Even with civilization at stake, there's got to be some time set aside for... civilization. So here are some things that ours has been up to, lately.
==ARE THINGS IMPROVING?==
A fascinating tidbit from Benny Peiser's newsletter: Democracy, GDP, and Natural Disasters: The average annual percentage of the global population killed by natural disasters decreased 10-fold from the period 1964 to 1968 compared with the period 2000 through 2004, from 0.01 percent (roughly one killed for every 10,000 people) to 0.001 percent (one in 100,000) respectively. At the same time, the average annual number of recorded disasters increased five-fold between 1964 through 1968 (64 per year) and 2000 through 2004 (332 per year). The events that continue to result in the major number of fatalities are the relatively small percentage of events that occur with large recurrence intervals, such as massive floods, strong earthquakes and direct strikes from intense hurricanes, or events that are unusual in the area in which they occur.
Clearly, the impact of a natural disaster is not simply a function of the natural event itself, but is determined also by society's ability to respond to the disaster. Over the same time period that we observe a decreasing number of disaster deaths, two great global socioeconomic trends of the last half century have also occurred: democratization and economic development. To evaluate the role that democracy and economic development play in reducing the humanitarian impact of natural disasters, we measured 133 countries' natural disaster death tolls against both their average democracy ranking and their average per capita GDP. We excluded only those nations with a population of fewer than 1 million people, or which have experienced five or fewer disasters between 1964 and 2004.
The Role of Democracy: More than 80 percent of the total global disaster deaths from 1964 to 2004 occurred in just 15 countries, including China, Ethiopia, Sudan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, among others. Of these fifteen nations, 73 percent are below the median global GDP and 87 percent are below the median democracy index. The democracy index is the average of the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicator values for voice and accountability, political stability, absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law and control of corruption.
The exceptions to the trend that high GDP correlates with a low death toll after a natural disaster are Iran and Venezuela, both oil-rich countries with significant wealth but low democracy indices. Because the two outliers have high GDP and relatively high death tolls, they suggest that democracy, rather than GDP, may play the more pivotal role in reducing deaths from natural disasters. The strong exponential correlation between democracy and GDP, however, makes it difficult to differentiate the two.
= PROGRESS AND THE NATURE OF REALITY =
Robert Wright gives a terrific talk: Progress is not a Zero-Sum Game: How cooperation (eventually) trumps conflict Alas, though we agree on very much, I think Rob underplays the role that old-style human nature plays, in thwarting the new synergies of enlightenment positive sum games. Wright discusses this further in his book: NonZero: The Logic of Human Destiny.
In case you missed this... (how could you?) Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.
Parallel universes really do exist, according to a mathematical discovery by Oxford scientists described by one expert as "one of the most important developments in the history of science".The parallel universe theory, first proposed in 1950 by the US physicist Hugh Everett, helps explain mysteries of quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for decades, it is claimed. In Everett's "many worlds" universe, every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe.
According to quantum mechanics, unobserved particles are described by "wave functions" representing a set of multiple "probable" states. When an observer makes a measurement, the particle then settles down into one of these multiple options. The Oxford team, led by Dr David Deutsch, showed mathematically that the bush-like branching structure created by the universe splitting into parallel versions of itself can explain the probabilistic nature of quantum outcomes.
What caused the extinction of mammoths and the decline of Stone Age people about 13,000 years ago remains hotly debated. Overhunting by Paleoindians, climate change and disease lead the list of probable causes. Now a group reports evidence that a comet or low-density object exploded in the upper atmosphere and triggered a devastating swath of destruction that wiped out most of the large animals, their habitat and most humans of that period, ending the Clovis culture. If so, this certainly lets proto Amerindians off the hook... though the timing seems strangely auspicious.
What I find more interesting, even still, is that this is about the time that many changes occurred in the Middle East, like the surge of agricultural villages and use of copper tools and advanced pottery
DUAL REALITY is the concept of maintaining two worlds, one virtual and one real, that reflect, influence, and merge into each other by means of deeply embedded sensor/actuator networks. Both the real and virtual components of a dual reality are complete unto themselves, but are enriched by their mutual interaction. See this site for a tour of the MIT Dual Reality lab and for slides for a talk given at the MIT Media Lab's Spring 2007 Things That Think consortium
Experts say they are "stunned" by the loss of ice, with an area almost twice as big as the UK disappearing in the last week alone. So much ice has melted this summer that the Northwest passage across the top of Canada is fully navigable, and observers say the Northeast passage along Russia's Arctic coast could open later this month. If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.
When Salmonella typhimurium food bugs were flown in special flasks on the shuttle, they were found to alter the way they expressed 167 genes. The bacteria were almost three times as likely to kill infected mice compared with standard samples held on Earth. The study has important implications for astronauts going to the Moon or Mars. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7011828.stm
”We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” - George Bernard Shaw
==A FLICKER OF THE STINKING “POLITICAL LAMP”==
The collated and collected version of “Ostrich Hunting” is now posted online at:
Ostrich Hunting: The Bill Clinton Gambit Part 1
Ostrich Hunting: The Bill Clinton Gambit Part 2
This is a preliminary version that - per Stefan’s advice - I may show to the guys at Salon. It still needs your help! (See below in comments where I may announce further changes.)
* There are lots of points and facts that could use links to back them up. Yes, many are “common knowledge” but attribution always helps.
* More items? Places where it’s too repetitious, even for me?
Thanks and onward.