southern forests, and the Los Angeles Fire Department cancels its ordinary non-firefighting routines. The Santa Ana caused Malibu to burn as it did in 1956, and Bel Air in 1961, and Santa Barbara in 1964. In the winter of 1966-67 eleven men were killed fighting a Santa Ana fire that spread through the San Gabriel Mountains.

Just to watch the front-page news out of Los Angeles during a Santa Ana is to get very close to what it is about the place.

The longest single Santa Ana period in recent years was in 1957, and it lasted not the usual three or four days but fourteen days, from November 21 until December 4. 

On the first day 25,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains were burning, with gusts reaching 100 miles an hour. In town, the wind reached Force 12, or hurricane force, on the Beaufort Scale; oil derricks were toppled and people were ordered off the downtown streets to avoid injury from flying objects. On November 22 the fire in the San Gabriels was out of control. 

On November 24 six people were killed in automobile accidents, and by the end of the week the Los Angeles Times was keeping a box score of traffic deaths.

On November 26 a prominent Pasadena attorney, depressed about money, shot and killed his wife, their two sons and himself. On November 27 a South Gate divorcée, twenty-two, was murdered and thrown from a moving car. 

On November 30 the San Gabriel fire was still out of control, and the wind in town was blowing eighty miles an hour. 

On the first day of December four people died violently, and on the third the wind began to break.

It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. The city burning is Los Angeles’s deepest image of itself. Nathaniel West perceived that, in The Day of the Locust, and at the time of the 1965 Watts riots what struck the imagination most indelibly were the fires. For days one could drive the Harbor Freeway and see the city on fire, just as we had always known it would be in the end. Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The winds show us how close to the edge we are.

– Joan Didion, The Santa Ana (included in “Los Angeles Notebook” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem published 1968).

How the Santa Ana Winds Form 

The graphic is from atmospheric scientist Angela Fritz's October 15 report for The Washington Post, Tinder-dry Santa Ana winds spark wildfire threat in Southern California.

By the way I've devised a little formula based on my research into winds, etc. :

massive loss of forest = massive loss of drag-friction = stronger winds = explosive wildfires.

If wind scientists can find any rocket science in that formula they should let me know. But drag-friction is lodged in basic wind science. So if wind scientists find no great disagreement with the formula, then if they can tear themselves away from designing windmills to combat carbon-fuel emissions, they might urge governments and fire officials to invest some time in developing windbreaks to ward off the worst wildfires. I emphasize that these wildfires are called such because they are not forest fires.

The catastrophic fires that struck California on November 8 did not arise in forests. They were shrubland fires, as fire officials term them -- starting as tiny fires in dried brush or grass, and fanned within moments by high winds into fast-moving conflagrations.

Pundita readers who've been following my research on winds and wildfires will recall that I've suggested Californians go on a bamboo-planting spree; this as a stopgap measure while fire officials are debating the best ways to manage forests. Bamboo is a very powerful and fast-growing windbreak that can flourish in any of California's microclimates. Bamboo is just one suggestion for a windbreak, of course; there are surely other good candidates. 

Yet the search for windbreaks won't happen at the official level until fire scientists concede that with a massive loss of drag-friction, forests cannot provide as much windbreak as they did when they covered much of the world.

As to whether and how much the massive loss of forest drag friction has during various periods in history contributed to desertification, drought, and "climate change" -- I consider those to be good questions. Someday, perhaps, climate scientists will consider them, if they can tear themselves away long enough from studying just a single model of how climate works.

For now: of course vegetation will quickly dry out and soil will quickly erode, if buffeted by high winds, and this is whether or not there has been a period of low rainfall. Low or high rainfall, as soon the rain stops and if the winds keeping blowing, that translates to a quick way to make bone-dry tinder. It also translates to soil turned to dust -- as happened in the 1930s in America on the Great Plains aka The Dust Bowl.


Sunday, November 25

Brazilian and Indonesian Eco-Disasters Have Similar Features

"Oh, My God, What the Hell Is Happening Here?"

It's grueling and even depressing to plow through one litany of horrors after another. What makes the task bearable for me is that there are always a few people caught up in a disaster who throw a monkey wrench at the wheels of the juggernaut. So it happened with an Indonesian disaster, as chronicled by the New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica in a November 20 report written by Abraham Lustgarten, Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe: "A decade ago, the U.S. mandated the use of vegetable oil in biofuels, leading to industrial-scale deforestation — and a huge spike in carbon emissions."

The report is a bombshell dropped into the living rooms of elite Anti-Global Warmists; although they already knew about the horrors unleashed by their support of agri-fuels, I believe they thought the worst of the story had been quashed by their fellow travelers in the mainstream media. In that case they didn't plan on the tenacity of an Indonesian who got very angry about the way the people in his village were screwed out of what little rights they had to their land, and who got hold of damning evidence. 

Nor did they appreciate that an American attorney who worked for the Environmental Defense Fund was not a potted plant. He was one of 'their people,' but he was not going to keep his mouth shut for the greater good of helping the elite battle carbon emissions. Not when he saw that using biofuels to reduce carbon emissions was going to produce the opposite effect.

In 2007, as he watched President G.W. Bush outline in a televised address his plan for the U.S. government to back agri-fuels, all the knowledge he'd gained while working on climate issues for the Fund came together. He blurted, "My God, what the hell is happening here?"

In a flash the attorney, Timothy Searchinger, saw what would happen. From the Times-ProPublica report:
Quintupling biofuel production would require a huge amount of additional arable land, far more than existed in the United States. Unless Americans planned to eat less, that meant displacing food production to some other country with unused land — and he knew that when forests are cut, or new land is opened for farming, substantial new amounts of carbon can be released into the atmosphere.
Forests hold as much as 45 percent of the planet’s carbon stored on land, and old-growth trees in particular hold a great deal of that carbon, typically far more than any of the crops that replace them. When the trees are cut down, most of that carbon is released.
But Searchinger didn't have a crystal ball. So not with all his knowledge and intelligence could he project what would also happen. Cutting down lots of trees is bad in terms of carbon release. Burning the tree stumps is worse. But burning tree stumps perched on peatland is carbon-release apocalypse.  

That's what happened. A global agri-business firm -- ironically Singaporean not American -- was quick to react to Bush's announcement, and then the Indonesian government made a financial killing by offering big chunks of its country. Across Indonesia, "trees were cut down at a rate of three acres every minute to make room" for the palm plantations. But when they started in on Indonesia's part of the island of Borneo they ran into trees growing in peatland.

To cut a story:
NASA researchers say the accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests contributed to the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, an explosion that transformed Indonesia into the world’s fourth-largest source of such emissions.
Instead of creating a clever technocratic fix to reduce American’s carbon footprint, [U.S.] lawmakers had lit the fuse on a powerful carbon bomb that, as the forests were cleared and burned, produced more carbon than did the entire continent of Europe.
The unprecedented palm-oil boom, meanwhile, has enriched and emboldened many of the region’s largest corporations, which have begun using their newfound power and wealth to suppress critics, abuse workers and acquire more land to produce oil.
Setting aside carbon apocalypse the story gets even worse, and this is where the Indonesian whistleblower, Gusti Gelambong, comes in. This part of Lustgarten's report is a real page-turner but I'm going to cite just these passages before we hop over to Brazil:
To make Indonesia’s plan [to turn the nation into a palm plantation] a reality, a complicated question of land ownership had to be addressed. Much of the new development was focused on Borneo, where many villages were settled before there were nations, let alone land deeds.
To create a legal basis for development, the Indonesian government established a commercial land-share system in the 1980s. In theory, the system let villages sign over development rights in return for some part of the profit. But in practice, many villagers said, companies often secured the permits they needed through some combination of intense lobbying, bribery and strong-arming, and the result was broken promises and missing payments.
Villagers were often simply outmatched by their huge negotiating partners. Wilmar was already a powerhouse in 2007, with operations in 23 countries on four continents, employing more than 60,000 people. When Wilmar said it would buy more than 200,000 acres in the states surrounding Gusti Gelambong’s village [in Borneo], it was a signal for others, too, to rush in. One of Indonesia’s largest conglomerates, the Salim Group — which owns Indofood, the nation’s largest maker of instant noodles — said it would pay $13 million for 200,000 acres in East and Central Kalimantan.
Meanwhile in Brazil
After falling for several years, [Amazon] deforestation began rising again in 2013, the year after leftist president Dilma Rousseff approved a new forest code which gave an amnesty to those deforesting on small properties. Deforestation has risen in four of the six years since then, including in 2016, the year Rousseff was impeached and replaced by her former vice-president Michel Temer.
Temer has made further concessions to powerful agribusiness interests in return for support from its congressional representatives – including approving a measure that legalised land that had been squatted in the Amazon, a common deforestation driver.
Moves like these signalled the Brazilian congress was no longer concerned about deforestation, said [Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brasil’s public policy coordinator], which encouraged deforestation.
"We feel in our field work that these deforestation gangs are very confident they will get amnesty or that they are covered,” he said.
That's from a November 23, 2013 Guardian report, Brazil records worst annual deforestation for a decade
Between August 2017 and July 2018, 7,900sq kms were deforested, according to preliminary figures from the environment ministry based on satellite monitoring – a 13.7% rise on the previous year and the biggest area of forest cleared since 2008. The area is equivalent to 987,000 football pitches.
As to where the situation is headed:
As more and more of the Amazon is cut down, the world’s greatest forest is now getting close to the “tipping point” – after which experts fear it could disappear.
“A moment will arrive in which the accumulation of this deforestation will cause an effect in which the forest will stop being a forest,” Astrini said. “The scientists calculate this is between 20-30%. We are very close to the 20%.”
The Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima) – a non-profit, climate change network – calculated that in 2017, 46% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions were due to deforestation.
But for the bottom line I return to Lustgarten's report:
Now, according to the Indonesian development officials, 80 million Indonesians depend economically on palm oil, and nearly half the industry consists of individual landowners like the people in Kotawaringin. “If you pull out biofuel, the whole system will collapse” ...
The statistics might vary a little but it's basically the same in the Amazon.


Saturday, November 24

And now a few words from Honduras President on the mess his country's migrant crisis made for Mexico and US

In other news related to Honduras:

"Brother of Honduran president detained in Miami for conspiring to import cocaine," 11/23/18, Miami Herald:
Less than a year after a convicted drug lord testified that he had met with the Honduran president’s brother to discuss the repayment of debt related to a money-laundering operation, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez was detained by federal agents in Miami on drug and weapons charges.
Hernandez, the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, was detained Friday for “conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, and related weapons charges,” said James Margolin, the chief public information office for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, in a statement to the Miami Herald.
Margolin said Hernandez was expected to appear in federal court in Miami on Monday.

The desertification of Spain and Iceland and Iceland's quest to reclaim its deserts

In both cases the desertification is greatly due to human actions.

But how? How can most of Iceland, a land with so much water, be desert? The answer is staggering. As to Spain, I have no words for what is happening to the land. Perhaps the Spaniards and all the rest of us can learn from the example set by the Icelanders. No people have devoted themselves more to reclaiming their land.

The stories go back and forth between Spain and Iceland for the length of the documentary, published at YouTube in May 2017. It is part two of two-part series titled Destroyers of CivilizationFrom the introduction at the YouTube page:
According to estimates of the United Nations, more than 2.6 billion people in 110 countries are directly affected by progressive desertification. Deserts now cover more than a third of the entire surface of the earth, thus 65% of arable lands. More than three billion cattle, sheep and goats chomp their way through pastures faster than they can be regenerated. This program shows how desertification is changing the balance of the earth and affecting two continents in particular: Asia and Europe.

Thursday, November 22

"Water Scarcity a Bigger Threat Than the Taliban in Afghanistan?"

"Access to water is not the same as availability of water."

Water Scarcity a Bigger Threat Than the Taliban in Afghanistan?
Water scarcity — not war — is a rising cause for displacement in Afghanistan.
By Soraya Parwani 
October 10, 2018
The Diplomat

The Panj river in Wakhan between Afghanistan and Tajikistan

Water Scarcity or Crisis?
There are very real ground realities indicating water scarcity; however, in aggregate terms, Afghanistan has an adequate amount of water. There are approximately five major river basins in the state — Amu Darya, Harirud-Murghab, Helmand, Kabul, and Northern — and altogether these are estimated to provide 75 billion cubic meters (BCM) of accessible water. According to Cooperation for Peace and Unity, this averages out to 3,063.1 cubic meters per capita. Furthermore, the Afghanistan National Development Strategy has listed the present usage as 19.08 BCM — which is merely 33 percent of total surface water.
Access to water is not the same as availability of water. The only basin in which 100 percent of water is presently being used is the Northern basin; all others are using less than 60 percent of total available water. Among the drought affected provinces, Bamyan, Daykundi, Ghor, Helmand, Kandahar, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Nuristan, Takhar, Badghis and Uruzgan have been reported as critical priority for nutrition and water sanitation, and hygiene assistance. The issue of water scarcity is not evenly felt across the state, as geographical constraints provide different realities for people in different areas. The water crisis is further complicated due to seasonal time scale and spatial distribution of water sources. Therefore, Afghanistan is not necessarily naturally water stressed — it is facing a water crisis that has been exacerbated by the mismanagement of its available water supply.

Mismanagement, Climate Change and Geopolitics
The United Nations in 2006 stated that the water crisis is not due to a physical absence of freshwater, rather the mismanagement and lack of investment in water supplies. Three decades of war destroyed much of the water management system that existed in the country. However, with the assistance of the international community, Afghanistan has been rebuilding these systems. The international community providing assistance has primarily focused on rehabilitating and rejuvenating old water networks and systems that were destroyed. However, the World Bank cited that the investment and programs for the Agricultural and Water sector has had modest impact on the “rural economy and improving rural livelihoods.”
The Ministry of Water and Energy reports that 90 percent of total water consumption in the country is for agricultural purposes, which sees more than 50 percent water loss due to inefficient systems of water management — mainly unsustainable irrigation for crop production. There are formal and informal irrigation systems in Afghanistan. The formal systems are large-scale irrigation schemes developed with the assistance of the central government in financing, management, operations, and maintenance. However, 88 percent of the total irrigated area is still done through informal systems of irrigation, which are centuries old and traditionally developed to address water management locally. In informal systems, water management is monitored and administered by traditional water masters called Mirabs. Farmers meet with the local Mirab for a number of different purposes, including discussing irrigation plans as well as resolving disputes — in some cases the Mirabs physically open and close the channels for irrigation.
The Ministry of Water and Energy blames most of Afghanistan’s water crisis on its “vulnerability” to climate change, citing a 62 percent drop in rainwater. Higher average temperatures are also increasing the amount of snowmelt from the mountains earlier in the year. A lack of infrastructure will result in this snowmelt being lost as runoff rather than being stored in reservoirs. With 8 million Afghans currently facing food insecurity, this number will drastically increase with the drought aggregating the food deficit in 2018. Afghanistan is also considered one of the world’s most prone areas to desertification, which is the rising cause of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, soil erosion and landslides.
Furthermore, water is not a national resource — it is a transboundary resource that extends beyond political borders. Afghanistan is not the only state in the region facing shortages of water. Iran, Pakistan, and other neighboring states are also facing water shortages. Therefore, as Afghanistan begins to invest in the management of its water supply by constructing dams, irrigation systems, diversions and other infrastructure at a larger scale, it will alter hydrological relations with neighboring states. Currently, Afghanistan only has one agreement with Iran that was signed in 1973, which outlines the allocation of discharge from Helmand river to Iran year round.
The United States 2011 Water Scarcity report stated that “the U.S. approach could exacerbate regional tensions” if the interconnectivity of water issues between Central and South Asian states is neglected. Thus, the management of water requires a national policy that ensures the most efficient usage and sustainable extraction of water, within a larger international framework that has been negotiated with neighbouring states. It is absolutely essential for the Afghan government to engage in bilateral and multilateral negotiations, through a process known as hydrodiplomacy, which it has been largely absent from. Without this vital process, infrastructure development will be faced with strict obstruction.
Soraya Parwani is the Vice President of Communication at the Asia Pacific Foundations youth council.

Sunday, November 18

California's wildfires are a drag-friction problem. So plant lots of bamboo there..

A quick and dirty fix but it'll work

The drag-friction of California's massive forests had always been an effective windbreak against the fierce winds coming off the Great Basin Desert. But over the course of the past century so much forest was destroyed that I think the loss reached a tipping point about a decade ago, thus greatly weakening the forest windbreak. What has followed is a nightmarish series of catastrophic wildfires driven by high-velocity winds. 

The November 8 Camp fire, clocked in at 80 mph -- hurricane-force winds -- while it virtually destroyed the town of Paradise within a few hours and caused at last count 76 deaths.

So I'd say Californians need to quickly find substitutes for the weakened windbreak function of their state's forests. I doubt there's a perfect substitute but bamboo, which grows 3-5 feet per year, is an incredibly powerful windbreak when planted in sufficient amount and the right configuration. And it's able to stand up to the strongest winds and all kinds of weather -- and I do mean all kinds. 

See this article about bamboo and prepare to be amazed if you don't know anything about the plant. It even saves lives during earthquakes if people take refuge near it.

It would be a matter for wind scientists to decide exactly where large bamboo groves should be planted in California to best weaken winds from the Great Basin. Plant specialists could determine which kind of bamboo would be best for each soil, if the groves are planted in widely differing locales in California.

For those Californians who hate the thought of bamboo invading their neighborhood -- if I lived in a windy neighborhood I'd be happy to see bamboo invade but there are two types of roots; the clumping type doesn't 'travel.'

Bamboo does need a little watering during the first 3-4 years but what it takes in water it might well give back many times over if high winds cause leafy plants, including leafy crops, to require lots of water. Keep in mind that the winds from the Great Basin are blowing 10 months out of the year in California to a greater or lesser degree, at least in northern California where they're called Diablo winds.  

There could be other highly effective vegetation windbreaks and I think every bit helps when it comes to creating drag-friction. As to using manmade materials, they would have to be something Californians could live with, perhaps for a long time, until their tree forests are restored to the point where the windbreak function is strengthened.  

My allover point is that Californians are focused on fire and how to stop it. I think they'll do better if they focus more on how to slow the winds that drive the worst of the fires.

See Also:

"Argument: Loss of forest windbreaks major cause of huge N. California wildfires;" Pundita, 11/15 (includes sources not linked in 11/18 post.) 

Saturday, November 17

Pundita's crash course on King Bhumibol's New Theory system of farming

The Standardized New Theory Farm

It's important to understand that Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej (1927-2016) didn't look at subsistence farming as an end in itself. He saw it as a firmer base on which small-scale farmers could build commercial farming than the capital-intensive approach that while reasonable for setting up factories and non-farming retail businesses never did work well for small-scale commercial farmers as a group.

In essence he told the Thai small-scale commercial rice farmers, who were always suffering from food insecurity and mired in debt, 'Go back to square one. First get yourselves to the point where you can be self-sufficient in providing for your own food needs and the needs of your family. Then network with other self-sufficient farmers (easy to do in rural Thailand, which has many farming villages.)  

'Once you have a network, then the network can pool any surplus harvests and get a better price for the harvests than you can individually. Then your network can hook up with another network of self-sufficient farmers, and so on.  

'And with a portion of the profits from sales of surplus harvest, your network can branch into setting up small-scale retail businesses based on their farms' produce; for example selling herbal preparations.  

'Once you have your little retail businesses set up, THEN is when you can think about taking on debt, as a cooperative, by borrowing from banks to expand your businesses and make any capital-intensive improvements to your farms.

'This means you're taking on debt against your retail businesses, NOT against your farms.

'And you always have the fallback of food security because your farms are set up, under my farming system, to be fully self-sufficient; i.e., everything you need for a rounded diet is grown/raised right on your farm.

'Moreover, with all your food needs taken care of by your subsistence farm, you don't have to spend any of your profits from selling surplus harvest on buying food.'

That's in essence what he was advocating, although I've explained it in my own way.

In short, he applied capitalism and debt financing at a juncture where the farm itself was protected against being sold to pay off debts, and where the farmer didn't have to take on even more debt by turning to loan sharks.

The system sounds simple but it wasn't done on any significant scale that I know about until King Bhumibol came along. This was in part because subsistence farming was never modernized until he did it. Subsistence farming had been left to molder, continuing with traditional methods that often weren't adequate to produce a truly self-sufficient food source for the farmer. Indeed, much subsistence farming has always been supplemented with hunting, gathering, and fishing.

His majesty looked at six acres (the average size of a small farm in Thailand) and asked himself in essence, 'How would I feed myself and my family a well-rounded diet from just this amount of land?' Which also had to make room for the farm family's domicile and livestock outbuildings. Yet I think he got a lot of help in working out the NT farm from the Thai farmers themselves. He was a great listener.  

He did the seemingly impossible by plugging every cutting-edge technology he could find into his New Theory farm, and when he couldn't find a solution to a particular problem, he invented one. 

So while it might have taken him several years to refine and standardize the NT farm and its economic system, he solved the key problems with small-scale commercial farming that have bedeviled societies the world over, ever since the turn of the last century. That was when mechanized equipment made it possible for small landholders to engage in commercial farming. Since then it's been one disaster after another for such farmers.

He didn't invent cooperative farming, but he worked it into a system that provided small farmers with the financial security they had always lacked. Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul, Secretary-General of the Chaipattana Foundation, well-summed King Bhumibol's allover approach:
Technical experts have often found that His Majesty’s ways to solve problems are so simple that nobody has thought of them before. His Majesty prefers simplifying complex situations, making confusing issues understandable, and using common sense to solve problems. “Make it simple” is His Majesty’s frequent advice. Simplicity underlies most of his development initiatives.
For details on the New Theory Farm, see this article.  


Friday, November 16

Migrant Caravan is "Land Grabs in Honduras" spelled backward. Europeans take note

Of course -- of course -- this is farmland grabs. Democratic Party operatives who've been involved with the current Honduran migrant caravan to the U.S. can't claim ignorance. That's because The Huffington Post, a widely-read U.S. news outlet that's a bastion of Democratic politics, opened a window in January 2017 on land grabs in Honduras and their connection to the Honduran diasporas. 

Central American migrants atop "The Beast" train through Mexico


Land Grabs Are Partly To Blame For Skyrocketing Violence In Central America

Global firms and local elites are taking land from farmers, which pushes them to cities, where jobs are few.

By Saskia Sassen, PhD
January 16, 2017
The Huffington Post

In 2013, San Pedro Sula in Honduras was the world’s murder capital, with a murder rate of 187 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, driven by a surge in gang and drug trafficking violence. Nationwide, the year before, Honduras’s murder rate was 90 murders per 100,000 people ― the highest in the world.

What’s behind this ongoing surge in gang and drug trafficking violence? The answer is multi-faceted but a key element has been overlooked again and again: Local elites and foreign corporations gained control over much of the land that could grow crops, forcing smallholder farmers off their land.

After a land grab, large cities are often the only places farmers and others from rural parts of the country can go. But the cities offer few economic options for the migrants, and in response, they too often are targeted by gangs that make up a murderous urban subculture. Thus, many Central American refugees showing up at America’s door are both refugees of urban violence and, before that, of land grabs.

Honduras is a prominent example. Land grabs accelerated there in the 1990s after the government passed the Agricultural Modernization Law, which privatized collective landholdings. This favored large landholders and destroyed the claims of smallholders, who typically do not have modern-style contracts affirming their land ownership. 

According to Tanya Kersson, author of Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras, a few powerful landowners grabbed more than 21,000 hectares in a short period between 1990 and 1994. This accounted for 70 percent of peasant lands in the Lower Aguan Valley, one the most fertile areas in the country and the site for much of the land conflict in Honduras.

Land grabs and violence against rural Hondurans have gotten worse since the 1990s. The 2009 military coup gave the large landholders even more flexibility in expelling small landholders from their land. The incentives for doing so also grew with the entry of rich foreign corporations and strong World Bank support. 

A prominent company called Dinant Corporation, which is owned by one of Honduras’s most powerful men, has been accused of killing over 100 peasants in recent years. Dinant is financed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, supported by the U.N. Clean Development Mechanism and has links with global corporations like Mazola Oils.

Honduras is not the only country where this is happening. Large corporations have been taking control of rural land in many parts of the world over the last decade. That access is sometimes lawful but other times shadowy, and it is sometimes accompanied by brutal armed conflict against unarmed peasants. Globally, land grabs accelerated in the mid-2000s, putting a large number of smallholders in crisis. Large foreign corporations joined in, and there have been killings and terrorizing of smallholders who fight back.

[CHART - number of conversions of smallholder land to corporate use, shows transnational agricultural deals]

Much of what gets registered as “modernization and development” by governments and institutions like the World Bank looks very different to local peasants and local activists, journalists and scholars. They see environmental destruction and criminal activity. 

The companies do create some rural jobs but those workers are underpaid and overworked. The costs associated with some development projects have been known for years, especially in Honduras, where dozens of legal practitioners and human rights defenders, not to mention farmers and environmentalists, have been killed over the past few years. Many of these crimes remain unsolved.

The consequences of these rural expulsions are varied, and the connections with land grabs are rarely made. For instance, the U.S. Border Patrol was taken by surprise when 63,000 unaccompanied minors, most from Central America, crossed the southern border of the U.S. between Oct 1, 2013 and July 31, 2014. This was nearly twice the number of previous years. The explanation given by the children was “La Violencia,” referring to the violence in the cities. 

Fear led them to cross the whole of Mexico to get to the U.S. For most, their parents were dead or in prison. Neither the border patrol nor most analysts of this surge in unaccompanied migrant children connect La Violencia with the fact that many of their parents were forced from their land and fled to the cities.

Toward the end of 2014, the U.S. Border Patrol predicted up to 90,000 unaccompanied children would cross into the U.S. that year. The U.S. government asked Mexico to control its southern border to stem the flow of migrants from Central America. Between October 2014 and April 2015, Mexico detained almost 93,000 Central American migrants. 

Detention by Mexico’s guards at its southern frontier was brutal and put the U.S. in a dubious position. Washington eventually loosened the pressure on Mexico’s southern border detentions. So once again, the flow of Central Americans to the U.S. border, if they could make it that far, jumped sharply.

Countless individuals and families making this long trip have died, given up, stayed somewhere in Mexico or been kidnapped to work in plantations, mines or the sex economy. 

And these migrations are not likely to end. In addition to the violence, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America with 21 percent, 11 percent and 4 percent, respectively, of their people living on less than $2 a day. [Pundita note: Remember, that $2/day figure is deceptive.]

Little will be learned from all this as long as the explanation from entities, such as the World Bank, and other experts is focused on gang violence in poor areas of cities. La Violencia is out of control. But these cities were not always this way. Violence does not fall from the sky. It is made. In this case, it is made partly by large modern corporations that expel small farmers.


So, shame, shame, on Democrats who just want to herd as many Central American immigrants into the U.S. as they can in order to gin up more votes for the Democratic Party.

Shame, too, on Republicans who just want lots more cheap immigrant labor to serve America's construction and agriculture industries, both of which are already bloated to the point of danger for the U.S. economy not to mention its water supply.

Both factions in the Democratic and Republican parties are short-sighted not to mention unethical to ignore the land grabs in Honduras. As for Democratic operatives who label themselves social justice warriors just trying to help the downtrodden Hondurans -- oh please. Save it for the tourists.  

More shame goes to the Vatican if they are supporting the migrant caravans to the United States because the Catholic leadership is informed enough to be aware pf what's really been going on in Honduras. Same goes for Mexico's government.

As for the World Bank and United Nations -- no use shaking the finger of shame at them.