Archive for March, 2008

080330 – The view from here (snow)

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

– This is what it looks like here today. We decided, after being open for only an hour, to give ourselves a break and close the nursery for the day. The likelihood that folks are coming out to shop at a nursery in the snow seemed low to us and the joy of giving ourselves a day of freedom high. So….. we went for it. Yip-ee!

The view east towards Stevens Pass

Colombia says it found uranium linked to FARC

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

The seizure of up to 66 pounds of low-grade uranium linked to the FARC rebels adds weight to the evidence found in a captured rebel laptop that the guerrillas were interested in buying and selling the material, according to the Colombian Defense Ministry.

But the 30 kilos of uranium found Wednesday in plastic bags dug up about three feet from a road in southern Bogotá was “impoverished,” the ministry said, and in that state could not have been used to make a radioactive bomb.

Authorities were waiting for further analysis to determine how dangerous the material found really is, armed forces commander Freddy Padilla said at a press conference late Wednesday.


Empty bowls, stomachs and pockets

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

– Can you hear the writing on the wall?

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Disquiet over the soaring rice price

THE soaring price of rice and dwindling stockpiles of Asia’s staple food are causing anxiety across the continent. In particular the Philippines, a big, hungry country which cannot grow enough to feed itself, could be in trouble. The front pages of Manila’s newspapers scream about a “rice crisis”, as politicians float drastic solutions, such as forcing the country’s top 100 companies to take up rice farming. Farmers in Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter, are delighted with the price surge, although some were this week said to be hiring guards to protect their valuable crops against “rice bandits”.

The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, last month pleaded publicly with neighbouring Vietnam, the second-largest exporter, to guarantee supplies. The two countries signed an agreement on Wednesday March 26th apparently to do just that. But the various escape clauses that Vietnam insisted upon suggest it was more of a face-saving measure than a firm pledge. Vietnam and India, another big rice exporter, have recently announced export restrictions to try to curb soaring food prices at home. This will make it tough for poor, rice-importing countries, in Africa as well as Asia, to secure supplies.


Biofuels drive running out of gas

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

– From the New Zealand Herald - 

Growing concern about the merit of biofuels is threatening to derail a Government push to get the new fuels flowing out of petrol pumps in little more than three months.

The biofuel bill, now before a select committee, proposes to make oil companies begin selling a small but progressively higher amount of biofuels each year from July 1.

But while the bill passed its first reading comfortably, widespread political support is no longer as assured because of worries that the legislation does not deal strongly enough with questions about whether biofuels will come from sustainable sources.

Global debate about biofuels has shifted in recent months and in Britain – where the fuels are set to begin flowing on April 1 – a dispute is raging about whether biofuels will do more harm than good by leading to rainforest destruction and food shortages.

National MP Nick Smith yesterday said his party would not back the biofuel bill unless the issue was sorted out and it was made clear that the fuels coming into New Zealand would be from sustainable sources.


Futurist Ray Kurzweil Pulls Out All the Stops (and Pills) to Live to Witness the Singularity

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

– I wish Ray well on this idea but after reading a number of articles and books that were written in the past that tried to envision the future, I haven’t much faith in our ability to predict the future out very far. Just think about the movie 2001.

– These links explore the Singularity concept which some of you may not be familiar with:

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Ray Kurzweil, the famous inventor, is trim, balding, and not very tall. With his perfect posture and narrow black glasses, he would look at home in an old documentary about Cape Canaveral, but his mission is bolder than any mere voyage into space. He is attempting to travel across a frontier in time, to pass through the border between our era and a future so different as to be unrecognizable. He calls this border the singularity. Kurzweil is 60, but he intends to be no more than 40 when the singularity arrives.

Kurzweil’s notion of a singularity is taken from cosmology, in which it signifies a border in spacetime beyond which normal rules of measurement do not apply (the edge of a black hole, for example). The word was first used to describe a crucial moment in the evolution of humanity by the great mathematician John von Neumann. One day in the 1950s, while talking with his colleague Stanislaw Ulam, von Neumann began discussing the ever-accelerating pace of technological change, which, he said, “gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs as we know them could not continue.”


In Africa, the Situation has Become Volatile

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

In many countries on the continent the price rise has hit hard, causing protests in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Cameroon.

West Africa,

Special Report.

In the hubbub of Treichville market in the south of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic capital, two friends on greying horses wind between the cages of chickens and stacks of vegetables. By their own description — not really poor and not really middle class either — they confirm how difficult it has become to fill their shopping baskets. “Today, with 10,000 CFA (23 USD), you can feed your family for 3 days. A few months ago, that was enough for a week.” As a result, these two mothers leave out certain products. They no longer buy milk or butter, which have gone from 400 CFA (0.91USD) to nearly 1000 CFA (2.29USD). Some families are only eating one meal a day. “I sometimes skip lunch”, says one of them.

Further on, Mady digs her hand into her sack of Asian rice “I have to sell the kilo at 350 CFA (0.80USD) compared to 250 CFA (0.60USD) a couple of months ago” she explains. It’s the same story with oil, another staple for cooking in Africa. “Last year, I would buy a 200 litre barrel for 100,000 CFA (229USD). Today it costs me 146,000 CFA (335USD)” Nearly a 50% price rise impacting directly on the price of a bottle. “Now, the women are only buying 3 litres instead of the usual 5”.



Huge Swath of Antarctica Ice Collapses

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said Tuesday.

Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 160-square-mile chunk in western Antarctica, which started February 28.

It was the edge of the Wilkins Ice Shelf and has been there for hundreds, maybe 1,500 years.

This is the result of global warming, said British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan.

Because scientists noticed satellite images within hours, they diverted satellite cameras and even flew an airplane over the ongoing collapse for rare pictures and video.

“It’s an event we don’t get to see very often,” said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

“The cracks fill with water and slice off and topple. … That gets to be a runaway situation.”

Global Warming

While icebergs naturally break away from the mainland, collapses like this are unusual but are happening more frequently in recent decades, Vaughan said. (Related: National Geographic’s Larsen Ice Shelf Expedition.)


080330 – New posting in the Philosophy Area

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

– I’ve made a new page in my Philosophy Area entitled, The Really Big Questions. If you like your questions big, I suggest you might like to read it <smile>.

Vietnam ‘hub for illegal timber’

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Vietnam has become a major South-East Asian hub for processing illegally logged timber, according to a report from two environmental charities.

The trade threatens some of the last intact forests in the region, say the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesia’s Telapak.

Because Vietnam has increased measures to protect its own forest, producers are getting timber from other nations.

The authors add that some of the timber is reaching the UK as garden furniture.


Modernization à la Carte?

Friday, March 28th, 2008

– An excellent review of how the concept of human rights has come to be a part of the modern world and where the concept might be headed, given the changes that probably lie ahead. 

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 to 2005, led Germany’s Green Party for nearly 20 years.

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BERLIN — Two centuries ago the American and French Revolutions brought forth the natural law concept of inalienable human rights. However, it took nearly two centuries of wars, political and social disasters, and decolonization before this idea became globally accepted, at least in theory.

In the beginning, the idea of human rights was limited to domestic politics. In international relations, power, not right, continued to be the only thing that mattered: the traditional concept of state sovereignty focused exclusively on power, i.e., on control over people and territory, and protected the state’s authority, regardless of whether its enforcement was civilized or brutal, democratic or authoritarian.

The Nuremberg Trials of the German war criminals after World War II marked the first important change in the world’s understanding of the concept of sovereignty. For the first time, an entire state leadership was put on trial for its crimes, as its representatives and henchmen were brought to justice.

The Nuremberg Trials and, in parallel, the creation of the United Nations and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signaled the growing importance of law in international relations. Sovereignty was no longer based solely on power, but increasingly on law and respect for the rights of citizens.