19 December 2013

Jake

Thank you all for your kind words.

Jake loved to sing from early on and would burst into full-throated howls whenever anyone played the piano. He taught Lily how to sing. At first, she had no clue what was happening when he would sing, but eventually came around. Poor little thing couldn't carry a tune, but now she's a very enthusiastic chorister. This is their last duet on Jake's last day with yours truly accompanying. I'll always cherish it.

video

18 December 2013

Jakob Wolfgang Gunther von H. aka Jake, RIP (2000-2013)

I'm not an obsessive pet poster. Here's two (the earlier post, at the bottom, is really quite interesting if you haven't read it), and you might find a couple of random pix scattered. That doesn't mean I'm not a pet lover nor an avid pet photog. But I felt I wanted to share this.

This is a bit of a sad Christmas for the H's. We lost Jake, our 13-year old German Shepherd Dog. He was a great dog and faithful companion. He raised all three of my children. I spent more time with him in the last 13 years than I did with either my wife or my kids. He and I work out of the house together while everybody else goes off to work and school.

He had a long, happy life for a GSD, a great yard, and a family that dearly loved him. We took him on car trips, hikes in the NC and GA mountains, and lake and beach vacations where he proved to be a champion body surfer. Pretty much everywhere we went without flying. He never met a body of water he didn't want to jump into and play. He loved children, and they loved him. If you came to my home and I welcomed you, Jake welcomed you instantly into his herd.

Toward the end, he developed the canine version of Lou Gehrig's Disease [ALS]: Chronic Degenerative Myeolopathy. It's progressive and incurable. He was beginning to suffer and struggle, couldn't walk without falling on his backside, couldn't control his legs. It was a wrenching family decision, but we had to put him to sleep. We are waiting until Wisdomie comes home for Christmas to spread his ashes in his beloved dogyard.

We miss you, Buddy!

Here's the first pic we took when we brought him home.

Floppy eared fluffball who looks you right in the eyes
You might find happier pictures of me, but I assure you you won't find many. Jake, either! My 80 lb lap dog.
Wisdaughter's touching pictorial tribute
Jake in HIS fenced yard which he gracefully shared with tiny Lily. His last day.
Jake and Sasha by the fire. Our last pic of Jake.

13 December 2013

Your Friday Night Jam

I simply can't stop playing this video. Click it large and play it loud.



Just wow!

11 December 2013

Haters Gonna' Hate, Pt .3

(cont'd from here) Some quotes:

“Hate is a bottomless cup; I will pour and pour.” Euripides, Medea

“["F]or it's not possible," [Socrates] said, "for anybody to experience a greater evil than hating arguments. Hatred of arguments and hatred of human beings come about in the same way. For hatred of human beings arises from artlessly trusting somebody to excess, and believing that human being to be in every way true and sound and trustworthy, and then a little later discovering that this person is wicked and untrustworthy - and then having this experience again with another. And whenever somebody experiences this many times, and especially at the hands of just those he might regard as his most intimate friends and comrades, he then ends up taking offense all the time and hates all human beings and believes there's nothing at all sound in anybody.” Plato, Phaedo

“In time we hate that which we often fear.” Shakespeare, Cleopatra.
"Nature seems (the more we look into it) made up of antipathies: without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions, of men. ... 
"The pleasure of hating, like a poisonous mineral, eats into the heart of religion, and turns it to rankling spleen and bigotry; it makes patriotism an excuse for carrying fire, pestilence, and famine into other lands: it leaves to virtue nothing but the spirit of censoriousness, and a narrow, jealous, inquisitorial watchfulness over the actions and motives of others. ... 
"In private life do we not see hypocrisy, servility, selfishness, folly, and impudence succeed, while modesty shrinks from the encounter, and merit is trodden under foot? How often is "the rose plucked from the forehead of a virtuous love to plant a blister there!" What chance is there of the success of real passion? What certainty of its continuance? Seeing all this as I do, and unravelling the web of human life into its various threads of meanness, spite, cowardice, want of feeling, and want of understanding, of indifference towards others, and ignorance of ourselves, - seeing custom prevail over all excellence, itself giving way to infamy - mistaken as I have been in my public and private hopes, calculating others from myself, and calculating wrong; always disappointed where I placed most reliance; the dupe of friendship, and the fool of love; - have I not reason to hate and to despise myself? Indeed I do; and chiefly for not having hated and despised the world enough." Wm. Hazlitt, The Pleasure of Hating
“Loving someone is different from being in love with someone. You can hate someone you're in love with.” Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

“[O]ne captain, seizing the line-knife from his broken prow, had dashed at the whale, as an Arkansas duelist at his foe, blindly seeking with a six-inch blade to reach the fathom-deep life of the whale. That captain was Ahab.” Melville, Moby Dick

“One does not hate as long as one has a low esteem of someone, but only when one esteems him as an equal or a superior.” - Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil


“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence of inhumanity.” - G. B. Shaw, The Devil's Disciple

"We do not like to be robbed of an enemy; we want someone to hate when we suffer. It is so depressing to think that we suffer because we are fools; yet taking mankind in mass, that is the truth. For this reason, no political party can acquire any driving force except through hatred; it must hold someone to obloquy. If so-and-so’s wickedness is the sole cause of our misery, let us punish so-and-so and we shall be happy. The supreme example of this kind of political thought was the Treaty of Versailles. Yet most people are only seeking some new scapegoat to replace the Germans.” Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays.

“Suddenly, by the sort of violent effort with which one wrenches one's head away from the pillow in a nightmare, Winston succeeded in transferring his hatred from the face on the screen to the dark−haired girl behind him. Vivid, beautiful hallucinations flashed through his mind. He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastian. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax. Better than before, moreover, he realized why it was that he hated her. He hated her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so, because round her sweet supple waist, which seemed to ask you to encircle it with your arm, there was only the odious scarlet sash, aggressive symbol of chastity.” Orwell, 1984


“The truly terrible thing about the war spirit, about the fear and hate hysteria it generates, is that it forces us to think and talk and feel in terms of abstractions—those "communists" this time, those "fascists" last time. But those we are fighting and killing are people—men, women and children—not political, geographic or economic abstractions. They are, in the main, as decent and fearful and confused as we are. And they regard us as abstractions as much as we do them.” Sydney J. Harris

"At the very beginning, it seems, the external world, objects, what is hated are identical." Freud, The Instincts and their Vicissitudes, p. 136 (1915).
"Hate of the object involves hate of oneself, you suffer with the object you attack because you cannot give up the object and feel one with it. …
"What is the meaning of hate? It is not the absolute opposite of love; that would be indifference, having no interest in a person, not wanting a relationship and so having no reason for either loving or hating, feeling nothing. Hate is love grown angry because of rejection. We can only really hate a person if we want their love. Hate is an expression of frustrated love needs, an attempt to destroy the bad rejecting side of a person in the hope of leaving their good responsive side available, a struggle to alter them. The anxiety is over the danger of hate destroying both sides, and the easiest way out is to find two objects and love one and hate the other." H. Guntrip, "A Study of Fairbairn's Theory of Schizoid Reactions," p. 351, Psychopathology: A Source Book, ed. Charles Frederick Reed.
(to be cont'd)

04 December 2013

This Week in Water

It's been a bit slow around the ole' H2O cooler the last couple of weeks. An abbreviated aggravating aggregation follows.

"IceCube", an instrument consisting of some 5160 optical sensors carved into a cubic kilometer of Antarctic ice (not the actor/rapper), has detected the first evidence of extraterrestrial neutrinos: "Neutrinos are subatomic particles with essentially no mass and no electric charge. As such, their interactions with matter are very weak. ... they can travel unscathed from the edge of the universe, from the inner neighborhoods of black holes, and from the nuclear furnaces where cosmic rays are thought to be created." Billions of these high-energy particles pass through our bodies every second.

A 4.4 billion year old meteorite the size of a fist—dubbed "Black Beauty"—that managed to find its way from inside a Martian volcano to the Saharan desert is revealing clues to the origins of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, the formation of Mars, and the presence of chemicals and even water on the Red Planet.

A volcanic eruption off the coast of Japan has given rise to a new island.

Methane gas escaping from underneath melting Arctic ice, especially the Siberian shelf, could catastrophically increase global warming and could stimulate another mass global extinction event.

For the first time, scientists are able to measure the amount of charcoal entering the oceans through runoff. It appears to be massive.

CO2 is increasing ocean acidification at alarming rates. "When CO2 dissolves into the ocean, it creates carbonic acid. Carbonic acid leads to higher water acidity, especially near the surface. As levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere rise due to human activity like burning fossil fuels, acidity levels in the oceans also rise. 'As ocean acidity increases, its capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere decreases. This decreases the ocean’s role in moderating climate change...'"

TEPCO, the Japanese power company, is planning to dump the radioactive waste water from its damaged Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.

Plastics, breaking down in the oceans, are beginning to show up in the digestive tracts of lugworms which are low on the food chain.

An iceberg the size of Singapore has broken off from Antartica.

Scientists are trying to model the complex set of processes that lead to a rise in sea level and are beginning to make some reasonable predictions.

Canada wants to claim the North Pole. Denmark, Norway, Russian, and the U.S. say "not so fast."

Canada is also attempting to build a series of toxic lakes to deal with the environmental devastation caused by extracting oil from its Alberta tar sands. Environmental concerns abound.

Is your city threatened by the stresses on U.S. aquifers? Does it stand to run out of water perhaps even by mid-century? Mine does. According to Columbia University's Water Center and NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Atlanta joins Salt Lake City, Lincoln, Cleveland, Miami, Washington, El Paso, San Antonio, San Francisco, Houston, and LA among large cities that could be deeply effected by water shortages in the not-too-distant future.

Water restrictions may soon become necessary in South Florida.

A brief sampling of regional 'water wars' taking shape in the U.S.

Israelis are pioneering 'drip irrigation' techniques to increase agricultural productivity efficiently. Meanwhile, the sewage system in Gaza has collapsed and raw sewage is running through the streets.

Environmentalists and social justice activists are urging the World Trade Organization to resist the privatization and commodification of water (and sanitation) as a market-based resource in the on-going TPP talks and free trade negotiations between the U.S. and the E.U.

The Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Corporation has been waging a long-standing covert campaign to discourage and stigmatize the use of tap water for drinking in its marketing efforts for its bottled water products.

On a positive note, water levels are beginning to rebound in the U.S. Great Lakes, home to 1/5 of the world's fresh water.

Satellites have mapped Australia's Great Barrier Reef for the first time.

Rip currents claim more lives in Australia than bushfires, floods, cyclones, and sharks COMBINED. If you are swimming at the beach and feel yourself being pulled out away from shore, do NOT fight the current. Float and signal for help. If no help is available, drift with the current until you feel you can swim parallel to shore and swim out of the rip and along the shoreline until you are out of the rip. Then the waves should help you swim back into shore. You can get exhausted swimming against a rip current and drown.

A submersible off the coast of Oahu located a WWII Japanese submarine scuttled in 1946.

Divers searching for bodies at the site of a three-day-old shipwreck off the coast of Nigeria found the ship's cook alive and breathing in an air pocket of the upturned ship. That may be the coolest thing ever!

02 December 2013

"Has It Ever Occurred to You..."


I want to thank Jerome Doolittle over at Bad Attitudes, a blog of pointed snippets and commentary I've been reading for years, for pointing me to this article on Psychology Today's blogsite.

Normally, I read/skim posts from the Wisblog Roll on the right side of this page, absorb the information, chase down the links, and continue on my merry way. When I read Doolittle's post the subject struck a chord with me, but I didn't have the time to run down the reference. And I was haunted by it the entire weekend. When I got back to my computer, I couldn't remember where I had originally seen it. I had to page through several of my regular haunts until I found it.

Here's the money quote:
Dunning and Kruger often refer to a “double curse” when interpreting their findings: People fail to grasp their own incompetence, precisely because they are so incompetent. And since, overcoming their incompetence would first require the ability to distinguish competence from incompetence people get stuck in a vicious cycle. 
“The skills needed to produce logically sound arguments, for instance, are the same skills that are necessary to recognize when a logically sound argument has been made. Thus, if people lack the skills to produce correct answers, they are also cursed with an inability to know when their answers, or anyone else’s, are right or wrong. They cannot recognize their responses as mistaken, or other people’s responses as superior to their own.”
I realize that PT has what I would call an "empathy bias", that is to say they don't necessarily see the Gohmerts, Palins, and Becks of the world as knaves, but rather as fools deserving of our understanding. They are granted a certain amount of cultural 'authority' by virtue of their having access to the megaphone of politics and media PR and are allowed to say, or repeat, whatever talking point some political handler or PR flack has put in front of them. To PT, their lies are not lies (because they don't necessarily know what they are saying is false), they simply don't know any better and, in fact, because of their self-regard do not even recognize that they could be wrong. More's the pity.

The problem of assertive, self-confident, self-righteous ignorance has long been a puzzler for me. How do you deal with people for whom the concept of a shared, factual reality is foreign? People for whom the notion of truth is simply irrelevant or at least subsidiary to an emotionally satisfying 'gotcha' point? Especially when they are politically aggressive and noisy and well-funded. Especially when they make every effort to avoid inconvenient facts.

This is quite possibly the central problem Socrates (via Plato) addressed 2500+ years ago in the nascent democracy of ancient Athens:
Sophistry + Rhetoric + PR vs. Truth + Logic + Reality.
Quaint, I know, but the Protagoras is still relevant today.

Socrates was famous for asking questions like 'What does it mean to lead a good life?' 'What is excellence (or virtue), and how important is its pursuit in everything I am and do?' and 'What does it mean to "know thyself"?' These are the sorts of questions that any self-aware person should constantly be asking themselves so they don't fall into the trap of ignorance and bias. It is a philosophical attitude. One that helps a person understand when they might be wrong or mistaken.

The authors of the PT article identify the sort of ignorance into which these types of question simply cannot enter.
The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence.
A correlate of this Dunning-Kruger effect might possibly explain how roughly 40% of Americans believe themselves to be in the top 1% financially and thus how they can be duped by political con artists into voting against their own economic self-interest.

Sure, it's possible to argue over what is or isn't a fact, what may or may not be true, what the nature of reality is, what is or isn't a logical solution. And those are the sorts of arguments we should be having in the public sphere. But when we get into the realm of ignorance, emotional manipulation, blind faith, false premises, preconceived notions, self-serving prejudices, ideologically based propaganda, etc., dialogue—and, more importantly, real societal progress—becomes difficult if not impossible. An emotionally satisfying argument is not necessarily the best.

Critical thinking, logic (Aristotelian/classical/propositional as well as symbolic), rhetoric (its uses and abuses) need to be an integral part of every person's education to help them break out of this vicious cycle of ignorance and prepare them for the public sphere of life in a nominally democratic society such as ours. But the question is: how can we inculcate these sorts of values/virtues in a society/culture in which they are not prized and, in fact, in which there are wealthy and powerful interests arrayed against them?

27 November 2013

Thanksgiving Weekend

Here in the U.S., the fourth Thursday of November is designated a day of Thanksgiving. It is a religious-y sort of holiday celebrating a wintertime act of generosity by Native Americans [pseudo-Socialists] to early Pilgrims [undocumented immigrants] some 400 or so years ago having to do with harvest time bounty and survival. It involves food (traditionally turkey), family, and friends. Also football and parades. And shopping.

I'll be off-line until next week. Best wishes to you all

22 November 2013

A Half Century?! After All It Was You and Me

Sorry, all. I've been unresponsive the last few days after being called out of town on a family emergency. All, now, is well on the home front.

Not much prep time, so thus accordingly: a themed playlist.







































18 November 2013

This Week in Water

Fast flows the flood of days.

Fukushima: TEPCO has once again postponed the removal of spent nuclear rods from one its crippled reactors because it is still too dangerous. Meanwhile, leaked radioactive water from the meltdown is apparently reaching the west coast waters of Alaska, and is approaching Canada and the continental U.S.

Super Typhoon Haiyan, called the most powerful storm ever on the planet, devastated parts of the Philippines. You can donate to Red Cross relief efforts here. Access to clean drinking water is a serious problem for survivors there.

The head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is calling for a grassroots movement to put pressure on politicians to act to limit carbon emissions and other policies contributing to the warming of Earth's climate.

The Keeling Curve is a website run by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD which is trying to keep "a daily record of atmospheric carbon dioxide."

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has developed a "hydrological modelling tool to aid in the planning of water-supply sustainability and help prepare for potential impacts of climate change in regional coastal aquifer systems" called the Seawater Intrusion (SWI2) package.

Some predict that South Florida's coastal communities, beaches, and barrier islands could be underwater in as little as 100 years.

According to researchers at University of Colorado at Boulder, nearly one in 10 U.S. watersheds is "stressed" as demand for water exceeds supply, and the situation is only likely to get worse.

Lakes in Central Texas are at their lowest levels in more than two generations due to the worst drought in the region's history. The 'other' Colorado River, upon which Austin relies for water, is under serious threat.

Fracking wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia use upwards of 5 million gallons of fresh water each to draw gas and oil out of the Marcellus Shale formation. That's water that can't be used for drinking, irrigation, sanitation, or pretty much anything else.

The Coachella Valley's largest water district is seeking to limit the amount of groundwater golf courses can use.

The CEO of Nestle believes that water is not a human right and should be commoditized, and privatized for profit.

Waukesha, Wisconsin, is running out of fresh drinking water even though it is only about 15 miles from Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of all the fresh water on the earth's surface and have been at abnormally low levels for over a decade.

Water-borne, disease-causing bacteria are evolving resistances to chlorine in drinking water.

The U.S. EPA will spend $506 million to clean up New York's Gowanus Canal, one of the most polluted waterways in the country.

Scientists from UC Santa Cruz have developed a device that produces hydrogen gas from wastewater and sunlight.

Charged bantam water droplets may increase the output of power plants, according to MIT scientists.

Here's an argument for preserving scarce fresh water resources by tapping into sea water through the use of technology.

Three words: "water bench sofa."

The Mars Rover discovered that approximately two pints of liquid water can be "squeezed" out of a cubic foot of Martian soil.

Using the Hubble telescope, scientists have discovered an asteroid revolving around a distant star that looks to have once been flooded with water, leading them to believe that this is how Earth and similar planets got their own water.

A new species of hammerhead shark was discovered off the coast of South Carolina.

A climber on Mont Blanc discovered a treasure chest filled with emeralds, rubies, and sapphires worth around $322,000 buried in a glacier.

An Italian runner was caught using a dummy penis loaded with clean urine to pass his drug test.

A free diver died after coming up from a 3 minute 38 second, 72 meter dive using no fins or supplemental oxygen

15 November 2013

Haters Gonna' Hate, Pt. 2

(Cont'd from here)

Like fear, hate is a powerful feature of human emotional life. [For a somewhat lengthy personal essay on the existential value of Fear, see my longish serial post "Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again." Remember, it's a blog, so you have to read from the bottom up, and you will have to scroll through several pages to get to the beginning.] Some might say that our very identities are defined by the things we hate.

And, like fear, because it is so fundamental to our identity, hate would seem to have evolutionary import.

Hate involves selection. We hate certain things and like or tolerate certain other things. These choices occur on a spectrum from the gut-level and pre-conscious to the active and rational(-ized).

Hate stems from distinguishing the things we like from the things we don't like. Our friends from our enemies, e.g. Things that are harmful to us from things that are benign or even benevolent. This is, of course, a fairly valuable exercise psychologically and evolutionary. 'Yes, you should hate wolfsbane. It will kill you if you eat it.' or 'Yes, you should hate saber tooth tigers. They will eat you and your babies.' or 'Yes, you should hate the Neanderthals. They will steal your food and rape your women.' Or whatever.

Hate involves a judgment of a certain kind. And it involves some object. It isn't a free-floating feeling. It is hatred of something.

But merely differentiating between things that are helpful and those that are harmful doesn't fully capture the sorts of things we recognize as hate. It is, that is to say, more than a mere judgment.

Hate is more than that. It has an intensity about it. An emotional component.

But is it simply an emotion? Or, stated differently, is it a simple emotion?

When we examine ourselves and what we feel when we hate, we discover that hate is a quite complex set of emotions and feelings. It involves elements of, e.g., fear, anger, fixation, blame, dislike, loathing, contempt, indignation, hostility, disgust, intolerance, aggression, demeaning or devaluation or objectification of the object, desire for schadenfreude (the suffering of the other brings pleasure), wish to harm/destroy the object, and even jealousy (success of the other brings resentment).

There is also the feeling that the object's very existence demeans/diminishes one's own and thus takes on a moral component (rightly or wrongly). The hater tends to see him/her self as somehow victimized by the object of hatred. And, thus, the hater's identity is, paradoxically, tied up/in with the hated.

(to be cont'd)

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13 November 2013

Walkabout

Celebrating Veterans' Day née Armistice Day—now, WWI, that was a real total war—Wisdoc and I circumnavigated/perambulated [Wisdaughter's studying for the GRE's] Stone Mountain, just outside Atlanta. Five miles, yo! Shot some snaps for you. As always, click to embiggen a slide show, mouse over for 'secret' message.

The Confederate Rushmore: Jeff Davis, Rob't Lee, Stonewall Jackson on the front side. Saw Radiohead play here in front of this giant granite outcropping just after moving to ATL. Laser shows on the summer weekend nights. 
Apparently it snowed last night, but it all fell in that one pile 
The old Grist Mill
Moved here from Ellijay, GA
A stick in the water
View of the Covered Bridge
Another
The back side of Stone Mountain reflected in Venable Lake
Another day, another fiery sunset

11 November 2013

"For The Rain It Raineth Every Day": The Transfiguration of the Commonplace

Saw King Lear at Atlanta's Shakespeare Tavern last night and was struck by a couple things—besides the great wine and food. How much Beckett's absurdism owes to Lear, e.g. How Lear could very well have been influenced by Don Quixote.

But something else, and something that strikes at my own fancy. Everyone knows that the Bard loved to incorporate music in his plays. And often Elizabethan dance tunes. Let's call them pop musics.

For example, in Twelfth Night, Feste, the Jester, sings this lovely ditty, "The Wind and the Rain":



In Lear, there's, of course, the great scene on the heath. In Act III, Scene ii, Lear is mad with grief. His Fool, who is pretending to be stupid, and the Duke of Kent, who is in disguise, are trying to coax him out of the storm (Edgar, who is pretending to be mad, has gone). As Lear finally succumbs and Kent leads him off to shelter him in a hovel, the jester sings his own improvised chorus to this popular song:
He that has and a little tiny wit—
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain—
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day.
The use of a pop song, re-contextualized and repurposed for tragic effect. I was immediately put in mind of Breaking Bad's final scene [SPOILER ALERT]: "Baby Blue" by, ahem, Badfinger. "Guess I got what I deserved/Kept you waiting there too long, my love..."



Sheer Shakespearian perfection. A perfect power pop song—maybe the epitome of the form—re-contextualize and repurposed for tragic effect. "The special love I had for you, my baby blue." Just wow!

---------
UPDATE: This post coincided with the death of Arthur C. Danto, the philosopher whose influential treatise on the philosophy of art, Transfiguration of the Commonplace, (a phrase he borrowed from Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) should have been at least the subtitle to this post. Et VOILA!

07 November 2013

This Week in Water

Big stuff doing this week! We'll be focusing primarily on ocean matters.

The biggest? The massive "Super Typhoon" Haiyan bearing down on the Philippines. Called "one of the most intense tropical cyclones in world history, with sustained winds an incredible 190 mph."

Oh yeah, Fukushima is still a hot mess, presenting a global threat that requires a global response. Some are calling for TEPCO to be shut down for failure to effectively manage the March, 2011, nuclear meltdown disaster which resulted from the earthquake and tsunami off the Japanese coast—that and the cover-up of the true extent of the damage. Engineers are preparing to remove the first of thousands of nuclear fuel rods from one of the flood-destroyed reactors (No. 4). The other 3 reactors are still too 'hot' to carry out this operation. Meanwhile, radioactive water continues to flow into the Pacific Ocean. And some fear a future quake in Northern Japan could trigger a disaster that would decimate Japan and potentially cause the evacuation of the U.S. West Coast.

Is the ocean broken? Some are seeing signs. If not already dead, it seems to be dying a slow death.

According to an article in Science magazine, the Pacific is warming faster than at any time in at least the past 10,000 years.

And, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels are rising at unprecedented rates.

Here's a map from National Geographic showing what the world's coastlines would look like in the event of a complete melt of Greenland and other land-based ice regions. It's not pretty.

Russia and China are blocking efforts by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctica Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to create two ocean sanctuaries in Antarctica to protect the pristine wilderness.

The use of sonar to map potential undersea oilfields killed 100 melon-headed whales near Madagascar.

Starfish are dying horribly along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California, and no one seems to know how or why.

Over a million tons of debris from the Fukushima tsunami—a floating junkyard island roughly the size of Texas—is drifting just 1700 miles of the U.S. west coast.

SXSW Eco 2013 (not the one you think) is a gathering of professionals and activists attempting to come up with solutions to the complex challenges facing civil society from the destruction and deterioration of our ocean environments.

Oysters are reclaiming ancient reefs in Chesapeake Bay. That's a good thing. "Oysters ... act as filters, providing a valuable clean up service. Nitrous phosphate runoff from wastewater, agriculture and storm runoff has broadened the bay's "dead zone" dramatically ... killing marine life. In a process called denitrification, the mollusks gulp down nitrogen, algae and sediment and spew out cleaner, clearer water. An acre of oysters can filter 140 million gallons of water an hour and remove 3,000 pounds of nitrogen a year" according to scientists at the University of Maryland. Texas would like to be able to do the same thing.

Chile is investing in tide-driven power plants.

Scientists from Hawaii and Australia believe certain genetically-selected 'super corals' can help de-acidify ocean reefs.

The U.S. EPA has launched an initiative to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans. Barnacles can help consume and degrade the tons of plastics littering the oceans.

Jellyfish are proliferating as a result of warming seas and increasing acidification. "Jellyfish blooms — the term for giant swarms of jellyfish — have also been responsible for nuclear shut downs in California, Florida, Israel, Scotland, India, and Japan, where one plant has reported removing as much as 150 tons of jellyfish from its system in one day. In 1999, a jellyfish bloom clogged the cooling system of a major coal-fired plant in the Philippines, leaving 40 million people without power. And in 2006, in a nigh unprecedented act of aggression, jellyfish in Brisbane, Australia, afflicted the massive nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan with an “acute case of fouling,” clogging its cooling systems and forcing it to leave the harbor." In response, some Korean scientists are attempting to build robots to exterminate them.

UPDATE: Russia dropped piracy charges against Greenpeace protestors, but has charged them with hooliganism which still entails years in prison.

Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd, arrived in the U.S. after 15 months at sea as a fugitive from Costa Rican justice over charges stemming from a confrontation with shark-finners on the high seas.

The U.S. Navy launched its first "all-electric" ship, the Zumwalt. Its four gas-turbine generators are the extent of its internal combustion engines. Its commander? Capt. James A. Kirk. I kid you not. (No Tiberius, though)

05 November 2013

Haters Gonna' Hate

Hate is a thing.

It is an important thing. I've written about its institutionalization and employment in a political/editorial context. But it is often poorly understood.

Extreme examples are easy to recognize when we encounter them—genocides, pogroms, e.g, being obvious ones. Other instances are readily typifiable, especially in extremes —bigotry, racism, misogyny, misandry, gay bashing, political or religious extremism, etc.

We've probably all known someone whose entire being was eaten up with hatred for something or someone or some group. So much so that we begin to suspect there might be something comforting, if not rewarding, about it for that person.

But we also find ourselves saying something like 'I hate brussels sprouts,' or 'I hate those shoes', or 'I hate cocktail parties,' or 'I hate having to wake up early,' or 'I hate the Dallas Cowboys,' or even:



We all have our pet hates.

So, what does, say, a food aversion have in common with an effort to wipe an entire race of people off the face of the earth? Are they different in kind or merely in degree?

Let's investigate.

(to be continued)

04 November 2013

The Information Age

The Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman reportedly once said: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."

[N.B. I'll go out on a limb here and flat-out admit I don't understand quantum mechanics. Wait! In Feynman-speak does that mean I actually do understand QM? Whoa! But wait, if I actually do understand QM, then that means, according to Feynman, I don't. Ouch. Logic. My head hurts.]

Now we learn that a group of scientists led by Lluís Masanes at the University of Bristol in the UK claims to have come up with a schema for actually understanding this notoriously difficult, conceptually fuzzy physics—and indeed everything else. (h/t)

They posit as a foundation of Reality the existence of a fundamental information unit. That means this unit of information is a single "thing" that forms the basis of and, in fact, necessitates all Reality, including and especially QM. They call it a 'general bit' or 'gbit'. There is only one type of information in the universe, and everything therein can be derived from it. The entirety of Reality is encoded in what could be called the language, or systems, of the gbit.

If you've ever wondered if everything that is—Reality, the universe, your thumbnail—is merely the computational software on some hard drive somewhere, you weren't terribly far off-base. They assert: "Any physical process can be simulated with a suitably programmed general purpose simulator." Moreover, on their view, you can reduce everything in reality down to its fundamental gbit units (decode it, in other words) and reconfigure the gbits (encode it) to produce any other thing.

The technicals of their paper are way over my head. If you want to read it, it's here: Existence of an information unit as a postulate of quantum theory. For those of you who understand the esoterics, the four basic postulates of their paper are the following:
"In any system, for every pair of pure states one can in principle engineer a time-continuous reversible dynamics which brings one state to the other. ...
"The state of a composite system is completely characterized by the correlations of measurements on the individual components. ...
"There is a type of system (the gbit...) such that the state of any system can be reversibly encoded in a sufficiently large number of gbits. ... 
"If a gbit is used to perfectly encode one classical bit, it cannot simul- taneously encode any further information."
In other words, there is only one type of information, and everything in the world can be simulated using a sufficiently large number of these unitary information units.

So, the next thing you're going to tell me is that all this hoovering up of information by the NSA and its NATO counterparts is merely a big physics experiment testing the integrity of this theory. No?





Isn't it amazing?!

01 November 2013

This Week in Water

I have a bunch of links this week, the direst having to do with the on-going disaster in Fukushima, Japan, regarding nuclear waste, reactor core cooling pools, and radioactive water pouring into the oceans. However, I will save them for the next installment. Instead of aggregating, I want to devote this post to a single story, breaking today, November 1, 2013, All Saints' Day.

Today, Barack Obama, President of the United States, issued an Executive Order entitled "Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change" in which he orders a vast array of U.S. governmental agencies to take steps to research and prepare for the potential effects of global warming.

It may be mere words, or it may have major public policy significance for the country and the world and humanity's survivability therein. It comes in response to the findings from a number of international climate science conferences, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which I reported on and quoted last week, and in possible reaction to actions from several U.S. state governments, such as those of North Carolina and Virginia, bowdlerizing climate change/global warming references from their public policies.

Climate change, global warming, rising sea levels, etc., are now on the table. Domestic politics will certainly intervene and the political game of football will commence around this issue, but this E.O., I believe, represents a historic watershed moment. [Pun intended.]. This is big, folks!

Thus, I quote it at length below:
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to prepare the Nation for the impacts of climate change by undertaking actions to enhance climate preparedness and resilience, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Policy. The impacts of climate change -- including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise -- are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation. These impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures. Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency (agency) operations, services, and programs.
A foundation for coordinated action on climate change preparedness and resilience across the Federal Government was established by Executive Order 13514 of October 5, 2009 (Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance), and the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force led by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition, through the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), established by section 103 of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (15 U.S.C. 2933), and agency programs and activities, the Federal Government will continue to support scientific research, observational capabilities, and assessments necessary to improve our understanding of and response to climate change and its impacts on the Nation.
The Federal Government must build on recent progress and pursue new strategies to improve the Nation's preparedness and resilience. In doing so, agencies should promote: (1) engaged and strong partnerships and information sharing at all levels of government; (2) risk-informed decisionmaking and the tools to facilitate it; (3) adaptive learning, in which experiences serve as opportunities to inform and adjust future actions; and (4) preparedness planning.
Sec. 2. Modernizing Federal Programs to Support Climate Resilient Investment. (a) To support the efforts of regions, States, local communities, and tribes, all agencies, consistent with their missions and in coordination with the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (Council) established in section 6 of this order, shall:
(i) identify and seek to remove or reform barriers that discourage investments or other actions to increase the Nation's resilience to climate change while ensuring continued protection of public health and the environment;
(ii) reform policies and Federal funding programs that may, perhaps unintentionally, increase the vulnerability of natural or built systems, economic sectors, natural resources, or communities to climate change related risks;
(iii) identify opportunities to support and encourage smarter, more climate-resilient investments by States, local communities, and tribes, including by providing incentives through agency guidance, grants, technical assistance, performance measures, safety considerations, and other programs, including in the context of infrastructure development as reflected in Executive Order 12893 of January 26, 1994 (Principles for Federal Infrastructure Investments), my memorandum of August 31, 2011 (Speeding Infrastructure Development through More Efficient and Effective Permitting and Environmental Review), Executive Order 13604 of March 22, 2012 (Improving Performance of Federal Permitting and Review of Infrastructure Projects), and my memorandum of May 17, 2013 (Modernizing Federal Infrastructure Review and Permitting Regulations, Policies, and Procedures); and
(iv) report on their progress in achieving the requirements identified above, including accomplished and planned milestones, in the Agency Adaptation Plans developed pursuant to section 5 of this order.
(b) In carrying out this section, agencies should also consider the recommendations of the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (Task Force) established in section 7 of this order and the National Infrastructure Advisory Council established by Executive Order 13231 of October 16, 2001 (Critical Infrastructure Protection in the Information Age), and continued through Executive Order 13652 of September 30, 2013 (Continuance of Certain Federal Advisory Committees).
(c) Interagency groups charged with coordinating and modernizing Federal processes related to the development and integration of both man-made and natural infrastructure, evaluating public health and social equity issues, safeguarding natural resources, and other issues impacted by climate change -- including the Steering Committee on Federal Infrastructure Permitting and Review Process Improvement established by Executive Order 13604, the Task Force on Ports established on July 19, 2012, the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska established by Executive Order 13580 of July 12, 2011, and the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice established by Executive Order 12898 of February 11, 1994 -- shall be responsible for ensuring that climate change related risks are accounted for in such processes and shall work with agencies in meeting the requirements set forth in subsections (a) and (b) of this section.
Sec. 3. Managing Lands and Waters for Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Within 9 months of the date of this order and in coordination with the efforts described in section 2 of this order, the heads of the Departments of Defense, the Interior, and Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies as recommended by the Council established in section 6 of this order shall work with the Chair of CEQ and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to complete an inventory and assessment of proposed and completed changes to their land- and water-related policies, programs, and regulations necessary to make the Nation's watersheds, natural resources, and ecosystems, and the communities and economies that depend on them, more resilient in the face of a changing climate. Further, recognizing the many benefits the Nation's natural infrastructure provides, agencies shall, where possible, focus on program and policy adjustments that promote the dual goals of greater climate resilience and carbon sequestration, or other reductions to the sources of climate change. The assessment shall include a timeline and plan for making changes to policies, programs, and regulations. Agencies shall build on efforts already completed or underway as outlined in agencies' Adaptation Plans, as discussed in section 5 of this order, as well as recent interagency climate adaptation strategies such as theNational Action Plan: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate, released October 28, 2011; the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, released March 26, 2013; and the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan, released April 16, 2013.
Sec. 4. Providing Information, Data, and Tools for Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience. (a) In support of Federal, regional, State, local, tribal, private-sector and nonprofit-sector efforts to prepare for the impacts of climate change, the Departments of Defense, the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, and Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and any other agencies as recommended by the Council established in section 6 of this order, shall, supported by USGCRP, work together to develop and provide authoritative, easily accessible, usable, and timely data, information, and decision-support tools on climate preparedness and resilience.
(b) As part of the broader open data policy, CEQ and OSTP, in collaboration with OMB and consistent with Executive Order 13642 of May 9, 2013 (Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information), shall oversee the establishment of a web-based portal on "Data.gov" and work with agencies on identifying, developing, and integrating data and tools relevant to climate issues and decisionmaking. Agencies shall coordinate their work on these data and tools with relevant interagency councils and committees such as the National Science and Technology Council and those that support the implementation of Presidential Policy Directive-21 of February 12, 2013 (Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience).
Sec. 5. Federal Agency Planning for Climate Change Related Risk. (a) Consistent with Executive Order 13514, agencies have developed Agency Adaptation Plans and provided them to CEQ and OMB. These plans evaluate the most significant climate change related risks to, and vulnerabilities in, agency operations and missions in both the short and long term, and outline actions that agencies will take to manage these risks and vulnerabilities. Building on these efforts, each agency shall develop or continue to develop, implement, and update comprehensive plans that integrate consideration of climate change into agency operations and overall mission objectives and submit those plans to CEQ and OMB for review. Each Agency Adaptation Plan shall include:
(i) identification and assessment of climate change related impacts on and risks to the agency's ability to accomplish its missions, operations, and programs;
(ii) a description of programs, policies, and plans the agency has already put in place, as well as additional actions the agency will take, to manage climate risks in the near term and build resilience in the short and long term;
(iii) a description of how any climate change related risk identified pursuant to paragraph (i) of this subsection that is deemed so significant that it impairs an agency's statutory mission or operation will be addressed, including through the agency's existing reporting requirements;
(iv) a description of how the agency will consider the need to improve climate adaptation and resilience, including the costs and benefits of such improvement, with respect to agency suppliers, supply chain, real property investments, and capital equipment purchases such as updating agency policies for leasing, building upgrades, relocation of existing facilities and equipment, and construction of new facilities; and
(v) a description of how the agency will contribute to coordinated interagency efforts to support climate preparedness and resilience at all levels of government, including collaborative work across agencies' regional offices and hubs, and through coordinated development of information, data, and tools, consistent with section 4 of this order.
(b) Agencies will report on progress made on their Adaptation Plans, as well as any updates made to the plans, through the annual Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan process. Agencies shall regularly update their Adaptation Plans, completing the first update within 120 days of the date of this order, with additional regular updates thereafter due not later than 1 year after the publication of each quadrennial National Climate Assessment report required by section 106 of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (15 U.S.C. 2936).
Sec. 6. Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.
(a) Establishment. There is established an interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (Council).
(b) Membership. The Council shall be co-chaired by the Chair of CEQ, the Director of OSTP, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. In addition, the Council shall include senior officials (Deputy Secretary or equivalent officer) from:
(i) the Department of State;
(ii) the Department of the Treasury;
(iii) the Department of Defense;
(iv) the Department of Justice;
(v) the Department of the Interior;
(vi) the Department of Agriculture;
(vii) the Department of Commerce;
(viii) the Department of Labor;
(ix) the Department of Health and Human Services;
(x) the Department of Housing and Urban Development;
(xi) the Department of Transportation;
(xii) the Department of Energy;
(xiii) the Department of Education;
(xiv) the Department of Veterans Affairs;
(xv) the Department of Homeland Security;
(xvi) the United States Agency for International Development;
(xvii) the Army Corps of Engineers;
(xviii) the Environmental Protection Agency;
(xix) the General Services Administration;
(xx) the Millennium Challenge Corporation;
(xxi) the National Aeronautics and Space Administration;
(xxii) the U.S. Small Business Administration;
(xxiii) the Corporation for National and Community Service;
(xxiv) the Office of the Director of National Intelligence;
(xxv) the Council of Economic Advisers;
(xxvi) the National Economic Council;
(xxvii) the Domestic Policy Council;
(xxviii) the Office of Management and Budget;
(xxix) the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs;
(xxx) the United States Trade Representative; and
(xxxi) such agencies or offices as the President or Co-Chairs shall designate.
(c) Administration. CEQ shall provide administrative support and additional resources, as appropriate, for the Council to the extent permitted by law and within existing appropriations. Agencies shall assist and provide information to the Council, consistent with applicable law, as may be necessary to carry out its functions. Each agency shall bear its own expenses for participating in the Council.
(d) Council Structure. The Co-Chairs shall designate a subset of members of the Council to serve on a Steering Committee, which shall help determine priorities and strategic direction for the Council. The Co-Chairs and Steering Committee may establish working groups as needed, and may recharter working groups of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, as appropriate.
(e) Mission and Function of the Council. The Council shall work across agencies and offices, and in partnership with State, local, and tribal governments (as well as the Task Force established in section 7 of this order), academic and research institutions, and the private and nonprofit sectors to:
(i) develop, recommend, coordinate interagency efforts on, and track implementation of priority Federal Government actions related to climate preparedness and resilience;
(ii) support regional, State, local, and tribal action to assess climate change related vulnerabilities and cost-effectively increase climate preparedness and resilience of communities, critical economic sectors, natural and built infrastructure, and natural resources, including through the activities as outlined in sections 2 and 3 of this order;
(iii) facilitate the integration of climate science in policies and planning of government agencies and the private sector, including by promoting the development of innovative, actionable, and accessible Federal climate change related information, data, and tools at appropriate scales for decisionmakers and deployment of this information through a Government-wide web-based portal, as described in section 4 of this order; and
(iv) such other functions as may be decided by the Co-Chairs, including implementing, as appropriate, the recommendations of the Task Force established in section 7 of this order.
(f) Termination of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (Adaptation Task Force), established in 2009, created the framework for coordinated Federal action on climate preparedness and resilience, driving agency-level planning and action. The Adaptation Task Force shall terminate no later than 30 days after the first meeting of the Council, which shall continue and build upon the Adaptation Task Force's work.
Sec. 7. State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.
(a) Establishment. To inform Federal efforts to support climate preparedness and resilience, there is established a State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (Task Force).
(b) Membership. The Task Force shall be co-chaired by the Chair of CEQ and the Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. In addition, its members shall be such elected State, local, and tribal officials as may be invited by the Co-Chairs to participate. Members of the Task Force, acting in their official capacity, may designate employees with authority to act on their behalf.
(c) Mission and Function. Within 1 year of the date of this order, the Task Force shall provide, through its Co-Chairs, recommendations to the President and the Council for how the Federal Government can:
(i) remove barriers, create incentives, and otherwise modernize Federal programs to encourage investments, practices, and partnerships that facilitate increased resilience to climate impacts, including those associated with extreme weather;
(ii) provide useful climate preparedness tools and actionable information for States, local communities, and tribes, including through interagency collaboration as described in section 6 of this order; and
(iii) otherwise support State, local, and tribal preparedness for and resilience to climate change.
(d) Sunset. The Task Force shall terminate no later than 6 months after providing its recommendations.