Friday, June 22

Martian Mantle Contains More Water Than Previously Thought

"Based on the mineral’s water content, the scientists estimated that the Martian mantle source from which the rocks were derived contained between 70 and 300 parts per million (ppm) water. For comparison, the upper mantle on Earth contains approximately 50-300 ppm water.
"'There has been substantial evidence for the presence of liquid water at the Martian surface for some time,' Hauri said. 'So it’s been puzzling why previous estimates for the planet’s interior have been so dry. This new research makes sense and suggests that volcanoes may have been the primary vehicle for getting water to the surface.'"
Extensive Water in Mars' Interior (ScienceBlog.com).

Thursday, June 21

Austerity Puts Greek Archaeological Heritage at Risk

Research and excavations are being abandoned. Museums that can no longer afford to pay for security are being plagued by armed robbers. And organized criminals are exploiting the chaos in an explosion of illegal digs and the trafficking of illicitly procured antiquities.
Cuts Leave Greek Heritage in Ruins (Nature).

Monday, June 18

The Real Job Creators

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Now let's focus that question on the economy: Which comes first, demand or supply? Well, Mitt Romney and most of the right would have us believe that supply leads demand, that noble 'job creators' must have their tax burden reduced in order to bestow jobs upon the middle class. You can think of this as the 'if you build it, they will come' school of economics. And, simply put, it's bullshit. Ceteris paribus, demand always comes before supply. And thus, growth in the economy comes from an empowered consumer, not from reducing tax burdens on employers. John T. Harvey, in a recent piece on Forbes.com, makes the point pretty well:
"...every rational entrepreneur’s goal is to reduce, not increase, the number of workers they have to pay. And quite right. Entrepreneurs have families, too, and they need to feed and clothe them. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.
"Second and more fundamentally, no matter how much you lower costs, if you don’t have more customers, you won’t hire more workers. If the demand for goods and services stays where it is today and we only cut industry taxes and regulations, there is absolutely no reason to think that firms would expand employment. Rather, they would continue to produce at the same level and simply earn higher profits. On the other hand, if we leave taxes and regulations untouched but increase demand, entrepreneurs will happily add workers. And that is the root of the problem today. The bottom line, lost on Mr. Romney and many others, is that the real job creators are consumers. The direct route to reducing unemployment is boosting demand, not reducing costs."
Let's not forget that consumption is 70% of GDP. The Real Job Creators: Consumers, by John T. Harvey (Forbes).

Friday, June 15

Artist: Lori Nix

Years ago, Opensewer was one of the first websites to feature the art of photographer Lori Nix. Her work is brilliant, depicting strange constructed scenes of disasters, bleak locales and other odd happenings. Below is a brief description of Lori's art in her own words, as well as some images from the original Opensewer exhibition. To see what she's currently doing, go to her website, LoriNix.net.
"I am greatly influenced by landscape painting, particularly the Hudson River School of Painting which included the artists Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand, Frederich Edwin Church, Martin Johnson Heade, and the Romantic painter Casper David Friedrich. Each of these painters possessed characteristics of romanticism and the Sublime and it's ability to create a state of mind and express intense emotions either through beauty or horror."





"I am interested in depicting danger and disaster, but I temper this with a touch of humor. My childhood was spent in a rural part of the United States that is known more for it's natural disasters than anything else. I was born in a small town in western Kansas, and each passing season brought it's own drama, from winter snow storms, spring floods and tornados to summer insect infestations and drought. Whereas most adults viewed these seasonal disruptions with angst, for a child it was considered euphoric. Downed trees, mud, even grass fires brought excitement to daily, mundane life. As a photographer, I have recreated some of these experiences in the series 'Accidentally Kansas'."

Thursday, June 14

The Sublime And The Beautiful

From The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton:
"We are humiliated by what is powerful and mean but awed by what is powerful and noble." The sublime reminds us "that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves."
No matter what our aspirations and accomplishments, we're all just dust to dust. This sentiment is actually encouraging to me...kinda takes the pressure off, you know?

For more reading on the sublime, refer to Mr. Burke.

Wednesday, June 13

How to Fix the U.S. Economy

In these days of red herrings and politically-driven 'morality' debates, the American middle-class is being misled regarding what's really necessary to get out of the economic mess we're in. First off,
"[This] recession [is] actually fundamentally different—a "balance sheet" recession resulting from a quarter-century-long debt-binge, one that [will] take a decade or more to fix."
So, how do we solve the problem? Should we go to the rational extremes implicitly held by the stalwarts of the two mainstream political parties? Specifically:
Far Right: "Do you want a violent, painful 'adjustment' in which many million more Americans are thrown out of work and the incomes and spending of tens of millions of Americans are suddenly reduced, thus crushing American companies at the same time? Then immediately cut government spending from ~20%+ of GDP to the 15% of GDP the government collected in taxes last year and hope (pray) that the resulting dislocation doesn't further wallop GDP (which history suggests it almost certainly will)." 
Far Left: "Do you want to pretend we don't have serious problems and just keep the government spending vastly more than it takes in every year until our government debt load finally becomes unmanageable and the currency collapses? Then just keep doing what we've been doing for most of the past 30 years."
Of course, neither of these extremes make sense. Rather, the author suggests, and I agree, that the rational approach to fixing the economy involves the government doing what it can to minimize the short term pain of the middle class (thereby bolstering consumer spending, which is 70% of GDP), while getting the long-term deficit under control. This will involve the difficult recognition that, over the medium and long-term, government spending will have to drop and taxes will have to go up--the worst of all worlds to a culture that has become accustomed to an expected level of entitlement.

Henry Blodget - Here's What's Wrong with The Economy... (And How To Fix It).

Tuesday, June 12

The Science of Sleep

According to some scientists, people did not always, nor did they feel it important to, sleep in continuous uninterrupted blocks during the night. From the article Slumber's Unexplored Landscape by Bruce Bower:
"Early modern Europeans usually sank each evening into what they called a 'first sleep,' which lasted for several hours. Shortly after midnight, they awoke and spent 1 or 2 hours in a 'watching period.' A 'second,' or 'morning,' sleep followed.
"The watching period presented many opportunities, Ekirch notes. People coming out of their first sleep often stayed in bed to pray, converse with a bedfellow, contemplate the day's events or the meaning of a dream, or simply let their minds wander in a semiconscious state of contentment that was prized at the time."
This 2006 article from the New York Times points out that diagnosing interrupted sleep as a problem is a relatively recent phenomenon, encouraged by the mass marketing of sleep-enhancing drugs.

Updated 8/24/13: A recent article on this topic: Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You

Monday, June 11

Defense of Marriage Act Getting the Flogging It Deserves

“Tradition, standing alone, does not provide a rational basis for the law.”
The Defense of Marriage Act, Exposed (NYT).

Friday, June 8

The Great Con-Game That's Fooling Middle America

Thomas Frank's book, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of Americareflects on the irony that although many working-class people in the United States vote conservative, conservatives are the last ones who would have their best interests at heart:
"The very capitalist system the economic conservatives strive to strengthen and deregulate promotes and commercially markets the perceived assault on traditional values."
"In order to explain to the 'Cons' why no progress gets made on these [socially conservate] issues, politicians and pundits point their fingers to a 'liberal elite', a straw man representing everything that conservatism is not. When reasons are given, they eschew economic reasons in favor of accusing this elite of simply hating America, or having a desire to harm 'average' Americans. This theme of victimization by these 'elites' is pervasive in conservative literature..."

Thursday, June 7

Reading the News Critically

This article, adapted from the book How to Read a Paragraph: The Art of Close Reading by Richard Paul and Linda Elder, has some good points on critically reading the news. One of the simplest tips, however, and one of my all-time favorites, is Betteridge's Law of Headlines:
"Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no'."
Helpful to remember the next time you're being bombarded by sensationalism.

Wednesday, June 6

God Damn It, You've Got to Be Kind

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."
 From what might be my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

Tuesday, June 5

The Cage of Western Civilization

Adam Curtis's fascinating documentary, The Trap, dissects and examines our contemporary idea of freedom.
"...What none of them would realize, was that within this dark and distrustful vision, lay the seeds of a new and revolutionary system of social control. It would use the language of freedom, but in reality, it would come to entrap us and our leaders in a narrow and empty world."

Monday, June 4

Envy, Snobbery, And A Gentler Philosophy of Success

Alain de Botton questions our commonly accepted notions of success, and provides one of the best definitions of a snob that I've heard in a while.
Thing about a successful life is, a lot of the time, our ideas of what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They are sucked in from other people...
And we also suck in messages from everything from the television, to advertising, to marketing, etc. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves. When we're told that banking is a very respectable profession a lot of us want to go into banking. When banking is no longer so respectable, we lose interest in banking. We are highly open to suggestion.
A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success (TED Video link with transcript).

Friday, June 1

One Million Moms' Facebook Page Bombarded

One Million Moms' Facebook page was bombarded today by comments in support of JCPenney's advertising campaign showing homosexual dads with children. It appears that the page received such a deluge of protest comments (many of them coming from Reddit) that it was deleted. One question: How does an organization called "One MILLION Moms" have a Twitter profile with fewer than two thousand followers?