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PCBs in Our School Buildings? - by John Tharakan


The Metro Washington Health Services Planning Council - by Everett Foy


The Kingston, Tennessee Coal Ash Spill- by Ishi


The Relevance of Appropriate Technology- by John Tharakan


False Positives = False Justice- by John Kelly and Peter Caplan


Poisons of War, Past and Present: A Washington Peace Center Forum Review - by Jane Zara


White Phosphorus and Pepper Spray: Using Chemical Weaponry on Civilian Populations- articles collected by Jane Zara


World Peace Conference Report - Hiroshima, 2008- by Everett Foy


Book Review: Critique of Intelligent Design- by David Schwartzman


Books of Interest






PCBs in Our School Buildings? - John Tharakan



One of the twelve most hazardous persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the world, banned by almost all developed economies for almost thirty years, is showing up at extremely high and unacceptable levels in, of all places, public school buildings.  PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been turning up in air, swipe and soil samples from public schools across New York City boroughs, including the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens (Egbert, New York Daily News, April 7, 2008; Ibid, April 9, 2008; Independent tests by parents ( as well as tests by EPA have shown high levels of PCBs. The Daily News reported that lab tests found PCBs in the caulking, soil or on surfaces at five Bronx schools.  Amongst its many industrial and commercial applications, PCBs were a regular component window caulking to keep it flexible, from the 1960s until their banning in 1977 because they were deemed carcinogenic. In fact, PCBs have been shown to cause birth defects and brain damage when exposure occurs during pregnancy or nursing and they are believed to be carcinogenic and to contain potent developmental toxins that interfere with brain and immune system development. So what are PCBs, and how is it that this banned POP is suddenly appearing in public school buildings?


Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs):


PCBs are a group of synthetic chemicals that were developed in the thirties and forties and used, as mentioned before, in a vast array of industrial and commercial applications. It would be hard to find industrial products from between 1950 and 1975 that didn’t have PCBs in them. These aromatic compounds of carbon, hydrogen and chlorine, have chemical and physical characteristics that lend themselves to use in diverse applications.  PCBs are excellent insulators, have great dielectric properties, are flame retardants and improve the physical characteristics of a great many industrial fluids, such as transformer oils, paints, coatings, plastics and, window caulking.  Literally, millions of miles of window caulking, containing fairly high levels of PCBs by today’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, were used throughout the fifties, sixties and much of the seventies, before PCB use was banned in 1977, and manufacturers had to come up with something else to keep caulk pliant.  Hence, it’s likely that any building built in that time period has window caulking which has high levels of PCBs, unless the windows were replaced in the 1980’s or later.  If a replacement were to have taken place, and it were not conducted in a manner and protocol compliant with hazardous waste regulatory requirements, there would have been very high potential for significant release of PCBs into the environment with the dust and debris created as old windows were pulled or cut out along with the PCB-containing window caulking. After the window replacement, if adequate cleanup was not conducted, significant amounts of PCBs would remain as dust and debris and these would slowly have dispersed their way into the local environment.

There are over 200 possible different PCB compounds, referred to as congeners, depending on the number of possible chlorines. PCBs were manufactured under various trade names such as Aroclor[USA], Phenoclor, Pyralene[France], Clophen [Germany], Kanechlor [Japan] and Sovols[former USSR. In the United States, Aroclors were the most commonly used PCB preparations.  Health concerns arose from PCBs suspected toxic and carcinogenic properties, as well as its endocrine disruptive effects, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. PCBs were also found to bio-accumulate in the food chain, with concentrations increasing by several orders of magnitude at succeeding trophic levels. PCBs are also passed from the mother to the fetus through placental blood and to the baby via breast milk.  In animal studies, PCBs caused severe atrophy of primary and secondary lymphoid organs, and caused pancytopenia, cachexia, immunosuppression, and tumor promotion. Studies to characterize the immunotoxic action of the PCBs were primarily focused on the antibody response. PCB exposure and effects on antibody response have been demonstrated in guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, and rhesus monkeys. These factors, combined with growing awareness of the fragility of the environment, resulted in the banning of PCB production in 1977 in the US. The US EPA has set maximum contaminant levels for PCBs of 0.0005 milligram per liter of drinking water (0.0005mg/l) and considers anything with more than 50 mg/kg (50ppm) as a hazardous waste. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that milk, eggs, other dairy products, poultry fat, fish, shellfish, and infant foods contain not more than 0.2-3 parts of PCBs per million (ppm) parts of food.


Treatment and Remediation Technologies:


The ubiquitous and pervasive problem of PCB-contaminated sites has lead to the development and implementation of numerous treatment technologies to remediate these contaminated sites. These have primarily included burial in hazardous waste secure landfills and incineration in various types of combustion systems. Unfortunately, burial in landfills is only a method of containment, and PCBs can escape by volatilization, leakage and leaching. Incineration accomplishes the required degree of destruction but at great cost and always with the risk of release of dioxin and other products of incomplete combustion. Novel biological transformations and degradation technologies for PCBs remediation are being researched but these technologies have not been successfully applied on a large scale.  Some isolated and engineered aerobic micro-organisms can co-metabolically biodegrade lower chlorinated PCB congeners.  Sequential anaerobic and aerobic biological treatment of PCBs has shown some promise in lab scale experiments and is being investigated for possible field application.


PCBs in the Schools


So what’s going on? How is it that a compound that has been officially banned for over thirty years - a compound that is a notorious hazard, whose presence at high levels in many abandoned industrial facilities resulted in those sites being declared hazardous waste sites mandating SUPERFUND clean-up - suddenly is in our public schools? How? (

As it happens, between 1960 and the late 1970’s well over a hundred public school buildings were constructed across the five New York burroughs. And, all the windows in these buildings had window caulking with very high levels of PCBs. If the caulking was left undisturbed and was painted and/or sealed over during renovations, its PCBs are probably contained, although some experts believe PCBs can still leach out of caulking and become airborne.

If the windows were replaced - and many buildings had windows replaced in the 80’s and 90’s for better energy efficiency -, the caulking would have had to be pulled out and/or cut out. If the renovation was conducted under plastic curtains with complete cleanup and wipedown of all surfaces, much of the PCBs would have been contained in the construction debris. The debris would have likely landed up in a regular municipal land fill, because construction debris is not automatically considered hazardous, although the debris from window replacements probably should be.  Barring such an efficient, clean and thorough replacement procedure and follow-up, PCBs are going to turn up in school soil samples, playground samples and swipe/wipe samples, not only in public schools, but in samples from most building constructed during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

Probably as a result of prior renovations, PCBs are also being detected at unacceptable levels (well above the level at which a material would be deemed hazardous) in soil samples from public school playgrounds. All these tests and their results have gotten parents understandably concerned. They have called for all public schools to be tested, including testing of the window caulk, soil samples and air and wipe/dust samples. The problem for the Department of Education (DOE) is that if they test the material from the schools and find PCBs at a higher-than-acceptable level, EPA regulations would oblige them to remove the contaminated media and remediate the site, a huge undertaking given the number of school buildings with potential problems. So the City DOE is taking the position that caulking poses no threat as long as it is left alone and, further, that they will not begin broad evaluation and testing of all public schools - sort of a twisted “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy where trying to not discover a problem may mean there is none, or that it will simply go away!!  In fact, a spokesperson claimed that state regulations "permit the caulk to remain in place" and that the material need be removed only when renovations take place. However, many experts say that PCBs left undisturbed and sealed over can still leach out of the caulking into surrounding material or become airborne.  The number of schools where PCBs may potentially reside is quite large, given that many school buildings were constructed in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, prior to the ban on PCBs in caulking.


New York City Council Public Hearing, April 2008

In the Spring of 2008, under the urging of concerned parents, the City council held a public hearing to give community members and stakeholders a forum in which to express their concerns and discuss the issue of PCBs in the schools and hear expert testimony about the issue of PCBs in school building material and how best to deal with the problem in a safe and environmentally benign manner.

The first panel consisted of representatives of the US EPA, including the Regional Administrators for Region 2, George Pavlo and Daniel Kraft, both of whom oversee and are in charge of regulating PCB-contaminated wastes through the EPA (  The EPA administrators described regulation of PCB contaminated materials, where regulations require that materials with PCB levels greater than 50 ppm be considered and treated as a hazardous waste.  However, as they pointed out, the EPA does not have a mandate to do testing, but it does encourage public schools to do so. The EPA works with the New York department of education and has initiated work to develop protocols to handle and manage PCBs in school building wastes, specifically window caulking and playground dirt and dust.

The second panel featured the New York Department of Education, including the Deputy Chancellor of the NY Public Schools and the Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Health. The Department of Education tried to contend that the PCB limits were too low, especially in the airborne samples, claiming that there was “…more PCBs in hamburger.” Their argument that the school building were essentially safe and that adequate precautionary measures were being taken was belied by their stated reluctance to randomly test public school buildings across the city and state.

The third panel had representatives of the United Federation of Teachers, including the President of UFT. The UFT is working with health and safety representative from each school district and building to develop plans for adequate responses for each borough of NY City.

There were two additional panels, including an experts panel (on which this correspondent spoke) and a panel of parents and teachers.  The experts panel included Dr. Robert Herrick of the Harvard School of Public Health and a construction worker from Weymouth Construction, who claimed he had personally participated in the installation of several thousands of miles of window caulk, which at the time (prior to 1977) had high levels of PCBs in them to keep the caulk malleable and easily shaped and stored. He indicated that after work every day, the workers would leave covered in a fine caulk dust that had high levels of PCB, hence exposing all those construction workers to this hazardous toxin.

As a scientist engaged in the analysis, research and development of biological technologies for the remediation of PCB contaminated media, this witness testified to the dangers of PCBs to the environment including the potential for PCB dispersion through uptake, migration and transport.  Technologies for remediation of PCBs were described, underscoring the dangers and risks of conventional treatment technologies such as landfilling and incineration, while highlighting the potential for novel biological technologies with demonstrated efficacy in mitigating PCB contaminant levels in various types of environmental media.



          This story is not over. Given the almost ubiquitous distribution of PCBs in various building materials in schools constructed up to the mid-seventies, it’s a fair bet that samples of caulk dust taken from a school building of that vintage will show up with higher than acceptable PCB levels. Where there has been demolition, renovation and construction, environmental media samples from the surrounds of these projects are also likely to have higher than acceptable levels of PCBs.

          For the response to this widespread a problem, the US EPA, the New York Department of Education and the NY City Public Schools have to coordinate and work together with parents and teacher’s groups to develop adequate and acceptable response plans and protocols that minimize the exposure of our students to this deadly carcinogen.






The Metro Washington Health Services Planning Council - by Everett Foy




          The Metropolitan Regional Health Services Planning Council is an advisory board to the DC Department of Health that was created by the federal Ryan White Care Act of 2001.  The Care Act created Eligible Metropolitan Areas, or EMAs, across the nation in order to distribute funds for HIV/AIDS programs from the Department of Health and Human Services to the states and cities.


          The Washington EMA is one of the largest in populations of HIV and AIDS cases and is unique in many aspects. Washington’s EMA is also one of the larger EMA Planning Councils in the country. It consists of Washington, D.C., and the immediately neighboring counties in Northern Virginia, Suburban Maryland, and rural West Virginia. The Planning Council makes recommendations about AIDS issues in health planning through the processes of allocations and prioritization.  In prioritization, critical core services needs and support services needs are recognized and assigned importance.  Then in allocation, dollar amounts are voted on per category of service area.

          The Council does not disburse funds indirectly or directly to agencies, rather, its recommendations are taken into account by the DC Health Department, who is the grantee to the many HIV/AIDS service agencies in the metropolitan region that apply for grants from Ryan White Care Act funds. The mayor of  D.C. appoints members of the council, through his department on Boards and Commissions, for sworn-in terms of three years. Occasionally, the Council will advertise for applications for new members. The Planning Council was until recently composed of up to 51 people from all walks of life, including  health care and other professionals, and is representative of the demographics of all the populations affected by the AIDS epidemic, so that PWAs (people with AIDS) are represented proportionately on the Council.     


             Currently, the Planning Council has just gone through a totally new reorganization. It was reduced from 51 to 32 members. Participation from local region PWAs has also dropped off precipitously, perhaps because from some, there is a contention that there is a conspiracy of lack of concern from some administration officials. The Council’s mission as a community service organization is being called into question by leading voices in the activist community. The business of the Council continues, though - prioritizing and allocating funds. It also has several other federally-charged responsibilities, among them charting demographics of underserved sub-populations in the AIDS epidemic, and recommending to various other departments, like the CDC, HHS, and the state health departments, courses of actions from data collected from focus groups that it conducts several times yearly.

             We also undergo training several times a year to keep abreast of things like policy issues, information and data issues, epidemiological trends, and community reflections and interface. The newly-reformed Planning Council is also in another cycle of seeking new applications for representatives to the Council. We have also sponsored a few representatives to the several international conferences that are held each year on the AIDS epidemic.

             We meet once to twice weekly – the new schedule will soon be posted on an under-construction Website. Meetings are usually open to the public and are recorded for the writing of minutes. The Planning Council takes me approximately 3 to 6 hours of meetings per week, plus ‘homework’ time used in processing a veritable mountain of generated documents and information. Council members must also maintain a 75% attendance rate.  I feel it is well-spent time and is an invaluable experience in my life, as a way to make a personal difference about critical issues in the AIDS epidemic. I feel that someday there will be a cure and I will be there, thanks in part to whatever way, large or small, that I have been able to help on the Council.


             Other Council members could also give you the same dedication and inspired determination. The Council is a very cohesive body, held together by the parliamentary committee process, but not bound by a sense of bureaucracy. We are very much about getting things done and on a mission for the most part to make a maximum dent on the negative aspects of the AIDS epidemic, and to improve life for PWAs to the fullest. It benefits from its diversity in how it’s informed, how the varying members mesh together to carry out workloads of determinations, assessments, accountings, reports, presentations, and of course, allocations and prioritizations. It is a very professional group and I am proud to be helping to carry out its work. I hope to be part of greater future plans for the Council.

             These plans include taking the Council ‘out on the road’ in a series of public meetings arranged to the people; broadcasting our meetings on DC Government cable TV; conducting more participatory surveys and focus groups than ever before; expanding the Council’s mission as a community service organization; developing a closer and more active relationship with the government entities that the Council interfaces; and many more innovative ideas that will improve the action role of the Planning Council.

             I feel the Council does an admirable job of its charged tasks and mission. Its recent reorganization has proven that there is always room to improve and that improvements are ongoing and welcome. All in all, the Metro Washington Health Services Planning Council is a small body with a huge job, and though it takes just one aspect at a time to whittle this job down to size, this job - making a maximum difference in the issues of the AIDS epidemic - is being tackled with increasing skill and sophistication.








The Kingston, Tennessee Coal Ash Spill - by Ishi


The Spill.

In December  2008 the retaining walls of a pond used to collect and store coal ash produced as a byproduct of burning coal at the Kingston , Tennessee coal plant operated by the Tenessee Valley Authority (TVA) were breached. Over 1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry spilled into local watersheds.  This spill was 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, as well as two other large fly ash slurry spills in the southeastern Appalchian region, one into Tug Fork along the West Virginia-Kentucky border in 2000, and a 1972 spill (which led to 25 deaths) into Marsh Fork in Kentucky(1).       Part of the spill went several miles upstream into a small stream valley, while the bulk of the spill went downstream into the Emory River , a tributary of the Tennessee River .  Houses were destroyed, and agricultural fields were covered with the coal ash, as were  railroad tracks and roads.    River banks were covered with 25 foot high walls of the slurry.   While no humans were killed (aside from unknown potential deaths due the resulting pollution, stress, and economic effects) unknown numbers of animals (among them gar and other fish, and turtles) were.  (2)    Coal ash contains concentrated toxins from the coal residue and ones produced by combustion, and hence polluted the Tennessee river watershed, as well as the air, from slurry which dried on land to become particulate air pollution. (3)  


Costs of Coal.  

Property, economic, health and environmental destruction from slurry spills are among the ‘downstream’ (or post-combustion) costs of coal energy.    Further downstream costs are documented in a report from UCSB,  which include air pollution damage to human health, wild plants and animals, and economically valuable forests and crops.  (4)  Beyond the physical and emotional costs of damaged health, treatment costs are often borne by the government.   (These constitute a subsidy to the coal industry, which may not provide insurance to employees in many cases, nor pay for health problems caused by pollution.  The state government of North Carolina is trying to recoup some of these costs, by suing TVA for health and environmental damage caused by air pollution from coal plants.)The Kingston coal plant, according to operates using coal from 11 mountain top removal (MTR)  which are among the ‘upstream’ (pre-combustion) costs of the coal economy.  MTR destroys mountains, watersheds (due to dumping of removed mountain tops into stream valleys) and communities.   (5)


Benefits of Coal.

 The ‘benefits’ of coal include the electricity produced, and the income received by those who own or produce it from selling it to those who use it.  Much of this income will not go to the coal or electricity producing communities, but rather to absentee owners and corporate shareholders. In the US , between 1/3 and 1/2 of corporate income generally goes to owners and shareholders, rather than production employees.  The top 10% of households (which includes households making more than 150-175,000$) in the US receive 40% of the total income, and many of these households derive it from high executive salaries and capital gains from stocks rather than production work.   Over half of all US electricity used is derived from coal.   Almost all of Tennessee uses electricity from TVA plants.

 Employment in coal production is increasingly relocating to Wyoming and other western states, because it is less expensive to mine it there, so employment in the coal industry in the TVA region is decreasing.      The benefit to the coal producing region of the southeastern Appalchian area of income generated from employment in the coal industry,  consists of  approximately 37,000 mining jobs in WV and Kentucky , the two main mining states, and less than 1000 in Tennessee .  Less than half of these employees work in surface mining, which includes strip mining and MTR; the remainder work in deep mining.    Employment in TVA and other electricity power plants in Tennessee, is less than 2,000.   (Total TVA employment is 12,000).  So, probably less than 1% of the households in the coal producing region, which has a population of several million (and an even smaller percentage of those households using the generated electricity),  derive direct income from the coal industry.   In some small communities, employment in the coal industry may be a significant source of income.     Nonethless, most counties with MTR mines have higher poverty rates than other counties, because much of the income from the coal industry apparently goes to company executives, and absentee owners and shareholders in mining, power plant, and related transportation and construction companies.   (Many economic studies  suggest that undisturbed natural areas actually have more economic value than the coal they contain, because they provide employment in vacation industries and also provide ‘ecosystem services’ such as a healthy environment. )

 Coal power also provides a tax revenue source for funding government operations.  Shareholders and employees of companies involved in cleanup operations due to spills, mining accidents, and related health industries (including for treatment of  problems such as asthma,  addiction, and domestic violence due to stress) also  derive indirect income benefits from the coal industry, some of which represents an income transfer from out of the region, from all taxpayers, through federal  programs like medicare.    Since many health problems could be prevented  by  eliminating or cleaning up the coal industry, income from these sources provides a perverse incentive for continuing damaging practices.     If employees were able to negotiate better wage and benefit contracts, absentee owners and shareholders might lose income, which could be applied locally to cover costs.  Also, some costs could be avoided through changes in the working environment, including those produced by pollution externalities.    This would mean there would be less income elsewhere to redistribute via taxation, but this can be seen as an efficiency gain, since rather than taking a circular trip, the income never leaves the region, and loss due to transaction costs is avoided.  (6)   (Tracking the exact sources and destinations of income from sales  and tax receipts is a difficult problem, as well as value change due to ‘money illusion’ and frictions (imperfect transmission).).   


Aftermath of the Spill.

 University, environmental and governmental groups (including TVA) are currently monitoring the air and water in the spill region.    So far, according to the TVA and a Duke university study,  in the watershed and in drinking water sources outside of the immediate area, while levels of monitored toxins were elevated, none were found to be in excess of legal safety limits so far.      United Mountain Defense, an environmental group,  has been involved in defending rights of local residents impacted by the spill, and with Mountain Justice Summer, another environmental group,  has organized college students to testify at hearings, and to protest inaction and unresponsiveness by TVA and local governmental authorites.  TVA has adopted a defensive procedure by portraying the spill’s effects as fairly insignificant, and  by harassing and arresting activists. (7) 

 The cost of the spill is estimated by TVA to be from 525$ to 825$ Million.   This includes aquistion of numerous properties damaged by the spill, repair of roads and railroad track, dredging the river of coal ash,  monitoring of air and water, and repair of the coal ash storage ponds.  TVA estimates an 8% increase in utility rates for one year would cover these costs.  (They already deducted 525$ Million from their most recent quarterly earnings report, yielding a $305 Million loss.  This suggests normal quarterly earnings are $230 M, and yearly 920$M.  Since earnings constitute ‘profit’ (gross - operating costs), the gross take of TVA per year is around $6.1 Billion  (i.e. 8% x 6.1 B =525 M$); one can note the 920$M earnings represent a 15% profit rate).    (8) 


The Future.

 TVA is being pressed to mitigate impacts of its plants, by installing air pollution controls, and also possibly by ending the practice of using ponds to store coal ash.   Future construction of coal plants is being opposed.  Many are attempting to prevent new MTR mines, particularily at Coal River Mountain in southern W. Va.,  and also are attempting stricter regulation, particularily effects on stream valleys and groundwater.  Several pieces of legislation are currently in Congress, and repealing of some Bush administration rules by Obama is also being promoted.

 In the long run, energy conservation and less use through changing lifestyles, to decrease the need for coal power, is one path to preventing damage due to the coal industry.  Another is development of clean energy alternatives, particularily passive and concentrated solar in urban or disturbed areas, and both small urban and offshore or farmland based industrial wind wind generation, as well as biofuels.    Many green jobs proposals exist to convert employment applied to coal power to cleaner alternatives.  (10)



 1.   The Tug fork spill was 1/3 the size of the Kingston spill; the Tug fork case was from a pond operated by Massey energy.  A movie called Sludge, with a free trailer on the web,  covers the aftermath of the spill.    

 2.The Wikipedia article on the Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill has photos, and much more information and web links.   The spill made the front page of the NY Times, and has thousands of blog posts devoted to it. has another good article on the Kingston spill.   

 3. The Exxon Valdez spill was probably more of a catastrophe, because the coal ash slurry is not as toxic nor as persistant as oil.   Also the spill occurred in winter, when much aquatic life may be hibernating in mud.   Details of the toxins in the spill are documented in a Duke university report and in ones by tva and environmental groups; see the Wikipedia article on the Kingston fossil plant coal ash spill.

 4. see   Interestingly, this report on economic externalities cites the work of a Princeton economist who is partially funded by the coal industry, who promotes ‘clean coal’ technologies as a solution.

 5    see    “what’s my connection” at      for a chart showing the supply chain for electrical power, connecting MTR coal mines to power plants, to communities and your own address.     

 6. Employment figures are at  ‘coal and jobs’ page on    and their page on TVA covers their economics.  


 8. see Chatanooga Free Press December 2008 and January 2009These guesstimates turned out to be low.   In 2008, gross income of TVA was over 9 Billion $, of which about 450M$ was profit.     8% of 9B$ is $720 million, which is on the higher  end of the 525-825$ Million  range which TVA estimates the cleanup will cost.  In 2008, gross income was over 10B$, and their profit doubled to about 8%.  Hence the cost of the spill is a little less than one year’s profits.   This represents about $70,000 in profit per employee.  TVA’s CEO makes about $2M/year, which makes him the highest paid federal employee, though this is less than the average $6M/r pay for utility company CEOs. see

 9.  See the work of Robert Pollin of U. Mass. Amherst on the PERI site,  or the work of Van Jones.  A rebuttal to Pollin’s paper also exists by a pair of academics associated with a pro-‘free market’ and fossil fuel  think tank, to which Pollin made a serious response, though its questionable whether it deserved it.                      



The Relevance of Appropriate Technology* - by John Tharakan



          The first technologies ever developed, whether the club, the spear or fire, were probably seen as tools appropriate to satisfy the needs of the community and enhance the community’s ability to survive and endure.  From these beginnings of the human-technology relationship, the development of technology and the purposes served by these technological developments have become increasingly complex. In today’s world of globalized and increasingly privatized resource and capital flows, the notion that  an appropriate technology can be defined and characterized may seem increasingly improbable and unlikely.  However, as recent market and economic dysfunction have amply demonstrated, globalized privatization and unregulated transnational capital and resource flows with little government and state oversight also means globalized and almost ubiquitous economic difficulties across diverse national economies and socio-techno-economic systems.  Appropriate technology in such a context must take into account economic and livelihood realities of local communities, especially those in the countries of the global south, who disproportionately share the burdens of the wealth creation model that drives the mainstream global economic mindset.

          The complexity of this socio-technological relationship must be seen in the context of over two thousand years of social and technological development which have resulted in some of the wealthiest and most prosperous of times for certain members of the global population. However, at this late stage in human civilization’s development, of the six and a half billion people who inhabit this planet, as many as one half have no consistent access to clean, potable water.  These same communities also lack access to sanitary waste and sewage disposal systems. Almost two-thirds lack access to the world-wide web and are effectively being left out of the conversation and cut off from the immense wealth of resources available on-line.

          This disconnect, between the harsh realities of inequitable resource distribution and access to technology, and the amazing and extraordinary technological developments and advances of the previous two centuries, speaks clearly to a desperate need for a renewed focus and emphasis on technology that is appropriate to the establishment of a just, equitable and fair global social order.  This must be a global social order defined by a human-technology relationship that seeks to harness the immense creativity of human beings  to respond to their environment and engineer it to their benefit for a sustainable existence.  Although E. F. Shumaker introduced into the western scientific and rational consciousness the notions of small as beautiful and of technologies that responded to human communities at scales that were manageable, controllable and appropriate to the context of its development and application, indigenous peoples across the globe have developed and implemented technological solutions relevant to their own time and space, so that the implementation of technologies is sustainable and empowering.  These repositories of indigenous knowledge have ranged from the oral (such as the oral traditions of the Native American Indians and various African tribes and nations) to the documented and written (such as technological and scientific handbooks from India, China and Western Asia, including Arab, Persian and other regions), and these can provide a rich resource for current practitioners as we seek to develop solutions to problems that have grown as complex as some of the proposed solutions.  And today, there are approaches being taken to address the development problem from within developing nations, harnessing not only indigenous knowledge of times past, but also the creativity and resourcefulness of people within their own communities (See, for example,

Clearly, the relevance of appropriate technology cannot be disputed. Appropriate technology means different things to different people. Generic searches on the internet reveal that meanings can often be elusive. In the context of the 21st century, the principles and criteria that define and determine appropriateness of technologies must be re-articulated and contextualized within the framework of globalization and sustainable development.  

Nevertheless, although appropriate technology, or AT, is difficult to define and its development and implementation have been a source of debate for some time, there is general agreement on some of the governing characteristics of an appropriate technology.  It is clear that AT should normally require only small amounts of capital. AT must emphasize, wherever possible, the use of local materials. Implementation of AT’s should focus on the implementation of relatively labor intensive technological solutions in which individuals in communities can participate.  This suggests that AT should tends towards the smaller scale and be affordable.

The community-based nature of AT requires that the technological solutions being developed should be understandable, controllable and maintainable without unduly high levels of education and training; at the same time, AT should be adaptable and include local communities in innovation and implementation. Finally, adverse impacts on the environment should be avoided and the sustainable nature of the technological solution should be emphasized.  Naturally, given the huge divide in resource access and availability, AT will encompass diverse sets of tools, processes and technologies, but will be focused on sustainable development.

The rationale of AT resides in its empowerment of people at the grass roots community level. Development professionals agree that local needs can be met more effectively with the community working to address their own problems. The rationale is also grounded in minimization of financial, transportation, education, advertising, management and energy services and costs with the goal of engendering self-sustaining and expanding reservoirs of skills within a community.  The result is a lowering of economic, social and political dependency, and a move towards sustainable development that is focused on people’s needs and is grounded in empowerment through education, technology transfer, capacity building and local control.

AT has never been more relevant. The diverse set of technologies that are part of the different focus areas of the conference demonstrates that appropriate technologies can be developed and implemented in a sustainable manner, and speaks to the ever-present need to develop and extend these efforts.  In conclusion, it must be emphasized that appropriate technologies will then necessarily range from the basic and “primitive” technologies required for water supply and sanitation to the more sophisticated and complex including alternative energy technologies focused on renewable resources to the wireless rural internet will be needed if the global rural population are to be valued participants in the global economy.



*A version of this paper first appeared in Proceeding 3rd Int’l Conf. Appropriate Technology, Kigali, Rwanda, November 2008 (Tharakan and Trimble, eds) ISBN 978-1-60725-559-8.


Rybcynzski, W, Paper Heroes; Appropriate Technology: panacea or Pipedream, Penguin, USA (1991).

Darrow and Saxenian, Appropriate Technology Sourcebook, Volunteers in Asia, Stanford, CA (1986).



Report on Scientific and Technical Presentations at the 3rd International Conference on Appropriate Technology (3rd ICAT), Kigali, Rwanda, November 13 – 15, 2008




          The 3rd International Conference on Appropriate Technology (or 3rd ICAT) convened on Wednesday, November 12th in Kigali, Rwanda, with two pre-conference workshops on low-cost website development and solar cooking and ended on Saturday, November 16th 2008, with a field trip and site visit to the Lake Kivu Methane Extraction facility, that is using methane extracted from deep in the lake to power generators that are providing renewable energy to the national electric grid.  In between those two, conference delegates had the opportunity to listen to peer-reviewed research presentations, view research poster presentations from practitioners and students, participate in three workshops and benefit from two Keynote Presentations.


This is the third in a series of international conferences on appropriate technology that began in 2004 with the 1st ICAT at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, focused on land-based projects as Zimbabwe underwent a period of land reform, followed by the 2nd ICAT, also in Bulawayo, focused on appropriate technologies and best practices for improving public health, that show-cased plant-based pharmaceuticals being developed, processed and produced in Africa with indigenous skills, technologies and resources.


The theme for the 3rd conference was energy and the environment, focused on finding alternative energy solutions in this era of climate change.


Scientific Presentations


          At the 3rd ICAT, there were twenty-two papers presented in the areas of alternative and appropriate energy technologies, appropriate and sustainable environmental technologies, innovative information and communication technologies, and in the areas of food, water, shelter and health. After receiving over one hundred abstracts and over fifty full papers, following peer-review, revision and final acceptance, thirty-four papers were published in the Proceedings of the 3rd Int’l Conference on Appropriate Technology (Tharakan and Trimble, eds, 2008).

Africa was well represented with participants and presenters from Ghana, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Republic of South Africa and Rwanda. The international nature of the participants was underscored by contributions from Asia (India, Malaysia, and Israel), Latin America (Guyana), Europe (Finland, Switzerland), North America (USA) and the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago).

          In addition to the oral research-focused presentations, students and practitioners presented posters on ongoing appropriate technology research and implementation projects which were displayed during the conference; conference breaks and the opening reception provided a venue and time where participants stood by posters and answered questions and discussed their work with interested delegates.  All poster presenters submitted papers which, after peer-review, revision and acceptance, were included on the 3rd ICAT Proceedings CD.

          The published proceedings and the proceedings CD were distributed to all conference participants and will be available for purchase (as a hard copy) or free download from the 3rd ICAT web site.




          In addition to the oral and poster presentations, four workshops were presented:


Keynote Presentations

Participants had the opportunity to listen to two keynote presentations:



Highlights from Keynote:

In 10 of the poorest countries in Africa -  Ethiopia, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Mauritania, Cameroon Benin, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania - illiterate women (many grandmothers) have been trained to solar electrify their own remote inaccessible villages, construct rain water harvesting tanks in the schools their children attend. The traditional male dominated society must look on these formidable women with shock and awe.




Highlights from the Keynote:


Ghana started the development of indigenous RE sources in the mid 1980’s. But we are far away from achieving the dream of high quality indigenous productive capacity that will deliver the jobs, energise the rural households and replace imported fossil fuels with bio-fuels. On the other hand we have made considerable progress along that route and learnt several lessons. Whilst, I elaborate these lessons, I will try at the same time to give you some idea as to what we currently have on the ground, a little bit of history and what we have achieved over the past 30 years.



The need for appropriate technologies to be developed and implemented has never been more critical. To reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for the majority of people in the global south it is imperative that the philosophy and ethos of appropriate technology be infused into the mindset of governments, NGO’s, academics and development professionals.  The United States of America, with 5% of the worlds populations supports its quality of life and standard of living by utilizing more than 25% of the energy and material resources of the earth. It is irrational, illogical and suicidal to assume that the old models of development focused on large-scale, centralized and heavily capital intensive technology projects will lift the masses out of poverty. It is, in fact, these very models of socio-technological development, embedded in the American dream of consumption-driven growth, that have led to the degradation of the environment and the tremendous pressure on resources world-wide. Indeed, if all we have is this as a model for growth, unfortunately being emulated in the mega-cities and urban middle-classes of the global south, then it will take another four earths to satisfy resource requirements.  The centralized, capital intensive, profit driven corporate approach has failed.  New models are needed and appropriate technologies should form an integral part of the conceptualization of these new models for sustainable growth and development.


False Positives = False Justice- by John Kelly and Peter Caplan

Did you know that possession of chocolate can get you arrested and could cost you thousands in legal expenses? So can oregano, thyme and a host of other harmless food, drug and cosmetic items. In fact,thousands of common foods, over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics, and household

products will falsely test positive in police drug field tests.


 DC Metro  SftP member John Kelly has continued his work of exposing the widespread use by law enforcement agencies of chemical tests for the presence of illegal drugs.  His article Invalid Drug Tests=Wrongful Convictions appeared in the last issue of our Newsletter was a condensed version of his extensive report False Positives= False Justice,  the  result  of his two-year scientific/legal investigation.  At a National Press Club news conference in Washington on March 3, 2009 the report was released and actual demonstrations of drug field testing were performed in order to raise public awareness of the false-positive problem. Kelly claims the widely marketed field test kits are "worse than useless, and that even when used properly, can cause harm to innocent persons. According to his report, thousands of common foods, over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics, and household products will falsely test positive in police drug field tests because the reagent tests themselves are not drug-specific." 


The following quotes are from an article by Jack King in a recent issue of NACDL  News (National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, article not yet available on line):

"The unreliability of reagent field tests has led to their exclusion at trial as evidence of guilt in the majority of U.S. courts."

"…anyone can obtain and learn to use these tests. Anybody can buy  these  off  the Internet.  There are parents, with good intentions, who will try to find out if their children are using drugs. They will buy these tests, and they will find something in their child’s closet, and they will test it, and they will believe, maybe [erroneously] that their child is using drugs.

“…We can’t allow bad science to be marketed as good science.” (Quote from Adam Eidinger)


In a related story, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released its long-awaited report on the state of forensic science in the United States at a press conference on Feb 18. One of the key findings of this report captures its essence:


"Finding an inconsistent system rife with “serious deficiencies,” lacking practitioner and laboratory independence, standards, oversight, and certification, the NRC called today for major reforms, including the establishment of a wholly independent federal agency, the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS), to address the manifold problems with the current science and system."





Poisons of War, Past and Present: A Washington Peace Center Forum Review - by Jane Zara


The Washington Peace Center sponsored a forum about the poisons of war that have been used historically - and that continue to be used - against innocent populations, while corporate profits mount from such poisonous endeavors.  The panel spoke on the prolific use of chemical weapons in World War I, atomic weapons in World War II, Agent Orange in Vietnam, depleted uranium (DU) in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere, and the poisoning of populations via aerial spraying of toxins in the “drug wars” in Latin America.  The speakers’ bios and video links to their presentations are provided at the end of this article.




There is an ongoing legal struggle against 37 manufacturers (including Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Uniroyal, Hercules and others) of toxic herbicides by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange in order to get compensation for more than 3 million Vietnamese who continue to live with the effects of Agent Orange poisoning.  The US aerial bombing campaign against Vietnam of toxic formulations including dioxin occurred from 1960 – 1971.  This herbicide spraying campaign dropped an estimated 84 million liters of defoliants on civilian populations, their fields and forested lands, affecting an estimated 4.8 million victims over three generations.  Vietnamese continue to live amidst, eat and drink these poisons. 


Maternal milk is a major elimination path for these toxins.  Links of exposed populations are being drawn to hepatic, cardiovascular, urogenital, and nervous system disorders, multiple myeloma, endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental damage, immune disorders, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, and an elevated risk of neonatal spina bifida and acute myelogenous leukemia.  see, e.g. .


Ecuador has instituted proceedings against Columbia in the International Court of Justice for the aerial spraying by Colombia of toxic herbicides over the Ecuadoran territory.  This aerial spraying campaign of herbicides is part of the US-funded Plan Colombia.  Colombia has received approximately $4 billion in US aid since 2000 to fight the drug trade.  Ironically, Colombia has reached record profits in the US and world markets and is the number one source of cocaine in the US.  (Not surprisingly, Afghanistan has set records in opium harvests since the US has implemented its massive and ill-fated drug war and counter-terrorism policies there.)  Over 300,000 people have been displaced from their communities in Colombia due to US-backed counter-insurgency programs going on there. 


A class action lawsuit is underway by Ecuadoran farmers against DynCorp, the corporation that supplies the aerial toxins for Plan Colombia.  DynCorp has sprayed the toxic herbicide glyphosate, mixed with other undisclosed active ingredients to increase its toxicity, in order to destroy drug crops.  This massive spraying has caused the poisoning and subsequent health problems of affected populations, along with the destruction of food crops, forest biodiversity, and livestock. (see e.g., )


Will this ill-conceived US drug-war continue?  Last year, Congress approved drug-fighting legislation called Plan Mexico (a.k.a. Merida Initiative) under the Global War on Terror Spending Bill, authorizing $1.4 billion for Mexico over the next three years.  Plan Mexico allots no money for drug treatment or rehabilitation.  The funding will go toward “counter-narcotics” endeavors, including funding for private US mercenary corporations such as Blackwater, and for the purchase of Bell helicopters, surveillance software, and other private defense contractor products.  The Mexican military and civilian police force, both recipients of Plan Mexico funding, were recently cited for human rights violations in a 2008 International Civil Commission on Human Rights Report (February 2008).  Who know what poisons US foreign policy has in store for the Mexican and Central American people in the near future!


See the video Links to the Poisons of War Forum
Peter Kuznick, director of American University's award-winning Nuclear Studies Institute, provides a historical and political analysis of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki nuclear bombings, documenting the extreme racism, aggression and cruelty inflicted on the Japanese people by the US in World War II.  Peter Kuznick is author of Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists as Political Activists, co-editor of Rethinking Cold War Culture, and is currently writing a book about scientists' opposition to the Vietnam War. He has recently completed a historically-based Hollywood screenplay and teaches the path-breaking course Oliver Stone's America, and is now working on a 10-part documentary film series for Oliver Stone. He regularly provides commentary to the media on a broad range of subjects and was selected Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer. 
Clara Elena Brillembourg discusses the suit brought against Colombia in the International Court of Justice for the environmental and health damages caused in Ecuador by Plan Colombia's aerial fumigations along the Colombian border.,, Clara Elena Brillembourg, Attorney, Foley Hoag LLP, is currently representing the Government of Ecuador in its law suit brought against Colombia in the International Court of Justice for the environmental and health damages caused in Ecuador by Plan Colombia's aerial fumigations along the Colombian border. Ms. Brillembourg represents sovereign governments in arbitration and litigation proceedings before international courts such as the International Court of Justice, and arbitral tribunals such as ICSID and UNCLOS tribunals, as well as before courts in the United States.
Cathy Garger speaks to the violations of Basic Human Rights Laws being committed right here at home in the US.; Garger is a freelance writer, anti-radiation activist, public speaker, frequent radio show guest, and founder of national anti-radiation organization, CORE (Citizens Opposing a Radioactive Environment). With a focus on Uranium weapons, Cathy is currently writing a book about the widespread toxic and radioactive contamination of public health and the environment. She has published interviews with UN Humanitarian Lawyers regarding the violations of Basic Human Rights Laws being committed right here at home. 

Jay Marx speaks on the history and effects of Agent Orange on three generations of victims in Vietnam.; Jay Marx is former coordinator for the Washington Peace Center and is now an organizer at the People’s Media Center. Jay Marx has recently visited Japan and Vietnam and reports about movements now underway to unite the efforts of the victims of nuclear war in Japan, Agent Orange spraying in Vietnam, and the prolific use of depleted uranium in Iraq and elsewhere.




White Phosphorus, Pepper Spray: Using Chemical Weaponry on Civilian Populations- by Jane Zara

White Phosphorus, Pepper Spray & the Flagrant Use of Chemical Weaponry on Civilian Populations


The following is a compilation of excerpts.  The links are provided for the excerpts at the end of each paragraph.


What good are treaties if this activity goes unabated?  The Case of White Phosphorus


“White phosphorus has the slang name ‘Willy Pete’, which dates from the First World War. It was commonly used in the Vietnam era.  The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination.  It can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen. It has been used frequently by British and US forces in recent wars, notably during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in the offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja, the US has said.  (1)(2)

 Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon.   And as the Israeli army stormed to the edges of Gaza City and the Palestinian death toll topped 500, the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance. “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in,” said one Israeli security expert. Burning blobs of phosphorus would cause severe injuries to anyone caught beneath them and force would-be snipers or operators of remote-controlled booby traps to take cover.  (1)(4)

Professor Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford's department of peace studies, said white phosphorus could be considered a chemical weapon if deliberately aimed at civilians.   "It is not counted under the chemical weapons convention in its normal use but, although it is a matter of legal niceties, it probably does fall into the category of chemical weapons if it is used for this kind of purpose directly against people."  (3)

The form used by the military is highly energetic (active) and ignites once it is exposed to oxygen. White phosphorus is a pyrophoric material, that is, it is spontaneously flammable.   When exposed to air, it spontaneously ignites and is oxidized rapidly to phosphorus pentoxide. Such heat is produced by this reaction that the element bursts into a yellow flame and produces a dense white smoke. Phosphorus also becomes luminous in the dark, and this property is conveyed to "tracer bullets." This chemical reaction continues until either all the material is consumed or the element is deprived of oxygen. Up to 15 percent of the WP remains within the charred wedge and can reignite if the felt is crushed and the unburned WP is exposed to the atmosphere. ..  The White Phosphorus flame produces a hot, dense white smoke composed of particles of phosphorus pentoxide, which are converted by moist air into phosphoric acid. (3)

White phosphorus results in painful chemical burn injuries. The resultant burn typically appears as a necrotic area with a yellowish color and characteristic garliclike odor. White phosphorus is highly lipid soluble and as such, is believed to have rapid dermal penetration once particles are embedded under the skin. Because of its enhanced lipid solubility, many have believed that these injuries result in delayed wound healing. This has not been well studied; therefore, all that can be stated is that white phosphorus burns represent a small subsegment of chemical burns, all of which typically result in delayed wound healing. (3)

Incandescent particles of WP may produce extensive burns. Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful; a firm eschar (scab) is produced and is surrounded by vesiculation. The burns usually are multiple, deep, and variable in size. The solid in the eye produces severe injury. The particles continue to burn unless deprived of atmospheric oxygen. Contact with these particles can cause local burns.” (3)

Pepper spray is flagrantly used as a chemical weapon by police in the US
”…[W]hile several media outlets at least mentioned the free-speech implications of the "no-protest zone" put in place by Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, there was little discussion of the constitutionality of the use of extreme force on peaceful protesters… "Use of pepper spray prior to arrest and then failure to provide medical treatment afterward [can be said to] be objectively unreasonable, excessive force under both the Fourth and Eighth Amendments," according to police misconduct expert Lynne Wilson (Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report, 3-4/97). The Southern California ACLU has condemned the use of pepper spray "to impose a painful chemical 'street justice' without resort to criminal charges or the courts." (L.A. Times, 6/18/95) (5)

Pepper spray (in police jargon "OC," for its Latin name of oleoresin capsicum), an oil derived from cayenne peppers, is classified as a chemical weapon, and as such banned for use in war--but not in domestic police work. Pepper spray was introduced to the U.S. in the 1980s by the Postal Service, which used it as a dog repellent. Thereafter, it was quickly adopted by corrections officers and police departments, which adopted it primarily for use in incapacitating violent suspects; the FBI proclaimed pepper spray its "official chemical agent" in 1987. (Helping push OC's use was FBI Special Agent Thomas Ward, who later pleaded guilty to accepting a $57,500 kickback from a pepper spray company.) It's quickly become a common part of the police arsenal: Rikers Island guards have used pepper spray or mace on inmates 1,500 times over the last three and a half years, according to the New York Times (11/8/99).  (5)

The pepper spray used by police is highly concentrated--300 times as strong as jalapeño peppers, and five times as strong as the pepper-spray mixture sold for self-defense to the public. When sprayed directly in the eyes, as was done on countless occasions by Seattle police wielding fire-extinguisher-like dispensers, it can create intense, burning pain and restricted breathing unless quickly flushed out. (The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in fact, requires commercially sold pepper spray to carry a caution label: "Warning: irritant, avoid contact with eyes.")  (5)

…[M]ore than 100 people in the U.S. have died in police custody after having pepper spray used on them, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (Vermont Rutland Herald, 2/22/98). This statistic should have come as no surprise to the mainstream media: The first major report on deaths involving pepper spray appeared in 1995, on the front page of the Los Angeles Times (6/10/95). To its credit, the L.A. Times (12/3/99) was one of the few newspapers to provide a detailed report on the police assault on the Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill the night of December 1, describing how "residents told of being chased down side streets and pepper sprayed and of being tear gassed in their own yards." But like other papers, the Times didn't discuss the health dangers of indiscriminate spraying. (5)


You generally had to turn to the alternative, college and international press for in-depth reporting of police treatment of protesters. The University of Colorado’s Colorado Daily (12/4/99) reported at week's end that "hundreds of arrested protesters have been denied food, water, medical attention and legal representation, while others have reportedly been sprayed in the face with pepper spray as they sat in jail cells, shackled with both handcuffs and leg irons." Agence Presse France (12/4/99), meanwhile, interviewed Direct Action Network spokesperson Karen Coulter, who reported that "Our legal team has gone in and found out that beatings in detention were severe, and there has been repeated use of pepper spray in detention." (5)

The use of pepper spray by police in California against peaceful protesters, including a 17-year old, is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of such deliberateness and severity that it is tantamount to torture, Amnesty International said today following last Friday's videotape showing of Humboldt County Sheriff Department officers swabbing liquid pepper spray directly into the eyes of demonstrators. (6)

The videotape -- made by the sheriff's office and played for reporters on 31 October as lawyers announced a lawsuit -- showed protesters sitting around a tree stump in Representative Frank Riggs' Eureka office on 16 October. The protesters screamed as deputies pulled back their heads, opened their eyes, and "swabbed" the burning liquid to their eyeballs. They were protesting against the destruction of redwood trees in Headwaters Forest in northern California. A 17-year-old protestor, whose eyelids were prised apart to apply the spray, described feeling acute pain and burning in the eyes after the spray was administered. (6)

Video footage of a second incident, which took place at the Pacific Lumber Company headquarters in nearby Scotia on 25 September, showed two women protesters being swabbed in the eyes with liquid pepper spray. Police sprayed a third woman in the eyes at close range. (6),0,3229619.story


From the Baltimore Sun

Two months after a Western Maryland inmate died after being subdued with three cans of pepper spray, the state prison commissioner has toughened guidelines for its use, according to an internal memo…  Iko, an inmate at Western Correctional Institution near Cumberland, died of asphyxiation April 30, and his death has been ruled a homicide. A grand jury is expected to convene by the end of the month to determine whether criminal charges should be brought. (7)

Revised guidelines came at a time when the Division of Correction was roiled by the continuing investigation into Iko's death. Inmate witnesses have said that a lieutenant, who was leading a team of officers to "extract" Iko from his cell, sprayed three cans of pepper spray into his cell. Officers also placed a mesh "spit mask" on his face to prevent him from spitting or biting, according to inmate accounts…  State officials have refused to comment publicly or provide details on the death, citing an inquiry and impending grand jury investigation…” (7)







(6) News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *AI INDEX: AMR 51/67/97 4 NOVEMBER 1997 USA: Police Use of Pepper Spray
-- Tantamount to Torture

(7) Pepper spray rules tighten  Md. prison chief restricts OK to warden, assistant; Affects use in segregation units; Officials say inmate death did not spur the change  By Gus G. Sentementes and Greg Garland | Sun Staff   July 21, 2004 





World Peace Conference Report - Hiroshima, 2008 - by Everett Foy

I started off the journey easily enough. After weeks of delay about my passport, I was anxious that the flight go smoothly. We started from Dulles at about 1pm. It was a very, very long, if uneventful passage.

We arrived in Tokyo 3am the next day – after adjusting time it was 3 pm. Customs was OK, and then Odetta and I got on a flight for Hiroshima. We arrived around 6, and then made our way to the hotel by 7 or 8 or so.


The next morning we had a brunch in a restaurant with a beautiful view of the Hiroshima Tower ruins; it was at the hotel that was the H.Q. for the 2008 World Conference organizing committee. Later that day we registered for the Conference, after some sightseeing and shopping. The evening was a meeting for the international delegates to the Conference.


The next morning, the ‘2008 World Conference Against A- & H-Bombs’ convened. The next few days were filled with plenary sessions of committee speakers from around the world. There were also side excursions: we visited the Hiroshima A-Bomb hospital and other places pertinent to the ruins of the A-Bomb damage done to historical Hiroshima. Workshops were held on the topics of denuclearization and arms control; Article 9 in Japan and world constitutional peace initiatives; the roles of NGO peace organizations and government entities in disarmament; countering the historical attitude and culture surrounding the entwined nuclear energy and arms establishments; and, energizing and engaging the youth generation. About four to five speakers each, at each session, gave lengthy statements on their topics. They were also all highly credentialed. I tried to save as much literature from the Conference as possible, but the complete text of the 30-odd statements proved too burdensome to carry.


After three days, Odetta and I shifted from living in a hotel to staying with host families. My gracious hosts were the Fujimoto family who lived in the farmland suburbs of mountainous Hiroshima. I stayed for about a week on their family farm and appreciated their gracious hospitality. Mr. Fujimoto is the secretary for the Hiroshima Branch of the Japan National Communist Party.  Socially, many people hosted us each out at dinners and we met people from around the world.


The World Conference continued through various meetings. Memorable amongst them was the public Plenary at the main indoor stadium of the city, which was packed to over its 7000-person capacity. I also participated in several committees spread out over various cultural venues in the city. I had the opportunity to hear Joseph Gershon of the AFSC, who strongly repudiated the recent recalcitrant and repugnant statements about the so-called ‘necessity’ of the Bomb, and bolstered the necessity of a peace process to denuclearize the nuclear-armed nations and disarm the world of the grave threat of war in general as well as nuclear.


We all then attended the 50th Memorial Commemoration for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a civic center. It was a capacity event, with international dignitaries and even the Prime Minister attending and speaking. The Mayor of Hiroshima City and Governor of its Prefecture spoke as well of the need to denuclearize the world from the brinkmanship of state that has been approached by recent policy – the Mayor spoke of the need for more cities to join Mayors for Peace. The Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General spoke of the need for ‘more action and less words,’ a theme he would reiterate throughout the conference. It was a national day of remembrance; most people were very solemn for the occasion. Wreaths were laid at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial by all three of these dignitaries and others.

The Hiroshima part of the Conference culminated in the Lantern Floating Ceremony along the Hiroshima River, which must have been attended by over 10,000 people. It also lasted far into the night, accompanied by a folk-rock concert along the riverside site of the ceremony.




Book Review: Critique of Intelligent Design - by David Schwartzman


John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, Critique of Intelligent Design

    (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008).


The intelligent design (ID) movement has been aptly called the Trojan horse of Christian Creationism with its pretense that no claim of a particular deity is being invoked, only that the so-called irreducible complexity of living organisms has to be explained by design and not as a product of biological evolution. This book’s staunch critique of ID and defense of the materialist foundation of science is very welcome, especially as we now see an opportunity to reverse the propagation of ID ideology sanctified by the Bush White House.

The authors lucidly explain the long thread of materialist challenge to the religious worldview going back to the ancient philosophers, notably Epicurus, whose writings, along with those of Democritus, were apparently decisive in Marx’s own education. I would have welcomed more context for this history. For example, it could have been mentioned that the roots of ancient materialism are found in the still relatively undifferentiated societies that predated class division. Benjamin Farrington argued that Thales of Miletus kicked Marduk (the ruler of Babylonian gods) out of his philosophy because Thales lived in a relatively equal community where theory and practice were still the common activity of each member. Not until the aristocracy arose in ancient society did idealist philosophy find a natural place when only common people still worked in manual labor directly with nature, hence the Platonic supremacy of mind over matter.

The authors do an outstanding job in setting forth the contributions of the trinity of evil-doers on the ID list – Darwin, Marx and Freud. The Darwin chapter alone is worth the price of this volume. The authors emphasize that the agenda of the modern US ID movement is really political. It has attacked materialist influence in diverse areas of our culture and legal system, including criminal justice (prioritizing punishment rather than treatment and elimination of the social causes of crime), sex education (abstinence rather than birth control), and of course abortion. Their target has been what remains of the welfare state, and its materialist ideological foundation in the social sciences. In light of these uses of ID ideology, it would be interesting to analyze the analogous promotion and social agenda of ID movements in other countries, inspired by Islamic, Jewish and Hindu creationism.

The authors argue that the “conflict between religion and science is a permanent feature of our present-day capitalist society.” ID is in their view a “counter-revolution against science” (26). The authors’ agenda is clear: we must struggle to remove all obstacles to rational debate in the interests of protecting and enhancing democracy. Religious ideology is seen as antithetical to rational thinking. However, I think this way of posing the antinomy of science and religion oversimplifies the role of religious ideology in relation to social movements. Religion is not always on the wrong side of the class struggle. It has served both the oppressor and oppressed, even after the Enlightenment, indeed even now. Examples of the progressive uses of religion include its appropriation by the abolitionist and civil rights movements and of course contemporary liberation theology. The religious ideology of the oppressed and exploited has drawn from the cumulative experience of class struggle going back to ancient times as well as from Marxist sources in the past 150 years.

I suspect most people want what the pragmatists and pessimists call the impossible, a future that is free of war, hatred and pollution, with the maximum biodiversity possible. This will require the broadest possible popular movement. People of all faiths and no faith must respect each other's orientations, agree to disagree, and continue the dialogue, or we will fail miserably. In much of the world, indeed in the United States, non-believers are a minority, mainly hidden in the closet, barely tolerated or even persecuted. Hence, claims that spiritual and ethical values must be uniquely grounded in religious belief should be challenged, in the name of universal human rights. On the other hand, progressive materialists should welcome with open arms all those inspired by the humanist values of the world’s religions. Further, the battle for the separation of religion and state, and for secular public education, is imperative. Inevitably, contradictions will arise between this struggle and parallel struggles for social progress and peace, but such differences must be resolved by dialogue and persuasion not coercion.

In their discussion of Stephen Jay Gould’s formulation of NOMA (“Non-Overlapping Magisteria” of science and religion), the authors argue that Gould leaves little to religion, since only ethics is left to the latter (as well as to the humanities) – what they call the social-contractual parameters of human behavior. This formulation implies that ethical principles cannot be derived from materialist science. “It is doubtful whether there is a foundationalist ought (as commonly presupposed by religion), that can tell us what moral values should be. Therefore, it is left to humans to construct their own morals” (24). The authors argue that “Questions of what we ought to do (the morality of morals) are indeed important, but they do not have absolute answers – they can only be answered by people in the context of their times” (196). Of course all standards of ethical behavior are socially constructed (as is science itself), and in the final analysis are linked to class interests. The authors cite Marx’s view that “moral conditions evolve with the material needs of human communities” (99). Hence ethical imperatives are derived from the collective experience of human communities and societies, going back to our prehistory.

The survival of social groups requires a combination of altruist and coercive behavior; indeed this is arguably the basis for both humanist religious and Marxist ethics. Kropotkin argued that ethics should be founded on a purely naturalistic base, drawing on the materialist analysis of social life. Darwin’s research on animals, especially primates, suggests that behavior conducive to survival and flourishing of social groups arose through natural selection.* Contrary to Foster et al., I suggest that what one ought to do should be informed by the sciences, natural and social, and by the collective wisdom of human experience; hence ethics can indeed be foundational and not merely social-constructional.

In the last section of their book, the authors provide an insightful survey of modern evolutionary , concluding that the inherent contingency of biological evolution does not follow a deterministic path; if the tape of life were replayed, they suggest, very different results should be expected. They stress the environmental aspects of the evolutionary process, viewing evolution as an ongoing process of self-organization of organisms and their ecosystems.

But if the tape of our biosphere – life plus its global environment – were played again, would its history necessarily differ radically from the one inferred from the fossil and geologic record? Are humans, or at least highly encephalized warm-blooded animals, the highly contingent and unlikely outcome of biosphere history as the authors imply, citing Gould’s views with approval (180)? The authors cite Stuart Kauffman’s concept of an attractor state of self-organizing complex systems, including the example of the biological cell (168). Gould himself supported this view in his praise of Kauffman’s book The Origin of Order on its back page: “The conventional concept of Darwinian evolution views populations of organisms as randomly varying systems shaped to adaptation by the external force of natural selection. But Darwinian theory must be expanded to recognize other sources of order based on the internal genetic and developmental constraints of organisms and on the structural limits and possibilities of general physical laws.” With the growing recognition of the evolutionary importance of feedbacks between organism and environment (e.g., niche construction; see Odling-Smee et al. 2003), the potential for attractor states in biospheric evolution is now being taken more seriously.

My own view is that the biosphere and indeed biotic evolution are quasi-deterministic, i.e., the general pattern of the tightly coupled evolution of biota and climate was very probable and self-selected from a relatively small number of possible histories (Schwartzman 2008). For example, the long-term cooling history of the Earth’s biosphere correlates with the timing of major events in biotic evolution, such as the emergence of photosynthesis, eucaryotes (cells with nuclei) and animals (Schwartzman 2002). These organisms apparently only emerged when temperatures declined to the maximum limit that they could tolerate, i.e., 70oC (3.5 billion years ago), 60oC (2.8 billion years ago) and 50oC (1-1.5 billion years ago) respectively. This climatic temperature constraint on evolution explains the long delay in the appearance of complex life (eucaryotes including animals, fungi and plants). Atmospheric oxygen levels were apparently sufficient for animal metabolism by 2 billion years ago, but temperatures were too high for their emergence. Encephalization, the increase in brain mass relative to body weight, may well have been the probable outcome for the success of some warm-blooded animals as global temperatures plunged thereby allowing the loss of heat from energy-intensive brains (Schwartzman and Middendorf).

Thus, at least on a coarse scale, one might expect the same results if the tape of life and the biosphere were played again, since major innovations in the biotic evolution were the result of the co-evolution of life and its environment. Such a view is the subtext of the astrobiology research program in its plausible expectation of finding alien biospheres, in our own solar system (e.g., Mars, Europa) and on Earth-like planets in extra-solar planetary systems. Roughly deterministic evolution is not necessarily teleological; rather it reflects the self-organization of complex systems such as our own biosphere. And such a view is staunchly materialist. If the evolution of stars is deterministic (predictable from their initial mass and composition), why not that of biospheres? Such a view is compatible with recognizing the higher level of contingency in the development of human societies. The near future ecocatastrophe arising from unconstrained global warming or nuclear war is not inevitable. In the form of class struggle, including broad trans-class coalitions of the global peace and justice movement, human agency can still bring into being that “other world that is possible.”


*Along these lines, an illuminating materialist discussion of the survival imperative expressed in contemporary humanist ethics is found in Verharen 2008.



Benjamin Farrington, 1944. Greek Science, 2 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Stuart Kauffman, 1993. The Origin of Order. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peter Kropotkin, 1924. Ethics, Origin and Development. New York: Dial Press.

F. John Odling-Smee, Kevin N. Laland, and Marcus W. Feldman, 2003. Niche Construction. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

David Schwartzman, 2002. Life, Temperature, and the Earth: The Self-Organizing Biosphere. New York: Columbia University Press.

David W. Schwartzman, 2008, “Coevolution of the Biosphere and Climate,” in Encyclopedia of Ecology (S.E. Jorgensen and B. Fath, eds), Oxford: Elsevier. 648-658.

David Schwartzman and George Middendorf, 2000. “Biospheric Cooling and the Emergence of Intelligence,” in A New Era in Bioastronomy, ASP Conference Series, Vol. 213, (G. Lemarchand and K. Meech, eds.), 425-429.

Charles C. Verharen, 2008. “An African and American Survival Ethics: The Case of Cuba,” Capitalism Nature Socialism Vol.19, No.4, 30-47.





Books of Interest


Climate Change: Picturing the Science by Joshua Wolfe and Gavin Schmidt.  Going beyond the headlines, this work by leading NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt and master photographer Joshua Wolfe illustrates as never before the ramifications of shifting climate. Photographic spreads show retreating glaciers, sinking villages in Alaska's tundra, and drying lakes. The text follows adventurous scientists through the ice caps at the poles to the coral reefs of the tropical seas. Marshaling data spanning centuries and continents, the book sparkles with cutting-edge research and visual records, including contributions from experts on atmospheric science, oceanography, paleoclimatology, technology, politics, and the polar regions. As Jeffrey D. Sachs writes in his powerful foreword, "Climate Change is a tour de force of public education."W.W. Norton, April, 2009


The Big Necessity The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George it’s not only in developing countries that human waste is a major public health threat: population growth is taxing even the most advanced sewage systems, and the disease spread by waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death. Even in America, 1.95 million people have no access to an indoor toilet. Metropolitan Books, Oct 2008


Deep Economy, the wealth of communities and the durable future, by Bill McKibben
McKibben puts forward a new way to think about the things we buy, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the money that pays for it all. Our purchases, he says, need not be at odds with the things we truly value. McKibben's animating idea is that we need to move beyond "growth" as the paramount economic ideal and pursue prosperity in a more local direction, with regions producing more of their own food, generating more of their own energy, and even creating more of their own culture and entertainment.--From publisher description..  NY Times Books, 2007


A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy,  by  J. Timmons Roberts and Bradley C. Parks. he global debate over who should take action to address climate change is extremely precarious, as diametrically opposed perceptions of climate justice threaten the prospects for any long-term agreement. Poor nations fear limits on their efforts to grow economically and meet the needs of their own people, while powerful industrial nations, including the United States, refuse to curtail their own excesses unless developing countries make similar sacrifices. MIT Press, 2006.


The Dialectics of Globalization: Economic and Political Conflict in a Transnational World,
by Jerry Harris.  In an unique historical approach the book examines how the revolution in information technologies and the break-up of the Soviet Union intertwined to present new global opportunities to reorganize capitalism as a unified world system headed by an emerging transnational capitalist class. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.


Violence Today:  Social Register 2009: Actually Existing Barbarism Edited by Leo Panitch and Colin Leys.  Henry Bernstein, Colin Leys, Leo Panitch: Reflections on Violence Today; Vivek Chibber: American Militarism and the US Political Establishment - the Real Lessons of the Invasion of Iraq; Philip Green: On-screen Barbarism - Violence in US Visual Culture; Ruth Wilson Gilmore: Race, Prisons and War: Scenes from the History of US Violence; Joe Sim & Steve Tombs: State talk, state silence - work and 'violence' in the UK; Lynne Segal: Violence's Victims - the Gender Landscape … and more.  Merlin Press Ltd 2008.


Critique of Intelligent Design John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008). See review by David Schwartzman in this issue of the Newsletter.