12 November 2005

Change comes to Israel from the "East"

Editor’s note: I think that most of us here in France get the point of this from our own dramatic needs and perspectives. I very much hope.

Uri Avner, 12.11.05


NORTH AFRICAN immigrants on the periphery of French cities are torching them. North African immigrants on the periphery of Israel this week carried out a democratic revolution in our country.

In the Labor Party primaries, the members of "Eastern” descent voted massively for Amir Peretz and defeated Shimon Peres, who enjoyed the support of the upper class, mostly Ashkenazi, party members.

("Eastern" is the now generally accepted term for Jews from Arab and other Muslim countries and their descendents, who used to be called, erroneously, "Sephardim". The "Ashkenazim" are immigrants from European countries and their descendents, named for the Medieval Hebrew appellation for Germany.)

A week ago, this column called upon the Labor Party voters to elect Peretz. "Haaretz" published that article on election day. [Hebrew edition: http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/643400.html].If it convinced even one person to change his or her vote, I am glad. Because the election of Peretz is, in my view, an event that far transcends party affairs. It may well change the future of the country.

I REMEMBER a debate that took place shortly after the 1982 Lebanon war. Some dozens of veterans of the radical Israeli peace movements gathered on the roof of a Tel-Aviv building and discussed the possibility of creating a new peace party, after the dissolution of the Sheli Party (which I had represented for some years in the Knesset).

I said that we would not succeed in effecting a real change if we did not reach the Eastern Jewish public. To this community, the peace camp looks like an Ashkenazi affair, belonging to the upper socio-economic strata. In our demonstrations, one hardly sees any Eastern faces. We have failed to reach half the Israeli population. As long as this situation prevails, there will be no peace.

Since then, 23 years have passed and the situation has not changed. The masses of the Eastern public have boycotted the whole Israeli” Left". They particularly loathed the Labor Party, which in their eyes represented all the bad things: discrimination against the towns and neighborhoods where the Eastern public is concentrated, disdain for social values, support for an economic policy that makes the rich richer. They had special contempt for "ethnic politicians", seeing them as mercenaries of the Ashkenazi elite.

The peace camp is identified with the "Left". When, once a year, a hundred thousand people congregate (like this evening) in Tel-Aviv's Rabin Square to commemorate the slain leader, the Eastern people are conspicuous by their absence (apart from members of the leftist youth movements.) Arguments often heard are "You are concerned only with the Arabs, not with us!" or "Ramallah is more important to you than Ramleh!" (Ramleh is an Israeli town mainly populated by North African immigrants.) The whole idea of peace is somehow considered an elitist, Ashkenazi affair, which does not concern the inhabitants of the Eastern towns.

There are several reasons for the deep-seated hatred felt by many Eastern people, even of the second and third generation, for the Labor Party. One of them is the feeling that North African immigrants in the 1950s were received in Israel with contempt by the establishment, which at the time entirely belonged to the Labor Party. The immigrants were expected to give up their cultural heritage and traditions in the Israeli "melting pot" that imposed a western, secular pattern.

From generation to generation, a (true) story was passed on about the Moroccan immigrants who were driven to a place in the middle of the desert and told to build a new town for themselves. When they refused to get out of the truck, its tipping mechanism was activated and they were literally "poured" out, as if they were a load of sand. Also, the immigrants felt humiliated when, upon arriving in the country, their hair was sprayed with DDT. True, the same happened to immigrants from the European refugee camps, but in the memory of the Eastern immigrants the insult has left an indelible mark.

The Eastern people of the second and third generation believed that the "Left" had created a closed world whose gates were shut to them. This feeling did not disappear when individuals of Eastern origin reached high position, entered the office of the President of the State, became cabinet ministers, professors or successful entrepreneurs. Statistics show that most of the Eastern people are to be found in the lower socio-economic classes, that many of them live below the poverty line and that they are overrepresented in the prisons. As a result, they voted en masse for Likud, which was also for a long time "outside” the establishment. Even to this day, the Likud is perceived as an opposition party - in spite of the fact that it has already been in power for a long time.

THERE ARE, of course, more profound reasons for the tension between the Eastern public and the peace camp. Most immigrants from Arab countries did not arrive as Arab-haters - they became Arab-haters here.

This is a well-known phenomenon in many countries: the most discriminated class of the ruling nation provides the most radical enemies of national minorities and foreigners in general. Those who are trampled-upon trample those beneath them. After being robbed of their self-esteem, they can regain some self-respect only by belonging to a” master race". Thus the poor whites in the United States. The same in France.

Moreover, the Ashkenazi ruling class openly despises the Arab manners, diction and music that the Eastern immigrants brought with them. This overtly racist attitude towards the Arabs became a covert racist attitude towards the Eastern Jews. These reacted defensively by adopting an extreme anti-Arab attitude.

In the discussion 23 years ago I said that no one of us Ashkenazis can effect the necessary change. Only an authentic Eastern leader can imbue the Eastern community with a new spirit. He can remind them that for 1400 years, while European Jews saw pogroms, the Inquisition and the Holocaust, Jews weren’t persecuted in Muslim countries and, indeed, for long periods in Spain and elsewhere, were partners in a marvelous Muslim-Jewish symbiosis. Such a leader can give back to his community the pride in its past and the ambition to take up its natural mission of serving as a bridge between the two peoples.

That did not happen in the years that have passed. It can happen now.

THE ELECTION of Amir Peretz completely changes the political scene. For the first time, the Labor party is headed by an authentic representative of the North African community - not an "ethnic" politician, but a national leader who is proud of his roots. And indeed, before the election he declared that "the first thing I shall do after being elected is to organize a mercy killing for the Ethnic Demon."

For the first time since 1974, the Labor Party is now headed by a person who did not grow up in the army or the defense establishment. His main agenda is social-economic. He puts an end to the abnormal situation that has prevailed in Israel for a long time, when the leaders of the "Left" supported an extremely rightist economic policy. He can put an end to the situation where the huge defense budget, together with the massive investment on the settlements, devour the resources needed for reducing the gap between rich and poor, which is now wider in Israel than in any other developed country.

From the beginning of his career, Peretz has never wavered in his consistent support for Israeli-Palestinian peace. His social messages connected with his peace message, which is as it should be.

All this is not yet a reason for dancing for joy in the streets. We may be disappointed. Peretz is facing a daunting series of tasks: to unify his party, to clear away the Peres heritage, to infuse new blood into the party, to win the next general election, to become Prime Minister, to introduce a new social policy, to make peace. He must now prove himself in all of these, phase by phase.

But there is room for optimism. The frozen fronts between the parties have been broken. It is the beginning of a Perestroika. Whole communities can now change their allegiance. A new political scene can be created, one much more suited to peace-making.

In France, the discriminated North African neighborhoods are going up in flames. In our country, a member of the discriminated North-African community has become candidate for Prime Minister. Six weeks before Hanukah, the Jewish festival with the ancient adage "A Great Miracle Has Happened Here”, we have some reason to be happy.

08 November 2005

Why is France Burning?

Editor’s note: Having lived happily here in France for more than half of my life, and as someone whose role it is to keep my eyes open to social and economic anomalies and eventual time bombs, this festering problem has been high on my worries list for both the government and people of France since the late Sixties when French industry started to import large numbers of cheap and compliant foreign workers. As Doug Ireland aptly points out in the very lucid and well informed piece that follows. From our end here, this problem was one of the key areas to which I tried to draw attention in my 1993 report for the European Commission under the title of Rethinking Work: “New Ways to Work in an Information Society” (see http://www.xwork.org for the original on that if you wish). There are as you can well imagine many things that will now need to be done if these challenges are finally to be faced. But one of them, which is both possible and vital even if it strikes you as unrealistic to the point of utopian, is the guarantee of a job for every person in this wonderful but troubled country. For one reason or another, we seen to have lost the thread when it comes to the role of work, in the economy, in the society and in all of our daily lives. So now what?


Why is France Burning?

By Doug Ireland, AlterNet Posted on November 8, 2005, http://www.alternet.org/story/27978/

Saturday night was the 10th day of the spreading youth riots that have much of France in flames, the worst night since the first riot erupted in a suburban Paris ghetto of low-income housing, with 1295 vehicles -- from private cars to public buses -- burned Sunday night, a huge jump from the 897 set afire the previous evening.

And, for the first time, the violence born in the suburban ghettos invaded the center of Paris -- some 40 vehicles were set alight in Le Marais (the pricey home to the most famous gay ghetto in Paris), around the Place de la Republique nearby, and in the bourgeois 17th arrondissement, just a stone's throw from the dilapidated ghetto of the Goutte d'Or in the 18th arrondissement.

As someone who lived in France for nearly a decade, and who has visited those suburban ghettos, where the violence started, on reporting trips any number of times, I have not been surprised by this tsunami of inchoate youth rebellion that is engulfing France.

It is the result of thirty years of government neglect: of the failure of the French political classes -- of both right and left -- to make any serious effort to integrate its Muslim and black populations into the larger French economy and culture; and of the deep-seated, searing, soul-destroying racism that the unemployed and profoundly alienated young of the ghettos face every day of their lives, both from the police, and when trying to find a job or decent housing.

To understand the origins of this profound crisis for France, it is important to step back and remember that the ghettos where festering resentment has now burst into flames were created as a matter of industrial policy by the French state. If France's population of immigrant origin -- mostly Arab, some black -- is today quite large (more than 10% of the total population), it is because there was a government and industrial policy during the post-World War II boom years of reconstruction and economic expansion -- which the French call "les trentes glorieuses" or the 30 glorious years -- to recruit from France's foreign colonies laborers and factory and menial workers for jobs which there were no Frenchmen to fill. These immigrant workers, primarily from North Africa, were desperately needed to allow the French economy to expand due to the shortage of male manpower caused by two World Wars, which killed many Frenchmen, and slashed the native French birth-rates too.

Moreover, these immigrant workers (especially Moroccans, particularly favored in the auto industry) were favored by industrial employers as passive and unlikely to strike (in sharp contrast to the highly political Continental French working class and its militant, largely Communist-led unions) and cheaper to hire. In some industries, for this reason, literacy was a disqualification -- because an Arab worker who could read could educate himself about politics and become more susceptible to organization into a union. This government-and-industry-sponsored influx of Arab workers (many of whom then saved up to bring their families to France from North Africa) was reinforced following Algerian independence by the arrival of the Harkis.

The Harkis (whose story is movingly told by Dalila Kerchouche in her Destins de Harkis) were the native Algerians who fought for and worked with France during the post-war anti-colonial struggles for independence -- and who for their trouble were horribly treated by France. Some 100,000 Harkis were killed by the Algerian FLN (National Liberation Front) after the French shamelessly abandoned them to a lethal fate when the French occupying army evacuated itself and the French colonists from Algeria.

Moreover, those Harki families who were saved, often at the initiative of individual military commanders who refused to obey orders not to evacuate them, once in France were parked in unspeakable, filthy, crowded concentration camps for many long years and never benefited from any government aid -- a nice reward for their sacrifices for France, of which they were, after all, legally citizens. Their ghettoized children and grandchildren, naturally, harbor certain resentments -- the Harki tragedy is still an open wound for the Franco-Arab community.

France's other immigrant workers were warehoused in huge, high-rise low-income housing ghettos -- known as "cités" (Americans would say "the projects") -- specially built for them, and deliberately placed out of sight in the suburbs around most of France's major urban agglomerations, so that their darker-skinned inhabitants wouldn't pollute the center cities of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Lille, Nice and the others of white France's urban centers, today encircled by flames. Often there was only just enough public transport provided to take these uneducated working class Arabs and blacks directly to their jobs in the burgeoning factories of the "peripherique" -- the suburban peripheries that encircled Paris and its smaller sisters -- but little or none linking the ghettos to the urban centers.

Now 30, 40, and 50 years old, these high-rise human warehouses in the isolated suburbs are today run-down, dilapidated, sinister places, with broken elevators that remain unrepaired, heating systems left dysfunctional in winter, dirt and dog-shit in the hallways, broken windows, and few commercial amenities -- shopping for basic necessities is often quite limited and difficult, while entertainment and recreational facilities for youth are truncated and totally inadequate when they're not non-existent. Both apartments and schools are over-crowded (birth control is taboo in the Muslim culture the immigrants brought with them and transmitted to their children, and even for their male grandchildren of today -- who've adopted hip-hop culture and created their own French-language rap music of extraordinary vitality (which often embodies stinging social and political content) -- condoms are a no-no because of Arab machismo, contributing to rising AIDS rates in the ghettos.

The first week in December will mark the 22nd anniversary of the Marche des Beurs (Beur means Arab in French slang). I was present to see the cortege of 100,000 arrive in Paris -- it was the Franco-Arab equivalent of Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. The Marche des Beurs was organized from Lyon's horrific, enormous suburban high-rise ghetto, Les Minguettes, with the help of a charismatic left-wing French Catholic worker-priest, Father Christian Delorme, and its central theme was the demand to be recognized as French "comme les autres" -- like everyone else... a demand, in sum, for complete integration. But for the mass of Franco-Arabs, little has changed since 1983 -- and the integrationist movement of "jeunes beurs" created around that march petered out in frustration and despair as the dream of integration failed.

In recent years, its place has been taken by Islamist fundamentalists operating through local mosques -- the mediatic symbol of this retreat into a separatist, communitarian-religious politics is the slick demagogue Tariq Ramadan, a philosophy professor who uses one cosmetically democratic discourse when he's speaking on French TV, and a fiery, hard-line fundamentalist discourse in the Arab-language cassettes of his speeches that sell like hotcakes to Franco-Arab ghetto youth. (Ramadan's double language has been meticulously documented and exposed, and his deep ties to the extremist religious primitives of the Muslim Brotherhood [founded by his grandfather] detailed, by Arab-speaking journalist Caroline Fourest in her book published last fall by Editions Grasset, "Frere Tariq: discours, methode et strategie de Tariq Ramadan," extracts from which have been published in the weekly l'Express.)

But the current rebellion has little to do with Islamic fundamentalism. It is the anguished scream of a lost generation in search of an identity, children caught between two cultures and belonging to neither -- a rebellion of kids who, born in France and often speaking little Arabic, don't know the country where their parents were born, but who feel excluded, marginalized and invisible in the country in which they live.

In 1990, Francois Mitterrand -- the Socialist President then -- described what life was like for jobless ghetto youths warehoused in the overcrowded "cités":

"What hope does a young person have who's been born in a quartier without a soul, who lives in an unspeakably ugly high-rise, surrounded by more ugliness, imprisoned by gray walls in a gray wasteland and condemned to a gray life, with all around a society that prefers to look away until it's time to get mad, time to FORBID."

Well, Mitterrand's perceptive and moving words remained just that -- words -- for his urban policy was an underfunded, unfocussed failure that only put a few band-aids on a metastasizing cancer. Fifteen years after Mitterrand's diagnosis, the hopelessness and alienation of these ghetto youths and their "gray lives" has only become deeper and more rancid. The response to the last ten days of violent youth rebellion by the conservative government has been inept and tone-deaf. For the first four days of the rebellion, Chirac and his Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin decided to let the hyper-ambitious, megalomaniacal Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, lead the government's response to the youths' violence and arson.

Chirac and Villepin detest Sarkozy, who has been openly campaigning to replace Chirac as president in 2007 (Villepin was made P.M. in the hopes that he could block Sarkozy for the right's presidential nomination). The President and his P.M. thought that "Sarko," as he's commonly referred to in France -- who won his widespread popularity as a hardline, law-and-order demagogue on the issue of domestic insecurity -- would be unable to stop the violence, and thus damage his presidential campaign.

But Sarkozy only poured verbal kerosene on the flames, dismissing the ghetto youth in the most insulting and racist terms and calling for a policy of repression. "Sarko" made headlines with his declarations that he would "karcherise" the ghettos of "la racaille"-- words the U.S. press, with glaring inadequacy, has translated to mean "clean" the ghettos of "scum." But these two words have an infinitely harsher and insulting flavor in French. "Karcher" is the well-known brand name of a system of cleaning surfaces by super-high-pressure sand-blasting or water-blasting that very violently peels away the outer skin of encrusted dirt -- like pigeon-shit -- even at the risk of damaging what's underneath.

To apply this term to young human beings and proffer it as a strategy is a verbally fascist insult and, as a policy proposed by an Interior Minister, is about as close as one can get to hollering "ethnic cleansing" without actually saying so. It implies raw police power and force used very aggressively, with little regard for human rights. I wonder how many Anglo-American correspondents get the inflammatory, terribly vicious flavor of the word in French? The translation of "karcherise" by "clean" just misses completely the provocative, incendiary violence of what Sarko was really saying. And "racaille" is infinitely more pejorative than "scum" to French-speakers -- it has the flavor of characterizing an entire group of people as subhuman, inherently evil and criminal, worthless, and is, in other words, one of the most serious and dehumanizing insults one could launch at the rebellious ghetto youth. Kerosene, indeed.

As the rebellion has spread beyond the Paris suburbs as far south as Marseilles and Nice and as far north as Lille, Sarkozy has been thundering that the spreading violence is centrally "organized." But on the telephone this morning from Paris, the dean of French investigative reporters -- Claude Angeli, editor of Le Canard Enchaine, one of the most perspicacious political analysts I know -- told me:

"That's not true -- this isn't being organized by the Islamist fundamentalists, as Sarkozy is implying to scare people. Sure, kids in neighborhoods are using their cellphones and text messages to warn each other where the cops are coming so they can move and pick other targets for their arson. But the rebellion is spreading across the country because the youth have a sense of solidarity with each other that comes from watching television -- they imitate what they're seeing, they have experienced themselves the same racist police abuse that helped spark the riots, and they sense themselves targeted by Sarkozy's inflammatory rhetoric. The rebellion is spreading spontaneously -- driven especially by racist police conduct that is the daily lot of these youths. It's incredible the level of police racism -- these young are arrested or controlled by the police, shaken down, pushed around, and have their papers checked simply because they have dark skins, and the police are verbally brutal, calling them 'bougnoules' [a racist insult, something like the American 'towel-heads,' only worse], 'dirty Arabs' and more. The police bark, 'Lower your eyes! Lower your eyes!' as if they had no right even to look a policeman in the face. It's utterly dehumanizing. No wonder these kids feel so divorced from authority."

A team report in yesterday's French daily, Liberation (where I was once a columnist), interviews ghetto youths, and asks them to explain the reasons for their anger. The paper reports, "All, or almost all, cite 'Sarko'....a 22-year old student says, 'Sarkozy owes us his excuses for what he said. When I see what's happened, I come back to the same image: Sarkozy when he went to Argenteuil, raising his head and thundering, Madame, we're going to clean all that up. Result? Sarko sent every body over the top, he showed a total disrespect toward everybody' in the ghetto." A 13-year-old tells the Liberation reporters: "'It's us who are going to put Sarkozy through the Karcher... Will I be out making trouble tonight?' He smiles and says, 'that's classified information.'"

Another 28-year-old youth:

"Who's setting the fires? They're kids between 14 and 22, we don't really know who they are because they put on masks, don't talk, and and don't brag about it the next day... but instead of fucking everything up where they live, it would be better if they held a demo, or went and fucked up the people and the stores in Paris. We've got a minister, Sarko, who says 'You're all the same.' Me, I say Non, we all say Non -- but in reply we still get, 'You're all the same.' That response from the government creates something in common between all of us, a kind of solidarity. These kids want to get attention, to let people know they exist. So, they say to themselves, 'If we get nasty and create panic, they won't forget us, they'll know we're in a neighborhood where we need help."

Yesterday, when Sarkozy -- who is Minister of Religion as well as Interior Minister -- wanted to make an appearance at the Catholic Bishops' conference in Paris, they refused to let him speak -- and instead, the Bishops issued a ringing statement denouncing "those who would call for repression and instill fear" instead of responding to the economic, social, and racial causes of the riots. This was an unusually sharp rebuke directed squarely at Sarkozy.

Under the headline "Budget Cuts Exasperate Suburban Mayors," Le Monde reported yesterday on how Chirac and his conservatives have compounded 30 years of neglect of the ghettos by slashing even deeper into social programs: 20% annual cuts in subsidies for neighborhood groups that work with youths since 2003, cuts in youth job-training programs and tax credits for hiring ghetto youth, cuts in education and programs to fight illiteracy, cuts in neighborhood police who get to know ghetto kids and work with them (when Sarkozy went to Toulouse after the first riots there, he told the neighborhood police: "Your job is not to be playing soccer with these kids, your job is to arrest them!" With fewer and fewer neighborhood cops to do preventive work that defuses youth alienation and violence, the alternative is to wait for more explosions of violence and then send in the CRS (Compagnies Republicaines de Securite, hard-line paramilitary SWAT teams). Budget cuts for social programs plus more repression is a prescription for more violence.

That's why Le Monde's editorial yesterday warned that a continuation of this blind policy creates a big risk of provoking in the elections two years hence a repeat of 2002, when the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen made it into the presidential runoff.

And a majority of the country, empoisoned even more by racism after the violence of the last ten days, seems willing to accept more and more repression: a poll released last night on France 2 public TV shows that 57% of the French support Nicolas Sarkozy's hard-line approach to the ghetto youths' rebellion, now spreading right across France. Despite the mushrooming rebellion, Sarko (no doubt thinking of the polls) wrote an op-ed in yesterday's Le Monde entitled, "Our Strategy Is Working." Well, the barely-concealed racism of Sarko's demagogy may be working with the white electorate -- but it won't stop the violence, it will only increase it. And the violence will only further increase the racism among the French whose skins are white. So it is inevitable that what the French refer to as the "social fracture" will only get worse.

Doug Ireland writes the blog, Direland.

06 November 2005

The Physics of Gridlock: What causes traffic jams?

Editor’s note: Today five year’s later Stephen Budiansky still looks right on target. So unless we forget

The Physics of Gridlock

What causes traffic jams? The depressing answer may be nothing at all

by Stephen Budiansky, Atlantic Monthly D e c e m b e r 2000

BERTRAND Russell once observed that animal behaviorists studying the problem-solving abilities of chimpanzees consistently seemed to detect in their experimental subjects the "national characteristics" of the scientists themselves. A divergence in the findings of the practical-minded Americans and the theoretically inclined Germans was particularly apparent.

Animals studied by Americans rush about frantically, with an incredible display of hustle and pep, and at last achieve the desired result by chance. Animals observed by Germans sit still and think, and at last evolve the solution out of their inner consciousness.

In science, Germans tend to come up with things like the uncertainty principle. Americans tend to come up with things like the atomic bomb.

The latest field to host this conflict of national styles is one that seems at first glance to offer little prospect of a sporting contest. Bigger and better highways are as American as fast-food restaurants and sport utility vehicles, and when it comes to making the crooked straight and the rough places plain, the practicality of American traffic engineers is hard to argue with. As an American academic discipline, traffic engineering is centered in civil-engineering departments, and civil engineers tend to believe in solving problems by going at them head on. A recent study funded by nine state departments of transportation to examine the doubling in congestion on urban highways and primary roads that has occurred over the past two decades listed in its final report various ways that traffic engineers have tried to alleviate the problem. These included "add road space" and "lower the number of vehicles." This would not, as the saying goes, appear to be rocket science.

Even when American traffic engineers have ventured closer to rocket science, with computer simulations of traffic flow on multi-lane highways, the results have tended to reinforce the American reputation for practicality and level-headedness. The mathematical and computer models indicate that when traffic jams occur, they are the result of bottlenecks (merging lanes, bad curves, accidents), which constrict flow. Find a way to eliminate the bottlenecks and flow will be restored.

Such was the happy, practical, and deterministic state of affairs up until a few years ago, when several German theoretical physicists began publishing papers on traffic flow in Physical Review Letters, Journal of Physics, Nature, and other publications not normally read by civil engineers. The Germans had noticed that if one simulated the movement of cars and trucks on a highway using the well-established equations that describe how the molecules of a gas move, some distinctly eerie results emerged. Cars do not behave exactly like gas molecules, to be sure: for example, drivers try to avoid collisions by slowing down when they get too near another car, whereas gas molecules have no such aversion. But the physicists added some terms to the equations to take the differences into account, and the overall description of traffic as a flowing gas has proved to be a very good one. The moving-gas model of traffic reproduces many phenomena seen in real-world traffic. When a flowing gas encounters a bottleneck, for example, it becomes compressed as the molecules suddenly crowd together -- and that compression travels back through the stream of oncoming gas as a shock wave. That is precisely analogous to the well-known slowing and queuing of cars behind a traffic bottleneck: as cars slow at the obstruction, cars behind them slow too, which causes a wave of stop-and-go movement to be transmitted "upstream" along the highway.

The eeriest thing that came out of these equations, however, was the implication that traffic congestion can arise completely spontaneously under certain circumstances. No bottlenecks or other external causes are necessary. Traffic can be flowing freely along, at a density still well below what the road can handle, and then suddenly gel into a slow-moving ooze. Under the right conditions a small, brief, and local fluctuation in the speed or spacing of cars -- the sort of fluctuation that happens all the time just by chance on a busy highway -- is all it takes to trigger a system-wide breakdown that persists for hours after the blip that triggered it is gone. In fact, the Germans' analysis suggested, such spontaneous breakdowns in traffic flow probably occur quite frequently on highways.

Though a decidedly unnerving discovery, this was very much of a piece with the results of mathematical models of many physical and biological systems that exhibit the phenomena popularized under the heading "chaos theory." In any complex interacting system with many parts, each of which affects the others, tiny fluctuations can grow in huge but unpredictable ways. Scientists refer to these as nonlinear phenomena -- phenomena in which seemingly negligible changes in one variable can have disproportionately great consequences. Nonlinear properties have been discovered in the mathematical equations that describe weather, chemical reactions, and populations of biological organisms. Some combinations of variables for these equations give rise to sudden "phase shifts," in which the solution to the equation jumps abruptly from one value to another; others set off truly chaotic situations in which for a time the solution to the equation fluctuates wildly and without any seeming pattern, and then suddenly calms down.

Such mathematical discoveries do seem to be borne out in the real world. Biological populations often exhibit erratic booms and busts that cannot be explained by any external cause. Long-term weather patterns defy prediction by the most powerful supercomputers. And a whole class of chemical reactions has been discovered in which the chemicals do not merely react and create a product, as they did in high school chemistry class, but oscillate back and forth between reactants and products. (Some especially nice ones cause color changes in the solution, so you can sit there and watch the stuff in the beaker go back and forth every few seconds.) The consistent story in all these discoveries is that the components of the system and their interactions themselves -- rather than any external cause -- give rise to the nonlinear behavior of the system as a whole. A rough analogy is a dozen dogs standing on a water bed. If one dog moves, he starts the bed sloshing around, which causes another dog to lose his balance and shift his weight, which sets up another wave of disturbance, until true chaos is reached.

In the case of traffic, the German physicists -- principally Dirk Helbing and Boris Kerner, of Stuttgart -- found that given a certain combination of vehicle density and vehicle flow rate along a highway, the solution to their equations undergoes a sudden phase shift from freely moving traffic to what they call "synchronized traffic." Cars in all lanes abruptly slow down and start moving at the same speed as the cars in adjacent lanes, which makes passing impossible and can cause the whole system to jam up for hours.

In the traditional picture of traffic flow and congestion, the number of cars per minute that pass a given point on the highway at first steadily increases as the density of cars on the highway increases. (As long as everything keeps moving freely, the more cars there are on a mile of a highway, the more flow by per minute.) Eventually, however, further increases in density will cause a decrease in flow, as drivers begin braking to maintain a safe distance from the cars in front of them. A graph of flow versus density thus forms an inverted V shape. The uphill side corresponds to free flow, the downhill to congested flow. The Germans found, in effect, that under the right (or, rather, wrong) circumstances the solution to the equations can tunnel right through this hill without ever reaching the top, jumping from a state of (submaximal) free flow straight to congestion.

Such a leap from one state to another is like what happens when a chemical substance changes phase from vapor to liquid. It often happens that water in a cloud remains in the gas phase even after temperature and density have reached the point where it could condense into water droplets. Only when a speck of dust happens along, providing a surface on which condensation can take place (a "condensation nucleus"), does the transition finally occur. Helbing and Kerner basically found that free flow and synchronized flow can occur under the same conditions, and that under such "metastable" conditions a small fluctuation in traffic density can act as the speck of dust causing the shift from one to the other.

Worse, they found that it is easier to start a traffic jam than to stop one. The phase shifts they discovered exhibit what is known in the terminology of nonlinear phenomena as hysteresis. That is, a small and transient increase in, say, the number of cars entering a highway from a ramp can trigger a breakdown in flow, but even after the on-ramp traffic drops to its original level (in fact, even after it drops well below its original level), the traffic jam persists. Looking at actual data recorded by sensors on Dutch and German highways, the physicists found apparent examples of this phenomenon in action, in which a sluggish synchronized flow came on suddenly and persisted for hours, even after the density of traffic had dropped.

If breakdowns in flow can result from such small and random fluctuations, then the world is a very different place from the one that most traffic engineers are accustomed to. The very notion of maximum capacity for a highway is called into question, because even at traffic densities well below what a highway is designed to handle, jams can spontaneously arise. "If this flow breakdown can take place just anywhere," says James Banks, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at San Diego State University, "then we're in trouble, because there's a lot more potential for congested traffic than we thought was the case. And it makes a control strategy much more difficult."

For example, it may not be enough simply to limit the rate at which cars are allowed to enter a highway, as is now done on some congested freeways; rather, it may be necessary to time each car's entry precisely to coincide with a transient drop in density along the main road, thus aiming to smooth out the fluctuations that can trigger a phase shift. There may even be situations in which widening roads or "metering" on-ramp flow could backfire, making flow breakdowns more likely. Preventing flow breakdowns in a nonlinear, chaotic world could ultimately require realizing an Orwellian idea that has been suggested from time to time: directly controlling the speed and spacing of individual cars along a highway with central computers and sensors that communicate with each car's engine and brake controls.

To say that not all American traffic engineers like these discoveries in chaos theory and their implications for traffic is an understatement. Banks acknowledges that there has been a strong, almost visceral, reaction against the Germans' conclusion, because of its assault on rational determinism and common sense, and also on what might be termed culture-of-science grounds. "Scientists and engineers are human beings,"he says, "and the first reaction is, These guys are not only physicists -- they also have a knack for getting themselves in the press. So right away there's an envy factor: Who do these guys think they are?" It doesn't help that the German theoreticians' papers are very difficult to understand. "They're written in such a way that those of us who aren't physicists never know if it's their English, or whether they're using physics jargon, or whether they just don't make sense," Banks says.

The Americans also question how well the Germans' theoretical results relate to traffic in the real world. All mathematical models involve assumptions, and just because a model re-creates certain real-world phenomena doesn't mean it accurately reflects reality in toto; there is always the possibility that the weird properties of the equations are artifacts of the model itself and its assumptions. The Germans' theory "is one plausible description," says Carroll Messer, a research engineer at Texas A&M University, using words that are obviously chosen carefully, "but that's not saying it's been verified." Indeed, some American researchers have questioned whether elaborate chaos-theory interpretations are needed at all, since at least some of the traffic phenomena the Germans' theories predict seem to be much like things that have been appearing in the traffic-engineering literature under other names for years, and these have straightforward cause-and-effect explanations. Banks published a paper in 1999 pointing out that data from monitors that record how many cars pass a fixed point -- the sort of data the Germans obtained from Dutch and German highways, which they say verify their predictions -- often fail to capture the complete picture of what is happening on the road. He suggests that the behavior of drivers may in fact offer a simpler explanation for the phase shifts and other nonlinear features of the Germans' theoretical models. A sudden slowdown in traffic may have less to do with chaos theory and self-organizing phenomena of systems than with driver psychology. Synchronized flow, for example, has appeared in American traffic literature for decades, under the name "speed sympathy," and Banks says it often happens as traffic gets heavier simply because of the way individual drivers react to changing conditions. As the passing lane gets more crowded, aggressive drivers move to other lanes to try to pass, which also tends to homogenize the speed between lanes. Another leveling force is that when a driver in a fast lane brakes a bit to maintain a safe distance, the shock wave travels back much more rapidly than it would in other lanes, because each following driver has to react more quickly. So as a road becomes congested, the faster-moving traffic is the first to slow down.

Thus many American traffic engineers insist that when breakdowns in flow occur for no apparent reason, it is only because no one has looked hard enough to find the reason, which could be anything from a bad stretch of pavement to a deer running across the road. Much work is now under way on both sides of the Atlantic on a "theory of bottlenecks" that may help to settle the matter.

Even if traffic engineers manage to slay the mathematical bogeyman that theoretical physics and chaos theory have unleashed, another bogeyman may be lurking nearby. It turns out that the properties collectively exhibited by large numbers of cars moving over a network of roadways have many mathematical features in common with the behavior of other things that flow over networks, such as data carried by telephone lines and the Internet. The mathematics of networks is a well-studied topic in communications research, and a recent paper draws on this body of theory to establish an interesting paradox about the flow of vehicular traffic: adding a new road segment to an existing network of roadways can under certain circumstances reduce the car-carrying capacity of the network as a whole. The safest advice for budding engineers may be, If you want determinacy, stick to something simple -- like rockets or atomic bombs.

Stephen Budiansky is a correspondent for The Atlantic.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved. The Atlantic Monthly; December 2000; The Physics of Gridlock - 00.12; Volume 286, No. 6; page 20-24.

Links to related material on other Web sites.

Institute of Transportation Engineers Home Page "ITE members are traffic engineers, transportation planners and other professionals who are responsible for meeting society's needs for safe and efficient surface transportation through planning, designing, implementing, operating and maintaining systems worldwide." The site offers technical information, conference and event listings, publication notices, discussion listservs, and job listings.

Computer Models for Traffic Flow "This applet demonstrates the simulation of traffic flow by several computer models, some of them cellular automata, some based on partial differential equations or differential-difference equations." Posted by a physicist at Otto-von-Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany.

"Further on down the road," by Philip Ball, Nature, (1998) "You thought you were just a poor, down-trodden commuter. Little did you know that you are in fact taking part in an experiment on the physics of self-organization."

03 November 2005

"Climate Technology" -- Or how you drown a Fish

Editor’s note: Though I for one have never greatly loved the Kyoto Treaty, not least because it always struck me as desperately unstrategic and hence likely to, forgive the awfulness, generate more heat than light. And indeed it has. That said, I can hardly great the kind of news that follows here with joy and anticipation of a better world. Of course as you can see here that even as they step away from the challenge, they try as usual, as we say in French, to “drown the fish” by bringing up all that other stuff on cooperative programs, international collaboration, and off we go again.

Nothing surprising here though. What canny politicians wish to be held directly accountable on these tough issues in ways in which their performance can be objectively judged by the voting public. So gone are the targets and then dates, and here we are again with good old technology that is going to come to the rescue. In that infamous “long term”, etc. We all know about the “long term”. Sigh!

Blair Leans Toward Climate Technology, Away From Targets

London, UK, November 2, 2005 (ENS) – Source: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/nov2005/2005-11-02-01.asp

British Prime Minister Tony Blair concluded an international conference on climate change Tuesday in London, saying that technology and science will provide part of the solution to global warming. He edged away from reliance on the binding framework and targets of the Kyoto Protocol, saying these mechanisms made people "very nervous and very worried."

At the conference, energy and environment ministers from 20 countries met as part of the new G8 Gleneagles Dialogue. The gathering is linked to the Group of Eight because it was started by leaders at Gleneagles, Scotland in July, and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi has asked for a report on the Dialogue for the Japanese G8 Summit in 2008.

Blair said the evidence of climate change is getting stronger and even those who once doubted it now accept there are concerns over energy security and supply. But he recognized the widespread fear that limiting greenhouse gas emissions will also limit economic growth.

"People fear some external force is going to impose some internal target on you which is going to restrict your economic growth,” said Blair, referring to the Kyoto Protocol, under which industrialized countries must reduced greenhouse gases an average of 5.2 percent by 2012 compared to 1990 levels.

"The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge," Blair said. "But all economies know that the only sensible, long-term way to develop is to do it on a sustainable basis."

The UK itself may not achieve its stated target of a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010, some analysts say. As gas prices have gone up, some British electricity producers have switched back to coal, and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by motor vehicles and aircraft increases year by year.

Friends of the Earth last night attacked the Prime Minister’s questioning of clear targets and frameworks for dealing with global warming.

"While we welcome Tony Blair’s efforts to keep climate change on the international agenda, it is important that the Prime Minister remembers that leadership is about more than warm words," said Friends of the Earth Executive Director Tony Juniper. "To show real leadership he must stick to his guns and keep the pressure on the international community to agree to real action with clear timetables."

"By downplaying clear targets and frameworks," Juniper said, "the Prime Minister is ignoring calls from UK companies who want a clear framework to operate within now. There has been a lot of discussion about the false choice between targets and technologies, but the reality is that without both we cannot achieve either."

The Gleneagles Dialogue, chaired by Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett and Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson, focused on energy and technology, looking at how to move to a low carbon economy and how soon that goal can be reached.

Both British ministers said the Gleneagles Summit had added momentum to the international climate change process ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal from November 27 through December 10. For the first time, this meeting will discuss action on climate change beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emission limits expire.

Johnson said the Gleneagles Dialogue underlined the broad consensus needed to tackle climate change, yet maintain economic growth.

"We now need to identify priorities for cooperation, in both the short and long term. And we need to set a clear context for the private sector to invest in low carbon technologies with signals that are "loud, long and legal," Johnson said.

Beckett said considerable progress had been made since Gleneagles under the UK's G8 Presidency all this year and EU Presidency since July 1. "It is imperative that we find new ways to cooperate and develop a shared understanding of how the world can respond to climate change. There is no greater challenge facing the world," she said.

Beckett pointed to new climate change partnerships agreed in the past few months with the two most populous developing countries.

"We have used our Presidency of the EU to agree new partnerships with both China and India on climate change," she said. "I am particularly pleased that we have agreed to work with China to develop and demonstrate carbon capture and storage technologies to enable power to be generated from near-zero emissions coal."

The proposal for a joint EU-China project on Near Zero Emissions Coal (nZEC) was announced at the EU-China Summit on September 5. This agreement was reached in recognition that carbon dioxide emissions from China's increasing coal use are set to double by 2030.

The nZEC project aims to demonstrate coal fired power generation with carbon capture and storage technology in China by 2020.

Carbon capture and storage involves capturing carbon dioxide from the combustion process and storing it underground in geological formations such as aquifiers and depleted oil fields. The technology has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by some 90 percent.

The UK is leading the first phase of the nZEC project and supporting it with £3.5 million for a three year feasibility study of different technology options for the capture of carbon dioxide emissions from power generation and the potential for geological storage in China.

The UK and India announced the launch of a joint study on how to reinforce cooperation on energy technology between developed and developing countries.

The study will identify potential policy, regulatory and financing barriers to technology cooperation, how to stimulate innovation in both developed and developing countries, as well as development at the national and international levels.

As developing countries, India and China are not governed by binding greenhouse gas targets under the Kyoto Protocol, but both countries have ratified the protocol and are moving towards limiting the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide.

The 20 countries that participated in the Gleneagles Dialogue Tuesday are the G8: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States plus China, Mexico, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia, Spain, Poland, Nigeria and South Korea, and the European Commission.

Ministers were joined by Claude Mandil, executive director of the International Energy Agency, as well as Ian Johnson and Kathy Sierra, the World Bank vice presidents for environment and infrastructure. The IEA and World Bank are presenting an action plan to meet the challenge of access to reliable and affordable energy within a stable, sustainable climate.

The World Bank has launched an Energy Investment Framework, which will be used to pilot large-scale investment in major challenges, such as power generation and transport systems, in developing countries.

The Framework will include the regional development banks, private sector banks, insurers and technology companies.

UK Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson said the International Energy Agency is already working to reduce the barriers to the development and deployment of low carbon technologies.

"I am very pleased that the International Energy Agency is so closely involved, bringing to the table its world-renowned expertise on issues such as hydrogen storage and cleaner coal technology," Johnson said. "This work informs national technology programs, including the Department of Trade and Industry's recently launched £25 million Carbon Abatement Technology strategy."

The multi-stakeholder Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) launched by the UK and other partners at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in August 2002 has grown to include 30 partner governments, G8 Dialogue participants learned.

All the G8 partners except Russia have now signed up, and the United States has cited REEEP as an important part of its international work on sustainable energy. The UK plans to invest a further £5 million pounds through 2008.

The funding will support projects to develop "robust policies, favorable, transparent and stable regulatory frameworks, and new forms of financing to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency," the UK ministers said.

REEEP already is delivering support to a Bangkok based company to establish a € 50 million fund to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in China, India and Southeast Asia.

At the national level, progress has been made with new energy legislation in the United States and France that approves stronger incentives for clean energy, including low-carbon vehicles and more efficient buildings.

Action has been taken in many countries to improve energy efficiency, including specific measures to tackle energy waste from appliances on standby.

The Gleneagles Dialogue participants recognized that support is growing for the inclusion of the aviation industry into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, there is a new voluntary agreement with industry on aviation fuel consumption in Canada, and research programs in the United States aim to achieve major technological breakthroughs.

But Friends of the Earth is worried that the urge toward economic development may overtake the concern about global warming. The campaign group is calling on the Blair Government to introduce legislation which would require annual cuts in carbon dioxide emissions of three percent which they say would bring carbon dioxide emissions back under control.

"Climate change is the most urgent and serious challenge faced by the global community – and we need leadership to adapt the global economy to deal with it," Juniper said. "The Prime Minister’s move away from a target-based approach could have disastrous consequences."

01 November 2005

1.11.05. On Truthfulness and Kyoto

Editor’s note: The source of this piece, RedState.org, defines itself as follows: “RedState.org is focused on politics, and seeks the construction of a Republican majority in the United States. We hope to unite serious, innovative, and accomplished voices from government, politics, activism, civil society, and journalism to participate in this work”. Still it is our policy here to listen to all sides. If we are to be serious, that’s a key part of the solution process.

On Truthfulness and Kyoto

In the late 90's the Kyoto accords were signed by most all developed countries. Even the US under Clinton signed the accords, with the proviso that we wouldn't be actually agreeing to them unless the Senate ratified the treaty. It was never submitted to the senate for ratification. Virtually all European countries became a part of the accord that agreed to cut greenhouse emissions to 8% below 1990 levels.

Over that last 6 years or so the US has been treated to various European Commissars lecture the US on obligations to the world community. Why can't the US be more like civilized Europeans and agree to do something to save mankind?

So how are the Europeans doing on their quest to save the planet from the rapacious Yankees? Not very well it seems.

Here's a rundown of the progress to date by industry:

· Energy: +24 million tonnes (+2.1%) - increase mainly due to a surge in demand for electricity which was mainly met by coal-fired power plants

· Households and services: +18 million tonnes (+2.8%) - one of the main reasons was the cold conditions that prevailed during the winter

· Industry: +17 million tonnes (+2.1%) - Iron & steel and air conditioning & refrigeration are mentioned as being responsible for the rise

· Transport: +6 million tonnes (0.7%) - Germany is cited as an example with emissions reduction recorded for the fourth consecutive year.

There has been some reductions, but virtually all of those came by shuttering the old inefficient Soviet era industry in Eastern Europe. Capitalist competition did what the chattering class of Europe couldn't do. Western Europe (where the lectures originate) hasn't done well in reducing emissions: · United Kingdom: +10 million tonnes

· Finland: +7 million tonnes

· Germany: +6 million tonnes (almost)

Which brings into focus the idea of truthfulness. Most Europeans knew when they were lecturing the US on environmental policy that they weren't going to make the changes necessary to bring about the Kyoto mandated emission changes. However moral superiority on environmental issues plays well with the Greens back home and nobody would be able to confirm the shortfall for many years. Rather cynical ploy.

Bush, on the other hand, knew that the changes weren't going to be made and therefore decided to endure the lectures by various bureaucrats and morally superior cultural ministers rather than agree to do something that he knew wouldn't happen. Not a bad definition for integrity.

The Democrats in the US have taken a middle ground on the matter -- condemning Bush for not backing the treaty, while at the same time actually calling for ratification. It's a muddled and somewhat dishonest path designed to gather votes from the Environmentalist lobby while not impacting the economy. A temporarily expedient path, but one that's destined to fail in the long run as the Europeans are discovering.

Source: http://buckland.redstate.org/story/2005/11/2/102718/187