Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Neighbours Don't Give a Shit

Earth Day was yesterday. It was a day for me, to show respect. Respect for the planet we live on, and recognition of the fragile ecosystem that sustains human life. All that was asked to mark the occasion was to turn off non-essential lights for 1 hour. Drop electricity consumption for just an hour. That was all.

So we gathered as a family in the living room, a couple of candles lit, and all the lights off. I even turned off the computer. Yes, I turned off the computer. Those that know me, know I never have the computer off. Last night, it was off. I shutdown.

Apparently I was in the minority. At 8:15PM, I took the camera to the balcony to take a couple of shots at the condo across from us. I went back out at 9:15PM. The before and after are below. WTF people? Were these people simply unaware? Like our PM, dumb-ass Harper, didn't give a rat's ass? I'm at a loss. I don't comprehend. It was big in the newspapers. It was on TV. It was everywhere! What does it take to make these people give a shit?

Monday, March 24, 2008

South Park for Free

South Park fans, rejoice. MTV Networks now has every South Park episode available online, uncensored, and for free. This is how media should be available to the masses. And you know what? People will still fork out money for the DVDs.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Give Peace a Chance

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) symbol -- now universally known as the Peace symbol -- turns 50 this year. The symbol was designed for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC), by designer Gerald Holtom in 1958, to be used in a 50-mile Easter march from Trafalgar Square, London, to atomic weapons factory at Aldermaston. The symbol combines the semaphoric signals for the letters "N" and "D" -- representing "Nuclear Disarmament." From its adoption by CND, the symbol spread to the US, then around the world -- with CND never trademarking the symbol -- leaving it free for the world to use.

50 years ago, the symbol was created to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Today the symbol is universally recognized, though its power to provoke has diminished with the loss of the baby boomers idealism. Nuclear weapons has proliferated, and the world is now threatened by rogue states with nuclear enrichment programs; a new found interest in the US to maintain its nuclear prowess; and terrorists looking to make dirty bombs. 50 years, and still, the peace symbol is still so relevant.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Inner Cow

This has got to be one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Researchers cut holes into the sides of cows and insert an cannula, which allows access to a live animals stomach. These holes are so big, you can actually see what's going on inside -- literally, reach into the stomach of a cow. Cows stomach have millions microbes that aid in digestion, and surprisingly, cannulated cows are usually the healthiest of the herd. You would think that walking around with a hole in your stomach would be bad for you, but apparently not. Some farmers apparently keep cannulated cows in their herd so they can serve as microbe donors to sick cows. Just bizarre.

[Source: Oddity Central]

Monday, March 17, 2008

Public Stupidity in Whitewater

So what exactly is wrong with anonymous free speech? If you're a public figure, especially in a position of power, anonymous critique is construed as an open, if faceless, assault. And with great power, usually comes great irresponsibility. Rather than welcome criticism as an opportunity for improvement -- a perspective that any public servant should take when facing heat from their constituents -- most counterattack. That is the case currently being played out in the backwater town of Whitewater, Wisconsin, where John Adams, an anonymous blogger is raining on the stupidity of public officials there. In response, the police chief, James Coan, is using city employees to play detective to unmask John Adams.

Can we say misuse of public resources, folks?

Apparently not, say Coan and his cohorts in government. The the police, the blogger "seems like an anti-government radical." Yes, criticizing the people who work for you is considered radical by some. WTF?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

U.S. Lives Worth More Than Others'

From Pew Research's Social Values Survey:
Nearly a quarter of American adults (23%) say they mostly (14%) or completely (9%) agree that American lives are worth more than the lives of people in other countries according to the most recent Pew Social Values Survey; those most likely to take this view include white men (30%), persons ages 18-29 (29%) and self-identified conservative Republicans (28%).
You can find the details in the Pew Research's report, Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007 - Political Landscape More Favorable To Democrats. On a totally superficial level however, it seems like younger Americans are leaning more towards the values of Canadians.

Fat Man Revealed

Wikileaks has released an early drawing of the "Fat Man" bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in the closing of the second world war. The drawing had remained censored and not publicly available until this release. There's nothing secret about it, since the design has long been superseded.

Polluting Via Sewage

Karen Kidd [PDF] from the University of New Brunswick has done something terrible -- she has poisoned a lake in North Ontario -- to prove a point. The point being, that what we flush down the toilet, or otherwise allow to pollute our water system, threatens to have a horrible repercussions down the food chain.

Kidd, a ecotoxicologist purposely introduced estrogen into a lake in northern Ontario to test the effects on the lake. What her study revealed, was that while algae, bacteria and invertebrates weren't impacted, fishes were. Fishes with smaller body mass was first impacted, leading to the entire species dying off. The the larger fish -- and even the larger fish -- a combination of declining food source, and estrogen poisoning. Estrogen introduced to the lake caused fishes to mature slower; males to become feminized, to the point where sperm production ceased, and egg production started.

Estrogen is dumped into our sewage system as it is excreted from the human body, but is also introduced via artificial sources. Organic compounds widely used in industry, for everything from plastic and epoxy production, to oral contraceptives, are estrogen receptor agonists -- meaning, they act as estrogen by traversing cell membranes and activating estrogen receptors. Unfortunately, many sewage treatment facilities do not remove these chemicals from the waste water, and as Kidd has demonstrated, this can cause severe damage when it arrives in our waterways.

What does Toronto do before we pump waste water back into our waterways? I contacted the city's waste water treatment department last week, but have gotten no response yet.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Lai Massacre

Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children and babies. Families which huddled together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy. Those who emerged with hands held high were murdered. ... Elsewhere in the village, other atrocities were in progress. Women were gang raped; Vietnamese who had bowed to greet the Americans were beaten with fists and tortured, clubbed with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. By late morning word had got back to higher authorities and a cease-fire was ordered. My Lai was in a state of carnage. Bodies were strewn through the village.BBC News.
On March 16, 1968, Charlie Company of the American 1st Battalion, swept through hamlets of My Lai and My Khe of Son My village in Vietnam, looking for Viet Cong. There were no Viet Cong in the village, but Charlie Company started a wave of violence, shooting at everything alive. Civilians ran for their lives, and were gunned down. People were herded into an irrigation ditch and shot with automatic weapons. No one was spared. Not even children. When they were finished, over 500 people were murdered.

The American military initially covered up incident. It would take a year and a half later for the story to break, and charges to be laid against soldiers. Of the 26 soldiers charged, only one was ever given prison time -- just four and a half years in military prison. In the court martial, the precedents set in the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals, were reversed. The results of the WWII war crimes tribunals set the precedent that following orders was not a defence for committing war crimes. The punishment from the war crimes tribunals was execution.

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the massacre -- and I have to ask, what has changed?

  1. Wikipedia
  2. The Associated Press
  3. PBS
See a related documentary here.

Clinton Cult

The Huffington Post is carrying a post by RJ Eskow that examines the Clinton cult. Check it out if you're a Clinton cult member, and reflect. People are going to end up hating you more than they hate the Republicans, and John McCain will get elected ... unless of course ...

Assaulting the Poor

Luis VasconcelosThis image was taken by Luis Vasconcelos and posted on Reuters blog. The caption:
An indigenous woman holds her child while trying to resist the advance of Amazonas state policemen who were expelling the woman and some 200 other members of the Landless Movement from a privately-owned tract of land on the outskirts of Manaus, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon March 11, 2008. The landless peasants tried in vain to resist the eviction with bows and arrows against police using tear gas and trained dogs. REUTERS/Luiz Vasconcelos-A Critica/AE (BRAZIL)
More on the Landless Workers' Movement can be found on Wikipedia. Yet again, another example of the rich living off the poor.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Morality of Liberals and Conservatives

I just read about a study David Sloan Wilson and Ingrid Storm conducted, that compared the moral thinking of liberals and conservatives.
Dr Wilson and Dr Storm found several unexpected differences between the groups. Liberal teenagers always felt more stress than conservatives, but were particularly stressed if they could not decide for themselves whom they spent time with. Such choice, or the lack of it, did not change conservative stress levels. Liberals were also loners, spending a quarter of their time on their own. Conservatives were alone for a sixth of the time. That may have been related to the fact that liberals were equally bored by their own company and that of others. Conservatives were far less bored when with other people. They also preferred the company of relatives to non-relatives. Liberals were indifferent. Perhaps most intriguingly, the more religious a liberal teenager claimed to be, the more he was willing to confront his parents with dissenting beliefs. The opposite was true for conservatives. [Source.]
From the conclusion of the study report:
Liberal Protestantism was shown to correlate positively with social class, education and various measures of individualism. Conservative Protestantism was associated with lower levels of education and socioeconomic class, and correlated with higher levels of dependence on family. The results of this study strongly indicate that liberal Protestantism is an adaptive cultural strategy in groups of highly educated individuals in secure environments. Conservative Protestantism seems to be adaptive at the group level in situations and environments with comparatively lower existential security and lower levels of education.
The full results of the study can be found here [PDF]. And right now, I'm feeling pretty smart about myself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Day Before Genesis

In the mispent youth of science classes and houses of ignorance, where robed mystics babble incoherently, we were led to the belief that there was a beginning. That the beginning was something miraculous and mysteriious, and if we stared too long we'd probably go mad with more questions -- or worse, blind. In the beginning, there was nothing, and from it, everything emerged -- space, time and the very laws of nature.
The Man (Purusha) has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He pervades the earth everywhere and extends beyond for ten fingers' breadth. The Man himself is all this, whatever has been and whatever is to be. He is the lord of immortality and also lord of that which grows on food. Such is his greatness, and the Man is yet greater than this. All creatures make up a quarter of him; three quarters are the immortal in heaven. With three quarters the Man has risen above, and one quarter of him still remains here, whence he spread out everywhere, pervading that which eats and that which does not eat. From him Virj was born, and from Virj came the Man, who, having been born, ranged beyond the earth before and behind. When the gods spread the sacrifice, using the Man as the offering, spring was the clarified butter, summer the fuel, autumn the oblation. They anointed the Man, the sacrifice, born at the beginning, upon the sacred grass. With him the gods, Sdhyas, and sages sacrificed. From that sacrifice in which everything was offered, the clarified butter was obtained, and they made it into those beasts who live in the air, in the forest, and in villages. From that sacrifice in which everything was offered, the verses and the chants were born, the metres were born, and the formulas were born. From it horses were born, and those other animals which have a double set of incisors; cows were born from it, and goats and sheep were born from it. [Source]
At one point in my life, that all made sense, and I was at peace knowing that I knew all there was to know. Then I got some education and it made me think, and doubts and questions arose. If Vishnu never woke up, would the world have been created?

I stopped pinning my hopes on the Big Bang after a while. The Big Bang implied something came before, and even though I wasn't supposed to ask, I asked -- quietly. Thinking of everything, at the vast scale of the universe to the weirdly, wonderous quantum scale, one can get lost. The human species may never find the answers before we go extinct, but that possibility isn't stopping us. In the April issue of Discover Magazine, Adam Frank teases us with three tantilizing prospects that dares venture beyond the Big Bang and conventional thinking. Cosmological heresey, if you will.

(1) The universe is more than we can see, and at the fundamental level, are one-dimensional objects called strings. The promise of string theory is the unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics -- and it's all dizzyingly complex mathematics, that may prove itself unobservable. There are many interpretations of string theory, including the possibility of dimensions beyond the four that we are familiar with. In this theory, our four-dimensional universe is a brane (short for membrane) inside a higher-dimension space, called the bulk. There could be many branes within a bulk, all with different laws of physics. Think of bedsheets hung out on clotheslines to dry in the summer. Each bedsheet would be a four-dimensional universe, flapping in the wind. When bedsheets touch each other in the bulk, the results materialize in the brane, like, well -- a miracle. One such effect would be the Big Bang. In this version of the universe, ours is but one in a multiverse. The concept of a beginning disappears, as universes are constantly being popped into the multiverse. Each new universe is a brane, that could likewise interact with other branes to create more branes, and so the multiverse continues.

(2) In seeking to explain the Big Bang and the resulting universe, the concept of inflation has been proposed -- and while the mechanism that precipitated it is not understood, it has made predictions that have been confirmed by observations. The universe as we know it today, is expanding from a distance past; seeming to originate from a single point; is flat; and in whichever direction we look, appears the same. The concept of inflation states that at some point in the beginning of everything -- perhaps just after the Big Bang -- the universe underwent a period where it expanded exponentially, driven by negative pressure vacuum energy; i.e. stuff appearing out of nothing, and flung out to create the universe. As crazy as it might sound, stuff does appear out of nothing, all the time. What if then, inflation isn't as unique as once thought, but occurs on quite a regular basis? The result would be a multiverse, in which the Big Bang really isn't unique, but is constantly happening. A multiverse of infinite, interconnected universes. An interesting outcome from this thinking is that time has no meaning. Our inflation only pushed time in the direction we experience it today. It could very well happen that other inflations have time running in the opposite direction.

(3) The craziest idea of the three, and my favourite, cause it seems to make the most sense, is that time is an illusion. Time doesn't exist. It's an idea proposed physicist Julian Barbour. In this theory, the universe is like pages in a book. Every page exists at the same time. There is no past, and no future. The flow from one Now (page) to another Now (page), produces the illusion of time (narrative) that we experience. In such a universe, nothing changes. Everything just is. This may sound crazy, but there is hard mathematics to support it.

If you're still here, you may want to check out some related reading. (The Adam Frank Discover article, The Day Before Genesis, isn't online as yet.)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Irony Lost

In a speech delivered today, addressing U.S.-Cuba relations, G.W. Bush spoke out defiantly on upholding America's economic embargo on the island, while scolding other democracies around the world, of not following the U.S. lead. Bush spoke of human rights abuses; of political prisoners being tortured; of jail time without trial -- without guilt -- for offences against the regime. Bush stood with Cuban dissidents, telling their stories of "brutal repression right off the shores of the United States."

At no time, did Bush allow the irony of Guantanamo to get in his way.

Firefox Closed-Tab Undo

Ever closed a Firefox tab and wished you hadn't? lifehacker has a great tip for undoing that close. Ctrl-Shift-T (Windows) or Cmd-Shift-T (Mac) will do the trick! How's that for a cool feature?

Super Human

Wim Hof and Lynne Cox can do an amazing thing -- they can withstand extreme cold temperatures with no adverse effects. Hof ran a half-marathon, bare foot, dressed only in a swimsuit, at the Arctic Circle. He swam 80 metres under an ice sheet at the North Pole. He climbed Mount Everest in shorts. Cox on the other hand swam the Bering Strait and a mile through icebergs in the Antarctic. Neither suffered from frostbite or hypothermia due to their prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures. That has left doctors wondering how they do it.

Amazingly enough, Hof and Cox are quite normal. There is nothing in their physiology that differentiates them from everybody else. The only theory with some merit, is that both have used their brains to mentally prepare their bodies for the extremes. This is a tantalizing prospect, as it speaks to some untapped potential of the brain. Being able to take control of the body -- the organs, and the physiological response to external stimuli is amazing. If the mechanism can be figured out and it can be taught, the possibilities are endless.

Reading about Cox and Hof made me think of the feats of mental agility I'm personally capable of. I can appear to be superhuman at times. Like Cox and Hof, I've learned to prepare my body so as to not respond physically to the monotony and general apathy I sometimes find myself subjected to in meetings. I sometimes amaze myself at the interest and attention I can generate for dull topics -- where weaker souls would be fantasizing about hari-kari.
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