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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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mm161: Miscellanea, or, this and that, the sequel

October 4, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

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Short attention span blogging: Item 1:

It is disappointing, not to say tragic, that events in Burma seem to be shaking out in favor of the generals.

Last week (and here), the rest of the world was hopeful that, in light of the new channels of communication available in both directions, that the people of Burma would prevail in their demonstrations against the repressive regime.

Now, reality has descended, as have those hopes, with a bloody thud.

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Myanmar junta sets Suu Kyi talks conditions

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military ruler set conditions on Thursday for meeting detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as security forces continued to round up people and interrogate hundreds more arrested in a ruthless crackdown on protesters.

In the first official remarks since a visit by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari this week, junta chief Than Shwe said he would hold direct talks with Suu Kyi if she publicly agreed to four conditions.

Than Shwe told Gambari that Suu Kyi must abandon her “obstructive measures” and support for sanctions as well as her positions that were “confrontational” and for “utter devastation,” state television said, without elaborating on how the Nobel laureate could meet the demands.

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

Myanmar junta sets Suu Kyi talks conditions | Reuters

It’s apparent that, even as we were beginning to feel optimistic toward the course of events, old fashioned thuggery was trouncing Web 2.0.

Wait until next year?

Short attention span blogging: Item 2:

From TechCrunch.com, the following interesting observation.

techcrunch

The Inevitable March of Recorded Music Towards Free

2007 is turning out to be a terrible year for the music industry. Or rather, a terrible year for the the music labels.

The DRM walls are crumbling. Music CD sales continue to plummet rather alarmingly. Artists like Prince and Nine Inch Nails are flouting their labels and either giving music away or telling their fans to steal it. Another blow earlier this week: Radiohead, which is no longer controlled by their label, Capitol Records, put their new digital album on sale on the Internet for whatever price people want to pay for it.

The economics of recorded music are fairly simple. Marginal production costs are zero: Like software, it doesn’t cost anything to produce another digital copy that is just as good as the original as soon as the first copy exists, and anyone can create those copies (meaning there is perfect competition and zero barriers to entry). Unless effective legal (copyright), technical (DRM) or other artificial impediments to production can be created, simple economic theory dictates that the price of music, like its marginal cost, must also fall to zero as more “competitors” (in this case, listeners who copy) enter the market. The evidence is unmistakable already. In April 2007 the benchmark price for a DRM-free song was $1.29. Today it is $0.89, a drop of 31% in just six months.

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

The Inevitable March of Recorded Music Towards Free

The complete story above, and the potential for a continuing dialog around both sides of the argument, bear watching. An example of why TechCrunch has been all but a charter member of the L-HC blogroll2.

Meanwhile, MUDGElet No. 3 being a musician with hopes of earning a living practicing that art or some related element of it (i.e., studio production), the MUDGE of the family can’t help but be concerned about the concept of free music.

Of course, MUDGE has absolutely no difficulty consuming it. Thus joining the other 6.6Billion walking contradictions on the planet.

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


mm151: Monks’ Protest Is Challenging Burmese Junta

September 24, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

As we’ve noted lately (here and indirectly, here), fewer and fewer corners of the planet are immune from that pesky virus: information.

Even North Korea has been .0015% more reasonable of late, and the bright lights of media exposure can claim at least a bit of credit (a persistently starving population gets a lot more, of course).

So, Myanmar, as repressive a tyranny as can be found (sorry guys, we’re not going to forget about you just because you changed your name; a Burma by any other name…) is once again experiencing civil unrest, and due to the pervasiveness of both MSM and alternative media, this time they can’t hide it or minimize it or freely crush it.

The photo that accompanied the NYTimes story is ample evidence of this, in and of itself.

myanmar

By SETH MYDANS

BANGKOK, Monday, Sept. 24 — The largest street protests in two decades against Myanmar’s military rulers gained momentum Sunday as thousands of onlookers cheered huge columns of Buddhist monks and shouted support for the detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Winding for a sixth day through rainy streets, the protest swelled to 10,000 monks in the main city of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, according to witnesses and other accounts relayed from the closed country, including some clandestinely shot videos.

It came one day after a group of several hundred monks paid respects to Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi at the gate of her home, the first time she has been seen in public in more than four years.

And here’s the nub of the argument:

Myanmar’s military government has sealed off the country to foreign journalists but information about the protests has been increasingly flowing out through wire service reports, exile groups in Thailand with contacts inside Myanmar, and through the photographs, videos and audio files, carried rapidly by technologies, including the Internet, that the government has failed to squelch.

“… photographs, videos and audio files, carried rapidly by technologies, including the Internet…”

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

Monks’ Protest Is Challenging Burmese Junta – New York Times

There’s that pesky Internet again, screwing up the generals’ private party.

Our best, maybe only, hope for an end to tyranny:

  • the retro Myanmar variety (and our Chinese, North Korean (and Cuban) friends would fit in this bucket);
  • the more au courant Middle Eastern style as found in places like Syria and Iran;
  • and even such New Age (and retro) tyrannies as practiced by Putin and his ex(?)-KGB brethren throughout Russia and its former empire;

… is the pervasiveness of information, as exemplified by the liberator of Eastern Europe, CNN, and maybe the liberator of the rest of the shackled world, the Internet.

And, let’s give credit: perhaps the (admittedly looking more spurious) Congressional revolution of 2006 wouldn’t have happened at all without the blogosphere.

Not the infinitesimal nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© that we ruefully acknowledge as this weblog’s permanent fate, but certainly the heavy hitters like Daily Kos blogroll2 that help keep the kettle aboil, always a good state for the democratic process.

Small “d” democracy at work around the globe, powered by electrons.

Ben Franklin, Alessandro Volta, Nikola Tesla and all: the free (and hopefully soon to be freer) world owes you a monumental debt.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE