Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘dams

Surprise Sunday Links! Watch Out!

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* The route Google Maps recommends if you’re headed to Ferrum College from the west involves what may be the loneliest and most roller-coaster-like stretch of roadway ever to earn a state route number from Virginia. It’s a narrow ribbon of pavement with no center line, a twisting trail you drive imagining that if you go over the edge, weeks could pass before anyone found the wreckage. Only at the other end do you spot a yellow sign that reads, “GPS Routing Not Advised.” Small, Rural Colleges Grapple With Their Geography.

* A friend recommended the short Cuban SF novel Super Extra Grande to me, which I liked a lot. Some profiles on the author: 1, 2.

* Horrific terror attack at historic Orlando gay night club leaves 20 dead.

* Scientists think they’ve figured out the Antikythera Mechanism.

* Being Tig Notaro.

* In search of Cervantes’s grave.

* Old and busted: AI. New hotness: IA.

* Landscaping in the Anthropocene.

As an added experiment, the researchers applied their model to the current distribution of human populations on Earth. They found that, under all the same assumptions, 12.5 percent of the global population would be forced to migrate at least 1,000 kilometers, and up to a third of the population would have to move more than 500 kilometers. 

In a paper published in the May issue of the journal Astrobiology, the astronomer Woodruff Sullivan and I show that while we do not know if any advanced extraterrestrial civilizations currently exist in our galaxy, we now have enough information to conclude that they almost certainly existed at some point in cosmic history.

…what our calculation revealed is that even if this probability is assumed to be extremely low, the odds that we are not the first technological civilization are actually high. Specifically, unless the probability for evolving a civilization on a habitable-zone planet is less than one in 10 billion trillion, then we are not the first.

Twitter must fix this. Its brand is increasingly defined by excessive harassment.

* More on The 7-1/2-Hour O.J. Simpson Doc Everyone Will Be Talking About This Summer.

Because poetry is considered so small, so irrelevant, it’s tempting for poetry critics to look for the BIG themes in poems to demonstrate that poetry matters. I continue to learn from critics who take on this labor. However, because ALL African literary criticism is assumed to matter the more it focuses on the BIG SOCIOPOLITICOECONOMICDISASTERTHATISAFRICA, I am inclined to turn to quieter moments—spaces for the intimate, the friendly, the quiet, the loving, the depressed, the depressing, grief, and melancholy. I’m drawn to the register that is not the shout, and never the headline. I linger at the quotidian to insist that the African imagination considers livability and shareability.

For everyone, he claims, is shortchanged when the guiding principle and “key driver” of the institution is no longer thought, but money (ix). Faculty are silenced, yes, by the drive to conformity and homogeneity. But students are also cheated when they are treated simply as “human capital”: “When the university is reduced to the function of preparation for jobs and not for life, life itself gets lost under the jobs” (85). Most broadly and seriously of all, society as a whole suffers as the university abandons its traditional role as “that institution that has a responsibility to counter the incipient violence of natural force” (40). The fate of the university is bound up with the fate of democracy and citizenship at large. If society is to change, and injustice and inequality challenged, we need now more than ever an institution whose role is to be “’critical’ of the existing world state of affairs, dissident with respect to it” (6).

* I sometimes wish tenure were what its enemies believe it is.

* White supremacist PACs and Trump. The stain of Trump. “A GOP senator might vote for Hillary Clinton. Here’s how rare that is.” Trump has underperformed the real estate market by a mere 57% since 1976. Alas, Mitt.

* I’m calling it: Trump will drop out of the race by July 5 at the latest. He will blame the unfair media and political correctness, allude to some wack-ass conspiracy involving Black Lives Matter and/or Hezbollah, and go to his grave telling everyone he knows that if he had stayed in the race, he would’ve beaten Clinton.

* You may be done with your quasi-legal homebrew server, but your quasi-legal homebrew server is not done with you: The FBI has been conducting a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information for months.

We narrowed Clinton’s vice-presidential possibilities to 27. Now you pick one. For a long time I’ve thought it definitely be one of the Castro brothers, probably Julian, but Elizabeth Warren has made such a push lately I’ve started to think it could actually be her. Of course you can pick Trump’s too, from such a weak field it includes his own daughter.

Let me close with a broad statement. In the news you will see some rather hysterical statements about how all bets are off this year. That is true to an extent: on the Republican side, the national party’s positions and their rank-and-file voters’ preferences are far out of whack. In a deep sense, their decision process in 2016 became broken. But that does not mean that opinion is unmeasurable. Far from it. In the aggregate, pollsters still do a good job reaching voters. And voters are still people whose opinions move at a certain speed. To my thinking, polls may be the best remaining way to assess what is happening.

* But just in case: I Spent the 90s Fighting Fascists on the Streets of Warsaw.

* According to multiple federal complaints, young black students in New York City are being forced out of school after being sexually assaulted.

* If you’re not sick of these yet: What Hamilton Forgets About Hamilton.

* The gentrification of Sesame Street.

* Review: Warcraft Is The Battlefield Earth Of The 21st Century. Warcraft, Hollywood, And The Growing Importance Of China’s Box Office.

* Because you demanded it! Kevin Smith Says That His Mallrats Sequel Will Be a 10-Part TV Series.

* Same joke but for The Passion of the Christ 2.

Sixty Million Car Bombs: Inside Takata’s Air Bag Crisis: How the company’s failures led to lethal products and the biggest auto recall in history.

* The case for Lady Stoneheart showing up in season six of Game of Thrones. Let me say I have my doubts.

* What to do if you find a goose than lays golden eggs. Machine Learning: A Flowchart. If you read Kafka’s stories backwards, they all make great kids’ movies.

* And the moral cowards at Wikipedia have moved to suppress my work again.

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Written by gerrycanavan

June 12, 2016 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Midweek Links!

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* Truly, this is the best of all possible worlds: X-Wing, Tie Fighter Are FINALLY Getting Digital Re-Releases. I don’t meant to brag but I was the very very best in the world at this game, back when.

* CFP at the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference at UWM. This year’s theme is “the unbearable.” Keynotes by Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman!

* How Not to Defend the Liberal Arts.

* Higher Education and the New Brutalism.

We live in the age of a new brutalism marked not simply by an indifference to multiple social problems, but also defined by a kind of mad delight in the spectacle and exercise of violence and cruelty. The United States is sullied by a brutalism that is perfectly consistent with a new kind of barbaric power, one that puts millions of people in prison, subjects an entire generation to a form of indentured citizenship, and strips people of the material and symbolic resources they need to exercise their capacity to live with dignity and justice. Academics who speak out against corruption and injustice are publicly demeaned and often lose their jobs. At the same time, the Obama administration criminalizes public servants who expose unethical behavior, the violation of civil liberties and corruption.

* Elsewhere in the richest society in the history of the world: How many homeless S.F. schoolkids? Enough to fill 70 classrooms.

When I was a black woman, I was hated. Now, as a black man, I’m feared.

Priscilla Wald on Media Treatment of Ebola. How Unscientific Ebola Steps in U.S. Could Help Spread Virus Elsewhere.

* Any grad student could have told you: drunk people are better at philosophy.

* Tufts and Unionized Adjuncts.

* Scenes from the competency-based education scam. And the for-profit scam.

* …and the Uber scam.

* UNC-Chapel Hill Should Lose Accreditation.

Free education is not a crazy dream; some countries already have it. We should too, or we face a future where the study of literature or art becomes a luxury available to the rich alone.

* Some things mankind was never meant to see. More links below!

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* Watch a New York Woman Get Catcalled 108 Times in Less Than One Day.

* You Can Buy This Abandoned CT Town For Less Than A Brooklyn Apartment.

* 30 Philip K Dick Stories That Should Be Movies.

* Voight-Kampff test for college admissions.

* ‘Wasting Time on the Internet’ Is Now an Actual College Class. I’d take that. I know I could teach it.fe

* Someone finally said it: I Don’t Support Feminism If It Means Murdering All Men.

* Yosemite Lifehacks. Recommended.

* There’s no anti-college nonsense so aggressively silly that the Washington Post won’t push it.

* Cura personalis.

* How the culture of assessment fuels academic dishonesty.

US currency reimagined to celebrate ideas, not the dead. Still more links below!

Allbills_SubverseA_verge_super_wideAllbills_ObverseA_verge_super_wide* Reparations for women.

The Race to Nowhere In Youth Sports.

You Can Still Eat This Corgi In Pennsylvania, Thanks To The NRA.

Krypton TV Series In The Works. The CW Is Making A Young Shakespeare Vs. Witches TV Show.

* But it’s not all terrible ideas: I’m cautiously optimistic about Marvel Phase III. Black Panther! Captain Marvel!

* Halfway through this review of William Gibson’s The Peripheral I broke my no-buying-books rule and bought the book.

* Milwaukee hosts first Fantasticon comic convention.

* A brief history of ridiculous things we’ve been asked to believe after famous men were accused of rape.

* The NFL Concussion Settlement Is Pure Evil.

The end result is always the same. You do all this work just to get money. So fuck it: Why not skip everything and just start making currency?

* Could you patent the sun?

* The Dartmouth (America’s Oldest College Newspaper) issues a rare correction.

* Damning every damnable river on Earth: what could possibly go wrong?

* When Russell Brand Met David Graeber.

* Glenn Beck, billionaire.

* Martin Jarvis, professor of music at Charles Darwin University in Australia, claims some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s best-loved works were actually written by his wife.

* And there’s nothing sweet in life: Soda May Age You as Much as Smoking, Study Says.

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Written by gerrycanavan

October 29, 2014 at 7:02 am

Sunday Reading, Accept No Imitations

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Timeline of Science Fiction Ideas, Technology and Inventions (sorted by Publication Date).

* Ill-considered, disastrous dam project “has given biologists the opportunity to measure the speed of mammal extinctions.” Well, that’s certainly looking at the glass half-full.

* Decadence watch: Emory University Closes its Visual Arts Department.

* Decadence watch, part two: “The Price Is Right” Airs All-Plinko Episode.

‘We Felt Like We Were Above the Law’: How the NCAA Endangers Women.

Don’t be that dude: Handy tips for the male academic.

Where Is The Place Of Anger In The University?

Everyday I walk past UC Berkeley’s newly renovated football stadium on my way to drop off my daughter at the Clark Kerr facility for toddlers, and everyday – after picking her up from school – I wait at a bus stop directly across from the same stadium.  The stadium, which has put the university 445 million dollars in debt, is just down the street from my daughter’s UC preschool, which is housed in a double-wide trailer and sits on a parking lot in the northwest corner of Clark Kerr Campus.  Its interior walls have been removed, and linoleum and carpet patchwork that are no longer contiguous with the layout of the room still show marks of these former walls – in some places adhesive still clings to the floor, marking where one of these walls once stood.  This is the facility that we were not granted a tour of – a facility that houses only subsidized children.  We do not know where the unsubsidized children receive their care.

* From the Daily Californian: School first, sports second.

* Austerity measures pushes Greek universities to point of collapse.

* America drunk-dials Iran, Iran picks up.

* LOVEINT: How NSA Spies Abused Their Powers to Snoop on Girlfriends, Lovers, and First Dates.

The women of the Pawnee, Indiana Parks Department have literally spent thousands of dollars on their clothes.

* How LucasArts fell apart.

* The update of the damned: Apple’s iOS 7 Causing Motion Sickness And Even Vomiting In Users. This in a device (the iPad) that was originally marketed in part as an accessibility breakthrough.

* The fundamental law of media graph construction.

* A brief history of the Muppets’ very brief stint on Saturday Night Live.

A Brief History of Slash.

* And a court orders same-sex marriage in my beloved home state of New Jersey. Meet me in a land of hope and dreams.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

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Written by gerrycanavan

May 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Weekend Links

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My proposed Coursera course will ask students to discover for themselves how and why John Doerr, and your other Venture Capitalists, are willing to provide an even greater abundance of knowledge in the service of greater economic and social equality than is the State of California, which clearly has the means to spend much more than it has cost your company to reach a worldwide enrollment in the millions. As the course progresses, my more diligent students will come to see, however, that reducing income gaps through education is not the main problem that Coursera and other Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providers are trying to solve in their pitch to investors. That problem is, rather, how and when to price the content that you are now giving away in your current (pre-public offering) phase of development.

* Mike Konczal on a universal basic income.

“We are the people who live in the rivers where you want to build dams. We are the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã, Arara, fishermen and peoples who live in riverine communities. We are Amazonian peoples and we want the forest to stand. We are Brazilians. The river and the forest are our supermarket. Our ancestors are older than Jesus Christ.”

Former Leader of Guatemala Is Guilty of Genocide Against Mayan Group.

Brezhnev-style capitalism.

Neoliberalism was a political system in which the world was put to the test in some way, it was simply that the tests employed were those which privileged price and entrepreneurial energy. I don’t want to defend this form of testing, which is often cynical, bullying and depressingly unsympathetic to other valuation systems. But there was often some consistency about it and the capacity for an unexpected outcome (for instance, that local economic diversity might be revealed to be more fiscally efficient). Look at Westfield today, however, and you see an economic culture being repeated, without any sincere sense that this represents ‘choice’, ‘efficiency’ or ‘regeneration’, nor any sense that things might have turned out differently even if this had been known. The point becomes to name this as ‘efficient’ and that (e.g. Peckham Rye Lane) as ‘inefficient’, and try and avoid or suppress evidence to the contrary. The fear arises that provable efficiency might involve abandoning one set of power structures in favour of another. And so economics becomes a naming ceremony, not a test.

“Why do we have all this money to go after man-made terrorist attacks, and then we let our bridges fall down?” Flynn wonders.

* The New York Times covers the catastrophic failure of leadership at Cooper Union.

* Everything you want in the worst possible way: Not-Quite-Community renewed for a fifth season.

* Aaron Swartz Was Right.

The problem, as many mathematicians were discovering when they flocked to Mochizuki’s website, was that the proof was impossible to read. The first paper, entitled “Inter-universal Teichmuller Theory I: Construction of Hodge Theaters,” starts out by stating that the goal is “to establish an arithmetic version of Teichmuller theory for number fields equipped with an elliptic curve…by applying the theory of semi-graphs of anabelioids, Frobenioids, the etale theta function, and log-shells.” This is not just gibberish to the average layman. It was gibberish to the math community as well.

Law would stop Tesla electric car sales in NC.

* Morale crisis in Americans nuclear forces?

Flying car crashes near school in Vernon, B.C.

* Julian Assange explains the coming super-surveillance state.

* Nearly 800 children under 14 were killed in gun accidents from 1999 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly one in five injury-related deaths in children and adolescents involve firearms.

* The New York Times profiles Dr. David A. Patterson.

His American name is David A. Patterson, his Cherokee name Adelv unegv Waya, or Silver Wolf. He is a tenure-track assistant professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. His groundbreaking research on the pitfalls facing Native Americans is both informed and inspired by his own story of deliverance.

* And the L.A. Times profiles Elizabeth Warren.

A Whole Lot of Sunday Night Links

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20130217* SNL wins a game: Djesus Uncrossed.

* Batman should never have revealed his secret identity.

* Dan Harmon explains his Joseph-Campbell-influenced theory of the “story circle,” in a few posts: 1 2 3 4 5 6

For the first time in its 120 year history the board of the Sierra Club has authorized the use of civil disobedience, to protest the proposed construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The politics of the Papal Conclave are fascinating.

Pope Benedict XVI’s leaked documents show fractured Vatican full of rivalries. Pope blesses thousands at Vatican as details of ailments emerge.

* Speechless:

As early as this April, Yale plans to welcome a training center for interrogators to its campus.

The center’s primary goal would be to coach U.S. Special Forces on interviewing tactics designed to detect lies. Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry who will head the project, calls these tactics “people skills.” These techniques would be honed using New Haven’s immigrant community as subjects.

* Cooper Union will probably not be free anymore.

Roopika Risam on breaking the silence of the job search.

* Freddie deBoer: I’ve been making the case (again and again and again) that the constantly-expressed notion that we’ll have full employment if people are just smart and go into STEM fields is empirically indefensible. Adam Kotsko: What is education actually for?

* Margaret Atwood teases Maddaddam:

“Maddaddam begins where The Year of the Flood finishes and goes on from there,” she says. “It explores what happens when the conventional humans and the new creations find themselves in the same space. You can see that there might be some cultural misunderstandings.”

* Comics explained: the backstory of Rachel Summers. It couldn’t be simpler!

* Aaron Bady on Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s In the House of the Interpreter.

* The New York Times profiles flood management technology in the Netherlands.

Could our universe be located within the interior of a wormhole which itself is part of a black hole that lies within a much larger universe? And that universe is on the back of an even larger turtle…

Forest Whitaker Accused of Shoplifting, Frisked at Upper West Side Deli.

* Obama says kill the penny. He would say that. He hates capitalism.

* Senator Warren, not bad.

Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth.

* Kidding on the square: another National Review blogger calls for the repeal of the 19th Amendment.

* Gasp! Deregulation May Not Have Lowered Air Fares After All.

* The phenomenology of solitary confinement.

* Surveying self-confessed rapists.

How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity.

* Data-crunching the Internet Adult Film Database.

* Data-crunching the Lord of the Rings.

* The Internet has finally developed impermanence technology.

* And Iceland might ban Internet porn.

Halla Gunnarsdóttir, an adviser to the interior minister, explains the country’s anti-smut rationale to The Guardian:

“We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech…”

This is Iceland, after all. Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir is the first openly lesbian government head in the world. It’s already illegal to print and distribute porn within the country, and since 2010, strip clubs have been prohibited as well…

‘We’re Building Things Based on a Hydrological Lie’

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Written by gerrycanavan

September 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm

China and Ecology

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So he stands in the village in Guangdong province, where the world’s old motherboards—yours and mine—are sent to die. There, children pick through the old computers, breaking down every reusable part as if they were the globe’s intestine. But the children grow sick with lead poisoning and develop brain damage, cancer, and kidney failure. Even when the kids get to sit in a classroom, they have to wear masks to protect them from the mountains of garbage. Watts goes to meet the environmental activists who are trying to stop this poisoning of their children, and watches as—terrified—they are carried away to prison. (Imagine if Al Gore had been imprisoned for demanding an investigation into Love Canal, and was still in solitary, and you get the idea.)

So he ventures out on a ship with an international band of scientists to save the last Yangtze dolphin—an animal that was swimming through China’s rivers 10 million years before the first human and was a common sight not long ago. But gradually Watts realizes he is too late. They are all dead. He says: “Man had wiped out its first dolphin. … The end of a species after twenty million years felt terrifyingly momentous. This was not just a piece of news. It was even more than history. It was an event on a geological timescale.”

So he watches as the globe warms and China’s deserts stretch further and deeper with each passing year. So he stands and stares as the Himalayan glaciers—where most of Asia’s great rivers begin—melt and die, with two thirds on course to vanish by 2050.

Johann Hari reviews Jonathan Watts’s book When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind—or Destroy It for Slate.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 10, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Annihilation of All Life on Earth Links

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* In 1989 we were six hours away from the annihilation of all life on earth.

* Humans think we run the place, but we haven’t even built the most awesome dam in the world. That honor belongs to the beavers.

* At the Early Warnings blog: There is a horrible paper in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences … which looks at how the limits of human physiology interact with upper-range global warming scenarios.  The bottom line conclusion is that there is a small—of order 5%—risk of global warming creating a situation in which a large fraction of the planet was uninhabitable (in the sense that if you were outside for an extended period during the hottest days of the year, even in the shade with wet clothing, you would die). Five percent, of course, is five times higher than the Cheney threshold that gives us the right to invade any country in the world at any time for any reason. Via MeFi.

* Nonetheless we can’t pass any climate legislation this year, not even weak-tea no-auction cap-and-trade, because Lindsey Graham is still sulking over God knows what. Obama was wise to hitch his wagon to this star.

Mostly Non-Health-Care Links

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* ACORN will disband as a result of the O’Keefe hoax.

* Via Twitter I see NBC News is reporting (no link yet) that the Senate parliamentarian has rejected the GOP challenge to the health care sidecar. Tough luck guys.

* Arundhati Roy: When a country that calls itself a democracy openly declares war within its borders, what does that war look like? Does the resistance stand a chance? Should it? Who are the Maoists? Are they just violent nihilists foisting an outdated ideology on tribal people, goading them into a hopeless insurrection? What lessons have they learned from their past experience? Is armed struggle intrinsically undemocratic? Is the Sandwich Theory—of ‘ordinary’ tribals being caught in the crossfire between the State and the Maoists—an accurate one? Are ‘Maoists’ and ‘Tribals’ two entirely discrete categories as is being made out? Do their interests converge? Have they learned anything from each other? Have they changed each other? Can’t let a link to Roy without a link to her fantastic piece on dams, “The Greater Common Good.”

* “I am chaotic and lazy”: an interview with Magnus Carlsen, the #1 chess player in the world and youngest-ever chess grandmaster. Via Kottke.

* Climate change may be killing the scent of flowers. Two thousand scientists sign letter to Senate demanding climate change action.

* Long profile of David Simon and Treme in The New York Times. Via Occasional Fish, a dissenting view.

* New College Graduates To Be Cryogenically Frozen Until Job Market Improves. It was a good idea when Philip K. Dick thought of it and it’s a good idea now!

* And at 81 years old, James Randi has come out of the closet.

Climate Change and Flooding in Netherlands and Bangladesh

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In the Guardian, Tahmima Anam returns to her birthplace of Bangladesh to see how it is dealing with rising sea levels.

The facts about climate change in Bangladesh are indeed grim. The country is a low-lying delta, meaning any slight shift in sea levels will cause the land to be slowly swallowed by the waters of the Bay of Bengal. In the next 50 years, 17% of Bangladesh’s landmass is sure to go underwater, causing more than 30 million people to become homeless. Those who live further inland will be only slightly better off: the cyclones and floods that are already a feature of the weather will occur more frequently and with greater ferocity. Geological events stimulated by changes in temperature will mean intense pulses of rainfall followed by periods of drought, and a potential collapse of the monsoon cycle itself. If the sea level rises by 5m (16ft), Dhaka will go under. This is the grim reality that the delegates of the UK/Bangladesh climate change conference, taking place in London next Wednesday, will aim to address. In expectation of the climate change deal that will be struck in Copenhagen next year, it is critical that Bangladesh’s concerns are more widely known and understood.

But I have no intention of sounding the death-knell. I know that people in Bangladesh have, for generations, adapted to the cruelties of nature, and my destination is an example of their tenacity. Deep in the delta, a group of islanders, repeated victims of flooding and river erosion, have found a way to live with their unreliable, unforgiving landscape. The small islands on which they live – forced there because, in a country of 180 million people, every inch of available space has to be used – have an average life span of nine years before they are made uninhabitable. I wonder how these islanders cope with this shifting terrain; how they can bear to know that the place they are living in today may not exist tomorrow. I want to know because more and more people in Bangladesh will suffer the same lot, as the sea creeps up; and because, in the not so distant future, this may be the fate of humanity worldwide.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a governmental committee has concluded that the Low Country’s system of dykes and dams needs to be dramatically strengthened. (via MeFi)

Written by gerrycanavan

September 4, 2008 at 3:13 pm

‘Five Ways to Trigger a Natural Disaster’

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Put aside anthropogenic climate change; human action can trigger any number of natural disasters, including earthquakes.

Tremors in the crust beneath the North Sea have become more frequent since oil drilling operations began there, and mining operations are also known to increase the frequency of tremors.

Both drilling and mining redistribute the normal stresses present in rocks, but they are not the biggest cause of man-made earthquakes.

“Dams are the most dangerous man-made structure likely to cause quake,” says David Booth of the British Geological Survey.

By artificially holding a large volume of water in one place, dams increase pressure on fractures beneath the surface of the earth. What’s more, water has a lubricating effect, making it easier for the fractures – or faults – to slip.

Written by gerrycanavan

July 31, 2008 at 3:28 am

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More on Dams

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That photo below reminds me of one of the best pieces on globalization to be found on the Internet, Arundhati Roy’s essay on dams: “The Greater Common Good.” I must admit I was completely naive about the realities of dam-building before reading this article; dams are actually a tremendously important site for what Marx called primitive accumulation in the contemporary moment and therefore an important location for class struggle.

In the fifty years since Independence, after Nehru’s famous “Dams are the Temples of Modern India” speech (one that he grew to regret in his own lifetime), his footsoldiers threw themselves into the business of building dams with unnatural fervour. Dam-building grew to be equated with Nation-building. Their enthusiasm alone should have been reason enough to make one suspicious. Not only did they build new dams and new irrigation systems, they took control of small, traditional systems that had been managed by village communities for thousands of years, and allowed them to atrophy. To compensate the loss, the Government built more and more dams. Big ones, little ones, tall ones, short ones. The result of its exertions is that India now boasts of being the world’s third largest dam builder. According to the Central Water Commission, we have three thousand six hundred dams that qualify as Big Dams, three thousand three hundred of them built after Independence. One thousand more are under construction. Yet one-fifth of our population – 200 million people – does not have safe drinking water and two-thirds – 600 million – lack basic sanitation.

Big Dams started well, but have ended badly. There was a time when everybody loved them, everybody had them – the Communists, Capitalists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. There was a time when Big Dams moved men to poetry. Not any longer. All over the world there is a movement growing against Big Dams. In the First World they’re being de-commissioned, blown up. The fact that they do more harm than good is no longer just conjecture. Big Dams are obsolete. They’re uncool. They’re undemocratic. They’re a Government’s way of accumulating authority (deciding who will get how much water and who will grow what where). They’re a guaranteed way of taking a farmer’s wisdom away from him. They’re a brazen means of taking water, land and irrigation away from the poor and gifting it to the rich. Their reservoirs displace huge populations of people, leaving them homeless and destitute. Ecologically, they’re in the doghouse. They lay the earth to waste. They cause floods, water-logging, salinity, they spread disease. There is mounting evidence that links Big Dams to earthquakes.

Big Dams haven’t really lived up to their role as the monuments of Modern Civilisation, emblems of Man’s ascendancy over Nature. Monuments are supposed to be timeless, but dams have an all-too-finite lifetime. They last only as long as it takes Nature to fill them with silt. It’s common knowledge now that Big Dams do the opposite of what their Publicity People say they do – the Local Pain for National Gain myth has been blown wide open.

For all these reasons, the dam-building industry in the First World is in trouble and out of work. So it’s exported to the Third World in the name of Development Aid, along with their other waste like old weapons, superannuated aircraft carriers and banned pesticides.

Written by gerrycanavan

June 2, 2008 at 5:30 pm

The Big Picture

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A great new blog from The Boston Globe posts a single striking photograph in large format every day. Here’s the first one: Amazon tribesman riding to protest a controversial dam project.

Written by gerrycanavan

June 2, 2008 at 5:22 pm

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