Archive for October, 2010

So bad! – #1 & #2

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Some pieces I re-publish are just so bad, I cringe.   These are two such.   I am deeply worried about what’s happening in the United States.

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So bad #1


So bad #2

Yow – we are all in serious doo doo if this is what passes for political dialog and thought in the U.S.

Postscript !!!

– Thanks to my friend, Kael, I’ve learned that the second link, i.e., the story about “Why do Hippies sill exist in America?“, is from a spoof web site.   Yes!   The site is a huge put-on by two fellows with a keen sense of humor.   Apparently, Kael says, this site has fooled many fanatical Christian types and I think that’s a hoot!

– This all explains an observation I made and was puzzled by last night.   I’d noted the author of the article, S. Billings, and there was a small picture of him at the upper right in the opening page so I clicked on it to get his bio information.   To my amazement, I found several ads on that page for questionable sexual services!

Ah, life has its humors!

Nature’s sting: The real cost of damaging Planet Earth

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to care about protecting the Earth’s wildlife.

Just ask a Chinese fruit farmer who now has to pay people to pollinate apple trees because there are no longer enough bees to do the job for free.

And it’s not just the number of bees that is dwindling rapidly – as a direct result of human activity, species are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 times greater than the natural average.

The Earth’s natural environment is also suffering.

In the past few decades alone, 20% of the oceans’ coral reefs have been destroyed, with a further 20% badly degraded or under serious threat of collapse, while tropical forests equivalent in size to the UK are cut down every two years.

These statistics, and the many more just like them, impact on everyone, for the very simple reason that we will all end up footing the bill.

Costing nature

For the first time in history, we can now begin to quantify just how expensive degradation of nature really is.

A recent, two-year study for the United Nations Environment Programme, entitled The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), put the damage done to the natural world by human activity in 2008 at between $2tn (£1.3tn) and $4.5tn.

At the lower estimate, that is roughly equivalent to the entire annual economic output of the UK or Italy.

A second study, for the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), puts the cost considerably higher. Taking what research lead Dr Richard Mattison calls a more “hard-nosed, economic approach”, corporate environmental research group Trucost estimates the figure at $6.6tn, or 11% of global economic output.

This, says Trucost, compares with a $5.4tn fall in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008.

Of course these figures are just estimates – there is no exact science to measuring humans’ impact on the natural world – but they show that the risks to the global economy of large-scale environmental destruction are huge.

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US urged to stop Haiti rice subsidies

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

– How long it can take for the other shoe to drop….

– Some years ago, I saw the movie, Life and Debt about the effects on Jamaica of Globalization.

– Now, after all this time, people like Carter are beginning to see the destruction they’ve wrought in the name of ‘Globalization‘.

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A leading aid agency has called on the United States to stop subsidising American rice exports to Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, because it says the policy undermines local production of food.

Former US President Bill Clinton, one of the architects of the subsidies to US farmers – and who is now, paradoxically, the co-chair of Haiti’s earthquake recovery Commission – is quoted by Oxfam as saying that the policy was “a mistake”.

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked,” said Mr Clinton, a frequent visitor to Haiti.

“I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”

The aid agency says the $434m (£274m) paid annually in domestic US rice subsidies is more than the total US aid to Haiti of $353m.

The Oxfam report said subsidies paid to American farmers meant the rice they export to Haiti – known locally as Riz Miami or “Miami Rice” – is cheaper than locally produced rice.

The foreign rice that is “dumped” in Haiti therefore exacerbates the rural-urban drift that has seen the population of the capital Port-au-Prince balloon out of control as farmers who cannot feed themselves move to the city in search of employment.

The city was built in colonial times to house a few hundred thousand people.

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Cosmic Dioramas…

Monday, October 11th, 2010

– Sorry I haven’t been posting.   I’ve been busy of late and just haven’t felt the urge.   But, that’ll change – it always does.  And I mean, it’s not like there’s nothing of interest going on out there, right?

– Here’s one of the more interesting things I’ve read in a science publication lately.

– It provoked an interesting  side conversation with a friend of mine in which he pointed out that he thought that this new concept would prove ephemeral and frustrating in the same way that Cold Fusion and the search to find the physical laws that underpin Emergence have.   I added Memes to that list and wondered if perhaps the reasons we cannot integrate these ideas into the edifice of science as per E. O. Wilson’s notion of Consilience is because we’ve parsed them out of reality the wrong way and are therefore asking non-sense questions.

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical questions—are like that.   – C. S. Lewis

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Metamaterials may offer windows into other world

Move over Harry Potter, and take your invisibility cloak with you. Alice’s looking glass may be the latest bit of literary magic worthy of physics laboratories.

Rather than using substances known as metamaterials to hide objects in plain sight, some scientists instead want to use the strange materials to build windows into worlds with fundamentally different physics. Peering in may reveal how other universes operate and how this universe — the one that avid J.K. Rowling and Lewis Carroll readers reside in — could have begun.

Metamaterials can be engineered to have features very different from those of everyday matter. By altering electric and magnetic properties, scientists can make metamaterials that bend, twist or otherwise manipulate light. The power to turn light in unusual ways brought about a cloaking craze and introduced the possibility of superlenses with unprecedented focusing power.

Last year, a group of physicists at the University of California, Berkeley proposed a type of metamaterial that, if built, could trap light the way a black hole does (SN: 10/10/09, p. 10). The math describing processes in that material resembles the equations governing black holes.

Now Igor Smolyaninov of the University of Maryland in College Park has developed additional “strange schemes,” as he calls them. Metamaterials, it turns out, can serve as broader cosmic dio­ramas, manipulating light to replicate the shape of spacetime.

“In metamaterials, we have a situation in which we have optical spacetime,” Smolyaninov says. “And we can engineer the properties of spacetime.”

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