Monthly Archives: August 2010

How Glenn Beck’s Redemption Song haunts Robert Jensen

Uh, oh! Glenn Beck even got to Bob Jensen at last weekend’s whitestock rally:

About halfway through Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the DC mall, I realized that I was starting to like Glenn Beck.

Before any friends initiate involuntary commitment proceedings, let me explain. It’s not that I like Beck, but more that I experienced his likeability. Whether or not he’s sincere, I came to admire his ability to project sincerity and to create coherence out of his incoherent rambling about religion, race, and redemption.

As a result, I’m more afraid of our political future than ever.

Read the rest for a typically sharp and cogent analysis of why so many are captivated by Beck, and why we all need to be afraid.

What I would have the US (and other G20 govts) do to protect biodiversity

A few days ago, I noted a call for concrete actions that G20 nations can take to protect biodiversity, made by Guillaume Chapron and George Monbiot through the Guardian. Ever since a friend alerted me about this call on twitter, and nagged me to respond, I’ve been scratching my head and mulling over options that fit the criteria (scientifically supported; concrete action achievable over reasonable timeframe; with significant political costs). Given the list of G20 nations (which include both my home country of India and my current home, the US) and the huge amounts of damage they are causing to biodiversity individually and collectively, I could think of a number of things that must be done, and that fit those criteria. As I’m sure most of you can as well. So which one to pick? And which one was not likely to be picked by too many others (assuming there would be redundancies)? 

After going back and forth over this (with a brain slowed down by a severe cold/fever over the weekend), and reading a bunch of papers and websites, I finally submitted my suggestion a short while ago. It is a concrete legislative action based on solid scientific evidence that can have far reaching positive consequences for biodiversity, if only the politicians can muster up the will to stand up to the vested interests lobbying against this action. And it is also one action that doesn’t seem to have been submitted by anyone else on this list of suggestions on the Guardian website!
I thought of writing a separate blog post detailing my suggestion, but in the interest of time—and of catching up with other things that have piled up while I’ve been in bed—I’ll defer that, at least for now. Instead, you can read my complete response to the questionnaire below the fold. And please let me know your thoughts.

Attenborough on Plastic Oceans


The trouble with plastic: it just ain’t plastic enough! Especially in the biological sense:

plastic |ˈplastik|nouna synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form.• informal credit cards or other types of plastic card that can be used as money he pays with cash instead of with plastic.adjectivemade of plastic plastic bags.• looking or tasting artificial long-distance flights with their plastic food she smiled a little plastic smile.(of substances or materials) easily shaped or molded rendering the material more plastic.• (in art) of or relating to molding or modeling in three dimensions, or producing three-dimensional effects.• (in science and technology) of or relating to the permanent deformation of a solid without fracture by the temporary application of force.• offering scope for creativity the writer is drawn to words as a plastic medium.• Biology exhibiting adaptability to change or variety in the environment.

What would YOU tell the wealthy nations to do to halt biodiversity loss?

All their talk and rhetoric hasn’t really worked, say Guillaume Chapron and George Monbiot (an I agree completely):

It’s on course to make the farcical climate talks in Copenhagen look like a roaring success. The big international meeting in October which is meant to protect the world’s biodiversity is destined to be an even greater failure than last year’s attempt to protect the world’s atmosphere. Already the UN has conceded that the targets for safeguarding wild species and wild places in 2010 have been missed: comprehensively and tragically.

In 2002, 188 countries launched a global initiative, usually referred to as the 2010 biodiversity target, to achieve by this year a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss. The plan was widely reported as the beginning of the end of the biodiversity crisis. But in May this year, the Convention on Biological Diversity admitted that it had failed. It appears to have had no appreciable effect on the rate of loss of animals, plants and wild places.

In a few weeks, the same countries will meet in Nagoya, Japan and make a similarly meaningless set of promises. Rather than taking immediate action to address their failures, they will concentrate on producing a revised target for 2020 and a “vision” for 2050, as well as creating further delays by expressing the need for better biodiversity indicators. In many cases there’s little need for more research. It’s not biodiversity indicators that are in short supply; but any kind of indicator that the member states are willing to act.

A striking example was provided last month by French secretary of state for ecology, Chantal Jouanno. She announced that there would be no further major efforts to restore the population of Pyrenean brown bears, of which fewer than 20 remain. Extensive scientific research shows that this population is not viable. European agreements oblige France to sustain the population. Yet the government knows that the political costs of reintroducing more bears outweigh the costs of inaction. Immediate special interests triumph over the world’s natural wonders, even in nations which have the money and the means to protect them.

So, with help from the Guardian, they are collecting suggestions from all of us, to share with the wealthy G20 nations when they meet to discuss biodiversity in October. You still have time, until the end of August, to submit your suggestion. Note, however, that they’re not looking for general, vague platitudes about “more education” or “empowerment” or “law enforcement” and the like – the G20 politicians are full of those already! What’re being sought, instead, are specific concrete solutions that are backed up by science, are realistically achievable in a reasonable timeframe, and are opposed by political/financial special interests. So what political cost should the governments of wealthy nations be forced to pay (to at least put their money where their mouths are, so to speak) to conserve biodiversity?

I’m working on my own suggestion and will share it here soon.

Think college has become too expensive in California? Think again.

Here’s an infographic to set you straight! It turns out that California is near the low end (7th) when it comes to how much debt the average student accumulates by the time they get out of college. More than half of California’s students graduate without any debt at all! And within California, the CSU system (of which I am a part) remains among the cheaper options, so our graduates’ average debt is quite likely even lower than the state average (likely making up a bulk of the 52% debt-free CA graduates). Although the CSU system is one of the biggest university systems in the world, try finding any CSU campus on this list, for instance. Given the state’s ongoing fiscal woes, when we’re being squeezed to the point of having to turn scores of students away from our classes, are students willing to pay a little bit more for college education? Especially if it means we can keep those extra class/lab sections open to let them finish their degrees on time? They’ll still come out ahead of graduates from more than half the other United States, no?

See for yourself, and read more on the Mint blog:


Heart-string-tugging film, yes! But what bird IS that?

This film has vexed my saturday morning! And not merely because it was posted on Facebook by my elder sister who has always elected to live close to our parents and take care of them while I’ve been half a planet away for the past two decades. Nor just because our father passed away 5 years ago and I didn’t much get to sit on any bench reading the paper or watching birds with him in his last decade. Although he did visit my field site during my Ph.D. research in southern India, and we shared some hikes in the forests of Mundanthurai.

No – the film has just the right touch of sentiment to tug at one’s emotions without becoming too maudlin – so that doesn’t vex me either. The film is obviously popular, with over 2 million views and ~3000 comments for this YouTube version alone. But none of those comments seem to answer the question that has me scratching my head!

No – what has me vexed this morning is that I’m not sure what species the sparrow in the film actually is! It has distinctive enough color markings to be easy to identify (see esp. the closeup shots in the HD version near minutes 1:52 and 2:32), yet I can’t find anything quite like it in the one European bird field guide I have at hand. Nor does it quite fit, from images I’ve searched online, any of the sparrows or finches on the list of birds in Greece, which seems to be the location of the film. The white eyebrow and the black and white patches on the shoulder/wing share similarities with those of the House or Dead Sea Sparrows, but are different enough to confuse me. Is this a young bird, perhaps, or one in moult?

Do you know: what species of bird is that? Can you help me identify it? For, you see, with my kids, I always try to tell them exactly what species of bird they are pointing at when they bug me for an answer! And I shall fully expect them to be equally specific in my dotage when responding to my 21st query!