Biofuels and food prices

As the general enthusiasm for biofuels continues to accelerate unabated (most recently with the climate change deal secured at the EU Council of Ministers by Angela Merkel), a sage warning comes from US Department of Agriculture chief economist Keith Collins: all this biofuel-led demand for grain is going to have a big impact on food prices.

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Beyond the religious right…

The NY Times has a piece about an anti-war protest at the White House by thousands of Christians.

John Pattison, 29, said he and his wife flew in from Portland, Ore., to attend his first anti-war rally. He said his opposition to the war had developed over time.

”Quite literally on the night that shock and awe commenced, my friend and I toasted the military might of the United States,” Pattison said. ”We were quite proud and thought we were doing the right thing.”

He said the way the war had progressed and U.S. foreign policy since then had forced him to question his beliefs.

”A lot of the rhetoric that we hear coming from Christians has been dominated by the religious right and has been strong advocacy for the war,” Pattison said. ”That’s just not the way I read my Gospel.”

Further evidence that there’s a considerably greater diversity of views among politically engaged evangelical Christians in the US than is often supposed – and that more progressive constituencies are getting increasingly well-organised. See God’s Politics by Sojourners head Jim Wallis…

Institute for the Future on cooperation

The Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future have an outstanding report entitled The Literacy of Cooperation which sets out some cutting edge thinking on cooperation theory. Prepared in collaboration with Howard Rheingold (he of smart mobs) it argues that “in the last decade, scientists and social thinkers in a range of fields have independently discovered cooperation at the heart of a number of important phenomena” – like symbiosis in cellular evolution and ecosystem complexity.

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Vandergriff: 4th generation leadership

William Lind rates John Boyd protégée, Major Donald E Vandergriff, almost as greatly as he despairs of the US army’s ability to change:

I would like to think the Army’s leadership would take Vandergriff’s books, including Raising the Bar, turn to their subordinates and say, “Make it happen.” But I know it won’t happen.

All that can happen is what the Army has seen a million times: the slogans and buzzwords change, but the organizational culture remains Second Generation, so everything else that is real does too. Faced with new ways of war demanding that it change or die, the Army will prefer to die, because it’s easier.

Vandergriff, too, writes off “people who already have had their character defined and shaped by… today’s leadership paradigm.”

In his 2006 monograph, Raising the Bar, he calls for a revolution from below, seeded by a new generation of leaders who can outthink enemies whose goal is to “defeat the mind and destroy the cohesion of the opponent’s decision makers through any means possible.” Continue reading

Googling Bin Laden…

Want to know where the CIA’s looking for Bin Laden? According to Wired, Google Earth has the answer:

After Google recently updated its satellite images of parts of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, much of the region still looked blotchy… But several small squares (they stand out as off-color patches from 680 miles up) suddenly became as detailed as the images of Manhattan. These sectors happen to be precisely where the US govern­ment has been hunting for bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Turns out, Google gets its images from many of the same satellite companies — DigitalGlobe, TerraMetrics, and others — that provide reconnaissance to US intelligence agencies. And when the CIA requests close-ups of the area around Peshawar in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, Google Earth reaps the benefits (although usually six to 18 months later).

Urban planning: top down or bottom up?

Three new exhibitions have opened up in New York about the controversial urban planner Robert Moses. Moses was the architect of the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65, the rather sad-looking remnants of which you see as you take a cab into Manhattan from JFK airport. Much more fundamentally, though, he was the planner who remade New York over the course of the 20th century, as the Washington Post today explains.

Moses’s style of decision-making was nothing if not top-down: he is said to have referred to protesters seeking to block his plans for an expressway running through the middle of Greenwich Village’s chilled out Washington Square as “a bunch of mothers”. A heavily critical biography of him by Robert Caro in the 1970s did much to establish that view, according to the Post. Both the Post and the WSJ this morning contrast Moses’s approach with that of Jane Jacobs, author of The Life and Death of American Cities, who favoured a more bottom-up view of urban planning that would find much to like in today’s agendas of street liveability. Continue reading

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