Friday, October 15, 2010

A plague eradicated!

Scientists have eradicated a killer virus in the wild, only the second time such a feat has been achieved in human history.
Researchers at the UN said today that rinderpest, a virus that causes devastating cattle plague, has been wiped out, the first time such an announcement has been made since the end of smallpox more than 30 years ago. []
Rinderpest was a disease that was global in spread and could kill 80% of infected cattle and buffaloes in short order leading to massive economic upheaval and starvation.

The eradication effort was started only in 1994 by the UN, and now 16 relatively short years later, its gone. What other viruses can this be done with? What an exciting thought.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize

Here is an exerpt from the nomination letter by Kwame Anthony Appiah for Liu Xiaobo earlier this year. It gives a nice summary of what he has done and stood for:

Liu’s writings express the aspirations of a growing number of China’s citizens; the ideas he has articulated in his allegedly subversive writings, ideas that are commonplace in free societies around the world, are shared by a significant cross section of Chinese society. Charter 08, for example, is a testament to an expanding movement for peaceful political reform in China. This document, which Liu co-authored, is a remarkable attempt both to engage China's leadership and to speak to the Chinese public about where China is and needs to go. It is novel in its breadth and in its list of signers—not only dissidents and human rights lawyers, but also prominent political scientists, economists, writers, artists, grassroots activists, farmers, and even government officials. More than 10,000 Chinese citizens have endorsed the document despite the fact that almost all of the original 300 signers have since been detained or harassed. In doing so they, too, exhibited exceptional courage and conviction. One of them, for example, a teacher in Yunnan province, reported that police contacted her three times asking her to renounce the Charter and proclaim the signer was some other person with the same name. She refused. To stand up for Liu Xiaobo is to stand with a growing number of men and women like her in China; to stand with all those who advocate for peaceful change in the world’s most populous nation.
In fact, Liu Xiaobo is the kind of figure governments suppress at their peril. While he was a young university professor, Liu was a major protagonist in the final days of the Tiananmen Square protests, and, as I have already said, he is widely credited with preventing far greater bloodshed when government troops moved into the square. Liu admonished the students to make their own movement more democratic; he disarmed a group of workers who appeared with guns to protect the student demonstrators (there is stirring news footage of him seizing a rifle and smashing it at a Tiananmen rally shortly before the crackdown); and he helped persuade students to evacuate the square in the final hours. Deeply committed to non-violence and democracy, Liu has been able both to articulate and to channel the frustrations of the Chinese people for more than two decades. Stifling such a voice does nothing to address those frustrations, which one way or another will eventually find expression. China has, indeed, moved increasingly towards democracy and freedom in the last few decades. []

Friday, September 24, 2010

Performance Anxiety

Underperforming can come from what we think is expected of us. Here's some research and a new book by a U of C professor - this is fascinating stuff:

In Choke, Beilock describes research demonstrating that high-achieving people underperform when they are worried about confirming a stereotype about the racial group or gender to which they belong. These worries deplete the working memory necessary for success. The perceptions take hold early in schooling and can be either reinforced or abolished by powerful role models.
In one study, researchers gave standardized tests to black and white students, both before and after President Obama was elected. Black test takers performed worse than white test takers before the election. Immediately after Obama’s election, however, blacks’ performance improved so much that their scores were nearly equal with whites. When black students can overcome the worries brought on by stereotypes, because they see someone like President Obama who directly counters myths about racial variation in intelligence, their performance improves.
Beilock and her colleagues also have shown that when first-grade girls believe that boys are better than girls at math, they perform more poorly on math tests. One big source of this belief? The girls’ female teachers. It turns out that elementary school teachers are often highly anxious about their own math abilities, and this anxiety is modeled from teacher to student. When the teachers serve as positive role models in math, their male and female students perform equally well. []

Monday, August 16, 2010

China overtakes Japan

In the reporting of quarterly GDP figures, China surpassed Japan as the world's second largest economy. Both are still very far behind the US, but this is further demonstration of the global shift in economic power. That said, China still has a GDP per capita which is less than 10% of the US.

After three decades of spectacular growth, China passed Japan in the second quarter to become the world’s second-largest economy behind the United States, according to government figures released early Monday.

The milestone, though anticipated for some time, is the most striking evidence yet that China’s ascendance is for real and that the rest of the world will have to reckon with a new economic superpower.

The recognition came early Monday, when Tokyo said that Japan’s economy was valued at about $1.28 trillion in the second quarter, slightly below China’s $1.33 trillion. Japan’s economy grew 0.4 percent in the quarter, Tokyo said, substantially less than forecast. That weakness suggests that China’s economy will race past Japan’s for the full year.

Experts say unseating Japan — and in recent years passing Germany, France and Great Britain — underscores China’s growing clout and bolsters forecasts that China will pass the United States as the world’s biggest economy as early as 2030. America’s gross domestic product was about $14 trillion in 2009.

“This has enormous significance,” said Nicholas R. Lardy, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It reconfirms what’s been happening for the better part of a decade: China has been eclipsing Japan economically. For everyone in China’s region, they’re now the biggest trading partner rather than the U.S. or Japan.”

For Japan, whose economy has been stagnating for more than a decade, the figures reflect a decline in economic and political power. Japan has had the world’s second-largest economy for much of the last four decades, according to the World Bank. And during the 1980s, there was even talk about Japan’s economy some day overtaking that of the United States.

But while Japan’s economy is mature and its population quickly aging, China is in the throes of urbanization and is far from developed, analysts say, meaning it has a much lower standard of living, as well as a lot more room to grow. Just five years ago, China’s gross domestic product was about $2.3 trillion, about half of Japan’s...

Its per capita income is more on a par with those of impoverished nations like Algeria, El Salvador and Albania — which, along with China, are close to $3,600 — than that of the United States, where it is about $46,000.

Yet there is little disputing that under the direction of the Communist Party, China has begun to reshape the way the global economy functions by virtue of its growing dominance of trade, its huge hoard of foreign exchange reserves and United States government debt and its voracious appetite for oil, coal, iron ore and other natural resources.

China is already a major driver of global growth. The country’s leaders have grown more confident on the international stage and have begun to assert greater influence in Asia, Africa and Latin America, with things like special trade agreements and multibillion dollar resource deals. []

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Krugman's column yesterday was quite interesting. His thesis is that the federal government, which can borrow at about 1%, should be assisting state and local governments to provide critical services, like education and infrastructure maintenance. On the other hand, I've seen charts which show what the interest on the US's debt will be over the next 50 years (astronomical).

Thoughts? Opinions?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Environmental Disasters

As we're  on the edge of our seats about the BP spill in the gulf, the Nigerian Delta has experienced the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every year since the 1960's.  Foreign Policy lists 5 on-going environmental disasters, from underground coal fires in China and Pennsylvania, which produce 2-3% of global greenhouse gas every year to the Eastern Garbage Patch, which is a mess of garbage and plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean larger than the size of the continental US and about 100 feet deep.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What you need for summer

I just invented a fabulous drink:

1. Put watermelon chunks and some Pimms in a blender
2. Blend
3. Drink

You heard it here first....

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Black Swans

Another interesting article from, speculating on what kind of excitement we could see this summer. (And this was written last week, before the weekend's events off Gaza). Here is the beginning, click here for the whole article.

1. Wars of Summer, Part I: The Koreas
As we've seen just in the past couple of days, "engagement" doesn't seem to be doing the trick with North Korea. When you have two countries that have been pointing guns at each other for half a century and one of them is run by the kind of guy who makes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad look like Albert Schweitzer trouble is always just a Dear Leader moodswing away. When one of those countries starts firing torpedoes at the other, that raises the temperature a bit ... and when that same country has a diplomatic tantrum because its neighbor actually doesn't like having its ships sunk, you get a sense of how off-balance and dangerous the whole thing is. (You also get dictionary editors everywhere rushing to insert North Korea's reaction into the official definition ofchutzpah right where "burying your husband in a rented suit" used to be.) While most people assume this is just one of those periodic Korean peninsula hiccups, you never know.
2. Wars of Summer, Part II: Somalia, Yemen, etc.
These places are just two examples of plenty where conditions are chronically horrible and getting worse. If you're going to worry about the Koreas where the stakes are high and both sides would pay an unimaginable price for a conflict, don't rule out conflicts in places where everyone has a gun and life is cheap.
3. Wars of Summer, Part III: Israel, Syria, Lebanon
Speaking of places not to rule out, over the years few places have proven themselves more reliable breeding grounds for warfare than the borders of the state of Israel. And tensions are rising along the most northern of these as we speak. The Israelis are worried about growing stockpiles of missiles being deployed in Lebanon, new missile capabilities in Syria and Iranian mischief in both places. Of all the possibilities for tensions turning to a shooting war this summer, this one may top the list. And, what a great distraction it would make from Iran's nuclear issues (or what great cover for an Israeli strike against the Iranians who are paying for the missiles and underwriting Hezbollah trouble-makers in Lebanon and elsewhere).  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Afghanistan in the '50s

There's an amazing set of pictures on looking at Afghanistan in the 1950s and '60s, showing that it has not always been this "medieval" place of thugs and misogynists we see today, at least not in Kabul.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Privacy - moving in many directions

There are two big news items about privacy today. The first is that the new coalition government in the UK  is going to do away with systems that would collect masses of data about its citizens. The other is concerns directed at Google for its face recognition software that some fear would make stalking and surveillance too easy.

There's also the dichotomy here of information that governments hold versus what is available publicly on the internet. The British government is far more meddlesome that most and a correction is certainly warranted. I hope this is indicative of a trend away from big government data bases of personal information.

Over dinner last night, we were discussing the future of privacy. What will it look like in 20-30 years when the Facebook generation, people who have grown up putting their every movement, thought and picture into the public eye, are making the rules. For them, sharing masses of information is the norm. Given that fundamentally new baseline expectation, what will privacy look like. Either, privacy will continue to erode,  or there will be some event which triggers a massive backlash against sharing private information. I think the first is more likely.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Oil Spill

The oil slick may be reaching the shore of Louisiana today, endangering wildlife as well as an enormous oyster cultivation industry. BP has said it would welcome military/national guard intervention, which has been discussed by Louisiana's governor.

I've avoided writing about it because I just didn't want to think about it at all.

From National Geographic: Gulf Oil Spill Pictures: Aerial Views Show Leak's Size

Thursday, April 29, 2010


When you don't have the bother of pre-existing infrastructure, like Mongolian nomads, you can skip right to solar-powered satellite telephones.

Nomad Photos -- National Geographic

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On a lighter note....

I bring you, 10 Tragic Moments in Pants. The only one I disagree with is the Skort - yes, I have proudly worn them.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


North Korea may be blowing up South Korean warships IN South Korean waters! What is Kim Jong-Il playing at?

IT WAS a dignified address. Before wiping tears from his eyes with a folded handkerchief, President Lee Myung-bak... read out the names of 46 sailors who died last month when their ship, the Cheonan, exploded in South Korean waters. He carefully avoided pinning the blame on anyone, but on April 22nd, Yonhap, South Korea’s news agency, reported that the government’s military-intelligence agency, using intelligence gathered jointly with America, had concluded the regime in North Korea had deliberately attacked and destroyed the 1,200-tonne warship.
Even if tangible evidence of North Korean involvement emerges, the president’s caution on April 19th will nevertheless be understandable. Hot-blooded retaliation against a nuclear-armed despot would be fraught with danger for the peninsula, and for relations between America and China, the main backers of south and north respectively.
But ever since a preliminary investigation of the Cheonan’s salvaged stern concluded that the blast did not come from on board the vessel, suspicions have turned towards North Korea. This, analysts say, puts Mr Lee in the most delicate position of his two-year-old administration. If the suspicions prove correct, a tough response would be expected and perhaps unavoidable... 
So far, the regime in Pyongyang has only indirectly denied involvement. After three weeks of silence on the incident, it said on April 17th in a news report: “Failing to probe the cause of the sinking of the ship, the puppet military warmongers, right-wing conservative politicians and other traitors in South Korea are now foolishly seeking to link the sinking with the North at any cost.” A non-denial denial. []

Friday, April 23, 2010

Religious Zealots with no sense of humor

George and I never watch South Park, but about 2 days ago we stopped as we were flipping through the channels. Little did we realize it would prove to be news-worthy.

All I can say is that it's clear there are some people with ZERO sense of humor.

Energy for Brazil

The vast majority of Brazil's energy already comes from hydropower and they're looking to add the world's third largest hydropower project. The cast of Avatar has been protesting in the Amazon, but the auction went ahead this week, and the Belo Monte project will be built.

The fundamental question is how to walk the line among environmental preservation, forcible relocations and economic development. Some of the fundamental problems with developing hydropower in the Amazon are that in many places the river carries quite a large load of silt, which will eventually diminish the power generation, and that because the Amazon is so far from where the power will be consumed, the line losses in transmission can be 20-30%.

Brazil’s rapidly growing economy needs more energy, preferably renewable. The scale of the dam—it will be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric station after China’s Three Gorges and Brazil’s own Itaipu—is epic. So is the investment, of at least 19 billion reais (nearly $11 billion). But ever since the engineers in BrasĂ­lia rolled out the blueprints for damming the Xingu two decades ago, the project has attracted powerful opposition.
Environmental groups and river dwellers say Belo Monte will flood vast patches of rainforest while desiccating others. “The forest is our butcher shop, the river is our market,” Indian leaders wrote in a newspaper. They were aided by greens from Europe and the United States, including the tribes of Hollywood. James Cameron, a film director, flew in to daub his face in red paint, hug an Indian and join the protest...
Yet greens were not alone in their lack of enthusiasm for the project. Some of the country’s leading builders, such as Odebrecht and Camargo CorrĂȘa, pulled out of the auction, convinced that the government-dictated power rates, capped at 83 reais ($47) per megawatt-hour, were too low to assure a fair return on their investment. (The winning consortium offered a slightly lower rate.) The government had to pledge billions of dollars in soft loans and tax breaks to lure bidders. Even so, two firms in the winning consortium immediately dropped out, apparently because they thought the tariff too low.
Not since a military government quartered the Amazon basin with roads, dams and settlements in the 1970s has Brazil seen such a row over the rainforest. Ironically, Belo Monte is a project shaped by the lessons of the past, drawn and redrawn to cull the power of the forests without razing them. That challenge—developing the wilds and having them too—is in many ways the riddle of modern Brazil. The rest of the developing world is watching closely to see whether it can be solved.
A generation ago similar protests over an earlier version of the same dam—known then as Kararao—forced officials to rethink their strategy. They came up with Belo Monte. It was not just a marketing ploy. Instead of building a great wall across the Xingu to create a massive reservoir, Belo Monte is designed as a run-of-river dam, a technique that harnesses the natural flow of the river to drive the turbines. []

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rahmbo for Chicago?

The subject of Emanuel running for mayor was brought up on last night's episode of Charlie Rose on PBS. Rose asked the former Congressman from Chicago's North Side if there's any other job he'd like in government and Emanuel said he'd like to run for mayor of Chicago. That is, if the current mayor, Richard Daley, does not seek re-election.

Emanuel said he misses having contact with constituents. He also emphasized he loves being the president's chief of staff. []
I'm not sure Chicago needs a partisan bull-dog for mayor. Well, we now have a non-partisan cult-of-personality, so take your pick.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A nascent Slow Travel movement?

As one who has just had a trip to the Riviera cancelled because of uncooperative volcanos, who shall remain nameless, the following article caught my eye:

Governments, businesses and most travelers, irritated by disrupted itineraries and worried about lost productivity, are delighted to see planes back in the sky. But I, for one, wish this blessedly jet-free interlude could have continued a little longer. In the eccentric, ground-level adventures of some stranded passengers — 700-mile taxi rides through Scandinavia, for instance, perhaps a horse-drawn stagecoach over the Alps if things got really desperate — I’m reminded of the romance we trade away each time we shuffle aboard an airplane. []
If only I'd booked the QE2 in the first place...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Burma with nukes!

Even as President Obama won agreement from world leaders this week to block the spread of nuclear weapons, the United States is facing a new—and unexpected—nuclear foe: Burma.
National-security officials tell The Daily Beast that U.S. spy agencies and their Asian counterparts have stepped up surveillance of potential nuclear sites in Burma in recent weeks in light of evidence that suggests the country’s brutal junta is trying to buy nuclear-weapons technology from North Korea. []

Fatwa against Terrorism

The jihadists, it seemed, had just added a new target to one of their death lists. His name is Tahir ul-Qadri, and he's no government official. He's one of Pakistan's leading Islamic scholars, an authority on the Quran and Islamic religious law.
It's no wonder the terrorists want to see Qadri dead. Last month he promulgated a 600-page legal ruling, a fatwa, that condemns terrorism as un-Islamic. A few Western media outlets gave the news a nod, but the coverage quickly petered out. And that's a pity, because the story of this fatwa is just beginning to get interesting. "I have declared a jihad against terrorism," says the 59-year-old Qadri in an interview. "I am trying to bring [the terrorists] back towards humanism. This is a jihad against brutality, to bring them back towards normality. This is an intellectual jihad." This isn't empty rhetoric. Last year militants killed one of Qadri's colleagues, a scholar named Sarfraz Ahmed Naeem, for expressing similar positions. []

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Worth seeing again

You've got to love our elected representatives, who think that islands can tip over. Has this guy ever been to an island?

Hats off to Adm. Willard for not laughing out loud. I wouldn't have been able to manage this with a straight face.

And the appropriate response...

Guam anti-capsize relief program - funny.