Monday, September 27, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
This picture shows mega-ripples along the banks of the Columbia River. Ripples form from the agitation of particles in a current-driven or wave-driven fluid. For example, you can witness structures like those depicted in this picture forming in wave-modulated currents along the ocean coast. However, those ripples are typically a few centimeters in height and spaced a few tens of centimeters apart. The sheer dimensions of these mega-ripples indicates a flow strength many orders of magnitude greater than any ocean current.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to see Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley of Bhutan speak at Columbia University as part of the annual World Leader's Forum. The title of his speech was “Well-being, Happiness, and Leadership.”
While Thinley's speech was certainly informed by Bhutan's unique governing philosophy of Gross National Happiness, he focused on the nature of leadership and five complex global problems that will require innovative solutions in the upcoming century:
*The explosion of populations, especially the elderly who are being increasingly marginalized. Thinley believes everyone should age without the “fear of insecurity or loneliness.”
*The fast rate of bio-diversity loss, caused by deforestation, monoculture farming, and climate change. As the dominant species, Thinley argues that humans have the burden of Earth stewardship.
*The persistent reliance on fossil fuels and unchecked consumption. To solve this problem we need to understand two things: it is possible to live well with less, and markets, which dictate energy usage, are fundamentally near-sighted, i.e. there are no markets for measures of return on the time-scales of 100's of years.
*Relentless growth of weapons industry. The 19th century logic of “security” and military alliances needs to be replaced by a new consciousness of a single planet.
*The combination of unhealthy lifestyles and a lust for longer life. This contradictory juxtaposition is leading to rising health care costs.
He ended his speech with a few simple ideas to generally increase happiness.
*Restructure of the 9-5 40-hour work week to a 25 hour work-week of intensely focused and productive activities. This would help spread employment and increase physical/mental health.
*The contemplation of the impermanence of self and others.
Listen, Thinley himself admitted that some of his ideas have components of naivete. But that's beyond the point. I think he's identified the long term issues facing the world.
Of course, the elimination of poverty should be the utmost priority. Thinley emphasized this, saying that he felt no pride in Bhutan's achievement of Millennium Development Goals, given that other countries have not yet made the same progress.
It was refreshing to hear a world leader with a sense of humility and compassion for other nations. Thinley has come to understand that short-term, greed-based approaches to governance and development are out-dated and ultimately self-defeating. Going forward, we're going to need a more holistic, far-sighted and cooperative approach. The longer it takes to adopt this philosophy, the more suffering humanity will endure.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Yesterday I was looking over the Op-Ed page and couldn't help but feel angry while reading an editorial piece by staff writers and an opinion contribution by Robert Mazur. The thing is, I actually agreed with what these pieces were saying. The factual premises were sound, and through logical reasoning both authors arrived at a solid conclusion.
So why did these pieces make me angry? It's because they utterly missed the point, in the same way that an article about genital washing misses the point about the economic stimulus.
Logical fallacy #1
The first piece is about an EPA decision to allow the use of lead bullets for hunting animals. Why is lead in bullets a bad thing? Because it has been linked to bird poisonings.
The logic goes like this: lead kills animals unnecessarily. Killing animals when they don't have to die is bad. Therefore we should avoid putting lead into the environment.
The problem is, hunting itself kills animals. Usually it's just for the sake of someone's twisted conception of "sport", the animal is mercilessly killed by a human with an insanely unfair advantage, and then often left in the wilderness to rot. Now if a bird happens to die later because of lead poisoning that's obviously sad, but it completely misses the underlying problem.
Why not kill two birds, not with a bullet, but with one stone, and eliminate gun hunting completely?
Logical Fallacy #2
The second article, a column called "Follow the Dirty Money" by Robert Mazur, is significantly more disturbing because it ultimately deals with people killing people, a worse evil than people killing animals. In fact, Mazur actually stands to profit off of people killing each other if his ideas are implemented.
Mazur points out that international banks, ones with big, famous names that we see advertising on TV, are involved in shady underworld dealings to launder billions of dollars of money related to criminal activities. He brings up the example of Wachovia moving $400 billion of drug money out of Mexico. Many of these banks have been caught, and forced to pay hefty fines for their activities. However, these fines, deals brokered between the banks and prosecutors, were just a way for prosecutors to see "a small piece of the action".
Instead of handing over fines to the government, Mazur proposes that bank employees should be put in jail. To catch these people he suggests the creation of a task force, composed of individuals like himself, to go undercover and understand the inner workings of international money laundering. He also mentions that he wrote a book about his life as an undercover money launderer.
Here are some facts:
-More than 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since 2006. (http://www.cleveland.com/world/index.ssf/2010/08/drug_wars_death_toll_in_mexico.html)
-The cartels get the money for their massive weapon arsenals from drug and human exports, largely to the United States.
-Drugs are illegal, but hugely popular in the U.S. That's why Mexicans can make so much money importing them to us.
-Immigration to the United States is likewise illegal in most circumstances. That's why cartels do so well from human importation.
-Mazur is actually profiting off of this situation, while doing nothing to ameliorate it. He made money from his previous book, "The Infiltrator". He would make more money from a job in a task force, which would give raw material for another, potentially lucrative, book.
Now Mazur doing these things hinges on Mexican drug cartels existing. He needs something to infiltrate. If the cartels went away, he wouldn't have anything left.
The cartels will never go away from the futile war Felipe Calderon is currently waging against them. Nor will the imprisonment of morally corrupt bank employees cause them to vanish.
The only actual solution is to undermine their profit sources. That is, eliminate the demand for illegal importation of drugs and humans. To do that, we need a guest worker program, a stronger Mexican economy, and the elimination of demand for illegal drugs (the simplest method would be legalization).
Until these things happen, there will continue to be well-armed cartels, shady banks to help them transport their money, and individuals like Mazur to profit off of the situation. His band-aid task force would do nothing to solve the underlying issues and is simply a way for him to gain prestige and money off of cartels that he fundamentally has no interest in stopping.
It is sad that the New York Times, in both cases, published articles that don't really help the problems they tangentially address. The articles at first seem interesting to read, a new angle on an important world issue. However, they are just smoke and mirrors intended to distract from the fundamental issues, no better than a genital washing story.
The editorial about lead bullets can be found here:
The opinion contribution about money laundering: