26 September, 2009

When Is It Unethical?

Was Swine Flu released rather than just happening?  Maybe it's just me, but I get a tad restless in the brain when I see news like this article on USN.  The article is all gee-whiz-gosh-wow about how good it is that H1N1 has not mutated into something that's immune to the flu drugs currently being made.  How wonderful, now we know it will definitely be effective against H1N1. Gosh golly gee whiz wow - aren't we the luckiest people?

But then you have to face the facts - H1N1 found itself a phenotype that it liked.  H1N1 properties worked for it.  H1N1 settled down for a comfortable long wait.  In other words, in 1918, one version of the flu settled down to a more or less stable form which was very successful for it, allowing it to wreak havoc in the early 1900's.  There was no need for it to mutate to a further form.  And then it committed the cardinal mistake that pathogens can commit, it started killing off susceptible hosts faster than they could regrow.  It burned itself out, all except for some samples thoughtfully kept by scientific and medical staff at that time.

And now, we suddenly have a recurrence of a stable and (in virus lifespans) many generations extinct virus.  Since it's a stable form, we know it didn't just "spontaneously evolve again" from existing viruses.  That's like having specially bred domestic chickens, something comes along and kills all domestic chickens - and then suddenly, spontaneously, the wild chickens in India and Asia start producing domestic fowl mutations.  Evolution doesn't retrace steps.

There's evidence to indicate that once an evolutionary step is made, the organism burns the bridges behind it, making it much harder to regress to an earlier form.  And while there are some quirks of evolution, we're begininng to see more and more that organism don't just retrogress.   So you can forget saying that H1N1 just threw back from newer strains of the flu virus.

Furthermore - whether deliberately or unintentionally, there have been several releases of biohazards from laboratories around the world.  Most immediate to me is the 1995 release of rabbit calici virus (RCV) from an island facility (Wardang Island) off the South Australian shore.  There was some discussion whether or not this was actually a deliberate and clandestine release to help farmers hard hit by drought and rabbits denuding their fields, or a genuine accident.  It doesn't matter either way - it perfectly demonstrates that inadvertent and/or deliberate releases are not only possible, but can and do happen. 

So we're in the unfortunate position of deciding, not between whether it was an act of nature or an act of man, but instead that we have to decide if this act of man was an accident, or a cold calculating and deliberate release.  Welcome to Human nature...

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14 September, 2009

Bastard Marketing Inc #2723

"Releases regular bursts, keeping your home insect-free the natural way"...
The quote above is from a TV ad I just heard.  it may not be word perfect.
'Scuse me if I admit to being totally flabberghasted.  I'm still trying to figure out, Louie, how pesticides sprayed into the air is natural in any way shape or form, even less convinced that spraying it in "regular bursts" is actually gonna be any friendlier to the environment or me and my friends.

And i'm not even going to touch the matter of manufacturing a timer sprayer, all the electronics, and the energy needed to keep the thing going.  And the waste when it gets forgotten once the first lot of batteries leak inside the case, rendering it useless after the first can of "natural" poison.  Because very few people ever actually buy more than the refill that comes with the first pack.

Oh well, it's not a clean world and that's not a clean advertising tactic.

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11 September, 2009

The Big Green

You've probably gathered by now that I'm not exactly a fan of big bucks companies. Every company that has gone chasing global billion dollar incomes has created global trillion dollar footprints which are now killing entire species, regions, and soon, populations of people.

A brief few weeks ago, I found an article on Yahoo and took a link to it, which lays out one of the trillion dollar problems we will face in coming years, the fact that all this change is accelerating and predicted to be much worse than initially thought.

So no, I'm not a fan.

Here's some info on organic farming that's interesting to me.  Why?  Because I've started a facebook group to try and keep a lot of that sort of thing local, where it costs less.  Why?  Because the new "orgwashing" and "localwashing" advertising is yet another example of the Big Bucks Companies trying to squeeze another billion dollars out of the world without being willing to foot the resulting bill.

One of the aims of that group (and others like it - please feel free to start one for your region) is to share gardening tips, to let other people know that I have a few spare buckets of tomatoes so they don't go to *insert supermarket chain name here* and buy tomatoes that were grown in some place where entire crops of tomatoes that "aren't quite red looking enough" are just dumped to rot on the ground...  Look over that slideshow, because it's sobering news.

Add up the cost of dumping that entire crop of tomatoes, go on, I dare you.

  • Ploughing under an entire local ecosystem for the fields in the first place, that's one loss.  Okay you can amortise that over the life of the farm so this crop is probably 1/100th of the total cost to the ecosystem - but it's permanent, so really the cost is uncountable.  All that local flora and fauna are irrevocably and finally gone...
  • Oh yes - the fossil fuel and waste used to create the field.  Again, that is amortised over the life of the field, but then there's also 
  • The cost of preparing and ploughing the ground.  That's seasonal, one lot per crop.
  • Seeding.  Takes another trip around with the tractor.
  • Watering that crop.  Most vegetable crops, in order to be commercially viable, involve  pumping water to them at some stage during their growth.  that takes energy, and uses up groundwater.
  • Fertilisers.  Always, they use fertilisers to speed the growth, induce larger heavier bigger better faster more crops. See the next item for problems inherent in this, they are the same for fertilisers as for pesticides.
  • And Pesticides.  Aside from the obvious cost to the local environment of using chemicals to kill off pests that are only there because you've got acres upon acres of tomato plants and the pests are seeing Tomato Pest Good Life City, besides the cost of that chemical material running off and getting into the water table and poisoning other animals down the line either directly or indirectly, there's another cost.  
  • All those chemicals had to be shipped to the farm.  Fuel was burned.
  • Oh yeah, and they had to be manufactured. Raw materials shipped to a factory, toxic byproducts dumped somewhere else, and more fuel used to process it.
  • Then it has to be dug back into the ground.  Because of some perceived flaw or blemish...  More fuel, more pollution.  

And if the crop passes muster, then it has to be transported to *insert supermarket chain name here* warehouses, then from those to the stores.  Sometimes, that can mean flying from Argentina to Australia. 

So to my mind growing it locally and swapping it, selling it at the Farmer's Market, and making sure I use natural pest control and fertilisers is important.  I'm hoping that more groups such as mine are formed, everywhere, and that they each take a sizeable percentage of the business away from *insert supermarket chain name here* and others like it, so that those factory farms become a thing of the past, fertiliser and pesticide sales dry up, and people realise that there is going to be the odd tomato with a bite blemish on it, tough tits, harden the heck up...

Oh - while I'm at fussy eaters - you can't afford to be fussy.  I was talking to a colleague a few years back, and we were discussing another colleague, specifically, his eating habits.  He didn't like most vegetables, so he avoided them, tolerated bread and cheese but didn't like the taste of milk so only had the odd drop of milk in his coffees, and doted on sugar-laced fizzy drinks.  The guy didn't drink aside from the odd social drink, yet he was perpetually broke.  I guess having to live on bacon - oh yeah, eggs - chops, steaks, sausages, the internal organs, (he loved lambs fry) and burgers does take its toll on your pocketbook, and definitely this guy had a foodprint the size of a small island nation.

"OMG" my friend said of this bloke, "how the heck has he survived on a diet of almost exclusively meat?  I mean, it lacks dozens of essential enzymes, there are whole groups of nutrients he's missing out on, how can that kind of a diet be healthy?"  I couldn't help but be amused though, at how very blind a vegan could be to the complementary "lacks and missings" in his own diet...  

There's energy levels, too.  If your diet is lacking in nutrients, then you will not have as good an energy level as someone with a balanced diet.  I don't care which side of the carnivore/vegetarian divide you favour, if you're not eating right your body isn't working right.  There's a reason why the percentage of omnivores is higher among high-energy-requirement jobs than among the more sedentary office workers.

Again, it boils down to hardening the heck up, realising that the world can't afford to indulge your distaste of broccoli, and getting on with it.  So please do it, start a victory garden, start a local group, and put some of your time and effort daily into fixing the crisis rather than leaving it up to "them" to come along and fix it.

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Ted And The Arctic Slushie Machine

If you don't think the Earth is warming, then you might use this article to argue that it's all about small cycles causing panic, because the glaciers are slowing down again.  You'd use that article to claim that for every warming/panic-inducing cycle that the panic merchants are using to stop you making a healthy billion dollars from exploiting freely available resources.

I'm all in favour of perhaps not being quite so hasty.  I'm all in favour of panicking - right now - because of a few things I observed as a child, as a student, and as an adult.  That is, that things happen in cycles, yes - but those cycles are often self-reinforcing and accelerating.

Ice is a strange material, and if it weren't for the decidedly strange properties of water and ice, life on Earth would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.  Quick recap of basic school science:  All materials on Earth have properties that go a bit like this:
  • Solid state is the coldest state of the material, it is at its most dense (atoms packed closest together) and the particles are generally locked together and do not move much relative to one another.
  • Liquid state is reached as the material is warmed up, and the particles have limited movement relative to one another, allowing the material to flow.
  • Gaseous state is reached if the material is heated even further, and at this point the particles move freely about.
Water doesn't quite work like that.  In its solid state it is less dense than in its liquid state, which is why icebergs float. And that property is one of the freaks of nature that we can blame life on...

Imagine a world where water behaved like all the other materials.  During the night, in a cold spot, the ice would form - and then sink to the bottom of the water, where the sun can't warm it up again.  Normal thermal circulation would ensure that the warmer water would stay on top, and cold liquid water would sink to lite above the ice.  The following night, a bit more water freezes and plunges to the depths, never to be seen again...  You can see that in a very short time, only about an inch of liquid water would be accessible and all else would be ice.

That's in part why life as we know it (and as we're stuck with, it's worth noting) was able to evolve.

Now we come to some observations made as a kid, when defrosting the fridge was one of my duties.  I sometimes used pans of warm water to heat up the freezer box, and one of the things I saw was that water and ice do behave cyclically.  The heat would create a film of water between the ice and the freezer floor, and the ice would start to flow.  Then, as the ice moved and melted, cold water ran down into the gap between ice and freezer, it would slow down a bit, then the heat would build up and there would be another flow, followed by another slowdown.

That cycle would repeat, but the bottom line was that eventually, every time, the ice layer would break up and fall out like a sheet of slushie...  I know this model doesn't take into account that I've turned the source of cold off, but it's still very close to what is observed.  We're turning the fridge to a defrost cycle and letting the slowly warming ocean currents and warmer air slush the polar ice.

In that article, the researchers say that warmer water flows upstream between the glaciers and the ground at times.  If the water is warmer than normal, I would imagine that initially there would be a much faster movement of the glacier ice, until enough cold ice and water had been brought down to counter the effects of the warmer water.  Then the process would obviously slow down again, until the warmer water flows back up under the ice sheets and the temperature of the water layer starts to rise again.

To me the thing isn't that the glaciers are slowing down a bit, because I'd expect that.  To me, the question is - how soon will the warmer layer win again? - And is this the time that the ice drops off in one big line of Arctic slushie? - Or are there a few oscillations left in the system?

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09 September, 2009

Aluminium Heap, What A Waste.

I have to concur with so many commenters - this is an ugly car, inside, out, and in concept.

Inside: I expect the checkerplates to be smeared with diesel oil, mud, and the odd bit of pig poo - I have honestly seen tractor cockpits that are nicer, that overstuffed armchair notwithstanding.

Outside: Are those - retrojets? 'Nuff said.

Concept: In a time when we're all trying to curb fuel use and lower emissions, I don't give a rat's ass how nice an engine it is - using a V8 to move one person around is not on, no matter how rich that person is in coin, and poor in taste.  Find some other way to augment yer manhood.

General: It is UGLY. It is WASTEFUL. It is made of a material softer than any other car it will be sharing the road with, unless you know someone with a car made of butter.  It has a 4.2liter engine.  

In my opinion this would have to be the world's greatest contemporary automotive fail.

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