Friday, February 29

Follow up to my post US prison populations...

The Washington Post highlights the same comparison in the second paragraph of its story about the report, saying "the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second."

The source for the Chinese estimate is the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College in London, which in turn relied on the Chinese government's numbers. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by suggesting that we should be skeptical of anything a totalitarian-cum-authoritarian government says about touchy, potentially embarrassing issues like how many of its citizens it imprisons. The official number at the end of 2005 was 1,565,771, but the King's College report says that does not include "more than 500,000 serving administrative detention in re-education-through-labour camps," according to the Chinese government's own count; "350,000 in a second type of administrative detention...for drug offenders and prostitutes," according to a U.S. State Department estimate; or pre-trial detainees, whose number "is not known but has been estimated at about 100,000." Assuming those numbers are correct (a big assumption), "the total prison population in China is about 2,500,000." That still gives the U.S. a higher incarceration rate, but not a higher total number of prisoners. And if the Chinese government actually had a few million people in re-education camps, instead of the half a million it claims, how would we know?

Hillary Clinton is your new HD-DVD player. 'The Daily Show' Reports From 'Anti-Hillary HQ'.

Thursday, February 28

Hey, this good news, right? I mean, this certainly isn't...
Next time you're thinking about buying a house under some high voltage power transmission lines, take a look at these photos and reconsider. The photos illustrate fluorescent light tubes activated by nothing more than the ambient magnetic field under the power lines. I wonder what that does to your body over time? (via Gizmodo)

Tuesday, February 26

Retroactive post insert: Starbucks closes its stores nationwide for 3 hours to train 'baristas' (sarcastic quotes intentional) and, according to the company's former CEO, regain some of the romance and soul of the espresso experience. Coffee connoisseurs around the world laugh out loud at the news.

Monday, February 25

John Stewart at the Oscars last night: "Normally when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty."

Monday, February 18

Follow-up on previous post, an earlier NYT article about Susan Jacoby: 'Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.'
The Dumbing Of America: 'The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse.'

Tuesday, February 12

Picture the life of a young Urdu-speaking woman brought to Yorkshire from Pakistan to marry a man—quite possibly a close cousin—whom she has never met. He takes her dowry, beats her, and abuses the children he forces her to bear. She is not allowed to leave the house unless in the company of a male relative and unless she is submissively covered from head to toe. Suppose that she is able to contact one of the few support groups that now exist for the many women in Britain who share her plight. What she ought to be able to say is, "I need the police, and I need the law to be enforced." But what she will often be told is, "Your problem is better handled within the community."
This is England ?

Friday, February 8

Congress just mandated the production of 36 billion gallons of bio-ethanol for transport fuel by 2022.
But is the current selection of bio-fuels a net good for our planet?
It's complicated, to say the least (and I'm not even getting into the economics of government mandates like that here). Excerpt:

The new studies examine a different part of biofuel equation, and both suggest that the emissions associated with the crops may be even worse than that.

One analysis looks at land that is switched to biofuel crop production. Carbon will be released when forests are felled or bush cleared, and longer-term emissions created by dead roots decaying.

This creates what Joseph Fargione of The Nature Conservancy and colleagues call a "carbon debt". Emissions savings generated by the biofuels will help pay back this debt, but in some cases this can take centuries, suggests their analysis.

If 10,000 square metres of Brazilian rainforest is cleared to make way for soya beans – which are used to make biodiesel – over 700,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide is released.

The saving generated by the resulting biodiesel will not cancel that out for around 300 years, says Fargione. In the case of peat land rainforest in Indonesia, which is being cleared to grow palm oil, the debt will take over 400 years to repay, he says.

Wednesday, February 6

Super Tuesday woke me from my mild election stupor a little bit, and I paid more attention to the primaries since I found out Ron Paul was a little too skeptical on evolution and finally convinced me he was crazy...
I watched some returns, saw CNN make some early predictions, and got to hear Huckabee, Romney, and Clinton preach to their choirs a bit.
Interesting similarities between Clinton and Romney - both talking about responsibility in the same breath as promising a new bevy of goodies for us. Romney says we shouldn't look to Washington to solve all our problems just before offering to do so. Hillary talks about fiscal responsibility before listing a bunch of programs more expensive than anything in American history.
Call me skeptical about these solve all problem attitudes...