27 July 2010


WHO COOKED THE PLANET? Eminent economist Paul Krugman follows the science, the politics, and the money -- and points out events that make you go "hmmm". If you are among the dwindling number of those who doubt that global warming is real, and in the current instance is caused by human agency, please read this.

SCIENTISTS CONFIRM UNDERWATER PLUMES ARE FROM SPILL. Gee, ya think? This is the 500-lb. gorilla in the room that no one is talking about. It's easy for the media and the public to notice all the oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, thousands of square miles of ugly sludge. Equally easy to notice that same oil as it washes ashore, despoiling pristine beaches, marshlands, and wildlife habitat. But beneath the surface, out of sight, is where even more oil is circulating. All those chemical dispersants didn't make the oil disappear -- they simply broke it up into smaller particles, which sink partway to the sea bottom. Additional plumes of oil were formed at the well head, and simply didn't make it to the surface before being carried by ocean currents, circulating in the Gulf of Mexico gyre, potentially to be caught and carried out into the Atlantic and up the eastern seashore of the US. Here in the water column, the oil spill may create environmental havoc at least equal to the damage done on the surface and onshore. The subsurface oil is like that portion of an iceberg which one cannot see from the surface -- more massive than the visible portion, and just as deadly to marine life. Thank you, BP. Thank you, Transocean. Thank you, Halliburton.

CRITIQUING THE ROLE OF THE CITIZEN SCIENTIST. Our tendency is to place our trust in professionals, rather than in amateurs. Yet a quiet army of informed, non-professional scientists contributes immeasurably to the advancement of scientific discovery. Witness the number of stars, comets, asteroids, and other celestial bodies discovered by amateur astronomers each year. Witness the volunteers who observe, collect data, and analyze results as volunteers in the study of nature, species and habitats. The non-professional, or "natural philosopher", has an important place in our evolving, growing body of knowledge.

RESTLESS CONFEDERATES. The author offers an array of revelations about life in the Confederacy during the Civil War, aka the War Between The States. As was true in the North, the South was far from a unified populace. "The Confederacy was conceived as a republic of white men. But since of its 9 million people more than 3 million were slaves, and half the remainder disenfranchised white women, the new nation faced from the outset a crisis of legitimacy ... Southern leaders realized early that they would have to compete with the Union for the loyalty of these groups ... The need to generate consent allowed the Confederate unenfranchised to step onto the stage of politics, with their own demands, grievances and actions." One wonders if the South would have collapsed beneath the weight of its own internal strife, even without a war to drive it to ruin.

150 years later, and we're still learning about our own history. An aside -- during my life I've lived in four Southern states (Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee). Many Southerners, especially white Southerners, hold close to their hearts the memory of the War of Secession. Visiting non-Southerners often wonder aloud (rather rudely), "Why are you still fighting the Civil War? It's over, you lost. Get over it."

Not so easy to do. Imagine yourself a descendant in a family and a region which fought in a war lasting four bloody years. The politics aside, Southerners ultimately were invaded, defeated and humiliated by the second Northern invasion called Reconstruction. Such wounds run deep, and take many generations to heal. Even some of my most free-thinking Southern friends have mixed feelings about that time. For a different window into this paradox, I recommend reading John Hersey's 1965 novel White Lotus. Hersey examines slavery from the point of view of fictional Americans invaded and conquered by China, and their subsequent transport as slaves to that Asian nation (just as African blacks were captured, enslaved, and transported west to a strange continent). One's language, social class, cultural traditions, patterns of thought and behavior are all suddenly replaced by alien concepts and expectations. Learn quickly, or suffer the consequences. Acquiesce? Resist? Rebel? Things are much more complicated and nuanced than they appear.

DISPARITY SEEN IN DEATH PENALTY. This article discusses studies which demonstrate that racism in our country has many faces. One of them is found in the justice system. Racial and ethnic minorities, especially blacks, make up a disproportionate number of those arrested for crime, those bound over for trial, those convicted, and those sentenced to a prison term or to the death penalty. This is entirely supported by the research done by my ex-partner, a JD/PhD (an attorney and a psychologist) who is a professor of criminology and criminal justice. We may not see as many lynchings or burning crosses as we did half a century ago, but racism remains a profound and troubling aspect of our national character.

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