Flotsam & Jetsam
Hindus Undo Hindu How-to, The Ganga’s All Here, The Pentagon’s Plan for Robots with Whiskers, Bush & Blair Conspire to Build Nastier Nukes, & The Man Who Prevented WW III
August 2, 2002

During the springtime festival of holi, people throw colored water on each other. Traditional gulal and kumkum aren't so bad, but watch out for those chemical dyes. Credit: http://pages.cthome.net/india
Hindus Undo Hindu How-to
INDIA — Lamenting an “amazing gap between theory and practice,” the editors of the New Delhi-based Down to Earth magazine [www.cseindia.org] have railed against “followers of the Hindu way of life [who] have forgotten the emphasis that is laid on nature, the environment and the ecology.”

Deepawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights has become “an ugly nightmare of noise and noxious smoke” while Holi, a festival that honors spring with the tossing of red liquids on fellow celebrants “has degenerated into an orgy of dangerous chemicals.” Even idols immersed in the Holy Ganges River “are bathed in synthetic paint laced with heavy metals.”

“The social and spiritual tenets of Hinduism have been completely replaced by a convenience-driven attitude,” Down to Earth sighs. “Why are the high priests of Hinduism silent?”

The Ganga’s All Here
INDIA — While Hinduism’s high priests may be falling down on the job, the volunteers at the Swatcha Ganga Abhiyaan (SGA, the Campaign for a Clean Ganges) are rolling up their sleeves and dhotis to revive India’s sacred “River of Heaven.”

In February the SGA unveiled a new tool in their crusade — a website [www.CleanGanga.com] for “Ganga lovers the world over.” The All-Ganga-All-the-Time website was unveiled at a press conference hosted by Bangalore social change activist Amitayush Vyas and Veer Bhadra Mishra (anointed as one of Time magazine’s seven “Heroes of the Planet” for his work on behalf of the Ganges).

Also in attendance was Mark Lloyd, director of Thames 21, the London association working to clean up the River Thames. “Cleanup of the Ganga is important for rivers everywhere, “Lloyd stated, Thames 21 is collaborating with SGA on cleaning up the Varanasi stretch of the Ganga.

www.CleanGanga.com is produced by Roger Choate, an international journalist with homes in Sweden and New Delhi. The website offers information in both Hindi and English and will soon feature the contributions of journalism students from Delhi and Varanasi. The designers of the website are Sweden’s Sandberg/Trygg and Delhi-based Web Chutney.

The Pentagon’s Plan for Robots with Whiskers
USA — State University of New Work neurophysiologist John K. Chapin wanted to find a way to help patients regain the use of nerve-damaged arms and legs. His research led him to equip rats with brain implants that controlled cranial commands to the rats’ muscles. When Chapman discovered that he had the ability to control the movement of his lab rats with electronic signals from a distance of 500 yards (like a kid directing a remote-controlled toy automobile), that’s when the government’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency got interested.

DARPA’s Controlled Biological Systems division reportedly wants to create squadrons of remote-controlled rodents that can be used as highly maneuverable spies and cheap, disposable weapons-delivery agents.

DARPA took over funding of Chapin’s research as part of its attempts to create “hybrid brain-machine biosystems.” San Francisco Chronicle Science Editor David Perlman reports that DARPA is already hard at work trying to find out “how bees and wasps might be trained to detect biological warfare agents.”

DARPA is apparently delighted that Chapin’s rat-cyborgs have been trained to climb ladders and trees on command and even to march along on their missions in broad daylight. How does Chapin manage to get normally wary and nocturnal rodents to risk exposing themselves to the noonday sun? In addition to controlling their right and left movements by wiring an implant to the part of the cortex sensing whisker movements, Chapin can "reward” his furry field soldiers by clicking a button that activates “one of the pleasure centers in its brain.”

Imagine, if an electrical “pleasure” stimulus can convince a rat to act against the accumulated wisdom of 200 million years of evolution, there’s no reason you couldn’t place an implant in Kathie Lee Gifford and turn her into a suicide bomber.

Dorothy Beerstein pledged to conserve fuel and won a new Honda Civic hybrid. She gave it to her son, Fred, who will use it to take his students on habitat restoration projects.
Driving Miss Dorothy
USA — Earlier this year 86-year-old Dorothy Beerstein of Santa Cruz, California logged onto her computer and, with a simple mouse-click, signed on to the American Conservation Association’s “Patriot’s Energy Pledge.” (You can sign on to the pledge at www.saveabarrel.org.)

People who sign the pledge promise to help reduce US dependence on foreign oil by keeping their tires inflated, their engines tuned and their motor oil low-friction. They also vow to give preference to carpools, bikes and mass transit, to use renewable fuel blends in their autos and buy only cars that get at least 40 mpg.

The goal was to save one million barrels of oil. In the six months since an all volunteer team of energy experts launched the campaign in January 2002, 114,000 Americans have signed the pledge. This represents the saving of 400,000 barrels of oil.

And where does Dorothy Beerstein fit into this story? Well, when Dorothy clicked her mouse, she became part of a lottery and on July 4, Independence Day, it was announced that she had won the Pledge’s grand prize — a new Honda Civic hybrid that gets 49 miles to the gallon.

“Americans would all be winners if all automakers would produce and market hybrid cars. Then we could truly celebrate Independence Day,” Beerstein declared.

Beerstein then revealed that she was giving the new car to her son Fred, a middle-school biology teacher in Los Angeles. Fred will use the hybrid as a teaching tool and as a means of taking his classes on environmental field trips — one of which involves the restoration of habitat for an endangered butterfly.

“American drivers could save more oil each day than we import from the Persian Gulf — 2.5 million barrels — if automakers applied this proven hybrid technology to their cars and trucks,” Pledge Co-Founder Peter Fox-Penner observes. Fox-Penner recalls that Detroit rose to the challenge once before, “doubling vehicle mileage in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo.”

The Bomb Is Beautiful but My Cows Are Blind
INDIA — After the recent nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan, India’s new President APJ Abdul Kalam (a Muslim scientist who is known as the “Father of India’s A-bomb”) claimed that India’s nuclear arsenal had worked to prevent a violent conflict. From Islamabad, Pakistan Dictator General Pervez Musharraf similarly claimed that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal prevented the outbreak of war. “Deterrence works!” was the claim from both sides of the disputed State of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the village of Khetelai, however, the message was mixed. “It’s a very proud thing to have a nuclear bomb,” Bhagirath Ram told a Reuters reporter, but then there’s the problem of the blind cows. Khetelai is situated a scant two miles from the Pokharan military range where India conducted five nuclear tests in May 1999. The villagers are beginning to worry as they notice increasing numbers of calves being born blind and riddled with mysterious tumors. All of Ranjeeta Ramji’s deformed cattle have died within a year of being born.

“These cows are our bread and butter. There is so little water here that we can’t grow crops, so they are our livelihood,” Ramji said. Despite pleas to the government, “no one has come to see.”

The residents of Khetelai were never told that nuclear weapons were going to be exploded next door. The only warnings they received were from soldiers who came to the village and ordered everyone to leave their homes and stand outside. The subsequent blasts caused cracks in many of the sandstone homes and water cisterns. Fits of vomiting and itchy skin afflicted the villagers after every test but these were dismissed by doctors who attributed the symptoms to “summer heat.”

The Terror War Twins: Tony and George moving in lock-step, leaning to the right. White House photo by Paul Morse.
Bush and Blair Conspire to Build Nastier Nukes
UK — What do George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon, AB Vajpayee and Pervez Mussaraff have in common? They are all bullish on A-bombs.

In 1988, Britain’s Labor government dramatically reversed the country’s nuclear policy. Britain retired all WE177 nuclear bombs, halted work on seven new Trident II missiles and reduced its active nuclear force to a single Trident submarine.

Now, with the direct and pointed encouragement of Washington, the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) is about to embark on a $3 billion program to expand its sprawling nuclear weapons facility at Aldermaston in Berkshire. If Whitehall gives the go-ahead, The Guardian reports, Aldermaston would buckle down to the work of designing and building new tactical mini-nukes and atomic warheads for Cruise missiles.

Britain’s nuclear policy has turned cat-in-pan to mirror the US push to renew the nuclear arms race. Unfortunately, this new generation of nukes could obliterate the last generation of humans. MoD Secretary Geoff Boon has echoed US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s expressed intent to build new, smaller nukes that could be used “preemptively” against “non-nuclear states or terrorist groups.”

The Guardian reports evidence of increasing cooperation between Bush and Blair in this team effort to wield the world’s biggest, baddest nuclear bat. In 1999, British scientists visited the US Nuclear Test Site (NST) in Nevada nine times. Last year, The Guardian reports, Britain’s wannabe nukemeisters visited the NST no less than 40 times — and convened 182 additional weapons related meetings with the Yanks. According to The Guardian, the US and UK now have 16 working groups on weapons issues, ranging from nuclear counter-terrorism to nuclear warhead physics.

Valentin Savitsky: The Man Who Prevented WW III
RUSSIA — The summer blockbuster K-19: The Widowmaker tells the long-suppressed story of the commander and heroic crew of a mechanically challenged Russian submarine (“Vladivostok, we have a problem.”) Meanwhile, a new book by Russian journalist Alexander Mozgovoi reveals the story of another Russian sub that found itself in hot water. As Mozgovoi explains, had it not been for the incredible restraint of one man, Captain Valentin Savitsky, the world as we know it today would not exist.

Savitsky commanded the B-59, a Foxtrot-class submarine that was surrounded by the US Navy during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Navy destroyers began hammering the sub with depth charges. The one-sided attack went on for hours until the Russian crew began to expire as oxygen supplies ran out and temperatures climbed above 122 degrees.

In a book about the incident written and released in June, one crewmember recalled that Capt. Savitsky was “furious and ordered an office in charge of a nuclear tipped torpedo to arm the weapon.” In addition to being under attack, Savitsky. Like the commander of K-19, had lost contact with his Soviet commanders. Savitsky feared that WW III might have erupted. “There may be a war raging up there and we are trapped here turning somersaults!” the Captain declared as he prepared to launch the nuclear weapon.

Fortunately, as AP reporter Vladimir Isachenkov wrote from Moscow, “Savitsky eventually controlled his anger and ordered the submarine to the surface.”

The world owes a great debt to Capt. Savitsky. He chose restraint over “honor.” One has to wonder how a US submarine commander might have responded in the same situation.

Essen, Essen, Mein Kind (und Kaufen das Wasser)
US/GERMANY/UK — Battles broke out in the streets of Bolivia when a subsidiary of the US multinational Bechtel attempted to take over the water supply system in Cochabamba. It wasn’t the take-over that raised the local ire as much as the rake-over — the new owners jacked up the price of water as much as 300 percent.

There could be trouble brewing in the US next. And you may want to brew a strong cup of coffee before attempting to follow what’s coming.

The West Virginia American Water Co. (WVAW) provides municipal water to 500,000 customers in Charleston and 15 counties in West Virginia. The WVAW is, in turn, owned by the American Water Works Co. (AWW). The AWW is located, not in West Virginia, as you might expect, but in New Jersey.

As America’s largest publicly traded water company, AWW is a prize asset in anyone’s ledger. And so it came to pass that another company has offered to acquire AWW for $4.6 million, a deal that would garner stockholders $46 per share.

The new owner would be RWE Aktiengesellschaft, a utility colossus headquartered in Essen, Germany. The planned sale caught most West Virginians by surprise. Charleston native Wilma Davis told the AP that she could not believe “that we would let the most precious resource we have… be sold to a foreign company.”

Two years ago, RWE purchased Britain’s Thames Water. If the acquisition is approved, West Virginia’s water supplies would be placed under the authority of Robert Bloor, a British citizen employed by Thames Water.

There are risks to local residents, the State Public Service Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division admits. As CAD lawyer Tony Sade expressed it to the Associated Press, West Virginia American “will become an itsy, bitsy, teeny part of a huge global business… that is acquiring companies right and left.”

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