Shocked and Persuaded


Separating Fact From Fiction

Fallen Update

The Department of Defense has identified 4,391 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war and 1,070 who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations. It confirmed the deaths of the following Americans yesterday:


CULVER, Ronald W. Jr., 44, Major, Army; Shreveport, La.; Second Squadron, 108th Cavalry.


BARTON, Christopher R., 22, Pfc., Army; Concord, N.C.; 101st Airborne Division. to date:

Iraq = 4,400 US, 179 UK, 139 Other = Total 4,718

Afghanistan = US 1,085, UK 288, Other 414 = Total 1,787

DOD-iCasualties to date:

Iraq = 9

Afghanistan = 15

Juiced! (aka Chart of the Day)

How bout this for proof? In full disclosure I am a diehard Yankees fan and I have no doubt that we benefitted from the juice with respect to Giambi, Sheffield, Kevin Brown (Benefit?). However, our core Mariano, Derek, Posada, O’Neill, etc were and will always be class acts.

Anyway to the data for your enjoyment.


Long Lost Brothers In Arms

I just read an article at Project Syndicate by Heizo Takenaka former Minister of Economics, Minister of Financial Reform, and Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications under former LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi; of Japan. Who cares you may ask? And you would be right for asking that….BUT the reason we should care is that if you replaced Japanese people and places with US people and places this article would read like a John Boehner or Mitch McConnell manifesto replete with the privatization, deregulation, reduced government spending, and lower taxes (See Friedman, M) mantra of these 2 esteemed leaders of the Republican party. This would be awesome and totally worth considering if it weren’t for 1 conveniently downplayed FACT….Mr. Takenaka’s party – prior to the current DPJ government that can’t get out of its own way with respect to broken promises – had had complete autonomy in Japan for the better part of 50 years. Likewise Messrs. Boehner and McConnell along with a moderate agenda going back to Gerald Ford have been running the show since the early seventies. Okay I know there was a brief hiccup by the name of Jimmy Carter, who decided the American people needed to hear certain truths that would prove hard to swallow. Well we canned his ass the next chance we got! The point is that these Monday morning quarterbacks are incapable of acknowledging their participation in the games to which they refer. Until they do this their rhetoric and bombastic critiques of current and future regimes will – in my humble but certain opinion – be comedic at best and counterproductive to the point of being obstructionist at worst. Do the current folks in office in Japan and the US and the soon to be Green administration in Columbia have problems? Sure lots of them and their growing by the day, but to say that the trouble a/o irresponsibility starts with them, while simultaneously ignoring their own malfeasance is the reason why I just can’t imagine why anyone would give such biased and myopic voices any type of local or global platform. Enough with the sectarian rhetoric!

Forget Peak Oil….Try Peak N, P, and K

Below I have plotted USDA data for Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potasssium (K) applied to crops in the US from 1960 to the present. You will notice two distinct trends (Ex. Fertilizer labels read – for example – 10-10-10 or something like that, which corresponds to 10 Parts N, P, and K Respectively):

1. Nitrogen is and has always been the predominant fraction of fertilizers. However, more importantly N:P ratios have risen at an alarming clip from 1.06 in 1960 to 2.88 in 2007, which translates to 271% in less than 40 years. This in itself is an unsustainable trend that genetic engineering will not be able to offset. Additionally, the ratio of P to K was 134% higher in 1960 with the pivot-point (i.e., more K than P applied) being 1976-1977 (Note: I wonder if it is in any way correlated with the awesome run the Grateful Dead had during that same time frame?).

2. The percent vs. Tons P & K curves, while largely decoupled prior to to 1978 have now converged, which means that more fertilizer needs to be applied – and energy expended – to get the same Energy Return On Investment. This is quite unfortunate given the apparant lake of Global P-Pools and the recent USGS report that quantified global P at 62 Gigatons (ie 1 Billion Tons) and K at 250 Gigatons.

This data demonstrates our reliance on not just Carbon (i.e., Oil) but also N, P, and K alike. It will come to pass that the import of these 3 elements will approach if not surpass that of Oil in the next 50 years mark my words! However, there are tons of ways to ameliorate this trend and they include the application of Industrial Policy to large-scale composting ventures…Not at the Federal level but rather within counties or municipalities. These would produce two sustainable and non-trivial revenue streams via the sale of compost and anaerobic digestion of methane gas. Additionally, these materials could easily be applied to agricultural operations across the country as a dry (No Soluble P or N responsible for eutrophication), nutrient rich, carbon dense amendment. NO ZERO SUM HERE!

My primary concern going forward is what I will call the CNPS Approach, which just means that instead of having such a strong and disproportionate Carbon-Bias policy needs to focus equally on the other two-thirds of the biogeochemical pie, which are Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P) (and Sulfur (S)). Everyone is familiar with the influence of CO2 and the established as well as nascent efforts aimed at monetizing carbon, but with some very simple modeling we could easily link the former to equally important Upward (i.e., CH4, N2O, and N2) and Downward Flows (i.e., NH4, NO3, PO4, and DOC) via emissions and leaching, respectively.


It Aint Just Carbon!

The importance of GDP to economic growth is exceeded by the importance of CNP in nature

It all started with the discovery by American oceanographer Alfred C. Redfield (1890-1963) that the ratio of Carbon (C) to Nitrogen (N) to Phosphorus (P) (C:N:P) of free-floating marine phytoplankton (seston) throughout the world was quite static and reflected the differences of dissolved nutrients in associated waters. The Redfield Ratio as it is known today is 106:16:1 for C:N:P, which means that for every unit of phosphorus there are 16 units of P and 106 units of C. The importance of this discovery for biologists was equated to Avogadro’s number or the speed of light in a vacuum by some scientists according to Sterner & Elser’s book “Ecological Stoichiometry”. Redfield’s Ratio has since been proven an overly generalized depiction of aquatic C:N:P, with an average of 354.4:20.1:1 across all manner of aquatic phytoplankton (See Chart 1).


Out of this discovery grew a very specialized but extremely important discipline called Ecological Stoichiometry, which is essentially a bunch of balanced equations describing how C, N, and P are transferred and transformed in ecosystems. It is quite a revolutionary and at the same time elementary concept, with detractors noting that Ecological Stoichiometry is either too complicated to be understood or too simple to be true. Another way to look at it is that Ecological Stoichiometry gives scientists the opportunity to quantitatively attach elemental importance to the balance of energy and materials. The name stoichiometry comes from the Greek root stoicheion for element and metron meaning measure. Broadly speaking the field focuses on C, N, P, to some extent sulfur (S), and rarely hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) or as scientists like to call them “The Big Six” for their ubiquity and import in all organic and some inorganic processes. Every constituent of this planet, whether living or dead, flora or fauna, above or belowground, land or sea has a unique stoichiometric ratio of these elements. Organisms must vigilantly maintain these ratios in order to survive, which is also the case for humans (homeostasis). In their book “The Natural Selection of the Chemical Elements: The Environment and Life’s Chemistry” Williams & Fraústo da Silva hypothesized that evolution from early to late prokaryotes, to unicellular eukaryotes, and eventually to complex multicellular eukaryotes was coupled with an increased affinity for homeostasis.

Homeostatic stoichiometry is the struggle to maintain a consistent internal chemistry, while an organism’s environment particularly the elemental makeup of its food fluctuates quite drastically. Some organisms – usually of the sedentary variety – display a flexible Ecological Stoichiometry. Their lack of mobility means they must capitalize on the resources available at any given point in time. Truly homeostatic creatures, whether they be ants (C:N:P = 4.8:12.0:1), snakes (C:N:P = 4.4:3.7:1), or the Dalai Lama (C:N:P = 13.3:6.3:1) are not, in the strict sense, what they eat, rather they maintain their C:N:P by a variety of unsavory and malodorous activities we won’t expand on here for fear of offending the faint of heart. Needless to say organisms that must maintain a narrow C:N:P will go to great lengths in pursuit of that goal even if it means no one to sit next to in the lunchroom. You know that stuff you accidently stepped in while walking down the sidewalk or in your local park? That present Fido left for you has a C:N:P of 9.7:0.9:1.

The question is why should we care about these ratios? Well for the answer let’s look to the most famous examples of balanced chemical reactions, photosynthesis [Eq. 1] and decomposition [Eq. 2]. After all when you peel away the layers of scientific mumbo-jumbo this is what Ecological Stoichiometry is all about. If you are starting to have horrible images of your Intro Organic Chemistry class now would be a good time to stop reading. Are you still here? Good. These two reactions drive plant growth [Eq. 1] and decay of everything from tree leaves (C:N:P = 18.6:8.2:1) to septic waste (C:N:P = 12.0:2.7:1). These reactions and those that produced the Redfield Ratio rely on what is called the Law of Definite Proportions.


The importance of the “Big Six” in nature is not hard to find. One need not look further than Adenosine Tri (ATP) and Diphosphate (ADP) the primary energy transfer molecules in cells for the importance of phosphorus, while sulfur is crucial to amino acids (i.e. cysteine) the primary precursors of proteins. Researchers have shown that the Stoichiometric formula for humans in number of atoms is:




Thus, we humans have a “Big Six” H:O:C:N:P:S Stoichiometry of 2.8:1.5:13.3:6.3:5.0:1. This may seem confusing but understanding how these elements flow into and around the human body or for that matter ecosystems tells us a great deal about the so-called “velocity of elements”. Many reading this have heard about the “velocity of money” in recent years and the importance of keeping the flow of money brisk and consistent. Well the same is true of elements and Ecological Stoichiometry is an important tool in determining where elements are backed-up or where they are moving too fast to be utilized. Two interconnected examples of the human condition’s influence on Ecological Stoichiometry are the Haber-Bosch process that fixes nitrogen gas to produce ammonia for N, P, and Potassium (K)-rich fertilizers and the Gulf Coast algal blooms in the US that have created consistent and ever expanding deadzones in the waters off the United State’s Gulf Coast. The latter is a direct function of excessive fertilizer application and manure production in the Mississippi River watershed, with manures having C:N:P of 20.3:7.0:1 and most fertilizers either having equal parts N:P:K (10:10:10) or an excess of P (10:20:10). Thus, Gulf Coast’s aquatic ecosystems are experiencing an increase in the velocity of Ecological Stoichiometry – specifically P – via the Mississippi river, which is leading to increases in algal production and decay all of which deplete the waters of oxygen.

Plants and animals adhere to relatively strict C:N:P (:S), because in theory they are trying to fulfill their maximum growth potential, even though such conditions in actuality might be completely illusory. Living beings want to find that stoichiometric “Sweet Spot”. Ecological Stoichiometry explains why we crave certain foods and can’t stand the sight of others. Ecological Stoichiometry, and specifically the C:N:P:S ratio, is a field of study and a natural process that will receive increasing attention in the coming years given the fact that humans are rapidly depleting the world’s supply of P, with 62 Gigatons remaining according to the USGS’ most recent estimates.

In addition, this ratio and its variability is responsible for phenomena such as acid rain in the northeastern US and Europe, and groundwater contamination in and around areas of heavy agriculture. Scientists have known since Redfield and earlier the importance of understanding the interconnectedness of the “Big Six” and more specifically C, N, P, and S. In 2000 Falkowski and colleagues compared natural and human-induced changes in the stoichiometry of earth and found that the change due to anthropogenic causes was 13%, 108%, 400%, and 113% for C, N, P, and S, respectively. Thus, our fascination with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) may be at best myopic and at worst dangerous. Forget the GDP what is your country or state’s CNP?

Complete Chart 1 From Above:


Beware Québécoise!

So it appears that Arizona successfully decoupled its laws from those of advanced society when Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed into Law SB 1070 last Friday whose “…aim is to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants.” The criteria police officers will use rely on something the law calls “reasonable suspicion”, which is about as big an umbrella category is you will find anywhere. Anyone with dark skin (THAT MEANS YOU JOHN BOEHNER!) will be forced to carry with them wherever they go documentation speaking to the validity of their residence in the United States. I find it amazing that the very same folks that pushed this bill out of one side of their mouth are on the other side accusing Barack Obama of being a Fascist. This DoubleSpeak is right out of George Orwell’s opus “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and is the type of rhetoric that has slowly but steadily been percolating up from right-wing hate groups since President Obama’s election. It is even creeping – overtly and covertly – into national politics with Pat Bertroche (R) vying for the 3rd District Congressional primary seat in Iowa noting that “I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal?” That’s very True Pat why don’t we just make a minor incision in everyone with dark skin, implant a microchip, and send them on their merry way. That makes complete sense and it doesn’t sound prima facie like it violates anyone’s human rights!

This uptick dovetails into The Southern Poverty Law Center’s documentation of mushrooming phenomena in their latest report “Rage on the Right”, which quantified a 244% increase in the number of “Patriot’ groups, from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009. This came at the same time as racist hate groups rose from an all-time high of 926 to 932 in 2009 and “nativist extremist” groups – vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants – grew from 173 to 309 (+80%) between 2008 and 2009.

This type of trend does not speak well for border states writ large. If Vermonters think that this type of sentiment will not rear its ugly head here with respect to Canadians in general and Québécoise specifically we’re fooling ourselves. The recent legal battle between the Rainsville’s of Franklin County and The Department of Homeland Security is in my opinion the opening salvo in a nascent fortification and potentially militarization of our border with Québéc. Janet Napolitano & Co. feel it is imperative that we fortify a crossing that experiences 2.5 cars an hour or 21,900 per year. If you consider that the monies allotted to this project amount to $5 million that averages out to $228 per car or with respect to the Rainville’s about 4.9 acres we’re talking about $1.02 million per acre. Either way you cut it I am sure Governor Douglas or his successor could find markedly more important things to do with this “stimulus”. For anyone interested in reading more about the Rainville matter I would refer you to Secretary Napolitano’s letter to Senator Leahy on March 10 of this year.

Needless to say we are seeing a growing sense of paranoia and misguided attempts at securing 1,969 miles (3,169 km) of Mexican- and 5,525 miles (8,891 km) of Canada-US borderland. We should work hard here in Vermont to insure that the 90 mile border we share with Québéc never even faintly resembles what those in Arizona are trying to construct. After all it is not immigrants, illegal or otherwise, forcing US-based multinationals to outsource thousands of jobs under the guise of globalized capitalism. How about a little more job protectionism and a little less racism cloaked in pseudo-patriotism.

Too Big To Fail

Size is not the appropriate restriction,” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the banking committee, who helped draft the regulatory bill. “The real question should be the level of inter-connectedness and the risk-taking we saw in the crisis of 2008.” Mr. Warner added, “The Dodd bill does provide ability for these banks to be broken up.”

So let me see if I have this straight Senator Warner your not concerned about the size of bangs with respect to Senator Kaufman and Senator Browns Safe Banking Act of 2010 – which would have limited the size of individual bank’s assets to 3% of GDP (6 Largest banks currently account for 63% of GDP) and the all important leverage factor to 16 to 1 (It had risen to 30 & 40 to 1 at places like Bear Sterns and Lehman) –  but you want to minimize inter-connectedness?

Well let me ask you a simple question: If you go to a family reunion and their are only 6 Warner’s – or whatever your mother’s maiden name was – at the shindig are you more or less likely to be “inter-connected” with those individuals than if that reunion instead included 100 of your nearest and dearest relatives?

See this is classic talking out of both sides of your mouth. As Stephen Roach likes to say you can’t have both decoupling and globalization at the same time. Pick your Poisson Senator Warner: Inter-connectedness or TBTF?

Misdirected Attention

From an interesting article by Joschka Fischer on Project Syndicate:

In Iraq, the question of power-sharing between Sunnis and Shia has neither been resolved or secured institutionally in such a way that would definitively prevent a slide back into civil war after the majority of US troops withdraw in 2011.

Quite simply the reply to this is that while Sunni v. Shia may be the short-term cyclical conflict of most importance it is clear from this reader’s perspective that the long-term structural problem is the Kurdish Northeast (Large concentrated oilfields) v. the predominantly Arab rest of Iraq (Small dispersed oilfields). The Trigger Line as this separation is known will prove a chronic issue and one that no amount of troops, drones, or Maliki/Obama DoubleSpeak will resolve.

Nuance is the name of the game in Iraq and the quicker we in the US brush up on it the quicker we will be equipped to hold our politicians feet to the fire on the off chance they show their faces around town. I would imagine the heat will turn up even more when water becomes more restricting…Again a short-term cyclical (Oil) v. long-term structural (Water) paradox, only this one will be a matter of life or internal combustion. In the words of Hindu priest Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati “Without electricity, you can survive. One can’t survive without water…”

Quote of the Day

“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline—it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”

There will never be a nuclear war; there’s too much real estate involved.

Frank Zappa