Sunday, July 26, 2009

Isaav Asimov - The Future of Humanity

The very thing that makes it possible for us to use more and more energy is our industrial technologized world. And another thing that our industry produces is dust. And the air is dustier now than its ever been before in human history. Except perhaps very temporarily after a large volcanic eruption.

This means that the Earth's albedo, the percentage of light from the sun that it reflects back into space before it hits the ground, has been going up slightly because dusty air reflects more light than clear air does. And...well, not very much more, but enough. It has been making the temperature of the Earth drop since 1940. It's been going down steadily. Again, not very much. You're probably not aware that the summers are cold, or that the winters are extraordinarily icy, they're not. The drop in temperature may be one degree. But it's enough to cut down on the growing season in the northern climates. It makes the weather a little bit worse. It sends the storm tracts further south, so that the Sahara Desert creeps southward, so that the monsoon rains in India fail a little bit. Just enough so that the harvests aren't as good as they used to be, and the Earth's reserve supply of food sinks to it's lowest in recent history.

And just as this is happening...and it's going to continue happening because the air isn't going to get un-dusty unless we stop our industrial activity. And if we stop our industrial activity, that's going to be because we've suffered some complete disaster.

So, the weather isn't going to turn better. The air is going to stay dusty, and it's going to continue getting a little colder. And at the same time, it's getting hard to get energy. Energy is much more expensive than it used to be; oil prices are up. And that means that fertilizer is more expensive than it used to be. And it turns out that the green revolution depends on strains of grain that require...yes, they do what they're supposed to do...but they require a lot of irrigation; a lot of water, and a lot of fertilizer. And the fertilizer isn't there. And the irrigation machinery is hard to run now with expensive oil. And, of course, the pesticides are produced in high-energy chemical factories; their price goes up. Everything is combining to cut down on the food supply. And to arrange it so that in years to come, we may have trouble keeping our present level of food, let alone increasing it.

There are always people who think that all we have to do, after all is abandoned, all this foolish technology that we've made ourselves slave to, and go back like our ancestors and live close to the soil with the good things of nature. That would be great if we could do it. If we could go back to the way it was before World War II, technologically, we could support all the people that lived on Earth before World War II. The catch is that in these last thirty years one billion and a half people have been added to the population of the Earth. And we have been feeding them largely because of all these things that we have done in these last thirty years, the good weather, the fertilizers, and the pesticides, and the irrigation, and the green revolution, and all the rest of it. If we abandon that, we also have to abandon a billion and a half people; and there are going to be very few volunteers for the job.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Drought turning Texas as dry as toast

Off-duty police officers are patrolling streets, looking for people illegally watering their lawns and gardens. Residents are encouraged to stealthily rat out water scofflaws on a 24-hour hot line. One Texas lake has dipped so low that stolen cars dumped years ago are peeking up through the waterline.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Chiranjeevi Praja Rajyam

I wanted to wait and see how the script unfolds, but it is now intermission time ( 3 months more to go, and 3-4 months have gone by now) and I am still not seeing the point of the story. I am waiting for that scene to come when all that didn’t make sense so far will make sense and provide the needed punch, but now I’ve lost hope. Neither has Chiranjeevi, or his top aides, made clear what change he will bring nor do I see the signs of that happening.

Firstly, the folks of Andhra Pradesh and really cool dudes; they seem to show in hordes for just about anybody’s roadshows or meetings. The PRP camp seems pretty sure that there is no Chiru-wave to ride on because they are busy digging deep in to Government statistics of castes, communities, and population to figure out how the election equations will play out. Chiranjeevi seems to have no vision of his own and just does not have what it takes to be a leader. On the other hand, he is acting according to the script written by the producer, Allu Aravind, of Bollywood’s All-Time Blockbuster, Ghajini. It also looks like Chiranjeevi has no ideas of his own. His three top aides are his family members and it seems to have just become one big money making extravaganza for them. It is actually resembling the nature of Chiranjeevi’s movies towards the end of this career; they were made only to make money on his name, but with no real substance.

Ok, lets get to the facts now. The PRP camp is taking three crores per aspiring candidate and this does not include the number of crores the candidate needs to dish out at the time of elections. Where is all this money going to? Now, assuming that each candidate spends 7 crores (3 pre-election plus 4 during election), then when they come to power doesn’t each candidate have to recover their costs? Isn’t this the same politics we’ve all been disillusioned about and wanting change from? In fact, I wouldn’t even be surprised if Mr. Chiranjeevi is unware that each aspiring candidate to their party has to pay so much of cash to be considered.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Well, every city begins as a slum. First it’s a seasonal camp, with the usual free-wheeling make-shift expediency. Creature comforts are scarce, squalor the norm. Hunters, scouts, traders, pioneers find a good place to stay for the night, or two, and then if their camp is a desirable spot it grows into an untidy village, or uncomfortable fort, or dismal official outpost, with permanent buildings surrounded by temporary huts. If the location of the village favors growth, concentric rings of squatters aggregate around the core until the village swells to a town. When a town prospers it acquires a center — civic or religious — and the edges of the city continue to expand in unplanned, ungovernable messiness. It doesn’t matter in what century or in which country, the teaming guts of a city will shock and disturb the established residents. The eternal disdain for newcomers is as old as the first city. Romans complained of the tenements, shacks and huts at the edges of their town that “were putrid, sodden and sagging.” Every so often Roman soldiers would raze a settlement of squatters, only to find it rebuilt or moved within weeks.

Like any city, a slum is highly efficient. Maybe even more than the official sections because nothing goes to waste. The rag pickers and resellers and scavengers all live in the slums and scour the rest of the city for scraps to assemble into shelter, and to feed their economy. Slums are the skin of the city, its permeable edge that can balloon as it grows. The city as a whole is a wonderful technological invention which concentrates the flow of energy and minds into computer chip-like density. In a relatively small footprint, a city not only provides living quarters and occupations in a minimum of space, but a city also generates a maximum of ideas and inventions.

freedom, free speech

The (much less ironic) observation is that different governments have different priorities and their policing tactics reflect this.

China doesn't much care about bourgeois western "intellectual property", so you can send spam hawking pirated software all you want. Send out invites for your next falun gong meeting or democracy protest, though, and you'll discover what 'so called "unfree"' really means.

The US is quite solid on speech that doesn't upset major corporations, and is an excellent spot for saying mean things about religious figures, expressing all kinds of fun political theories, hosting your "handguns I have known and loved" archive or whatever. Not such a good place to host "WareZ and DeCSS 4LyFE!", though.

There are plenty of locations(though exactly where they are tends to drift over time) where the state is weak enough, or enough in need of foreign investment/aid, that(as long as you maintain a polite disinterest in local politics, and pay the occasional bribe) they won't really bother you at all. Pretty much any government will come down on you like a ton of bricks in response to some class of actions on your part and pretty much any government has another class of activities of which it approves, or simply doesn't care.

Friday, July 10, 2009

notions of human goodness

No, when you want to win the approbation of a cat you must mind what you are about and work your way carefully. If you don't know the cat, you had best begin by saying, "Poor pussy." After which add "did 'ums" in a tone of soothing sympathy. You don't know what you mean any more than the cat does, but the sentiment seems to imply a proper spirit on your part, and generally touches her feelings to such an extent that if you are of good manners and passable appearance she will stick her back up and rub her nose against you. Matters having reached this stage, you may venture to chuck her under the chin and tickle the side of her head, and the intelligent creature will then stick her claws into your legs; and all is friendship and affection, as so sweetly expressed in the beautiful lines--

"I love little pussy, her coat is so warm,
And if I don't tease her she'll do me no harm;
So I'll stroke her, and pat her, and feed her with food,
And pussy will love me because I am good."

The last two lines of the stanza give us a pretty true insight into pussy's notions of human goodness. it is evident that in her opinion goodness consists of stroking her, and patting her, and feeding her with food. I fear this narrow-minded view of virtue, though, is not confined to pussies. We are all inclined to adopt a similar standard of merit in our estimate of other people. A good man is a man who is good to us, and a bad man is a man who doesn't do what we want him to. The truth is, we each of us have an inborn conviction that the whole world, with everybody and everything in it, was created as a sort of necessary appendage to ourselves. Our fellow men and women were made to admire us and to minister to our various requirements. You and I, dear reader, are each the center of the universe in our respective opinions. You, as I understand it, were brought into being by a considerate Providence in order that you might read and pay me for what I write; while I, in your opinion, am an article sent into the world to write something for you to read. The stars--as we term the myriad other worlds that are rushing down beside us through the eternal silence--were put into the heavens to make the sky look interesting for us at night; and the moon with its dark mysteries and ever-hidden face is an arrangement for us to flirt under.