Wednesday, January 27, 2016

HOW TO SEE THE WORLD/NICHOLAS MIRZOEFF



Ernest C. Withers I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Assemble Outside Clayborn Temple, Memphis, TN

Source: 'For All The World To See' /Visual Culture & The Struggle for Civil Rights

This is a review of  'How To See The World' by Nicholas Mirzoeff - a very important book for our time. Its about visual culture. Its radical in its implications.

The crucial insight which led to the concept of 'visual culture' - later simply defined as 'a history of images'  - came from John Berger's celebrated 1972 tv series and book. Berger defined the image as 'a sight which has been recreated or reproduced' which, Mirzoeff explains, 'flattened the hierarchy of the arts by making a painting or sculpture equivalent in this sense to a photograph or an advertisement.'

Berger, in turn, had drawn on a famous 1936 essay by the German critic Walter Benjamin 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' (only translated in English in 1968). Not only had photography destroyed the notion of the unique image (as many copies could be made) but also the growth of high-quality reproductions in papers and magazines suggested to Benjamin that a new era was at hand.

Mirzoeff believes that, 'With the astonishing rise of digital images and imaging, it surely seems that we are experiencing another such moment. Firstly a photo was created by light; digital photos, on the other hand, are 'a sampling of what hits the sensor rendered into computer language and computed into something we can see.'

In addition, he writes, 'what we are experiencing with the Internet is the first truly collective medium...There is a new 'us' on the Internet and using the Internet, that is different from any 'us' that print culture or media culture has seen before....From the new feminisms  to the idea of the 99 per cent, people are reimagining how they belong and what that looks like.'

In the process of positing photos and videos on the web, Mirzoeff suggests we are trying to make sense of our changing world. This piece of text is from his website. It neatly pulls together key ideas from the book.

Three students holding a banner that reads "Soyez réaliste, demandez l'impossible" (Be realistic, demand the impossible), a slogan from the Mai 1968 student movement in France, during pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong on Monday. Photo: AFP

Three students holding a banner that reads "Soyez réaliste, demandez l'impossible" (Be realistic, demand the impossible), a slogan from the Mai 1968 student movement in France, during pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong on Monday. Photo: AFP

BE REALISTIC, DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE

'The world is changing. Can you see it yet? Since 2008, there has been a dramatic explosion of visual imagery. At the same time, the world has changed in four key ways–and that’s not counting the financial crisis. The two patterns are closely related. We take pictures to understand the change that has happened. And then we use them to make social change.
'Imagery is everywhere: one trillion photos were taken in 2014. 700 million SnapChat photos are posted every day. Three hundred hours of YouTube video are uploaded every minute. To put this in perspective: in 2012, there were “only” 250 billion photos taken, so the number has quadrupled in three years. Every two minutes, US residents alone take more photographs than were taken throughout the 19th century.
'The world is changing: since 2008, most people live in cities for the first time. By 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 66%. Two out of every three people will live in cities that take up about 4% of the world’s surface. Since 2011, most people are aged under thirty. Since 2014, roughly half the world’s population has access to the Internet. And in 2014, the result of all this networked urbanization was that CO2 passed 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years.'

Global population under 30. Darker areas have higher percentage.

Global population under 30. Darker areas have higher percentage.

Mirzoeff's final chapter is headlined VISUAL ACTIVISM which highlights the fact that we need a revolution of vision, of purpose, maybe hope. We must find new ways of representing ourselves.

He writes:'Visionary organising is a way of thinking about how we might use our creative energies to better ends than cutting jobs and increasing profits. It is another form of visual activism. People around the world are coming to similar conclusions and finding new ways to engage with how to imagine change.'

The emerging visual vocabulary, 'is collective and collaborative, containing archiving, networking, researching and mapping among other tools, all in the service of a vision of making change....we can actively use visual culture to create new self images, new ways to see and be seen and new ways to see the world. That is visual activism.'



Visual Activism In An Uncertain world

Wangechi Mutu
This sculpture entitled “She’s Got The Whole World in Her Hands” by Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu visualized the condition of global visual culture in 2015: the typical person is a young, urban woman living in the global South. She probably has some kind of access to the Internet (45 percent worldwide now do). How she sees things is very rarely the concern of mainstream Western media, which might explain why they do such a bad job explaining what’s happening, let alone anticipating what might happen next.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

INSIDE DOPE: THE GREEN RUSH / MARIJUANA IN THE US/UK & EUROPE



It couldn't be put more plainly.  The 'Marijuana Weekly News Roundup' on the 24/7 Wall street site (published 24th Jan 2016) highlights the opening extract from '15 Post-Prohibition Wants from Cannabis Consumers and Businesses':

'It should abundantly clear to all but the most cloistered politically that nearly 80 years of cannabis prohibition is ending with states (notably on the West coast, Colorado, and in New England) leading the way to national legalization.

In 2016, there will be more pro-cannabis law reform bills introduced into both federal and state legislatures than any previous years, and more states than at any previously time will have legalization ballot measures before apparently willing voters (California, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maine; Gallup polling currently pegs nationwide support for cannabis legalization at 58 percent). 

In addition, the major political party candidates for the office of President of the United States have been, for the first time ever in American politics, regularly debating the topic of cannabis policy (i.e., Sen. Bernie Sanders favors legalization, and Gov. Chris Christie favors “stopping the states” pot party on Day One).

In the waning days of national cannabis prohibition, historically speaking, cannabis law reform organizations that have been at the vanguard of public advocacy to replace pot prohibition with tax-and-regulate policies, along with the millions of cannabis consumers these groups represent, have 15 areas of concern that will be pursued post prohibition.


The original piece was written by Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML  - the National Organisation to Reform the Marijuana Laws, formed in 1970 and based in Washington, D.C. (www.norml.org). The article appears in full on the Cannabis Business Executive website.
24/7 Wall St is a Delaware corporation which runs a financial news and opinion company with content delivered over the Internet. Its name pops up again in news story from USA Today (4 Jan 2016).
The paper reports that marijuana has been illegal in the US for nearly 80 years and that nationwide, from 2001 to 20010, there have been 8.2 million arrests for marijuana. Medical use of marijuana was first made legal in California in 1996 and is now legal in 23 states. Four of these have legalised marijuana for recreational use as well.
'Despite evolving opinions among voters and legislators, some states still seem unlikely to pass any kind of meaningful reform in the near future. Based on a review of marijuana laws and penalties for possession, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 11 least likely states to legalize marijuana - which includes Alabama, Georgia, Idaho and Indiana.

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MEXICO/CANADA

'Many top companies cashing in on legal cannabis are considering a bet on Mexico after a Supreme Court decision raised hopes for a legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in a country reeling from years of gruesome drug violence. [More than 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars in the past decade]

From medical marijuana growers to pot private equity firms, many weed entrepreneurs see Mexico as a tempting new business opportunity even though cannabis is still illegal and the market is currently controlled by ruthless drug cartels.

"Me personally, I'm not afraid to go to Mexico," said Daniel Sparks, head of government affairs at BioTrackTHC, a U.S.-based provider of marijuana supply-chain software.

He said that just as mafia groups and bootleggers gave up on illicit moonshine after Prohibition ended in the United States, Mexico's drug gangs would have little interest in a legal marijuana market, especially if it lured in reputable pharmaceutical and tech firms.

"I am not so optimistic to think that a cannabis business in Mexico would not encounter opposition or violence from the cartels. However, their profit margins are being eroded daily, monthly and yearly by the continued expansion of medical and recreational marijuana programs in more and more U.S. states."

'Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has promised to legalize the drug and a Supreme Court decision in November opened the door for Mexico to one day follow suit, prompting the ruling party to present a bill to regulate medical marijuana.

'...Uruguay blazed a trail in 2013 by becoming the first country to allow the commercial cultivation and distribution of weed. But it has struggled to roll out the project and legal marijuana won't be available on pharmacy shelves until mid-2016, about 18 months later than planned.

Source: 'Marijuana Inc. eyes Mexico as drug liberalization looms' by Gabriel Stargardter [Reuters/20 Jan 2016]



'Marijuana is the latest craze to sweep through the tech world, as entrepreneurs and investors look to cannabis to be the next big thing. Legislation is in place in four states and the District of Columbia, while a further 19 states have legalised medical marijuana, even while it remains illegal at the federal level. California is already the biggest medical marijuana market in the country, and the line has blurred between medical and recreational users because medical recommendations are easy for anyone to obtain. The state is expected to vote [in 2016] on a referendum that would fully legalise it for recreational use.'
'The Silicon Valley version of the "green rush" looks a little different. It involves slick apps, software and founders who talk about big data and algorithms.'
This article by Leslie Hook was published August 8/9th 2015. She says that AngelList, a site for micro start-ups and investors lists more than 300 marijuana start-ups in the US. We checked the site today and that figure has risen to 435 with 2703 investors. Hook says investment in marijuana-related companies reached $200m in the past twelve months, four times the level the previous year (CB insights).
There's a race on for delivery services. Hook profiles Keith McCarthy who set up Eaze - "the Uber for pot". It already delivers marijuana to  60 cities across California; some cities' laws are more friendly towards cannabis deliveries than others. On paper and technically Eaze iss a software service that connects customers with dispensaries. The customer orders, the driver works for the dispensary and the customer pays him in cash which goes back to the dispensary who pay Eaze a fee. McCarty says: "We don't touch the plant".He pays 10,000 ambassadors to promote the service; they earn $10 per referral.
Hook explains how the legal system works. At a federal level, marijuana is highly illegal and is ranked alongside heroin, Ecstasy and LSD. but the federal ban is not enforced in states where medical marijuana is legal. In December 2014, Congress passed a bill protecting states' medical marijuana programmes.
However banks will not allow marijuana businesses to open accounts so the industry is cash based.
The story gets more interesting when Hook comes to Privateer, a private equity company that 'founds, incubates, acquires and invests in cannabis companies globally. They raised $75m in investment, the biggest single investment in the industry to date. It is active in Canada, Jamaica and Uruguay.
In November 2014, Privateer launched Marley Natural, which they described as the "first world cannabis brand", developed in conjunction with Marley's family and descendants.

The advert for Marley Natural, designed by the people behind the Starbucks logo 
There is a great story by Max Dailey in Vice (November 2014)  which angrily trashes the whole deal.See: ' Marley Natural: The Weed That Manages to Sell Out Both Bob Marley and Jamaica

While companies like Privateer have their eyes on creating killer brands, the pot farmers of the Emerald Triangle are getting organised. They believe cannabis should remain  in the hands of small farmers rather than large commercial operations. 
The Emerald Triangle  in Northern California  covers three counties - Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity - which have just the right conditions for growing this delicate plant. 
Hook claims that this area (slightly smaller than Belgium) supplies about half the cannabis in the US and his been in business since the 60s. No-one knows for sure the total size of the marijuana crop but one estimate for Mendocino County alone was 5 million plants generating $2.6bn to $5.4bn at wholesale prices.
For many years the Mexican cartels importing illegal cannabis into the US but now the flow is in the other direction, according to the DEA.
Flow Kana, a business aimed at delivering organic outdoor grown cannabis direct to discerning customers. Run by Venezuelan/Aamerican entrepreneur  Michael Steinmetz. He told the Financial Times: "Cannabis is going to be so huge."
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This is a remarkable cover story from  National Geographic focusing on the science of marijuana. There's a lot of loose talk and dumb 'facts' about the subject so this well-researched article with stunning pics is extremely valuable.
Its author Hampton Sides says: "For nearly 70 years the plant went into hiding and medical research largely  stopped. Now the science of cannabis is experiencing a rebirth. We're finding surprises, and possibly miracles, concealed inside this once forbidden plant."
The main problem is the fact that marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Bills to reclassify it to Schedule II have been introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Unless this change is made, scientific research in this area will be hampered.
Sides quotes Vivek Murphy, the US surgeon general, who concedes that preliminary data shows that "for certain medical conditions and symptoms" it can be "helpful".
Sides' first interview is with an eminent professor named Raphael Mechoulam who, as a young organic chemist, decided to investigate the chemical composition of marijuana which, amazingly, had never been done before. It was not known at that time what the psychoactive ingredient of the plant was. He says: "It was a mess, a melange of unidentified compounds."
Long story short,  Mechoulam and his colleague discovered tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and, in addition, cannabidiol (CBD), another key ingredient that has medical uses but no psychoactive effect.
He has subsequently authored 400 scientific papers, holds 25 patents and has established in Israel, the world's most advanced medical marijuana programme which, writes Side, 'has more than 20,000 patients being treated with cannabis for such conditions as glaucoma, Crohn's disease, inflammation, appetite loss, Tourette's syndrome and asthma.'
In 1992, he and colleagues also discovered the first of several endocannabinoids - chemical compounds that humans and animals naturally synthesise, which activate the same receptors as THC. They act on our brain in much the way endorphins do. Machoulam named his first discovery anandamide - a Sanskrit word meaning "supreme joy".
 After a lifetime's study he still calls cannabis a "medicinal treasure trove waiting to be discovered...We have just scratched the surface and I greatly regret that I don't have another lifetime to devote to this field, for we may well discover that cannabinoids are involved in some way in all human diseases."
Side goes on to interview Botanist Philip Hague who runs one of the largest cannabis companies in the world named Mindful.  He comments: "We have to recognise that humans evolved with it practically since the dawn of time. It's older than writing. Cannabis is part of us, and it always has been. It spread from Central Asia after the last ice age and went out across the planet with man."
Manuel Guzman is a biochemist who has been studying cannabis fore 20 years investigating its effect on brain tumours. Following successful animal trials, the first ever human trials are underway. It seems a cocktail of THC, CBD and another conventional drug works best.
Finally, Side meets Nolan Kane who specialises in evolutionary biology and is attempting to map the genome of cannabis - a sequence of some 800 million nucleotides. He has already mapped the sunflower's genome which has 3 1/2 billion nucleotoides!. What he has to say is inspiring. He believes cannabis is "an embarassment of riches" and that the scientific investigation of it will be transformative.
"Transformative not just in our understanding of the plant but also of ourselves - our brains, our neurology, our psychology. Transformative in terms of its impact across several different industries, including medicine, agriculture and biofuels. It may even transform part of our diet - hemp seed is known to be a ready source of a very healthy, protein-rich soil."

The full version of this great article can be read here: 
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Courier is a quarterly London-based publication covering stories of modern business. In their Summer 2015 issue they asked the question: Are You Ready For Consumer Cannabis? 

Inside their eight-page feature is billed 'Making A Killing On Cannabis'.

'Rarely does an enormous, totally virgin industry emerge with guaranteed demand, where startups are better placed to capitalise than big corporates. Beyond the ethical debate around legislation of cannabis, it's this tantalising commercial prospect that's getting a growing number of people excitedly sizing up opportunities and making business plans in anticipation of a change in law.'

The first part: 'The State of Play' provides some interesting information on the UK situation.

Some 1,000 tonnes of cannabis are grown illegally in the UK each year and a further 200 tonnes are imported from the Netherlands, Morocco and elsewhere. This is consumed by 2.5 million users and this industry turns over £6.8bn per annum.

The UK is consuming less cannabis than ever. Weed smoking amongst 15-34-year-olds has halved over the last 15 years.

80% of the weed consumed in the UK is now grown domestically, up from 20% ten years ago.

A 'Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol' party  in the UK is campaigning for a Royal Commission on cannabis...we are confident that the experts would recommend legislation.' See: http://cista.org/


The epicentre of recreational cannabis use in Europe has switched to Spain where sales are effectively legal through increasingly popular weed growing clubs. This, it seems, is partly due to the deteriorating situation in Amsterdam, whose coffee houses were for decades a symbol of tolerance towards cannabis smoking, designed to avoid criminalising large numbers of young people.

Whilst its legal for the coffee shops to sell cannabis it illegal for them to buy it or grow it. This meant the supply chain was taken over by criminal gangs. More recently there has been a boom in cannabis growing in the Netherlands and an explosion of weed tourists.

As a result, recent governments have cracked down hard on the trade. Prosecutions of suppliers have shot up, grow shops have been raided as have some fertiliser companies.

As for coffee shops, in 2012 attempts were made to ban foreigners from them. It worked in some cities but not in Amsterdam. Foreign-owned coffee shops have been closed and 28 other coffee shops which were ruled as being too close to schools have also gone in the capital.



Sunday, January 24, 2016

EDWARD SNOWDEN / MAKING SURVEILLANCE VISIBLE





“I don't want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded.”

Its taken me two years to catch up with the Edward Snowden documentary 'Citizenfour', directed by Laura Poitras and have just discovered that Oliver Stone's movie 'Snowden' goes on general release in May this year. 'Citizen Four' is gripping, scary, thought-provoking. I now know I am a citizen in a country which has the highest level of personal surveillance of any country in the world (Snowden reveals).

Edward Snowden, the American computer professional leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's GCHQ to the mainstream media starting in June 2013.

Here is the main website where you can donate to Snowden's legal costs and find out a helluva lot about who he is, where he's coming from and his motivation:  https://www.edwardsnowden.com/

The Intercept is an online publication launched in February 2014 by First Look Media, the news organization created and funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill are the editors. The magazine serves as a platform to report on the documents released by Edward Snowden in the short term, and to "produce fearless, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues" in the long term. [Source/Wikipedia]

In partnership with The Intercept, artist Trevor Paglen offers a glimpse of America’s vast surveillance infrastructure, photographing three of the United States’ most powerful intelligence agencies—including the NSA—and placing the images in the public domain.


'The photographs below.... show three of the largest agencies in the U.S. intelligence community. The scale of their operations were hidden from the public until August 2013, when their classified budget requests were revealed in documents provided by Snowden.
 Three months later, I rented a helicopter and shot nighttime images of the NSA’s headquarters.

















NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY (NSA)
With a 2013 budget request of approximately $10.8 billion, the NSA is the second-largest agency in the U.S. intelligence community. It is headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland.

I did the same with the NRO, which designs, builds and operates America’s spy
 satellites
NATIONAL RECONNAISSANCE OFFICE (NRO)The NRO is in charge of developing, deploying and operating reconnaissance satellites. With a budget allocation of $10.3 billion, it is the third-largest U.S. intelligence agency. Its headquarters are in Chantilly, Virginia.
and with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which maps and analyzes imagery, connecting geographic information to other surveillance data.
NATIONAL GEOSPATIAL-INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (NGA)
The NGA is responsible for collecting, analyzing and distributing intelligence derived from imagery. According to documents provided by Edward Snowden, the NGA’s latest budget request was $4.9 billion—more than double its funding a decade ago. It is headquartered in Springfield, Virginia.
The Central Intelligence Agency—the largest member of the intelligence community—denied repeated requests for permission to take aerial photos of its headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
 'My intention is to expand the visual vocabulary we use to “see” the U.S. intelligence community.
 Although the organizing logic of our nation’s surveillance apparatus is invisibility and secrecy, its operations occupy the physical world.
Digital surveillance programs require concrete data centers; intelligence agencies are based in real buildings; surveillance systems ultimately consist of technologies, people, and the vast network of material resources that supports them.
If we look in the right places at the right times, we can begin to glimpse America’s vast intelligence infrastructure.
These new images of the NSA, NRO and NGA are being placed in the public domain without restriction, to be used by anyone for any purpose whatsoever, with or without attribution'

paglen_bio
Trevor Paglen's work deliberately blurs lines between science, contemporary art, journalism and other disciplines to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to see and interpret the world around us.
He is the author of five books and numerous articles on subjects including experimental geography, state secrecy, military symbology, photography and visuality. His most recent book, The Last Pictures, is a meditation on the intersections of deep time, politics and art.

The artist who maps the twilight world of the surveillance agencies by Jemima Kiss [The Guardian 11/10/14]


Saturday, January 23, 2016

MONEY FUTURES: THE CASHLESS SOCIETY/BITCOIN



Cash accounts for about 85% of global consumer transactions but a number of countries are moving steadily towards a cashless society as a wide variety of non-cash options for making payments expands. It could be dubbed the 'Privatisation of Money' - cash has always been a state-driven public utility whereas cash-replacement is a private endeavor.


Here are the front-runners: the first percentage figure is for the non-cash payments' share of total of consumer payments; the second is the percentage of the population who have a debit card. These statistics (which date from April 2015) come from www.letstalkpayments.com

Belgium: 93%/ 86%
France: 92%/ 69%
Canada: 90%/ 88%
UK: 89%/ 88%
Sweden: 89%/ 96%
Australia: 86%/79%
The Netherlands: 85%/ 98%

This is a useful up-to-date glbal summary: 'Around the World in 80 Payments: global moves to a cashless economy'  [The Conversation.com/Jan 2016]

To understand the complexities and implications of this move away from hard cash, this post concentrates on what is happening in Sweden which has been the topic of a wide variety of journalism over recent months. Its a interesting story.

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Sweden was the first European country to implement paper money (1661) and is now amongst the first to try and eliminate it. The sign "Vi hanterar ej kontanter" ("We don't accept cash"). is everywhere. Even the homeless sellers of street newspapers now carry mobile card readers and church collections are paid by contactless cards. When there was a spate of attacks on bus drivers for their fare, Stockholm banned cash on public transport. Apparently one of the only areas where you still need cash is to purchase illegal drugs.

Between 2010 and 2012 alone, more than 500 branches of the six largest Nordic banks have gone cash free and, in that same period, 900 cash machines were removed. (Sweden installed its first ATM machine in 1967, two years before the U.S). Supermarket check-outs are now one of the last places where cash can be obtained.

According to Niklas Arvidsson, a professor at Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology and author of "The Cashless Society", the advantage to the banks of this move is that they can eliminate bank robberies, theft and dirty money, which chimes in with a government crackdown on crime and terrorists. 

"At the offices which do handle banknotes and coins, the customer must explain where the cash comes from, according to the regulations aimed at money laundering and terrorist financing," he says. Bank staff are required to file police reports in response to suspicious cash transactions. 

In addition, if all payments are digital then the bank can monitor exactly how much money each customer spends where on what. 

Conducting commerce with cash costs both banks and business money. It is certainly in the interest of banks to price cash out of the market as they are and will earn substantial income through card and electronic payments.

In a country where bank cards are routinely used for even the smallest purchases, there are less than 80 billion Swedish crowns in circulation (about EUR8 billion), a sharp decline from 2009's figure of  106 billion. Only some 40 and 60 percent is actually in regular circulation.

Arvidsson explains that his fellow citizens have a relaxed attitude towards these drastic changes for three basic reasons: firstly most Scandinavians have not carried any cash or been to a bank in years; secondly the Swedes appear to have a much higher level of trust when it comes to the handling of their personal data by banks or their government; thirdly, they have enthusiastically embraced digital technology.  

Sweden is the first country in which every child gets a government-issued iPad on the first day of school and they learn to write on a keyboard and not by hand. Children's pocket money is transferred to their bank account. 

Also Sweden is approaching an environment of negative interest rates, which puts pressure on customers, in the form of higher bank charges or fees, to spend their money. Eriksson says "I've heard of people keeping cash in their microwaves because banks won't accept it."

One of the drivers of the change to a cashless future is an app called Swish, developed through a collaboration between major Swedish and Danish banks. This allows people to digitally transfer funds between bank accounts as quickly as handing over cash. Swish now has over 3 million users, out of a population of 9.5 million.

"There is also a demographic development behind this," says  Arvidsson."Younger people do not start using cash but instead move directly into new services, while older people—who are the most frequent users of cash—reduce their spending as they get older and older."

Sweden could get close to eliminating cash in 8 or 10 years although Arvidsson believes that a change in the law to make cash no longer legal tender will not happen until around 2040.
New Swedish notes and coins have recently been introduced.

According to Helen Russell in The Guardian:

 The country’s highest-profile cash-free campaigner is Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus. After his son was robbed several years ago, Ulvaeus became an evangelist for the electronic payment movement, claiming that cash was the primary cause of crime and that “all activity in the black economy requires cash”.
The man who composed 'Money, Money, Money' has been living cash-free for more than a year and says the only thing he misses is “a coin to borrow a trolley at the supermarket”. Abba the Museum has operated cash-free since opening in May 2013 and Ulvaeus says Sweden “could and should be the first cashless society in the world”.
The drive to a cashless society is supported by the UN Capital Development Fund’s Better Than Cash Alliance which aims to accelerate the shift to electronic payments, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MasterCard and Visa among others. 

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How much boosterism there is in the above narrative must be questioned in the light of info from business website Quartz. They claim that:
 '...data from the European Central Bank indicate that Swedes, while enthusiastic about bank cards and digital payments, still regularly withdraw quite a bit of money from ATMs. Surveys from the Riksbank show that for transactions under 100 kronor, 41% of people still prefer to use cash.'
They also claim that 'Arvidsson himself has admitted that Sweden might never be entirely cash-free: a certain sentimentality will always be tied to the country’s bank notes, even if people don’t want to use them.'



Helen Russell reports: “A recent survey I worked on showed that two-thirds of Swedes think carrying cash is a human right,” says Arvidsson. “We like having our own currency and it fits in with the identity of being a Swede; we’re even releasing new banknotes in 2015. So people like to know their cash is there, even if they don’t necessarily use it.”

 There are some obstacles to a cash-free society. Computers and mobile phones are challenging for older people. Quartz claims that the Swedish National Pensioners’ Organization, which represents some 400,000 of the country’s elderly, says 7% of its members never use bank cards. Many live in rural areas where there is insufficient digital infrastructure. The homeless and undocumented immigrants are other groups that will struggle to survive in a society without cash. 

 Helen Russell's take on the same subject: 'There is, however, concern about how well Sweden’s 1.8 million pensioners – out of a total population of 10m – will adapt. “A lot of elderly people feel excluded when you need to use cash cards or your mobile phone to take a bus or use public toilets,” says Johanna Hållén of the Swedish National Pensioners’ Organisation. “Only 50% of our members use cash-cards everywhere and 7% never use cash-cards. So we want the government to take things slowly.”

She also highlights another issue: 'The digital payment revolution is also a challenge for tourists, who need pre-paid tickets or a mobile registered in Sweden to catch a bus in the capital. Many have also endured mild chaos at the one of the country’s first cashless festivals this summer when the payment system broke down and people ended up resorting to old-fashioned IOUs.'

Not everyone is  convinced of the idea. Björn Eriksson, a former police chief and head of Interpol, who now heads a lobbying group for the security industry, takes the view that this is just a money-making plot by the banks. He points out there may have been a dramatic fall in bank robberies but this is matched by a steep rise in cybercrime. 

According to figures from Sweden's Ministry of Justice quoted in The Guardian, in 2014 there were 140,000 electronic fraud cases, almost double the amount ten years ago.

Sweden may be aiming for the chance to be the world’s first cashless society but as we can see from the upfront table at the start of this post, its possible that other countries might get there first.

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 Sources: 
'Sweden: We Don't Accept Cash' by Mikael Krogerus [Credit-Suisse.com]

'Sweden gets closer to being the first cashless society with negative interest rates' by Jim Edward [October 2015/UK Business Insider]

'Sweden is on track to becoming the first cashless nation' [October 2015/Phys.org]

'Will Sweden be the first country to get rid of cash' [fastcoexist.com]

'Sweden is on its way to becoming the first cashless society on earth' by Amy X. Wang [Quartz/October 2015]

'Welcome to Sweden - the most cash-free society on the planet' by Helen Russell [The Guardian 12th November 2014]

'In Sweden where even banks shun cash' by Liz Alderman [ International New York Times/28 Dec 2015]




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PS:  Christopher Mimms in the MIT Technology Review (Feb 2012) on 'The End of Money' by Wired contributing editor David Wolman: 

[It's] 'ostensibly about the twilight of cash and its replacement with a panoply of more efficient means of exchange. (Think transfers via NFC on smartphones and biometric wallets.) But Wolman is such a thorough reporter of the subject that it’s possible to finish his (excellent, highly readable) book and come away with a conclusion opposite his own.'
He concludes: 'The problem with all of the arguments for a cashless society is that they’re rational, and our attachment to cash is not. This might be less true in nations that have already given up their national currency to become part of a regional currency block (the EU, and countries like El Salvador that have adopted the dollar as a national currency), but as long as there are financial superpowers whose paper money is covered with what amounts to propaganda for the strength of their central banks, cash is here to stay.'
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BITCOIN 

If, like me, you have found it hard to get your head around the nature and purpose of Bitcoin you may find this piece in The Economist useful. It begins:

'BITCOIN, the world’s “first decentralised digital currency”, was launched in 2009 by a mysterious person (or persons) known only by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. It has been in the news this week as the value of an individual Bitcoin, which was just $20 at the beginning of February, hit record highs above $250, before falling abruptly to below $150 on April 11th. What exactly is Bitcoin, and how does it work?


'Unlike traditional currencies, which are issued by central banks, Bitcoin has no central monetary authority. Instead it is underpinned by a peer-to-peer computer network made up of its users’ machines, akin to the networks that underpin BitTorrent, a file-sharing system, and Skype, an audio, video and chat service. Bitcoins are mathematically generated as the computers in this network execute difficult number-crunching tasks, a procedure known as Bitcoin “mining”. The mathematics of the Bitcoin system were set up so that it becomes progressively more difficult to “mine” Bitcoins over time, and the total number that can ever be mined is limited to around 21m. There is therefore no way for a central bank to issue a flood of new Bitcoins and devalue those already in circulation.'

More basic information on this Bitcoin site: https://bitcoin.org/en/you-need-to-know

 In a major story (Jan 14th 2016) New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper reveals that 'a nasty fight has torn apart the small brotherhood of Bitcoin developers and raised questions about the survival of the virtual currency.'

A more recent story in Newsweek (22nd Jan 2016) by Nicolas Cary 'Bitcoin: Too Big To Fail':
'The death of bitcoin has been proclaimed once again. Prominent developer Mike Hearn’s recent comments that the bitcoin experiment was over mark the 89th time the digital currency has been pronounced dead since it first launched in 2009, at least according to one website dedicated to tracking bitcoin obituaries. While it’s sad to see a talented programmer like Hearn turn his back on bitcoin, there are still thousands of people working on making the world’s first digital currency a success.
'The bitcoin network has been running without interruption for seven years now; a feat no banking system can claim. Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology—an online ledger that records every bitcoin transaction—represent a fundamental innovation that can dramatically speed up transaction times.'

Published today: Big Miners Back Bitcoin Classic As Scaling Debate Evolves


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

NUCLEAR NEWS1: CAN NUCLEAR POWER SAVE US FROM CLIMATE CHANGE

 This is a rare copy of a newspaper we produced in Summer 1978 to coincide with a worldwide Nuclear Week protest; also drawing attention to the Windscale Enquiry [now Sellafield]. The cover illustration is by Ralph Steadman. The paper was produced for Friends of The Earth.

The debate between pro- and anti-nuclear voices has been raging since the 50s both over nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. It continues to this day with some new wrinkles.

The green movement has always been staunchly anti-nuclear but in recent years there has been a growing number of environmentalists in the broadest sense who have spoken out on the need for an expansion of nuclear reactors in order to try and address climate change.

In a Previous Post on THE GENERALIST [Nuclear: The Big Sell, The Big Worry/Tuesday, June 14, 2005] I highlighted the coming-out of  Jim Lovelock (author of Gaia) in a front-page Opinion piece in The Independent  [23rd May 2004]  in which he advocated a massive expansion of nuclear power as the only sensible green solution to climate change. The story was presented as if an environmentalist had turned pro-nuclear; in fact, as I have written elsewhere, Lovelock was always pro-nuclear.

The rebuttal came on the 26th June when the Independent  published Nuclear Power 'Can't Stop Climate Change' by Geoffrey Lean which contradicted Lovelock's position:

 'Nuclear power cannot solve global warming, the international body set up to promote atomic energy admits today. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which exists to spread the peaceful use of the atom, reveals in a new report that it could not grow fast enough over the next decades to slow climate change - even under the most favorable circumstances. The report - published to celebrate yesterday's 50th anniversary of nuclear power - contradicts a recent surge of support for the atom as the answer to global warming.'





In another Previous Post [Stewart Brand; Reinventing Environmental Thinking/Saturday, October 17, 2009] Brand puts his support behind George Bush's plan to build a network of micro nuclear reactors across the planet.

I set out to find out where we are with this new technology. In a Jan 2014 piece in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists entitled 'Are small nuclear reactors the answer?' by
Kennette Benedict, she concludes:
In the realm of nuclear technology, however, the enormous expense required to launch a new model as well as the built-in dangers of nuclear fission require a more straightforward relationship between problem and solution. Small modular nuclear reactors may be attractive, but they will not, in themselves, offer satisfactory solutions to the most pressing problems of nuclear energy: high cost, safety, and weapons proliferation.

In a piece in The Guardian, Damian Carrington reports that Osborne is going for it.

[George Osborne puts UK at the heart of global race for mini-nuclear reactors /Tuesday 24 November 2015] 
The UK could be the global centre of a new nuclear industry in mini-reactors that are trucked into a town near you to provide your hot water, or shipped to any country that wants to plug them into their electricity grid from the dock.
The chancellor, George Osborne, revealed on Wednesday that at least £250m will be spent by 2020 on an “ambitious” programme to “position the UK as a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies”.

Here is the World Nuclear Association's up-to-date (Dec 2015) summary of the global situation: Small Nuclear Power Reactors.






Next came George Monbiot, hi-profile environmental writer for The Guardian, in an article entitled 'Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power' [21 March 2011]

This was countered in The Guardian by Craig Bennett in his piece Fukushima shows us the real cost of nuclear power (23 March 2011).

More recently, Crispin Tickell writes a substantial rebuttal, again in The Guardian entitled
Does the world need nuclear power to solve the climate crisis? (20 August 2012) which reads in part:

So this is the question: does the world need nuclear power for us to solve the climate crisis, as Monbiot claims? To borrow a second thought, this time from Margaret Thatcher, must we accept that there is no alternative?
Let's look at the figures. In 2010 the world demand for primary energy was equivalent to 12,000 million tonnes of oil (Mtoe), 87% of which was provided by oil, gas and coal. Nuclear power contributed a gross 626 Mtoe, about 5% of the total, while renewables accounted for 935 Mtoe, almost 8%.
To solve the climate problem, the world must not only reverse the trend of increasing carbon emissions over the next few decades, but bring them down to less than they are now. So can nuclear power do it? Assume a 2% growth in primary energy demand per year over the next 35 years, and that demand will double to some 24,000 Mtoe. Rely on nuclear power to accommodate all the growth, and knock out 4,000 Mtoe-worth of coal, and it will have to produce 16,000 Mtoe of energy per year – a 25-fold increase on its current level.
Today the world has 440 operational nuclear reactors, so 25 times more means 11,000 reactors. To have these in 35 years means building, on average, about one a day. Or in an exponential growth scenario, the world would need to sustain an annual increase of 8% per year in the number of operational nuclear reactors for 35 years.
Most recently, another Guardian piece 'Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change' (3 Dec 2015)written by four senior atmospheric scientists James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley. The subhead reads:'To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not prejudice. Alongside renewables, nuclear will make the difference between the world missing crucial climate targets or achieving them.'

 The piece concludes: 
The climate issue is too important for us to delude ourselves with wishful thinking. Throwing tools such as nuclear out of the box constrains humanity’s options and makes climate mitigation more likely to fail. We urge an all-of-the-above approach that includes increased investment in renewables combined with an accelerated deployment of new nuclear reactors.
 For example, a build rate of 61 new reactors per year could entirely replace current fossil fuel electricity generation by 2050. Accounting for increased global electricity demand driven by population growth and development in poorer countries, which would add another 54 reactors per year, this makes a total requirement of 115 reactors per year to 2050 to entirely decarbonise the global electricity system in this illustrative scenario. We know that this is technically achievable because France and Sweden were able to ramp up nuclear power to high levels in just 15-20 years.
 Nuclear will make the difference between the world missing crucial climate targets or achieving them. We are hopeful in the knowledge that, together with renewables, nuclear can help bridge the ‘emissions gap’ that bedevils the Paris climate negotiations. The future of our planet and our descendants depends on basing decisions on facts, and letting go of long-held biases when it comes to nuclear power.
 

This post concludes with a post-Paris report - COP21 leaves nuclear dream adrift by
Paul Brown - published in The Ecologist (1 Jan 2016)

In Paris, in early December, the advocates of nuclear power made yet another appeal to world leaders to adopt their technology as central to saving the planet from dangerous climate change. Yet analysis of the plans of 195 governments that signed up to the Paris Agreement, each with their own individual schemes on how to reduce national carbon emissions, show that nearly all of them exclude nuclear power. Only a few big players - China, Russia, India, South Korea and the United Kingdom - still want an extensive programme of new-build reactors.

Amory Lovins, co-founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, produced a devastating analysis saying that the slow-motion decline of the nuclear industry was simply down to the lack of a business case.
The average nuclear reactor, he wrote, was now 29 years old and the percentage of global electricity generated continued to fall from a peak of 17.6% in 1996 to 10.8% in 2014. "Financial distress stalks the industry", he wrote.
Lovins says nuclear power now costs several times more than wind or solar energy and is so far behind in cost and building time that it could never catch up. 

See next post which deals with Trident, the proliferation of nuclear materials and cybersecurity.