Green-tinged Dragons and The Unknown Koan  

Posted by Big Gav

WorldChanging has an article on why China needs to become transparently Green.

For people of my generation, Tian'anmen Square as a place rings with an indictment of the People's Republic of China. The scene of a horrific massacre that ground out the nascent Chinese democracy movement in 1989, the mere mention of the name is enough to remind us that China remains a corrupt and oppressive one-party state. Though the bloodstains are gone, the ghost of the Goddess of Democracy still haunts Tian'anmen.

Today, however, if you were to look for those bloodstains, your search would be illuminated by energy efficient light bulbs. As reported by ChinaWatch, Tian'anmen's lamps now feature green lights ("The project is expected to save around 1.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 1 million yuan [roughly US $131,000] in electricity bills and maintenance costs annually."). The move is part of the build-up to the 2008 Olympics, but it raises an interesting larger point about China, one we all too frequently gloss over: can an unfree China be green?

That the world needs a Green China is beyond question. By hurtling itself into fantastically rapid economic growth even while using outdated technologies -- creating the Chinese Miracle -- China has not only raised hundreds of millions of its citizens out of severe poverty, it has also already become the second largest polluter in the world. There is simply no way that the planet can take the beating it'll get if all 1.1 billion Chinese decide to try to live as, say, Americans do today. There is no sustainable future that doesn't see China transformed into a bright green superpower. Indeed, China itself may have no future unless it changes.

There's no doubt that by some measurements China is moving rapidly to embrace a new model of sustainability. It has developed a "green" GDP index. Green building practices and energy efficient technologies are spreading quickly, while its auto emission standards are already higher than America's. The richest man in China, Shi Zhengrong, is a solar energy tycoon, and overall, green investment in China is growing at a pace of 16 per cent a year. Finally, China is building some of the greenest new cities in the world.

But China remains a place where pollution is killing perhaps millions of people a year, where almost all the major rivers are poisoned, where vast acreage is lost every year to desertification, where the toxic e-waste of the world accumulates in mountains of technological trash, where the sky is sometimes not seen for days because the air is too foul.

In theory, almost all of this is illegal already. China already has fairly strict environmental and health laws. They just aren't enforced.

Which brings us back to Tian'anmen. We now know full well that green technologies can't be widely enough adopted anywhere without a leveling of the playing field: you need a better light bulb and you need a carbon trading scheme; you need non-toxic alternatives and you need to ban dangerous chemicals; you need sustainable timber certification and you need watershed protection standards. You need to make the currently destructive practice more difficult, or even illegal, even as you substitute the bright green innovation.

That switch is almost impossible where corruption, unchecked power, deceit and repression are the rule of the day. Transparency, accountability, clear market standards and the rule of law are all needed if those who benefit from environmentally catastrophic practices are going to be forced to stop employing them. Put another way, solar economies need sunlight to prevail.

The latest STCWA newsletter had a number of China articles - the first one notes that China is to fill its 2nd strategic oil reserve by the end of this year (turning some of that US$ hoard into a hard currency).
China will begin piping crude oil into tanks at its second oil reserve by the end of the year, reports said Monday, a move likely to raise demand further following record oil imports in September. The first phase of oil reserve facilities at Zhoushan, an archipelago south of Shanghai, will have storage capacity of 1.2 million cubic meters (about 7.5 million barrels of oil), the state-run newspaper Economic Observer and other reports said.

The reports cited an unnamed official at Zhoushan, one of four strategic national oil reserves under construction. Shipments to the first reserve, at Zhenhai, also south of Shanghai, began in August.

Chinese officials cited by the Economic Observer said the oil reserves would be filled gradually, with the government bearing the costs for construction, operation and stockpiling the reserves, which Beijing views as necessary for the country's economic security.

However, a top central bank official has countered expectations that China might devote some of its fast-growing foreign exchange reserves to buying up oil in international markets.

China's foreign reserves, which reached US$987.9 billion (euro788 billion) by the end of September, cannot directly be used to buy energy assets, the official newspaper Securities Times cited People's Bank of China vice governor Wu Xiaoling as saying.

Purchases of such resources have to be made by buying foreign exchange from the central bank in exchange for yuan, she said. China's oil imports surged to a record high 3.29 million barrels a day in September.

When completed, China's four aboveground storage facilities in Zhenhai and Zhoushan in eastern China, in Qingdao in northeastern Shandong province, and at Dalian, further to the northeast in Liaoning province, will have a total capacity of around 16 million cubic meters (100 million barrels) of oil.

Second an LA Times article on China's drive to acquire oil at "any cost" (sounds like they've learnt some lessons from us).
IN BEIJING NEXT WEEK, leaders of 48 African countries will converge for the largest international summit in modern Chinese history. Many will go home with what they came to collect: rich incentives to sign deals trading away their natural resources to China. China's fast-growing economy has created a deep thirst for oil that has pushed it to do business with some of the most corrupt and dangerous regimes on Earth, several of them in Africa. The continent now accounts for 30% of China's oil imports, and growing.

The widening trade isn't all one way — Africa is becoming a market for Chinese consumer products — and it isn't all harmful for Africa's impoverished people. Some Chinese investments are giving birth to beneficial new industries in Africa.
Yet Beijing's guiding philosophy of noninterference with the affairs of other nations, and its growing financial involvement in the developing world, are having an overwhelmingly negative effect on stability and human rights. Setting aside China's stonewalling on efforts to crack down on nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea, its reluctance to impose tough sanctions on Sudan (where it has significant oil interests) is contributing to the ongoing murder, rape and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in the Darfur region.

As World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz pointed out in a recent interview with a French newspaper, Chinese banks also have increased lending to poor African countries that had been granted debt relief by industrialized nations, meaning they might once again be trapped under crushing debt loads.

STCWA also points to a BBC article on camel caravans in the Sahara - I'm not so sure about their predictions for the future of camel train drivers though
A camel carcass lay putrefying in the open air. At this time of year, daytime temperatures are in the upper 30s Celsius. In summer they can reach 50 - that's more than a 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a posting from Hell. But amazingly I found the salt miners friendly and happy to talk.

In medieval times they would have been slaves. Then in the 1960s they were political prisoners; now they are mostly self-employed desperadoes just trying to pay off debts.

I watched them hacking out the salt from a few feet under the surface, using crude axes in pits they had dug by hand.

On a good day a strong miner can produce perhaps eight 40 pound slabs, which the camel-drivers pay for in the time-honoured way by delivering one slab in every four to the miner's house in Timbuktu. The markup in price between Taoudenni and Timbuktu is what gives both miners and camel-drivers a living. If all goes well, a top-grade slab will fetch £1.60 ($3) at the pit but four times this in Timbuktu.

But it does not always go well. When a camel bolts or is badly loaded the slabs get broken, greatly reducing their value. If one of the broken ones has been earmarked for a miner's house, that is the one that gets delivered. The camel-drivers pay no compensation - in fact no money changes hands at all.

New transport

Until lately the miners had no choice but to accept this unfair system, but now there is an alternative in the form of big lorries that have started to cross the desert.

A camel takes a month to make the round trip to Taoudenni - the lorries can do it in a week. From the miners' point of view the lorry operators pay less per slab, but they pay on collection so cover the risk of breakages themselves. More importantly, they pay cash.

From Timbuktu the salt is shipped up the River Niger to the port of Mopti, where Moorish traders sell it on to people from a wide swathe of West Africa. From Timbuktu the salt is shipped up the River Niger

After saying my farewells to U Batna I joined one of the longboats, which are called "pinasses", and as we tied up on the Mopti waterfront I wondered about the future of the salt caravans. Camels have the edge on lorries in that they do not need filling up with expensive diesel fuel. This allows the caravans to bring in a decent profit and - literally - give the trucks a run for their money.

But will U Batna's sons and grandsons want to spend their lives coaxing these cantankerous animals across one of the most dangerous deserts on earth? Somehow, I doubt it.

One last piece from the STCWA / BBC combination - this one on the UK's short-sighted frittering away of their oil and gas wealth - hopefully Australia doesn't follow our one time colonial rulers' lead.
Soaring gas prices in Britain are a symptom of the country's failure to spend its historic North Sea windfall wisely, experts have told Panorama.

Long-term this could mean higher prices for consumers, loss of jobs and even a threat to national energy security, senior industry figures have said.

Some experts believe the industry failed to plan for the current steep fall-off in domestic supplies.

They warn the UK will have to learn how to play power politics with energy. "When North Sea gas was discovered there were a number of people in Britain who argued that at least a portion of the North Sea gas should be saved, as a national strategic reserve for the future in case Britain had a serious gas supply problem like it did last winter" said Paul Domjan who is a former energy security adviser to the US defence department. "Sadly none of those people were listened to."

A potential lesson for Britain comes from Kazakhstan which has been mocked for its supposedly backward ways in the Borat film. Nazym Sutbayeva, a young advertising executive, says Kazakhstan should save its newly discovered natural gas reserves "for our kids and the kids of our kids".

Some may wonder if Kazakhstan may not have the last laugh after all.


Heading back to the topic of China, Bill Totten has a post of an article by Bill McKibben that reviews the book "China Shifts Gears: Automakers, Oil, Pollution, and Development".
Kelly Sims Gallagher, one of the savviest early analysts of climate policy, has devoted the last few years to understanding the Chinese energy transition. Now the director of the Energy Technology Innovation Project at Harvard's Kennedy School, she has just published a fascinating account of the rise of the Chinese auto industry. Her research makes it clear that neither American industry nor the American government did much of anything to point the Chinese away from our addiction to gas-guzzling technology; indeed, Detroit (and the Europeans and Japanese to a lesser extent) was happy to use decades-old designs and processes. "Even though cleaner alternatives existed in the United States, relatively dirty automotive technologies were transferred to China", she writes. One result is the smog that is choking Chinese cities; another is the invisible but growing cloud of greenhouse gases, which come from tailpipes but even more from the coal-fired utilities springing up across China. In retrospect, historians are likely to conclude that the biggest environmental failure of the Bush administration was not that it did nothing to reduce the use of fossil fuels in America, but that it did nothing to help or pressure China to transform its own economy at a time when such intervention might have been decisive.

Energy Bulletin and Peak Oil.com have noticed an upsurge in Chinese readers recently. While I've also noticed visitors from China recently (a few months ago I would see the occasional visitor from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but none from the mainland, so presumably the great firewall has a hole through to Peak Energy now), the number is still very small compared to elsewhere (even various countries in Africa and South America). On the note of readers in far away places, I'd like to say a big hello to whoever has been reading in Kazahkstan and Mongolia...



Energy Bulletin has a report on the Australian Institute of Energy annual forum by ASPO Australia member James Ward.
The conference was attended by about 40-50 people, mostly suits. I was doing my best to look the part in my op-shop suit pants and my only tie. I think I pulled it off okay.

There were seven speakers plus the guest speaker. Of these, only one (guess who? Yep, the ExxonMobil guy) attempted to tell the audience that everything was okay – that is, there’ll be plenty of oil (but he did concede that from now on it won’t be cheap). Another speaker (an economist) sidestepped the possibility of energy shocks and showed what would happen if China and India kept on growing at current rates – but he provided the caveat that this growth couldn’t occur if there was any sort of energy shock, and he seemed to imply that he didn’t believe his own numbers.

So the rest of the speakers, including the guest speaker (Senator Rachel Siewert) all acknowledged the danger of peak oil, and the words “prudent risk assessment” can be used to summarise their recommendations. The speaker who followed the ExxonMobil guy convincingly argued the case for caution and risk management and this was echoed by other speakers.

Two speakers convincingly argued the case for better city planning, especially promoting “sustainable transport” (walking and cycling) and heavily promoting public transport, especially in the outer suburbs where there is compounding vulnerability due to heavy car-dependence, relatively low household incomes and high levels of household debt.

Nobody in the audience publicly disagreed with the peak oil concept during question time. This may imply that either these energy professionals are largely in agreement with the peak oil theory, or else they were too scared / embarrassed to put up their hand to say they disagreed with it!

Senator Rachel Siewert presented the findings of the Senate Inquiry into Future Oil Supply and Alternative Transport Fuels, and concluded that peak oil is an issue that requires an enormous amount of attention as the risk and implications are huge.

Energy Bulletin also has a good set of links on the drought in Australia - Snowy storages reach all-time November low (maybe the snow tonight will help a bit), Drought to hit dinner table, Australia's drought could be worst in 1,000 years, Howard backs draining wetlands and Grain Drain Down Under.

The Age has an article on solar uptake in Victoria - "The rise of solar: why the sun is shining on main street".
BROD Street is quietly reaping satisfaction — and huge savings — from a decision four years ago to go solar. As well as cutting his power bill to just $190 a year, he's doing his bit to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Brod, wife Vivienne and son Alexander live in their own smart house in Smart Street, Hawthorn — one smart enough to reduce emissions from about 12,000 kilograms to just 700 kilograms a year. "We're not far off zero greenhouse," he said. "Let's be honest — if people followed in our footsteps, we'd probably have a different debate, a different world."

By choosing to add $40,000 worth of environmental efficiency to a $250,000 renovation four years ago, they have shown what can be done, and now see others joining the solar movement. Under the impact of what one industry figure calls an environmental "perfect storm" — a unique convergence of influential factors — solar energy is shifting rapidly from the fringe to the mainstream of Australian life.

As well as solar water heaters, there is suddenly a big market developing among wealthier people — environmentally conscious doctors, lawyers and retirees — for the expensive photovoltaic (PV) solar power systems.

Until now, Victoria has lagged behind the nation in installations of this equipment, with only about 2000 out of a national total of about 25,000 homes carrying the panels on their roofs, many in the outback off the electricity grids. But conversely, Victoria has been installing solar hot water services at about twice the rate of the rest of the country.

Executive director of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, Ric Brazzale, says there has been a huge spike of interest in both solar hot water and power systems. Mr Brazzale attributes new levels of climate-change awareness to a "perfect storm" which included the hottest October since 1950, including bushfires, the arrival of the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth, the ongoing drought and the Stern Review, which argues that the cost of inaction will be significantly greater than that of action.

His observations have been confirmed by industry sources such as solar power installer Going Solar and the Alternative Technologies Association.

Across Australia, the most significant move is the shift to solar hot-water heating, a move the environmentalist David Suzuki calls the best single step a household could make to reduce greenhouse gases. Electric water heaters account for 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions of the total energy consumed in a typical home. Solar water heaters can reduce those emissions by 85 to 90 per cent.

The Scotsman has an article on moves in Edinburgh to relax planning restrictions on wind turbines and solar panels on homes - "Wind turbines storm has to blow over soon".
WHEN the wind blows . . . as Thursday's front page revealed, courtesy of the magic of Photoshop, Edinburgh's majestic skyline could look very different just a few months from now - with micro wind turbines whirring away, and solar panels glinting on the roofs of homes and businesses across the Capital.

The reason: Edinburgh City Council has announced that it is to waive planning permission for such attachments, in an attempt to meet government targets for cutting pollution.

It is a move which could see the city become one of the greenest in the UK. With the effects of global warming becoming ever more evident (soon summer holidays in Spain will be a thing of the past as the hordes return to Porty on hot summer's days) it's not before time.

...

Sadly, if we don't all begin to accept that we have an individual responsibility to the planet today, there won't be one to worry about tomorrow.

What would we rather have, a city with wind turbines or no city at all a few generations from now?

Either way, with the conservationists and environmentalists at loggerheads, it looks like there could be stormy times coming - which will be useful if the green plans finally do go ahead.

Ultimately though, when satellite dishes first came in there were the same arguments. "They'll be unsightly, they're ugly, they're hideous. . ." screamed protesters. Now we don't even give them a second glance. So it will be with turbines and solar panels.


Energy Bulletin has an interesting peak oil analysis from Luís de Sousa (reworking an earlier post at The Oil Drum) called An assessment of world oil exports" - unfortunately it leaves out Angola, Nigeria and Iraq, which are 3 rather significant players and makes the graphs somewhat misleading.

More than worrying about a Peak Oil date, importing countries should worry on the future availability of tradable oil. Oil exporting countries are defined as having in 2005 an oil production greater than oil consumption, thus resulting in a surplus.

Four different periods can be identified:

2006 - 2010 : slow decline below 2%/year;
2011 - 2013 : first acceleration to a decline rate above 3.5%/year;
2014 - 2017 : steady decline between 3.5%/year and 4%/year;
2018 - 2020 : new acceleration up 4.5%/year.

The first acceleration is probably the most critical period and follows the peak in world oil production. The final years of the 2010s decade will also present great challenges for oil importing nations.

Finally it is worth mentioning that these four periods seem to fit Samsam Bakhtiari's Four Transitions of which the first started last year.

Once the amount oil available for export becomes lower than the amount required by the importing countries costs start to rise, forcing an abnormal wealth transfer from buyers to sellers. This newly acquired wealth will improve affluence in exporting countries, which in turn drives up internal consumption (better automobiles, better and farther away from center homes, more goods imports and transportation, etc). This feedback loop will perpetuate itself until some event or constraint tackles consumption growth in the exporters' side, or until the importers collapse from lack of new wealth to transfer. The former is the most likely scenario.



Jerome a Paris has a rant about a ridiculous meme being propagated by Le Monde which would be best left in places like Little Green Fascists Footballs.
Le Monde is, like the NYT in the USA, the establishment, left-of-center paper of record in France. It tends to be supportive of the social-democrats (i.e the centrist wing of the Socialist party), socially liberal, and, like the NYT, increasingly to the right on economic issues - mostly in an apparently semi-unconscious parroting of the common wisdom of the day. This means giving credence to the worst talking points of the "drown the government in the bathtub" right.

Today, à la Crichton or à la Lomborg, Eric Le Boucher, the economics editorial writer of the paper is accusing environmentalists of being wrong to call for action on Global Climate Change - for all the usual stupid reasons...

...The immediate cause of Mr Le Boucher's outrage is the mediatic impact of Nicolas Hulot, a former presenter of a TV show on nature, who is arguing for a programme (Le Monde summary, behind sub. wall, translated below) to cut carbon emissions and has been courted in recent days by politicians on both the left and the right.

...the right thing is to work immediately on energy sustainability, irrespective of what others do, and agitate for global action on climate change and carbon emissions. but that includes agitating locally so that each of our countries get ready to act, and create a critical mass that can convince others to join in. Despite its flaws, Kyoto has created that critical mass, and has allowed the creation of mechanisms (like the carbon trading schemes) that can be used in the future as more countries join and an agreement can be found on how to share the effort fairly.

And in that context, the demonization of environmentalists as closet communists, and the parallel demonization of all those that argue for government intervention, taxes and regulation to deal with society-wide problems is insane and needs to be fought with the upmost energy. Economic freedom has to stop when it steps directly on the well being of society, and the mindless, unquestioning, defense of corporations and of deregulation that we see in too much mainstream media coverage must be noted, criticized and argued against.

The SMH has a look at our melting Poles.

THE volume of ice at both ends of the world appears to be shrinking.

Earlier this year a study of Antarctica's ice sheet found it had lost about 152 cubic kilometres of ice a year since April 2002.

Now NASA scientists who have mapped Greenland's total ice volume say it too is on a "downward slide", with losses caused by melting, and the breaking of ice sheets into icebergs, far surpassing gains from new snowfalls.

They estimated that between 2003 and last year 54 billion tonnes of ice formed annually in Greenland's interior. However, its coastal regions lost about 155 billion tonnes a year. As a result the island suffered an annual net ice loss of more than 100 billion tonnes - equal to a shrinkage of about 112 cubic kilometres a year.

"In the 1990s the ice was very close to balance, with gains at about the same level as losses," said Scott Luthcke, of NASA's Planetary Geodynamics Laboratory.

"That situation has now changed significantly, with an annual net loss of ice equal to nearly six years of average water flow from the Colorado River."


The Age reports that Blacktown in western Sydney is to become Australia's first "solar city". The Rodent is still adamant that solar won't replace coal though - where's a pied piper when you need one...
People living in the heart of Sydney's west will have the chance to use solar energy as part of a $15 million project funded by the federal government.

Prime Minister John Howard announced Blacktown has been chosen to become a "solar city" as part of a major push to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

A six-member business consortium made up of members including the local council and energy giant BP will receive up to $15 million from the federal government's $75 million Solar Cities initiative.

The consortium also expects to raise an extra $22 million as part of the project.

Mr Howard said Blacktown had been chosen to carry out the first solar city trial in NSW.

Other projects have previously been announced in Adelaide and Townsville.

Obesity has been linked to energy inefficiency - its not just bad for you, its bad for the planet too...
Want to spend less at the pump? Lose some weight. That's the implication of a new study that says Americans are burning nearly 1 billion more gallons of gasoline each year than they did in 1960 because of their expanding waistlines. Simply put, more weight in the car means lower gas mileage.

"The bottom line is that our hunger for food and our hunger for oil are not independent. There is a relationship between the two," said University of Illinois researcher Sheldon Jacobson, a study co-author. "If a person reduces the weight in their car, either by removing excess baggage, carrying around less weight in their trunk, or yes, even losing weight, they will indeed see a drop in their fuel consumption."

The same effect has been seen in airplanes. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that heavy fliers have contributed to higher fuel costs for airlines.



I had one reader from Shell today come in via this strange search string "us defence department said their demand alone cannot create a market for f-t fuels. syntroleum shifting strategy from gtl to ctl". Doing a quick search of my own I came up with this post at Green Car Congress - one more sign of increased interest in gas to liquids and coal to liquids as we approach the peak oil point:
Syntroleum Advances with GTL; CTL Now Emerges as Further Opportunity

Things are looking up at Syntroleum, owner of a relatively compact proprietary gas-to-liquids process for converting stranded natural gas into clean synthetic fuels.

It’s not just that second quarter 2005 revenue increased by $6.1 million year-on-year to $6.2 million—that was due to previously deferred revenue from the DOE Clean Fuels project. Syntroleum’s GTL technology uses air in the process, rather than requiring oxygen, enabling the physical plant to be more compact and economical.

A number of factors and developments are coming into alignment for the company, which has spent 20 years, invested $200 million, and generated 127 patents (US and non-US; issued and pending) in developing its technology.

With global demand for oil and refined oil products pushing hard against supplies (and with more doubt emerging about the ability of traditional oil producers to meet that demand in the future), the Gas-to-Liquids approach is increasingly economically viable, and of interest. Because GTL delivers an end-product, such as Fischer-Tropsch diesel, the process actually addresses two points of constraint: crude oil supply and refining capacity.

As a corollary to GTL, interests in Coal-to-Liquids technologies are rapidly increasing. Syntroleum is now investigating the potential application of its GTL approach in CTL.

Shell itself popped up on Rigzone, as their confrontation with local villagers in Ireland continues (which I once labelled the "Bogoni uprising") - "Irish Police Baton-charge Protestors at Shell Terminal in Ireland".
Police baton-charged protestors blocking access to the construction site of a Shell gas terminal in County Mayo in west Ireland, a spokesman said. Police said one protestor had been hospitalized and several other people, including members of the force, had suffered minor injuries during the confrontation.

The building of the terminal at Bellanaboy and the route of an onshore
pipeline to bring gas ashore from the Corrib Field about 70 kilometers off the coast has been strongly opposed by some local residents. Last year, five men -- the so-called Rossport Five -- were jailed for 94 days over their refusal to stop picketing initial work on the project.

Protests have been staged at the Bellanaboy site every day since Oct. 2, when construction work resumed after lengthy consultations and a number of safety studies. Police said the number of protestors had swelled from the usual 50 or so to about 300 as extra people were bussed in.

Martin Ferris, a lawmaker from the main Catholic party, Sinn Fein, which has backed the protests, criticised "heavy handed" police intervention.

Ireland has no offshore oil and is heavily reliant on imported gas from Britain.



While I've spent a couple of years bemoaning Rummy's evil antics on almost every front, I will miss him a little, if only because of the rich fodder for mockery he provided. The Guardian has a look at the philosophy of Field Marshall von Rumsfeld.
To the delight of many around the globe, Donald Rumsfeld, architect of the Iraq invasion, has finally lost his place at the heart of the Bush administration. During his years in power, he was variously described as 'a hottie', 'inspirational' and 'the most ruthless man I've ever met' ... by Henry Kissinger (allegedly). He was also arrogant and chillingly indifferent to the human cost of war.

Even his enemies acknowledged a kind of magnetic oddness, a bluntness of manner combined with a wolfishness evocative of Jack Nicholson that made it hard not to stop what you were doing when his face appeared on the television screen. Then there was the wit. George Bush just mangled his words. But the defence secretary's famous "Rumsfeldisms" proved so hypnotic precisely because they hinted at oceans of meaning, even if the meaning was usually elusive, like a Zen koan. "Things will not be necessarily continuous," he told reporters in October 2001. "The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous ought not to be characterised as a pause. There will be some things that people will see. There will be some things that people won't see. And life goes on."

The plan for his return to the Pentagon was to bring tough lessons from corporate America to the US military, transforming it from a lumbering cold-war behemoth to a nimble strategic force capable of fighting new kinds of wars. It did seem as if he might be the man for that job. "He's a ruthless little bastard, you can be sure of that," President Nixon had said of Rumsfeld, a remark captured in 1971 on the White House's hidden taping system. According to legend, Henry Kissinger even described him as the most ruthless man he had ever met; higher praise, given its source, is difficult to imagine.

Working standing up in his office at a lectern, Rumsfeld fired off thousands of unsigned, oneline memos, known as "Rummy's snowflakes". In a self-congratulatory article published in the Wall Street Journal shortly after he took office, the defence secretary published "Rumsfeld's Rules", a list of proverbs accumulated during a life in business and politics. It is striking how many of them he seems to have completely ignored. "Don't 'overcontrol' like a novice pilot," ran one such rule. "Stay loose enough from the flow that you can observe, calibrate and refine." (Others include "Don't think of yourself as indispensable or infallible" and "Don't allow people to be excluded from a meeting, or denied an opportunity to express their views, because their views differ from the president's views.") In fact, if Woodward is to be believed, overcontrol was the order of the day. "Rumsfeld was into everyone's business," he writes. "No one was immune. Many in the Pentagon looked on the snowflakes as an annoyance. Others found them intrusive, and at times petty. For some, there was no way to keep up."

At first, the public saw little of this. In TV appearances Rumsfeld was immediately engaging, verbally jousting with journalists and implying, in his responses, that he was simultaneously more folksy, more plainspoken, and yet more intelligent than they were. The Rumsfeldisms continued to flow. Eventually, as the Iraq war got under way, a journalist for the Syracuse Post-Standard, Hart Seely, had the kind of flash of inspiration that makes other reporters deeply jealous. He collected some of the defence secretary's most mysterious sayings into a book, inserting line-breaks and calling the collection, which became a bestseller, The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld. An example:

Glass Box
You know, it's the old glass box at the -
At the gas station,
Where you're using those little things
Trying to pick up the prize, And you can't find it.
It's -

And it's all these arms are going down in there.
And so you keep dropping it
And picking it up again and moving it
But -

Some of you are probably too young to remember those -
Those glass boxes,
But -

But they used to have them
At all the gas stations
When I was a kid.

The irony is that the most famous of the Rumsfeldisms - about known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns - is not the baffling outburst of meaninglessness his critics have often made it out to be. It was good advice, about managing uncertainty and not proceeding on the basis of a presumed reality that might not match the objective one. The problem was that Rumsfeld didn't heed it.

I'll close with some tinfoil (well - I hope it is !) "‘Aliens could attack at any time’ warns former MoD chief".

“Today Americans would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order; tomorrow they will be grateful. This is especially true if they were told there was an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will plead with world leaders to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well being granted to them by their world government.”
- Henry Kissinger speaking at Evian, France, May 21, 1992 Bilderberg meeting. Unbeknownst to Kissinger, his speech was taped by a Swiss delegate to the meeting.

UFO sightings and alien visitors tend to be solely the reserve of sci-fi movies. So when a former MoD chief warns that the country could be attacked by extraterrestrials at any time, you may be forgiven for feeling a little alarmed.

During his time as head of the Ministry of Defence UFO project, Nick Pope was persuaded into believing that other lifeforms may visit Earth and, more specifically, Britain.

His concern is that “highly credible” sightings are simply dismissed. And he complains that the project he once ran is now “virtually closed” down, leaving the country “wide open” to aliens.

Mr Pope decided to speak out about his worries after resigning from his post at the Directorate of Defence Security at the MoD this week.

2 comments

Anonymous   says 5:17 AM

pied piper: nice.

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Researchers: PingYuan Sun, BiTing Qiou, YunZe Que

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