mm290: Gassing ’bout birds and supermen

February 19, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Quirky things going on out there, folks. None seem expansive enough to go all expansive on you, so we’re going to have another episode of SASB:

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Gassing…

A couple of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have, they claim, found a way to turn airborne carbon dioxide back into gasoline.

nytimes

Scientists Would Turn Greenhouse Gas Into Gasoline

By KENNETH CHANG | Published: February 19, 2008

The scientists, F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kubic Jr., are proposing a concept, which they have patriotically named Green Freedom, for removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it back into gasoline.

The idea is simple. Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel.

This process could transform carbon dioxide from an unwanted, climate-changing pollutant into a vast resource for renewable fuels. The closed cycle — equal amounts of carbon dioxide emitted and removed — would mean that cars, trucks and airplanes using the synthetic fuels would no longer be contributing to global warming.

Of course, there’s a hitch, there’s always a hitch.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm288: Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling fusion

February 17, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Mark Benjamin, writing in Salon.com, opened our eyes this weekend with an exclusive look inside the U.S. Air Force’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the illuminating article allows this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© to return to an abiding interest, what’s going on up there in the sky?

The changing face of military aviation

eighth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

The videogame theme has struck yr (justifiably) humble svt before. Take a look.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm287: Attention Wal-Mart shoppers! China’s transportation infrastructure thanks you.

February 16, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Always useful, and often picking up on trends little noticed elsewhere, The Economist, best magazine on the planet, is at its typical best describing China’s massive infrastructure boom.

economist

China’s infrastructure splurge

Rushing on by road, rail and air

Feb 14th 2008 | BEIJING | From The Economist print edition

China’s race to build roads, railways and airports speeds ahead. Democracy, says an official, would sacrifice efficiency

“IT’S like approaching the Forbidden City, it’s absolutely incredible.” The adjective is one that Mouzhan Majidi, chief executive of Foster + Partners, liberally attaches to Beijing’s new airport terminal, designed by his British firm. The world’s largest, designed in the gently sinuous form of a Chinese dragon, it was planned and built in four years by an army of 50,000 workers. “The columns on the outside are red and you see them marching for miles and miles,” says Mr Majidi.

A little hyperbole is understandable. The terminal is 3km (1.8 miles) long. The floor space is 17% bigger than all the terminals at London’s Heathrow combined (including about-to-open Terminal Five). Chinese officials like the Forbidden City analogy. Just as the towering vermilion walls and golden roofs of the imperial palace inspire visitors with awe, China wants its golden-roofed terminal to impress those arriving for the Olympic games in August. Part of a $3.8 billion expansion, which included the opening of a third runway in October, it is due to open on February 29th, weeks ahead of schedule.

The numbers are mind-bending. Beijing’s airport is now the ninth busiest in the world. The longest sea-crossing bridge: 36km (22+ miles), six-lanes, between Shanghai and Ningbo (anyone else never hear before of Ningbo, much less that it’s important enough to build the longest bridge in the world to get there?).

Read the rest of this entry »


mm266: Follow-ups and other voices heard

January 26, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Responding to some internal and, interestingly, external disquiet regarding this space’s latest experiment with themes available here at the incomparable WordPress.com, we have, as we’re sure you’ve noticed, changed again.

Our latest choice is less visually jarring, at the cost of some blandness. Our critics might tell us that bland is beautiful, compared to the mess we left behind, and we apparently agreed. Responsiveness to the audience – what a concept!

Let us know whether you think we’re in a better place.

And, lest you, as does yr (justifiably) humble svt, miss our logo, as the new theme doesn’t allow header customization, here’s a fix.

l-hc780x95

Okay, let’s move on, shall we?

It’s a big planet, and there are a multiplicity of viewpoints and a waterfall of information pouring into this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© every nanosecond.

So, we’re taking a breath, and taking an alternate look at a couple of topics covered earlier.

You guessed it: another episode of SASB: Short Attention Span Blogging!©

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Culling the planet’s herd

A couple of days ago, we explored some of the implications of the FDA’s approval to introduce cloned meat and dairy products into the marketplace. The concern is that as producers go for the easy, repetitive score, i.e., clone what works and eliminate the rest, the planet will permanently lose something important: species diversity.

This week’s NYTimes Magazine explores the issue from a different direction (and continent!), selective breeding rather than cloning (two sides of the same coin, actually).

nytimesmagazine

herdextinct

A Dying Breed

By ANDREW RICE | Published: January 27, 2008

GERSHOM MUGIRA COMES from a long line of cattle-keepers. His people, the Bahima, are thought to have migrated into the hilly grasslands of western Uganda more than a thousand years ago, alongside a hardy breed of longhorns known as the Ankole. For centuries, man and beast subsisted there in a tight symbiotic embrace. Mugira’s nomadic ancestors wandered in search of fresh pasture for their cattle, which in turn provided them with milk. It is only within the last few generations that most Bahima have accepted the concept of private property. Mugira’s family lives on a 500-acre ranch, and one sunny day in November, the wiry 26-year-old showed me around, explaining, with some sadness but more pragmatism, why the Ankole breed that sustained his forebears for so many generations is now being driven to extinction….

In recent decades, global trade, sophisticated marketing, artificial insemination and the demands of agricultural economics have transformed the Holstein into the world’s predominant dairy breed. Indigenous animals like East Africa’s sinewy Ankole, the product of centuries of selection for traits adapted to harsh conditions, are struggling to compete with foreign imports bred for maximal production. This worries some scientists. The world’s food supply is increasingly dependent on a small and narrowing list of highly engineered breeds: the Holstein, the Large White pig and the Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens. There’s a risk that future diseases could ravage these homogeneous animal populations. Poor countries, which possess much of the world’s vanishing biodiversity, may also be discarding breeds that possess undiscovered genetic advantages. But farmers like Mugira say they can’t afford to wait for science. And so, on the African savanna, a competition for survival is underway….

The Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the United Nations, recently reported that at least 20 percent of the world’s estimated 7,600 livestock breeds are in danger of extinction. Experts are warning of a potential “meltdown” in global genetic diversity. Yet the plight of the Ankole illustrates the difficulty of balancing the conflicting goals of animal conservation and human prosperity. An estimated 70 percent of the world’s rural poor, some 630 million people, derive a substantial percentage of their income from livestock. Increase the productivity of these animals, development specialists say, and you improve dire living standards. The World Bank recently published a report saying it was time to place farming “afresh at the center of the development agenda.” Highly productive livestock breeds, the World Bank asserts, are playing an important role in alleviating poverty.

As controlled interbreeding takes place, Africa’s indigenous cattle are gradually converting into distinctly highly productive Holsteins.

One additional advantage of the imported genetic stock: Ankole cattle require huge swaths of grassland; Holsteins can be penned. Writer Andrew Rice quotes some experts who say that “ethnic” warfare in Rwanda and Darfur as “really a fight over grass.”

The diversity the planet is losing is dire:

Many tropical breeds may possess unique adaptive traits. The problem is, we don’t know what is being lost. Earlier this year, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization released its first-ever global assessment of biodiversity in livestock. While data on many breeds are scant, the report found that over the last six years, an average of one breed a month has gone extinct. “The threat is imminent,” says Danielle Nierenberg, senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental group. “Just getting milk and meat into people’s mouths is not the answer.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

A Dying Breed – New York Times

A lengthy, but most worthwhile read. The law of unintended consequences is one that will never be repealed.

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Ultimately, it’s ALL recycled, isn’t it?

The water crisis in the Southeast and Western U.S. was approached a couple of weeks ago here.

Wired magazine has an intriguing update.

wired

waterpurification

New Purification Plant Answers California’s Water Crisis

By Dave Bullock | 01.25.08 | 8:00 PM

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, California — As Southern California faces a worsening water crisis, Orange County has implemented a $480 million microfiltration system so advanced it can turn waste water into drinking water.

Fewer words than intriguing pix in this story.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

New Purification Plant Answers California’s Water Crisis

Facilities like this one are going to have to become the norm if people insist on living in the desert.

Not as cheap as piping it in from the Great Lakes, Orange County, but that’s not on the table anyway.

All the water on the planet has been here since the catalytic cataclysm that created it in the first place. We’ve been drinking recycled water forever.

Thanks to this Fountain Valley facility and others soon to follow elsewhere, engineers have simply shortened the recycling time.

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Democracy, it’s a virus

… and it could be catching on in China.

Several months ago, monks in Burma led massive demonstrations noted here, against the government which were ultimately suppressed, as usual, by the oppressive regime.

In Shanghai, people have been massing to demonstrate against expansion of a maglev high-speed rail line. The Washington Post has the story.

washingtonpost

shanghaicitizensprotest

Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt

By Maureen Fan | Washington Post Foreign Service | Saturday, January 26, 2008

SHANGHAI — Bundled against the cold, the businessman made his way down the steps. Coming toward him in blue mittens was a middle-aged woman.

“Do you know that we’re going to take a stroll this weekend?” she whispered, using the latest euphemism for the unofficial protests that have unnerved authorities in Shanghai over the past month.

He nodded.

Behind her, protest banners streamed from the windows of high-rise apartment blocks, signs of middle-class discontent over a planned extension of the city’s magnetic levitation, or maglev, train through residential neighborhoods.

They live in China’s most Western mainland city, and they’ve learned the advanced Western concept of NIMBY (Not in my back yard). And they’ve taken to the streets.

And Shanghai’s government has been forced to pay attention.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt – washingtonpost.com

The single most relentless enemy of authoritarian governments is the middle class. Even George III’s Venezuelan nemesis, Hugo Chavez, failed in his attempt to modify the constitution.

Citizens who have attained middle class status by dint of hard work, and loosened societal constraints, can embrace artifacts of civilization available to those living above the subsistence level.

Such as education.

Satellite television (Ronald Reagan and CNN both helped end the Cold War, to MUDGE’s generation’s eternal surprise).

The Internet and its blogs and bulletin boards (those portions that the Chinese government can’t censor).

Cellular telephones with text messaging.

Don’t think there’s much of a middle class in Burma as yet. So that 2007 effort was doomed. Like Chicago Cubs fans everywhere, one can only say, “wait until next year!”

Short Attention Span Blogging

… is only short for the reader, not, for heaven’s sake, the blogger! But kudos to faithful reader for getting this far!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm223: Pigs, bees, fish — the dangerous ways we set our table

December 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The lavish supplies of cheap food we take for granted in the U.S. are far more costly than we’ve understood. Two stories in NYTimes this weekend provide disturbing evidence on several fronts. Michael Pollan authored the first, where he analyzed a pair of stories.

Staph infection and pig farms

The incursion of staph infection into the world at large from the general confinement of hospitals is distressing. In fact,

MRSA, the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria … is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

One formerly understood that staph has mutated to develop resistance to antibiotics due to the overuse of antibiotics in the hospital setting, and thus is difficult to combat there. The victims of the resistant infections are generally the weak and elderly patients.

Now, there is disturbing evidence that the massive use of antibiotics in the ubiquitous ginormous feedlots might be causing staph to mutate outside hospitals.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at least 70 percent of the antibiotics used in America are fed to animals living on factory farms. Raising vast numbers of pigs or chickens or cattle in close and filthy confinement simply would not be possible without the routine feeding of antibiotics to keep the animals from dying of infectious diseases. That the antibiotics speed up the animals’ growth also commends their use to industrial agriculture, but the crucial fact is that without these pharmaceuticals, meat production practiced on the scale and with the intensity we practice it could not be sustained for months, let alone decades.

This is all still guesswork on the part of researchers, as neither the FDA nor the livestock industry seems that interested in examining the issue.

Scientists have not established that any of the strains of MRSA presently killing Americans originated on factory farms. But given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not. When, in August, the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition asked the Food and Drug Administration what the agency was doing about the problem of MRSA in livestock, the agency had little to say. Earlier this month, though, the F.D.A. indicated that it may begin a pilot screening program with the C.D.C.

The implication for the long-term costs of the inexpensive meat the world (except of course the 20% who are starving) takes for granted if a relationship is established between MRSA and CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation, a new acronym for MUDGE) is definitely disturbing. As is, of course, the fact that MRSA has overtaken AIDS as a killer in the U.S.

Bees, again

This space has taken some note over the past several months of the honeybee story (here, here and here): the bees have disappeared; do we really know why? Michael Pollan has some significant observations, and relates the issues with the bees to that of the pigs.

The second story is about honeybees, which have endured their own mysterious epidemic this past year. Colony Collapse Disorder was first identified in 2006, when a Pennsylvanian beekeeper noticed that his bees were disappearing — going out on foraging expeditions in the morning never to return. Within months, beekeepers in 24 states were reporting losses of between 20 percent and 80 percent of their bees, in some cases virtually overnight. Entomologists have yet to identify the culprit, but suspects include a virus, agricultural pesticides and a parasitic mite. (Media reports that genetically modified crops or cellphone towers might be responsible have been discounted.) But whatever turns out to be the immediate cause of colony collapse, many entomologists believe some such disaster was waiting to happen: the lifestyle of the modern honeybee leaves the insects so stressed out and their immune systems so compromised that, much like livestock on factory farms, they’ve become vulnerable to whatever new infectious agent happens to come along.

Due to the massive scale of agriculture in California, source of so much of the food grown in this country, the state has, by necessity, become an importer of itinerant bees.

In 2005 the demand for honeybees in California had so far outstripped supply that the U.S.D.A. approved the importation of bees from Australia. These bees get off a 747 at SFO and travel by truck to the Central Valley, where they get to work pollinating almond flowers — and mingling with bees arriving from every corner of America. As one beekeeper put it to Singeli Agnew in The San Francisco Chronicle, California’s almond orchards have become “one big brothel” — a place where each February bees swap microbes and parasites from all over the country and the world before returning home bearing whatever pathogens they may have picked up. Add to this their routine exposure to agricultural pesticides and you have a bee population ripe for an epidemic national in scope.

So, pigs and bees have become industrialized. The law of unintended consequences has gone to work, also.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Michael Pollan – Agriculture – Disease Resistant Staph – Concentrated Animal Feed Operations – Sustainability – New York Times

a disturbing Chinese fish story

The final element of today’s food fright is also a Times story.

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters

By DAVID BARBOZA

FUQING, China — Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Fuqing is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.

But that growth is threatened by the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply.

“Our waters here are filthy,” said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

Okay, let me count: eels, shrimp, tilapia, sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff including pesticides, veterinary drugs and pesticides. The food we want seems swamped by all the stuff we want no part of, but we don’t get to choose. After all,

Environmental problems plaguing seafood would appear to be a bad omen for the industry. But with fish stocks in the oceans steadily declining and global demand for seafood soaring, farmed seafood, or aquaculture, is the future. And no country does more of it than China, which produced about 115 billion pounds of seafood last year.

China produces about 70 percent of the farmed fish in the world, harvested at thousands of giant factory-style farms that extend along the entire eastern seaboard of the country. Farmers mass-produce seafood just offshore, but mostly on land, and in lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs, or in huge rectangular fish ponds dug into the earth.

The U.S. imports 80% of its fish; the Chinese produces 70% of the world’s supply of farmed fish. China is huge, ambitious, and often very primitive in its safety surveillance. This is an ugly combination.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters – New York Times

Let’s review:

  1. Some scientists are convinced that pig and other livestock agriculture can kill us, because the overuse of antibiotics in CAFO settings could cause the mutation of antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.
  2. Honeybees have been worked so hard in the service of agribusiness that some scientists believe that the stress made them less resistant to bee-killing viruses and parasites.
  3. Chinese aquaculture (a wetter form of agribusiness) is producing massive quantities — the overwhelming majority of the globe’s farmed product — of fish contaminated by sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff and veterinary drugs and pesticides.

To paraphrase Will Rogers, it’s not what you pay for food, but what it costs you that counts. I don’t think that we can afford inexpensive food.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm198: GM foods — Wrongheaded opposition is starving the developing world

November 18, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Prospect magazine of the UK has a compelling piece, from the European viewpoint on genetically modified food and its wrongheaded opposition.

prospectuk

The real GM food scandal

by Dick Taverne

GM foods are safe, healthy and essential if we ever want to achieve decent living standards for the world’s growing population. Misplaced moralising about them in the west is costing millions of lives in poor countries

Dick Taverne is the author of The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism (OUP)

Seven years ago, Time magazine featured the Swiss biologist Ingo Potrykus on its cover. As the principal creator of genetically modified rice—or “golden rice”—he was hailed as potentially one of mankind’s great benefactors. Golden rice was to be the start of a new green revolution to improve the lives of millions of the poorest people in the world. It would help remedy vitamin A deficiency, the cause of 1-2m deaths a year, and could save up to 500,000 children a year from going blind. It was the flagship of plant biotechnology. No other scientific development in agriculture in recent times held out greater promise.

Seven years later, the most optimistic forecast is that it will take another five or six years before golden rice is grown commercially. The realisation of Potrykus’s dream keeps receding. The promised benefits from other GM crops that should reduce hunger and disease have been equally elusive. GM crops should now be growing in areas where no crops can grow: drought-resistant crops in arid soil and salt-resistant crops in soil of high salinity. Plant-based oral vaccines should now be saving millions of deaths from diarrhoea and hepatitis B; they can be ingested in orange juice, bananas or tomatoes, avoiding the need for injection and for trained staff to administer them and refrigeration to store them.

Your correspondent has long been more aware of this complex issue than the average blogger on the street. Some years ago, MUDGE logged a five-year stint at a science-based organization whose parent was one of the foremost corporate proponents of this world-changing technology. Indeed, I probably would be there still, had not the forces of creative destruction, i.e., capitalism, broken up that good old gang of mine through “merger” and acquisition.

Proximity to the technology, and a modicum of intellectual curiosity resulted in slightly more than superficial awareness of the issue and its controversies. And the controversy has been noisy enough to make one believe that distribution of such technology has been suppressed. But,

Seldom has public perception been more out of line with the facts. The public in Britain and Europe seems unaware of the astonishing success of GM crops in the rest of the world. No new agricultural technology in recent times has spread faster and more widely. Only a decade after their commercial introduction, GM crops are now cultivated in 22 countries on over 100m hectares (an area more than four times the size of Britain) by over 10m farmers, of whom 9m are resource-poor farmers in developing countries, mainly India and China. Most of these small-scale farmers grow pest-resistant GM cotton. In India alone, production tripled last year to over 3.6m hectares. This cotton benefits farmers because it reduces the need for insecticides, thereby increasing their income and also improving their health. It is true that the promised development of staple GM food crops for the developing world has been delayed, but this is not because of technical flaws. It is principally because GM crops, unlike conventional crops, must overcome costly, time-consuming and unnecessary regulatory obstacles before they can be licensed.

And the demonizing of GM technology has no foundation in science.

The fact is that there is not a shred of any evidence of risk to human health from GM crops. Every academy of science, representing the views of the world’s leading experts—the Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian, French and American academies as well as the Royal Society, which has published four separate reports on the issue—has confirmed this. Independent inquiries have found that the risk from GM crops is no greater than that from conventionally grown crops that do not have to undergo such testing. In 2001, the research directorate of the EU commission released a summary of 81 scientific studies financed by the EU itself—not by private industry—conducted over a 15-year period, to determine whether GM products were unsafe or insufficiently tested: none found evidence of harm to humans or to the environment.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

‘The real GM food scandal’, Prospect Magazine issue 140 November 2007 – Printer Friendly Article

In the analysis considered here, the thesis is proposed that the large agribusinesses planted the seeds, as it were, of their own difficulties promoting this technology due to their own public-relations (rather than science) based caution.

And MUDGE remembers distinctly the emotional and distracting case of the supposed endangerment of monarch butterflies due to GM corn.

And what has always grabbed this non-scientist observer is that, throughout the history of agriculture (which encompasses the development of modern humankind) farmers have cross-bred and otherwise genetically modified their crops. What modern technology offers the process is predictability and repeatability.

So, as we hope you’ve taken the trouble to read to the end, the author expresses some hope that people are finally coming to their senses regarding the issue of GM crops.

There can be little doubt that GM crops will be accepted worldwide in time, even in Europe. But in delaying cultivation, the anti-GM lobbies have exacted a heavy price. Their opposition has undermined agrobusiness in Europe and has driven abroad much research into plant biotechnology—an area in which Britain formerly excelled. Over-regulation may well cause the costs of the technology to remain higher than they need be. Above all, delay has caused the needless loss of millions of lives in the developing world. These lobbies and their friends in the organic movement have much to answer for.

So, once again, seemingly well-informed people are proven to be misinformed. Hardly shocking anymore, but very, very disturbing.

Africans and others in the developing world are starving, people! GM crops can be engineered to use less pesticide, less fertilizer, less water (the last great resource battleground), to get more, and better, food into the empty stomachs of the world.

Wake up and pay attention, you enemies of science!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm179: Short Attention Span Blogging 29-Oct-2007 edition

October 29, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

shortattention

We do this every so often here at L-HC, when the press of that darned pesky real life intrudes on quality blogging time.

Here are three recent stories that grabbed MUDGE‘s interest, and we hope it will pique yours.

First: What Global Warming?

greenland

nytimes

By SARAH LYALL

NARSARSUAQ, Greenland — A strange thing is happening at the edge of Poul Bjerge’s forest, a place so minute and unexpected that it brings to mind the teeny plot of land Woody Allen’s father carries around in the film “Love and Death.”

Its four oldest trees — in fact, the four oldest pine trees in Greenland, named Rosenvinge’s trees after the Dutch botanist who planted them in a mad experiment in 1893 — are waking up. After lapsing into stately, sleepy old age, they are exhibiting new sprinklings of green at their tops, as if someone had glued on fresh needles.

“The old ones, they’re having a second youth,” said Mr. Bjerge, 78, who has watched the forest, called Qanasiassat, come to life, in fits and starts, since planting most of the trees in it 50 years ago. He beamed like a proud grandson. “They’re growing again.”

When using the words “growing” in connection with Greenland in the same sentence, it is important to remember that although Greenland is the size of Europe, it has only nine conifer forests like Mr. Bjerge’s, all of them cultivated. It has only 51 farms. (They are all sheep farms, although one man is trying to raise cattle. He has 22 cows.) Except for potatoes, the only vegetables most Greenlanders ever eat — to the extent that they eat vegetables at all — are imported, mostly from Denmark.

Everybody knows that global warming is a nefarious invention of Al Gore and every other lefty in the world.

I’m sure that this story is totally fabricated.

Everybody knows Iceland is green, and Greenland is icy.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Warming Revives Flora and Fauna in Greenland – New York Times

shortattention

Next: To the moon, China!

nytimes

BEIJING, Oct. 24 — With a regional space race heating up in Asia, China launched its first lunar probe on Wednesday as the Communist Party moved a step closer to fulfilling its ambitions of one day reaching the moon.

Andy Wong/Associated Press

An animated image of the launch of China’s lunar orbiter broadcast on a large screen today in Beijing.

The Chang’e-1 satellite, named after a Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, lifted off at 6:05 p.m. Officials and tourists watched the launching at a site in Sichuan Province, while state television provided coverage to the rest of the nation.

Next thing you know, we’ll be reading that China’s banks are buying into U.S. banks. Oh, wait…

bw_255x65

Bear’s Chinese Pal
It may not be a lifeline, but at least it’s a vote of confidence. On Oct. 23, state-owned Chinese brokerage Citic Securities agreed to invest $1 billion in beleaguered investment bank Bear Stearns (BSC ). Citic will buy 40-year convertible trust preferred securities equal to 6% of Bear’s shares, with the option to boost the stake to 9.9%. In return, Bear will pay $1 billion for six-year convertible debt representing a 2% stake in Citic, with an option to go to 5%. Citic isn’t the only cash-flush foreign institution taking advantage of U.S. bank stocks that have been whacked by the subprime crisis and stagnant earnings. Expect more deals in the months ahead.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

China Sends Its First Probe for the Moon Into Space – New York Times

shortattention

Finally: One Laptop Per Child for India after all?

As noted before, an entire brochure could be developed around our posts on the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …

Here’s the latest wrinkle. India, who originally dissed OLPC (intending, apparently, to adopt a home grown product), has taken a new look, now that OLPC is no longer vaporware.

cnncomtechnology

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) — The so-called $100 laptops for children may make it to India after all.

art.100.dollar.laptop.jpg

Children in a rural, one-room school in the Indian state of Maharashtra are using the computers.

Last year,India rebuffed One Laptop Per Child, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff that created rugged little computers for kids in the developing world.

…. a pilot test began recently in which 22 children in first through fourth grades in a rural, one-room school in the Indian state of Maharashtra are using the computers.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

$100 laptop program still eyes India – CNN.com

This program deserves our support. I’ll repeat my polite request for your attention:

It’s real people. And I’ll repeat my proposal from last time we discussed this initiative:

This is a wonderful cause, and I would think that people who would find a $399 purchase with a 50% charitable component affordable might also wish, as the story suggests, to donate the PC they’re entitled to a (not third world, but certainly third rate) school in this country.

God knows that there are pockets of the third world within these preciously regarded borders of ours, many within our biggest cities. Then it becomes a $399 charitable contribution, serving to further education among the deserving needy in our own country as well as beyond….

As the giving season looms (the pumpkins are almost sold out, after all!), why not add OLPC’s “Give 1, Get 1” to your planning (orders to be taken Nov. 12–26); and as MUDGE recommends, just make that slight adjustment and you can call it “Give 1 (there), Give 1 (here).”

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm178: More Conventional Wis-dumb

October 28, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It has long been an article of faith in the press that U.S. education is failing to deliver adequate numbers of competent engineers and scientists.

We’ve all seen the reports that show U.S. students in all grade levels far behind many other countries in test results.

So, imagine the surprise that MUDGE felt when encountering this column in Business Week, one of his regular reads (for over 30 years!).

bw_255x65

Forget the conventional wisdom. U.S. schools are turning out more capable science and engineering grads than the job market can support

by Vivek Wadhwa

Political leaders, tech executives, and academics often claim that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science education. They cite poor test results, declining international rankings, and decreasing enrollment in the hard sciences. They urge us to improve our education system and to graduate more engineers and scientists to keep pace with countries such as India and China.

Yet a new report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, tells a different story. The report disproves many confident pronouncements about the alleged weaknesses and failures of the U.S. education system. This data will certainly be examined by both sides in the debate over highly skilled workers and immigration (BusinessWeek.com, 10/10/07). The argument by Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), and others is that there are not enough tech workers in the U.S.

What we believe is not, as it happens, supported by the facts.

We believe, because we’ve been hearing it for years, nay decades, that test scores are declining, and literacy and especially numeracy and interest in science is declining.

Salzman and Lowell found the reverse was true. Their report shows U.S. student performance has steadily improved over time in math, science, and reading. It also found enrollment in math and science courses is actually up.

And we keep hearing that comparisons of our children’s performance versus those of many other countries are dire.

And the new report again went against the grain when it compared the U.S. to other countries. It found that over the past decade the U.S. has ranked a consistent second place in science. It also was far ahead of other nations in reading and literacy and other academic areas. In fact, the report found that the U.S. is one of only a few nations that has consistently shown improvement over time.

So now comes the rub. We’ve been too successful in our aim to direct our students into technical degree programs.

As far as our workforce is concerned, the new report showed that from 1985 to 2000 about 435,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents a year graduated with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. Over the same period, there were about 150,000 jobs added annually to the science and engineering workforce.

Where have we gone right? And, about the shortfall we have been hearing about forever, you know, the one about China and India graduating so many more engineers and scientists than the U.S.? How can we not fall behind?

In previous columns, I have written about research my team at Duke University completed that shattered common myths (BusinessWeek.com, 7/10/06) about India and China graduating 12 times as many engineers as the U.S. We found that the U.S. graduated comparable numbers and was far ahead in quality. Our research also showed there were no engineer shortages (BusinessWeek.com, 11/7/06) in the U.S., and companies weren’t going offshore because of any deficiencies in U.S. workers. So, there isn’t a lack of interest in science and engineering in the U.S., or a deficiency in the supply of engineers.

But there is a deficiency in jobs for all of these engineering graduates! And, if you follow the links to earlier Wadhwa columns, you’ll find that there is a great deal of confusion about what exactly is an engineering curriculum in China, and a shortage of jobs there also.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Science Education Myth

MUDGE has been a part of the blogging community (and a ruefully mostly derivative member at that) for a short time, and I’ve taken with a grain of salt the disparagement of what many in the blogosphere call MSM, an acronym for mainstream media.

But, so many of my own rock solid assumptions have been skewered in this month of October, 2007 alone, (for example, here and here) that I have to step back and reconsider.

How many other of our close-held assumptions about how the world works have been created, nurtured and propagated despite their inaccuracies? Adolf Hitler boasted about the effectiveness of the “big lie.”

Our White House fed assumption regarding Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction is an example of a big lie from our immediate past.

On a lesser scale of import than our horribly pointless Iraq misadventure, there are our assumptions about diet and health.

Our assumptions regarding the sad state of our education system compared to the rest of the developed world.

Our assumptions about how many more engineers China and India are graduating every year compared to the U.S.

Let’s assume carefully out there!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm154: Burma: The saffron revolution

September 27, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Our British cousins take Burma more seriously than most, befitting its status as a former colony, I guess. Kind of the way the U.S. feels about Cuba?

At any rate, the Economist, the best magazine on the planet, has these observations on what they hopefully describe as a revolution there.

Sep 27th 2007
From The Economist print edition

If the world acts in concert, the violence should be the last spasm of a vicious regime in its death throes

Reuters

“FEAR”, the lady used to say, “is a habit.” This week, inspired in part by the lady herself, Aung San Suu Kyi, partly by the heroic example set by Buddhist monks, Myanmar’s people kicked the addiction.

Defying the corrupt, inept, brutal generals who rule them, they took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to demand democracy. They knew they were risking a bloody crackdown, like the one that put down a huge popular revolt in 1988, killing 3,000 people or more. In 1988 Burma’s people were betrayed not just by the ruthlessness of their rulers, but also by the squabbling and opportunism of the outside world, which failed to produce a co-ordinated response and let the murderous regime get away with it. This time, soldiers are once again shooting and killing unarmed protesters (see article). Can the world avoid making the same mistake twice?

MUDGE confesses that, not being in any way shape or form British, he’s paid only fitful attention to Burma through the years. So, I didn’t know that,

it was an economic grievance—a big, abrupt rise in fuel prices—that sparked the present unrest.

Now it’s up to the rest of the world to “persuade” Burma’s military dictatorship to do the right thing.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

economist

Revolution in Myanmar | The saffron revolution | Economist.com

The crux, according to the editors of the Economist, and not a great surprise at that, is China. Just as China has supported its client, North Korea, which support has aided and abetted its insane leadership, so has China more than tolerated the Burmese junta’s iron fisted, ham handed control and leadership.

And, like North Korea, it turns out that such undemocratic leadership is really, really bad for the economic well being of a country and its citizens.

So, the U.S., distracted by its own attempts to suppress “terrorists” and insurgents 6,000 miles away, not to speak of suppressing the Constitution and its amendments closer to home, can’t be bothered to do more than posture at the U.N. and let China veto any even symbolic movement to support the unarmed monks and the afflicted Burmese they are fighting for.

And China, in its cynical way, dare not publicly criticize its client by supporting its suppressed citizenry for fear, I’m thinking, of the message it might send to its own awakening underclass.

And, just so you know where I’m coming from, I read, in the ‘Sphere this week, I believe, a writer deciding that since”M—–r” is an artifact of the current corrupt regime, using the old name of Burma is perfectly appropriate and indeed shows support for the time, hopefully very soon, when the generals fade away.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm136: China – Two interesting aspects

September 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

China is always in the news. Two stories from the past few days illuminate why in some interesting ways.

First, from the LA Times, a look at how we have become victim’s of our unlimited appetite for everyday low prices.

latimes

Analysts expect prices in the U.S. to creep up as safety standards are reevaluated. Buyers and retailers may share the impact.

By Don Lee and Abigail Goldman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
September 9, 2007

SHANGHAI — Get ready for a new Chinese export: higher prices.

For years, American consumers have enjoyed falling prices for goods made in China thanks to relentless cost cutting by retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.

But the spate of product recalls in recent months — Mattel announced another last week — has exposed deep fault lines in Chinese manufacturing. Manufacturers and analysts say some of the quality breakdowns are a result of financially strapped factories substituting materials or taking other shortcuts to cover higher operating costs.

Now, retailers that had largely dismissed Chinese suppliers’ complaints about the soaring cost of wages, energy and raw materials are preparing to pay manufacturers more to ensure better quality. By doing so, they hope to prevent recalls that hurt their bottom lines and reputations. But those added costs — on a host of items that include toys and frozen fish — mean either lower profits for retailers or higher prices for consumers.

“For American consumers, this big China sale over the last 20 years is over,” said Andy Xie, former Asia economist for Morgan Stanley, who works independently in Shanghai. “China’s cost is going up. They need to get used to it.”

The low hanging fruit of lowest prices for decent quality has run into a rising standard of living in China, and the results have been ugly.

The bulk of the world’s toys are made in southeastern China, where wages have shot up in the last couple of years amid greater competition for workers and increases in minimum wages and living costs. Booming demand has pushed up commodity prices. The appreciation of the Chinese yuan, up 9% against the dollar in the last two years, also has hurt some factories, as they are paid in dollars.

Follow the link to the rest of the story, reported from Shanghai.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Los Angeles Times: Fixing Chinese goods will be costly

So, what with rising wages, increases in commodity prices, the unexpected new costs of safety inspections, prices for toys, tilapia, luggage, and an entire big box store full of consumer necessities (and not so) will go up.

So, now let’s turn to the other side of the consumer equation, courtesy of the always perceptive Daniel Gross of Slate.

slate

Pundits bemoan our trade deficit with China. But those container ships aren’t heading home empty.

By Daniel Gross
Posted Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007, at 7:59 AM ET

Economists make a big deal out of all the junk we import from China: tainted pet food, lead-laced toys, and enough cheap plastic tchotchkes to load up a landfill the size of Montana. And American industries are clearly being drenched by the rising tide of Chinese imports, which totaled $288 billion in 2006. But as imports from China loudly rise, American exports to China are quietly rising at an even more rapid pace. Would it surprise you to learn that a lot of those exports are … junk?

In an act of macroeconomic karma, materials thrown out by Americans—broken-down auto bodies, old screws and nails, paper—accounted for $6.7 billion in exports to China in 2006, second only to aerospace products. Junkyards may conjure up images of Fred Sanford’s ratty collection of castoffs. But these days, scrap dealers are part of a $65 billion industry that employs 50,000 people, who together constitute a significant arc of a virtuous circle. The demand of China’s factory bosses for junk—which they recycle to make all the junk Americans buy from China—creates jobs, tamps down the growth of the trade deficit, and might help save the planet.

Exports to China second only to aerospace products? Junk?

And this is a good story for all of you greens out there (MUDGE is always happy to assist his environmentally sensitive fellow citizens. Feel free to use yesterday’s post to wrap fish.):

The booming China trade isn’t simply good news for shareholders of Metal Management, whose stock is up 67 percent in the past year. It’s good news for tree-huggers. Every scrap of scrap put on a slow boat to China is one less scrap that winds up in a landfill or an incinerator. Asia’s insatiable demand for scrap has boosted prices, thus encouraging companies to suck more reusable junk out of garbage piles.

An interesting twist, eh? The imbalance is less so. That’s always good news.

Take a look:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The junk we send to China. – By Daniel Gross – Slate Magazine

A couple of things about this story are intriguing.

1) The story refers to corrugated paper, a key element of MUDGE‘s once family business. $130 ton for scrap corrugated boxes (the brown shipping containers everything wears to market) is an astounding price.

2) The idea of sending scrap overseas resonates in a slightly unpleasant way with us ancient curmudgeons. MUDGE was born after WWII (believe it or not!), but the lessons of that conflict were fresh.

In the years before Pearl Harbor projected the U.S. belatedly into a conflict that had started up in Asia in the early Thirties, scrap iron and steel in massive quantities made its way across the Pacific to, wait for it, Japan.

It was a bitter realization that many of those junked Model T’s and scrapped steam heating radiators were sent back to our combatants as Japanese aircraft and ships and bombs.

Is it too paranoid to make an association with cheerfully sending our scrap to a rapidly arming and increasingly assertive about its global destiny China?

So, two interesting China stories, one from each container port.

And did you catch the punch line from the LA Times piece?

Meanwhile, Skyway is gearing up to open a factory this fall in Vietnam, where wages are lower.

“I think the consumer will not accept the full impact of price increases from China,” Wilhoit said. “We’re going to have to do things differently, like Vietnam, to get the same quality stuff on the shelf and make money.”

The mind boggles.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE