Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Belief of Limits of Learning Affects Our Learning

"To test this possibility, Miele, Finn, and Molden had people learn to relate English words to Indonesian words with the same meaning.  Some of those words feel quite obvious (Police-Polisi), while others seem totally arbitrary (Bandage-Pembalut).  People studied the words for as long as they wanted and then made judgments of how well they learned the words.  At the end of the study, people did a questionnaire to determine whether they think of intelligence as a talent or a skill.

 In this study, the pairs that seemed easy were in fact much easier to learn than the ones that seemed hard.  The people who believed that intelligence is a talent used that feeling of ease to decide how well they learned the new items.  The people who believe that intelligence is a skill actually showed the opposite effect.  They were actually overconfident that they would later remember the hard items.

 On the surface, it might seem like a bad thing to think that you had done a better job of learning something than you actually did.  However, the people who believed that intelligence is a skill put in more effort on the hard items than on the easy items, while the people who believed that intelligence is a talent put in more effort on the easy items than on the hard items.  As a result, the people who believe that intelligence is a skill learned more overall.

 This result is quite important.  A mountain of evidence suggests that intelligence really is a skill.  That is, the harder you work, the more you learn.  So, when you encounter something difficult, it is better to treat that as a challenge than as a sign that you have reached your mental limits.  By putting in extra effort on difficult concepts, you come away with more knowledge.

 Ultimately, this aspect of learning feeds on itself.  The more you learn at any given time, the easier it is to learn new things in the future.  The effort you put in to learn is rewarded by making it easier for you to learn more things in the future."

-More
Here

Quote of the Day

"When the future is vast and open-ended, people need to adapt to the temporal context by preparing for that future, and that means you collect - you collect people, you collect experiences, you collect information, and you bank on it, because at one point in time it may become relevant, even if it's not relevant today. But it's very much this preparatory state that people are in. And in that state, information is so valuable, and any information is valuable. You have to be able to digest it, to learn it, to remember it, to encode it, to build on it, even if that has costs to your emotional well-being."

-
Laura Cartensen

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Illusions are Metaphors for Life -Daniel Simons

Quote of the Day


"The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away . . .
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart."

-Psalm 90

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quote of the Day

"This is how it works. I love the people in my life, and I do for my friends whatever they need me to do for them, again and again, as many times as is necessary. For example, in your case you always forgot who you are and how much you're loved. So what I do for you as your friend is remind you who you are and tell you how much I love you. And this isn't any kind of burden for me, because I love who you are very much. Every time I remind you, I get to remember with you, which is my pleasure."

-James Lecesne

Monday, March 28, 2011

Revolution Cannot Be Tweeted - Malcolm Gladwell

I agree with Gladwell. Revolution needs it's people who are ready not only to die for a cause but also "know" cause they are dying for. Otherwise, there would be no difference between us and the Ants who are genetically pre-programmed to die for their social cause. Social media thrives on cognitive fluency; we need to get real, social networks are not the Browser or AL Daily (may be, the analogy is little far-fetched). This online addiction has the capacity increase the already thriving cognitive misers inside each one of us. This is especially true in the west where the basic human needs are more or less taken care of by a welfare state. This might lead to unprecedented intellectual and financial disparity among the citizens, which in turn would be the seminal force behind a future revolution and that revolution, ironically might be tweeted.
Most importantly, social media has yet to produce a leader. Without a leader, post revolution might be more chaotic than the revolution. I wish, future will prove me wrong.








Quote of the Day

"A soulmate is someone who has locks that fit our keys, and keys to fit our locks. When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; we can be loved for who we are and not for who we’re pretending to be. Each unveils the best part of the other. No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we’re safe in our own paradise. Our soulmate is someone who shares our deepest longings, our sense of direction. When we’re two balloons, and together our direction is up, chances are we’ve found the right person. Our soulmate is the one who makes life come to life. "

-Richard Bach

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What I've been Reading

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks. 


"The effect of this first phase of learning seemed to be get the learner involved, captivated, hooked, and to get the learner to need and want more information and expertise."-Benjamin Bloom


That quote from the book is relevant irrespective of age. We all can get hooked to that dopamine driven quest for knowledge and learn to see the world with wonder. I have learned so much from Brooks so this book has been one of many on-going lessons from him. I wish, I had a teacher like him when I was young but it's never too late.
But wish he had stressed more on the teaching the emotions in the book (like in the below talk) because most people already believe only in gut feelings (especially the anti-science brigade). I fear, they will misinterpret the message in the book. I wish, he stressed on that famous rehearsal loop - "In order to decide, judge; in order to judge, reason; in order to reason, decide (what to reason about)." 


p.s: we get see flashes of Brooks's alter-ego in Harold. I also wonder why Marc Hauser wasn't acknowledged for inputs. 


My Relationship with Islam - Hirsi Ali

Impact of Earthquake & Tsunami on Animals


The US Fish and Wildlife Service is now estimating that the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge sustained losses of that more than 110,000 Laysan Albatross chicks – representing approximately 22% of chicks born this year – along with an estimated two thousand adults. In addition, thosands of Bonin petrels were buried alive, and thousands of fish were washed ashore where they suffocated on Eastern Island. Thankfully, Pete and his staff were able to rescue a handful of birds and turtles, but this is small comfort compared to the loss of entire shorebird nesting sites.

Darwin’s famous Galapagos Islands fared a bit better. Despite the fact that the tsunami struck during high tide, the water rose over 1.7 meters beyond normal levels, flooding buildings along the coastline. 
UNESCO has reported that the Southwest side of San Cristobal Island, home to a nesting site for marine iguanas, was among the most affected areas of the Gal├ípagos Islands World Heritage site. While some mortality is expected among the iguanas, officials do not expect extensive damage.

A group of birds called the 
megapodes, which require external sources of heat to incubate their eggs, are found in the Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Because they prefer to lay their eggs on sandy ground, over 90% of megapode nests were located within thirty meters of the waterline, prior to the tsunami. Several of the islands that are home to the megapodes were completely washed over, and others very nearly so. As with any bird species, maintaining constant temperature is critical for proper development of the birds within the eggs. Since these birds use external heat, however, the flooding of the nests by cold seawater became problematic for those nests that were closest to the water. Many of the birds that did survive relocated into the interior of the island, settling into evacuated villages. But when the villagers began to return, they were not happy to find the birds nesting around their homes. Even worse, the main source of income for these villagers came from coconut plantations, were were almost entirely washed away. As a result, the villagers turned to hunting and fishing in order to survive. One scientist noted, "Each tribal family has one to four airguns. The Nicobar megapode was found to be the most favoured targets of these airguns."

When it came to 
non-human primates, the outcomes were mixed. In 2000, 40 groups of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis umbrosa), comprising 814 individuals were observed, with group size varying from 7 to 98 animals. While the groups that lived mostly in the interior of the islands were relatively unaffected, coastal groups were not as lucky. In particular, these groups lost quite a few juvenile macaques. In 2000, the adult to juvenile ratio was approximately 1:1, but following the tsunami, it had dropped to 1:0.4. The reduction in the proportion of juveniles will have long-term consequences for the social organization and popluation structure of those groups, as fewer juvenile females means fewer baby monkeys in subsequent generations. It is possible, that the reduction in macaque numbers wasn’t due to the tsunami itself, but rather came about as a result of the washing away of coastal fruit trees, leaving fewer resources and food for the macaque groups.
-
More Here

Quote of the Day

"Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn't matter. Cold or warm. Tired or well-rested. Despised or honored. Dying...or busy with other assignments. Because dying, too, is one of our assignments in life. There as well: "To do what needs doing." Look inward. Don't let the true nature of anything elude you. Before long, all existing things will be transformed, to rise like smoke (assuming all things become one), or be dispersed in fragments...to move from one unselfish act to another with God in mind. Only there, delight and stillness...when jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don't lose the rhythm more than you can help. You'll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it."

-Marcus Aurelius

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Data Mining on the Internet

Love - A Typical American Regret


A new study by Neal Roese, Kellogg professor of marketing, finds that romance is the most common source of regret among Americans. Other common sources of regret include family interactions, education, career, finances and parenting.
For the study, Roese and Mike Morrison of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analyzed data from a telephone survey of 370 adult Americans. Subjects were asked to describe one regret in detail, including the time in which the regret happened and whether the regret was based on an action or inaction.
“We found that one’s life circumstances, such as accomplishments or shortcomings, inject considerable fuel into the fires of regret,” Roese said. “Although regret is painful, it is an essential component of the human experience.”

Key findings from the study include:
• About 44 percent of women reported romance regrets versus 19 percent of men. Women also had more family regrets than men. About 34 percent of men reported having work-oriented regrets versus 27 percent of women reporting similar regrets. Men also had more education regrets than women. 
• Individuals who were not currently in a relationship were most likely to have romance regrets. 
• People were evenly divided on regrets of situations that they acted on versus those that they did not act on. People who regretted events that they did not act on tended to hold on longer to that regret over time. 
• Individuals with low levels of education were likely to regret their lack of education. Americans with high levels of education had the most career-related regrets.
“Past research on regrets focused on samples of college students, which made it difficult to glean insights into the wider population,” Roese said. “This research, however, offers a unique and more thorough look into the psychology of regret to further understand how regret connects to life circumstances and its impact on decision making.”

-via 3QD


Quote of the Day

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it...always."

-Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, March 25, 2011

CityCar From MIT by 2013

"Ryan Chin, a research specialist in the Smart Cities group of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told New Scientist at the MIT Energy Conference last week that in the last four years, "We've developed almost all of the core elements [for the car], including the folding mechanism, the wheel motors, and the control system for the vehicle."

He went on to explain that battery technology has improved, so the car can drive greater distances and is lighter. Electric motors have also become lighter, faster, cheaper, and more powerful, because the demand for them is greater."


-More Here


TATA + MIT = Energy From Water + Power for 3 Billion People

"The Tata Group continues its ever-expanding quest to bring resources to low-income citizens of the world, this time with an announcement that it has joined up with MIT scientist Daniel Nocera, founder of SunCatalytix, to create power from water. Specific terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
Just 45 days ago, Nocera and his team stuck an artificial cobalt- and phosphate-coated silicon leaf into a jar of water and managed to create power--at an efficiency that surpasses today's solar panels, no less. The technique mimics photosynthesis by splitting hydrogen from water to generate power from the sun.
Tata and Nocera imagine that the research could lead to a refrigerator-sized "mini power plant" in a development that could, according to Live Mint, bring power to the three billion people currently living without.
Nocera's research is still in the preliminary stages; by next year, he expects to be able to generate enough energy from a bottle and a half of water (wastewater can be used) to power a small house. If Nocera's research pans out as hoped, a swimming pool-sized container refreshed each day with new water could meet the entire planet's electricity demands. So no matter how preliminary the research, Tata stands to reap big rewards if it pans out."

-More Here

Quote of the Day


"Masquerades disclose the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our life. I sometimes muse over this sketch of a story—about a man afflicted by one of those personal tragedies born of extreme shyness . . . . . . who one day, while wearing a mask I don’t know where, told another mask all the most personal, most secret, most unthinkable things that could be told about his tragic and serene life. And since no outward detail would give him away, he having disguised even his voice, and since he didn’t take careful note of whoever had listened to him, he could enjoy the ample sensation of knowing that somewhere in the world there was someone who knew him as not even his closest and finest friend did. When he walked down the street he would ask himself if this person, or that one, or that person over there might not be the one to whom he’d once, wearing a mask, told his most private life. Thus would be born in him a new interest in each person, since each person might be his only, unknown confidant. And his crowning glory would be if the whole of that sorrowful life he’d told were, from start to finish, absolutely false."

-
Fernando Pessoa

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Emotional Processing Bias in Depression

"Functional magnetic resonance imaging is providing a model to study emotional processing and better understand how this processing may be disturbed in depression.  When shown brief images of emotion-laden faces, subjects suffering from depression show exaggerated responses.  Depressed or angry faces produce heighted amygdala responses in those with depression.  Happy faces produce a blunted amygdala response.

Teresa Victor and colleagues recently published a study in the American Journal of Psychiatryproviding additional information about this emotional processing bias.  (Disclosure:  Dr. Victor is now a neuroscientist with the Laureate Brain Institute-my employer).   She summarized her findings in a recent journal club.  Here are the key findings from her recent research:
  • The amygdala response to facial images occurs even with brief subliminal (unconscious) presentations
  • Sad facial images activate the amygdala in depressed subjects (compared to controls) in both those with active and remitted depression
  • Happy facial images activate the amygdala in controls more than depressed subjects
  • Eight weeks of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor therapy (sertraline) reverse  (normalize) the amygdala response to facial emotion cues
The authors summarize their findings “These data demonstrate that negative emotional-processing biases occur automatically, below the level of conscious awareness, in unmedicated, currently depressed people…”.  “This nonconscious processing of emotional stimuli is consistent with evidence that the amygdala contains cells that are tuned selectively to specific stimulus characteristics, facilitating early detection of biologically salient information”.

The findings from this research suggest exaggerated amygdala responses to sad faces may be a trait marker and not just due to the presence of active depression. This might allow this trait to be studied as an endophenotype (or potential genetic marker for depression). Normalization of this exaggerated response with selective serotoning reuptake inhibitors may provide an additional paradigm for studying the effect of new novel antidepressants."


-More Here

Personality Type vs Health

"HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
They may always have a half-full view of life, but optimists are also more likely to be overweight.
The researchers found that those who were most positive lost the least weight. It’s thought that looking on the bright side led to patients not caring about their weight problem and always giving into temptation.
Another study at Stanford University found that most cheerful kids grew up to smoke, drink more and have riskier hobbies.
ANXIOUS
Researchers at Descartes University, Paris, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, have found that needy personalities are five times more likely to develop stomach ulcers.
Dependent, emotionally unstable types may be more likely to smoke and drink, have irregular eating habits and sleep problems - which all lead to higher than normal rates of stomach acid production, triggering the ulcers.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can also trigger headaches, acne and bladder infections.
The good news? Anxious people have more sex, according to a Sheffield University study.
SENSITIVE
Men who are more like women - sympathetic and compassionate - have lower stress levels and are less likely to have heart attacks, found research at Glasgow University.
In the study men were given a “masculinity”and “femininity” score based on traits such as leadership ability, forcefulness, aggression and risk-taking for the former, and sympathy, affection, compassion and sensitivity to the needs of others for the latter.
Researchers found a man’s likelihood of suffering from chronic heart disease markedly decreased in line with his femininity score. They said being in touch with their feelings meant these “new men” were more able to talk about their emotions and get help - including going to the doctor.
ARGUMENTATIVE
Hostile, aggressive behaviour is one of the least healthy personality traits to have.
Angry people respond more quickly and strongly to stress, mentally and physiologically, increasing blood pressure and heart rate - causing more wear and tear to the cardiovascular system.
OUTGOING
Extrovert men are less likely to get heart disease, according to a Milan University study. They are also less prone to infections and more likely to recover from disease.
This may be down to reduced levels of stress hormones - extroverts are better are coping with what life throws at them. And if they think they have a medical problem, they’re likely to speak up.
SHY
Shy types are 50 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
Researchers at Chicago’s Northwestern University who carried out the 30-year study, believe this may be because wallflowers lead more sheltered lives and so find new situations more stressful.
Shy types are also more vulnerable to viral infections, such as the common cold - whatever time of year it may be - according to research from the University of California, with stress once again playing a key role.
DIM
A low IQ is correlated with greater risk of anxiety, late-onset dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh.
Furthermore, a Harvard School of Public Health study on children with low IQ found there was also an increased risk of depression and schizophrenia.
One theory is simple: people with low intelligence have a harder time understanding the importance of healthy living.
VIRTUOUS
As you’d expect, people who are conscientious reap enormous benefits healthwise, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow.
They are less likely to develop all kinds of illnesses: diabetes, hernia, bone problems, sciatica, stroke and even Alzheimer’s.
The review of more than 190 studies showed that conscientious people consistently carry out more health-promoting behaviours, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet."

-More Here

David Brooks On The Social Animal

"Is there one insight from the cognitive sciences that really stands out for you?
I guess there are three. The first is that most of our thinking is below the level of awareness and that these processes are very different from the linear and logical processes of consciousness.
The second is that we are not primarily rational creatures. Emotion is the foundation of reason and you have to pay close attention to instant emotional responses: that is what tells us what we value.
And the third is that we are not really self-contained individual creatures. Instead, we are deeply linked and respond very quickly to others in ways that we don't even think about.
Do you think these insights will be applied to policy questions any time soon?
In the policy and business worlds, if you talk about emotion in relationships, they look at you like you are Oprah. They still think of these things as peripheral and squishy. We have a very big cultural bias to overcome.
Are there any big questions that remain to be solved?There are a million. The problem of consciousness is a big one. Another is the word "emotion". It's misleading. We assign it to love, but love is not really an emotion because it involves a lot of different kinds of states from ecstasy to agony. I think the field of cognitive sciences is going to shake up a lot of categories like this."

-Rest of David Brooks Interview Here

Quote of the Day

"Only the liberation of the natural capacity for love in human beings can master their sadistic destructiveness."

-Wilhelm Reich

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Rosetta Project - Building a 10,000 Year Library of All Human Language





"Laura’s talk was called The Rosetta Project and The Language Commons and in it she discussed several efforts to preserve linguistic diversity around the world. The Long Now Foundation’s role thus far, she explained, has been to develop and manufacture The Rosetta Disk: a durable, nickel archive of linguistic data. Laura also discussed her work with The Language Commons Working Group – a collaboration of linguists, archivists and programmers working to create an open and accessible encyclopedia of languages and linguistic diversity as a tool for teaching, studying, preserving and sharing languages."

-More Here

Google Helps To Self Reflect - New Magazine From Google

It's called Think Quarterly, it's real and spectacular!! (via Farnam Street)

"
At Google, we often think that speed is the forgotten 'killer application' – the ingredient that can differentiate winners from the rest. We know that the faster we deliver results, the more useful people find our service.
But in a world of accelerating change, we all need time to reflect. Think Quarterly is a breathing space in a busy world. It's a place to take time out and consider what's happening and why it matters.
Our first issue is dedicated to Data – amongst a morass of information, how can you find the magic metrics that will help transform your business? We hope that you find inspiration, insights, and more, in Think Quarterly."

check mate Nicholas Carr.

When a Nudge Isn't Enough

I have no idea what to comment... David Brooks once wrote - People don't change when they see the light. They change only when they feel the heat.  abstract here (via here)

"
Recent evidence suggests that the default options implicit in economic choices (e.g., 401(k) savings by white-collar workers) have extraordinarily large effects on decision-making. This study presents a field experiment that evaluates the effect of defaults on savings among a highly policy-relevant population: low-income tax filers. In the control condition, tax filers could choose (i.e., opt in) to receive some of their federal tax refund in the form of U.S. Savings Bonds. In the treatment condition, a fraction of the tax refund was automatically directed to U.S. Savings Bonds unless tax filers actively chose another allocation. We find that the opt-out default had no impact on savings behavior. Furthermore, our treatment estimate is sufficiently precise to reject effects as small as one-fifth of the participation effects found in the 401(k) literature. Ancillary evidence suggests that this "nudge" was ineffective in part because the low-income tax filers in our study had targeted plans to spend their refunds. These results suggest that choice architecture based on defaults may be less effective in certain policy-relevant settings, particularly where intentions are strong."

Quote of the Day

"We are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them... Environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they want to connect, fuse, recombine.... They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete. 
The single maxim that runs through the book: Where Good Ideas Come From ."

-Steven Johnson

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Greatest Biologist of All Time & Aristotle's Lagoon

Armand Lerio gave a fascinating talk on Edge. According to him, it's not Darwin but I disagree. Like the premise of Steven Johnson's book Where do good ideas come from?, knowledge is cumulative and yes, Aristotle was the pioneer. I believe being a pioneer doesn't make one the greatest. Darwin's genius was in the world of abstract biology, he quantified biology with a greatest abstractions of all.

"So what do I find when I look at Aristotle? Well, for me the thing that fascinates me about Aristotle is his discussion of the soul. Now, I know that's a strange thing to say because when we talk about souls, we immediately think of the Judeo-Christian conception of the soul which is some strange non-physical entity that hangs above your head, or something, and survives you after death. That's not what Aristotle meant, not at all.
Aristotle thought that soul was central to life. And there's nothing vitalist about it, there is nothing metaphysical about it. It's hard to get a grip on what he meant, but it's a resolutely empirical kind of concept. What he meant was something like this: he says all living things have a soul, and when they die, the soul disappears. So none of that nonsense about the immortality of the soul. Plato thought souls were immortal, many people believed that souls were immortal, but Aristotle is clearly using soul in a very special, and technical, and new sense. It's the moving principle of life." 


Armand Lerio's BBC documentary Aristotle Lagoon













Quote of the Day

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one."

-C.S. Lewis

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Max

Maximus is five today!!
Max with his new Lion; all I said to him today am was - Max, this is Lion. Now, he "knows" the Lion and picks the Lion from his toy pile whenever I ask for it. He is much smarter than his dad would ever be. 



Each passing birthday brings about that silent anxiety... this little guy taught me about life, love and happiness. In the past five years, an ophthalmologist in him etched a beautiful perspective into my eyes. Through this eyes, everyday I live my childhood again filled with splendor of innocence and the joy of life. He became my Darwin; showed me how I need to evolve. He became my God; taught me hope. There is grandeur in this view of life. I love you Max until my last breathe and I hope we take that breathe together. 






Love and Friendship - C.S.Lewis

"A friend's love free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels."

-C.S.Lewis

Quote of the Day

"A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbol means nothing to him. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple, and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not. As I wrote that farewell column to Marley, I realized it was all right there in front of us, if only we opened our eyes. Sometimes it took a dog with bad breath, worse manners, and pure intentions to help us see."

-Marley and Me, John Grogan

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Against Nuclear Overreactors - Nuclear Reactors Are Safer

William Saletan makes a more persuasive call than mine:

"
If Japan, the United States, or Europe retreats from nuclear power in the face of the current panic, the most likely alternative energy source is fossil fuel. And by any measure, fossil fuel is more dangerous. The sole fatal nuclear power accident of the last 40 years, Chernobyl, directly killed 31 people. By comparison, Switzerland's Paul Scherrer Institute calculates that from 1969 to 2000, more than 20,000 people died in severe accidents in the oil supply chain. More than 15,000 people died in severe accidents in the coal supply chain—11,000 in China alone. The rate of direct fatalities per unit of energy production is 18 times worse for oil than it is for nuclear power.
Even if you count all the deaths plausibly related to Chernobyl—9,000 to 33,000 over a 70-year period—that number is dwarfed by the death rate from burning fossil fuels. The OECD's 2008 Environmental Outlook calculates that fine-particle outdoor air pollution caused nearly 1 million premature deaths in the year 2000, and 30 percent of this was energy-related. You'd need 500 Chernobyls to match that level of annual carnage. But outside Chernobyl, we've had zero fatal nuclear power accidents.
That doesn't mean we can ignore what has happened in Japan. Precisely because nuclear accidents are so rare, we have to study them intensely. Each one tells us what to fix in the next generation of power plants. The most obvious mistake in Japan was parking the diesel generators in an area low enough to be flooded by a quake-driven tsunami. The batteries that backed up the generators weren't adequate, either. They lasted only eight hours, and power outage fallback plans at U.S. reactors are even shorter. Moreover, this is the second time an advanced nuclear facility has had to vent radioactive vapor (Three Mile Island was the first). Maybe it's time to require filtration systems that scrub the vapor before it's released.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut says we should "put the brakes" on nuclear power plant construction until we figure out what went wrong in Japan. Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts wants a moratorium on new reactors in "seismically active areas" while we study the problem. That's fine. But let's not block construction indefinitely while we go on mindlessly pumping oil. Because nuclear energy, for all its risks, is safer."

The Grace of Doing Nothing vs Must We Do Nothing - Niebuhr on Humanitarian Intervention

Niebuhr's influence on the 44th is no secret; Niebuhr on humanitarian intervention - here (pdf):

All this does not prove, however, that we ought to apply the words Jesus, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," literally. If we do we will never be able to act. There will never by a wholly disinterested nation. Pure disinterestedness is an ideal which even individuals cannot fully achieve, and human groups are bound always to express themselves in lower ethical forms than individuals. It follows that no nation can ever be good enough to save another nation purely by the power of love. The relation of nations and of economic groups can never be brought into terms of pure love. Justice is probably the highest ideal toward which human groups can aspire. And justice, with its goal of adjustment of right to right, inevitably involves the assertion of right against right and interests against interest until some kind of harmony is achieved. If a measure of humility and of love does not enter this conflict of interest it will of course degenerate into violence. A rational society will be able to develop a measure of the kind of imagination which knows who to appreciate the virtues of an opponent's position and the weakness in one's own. But the ethical and spiritual note of love and repentance can do no more than qualify the social struggle in history. It will never abolish it.

I find it impossible to envisage a society of pure love as long as man remains man. His natural limitations of reason and imagination will prevent him, even should he achieve a purely disinterested motive, from fully envisaging the needs of his fellow men or from determining his actions upon the basis of their interests. Inevitably these limitations of individuals will achieve cumulative effect in the life and actions of national, racial and economic groups. It is possible to envisage a more ethical society than we now have. It is possible to believe that such a society will be achieved partly by evolutionary process and partly by catastrophe in which an old order, which offers a too stubborn resistance to new forces, is finally destroyed.
It is plausible also to interpret both the evolutionary and the catastrophic elements in history in religious terms and to see the counsels of God in them. But it is hardly plausible to expect divine intervention to introduce something into history which is irrelevant to anything we find in history now. We may envisage a society in which human cooperation is possible with a minimum amount of coercion at all—unless, of course, human beings become quite different from what they now are. We may hope for a society in which self-interest is qualified by rigorous self-analysis and a stronger social impulse, but we cannot imagine a society totally without the assertion of self-interest and therefore without the conflict of opposing interests.

To say all this is really to confess that the history of mankind is a personal tragedy; for the highest ideals which the individual may project are ideals which he can never realize in social and collective terms. If there is a law in our members which wars against the law that is in our minds as individuals, this is even more true when we think of society. Individuals set the goal for society but society itself must achieve the goals, and society is and will always remain sub- human. The goal which a sensitive individual sets for society must therefore always be something which is a little outside and beyond history. Love may qualify the social struggle of history but it will never abolish it, and those who make the attempt to bring society under the dominion of perfect love will die on the cross. And those who behold the cross are quire right in seeing it as a revelation of the divine, of what man ought to be cannot be, at least not so long as he is enmeshed in the processes of history."


Circa 2011, Operation Odyssey Dawn:

"
This is not an outcome that the United States or any of our partners sought. Even yesterday, the international community offered Muammar Qaddafi the opportunity to pursue an immediate cease-fire, one that stopped the violence against civilians and the advances of Qaddafi’s forces. But despite the hollow words of his government, he has ignored that opportunity. His attacks on his own people have continued. His forces have been on the move. And the danger faced by the people of Libya has grown.
I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on it. I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice and it’s not a choice that I make lightly. But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government.
So we must be clear: Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced. That is the cause of this coalition."

Quote of the Day

"If the better elements of the mind which lead to order and philosophy prevail, then we can lead a life here in happiness and harmony, master of ourselves."

-Plato

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Econophysics - Possible Early Warning Sign for Market Crashes

Bar-Yam’s findings, released Feb. 13 on arXiv, are part of an emerging research field known as econophysics. It applies to economics insights from the physical world, especially from systems in which networks of interacting units produce radical collective behaviors.
Heated water turning to gas is one such behavior, known technically as a phase transition. Another is snow gathering into an avalanche. Seen through an econophysicist’s eyes, a stock market panic is an avalanche, too.
Using a phase-transition model, Bar-Yam’s group analyzed patterns of movement in the stock market. At the beginning of the 2000s, co-movement was low. On any given day, about half the stocks were moving up or down. By 2008, shortly before the crash, co-movement was absolute. People were no longer making independent decisions, but copying others.
Fuhrer’s cautions were echoed by econophysicist Tobias Preis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. “One should be very careful about generalization to predict future crises,” he said. “The most important point is to quantify this risk. That would be a huge step forward.”
If co-movement does prove to be a reliable early warning signal, it’s an open question how to make use of it. “That is one of the $64,000 questions,” said Fuhrer.

-More Here

Heroic Dog Won't Leave His Injured Friend in Japan Debris

This is heart breaking...
"We are in Arahama area. Looks like there is a dog. There is a dog. He looks tired and dirty. He must have been caught in the tsunami. He looks very dirty. He has a collar. He must be someone's pet. He has a silver collar. He is shaking. He seems very afraid. Oh, there is another dog. I wonder if he is dead. Where? Right there.
"There is another dog right next to the one sitting down. He is not moving. I wonder. I wonder if he is alright. The dog is protecting him. Yes. He is protecting the dog. That is why he did not want us to approach them. He was trying to keep us at bay. I can't watch this. This is a very difficult to watch. Oh. Look. He is moving. He is alive. I am so happy to see that he is alive. Yes! Yes! He is alive. He looks to be weakened. We need to them to be rescued soon. We really want them rescued soon. Oh good. He's getting up. It is amazing how they survived the tremendous earthquake and tsunami. It's just amazing that they survived through this all."
- more here