Archive for January, 2007

Can Humanity Survive? Want to Bet on It?

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Sixty ago years, a group of physicists concerned about nuclear weapons created the Doomsday Clock and set its hands at seven minutes to midnight. Now, the clock’s keepers, alarmed by new dangers like climate change, have moved the hands up to 11:55 p.m.

My first reaction was a sigh of relief. After all, the 1947 doomsday prediction marked the start of a golden age. Never have so many humans lived so long — and maybe never so peacefully — as during the past 60 years. The per-capita rate of violence, particularly in the West, seems remarkably low by historical standards. If the clock’s keepers are worried once again, their track record suggests we’re in for even happier days.

But there’s one novel twist that gives me pause. When the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced two weeks ago in Washington that it was adjusting the clock, it was joined in a trans-Atlantic press conference by scientists at the Royal Society in London. One of them was the society’s president, Martin Rees, a new breed of doomsayer.

Dr. Rees, a cosmologist at Cambridge and Britain’s astronomer royal, doesn’t just issue gloomy predictions. He doesn’t just move the hands of an imaginary and inscrutable clock. (Its keepers have never explained what one of their minutes equals on anyone else’s clock or calendar.)

No, Dr. Rees is braver. He gives odds on doomsday and offers to bet on disaster. In his 2003 book, “Our Final Hour,” he gives civilization no more than a 50 percent chance of surviving until 2100.

Dr. Rees is not a knee-jerk technophobe — he expects great advances as researchers around the world link their knowledge — but he fears that progress will be undone by what he calls the new global village idiots. He’s sure enough of himself to post an offer on Long Bets, a clever innovation on the Web that Stewart Brand helped start with money from Jeff Bezos, the founder of


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, recently, a friend of mine suggested the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

– Research thx to Lisa G.

Panel warns on Great Barrier Reef

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef could be dead within decades because of the effects of global warming, according to a leaked report. The report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warns that the reef’s coral could be bleached because of warmer seas.

IPCC scientists are meeting in Paris, and are due to release the first stage of their findings on Friday.

The Barrier Reef is Australia’s leading tourist destination.


Tax Leads Americans Abroad to Renounce U.S.

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

PARIS, Dec. 17 — She is a former marine, a native Californian and, now, an ex-American who prefers to remain discreet about abandoning her citizenship. After 10 years of warily considering options, she turned in her United States passport last month without ceremony, becoming an alien in the view of her homeland.

“It’s a really hard thing to do,” said the woman, a 16-year resident of Geneva who had tired of the cost and time of filing yearly United States tax returns on top of her Swiss taxes. “I just kept putting this off. But it’s my kids and the estate tax. I don’t care if I die with only one Swiss franc to my name, but the U.S. shouldn’t get money I earned here when I die.”

Historically, small numbers of Americans have turned in their passports every year for political and economic reasons, with the numbers reaching a high of about 2,000 during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s.

But after Congress sharply raised taxes this year for many Americans living abroad, some international tax lawyers say they detect rising demand from citizens to renounce ties with the United States, the only developed country that taxes it citizens while they live overseas. Americans abroad are also taxed in the countries where they live.

“The administrative costs of being an American and living outside the U.S. have gone up dramatically,” said Marnin Michaels, a tax lawyer with Baker & McKenzie in Zurich.

So far this year, the Internal Revenue Service has tallied 509 Americans who have given up their citizenship, said Anthony Burke, an I.R.S. spokesman in Washington. He said complete figures were still being calculated.

Applications to renounce citizenship are on the rise at the American Embassy in Paris, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity. At the embassy in London, the number of applications was reported to be fairly stable over the past two years, though it would be hard to spot a recent surge because applications are taking longer to process there than in past years. Neither embassy would disclose exact figures. A spokeswoman for the American Embassy in London, Karen Maxfield, said Americans living abroad usually took the step “because they do not have strong ties to the United States and do not believe that they will ever live there in the future.”

“All have two citizenships and generally say they would like to simplify their lives by giving up a citizenship they are not using,” she said.


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, recently, a friend of mine suggested the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

Queensland to drink waste water

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

People in the Australian state of Queensland will soon have to start drinking water containing recycled sewage, the state premier has warned.

Premier Peter Beattie said he had scrapped a referendum on the issue, because there was no longer a choice.

He also warned other Australian states might eventually have to do the same because of mounting water shortages.

Water is already recycled in places like Singapore and the UK, but the idea is still unpopular in Australia.

But the country is currently suffering from a severe drought – the worst on record. Last week Prime Minister John Howard declared water security to be the biggest challenge currently facing Australia, and he announced a A$10bn ($7.7bn; £3.9bn) package to tackle the problem.

Mr Beattie said that falling water levels had left his state administration with no option but to introduce recycled water in south-eastern Queensland, starting from next year.

“We’re not getting rain; we’ve got no choice,” he told ABC radio.

“These are ugly decisions, but you either drink water or you die. There’s no choice. It’s liquid gold, it’s a matter of life and death,” he said.


Climate change warning for Sydney

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

A new report on the effects of climate change in Australia paints an alarming picture of life in the city of Sydney. It warns that if residents do not cut water consumption by more than 50% over the next 20 years, the city will become unsustainable.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation report also warns that temperatures could rise 5C above the predicted global average.

This would leave the city facing an almost permanent state of drought.

More… :arrow:

China admits to climate failings

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

China is failing to make progress on improving and protecting the environment, according to a new Chinese government report.The research ranks China among the world’s worst nations – a position unchanged since 2004.

After the US, China produces the most greenhouse gases in the world.

The Chinese report, prepared by academics and government experts, ranked the country 100th out of 118 countries surveyed.

Some 30 indicators were used to measure the level of “ecological modernisation” including carbon dioxide emissions, sewage disposal rates and the safety of drinking water.


Melting of glaciers ‘speeds up’

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Mountain glaciers are shrinking three times faster than they were in the 1980s, scientists have announced.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service, which continuously studies a sample of 30 glaciers around the world, says the acceleration is down to climate change.

Its announcement came as climate scientists convened in Paris to decide the final wording of a major report.

There is reported to be some disagreement over what forecasts they will make for sea level rise.

But whatever form of words they agree on, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will declare that human-induced climate change is happening and needs to be tackled.


Investigation Documents Political Interference with Climate Science Communication

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Washington, D.C. An investigative report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) has uncovered new evidence of widespread political interference in federal climate science. The report, which includes a survey of hundreds of federal scientists at seven federal agencies and dozens of in-depth interviews, documents a high regard for climate change research but broad interference in communicating scientific results. The report is available on GAP’s Web site at

The report will be detailed today in a 10 a.m. hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch, a GAP program that holds public officials accountable for how they use climate science, will testify. In June 2005 news reports, documents that Piltz obtained showed that a White House official with no scientific training was editing climate change science program reports in an attempt to confuse and obscure the perceived human impact on global warming.

More… and

070130 – Tuesday – New Zealand Friends

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

I said I was going to write a piece and summarize some of my experiences here in New Zealand before I fly back to the US – here it is.

Well, there are so many many impressions. I could say a lot about the city of Christchurch. About how beautiful it is, about how it is truly a walking scale city. And that I haven’t missed having a car in the two and half months I’ve been here. The English influence is everywhere. The river across the street is called the Avon and you can see punters going up and down it. Many of the buildings are are done in the English stone style. It is clean and vibrant.

And there would be much to say about the country itself and the weather. I really could go on and on for a long time on all of these topics. But, I’d be missing one of the major points if I did. And that about the people here and how welcoming and friendly they are.

I’ve been keeping a daily calendar for the final three weeks leading up to February 3rd when I fly back to the US. Mainly I’ve kept it so I could see at a glance how much time I still have left and coordinate that information with how much I still have to get done.

But the story the calendar really tells is how many social engagements I’ve been having. Invitations to lunch, invitations to dinner, walks about town, tennis, walks in the park and hikes in the Port Hills.

When I came here on November 16th, I knew one fellow and his wife whom I’d met on the Internet because we have shared interests. Now, as I’m preparing to leave, I have a long list of people I will be calling, visiting or E-mailing to say my goodbyes to. It’s been an amazing experience. In two months, I feel like I have a community of friends here. Frankly, I’ve lived places in the US (Los Angeles, for example) where I was surrounded by millions and millions of people and never seemed to meet a soul.

I don’t normally think of myself as a gregarious outgoing friendly person who finds it easy to strike up new acquaintances. No, I think the difference is in the people I’m meeting here. And by that I mean both the native Kiwis and the American expatriates I’ve met.

The American expatriates, by the very fact that they are here as immigants to a new country half way around the world, are interesting. They’ve chosen to leave the “American dream” for another dream. It’s a selection filter, I think. By the time folks have manifested the courage, intelligence and drive to get themselves here, they’ve been winnowed down into a group of people who are fascinating, to say the least.

But, then there are the Kiwis who are an amazing and friendly lot in their own way. I’ve met neighbors here at the apartment building where Sharon and I own our apartment. I’ve met couples at the small movie theater at the Christchurch Art Center. I talked with a bus driver as I rode the bus to the other side of downtown and before it was done, we’d exchanged phone numbers and then later he and his wife took me on a hike in the Port Hills above Christchurch. The friend I met earlier via the Internet before I’d ever even come to Christchurch has has me to his house for dinner half a dozen times while I’ve been here. I’ve met his family, shared in stories of his dreams and ambitions, traded books and enjoyed reading to and playing games with his two young daughters.

The realtor we bought our place through became my landlord for a month while I took his place as I waited for the real estate deal to close on our apartment. And he and another realtor, who we also worked with back in August, have both kept up the connection we’ve shared lunches together.

With the expatriates, we’ve shared our stories; information about how things work here; taxes, immigration, insurance, medical, auctions, whatever. We’ve had parties and brought 20 of us together, we’ve met for lunch, we’ve gone out and ate, we’ve drank beer and told the stories of our lives until late in the evening, they’ve slept on my couch, they’ve loaned me DVDs, they’ve introduced me to their friends and they’ve taken me along to conferences. They’ve driven me across town to feed me dinner and they’ve come and sat on my couch and talked and turned a new apartment into a home with memories.

The Kiwis have had me to dinner, invited me to tennis, explained a thousand things to me, have opened their hearts and their homes to me in spite of the fact that I’m a foreigner. They’ve talked with me about politics and kidded me very good naturedly about being an American and, in short, have made me feel very honored and welcome.

Today, I had lunch with Keith, a Kiwi and the manager of the apartment building I’m in. This afternoon, the manager Keith, Peter. an American airline pilot and expatriate, and Graham, a Kiwi who lives here in the apartments with his wife, Judy, invited me to join them and we played three sets of tennis. Tonight, Graham and Judy had me to dinner at their place along with Keith and a couple, Ron and Marsha, who are an American couple from New Jersey who’ve spent two to three months here in New Zealand every southern summer for the last six years and rent a unit in this building. Judy cooked an excellent meal for all of us and Marsha brought a scrumcious cake and the conversation and kidding around made for a relaxed and fun evening.

Tomorrow, Wednesday the 31st, I ride the Trans-Alpine train from Christchurch across the Southern Alps over to Greymouth on the West Coast and back (8:15 Am to 6:05 PM – roundtrip). I’ll be going with two of my favorite expatriates, Alex and Tobi. And, when we arrive for an hour’s layover in Greymouth, there’s an excellent chance that another expatriate, Bryan, who lives there will come and see us at the station and stroll about with us.

Thursday, I’ll be deep into preparing to vacate here on Saturday but that evening, I’ll ride the bus out to Harewood to Robert’s house and join him, his wife, Cynthia and their two beautiful little girls for what will be our last get-together this visit.

Then, on Friday, I’ll be cleaning the apartment and packing things up to take home or store here. And that evening, Keith is having a barbeque here at the apartments along with Graham, Judy, Ron and Marsha and I’ve been invited to that.

It is all quite amazing to me how I’ve been enfolded into so many lives in such a short time. I’ve been very blessed.

With regard to New Zealand, two and half months here have only served to confirm and deepen my feelings about the country. It is a beautiful place and it truly is one of the world’s best kept secrets.

Saturday, I’ll begin the 12 to 14 hour trek home from Christchurch to Auckland to Los Angeles to Seattle where I am so looking forward to seeing my wife and giving her a big long hug. It’s not easy to leave New Zealand but I know I’ll be coming back again next November 13th and that will give me something special to look forward to this year.

And to any of the many people I’ve met here in Aotearoa, thank you so very much for your hospitality and your friendships.

070129 – Monday – WordPress upgraded

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

I use WordPress software for this blog and last night I upgraded the software from 2.0.3 to 2.1. So far as I can see, the problems have been minimal but if you, as a reader, see something odd about the blog, please let me know. You can drop me a note on the contact me option on the right side.

Thanks !