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Thursday, August 17

A Syrian bishop wants to know why Americans would arm al Qaeda groups

In Aleppo, I also met the city’s Bishop Youssef Tobji, a leader of the city’s threatened Christian Maronite community. “If you respect us, please don’t say ‘rebel’ in front of us,” Tobji demanded. “They killed our children, our history. They are terrorists.”
The bishop then turned to me and asked how America, the target of the 9/11 attacks, could arm groups associated with Al Qaeda and then have the audacity to glorify such people as rebels. I struggled to offer him an answer.
Hmmmm. Anyone want to try for an answer?

While you're putting on your thinking cap, here's more from Rania Khalek's report Ignored By Western Media, Syrians Describe the Nightmare the Armed Opposition Brought Them, published by Alternet in May of this year, in which she's interviewing another Syrian:
 “Most Syrians in the West who are today’s pro-opposition activists are descendants of Syrian and Egyptian-expelled Muslim Brotherhood families or they are ex-aristocrats who lost their lands due to socialist policies in the 1950s and 60s,” he told me. “Now they speak out against the government from the safety of America.”
Here I'm fairly certain most Americans -- and certainly all Americans in the Obama and Trump regimes -- would reveal their knowledge of Syrian history, which isn't enough to fit on a flea's wing, by asking what aristocrats the Syrian is talking about.

But given enough time, say 500 years, Americans will feel their way to an understanding of what has been going on in Syria. Closer to the present, more of the truth about 'events on the ground' is inexorably working itself into news reportage, even though most of it remains confined to the internet in the United States.

For example, in early July, Sputnik reported that Encouraged by Liberation of Aleppo, Students Join Syrian Arab Army En Masse:
Employees of the central military commissariat of Aleppo state that the number of those wishing to join Syrian army units in order to fight terrorists is increasing every month as the liberation of the city has motivated hundreds of former students and school pupils to put on military uniforms.
Yesterday Sputnik reported on a situation that was also ignored by the mainstream media in the United States:
WASHINGTON — Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad earlier in the day accused US and UK-based companies of supplying toxic agents to terrorists, adding that CS and CN substances, allegedly produced by NonLethal Technologies and Chemring Defence, were found in Aleppo and Damascus.
"We have seen these reports. Let’s be clear, we have long expressed our strong condemnation of the use of chemical weapons. [Its] use by any party in Syria would violate international standards and norms," the [State Department] official said.
The official provided no additional comments on the companies, but reiterated the US position that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible in previous instances of chemical weapons use.
That State didn't deny the accusation suggests there is evidence to back up the Syrian government's claim. But one would think that at the least State would have raised the possibility that non-state actors arranged for the purchase and delivery of the toxic chemicals to a terrorist group(s) in Syria. Instead, State deflected the entire question.

Sputnik fell down a bit by omitting mention that Turkey was also named in the Syrian government's accusation, which was summarized in a report today at SANA, Syria's state information agency:
Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister Fayssal Mikdad affirmed on Wednesday that the United States, Britain and their allies in the region breach the Chemical Weapons convention by supporting terrorist organizations in Syria and supplying them with toxic materials and weapons of all forms.
Mikdad, in a meeting held with a number of journalists at the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry HQ, called on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate into the US, Britain and Turkey’s supply to terrorist organizations, which are present in Syria, with internationally-banned poisonous materials.     
And Rania Khalek's report for Alternet is positively stuffed with information that would be news to Americans who stay informed on Syria by watching TV reports and reading The New York Times.  To wit:


Many of the armed groups Areej came across were made up of non-Syrian Salafi Jihadists who could not speak the local dialect. In many cases they couldn’t speak any Arabic at all. “There was a group from China, Kazakhstan, another from Pakistan, another with fighters from France,” she said, rolling her eyes.

Indeed, there are thousands of Chinese foreign fighters who joined the jihad in Syria. Calling themselves the Turkistan Islamic Party, they helped spearhead the seizure of Areej’s village. But they weren’t alone.

Each street corner seemed to be controlled by a different faction. Every faction spray painted their name on the walls to demonstrate their claim over a street. She remembers on one wall where a rebel group inscribed the popular slogan, “Democracy is the religion of blasphemy.”

Areej noticed that much of the graffiti was scrawled by foreigners. “The groups that are governing the area my family is from wrote their names on the walls in bad Arabic,” Areej recalled, shaking her head in disdain. Her hometown was suddenly teeming with Frenchmen. “Syrian people are dying to reach France while people from France come here to kill Syrians,” she complained.

She eventually helped her family escape Jisr al-Shogour. They joined her in Damascus where they are internally displaced refugees dependent on UN aid. “There are no winners,” said Areej. “All of the countries—Russia, Iran, America, Saudi Arabia—they are playing with us. We are like toys.” Yet she still wants the government to vanquish the insurgents because the alternative they present to Assad is so terrifying.

Worst media coverage in modern history

The voices of Syrians like Areej simply do not fit within the accepted narrative that justifies the West’s geopolitical aims. And it is wholly out of line with the content that dominates the Qatari state outlet Al Jazeera, which has functioned as a 24/7 vehicle for the Syrian armed opposition. And so she and others like her have been ignored.

Like 18 million Syrians, Areej lives under the control of the Syrian government. Seven million of them are internally displaced refugees who have fled from the areas conquered by the insurgents and ISIS. Only about 2.5 million people live under the opposition’s control, while some 1.8 million live in areas dominated by ISIS.

The coverage of Syria by Western media contains little resemblance at all to the lived experiences described to me by the people I met when I visited the areas where most Syrians live in 2016.

Having watched for years as Syrian expatriates promoting regime change from abroad occupy the limelight, Syrians inside the country have developed a strong sense of resentment.

In the United States, two of the Syrians most prominently featured by mainstream media are Lina Sergie Attar, CEO and co-founder of the Karam Foundation, and Zaher Sahloul, the former head of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). Both have been pushing for years for the US to bomb Syria, and have set up advocacy arms to promote their aims.

Writing under the pen name Amal Hanano for Al Jazeera in 2013, Attar agitated for the US to go to war against the Syrian government. She claimed to be speaking on behalf of Syrians but she hasn’t been to the country since 2008.

Despite providing medical services in areas controlled by Al Qaeda’s local affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Sahloul’s SAMS has received millions in support from the US Agency for International Aid and Development. Both his organization and Karam have collaborated on Syria with the Zionist and Islamophobic Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. They have therefore been branded with the Western media’s stamp of approval.

Attar was a guest on Democracy Now! the day after President Donald Trump bombed Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that the US blamed on the Syrian government. “I am very happy that there is one less airfield for Bashar al-Assad to use to kill his own people,” Attar told Amy Goodman. 

However, residents near the targeted al-Shayrat airbase told the LA Times that the base was instrumental in protecting them from ISIS.

Zaher Sahloul, another vocal advocate for US military intervention who has also appeared on Democracy Now! claims that SAMS provides medical care in opposition areas, but never specifies that these areas -- like eastern Aleppo before the government recaptured it or Idlib today -- are under the control of Salafi Jihadist groups like Al Qaeda.

In Idlib, the Al-Qaeda-controlled area where SAMS supports the rebel-run administration, “schools have been segregated, women forced to wear veils, and posters of Osama bin Laden hung on the walls,” according to Joshua Landis, the director of the University of Oklahoma's Middle East Studies Center.

All right; time's up. Anyone have an answer for the bishop?


Wednesday, August 16

Breaking News: SAA overruns IS defenses in central Syria

Breaking: Syrian Army steamrolls through ISIL’s heartland, 25km liberated
By Leith Fadel
August 16, 2017

BEIRUT, LEBANON (8:35 P.M.) – Minutes ago, a military source informed Al-Masdar News that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) had overrun the Islamic State’s (ISIL) defenses in central Syria, liberating a large chunk of territory in southern Al-Raqqa.

Backed by Russian airstrikes, the Syrian Arab Army liberated Tal Al-Asfar, Duhour Al-Mamlaha, Rasm al-Ummali, Rajm Al-Sheh, Souh Al-Dalej, and the Al-Ouj Canyon after a fierce battle with the Islamic State north of the Al-Sha’er Mountains.

Following the liberation of the aforementioned sites, the Syrian Arab Army take control of several hilltops southeast of Ithriya, giving their forces fire control over Al-Fasdah, Amsha, and Radda.

The Syrian Army is now on the verge of completely besieging the Islamic State in central Syria.



Okay, if the US is no longer funding Syrian 'rebels' ... UPDATED 6:30pm EDT

If Saudi Arabia and Qatar are no longer funding them, if Turkey is no longer funding them -- who is?

[Turning her baleful eye on the European Parliament]

And now that al Qaeda has taken over Idlib, are the U.S. State Department and British and EU counterparts still trying to prove they can help the 'rebels' transform Idlib into a model of democratic government (with a few Islamist features)?

It's occurred to me that at least some of the continued funding of the 'rebels' could be coming from wealthy Syrian expats who still want to overthrow the Syrian government.

But it's probably not a single group. There could still be factions in Saudi Arabia, for example, which continue to funnel financial support and weapons to the rebels, even though the factions are not part of the Saudi regime. And factions in the Muslim Brotherhood and/or wealthy individuals loyal to them that are based in Turkey and Qatar and other regions could still be providing funds. 


Mexican town shows the way: No political parties and no organized crime

"The Mexican government recognizes Cherán as an autonomous, self-governing community under the Usos y costumbres legal provision granted to some indigenous communities throughout Latin America."

Photograph: César Rodríguez/Bloomberg

Cherán, Michoacán State, Mexico: 
For the past six years, the townspeople claim they have dodged the statistics that plague the rest of Mexico. Pedro Chavez Sanchez, a member of Cherán's elder council, spoke to photojournalist César Rodríguez, on how Cherán succeeds in spite of the violence growing in the rest of Mexico.
"Things cannot change unless you change things within, and that is how we did it. We worked as a community to create the change that we wanted. We listened to our elders, we trusted in our customs. If we have a problem, it is our problem, we solve it as a whole. We have no political parties, and we have no organized crime."
The quotes and photograph are from Bloomberg's photo essay/report, Women Kicked Out Organized Crime in This Mexican TownThe people of Cherán haven't had a single slaying or serious crime in six years
By Marie Monteleone and Eric Martin
August 11, 2017, 6:00 AM EDT

This year, Mexico homicides climbed to 12,155 through June, according the nation's interior ministry, up 31 percent from the same period in 2016. The 2,234 killings in June were the most since any month since at least 2001. The town of Cherán is located in the Mexican state of Michoacán, known as one of the most dangerous states in Mexico.
More than 180,000 people have been killed in Mexico since then-President Felipe Calderon sent the army to fight organized crime groups in his native state of Michoacán in 2006. But one small town in that state says it hasn't had a homicide since 2011 because its residents — led by women — took up arms to kick out groups who had expanded from drug trafficking into illegal logging.
While overall in Michoacán, federal authorities say 614 people have been killed this year, a 16 percent increase from 2016, the people of Cherán say they've become immune to serious crime.
They expelled the politicians and local police, and community members now patrol the area wearing uniforms emblazoned with the slogan “For Justice, Security and the Restoration of Our Territory.”
Photographer César Rodríguez traveled to the town of 20,000 to photograph the community.
Visit Bloomberg for the rest of  Rodríguez's photos and accompanying captions, which tell more of the story of how Cherán governs itself -- and keeps out organized crime.


Tuesday, August 15

"Iran’s ambassador to Iraq neutral on Sadr’s UAE, Saudi visits"

By Mohamed Mostafa
Aug 14, 2017, 6:04 pm
Iraqi News

Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Iran’s ambassador to Iraq has said that visits made by influential Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates were part of Iraq’s domestic affairs.

Speaking in an interview with Iranian news agency ISNA, published in Arabic, Iraj Masjedi said recent visits by al-Sadr to Saudi Arabia and Emirates “do not suggest that Shi’ite groups or the Iraqi government were breaking away from Iran

“Invitations by Saudi Arabian authorities to Iraqi officials to visit their country seek to improve bilateral relations, and that’s what the Iraqi authorities want and welcome,” the ambassador told the agency. “Iraq is an independent country, and its relations with other countries are an internal issue,” he stated.

Masjedi said his country’s relations with the Iraqi government and Shi’ite groups remain strong. “Both countries enjoy very good relations, military and security cooperation….besides an economic exchange worth USD8 billion per year,” said Masjedi.

Al-Sadr headed to United Arab Emirates on Sunday having received an official invitation for a visit. He met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

The announced visit has stirred more debates among observers about Sadr’s unusual diplomatic activity as he came back recently from Saudi Arabia, the arch regional rival of Iran, presumably the biggest patron of Shia political elites and political movements in the Middle East.

UAE is a close Saudi Arabia ally and an opponent to Iran’s regional politics.

Sadr visited Saudi Arabia for the first time in 11 years on July 30th, met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and discussed regional issues of common interest. While political commentators viewed the visit as a remarkable attempt to break away with the Iran-dominated Iraqi politics, others saw it as a balancing political act designed to get advantage from Sunni Saudi Arabia’s regional weight while staying on good terms with Shia Iran. Some also say it is an attempt by Sadr to embolden his image as a nationalist figure whose orientations can transcend sectarian calculations.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia visits come after apparent rapprochements between Baghdad and Sunni-ruled governments in the region. Besides Sadr, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Riyadh in June, and was followed by Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji a month later. In February, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Iraq, where he voiced support for Iraq against terrorism.



"Syrian Forces Smash ISIL's Defense Lines in Deir Ezzor, Heavy ISIL Casualties Reported"

April 15, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army troops and Air Force targeted ISIL's positions and gatherings in Deir Ezzur city and its outskirts, killing and wounding a large number of the terrorists.

The army soldiers clashed fiercely with ISIL around Deir Ezzur airbase, destroying a drone equipped with camera and several bombs before reaching the pro-government forces' positions.

Also, the army units exchanged fire with ISIL in al-Roshdiyeh neighborhoods in Deir Ezzur city, destroying one of their positions and killing several militants.

In the meantime, the Syrian warplanes bombed heavily ISIL's positions in the villages of Shoula, al-Baqiliyeh, al-Maqaber (cemetery) region, Ayyash, Ein Bou Jom'ah and Panorama region, destroying terrorists' military equipment and killing a number of fighters.

Relevant reports said on Monday that the army soldiers engaged in fierce clashes with ISIL along the road connecting the village of al-Baqaliyeh to Panorama base in Deir Ezzur outskirts, killing a number of terrorists and destroying their military equipment.

In the meantime, the army men clashed fiercely with ISIL and repelled their attack in surrounding of Tamin Brigade base in Southern outskirts of Deir Ezzur, inflicting heavy casualties on the militants.

Also, the army aircraft pounded ISIL's centers and movements West of Deir Ezzur in the regions of al-Mawared, Huweija Kateh, al-Thardah crossroad, Deir Ezzur airbase, the neighborhoods of al-Huweiqa, old airport and al-Omal and in the villages of al-Baqaliyeh, al-Jnainiyeh, al-Shoula and al-Shamitiyeh, killing a number of them and destroying their vehicles and equipment.


The Tiger Forces have also been very busy:


(I think SouthFront means the Tigers are clearing ISIS from Central Syria lol)


Somehow building more cities in the Saudi deserts doesn't sound right to me

"In the past month alone, the world’s biggest oil exporter has announced two major developments -- one covering an area bigger than Belgium and another almost the size of Moscow. That’s on top of plans to build a series of so-called economic cities -- special zones in logistics, tourism, industry and finance, an entertainment city and a $10 billion financial district."

As to what the Saudis are going to do for water for the new cities, thereby hangs a very salty tale:

2015 - The Other Liquid Gold: Nuclear Power and Desalination in Saudi Arabia; Foreign Affairs:

... Saudi Arabia is a desert country with no permanent rivers or lakes and erratic rainfall. The vast majority of its territory—95 percent—is covered by one of three deserts: the Rub al-Khali, an-Nafud, or ad-Dahna. Most of Saudi Arabia’s natural reservoirs, such as the Saq-Ram and Wajid aquifer systems, are nearly tapped out. Although other promising reservoirs have been found—for example, the Wasia aquifer, which is thought to hold as much water as the entire Persian Gulf—they are nestled deep in the desert, away from urban areas. Tapping into their full potential would take many years and billions of dollars.
Accordingly, the Kingdom has turned to an obvious solution: desalinated water from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. According to the latest estimates, the country consumes an estimated 3.3 million cubed meters of desalinated water per day, and desalination provides 70 percent of urban water supplies.
Taking salt out of water is an energy-intensive process. It uses about 15,000 kilowatt-hours of power for every million gallons of fresh water produced. As the world’s second-largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia can afford the energy outlay. It already burns approximately 1.5 million barrels of crude oil equivalent every day, with a significant portion of that output powering desalination plants. But oil-powered desalinization plants are not sustainable. Oil reserves will dry up eventually; Saudi Arabia’s thirst will continue.
2016 - Peak salt: is the desalination dream over for the Gulf states?Stephen Leahy and Katherine Purvis, The Guardian

The Middle East is home to 70% of the world’s desalination plants, but the more water they process, the less economically viable they become
Gulf states are among the most water-scarce in the world. With few freshwater resources and low rainfall, many countries have turned to desalination (where salt is removed from seawater) for their clean water needs.

But Gulf states are heading for “peak salt”: the more they desalinate, the more concentrated wastewater, brine, is pumped back into the sea; and as the Gulf becomes saltier, desalination becomes more expensive.

“In time, it’s going to become impossible to use desalination in a way that makes economic sense,” says Gökçe Günel, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona. “The water will become so saline that it will be too expensive to desalinate.”

The Middle East is home to 70% of the world’s desalination plants – mostly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Tens of billions of dollars, $24.3bn (£18.8bn) in Saudi Arabia alone, are being invested over the next few years to expand desalination capacity.

The process is cost and energy intensive; it pumps seawater through special filters or boils it to remove the salts. The resulting brine can be nearly twice as salty as normal Gulf waters, according to John Burt, a biologist at New York University Abu Dhabi.

But the 250,000 sq km Gulf is more like a salt-water lake than a sea. It’s shallow, just 35 metres deep on average, and is almost entirely enclosed. The few rivers that feed the Gulf have been dammed or diverted and the region’s hot and dry climate results in high rates of evaporation. Add in a daily dose of around 70m cubic metres of super-salty wastewater from dozens of desalination plants, and it’s not surprising that the water in the Gulf is 25% saltier than normal seawater, says Burt, or that parts are becoming too salty to use.

Peak salt, says Günel, mirrors the concept of peak oil, a popular concept in the 1970s used to describe the point in time when the maximum rate of oil extraction had been reached. “Peak salt describes the point at which desalination becomes unfeasible,” she says.

And studies have shown that the Gulf will only get saltier in the future. Raed Bashitialshaaer, a water resources engineer at Sweden’s Lund University, says that the growth of desalination plants in the region is happening far faster than his own 2011 study estimated.

With groundwater sources either exhausted or non-existent and climate change bringing higher temperatures and less rainfall, Gulf states plan to nearly double the amount of desalination by 2030 (doc). This is bad news for marine life and for the cost of producing drinking water – unless something can be done about the brine.

Farid Benyahia, a chemical engineer at Qatar University, believes he has a solution. He recently patented a process that could eliminate the need for brine disposal by nearly 100%. The process uses pure carbon dioxide (emitted during the desalination process by burning fossil fuels for power) and ammonia to turn brine into baking soda and calcium chloride. Whether the process is cost-effective remains to be seen but Benyahia believes it could be, especially if markets are found for large volumes of the end products.

Other efforts are also underway to reduce desalination’s country-sized carbon footprint which globally accounts for 76m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – nearly equivalent to Romania’s emissions in 2014.

August 6, 2017 Saudi Arabia Builds Cities in the Sand to Move Beyond Oil; Sarah Algethami, Bloomberg:

After relying on oil to fuel its economy for more than half a century, Saudi Arabia is turning to its other abundant natural resource to take it beyond the oil age -- desert. The kingdom is converting thousands of square kilometers of sand into new cities as it seeks to diversify away from crude, create jobs and boost investment.

In the past month alone, the world’s biggest oil exporter has announced two major developments -- one covering an area bigger than Belgium and another almost the size of Moscow. That’s on top of plans to build a series of so-called economic cities -- special zones in logistics, tourism, industry and finance, an entertainment city and a $10 billion financial district.

“The overall progress with the economic cities has been very slow, even before the collapse of the oil price,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC. “Since then, the pace of development has moderated even further with a number of projects being placed on hold.”

When “Saudi Vision 2030” was announced last April, the 84-page blueprint said the government would work to “salvage” and “revamp” economic city projects executed over the past decade that “did not realize their potential.”

Here’s a look at some of Saudi Arabia’s most ambitious projects:



Why British Columbia's wildfires have been devastating

Before we dig into the story here are three of the latest (August 14) reports on the long running up-and-down crisis:

The Weather Network: 'Dry lightning' worsens B.C. wildfire crisis

CBC News: Evacuation orders downgraded for Canim Lake and Hawkins LakeSuccessful firefighting efforts over the weekend mean some Cariboo residents can head home

Coast Mountain News: BC government offers support for ranchers impacted by British Columbia wildfires

And this from The Seattle Times on August 2:  Why so much smoke in Seattle from B.C. wildfires? "Nature’s air conditioning" is broken, weather service says. Thanks for letting us know.

All right, now it's time to turn to an August 11 report by Mika McKinnon, published in New Scientist. McKinnon provides the best insight so far on why British Columbia's wildfires outbreak has done such incredible damage. Yet for readers who've been following my posts over the years on the Three Ds -- drought, desiccation, and desertification -- and on wildfires, there's nothing unique about the story; it's always a set number of factors combining in slightly different ways and playing out all over the world. And now in a Canadian province:

Fighting to breathe in the face of Canada’s wildfire emergency

Shifting winds and an atmospheric wall of high pressure have funnelled smoke into the city of Kamloops in British Columbia, filling the air with an unprecedented 684.5 micrograms of fine material per cubic metre. That’s nearly 70 times more than the World Health Organization’s guidelines for safe exposure limits.

My eyes sting when I walk outside, and I feel the throb of a headache coming on if I dare walk as far as the street corner. Even indoors, the smell of smoke whispers through the ventilation systems until it clings to everything. I woke up to ash on my toothbrush, large black flakes against white bristles.
Fuel to the fire

The story of how things got like this is a slow-speed disaster of climate change, a beetle invasion, and the unintended consequences of well-meaning policy gone wrong.

British Columbia is a mountainous, highly forested province in western Canada. More than half of the province is forest, with lodgepole pine dominating every ecosystem except the alpine tundra. “It’s a tree that is really everywhere in BC,” says Perrakis.

Over the past century, the forest industry has transformed native forests into denser, more homogenous stands by suppressing fires and selectively replanting the most economically valuable species after harvesting. “They weren’t nefarious policies at the time, based on what was known,” says Perrakis.

But one unintended recent consequence has been a province-wide bark beetle outbreak that has devastated the region’s forests – with the dying trees heightening the fire threat.

The dense, homogenous stands of lodgepole pine allowed native mountain pine beetles to spread quickly, while a changing climate reduced the severity and duration of cold winters that historically kept the beetle population in check. The infestation hit its peak between 2006 and 2008, although it has begun to slow down in recent years.

I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the once-green mountain slopes spotted with beetle-killed trees: first, one pine turns red as it dies, then more and more follow in speckled waves. Between six months and four years later, depending on individual circumstances, the red needles drop, leaving trees that look like grey, dry skeletons. 

Now, over 11 per cent of the province is covered in a forest graveyard of dead trees.
Red hot

The dead trees in the “red attack” phase are already known to pose a high fire risk. “We saw fire spread rates two to three times higher in these red-attacked stands,” says Perrakis. Fires burned quickly through the dry tree crowns, racing ahead of firefighters’ attempts to contain and control them.

But starting around 2011, forests became dominated with the grey tree skeletons – and we don’t yet fully understand how this “grey attack” phase affects wildfires. The situation is complex, with various competing factors either helping or hindering fires.

Without needles, fires no longer spread through forest crowns, but “underburns” racing along the ground are still common as new plants take over the forest. Fire-resistant aspen are taking over some hillsides, whereas highly flammable black spruce is growing in others.

Now when a fire starts, it spreads through a new mix of plants, and the dry wood of the beetle-killed trees adds to fire intensity and smoke production. “The dead trees fall over much more easily, sometimes even with just a breath of wind,” says Perrakis. This increases the danger to crews working in these stands.
Going on burning

This year in British Columbia, over half a million hectares have burned since 1 April, and with 126 fires still burning, that number may keep growing before the snows come. With slow starts to milder winters, that might not be until December. And we have no guarantees that this same disaster won’t unfold again next year, or the year after that.


Another report at New Scientist (How [Australian] Aboriginal knowledge can help the world combat wildfires), most of which is behind a subscription paywall, notes that every year wildfires burn an area the size of the country of India. "... and their economic and social impacts are felt far beyond their scorched boundaries. They release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – and as Earth warms, they are on the increase."

But a connection between warming and forest fires says nothing about "unintended consequences of well-meaning policy gone wrong," does it?

We're learning more about the unintended consequences, aren't we, as we're learning a little more about the enormously complex issue of wildfires and their connection to the life cycle of forests, about which much is still unknown.

I knew nothing about the debate regarding wildfire suppression until I watched Nova's riveting 2002 program, Fire Wars (now available on YouTube). And it wasn't until a couple years ago that I knew anything about the connection between bark beetles and forest fires; I didn't even know until then that the beetles could do so much damage to forests.

Little by little. It takes time for specialized knowledge to work its way into general knowledge; this holds true no matter how important the topic. But if you think about how much you know about drought today and what you knew about it a decade ago, you'll see much reason for hope about the human race's chances. 

The perennial problem is passing along knowledge that shouldn't get forgotten in the shuffle of the day's news.

Humanity suffers from forgetfulness -- both our Achilles Heel and saving grace.  


North Dakota drought: There will be a ripple effect. "We don't know how large"

August 13, 2017
West Fargo Pioneer

North Dakota's harvest will be significantly less than last year's because of the ongoing drought, and though it's still early, the state's lead agriculturalist believes the economic impact could be worth billions of dollars.
"Overall in our economy, I'm going to say ... at a minimum, I think we are going to have $1.12 billion of direct economic impact to our farming and ranching community," North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said of the drought's impact on the grain harvest. "We could be looking at a $4 billion impact on Main Street, which means tax revenue that is lost, jobs that aren't being supported."
Spring wheat production in North Dakota is forecast to be 186 million bushels, down 31 percent from last year, according to numbers released Thursday, Aug. 10, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Durum wheat is expected to be down 56 percent from 2016, and winter wheat, seeing the heaviest impact, will be down 74 percent, according to the report.
Overall, yields for all crops are expected to be down from last year, according to the report.
The loss likely will be felt by the state's economy and anyone doing business with farmers, said Frayne Olson, an associate professor and crop economist with North Dakota State University.
Generations of work
Crops were hit hard by a lack of rain all summer, especially in western North Dakota. Virtually every part of the state was at least abnormally dry, with more than 80 percent being classified in drought categories, affecting more than 447,000 residents, the USDA's Drought Mitigation Center said in its Thursday report. Around 43 percent of the state had extreme or exceptional drought.
Farmers who have crop insurance or receive federal assistance may come out better than cattle producers, who have had to cut deeper into their herds to sell cattle and make ends meet, Olson said.
It's harder to assess the impact to ranchers, Goehring said, but the implications of the drought may be felt for years. The drought spanned the spring and summer, leaving little grass for forage. That means some ranchers either had to buy hay, move cattle out of state or sell them off.
"The thing about livestock, it has a much higher multiplier on Main Street," he said. "That is the ramifications down the road. We are worried about that foundation herd shrinking out on the landscape."
That means herds that took generations to build through selective breeding may have been cut, and those animals that could have produced 10 years of calves are taken out of North Dakota's economy.
There was a 17 percent increase of animals sold across the state, though some areas have sold more, said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president for the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.
"In Rugby, that was a 48 percent increase," she said. "We saw significant increases in the marketings, and that continued through the month of July."
It's possible some cattle stayed in North Dakota, but other parts of the country that have experienced drought in previous years are restocking, she said. Ranchers from out of state likely bought cattle from North Dakota producers.
Ranchers typically sell cattle every year to replace older animals with calves, but this year ranchers may have to dig deeper into the herd to make ends meet.
"The drought plays a significant role in the long-term outlook for the beef industry in terms of numbers and the genetic progress," Ellingson said. "You have to get rid of animals that represent generations of hard work and genetic focus. That is a heartbreaking decision for many families."
Too early to tell
Later crops like soybeans, corn and sunflowers will depend on much-needed rain, Olson said. North Dakota's top crops are wheat, soybeans and corn.
"Two of the three—corn and soybeans—we don't have really any information on what the yields are going to be," he said. "We are in some really key biological stages for those crops. We'll have to wait until we are close to harvest to get a good read on that."
The harvest in eastern North Dakota, which as of Thursday was mostly just abnormally dry, should have near-normal production, Goehring said. Farmers across the state are forecast to harvest 236 million bushels of soybeans, down 5 percent from last year, according to the USDA. Dry edible bean production likely will be up 14 percent from 2016, corn down 19 percent and sugar beets down 1 percent, the USDA said.
The crops are hit and miss, and some may be surprised by yields, he added.
"When you hear guys saying they have 17-bushel wheat, now they aren't proud of that by any means, but they were expecting 3- to 5-bushel wheat," he said.
In other parts of the state, farmers may be harvesting 30 percent of their usual crops, he said.
For now, farmers and ranchers are in "survivalist mode." Some may come out ahead. For others, the drought may be the last straw for producers who have been weighing the decision of calling a quits, Ellingson, Goehring and Olson said.
"There is going to be a ripple effect," Olson said. "We don't know how large."

Monday, August 14

Jade a capella

I've posted about the Jade singing group before but today found myself listening to their recorded version of Blessed -- and a live version I hadn't known about before.  

So. How about a trip in the time machine back to the 1990s, to the era of Grunge and New Jack Swing and the fabulous Jade taking over a street in the 'hood to vamp their way through their smash hit Don't Walk Away

By the way, those ladies really could sing, and they didn't need techno or even musical instruments. They were great a capella singers. So Don't Walk Away shouldn't have been their only crossover hit, although they had other hits in the R&B category. But it all had a happy ending, as Wikipedia notes:
The original members of Jade (Jad) went on to become successful in their own right. Angela became a successful music producer ... and received a PhD in education. Debra (now Debra Mitchell-Adams) became a member of the group Vybe, on Island Records, and owns Legacy Global Music Group.
Here, from YouTube, is Jade's original recorded version of Don't Walk Away (1992) -- and a 1993 live version without lip sync.    

And here is their live version of Blessed (1993), sung a capella in part. 

Here are the lyrics to Blessed, from Lyrics Pond website:

Blessed be the ties that bind 
Do you ever take the time to concentrate your mind and listen, 
listen to the music to your inner soul,
marvel at the beauty that nature holds,
Spread your wings to freedom,
Erasing from your mind all the doubts

Soaring like an eagle. Do you picture it? Your loving heart will guide you.

Blessed, blessed. O, yeah!

My soul feels good about the ties that bind me and you and all mankind, together 

Blessed be the ties that bind

Glorify your love, place it far above all others 
Take it to the power of your mother's love 
Precious memories

Gather little children
Turn your face in view to the rising sun - flame of love.
Is a gift to you - burning to beat of your soul
Blessed. Blessed. ... 

My soul feels good about the ties that bind me and you and all mankind, together.
Gather little children, 
Place no one above you.

Blessed. Blessed.


France: 133% leap in children admitted to emergency room for marijuana

"What concerns Claudet the most is that the concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, has been increasing in cannabis products in France. THC concentration in cannabis products has increased from 9% in 2004 to 20% in 2014. ... Children in [U.S.] states where marijuana was legal had more severe symptoms and were more likely to be admitted to a critical care unit compared with those in states where marijuana was not legal."

Report Highlights:
  • From 2004 to 2014, the number of French children in ER with cannabis intoxication more than doubled
  • Similar trends have been found in the U.S., particularly in states where marijuana is legal
By Victoria Knight
August 14, 2017

As attitudes about marijuana shift around the world, researchers are warning parents that it's risky to keep it around children, especially those who are too young to know what it is.

The number of children who were admitted to emergency rooms for unintentional marijuana intoxication increased by 133% in France over an 11-year period, according to a new study.

Marijuana intoxication can occur when a child accidentally ingests a marijuana product or inhales marijuana smoke. Symptoms can vary based on the child's age and size but often include sleepiness, difficulty breathing, seizures or even coma. Effects usually last six to 24 hours.

Cannabis is illegal in France, but it has the highest rate of marijuana use in Europe, said Dr. Isabelle Claudet, lead author of the study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

"And that means we are facing an increase in emergency admissions of marijuana intoxication and an increase in severe symptoms seen in children," said Claudet, a pediatric emergency physician in Toulouse.

She and other researchers analyzed the number of French children under 6 admitted to pediatric emergency departments because of unintentional cannabis intoxication and the number of cannabis-related calls involving children to French poison control centers.

From 2004 to 2014, 235 children were admitted to ERs with cannabis intoxication, and there was a 133% increase in the admissions rate for it. The number of calls to poison control centers related to cannabis exposure in children increased by 312% in the same period.

What concerns Claudet the most is that the concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, has been increasing in cannabis products in France.

"THC concentration in cannabis products has increased from 9% in 2004 to 20% in 2014," she said. "I believe that's why we're facing more adverse effects in children."

Over the 11-year span, the severity of symptoms in children admitted to emergency departments because of marijuana intoxication also increased.

Twenty times more severe cases were reported in 2014 compared with 2004, and and four times more severe cases were reported in 2014 compared with 2013. Of the 32 children reported to have gone into comas, 53% were admitted in 2014, and there were more cannabis-related admissions than any other type of pediatric emergency room admission.

What concerns Claudet the most is that the concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, has been increasing in cannabis products in France.

"THC concentration in cannabis products has increased from 9% in 2004 to 20% in 2014," she said. "I believe that's why we're facing more adverse effects in children."

Over the 11-year span, the severity of symptoms in children admitted to emergency departments because of marijuana intoxication also increased.

Twenty times more severe cases were reported in 2014 compared with 2004, and and four times more severe cases were reported in 2014 compared with 2013. Of the 32 children reported to have gone into comas, 53% were admitted in 2014, and there were more cannabis-related admissions than any other type of pediatric emergency room admission.

The main cannabis product circulating on the French market is hashish or cannabis resin, a solid and very concentrated form of cannabis extract, usually sold in the form of sticks or balls. Users break off pieces, roll them in tobacco papers and smoke them.

Claudet believes the best way to decrease the number of pediatric marijuana intoxication cases in France is to decrease the concentration of THC in cannabis through regulation.

"And we have to also warn consumers and parents that it could be very dangerous for children to eat such products," she said. "Because usually, parents think it's not very harmful because they're smoking it, and it relaxes them. But if a child ingests one stick or ball, they can become comatose."

What about children in the US?

Recreational marijuana is legal in eight US states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and D.C. Cannabis product trends in the United States are quite different from those in France, though high concentration of THC is still a concern, especially in edible products.

"The results of this Pediatrics study also makes sense with what we've been seeing in Colorado. With the marijuana industry increasing, there's a lot of new products, a lot of concentrated products, that people vape or ingest, like the edible products, that are high in THC," said Dr. G. Sam Wang, a pediatric toxicologist at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora.

"And so we've been seeing a lot of kids who are more symptomatic and more intoxicated," said Wang, who was not involved in the French research.

Wang has conducted several studies of US trends in pediatric marijuana intoxication, as well as trends in Colorado.

He found that in states where recreational or medical marijuana is legal, the number of pediatric marijuana intoxication cases reported to poison control centers increased by 30% each year from 2005 to 2011. 

Children in states where marijuana was legal had more severe symptoms and were more likely to be admitted to a critical care unit compared with those in states where marijuana was not legal.

In his Colorado study, Wang found that in the two years leading up to when recreational marijuana became legally available for purchase in 2014 and the two years after, rates of marijuana exposure cases in children increased. 

On average each year, there was a 34% increase in calls to poison control centers about marijuana exposures in Colorado and a 19% increase across the US. Forty-eight percent of the cases in Colorado were attributed to the ingestion of an edible marijuana product.

Wang said the higher number of cases in states where marijuana is legal can in part be attributed to the increased availability of marijuana products and the attractiveness of edible product labels, which often look like normal candy or cakes to a child.

"Usually, kids get into things that become more available, and usually, that happens when it's a household product, like those laundry detergent pods, which were attractive," Wang said. "It's kind of the same situation with marijuana, where we think in states with legal marijuana, probably more households have it in their home, especially the food or edible marijuana products with bright labels, that makes it easier for kids to get into them."



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