Monthly Archives: September 2008

As the central valley bakes on, will we have to move the Sierra ski season…

… all the way to Mars? Doesn’t this sound appealing, my fellow parched-and-sweltering Californians?

MarsPhoenix: The low temp here has hit -90C (-130F) in recent days,… As temps go down, I use more of my limited power to keep heaters on. Brr!

Further, the Phoenix Lander says this is how it saw the snow, on Lidar:


Looks better than those economic graphs in the news lately, doesn’t it? Heck, the way things are heating up elsewhere in the US nowadays, we may want to move as far as Mars anyway…

[Hat-tip: Amygdala]

How the Gray Wolf was re-endangered by Dubya’s gummint

Back in July, I ranted about the massacre that had ensued in Montana & Wyoming since the Grey Wolf was de-listed from the Endangered Species Act last spring, with approximately one wolf being killed per day. A judge had then granted the wolf a temporary reprieve from hunting. Well now the USFWS may have come to their senses because last week they capitulated and began the process of re-listing the wolves! And in the meantime, at least 130 of the animals have been massacred, most within the first month in so-called “free-fire” zones, resulting in a 10% decline in population! Yes, 10%!!! And I don’t think even the free-fire zones actually went as far as republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Alaska, where the poor beasts are hunted aerially! Today’s Los Angeles Times has the story of how the wolf was re-endangered in the Rockies by the hasty delisting by the Bush administration as well as the govts. of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana:


DANIEL, WYO. — It’s hard for ranchers here to figure how it came to this — again.

After railing for more than a decade against the federal government for reintroducing gray wolves to the region, after finally winning the battle to get the animals taken off the endangered species list, what went so wrong that Washington stepped in last week to protect the wolves all over again?

It began near here in this high-altitude chaparral. No sooner were gray wolves delisted in March than sportsmen in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming began locking and loading. Wyoming officials declared 90% of the state a “free-fire zone.” Hunters from around the state flocked to rural Sublette County to bag a wolf.

Read the rest of the story, and weep! Particularly telling is this graphic accompanying the report:

Do you need a more compelling argument for maintaining the Endangered Species Act than this evidence of how thin the line is that is holding the rabid hunters at bay? The Act obviously has teeth enough to protect the wolves for now – but don’t count on it, given the persistent efforts from this administration to gut it in various ways. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they invoke the current wall street banking crisis as another club with which to beat down those protesting the attacks on the Endangered Species Act. They will happily sacrifice the Gray Wolf and any other animal to the wolves of Wall Street

So tell me, again, why is it that this country cannot support the wolf (and other megafauna) in some of its still vast regions least populated by humans?

Wow! Nature lays out the choice in this election!

So who didn’t see this market economy crash coming?

That would be those guys (Dems and Repubs) actually in-charge of running the US economy. You know the ones with all those economics and law degrees from prestigious universities, not to mention finely-honed political skills, and all their free-market gurus. Too bad they, presumably, didn’t have the time to read the cartoons once in a while, or they might have seen this piece of comic prescience, from exactly a decade ago:

And they say it is hard to make long-term economic forecasts! I guess some of us can see quite clearly when the bus is hurtling towards the cliff and about to run over…

Americans: time to tone that relentless positive thinking down a notch

If you’ve ever been irked by the relentless, and quite often baseless, positive-thinking that infects so many Americans (and who hasn’t been so irked?), you’ll like what Barbara Ehrenreich has to say about its links to the current economic meltdown facing this country:

As promoted by Oprah Winfrey, scores of megachurch pastors and an endless flow of self-help best sellers, the idea is to firmly believe that you will get what you want, not only because it will make you feel better to do so, but because “visualizing” something — ardently and with concentration — actually makes it happen. You will be able to pay that adjustable-rate mortgage or, at the other end of the transaction, turn thousands of bad mortgages into giga-profits if only you believe that you can.

Positive thinking is endemic to American culture — from weight loss programs to cancer support groups — and in the last two decades it has put down deep roots in the corporate world as well. Everyone knows that you won’t get a job paying more than $15 an hour unless you’re a “positive person,” and no one becomes a chief executive by issuing warnings of possible disaster.

The tomes in airport bookstores’ business sections warn against “negativity” and advise the reader to be at all times upbeat, optimistic, brimming with confidence. It’s a message companies relentlessly reinforced — treating their white-collar employees to manic motivational speakers and revival-like motivational events, while sending the top guys off to exotic locales to get pumped by the likes of Tony Robbins and other success gurus. Those who failed to get with the program would be subjected to personal “coaching” or shown the door.

The once-sober finance industry was not immune. On their Web sites, motivational speakers proudly list companies like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch among their clients. What’s more, for those at the very top of the corporate hierarchy, all this positive thinking must not have seemed delusional at all. With the rise in executive compensation, bosses could have almost anything they wanted, just by expressing the desire. No one was psychologically prepared for hard times when they hit, because, according to the tenets of positive thinking, even to think of trouble is to bring it on.

[From Op-Ed Contributor – The Power of Negative Thinking – Op-Ed –]

Read the rest of her plea to return to a sense of realism rather than oscillating between Oprah-Secret positivism or the Calvinist-guilt ridden negativism that drove this country in the past. I wonder if “reconciliation ecology”, esp. the idea that humans can make room for other species in our habitats, is also afflicted somewhat with this American cultural malady. Some people think so, but I’d like to think we’re aiming for that realistic middle ground – and daresay we need to given how easy it is to be sucked into negative-thinking in the conservation arena. But then, those positive-thinkers and their corporate clients go ahead and cheerfully drive the economic bus straight off the cliff… and I dread to think how many notches the “environment” has slipped down people’s priority list in these hard times!

But, if you still want to chuckle at the positive-thinking Americans, check out the latest Coen brothers satire “Burn After Reading” for an excellent caricature (played by none other than Brad Pitt)…

Are Prius owners like Mac owners? – a casual friday survey

mac_mini_prius.jpgAs a long-time Mac owner and wannabe Prius owner (as soon as I can afford it!), also in the pinko-green part of the political spectrum, I have to point to this casual friday survey put together by Dave Munger over at Cognitive Daily:

Perhaps there is something to this stereotype, and Casual Friday may be just the time to find out. I’ve created a brief survey that asks you a few questions about your car, your computer, and your attitudes. If enough of you respond, perhaps we’ll be able to (non-scientifically) settle the question once and for all!

Click Here to participate.

As usual, the survey is brief, with about 20 questions, which should take less than five minutes to answer. You’ll have until Thursday, September 25 to respond. There is no limit on the number of survey respondents. Don’t forget to come back next Friday to see the results!

How about you? What computer and car do you own? Thought about getting a Mac and/or a Prius? Or even build your own combo MacPrius as seen in the above picture?! That sounds like a great combo! And for field work in remote places, I would have to put that combo platter on a larger set of wheels, like this:

Now that’s what we call a case mod, am I right?! A dream vehicle for a smug-n-self-superior pinko-green field biologist! I should put that on my next grant proposal… 🙂

Can a brain scan really tell if someone committed a crime?

Here’s another disturbing story this week about India’s march into a brave new world:

When 24 year-old Aditi Sharma was tried for the murder of her former fiance, her brain was the chief witness for the prosecution. Sharma had submitted to the highly controversial Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test (BEOS), now employed by prosecutors in the Indian states of Maharashta and Gujarat. Going beyond lie detection, the BEOS test is supposedly able to identify whether an individual possesses memories related to a specific event. And Sharma’s conviction represents the first time an Indian court has accepted the BEOS results as proof of guilt, although neuroscientists remain skeptical about the technology’s reliability.

The NY Times also covered the story.

So how is this supposed to work? You can read the two stories above for the proposed mechanism of, is it BEOS: it depends upon certain memory-related brain areas lighting up on an EEG when the alleged perpetrator of a crime listens to an account of the alleged crime. If certain areas involved in processing smell light up, for example, the interrogator may infer that you are reliving the experience, and therefore you committed the crime! And this was apparently sufficient to convince the judge in this case to issue a life sentence!

I’m not sure what to make of my still-developing country being ahead of the curve on this new technology, but perhaps it goes hand in hand with the apparent rise in the far-right in the country and the escalation of state responses towards terrorism. So now, in addition to hardening so called anti-terror laws that further curtail civil liberties, we will have these new technologies to defeat the terrorists as well as stop your everyday garden-variety crime of passion, is it? Doesn’t all this make you feel safer already?

It apparently does not trouble the judges in Maharashtra and Gujarat (two of the most industrialized, “forward” states in the nation) that the science underlying BEOS hasn’t really passed the normal standards of scientific peer review. So are we now going to accept new tools based on non-expert judicial review alone since this judgement has now set the precedent?

Who needs expert scientific peer review anyway? Welcome to the brave new world!